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Author Topic: ENVIRONMENT, CLIMATE, GLOBAL WARMING, AND CULTURE  (Read 1131988 times)
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Darja
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« Reply #4230 on: Jul 05, 2018, 04:26 AM »


Carbon Handout for Airlines: 'An Awful Deal for the Climate'

Ecowatch
7/5/2018

Airlines will be able to claim credit for "low-carbon" fossil fuels in an emissions-trading scheme meant to reduce the industry's carbon footprint, the UN's aviation agency decided Thursday.

The decision to credit fossil fuels, which campaigners say was raised late in the negotiations process, will allow airlines to claim reduced offsets from a broad definition of "green fuel," which counts "clean oil" and kerosene produced at a refinery running on renewable electricity.

Campaigners say the deal could also allow airlines to claim carbon offsets from older projects, and may result in offsets being double counted. The agreement "looks more and more like an awful deal for the climate," Andrew Murphy of Transport & Environment told Forbes. "The EU has tried long and hard to get a better agreement but in the end airlines, supported by Saudi Arabia and Trump's America, have got what they want. The attempt to greenwash oil is just the latest example of this."

The aviation sector, currently responsible for two percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, is on track to rise to a quarter of all emissions by 2050.

As reported by BusinessGreen:

    Countries will return to the negotiating table in September to thrash out the final rules for how the offset scheme works. But it seems there is a real danger that by keeping everyone on board with the deal, the potential green benefits of a scheme that was meant to clear a new era of green aviation for take off may fail to take flight altogether.


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« Reply #4231 on: Jul 05, 2018, 04:28 AM »


Is the world running out of sand? The truth behind stolen beaches and dredged islands

The insatiable demand of the global building boom has unleashed an illegal market in sand. Gangs are now stealing pristine beaches to order and paradise islands are being dredged and sold to the construction industry

Neil Tweedie
Guardian
6 Jul 2018 08.00 BST

Paradise is a beach, we are told. Pristine white or coral pink. We leaf through brochures in search of perfect sand. There is a Paradise Beach on Barbados, and in Croatia, and Thailand, and South Africa, too. In every tourist-hungry part of the globe, in fact. The naturalist Desmond Morris believes that, as descendants of water-loving apes, we are hard-wired to seek out these places, lulled by the rhythmic advance and retreat of the ocean as we soak up the sun, sand grains trickling through our workless fingers.

And so much to go around. Man has always used sand as an analogy for the infinite, a limitless resource, ordinary and yet magical, incapable of exhaustion. When astronomers seek to impress upon us the size of the universe, they speak of stars being more numerous than grains of sand. There are quite a few grains, as it happens – 7.5 x 10 to the 18th power, according to researchers at the University of Hawaii. That’s 7 quintillion, 500 quadrillion – give or take the odd trillion.

Yet sand in the right places is anything but infinite. Our insatiable appetite for new buildings, roads, coastal defences, glass, fracking, even electronics, threatens the places we are designed by evolution to love most. The world consumes between 30 and 40bn tonnes of building aggregate a year, and half of this is sand. Enough material to build a wall 27m high and 27m wide around the equator. Sand is second only to water as a natural material extracted by humans, and our society is built on it, quite literally. Global production has risen by a quarter in just five years, fuelled by the insatiable demands of China and India for housing and infrastructure. Of the 15 to 20bn tonnes used annually, about half goes into concrete. Our need for concrete is such that we make almost 2 cubic metres worth each year for every man, woman and child on the planet.

But what of those oceans of sand stretching from the Atlantic to the Persian Gulf – the Sahara and the Arabian Desert? The wrong kind of sand, unfortunately. Wind action in deserts results in rounded grains that are too smooth and too small to bind well in concrete. Builders like angular sand of the kind found on riverbeds. Sand, sand everywhere, nor any grain to use, to paraphrase Coleridge. A textbook example is the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the world’s tallest skyscraper. Despite being surrounded by sand, it was constructed with concrete incorporating the “right kind of sand” from Australia. Riverbed sand is prized, being of the correct gritty texture and purity, washed clean by running fresh water. Marine sand from the seabed is also used in increasing quantities, but it must be cleansed of salt to avoid metal corrosion in buildings. It all comes at a cost.

China leads the charge in today’s sand-fuelled construction boom, consuming half the world’s supply of concrete. Between 2011 and 2014 it used more concrete than the United States did in the entire 20th century. Aggregate is the main ingredient for roads, and China laid down 146,000km of new highway in a single year. By 2050, two-thirds of humanity will live in urban areas, a product of migration and population growth. The population of India, second only to China in its hunger for concrete, is expected to grow from 1.32bn to 1.7bn by the middle of the century. Mumbai, India’s commercial capital, is one of the world’s top 10 mega-cities, with a population of 22m. China and India rely largely on national supplies of sand – to minimise transport costs – but as the skyscrapers rise in Shanghai and Mumbai so does the price of this once-humble ingredient. China’s hunger for sand is insatiable, its biggest dredging site at Lake Poyang produces 989,000 tonnes per day.

International trade in sand is rising as local supply outstrips demand. The destruction of habitats vital to fish, crocodiles, turtles and other forms of riverine and marine life accompanies the destruction of sand barriers and coral reefs protecting coastal communities, as in Sri Lanka. Sand extraction lowers the water table and pollutes drinking water, as in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam, while stagnant pools created by extraction on land foster malaria.

No one knows how much damage is being done to the environment because sand extraction is a largely hidden threat, under-researched and often happening in isolated places. “We are addicted to sand but don’t know it because we don’t buy it as individuals,” says Aurora Torres, a Spanish ecologist who is studying the effects of global sand extraction at Germany’s Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research. “Extraction has grown strongly over the past four decades and has accelerated since 2000. Urban development is putting more and more strain on limited accessible deposits, causing conflict around the world. Sand dredging degrades corals, seaweeds and seagrass meadows and is a driver of biodiversity loss, threatening species already on the verge of extinction. Our consumption of sand is outstripping our understanding of its environmental and social effects.”

    Why buy expensive sand from a legal mine when you can suck up a riverbed? Or nick a beach? Or an entire island?

Sand accounted for 85% of the total weight of mined material in 2014, yet it is replenished by rock erosion only over thousands of years. Booming demand means scarcity, scarcity means money and money means criminality. Globally, sand extraction is estimated to be worth £50bn per year, a cubic metre of sand selling for as much as £62 in areas of high demand and scarce supply. This makes it vulnerable to illegal exploitation, particularly in the developing world. Why buy expensive sand, sourced from licensed mines, when you can anchor your dredger in some remote estuary, blast the sand out of the riverbed with a water jet and suck it up? Or steal a beach? Or dismantle an entire island? Or whole groups of islands? This is what the “sand mafias” do. Criminal enterprises, their illegal mining operations in Asia, Africa and elsewhere, are protected by officials and police paid to look the other way – and powerful customers in the construction industry who prefer not to ask too many questions.

From Jamaica to Morocco to India and Indonesia, sand mafias ruin habitats, remove whole beaches by truck in a single night and pollute farmlands and fishing grounds. Those who get in their way – environmentalists, journalists or honest policemen – face intimidation, injury and even death. “It’s very attractive for these sand mafias,” says Torres, who is one of the few academics studying this Cinderella issue – overshadowed as it is by climate change, plastic pollution and other environmental threats. “Sand has become very profitable in a short time, which makes for a healthy black market.”

Reporting on this illegal trade can get you killed in India. In March this year, Sandeep Sharma, a reporter with a local television station, was mown down by a sand truck after filming a police officer accepting a bribe in return for turning a blind eye to sand mining in a crocodile sanctuary. Last month, a special branch constable in Tamil Nadu also paid with his life for gathering intelligence at an illegal mining site. Mumbai environmentalist Sumaira Abdulali is India’s foremost campaigner against illegal sand mining, a distinction that led to an attempt on her life in 2010. “The problem extends even to tourist beaches in Goa, Kerala and elsewhere,” she says. “Most people are afraid to complain – even government officials and police officers are afraid to approach illegal sites. Murders, threats and acts of intimidation between them probably number in the hundreds.”

In southeast Asia, sand is a crucial ingredient in geopolitics. China’s imperial ambitions in the South China Sea are being furthered by the construction with sand of artificial islands hosting military bases intended to reinforce its claims in the region. This novel form of territorial expansion is also being pursued by rich but tiny Singapore, resulting in conflict with its bigger neighbours. The population of the city state has more than trebled to 6m since independence from Britain in 1963, resulting in a literal land grab. The world’s biggest importer of sand, Singapore has contrived a 20% increase in its land area using sand sourced from Indonesia, Malaysia, Cambodia and Thailand, much of it illegally. In 2008, it claimed to have imported only 3m tonnes of sand from Malaysia, but the real figure, according to the Malaysian government, was 133m tonnes, almost all of it smuggled, allegedly. As Singapore grows so its vast neighbour Indonesia shrinks. Illegal sand extraction threatens the very existence of some 80 small low-lying Indonesian islands bordering Singapore, playing havoc with marine ecology.

Given the vast forces at work, the incomes and even lives of small farmers and fishermen in sand-rich areas are considered expendable. Bhaskar Rao Patil has never known wealth but the waters he fishes once provided enough to meet the modest needs of his family. Now they are barren, ruined by sand dredging. Patil lives in Bankot, a small coastal fishing town some 200km south of Mumbai. Across the estuary of the Savitri River, his nemesis is hard at work: a sand dredger, sucking up the bed of the river before depositing its “catch” in barges which then discharge their cargo into dumper trucks destined for Mumbai. Sought-after fish caught at the rate of 50 an hour in good times now number just five a day. A fishing boat of the kind he uses once supported five families; now it is two.

“The only time we think about sand is on a beach holiday, but our lives are built on it,” says London-based Indian researcher Kiran Pereira, who has interviewed many people affected by rapacious sand mafias. Their accounts are published on her website, sandstories.org. “In some cases, people initially welcome sand mining because it creates jobs,” she says. “But once they see the effects it is too late to change.” The fishermen of western India must collude in the destruction of their fast-disappearing world. Around Mumbai, some 80,000 of them have changed their catch from fish to sand, so spoiled are their fishing grounds and so high is the demand for this basic material.

Sand extraction is a developed world problem, too. In the US, sand mining for fracking has despoiled areas of Wisconsin, provoking protests from local people. And in the UK, Friends of the Earth has been fighting a long battle to curb sand dredging on Lough Neagh in Northern Ireland, one of Europe’s most important wetlands. Some 1.7m tonnes of sand are sucked up each year by dredging companies, despite the lake, the largest in the British Isles, being a protected area under domestic and European law. Friends of the Earth claim the local bird population has declined by more than 75% in the past 30 years, and fish habitats have been harmed by worsening water quality. “Despite rich layers of protection, the government has for decades turned a blind eye to the scouring of the bed of our biggest nature reserve,” says James Orr, director of Friends of the Earth in Northern Ireland. “It is a Klondyke on Lough Neagh.”

    The British love affair with the seaside encourages this unnatural practice

The demands of the construction industry are not the only problem, however. Around the world, the natural coastline is threatened by other forms of human interference. “Most natural sand beaches are disappearing, partly due to rising sea levels and increased storm action, but also to massive erosion caused by development of the shore,” says Andrew Cooper, professor of coastal studies at the University of Ulster and co-author of The Last Beach. The building of sea defences and so-called “beach nourishment” (dumping fresh sand on tourist beaches to combat erosion) store up trouble for the future, he says, disrupting the natural movement of waves and sand along the shore.

“Beach nourishment is not a panacea for coastal erosion,” says Cooper. “It is, like a seawall, a means of holding a naturally mobile coast in place. And, like a seawall, it requires ongoing maintenance. Beach nourishment causes damage in the source area, killing all that goes into the dredger, before smothering and killing most things on the beach where it is placed. The beach it creates may serve as a recreational platform, but many studies have shown that nourished beaches are very poor substitutes for the natural ecosystems they replace.”

Yet the British love affair with the seaside, sustained by memories of idyllic bucket-and-spade holidays in youth, encourages this unnatural practice. In 2006, Lyme Regis turned to France for sand to replace that washed away by the constant motion of the English Channel, the Dorsetshire resort’s burghers justifying the expense by claiming that Gallic sand grains were less easily washed away than Anglo-Saxon ones. More sand (English this time) was needed in Dorsetshire to rebuild beaches washed away by the vicious storms of January 2014. Bournemouth, meanwhile, has opted for cosmetic surgery to maintain its appeal, spending £3.6m to dump 320,000 cubic metres of supposedly “perfect” sand, sourced locally, on to its denuded beaches.

Of course, you can always steal sand to nourish your beach, rather than buy it. In 2008, at Coral Spring on the north coast of Jamaica, 500 truck-loads of pristine sand was spirited away in a single night, never to be seen again. And when sand was required last year for a new resort in the Canary Islands it was imported (illegally, say environmentalists) from Western Sahara, the former Spanish colony now occupied by Morocco. Sand looted from beaches and riverbeds in the disputed territory is shipped north to Morocco for construction and to nourish the kingdom’s tourist beaches. “Beach nourishment is like a sticking plaster,” says Cooper. “It does not remove the underlying reasons for erosion. Worse, it provides a false sense of security. In future, as sea levels rise, it will demand bigger and bigger volumes of sand to be effective.”

If the natural coastline, with its inconvenient shingle, its messy flotsam and jetsam, its sheer reality, does not suit, one can always visit a pop-up beach. These ersatz paradises spring up each year in major cities, created with sand imported by lorry. In London, a fiver will buy you access to “Fulham Beach” this summer, and “Hampstead Beach” is free. Brent Cross shopping centre may not be a contender for Condé Nast Traveller’s top 10 beach settings, but you can sun yourself there on imported sand until September. Landlocked Birmingham, meanwhile, boasts access to several urban and pop-up beaches, including the “Costa del Solihull”.

Our demand for sand appears ever more insatiable. Can rampant sand extraction be curbed? A win-win solution is the use of waste plastic in making concrete. Research suggests small particles of plastic waste – “plastic sand” – can replace 10% of the natural sand in concrete, saving at least 800m tonnes per year. Another solution is more intelligent design: concrete structures are often over-engineered, incorporating beams that are thicker than necessary. A team at Cambridge University is using computer modelling to size concrete more efficiently and cut waste.

Aurora Torres warns that such measures will not eliminate the continuing need for sand mining on a vast scale and that stricter monitoring and enforcement in the developing world are required. “This is a hidden ecological disaster in the making,” she says. “We will be hearing a lot more about sand in the coming years.”


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« Reply #4232 on: Jul 05, 2018, 04:31 AM »


A man raped me, another tried to. They were not animals. They were men

Amy Remeikis

What happened to me had nothing to do with where I walked or what I wore, and everything to do with the actions of two men

Thu 5 Jul 2018 02.51 BST
Guardian

The first time it happened, I refused to believe it for a very long time.

He had grabbed me from behind, around my neck. I never saw his face. Just smelt the rum and Coke, wet across my cheek, a scent that still makes my insides clench and my throat close in terror.

I tried to fight. I was overpowered. Pulled into a dark grassed space and violated while my eyes fixated on a church steeple in the distance, left wondering how this could be allowed to happen.

He lifted his body from mine, swore and kicked me. I had stopped moving. Stopped screaming into the hand closed around my mouth so hard I would be staring at the purple shadows of his fingertips on my cheeks more than a week later. Breath came in broken staccato shakes.

I lay there for seasons, before picking myself up, trying to repair the fastener of my pants and remember why I had been there.

Toilet paper. I’d been walking to the 24-hour shop to buy toilet paper. Just a 10-minute walk from my flat, in a neighbourhood so safe children walked to shops alone.

The self-flagellation started immediately. I was a policeman’s daughter. I knew better than to be walking around the streets late at night.

I berated myself all the way home, and then back out into the night again, because I had been wearing my flatmate’s shoes and I suddenly became obsessed with finding the one I had left behind.

Maybe, I thought, if I could fix this one thing, put the shoes back where I found them, it would be as though the night had never happened.

I came across it, discarded on the grass, marking where I’d become a different person. I carried it home, still bleeding, then sat in the shower until the hot water ran cold and the cold ran numb.

I was too ashamed to report it. I’m still ashamed I didn’t. I hadn’t seen his face. I was barely out of school. I’d only just set out on my own and I had failed. I’d been walking alone at night. What did I think would happen?

A hesitant attempt to talk about it with friends confirmed it. “Why were you walking so late?” It’s a well-meaning refrain. And I know now that it comes from a place of needing to feel safe: “What did you do wrong, so this won’t happen to me?”

But asked while I was still so raw it hurt to sit, it only planted a seed of rage. It wasn’t my fault and yet my actions were under review. I shoved it as far back in my mind as I could, buried it under bad decisions and denial, until the avalanche swamped me and, sinking, I chose help.

    When I talked about it, again, the questions came. Why were you out walking so late? How were you walking?

When it happened a second time, more than a decade later, the question slipped back under my skin.

This time, I had done everything “right”. I was walking down one of the most populated streets in the city. It was well-lit. What the CCTV cameras didn’t cover, the staffed shopfronts did.

But he saw me as he left a club, and he followed me as I strode, with purpose, phone in hand and keys at the ready, the last few steps to my home.

I crossed the street. He crossed with me. I crossed back. There he was. I went to run, but the traffic was against me, and he grabbed me, in full view of the intersection, yelling that he loved my hair, my face, and why wouldn’t I just let him kiss me?

I didn’t recognise the creature who made the guttural sound that emerged from my mouth. Who clawed, and fought, and jammed fingers into soft, vulnerable spaces. Who still hesitated to cause permanent damage, because even while lying on my back, fighting for my life, maiming another human seemed wrong.

It felt as though my cheekbone exploded under the first slap. The second, third, fourth made my face feel like soup.

But worse was when another man stopped at traffic lights made eye contact with me, as my attacker began dragging me, my knees scraping along the gravel towards darkness, then looked away.

A couple driving past had also looked away, they later told me, thinking it was a domestic, until one of them asked: What if it was our daughter?

They drove on to the footpath as I strained with every fibre of my being to stay in the light. My attacker ran and I went straight to the police.

I gave a statement worthy of a detective’s daughter and there was DNA under my fingernails. He was found within half an hour.

He was charged with attempted rape but, before we went to court, it was downgraded to assault under a plea arrangement and we never went to trial.

And when I talked about it, again, the questions came. Why were you out walking so late? How were you walking? What were you wearing? Did you smile at him?

And again they meant: “What did you do wrong, so we can avoid the same mistake?” What action did you take, so this won’t happen to me? How do I help my loved one stay safe? How can I stay safe?

I wrote as much in my victim impact statement to the court, asking the judge why must the conversation immediately turn to my actions, instead of the most obvious one – why are men attacking women in the street? In their homes? In parks, and on public transport, and in taxis and on doctor’s examining tables?

A friend told me it’s because he thought they were not men. That they were animals. “How do you even begin to reason with an animal like that?”

But he’s wrong. They are men.

They are sons and brothers, and fathers and boyfriends and husbands and friends and co-workers and the guys around you in the cafe.

We know they are, because the few who face the justice system get character references about how they are good guys, who are good sons and brothers and fathers and boyfriends and husbands and friends and co-workers who made a mistake.

How that action isn’t the person they are. How they were drunk. And how it wasn’t rape, the girl was complicit.

They’re not monsters but it’s so much easier to paint the few who are charged as such. Because we know how to look out for the bogeyman. We’ve been training for it our whole lives. We’ve been checking under our beds when, so many times, they are in them.

They’re not monsters. They’re human. And thinking of them as anything but only adds more distance between what was done and who did it.

A man raped me. Another man attempted to. And it had nothing to do with how I walked, or when I walked, or what I wore as I walked, and everything to do with the actions they took.

It has nothing to do with living in a fantasy land, where the word “no” acts as a shield, and everything to do with how we teach those little boys who become men about those little girls who become women.

I know I’m lucky. I’m not dead. There have been no vigils in my name, no candles lit in my memory. Because whatever quirk of fate led a rapist on to my path, it didn’t also make him a killer.

And yet every time I hear the questions about the length of skirts, the layers of makeup or the routes that are taken, I rage. For the women. For the girl I was. For the people who ask those questions because they just want to know how to stay safe. I mourn for them all.

• Amy Remeikis is a Guardian Australia political reporter

    In Australia, the national rape and domestic violence hotline is 1800 RESPECT (737 732) and the crisis support service Lifeline is on 13 11 14. In the UK, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. In the US, the suicide prevention lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. Other international helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org   

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« Reply #4233 on: Jul 05, 2018, 04:58 AM »


Breakthrough made in fight to end virginity testing in Afghanistan

New policy will stop clinics and hospitals from performing examinations that lead to imprisonment and exclusion

Annie Kelly
Guardian
Thu 5 Jul 2018 07.00 BST

In a prison in the Balkh province of Afghanistan, more than 200 girls and young women are crammed into dirty prison cells. Many have been here for months – and some for more than a year. When they are eventually released, they face a future defined by shame, exclusion and destitution.

Their crime is that they all failed a virginity test performed by a health professional at a clinic or hospital.

Last year, under increasing pressure from human rights campaigners, Ashraf Ghani, the Afghan president, promised that forensic virginity tests – invasive examinations to check whether the hymen is intact – would be banned as an official procedure. The tests nonetheless remain widespread, and the implications for girls and women who are deemed to have failed them are both immediate and catastrophic.

“I’ve been inside a jail in Balkh province and the majority of those who have failed virginity tests and found themselves locked up are between 13 and 21 years old,” said Farhad Javid, country director for Marie Stopes International in Afghanistan.

“What I saw there was so upsetting, the conditions were so bad, more than 12 young girls to each very small cell. And even though they are supposed to only be in there for three months, many are kept for a year or a year and a half. When they get out, their families have disowned them; they are in a very precarious position.”

Condemned by the World Health Organization as degrading, discriminatory and unscientific, the practice of virginity testing has been widely used to ascertain whether a woman has committed adultery or had sex before marriage.

Now, after a long and bitter fight, Marie Stopes Afghanistan, along with a coalition of civil society and religious leaders, believes a major breakthrough has been secured in the form of an official public health policy that will stop the practice from being performed in every clinic and hospital in Afghanistan.

With funding from the Swedish government, the organisation will work with doctors and nurses in health facilities in every Afghan province to make sure the new policy is understood and communicated.

“It’s been a very long struggle, but we see this as a major breakthrough because public health policy in Afghanistan is strong and respected both in government and Taliban areas, it goes above sharia law and we have expectations that it will be respected and implemented across all provinces,” said Javid.

Virginity testing was banned in 2016, but Javid said police have continued to pick up girls and women suspected of having sex, and take them to hospitals or clinics where they are forced to undergo a virginity test.

“We hope this means that, when the police or a family bring in a woman or girl and demand that they perform a virginity test, it will no longer be a procedure that is conducted by health professionals – and that, in this way, it will help shift cultural attitudes among law enforcement and in wider society as well.”

The next step, added Javid, is to get the thousands of girls and women believed to be imprisoned as a result of enforced virginity tests freed and exonerated.

According to a 2016 Human Rights Watch report, almost half of all women incarcerated in Afghanistan – and 95% of girls in juvenile detention – are there for “moral crimes” such as sex before marriage.

“It’s very difficult to know exactly how many are locked up because of this,” said Javid. “We also have no idea the number of women and girls who are being killed or harmed because, after marriage, their husband or his family decide that she wasn’t a virgin. But getting virginity testing banned in public health institutions is an important step and we start from here.”


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« Reply #4234 on: Jul 05, 2018, 05:01 AM »


Tiny coffins: how Nicaragua’s spiraling violence ravaged a family

Six family members were killed, including two infants, after a home was torched allegedly by a pro-Daniel Ortega militia, in a horrific episode caused by Nicaragua’s political convulsion

Carl David Goette-Luciak and Caroline Houck in Managua
Guardian
Thu 5 Jul 2018 08.00 BST

When the mutiny against Nicaragua’s septuagenarian president, Daniel Ortega, broke out in April, Matías Velásquez was barely a month old.

Two months later he is dead, the youngest victim of a spiraling conflict some now fear could plunge what was until recently considered one of Central America’s most stable nations into civil war.

On a recent afternoon, Matías’s charred corpse lay in one of two tiny white coffins inside Managua’s Fuente de Vida (Source of Life) evangelical church; the other contained the body of his two-year-old sister Daryelis.

The infants were killed hours earlier when their family home was torched – allegedly by police and masked members of a pro-Ortega militia – in one of the most horrific episodes to have been caused by Nicaragua’s political convulsion.

“We weren’t guilty of anything,” sobbed their aunt, Jeaneth, as she stood in the blackened ruins where they had perished, surrounded by rubble and ash.

“They didn’t care that there were children,” added the 29-year-old, her face smeared with soot and tears. “They didn’t care about anything.”

Nicaragua’s vice president and first lady, Rosario Murillo, blamed the atrocity – in which the children’s parents and grandparents also died – on groups of perverse and abominable “vandals”. Nicaragua’s UK embassy claimed the family was killed by “violent criminals” from the opposition in punishment for failing to support a nationwide anti-Ortega strike.

But friends, relatives, witnesses and activists rejected those accounts as government disinformation and painted a very different picture of how Matías Velásquez and his family came to die.

According to their account about 50 masked men – some wearing black, others police uniforms covered by bulletproof vests – descended on Managua’s Carlos Marx neighbourhood early on the morning of Saturday 16 June in a convoy of pickup trucks. The pro-government paramilitaries – known as “turbas” – appeared to have been tasked with destroying barricades erected to keep them out.

Witnesses claimed the group set fire to the Velásquez home after Matías’ grandfather, Óscar, refused to let them use its balcony as a sniper’s nest. the family]. But they were already dead,” she said.

Another neighbour, who also declined to be named, said: “This was beyond reason. What happened to this family is a crime. It is not repression – it’s murder.”

Human rights activists say at least 309 people have been killed and 1,500 injured since the start of protests against pension reforms, that have since swelled into a national insurrection against Ortega, on 18 April.

On Monday, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) – whose members include Claudia Paz y Paz, Guatemala’s former attorney general, and Sofía Macher, the former head of Peru’s truth and reconciliation commission – announced it had sent a team to Nicaragua to investigate those killings.

The violence has infected daily life, leaving residents of Managua tense and terrified. Shops once open all night now close at sundown. Neighborhoods across the country have erected barricades to keep police and paramilitary groups out.

Hours after the Velásquez home was torched, residents of one nearby neighbourhood reportedly lynched and burned one paramilitary in an apparent act of retaliation. Graphic footage of his public cremation was posted on the internet.

But the brazen daytime attack on the Velásquez family – and the deaths of two small children – has caused particular indignation. “In the name of God – no more death!” Rolando Álvarez, the bishop of Matagalpa, pleaded during televised talks between the government and the opposition designed to defuse the crisis.

The United States condemned “the ongoing government-sponsored violence” including the arson attack on the Velásquez family. “Attacks and threats against peaceful protesters and the general population are unacceptable, and must cease,” state department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters.

The relentless escalation of violence bodes badly for an ongoing “national dialogue” designed to find a political solution to the crisis but participants insist it is their only option. “It’s necessary to prevent more bloodshed – although there’s already been so much,” said Azalea Solís, a 59-year-old civil society leader who is part of those talks.

Friends and neighbours described the Velásquez family as devout Christians who shunned politics and had worked their way out of rural poverty. “When we worked in the mountains, sometimes we had no food; it pains me to say, but we stole yucca in order to eat,” remembered Francisca, a great aunt of Matías’ father.

After years of struggle, the family managed to open a mattress shop on the first floor of their home.

“My father was an exemplary man,” Jeaneth said. “He always told us that we have to get ahead without owing anything to anyone, and that when he passed away, we’d need to take up the family business.”

That business, the man who started it, and most of his family are now gone. In their place: the heavy stench of smoke and soggy wreckage and six coffins in the church across the street.

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« Reply #4235 on: Jul 05, 2018, 05:03 AM »


Salvini's anti-migrant pledge 'practically impossible' to fulfil

Expulsion vow was an election hit in Italy but critics point to financial and legal hurdles

Angela Giuffrida in Rome
Guardian
Thu 5 Jul 2018 05.00 BST

Less than a month into the job, Matteo Salvini has made headlines by barring foreign flagged migrant rescue ships from Italian ports, calling for a census of Roma and travelling to Tripoli “to help Libya as well as Italy block migration”.

Italy’s interior minister has accused NGOs of “causing trouble” by rescuing people at sea, called reports of human rights abuse in Libyan migrant centres “lies”, insisted the country will take in “not one more” refugee and pledged he will never allow his country to become “a holding pen for all of Europe”.

He has lost no opportunity to show his commitment to halt the mass migration that helped bring his far-right, xenophobic League party to power. But one legally complex and hugely expensive election promise – to “send home” 500,000 illegal immigrants already in Italy – may not be so easy to keep.

“Practically, it’s impossible,” said Sergio Bontempelli, a migrant rights campaigner with the Association of Rights and Borders. “But it’s been happening for years – a politician comes along and says ‘we’ll send them all home’, but they are only words, which people unfortunately believe.”

Bontempelli compared Salvini’s campaign tactics with those of the US president, Donald Trump, who vowed to build a wall on the Mexican border to keep out immigrants and force Mexico to pay for it.

“Words matter a lot. They don’t produce anything in terms of deportation but they do produce a lot in terms of instigating hatred and violence,” Bontempelli said.

The challenge might be huge, but Salvini has already signalled that he is determined to enact promises made to his voters. Last month he blocked the arrival of over 600 migrants who were aboard the Aquarius rescue ship and has warned others that they are unwelcome. The vessel eventually docked in Spain.

On Salvini’s Facebook page, supporters spur him on with encouragement whenever he repeats his vow to “get rid of them”. But they are likely to end up disappointed.

The first anomaly in Salvini’s rhetoric is the figure of 500,000.

“There is no credible statistic on the number of people in the country at this time without a valid residency permit,” said Christopher Hein, a professor of law and immigration policies at Luiss University in Rome.

“There is also a mixture between those who have entered the territory irregularly and those who have entered with a valid entry visa but then overstayed their period of authorisation. So long as the interior minister doesn’t reveal his source, I cannot judge. But then he could easily say 2 million; where is the truth?”

Hein said that a vague indicator of how many illegal immigrants might be in Italy could be gleaned from data on the numbers who had requested asylum. About 130,000 applied in 2017, with about 50,000 being turned down.

However, many of those who are rejected gain protection after appealing through the courts.

Italy’s deportation procedure is messy, costly and for the most part unworkable. When an illegal immigrant receives a deportation order, they are first given the choice to return home voluntarily, a procedure that is usually organised by NGOs. But few use this option, with just 1,500 expected to take it up in 2018.

If they do not go home voluntarily, they are given a deadline to leave the country: failing to do so is a criminal offence. At this stage, it is also up to the immigrant to obtain travel documents and fund their journey home.

For immigrants detained in one of the five centres for identification and expulsion (CIE), then it is up to Italian authorities to obtain travel documents from the countries of origin – an often insurmountable challenge given that the relevant authorities in their home countries often do not exist or function in an efficient way or do not want their citizens back – and fund their return.

Italy has bilateral deportation agreements with only Nigeria, Tunisia, the Gambia, Sudan and Egypt. It is against EU law to return people to countries at war or where they could be subjected to the death penalty, torture or other inhumane conditions. War-riven Libya is the main departure point for migrants and refugees, the majority of whom are from sub-Saharan Africa, setting out on the treacherous sea crossing to Italy’s southern shores.

Last year, 31,624 undocumented foreigners were detected in Italy, of which 6,514 were repatriated, according to interior ministry figures.

“Failure to cooperate with the country of origin means that it is impossible to repatriate an irregular migrant, unless the latter is in possession of a valid identity document,” the ministry said.

A person can only be held in a CIE for 90 days, although in some cases stays last a year or more, with conditions regularly criticised as inhumane. If Italy fails to deport someone, then they are released with an order to leave the country of their own accord within a week. But the majority simply disappear.

Salvini said he would boost the number of detention centres to 20, one for each Italian region, in order to accelerate expulsions. His predecessor, Marco Minniti, made a similar declaration last year but failed to make progress.

“In reality these centres have never worked,” said Bontempelli. “You keep people in a type of prison, causing suffering, but as a mechanism for deportation it makes no sense.”

The other main impediment to Salvini’s plan is the massive expense. On top of the cost of identification, detention, legal hearings and flights, each deported migrant has to be escorted to a plane by two police officers at a cost of about €3,000 (£2,650). The total repatriation cost for one person is estimated to be between €6,000 and €15,000.

“Regularising migrants [enabling them to work] would be much cheaper and would even allow for tax contributions into the state’s coffers,” said Alessandra Ballerini, a human rights and immigration lawyer.

Salvini said he would use money currently spent on hosting asylum seekers to pay for mass deportations. He told voters that the previous administration’s reception policy cost €50bn.

Some of the cost of migrant reception, integration and deportation is paid for via the EU’s asylum, migration and integration fund (AMIF).

“But 90% of Italian taxpayer money would be needed to deport 500,000 people,” said Hein. “The fund is already being accessed and will continue to be, but it won’t be possible to say ‘we will shift half a million people and the EU should pay for it’.”


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« Reply #4236 on: Jul 05, 2018, 05:05 AM »


Merkel defends migration policy after Seehofer showdown

Beleaguered chancellor gives first speech to parliament since meeting with interior minister

Kate Connolly in Berlin
Guardian
5 Jul 2018 13.22 BST

Angela Merkel has sought to defend her government’s migration policy in her first speech to parliament since a showdown with the interior minister, Horst Seehofer, over the policing of Germany’s borders.

The German chancellor spoke up for the compromise agreement the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) struck with its smaller partner, the Christian Social Union (CSU), to erect transit zones along the southern German border to speed up the deportation of ineligible asylum seekers, insisting migration had to be better regulated.

“We must have more regulation regarding every type of migration, so that people have the impression that law and order are being enforced,” Merkel told a packed Bundestag, in a speech intended to show she is still in control after intense speculation that her 13-year chancellorship was about to end.

Stressing that migration was a “global problem requiring a global solution” and countries could not go it alone, she said the EU’s future was dependent on a solution being found.

“How we deal with the migrant question will decide whether Europe continues to exist in the future,” she said, referring to her fraught attempts to secure deals with other EU members to accept the return of refugees who had registered in their countries.

At the same time, she underlined the necessity of protecting Europe’s outer borders more effectively as well as agreeing partnerships with African countries to tackle illegal migration and lessen the incentives for economic migration.

But the chancellor, looking tired and pale after weeks of late-night negotiations in Brussels and Berlin, came under fire from almost all parties, in particular the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany, whose parliamentary leader, Alice Weidel, demanded her immediate resignation.

“Under your regime, Germany has shifted from being a motor and stability guarantor to a driver of chaos,” she said. She referred to the battle within Merkel and Seehofer’s conservative alliance as “undignified theatrics”, and Germany as “a madhouse, the headquarters of which is the chancellery”, before urging Merkel to “put an end to this tragedy – please resign at last”.

While Weidel spoke, Merkel had her head down, concentrating on the finishing touches to a speech on the nation’s budget.

Christian Lindner, the head of the pro-business Free Democrats, accused Merkel of having failed to find a satisfactory solution to the government’s refugee policy since the late summer of 2015, when nearly 1 million refugees arrived in Germany.

He accused Merkel of failing to consult her junior coalition partner, the Social Democratic party (SPD), which crucially has yet to give its go-ahead to the transit zones. The party is in a quandary over whether to accept the zones, which many members have compared to prisons and even concentration camps, or risk the collapse of the coalition.

The SPD was quick to attack Seehofer, who had offered his resignation as minister and CDU leader on Sunday, blaming him for bringing the government to the brink of collapse with his so-called migration masterplan, over certain details of which he and Merkel have been at loggerheads.

Andrea Nahles, the SPD leader, said: “We don’t need masterplans, we need good craftsmanship.”

Other SPD members stressed that the transit zones were a fudge, not least because on average, only five asylum seekers a day were currently attempting to enter Germany via the south.

Among the fiercest critics of Seehofer was Dietmar Bartsch, the parliamentary leader of the far-left Die Linke. That Seehofer was sitting in the Bundestag on his 69th birthday, he said, should be viewed as a one-off birthday treat. “You will not be sitting here as interior minister on your 70th birthday,” he said. Bartsch accused the CSU of a ruthless attitude towards refugees, insisting the “C” in CDU and CSU no longer stood for “Christian” but for “chaos”.

To resounding laughter across the chamber, he said: “I believe you would have smilingly deported Jesus.” Seehofer sat in contemplative silence, his chin in his hand, not once contributing to the debate.

Merkel’s next hurdle will be to secure the support of the SPD, which has been holding emergency meetings round the clock to discuss whether it is ready to approve the transit zones, but has yet to reach a unified position, with most misgivings coming from the left wing of the party.

Neighbouring Austria’s position also remains open. Its government, which on Tuesday expressed its scepticism about the transit zones, has yet to agree to back them, not least because this would require Vienna to agree to take back refugees who had registered in Austria.

Seehofer is due to travel to Austria on Thursday in an attempt to hammer out a deal with the Austrian chancellor, Sebastian Kurz.

In an interview with German television, Merkel gave a little more detail about the way the transit centres would work, insisting it was wrong to view them like prisons and adding that people would be kept in them for a maximum of two days.

The centres work on the basis that they would house those asylum seekers who had registered in other EU countries before being returned to those countries.

Asked by German television whether the new policy marked a toughening of her migration stance, and whether the once “open door” Merkel had turned into the “closing off” chancellor, she replied: “No, a clear no.”


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« Reply #4237 on: Jul 05, 2018, 05:16 AM »


Trump repeatedly suggested Venezuela invasion, stunning top aides – report

The administration officials are said to have taken turns in trying to talk the president out of the idea in August of last year

Julian Borger in Washington DC
Guardian
Thu 5 Jul 2018 07.26 BST

Donald Trump repeatedly raised the possibility of invading Venezuela in talks with his top aides at the White House, according to a new report.

Trump brought up the subject of an invasion in public in August last year, saying: “We have many options for Venezuela, including a possible military option, if necessary.” But the president’s musings about the possibility of a US invasion were more extensive and persistent than that public declaration, according to the Associated Press.

The previous day Trump reportedly took his top officials by surprise in an Oval Office meeting, asking why the US could not intervene to remove the government of Nicolas Maduro on the grounds that Venezuela’s political and economic unraveling represented a threat to the region.

Quoting an unnamed senior administration official, the AP report said the suggestion stunned those present at the meeting, which included the then national security advisor, HR McMaster, and secretary of state, Rex Tillerson. Both have since left the administration.

The administration officials are said to have taken turns in trying to talk him out of the idea, pointing out that any such military action would alienate Latin American allies who had supported the US policy of punitive sanctions on the Maduro regime.

Their arguments do not seem to have dissuaded the president.

A grim-faced Tillerson stood alongside Trump the next day at his New Jersey golf course at Bedminster as the president warmed to his theme.

“We have many options for Venezuela, this is our neighbour,” Trump said.

“We’re all over the world and we have troops all over the world in places that are very very far away, Venezuela is not very far away and the people are suffering and dying. We have many options for Venezuela including a possible military option if necessary.”

The White House announced later it had refused to take a call from Maduro. The Venezuelan defence minister, Vladimir Padrino, described Trump’s threat as an “act of craziness” and “supreme extremism”.

In the weeks that followed, Trump remained preoccupied with the idea of an invasion, according to AP. Shortly after the Bedminister remarks, he raised the issue with the Colombian President, Juan Manuel Santos, and then brought it up again at that year’s UN general assembly in September, at a private dinner with allied Latin American states.

At that dinner, Trump made clear he was ignoring the advice of his aides.

“My staff told me not to say this,” Trump said and then asked the other leaders at the table in turn, if they were sure they didn’t want a military solution.

McMaster finally succeeding in persuading Trump of the dangers of an invasion, the report said, and the president’s interest in the notion subsided.

Trump’s approach to military intervention has been erratic. He has been insistent on bringing troops back from Syria, and his administration is pushing to draw down troops in Europe. But Venezuela is not the only country he has threatened directly. Last year, he warned North Korea of impending “fire and fury” and total destruction if the country threatened the US with its nuclear weapons and missiles. After his summit with Kim Jong-un last month in Singapore, however, Trump presented military conflict as unthinkable, pointing out it would cost millions of lives.

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

Trump’s own Justice Dept publicly debunks his conspiracy theory about leaked DNC emails

Bob Brigham
Raw Story
06 Jul 2018 at 14:00 ET                   

President Donald Trump’s Justice Department has refused his demand to prosecute political enemies in a case involving Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), the former chair of the Democratic National Committee.

In June, President Trump said that the DOJ “must not” let former congressional technology staffer Imran Awan “off the hook” in what has become a cause célèbre among the far right.

“Our Justice Department must not let Awan & Debbie Wasserman Schultz off the hook. The Democrat I.T. scandal is a key to much of the corruption we see today,” Trump argued. “They want to make a ‘plea deal’ to hide what is on their Server. Where is Server? Really bad!”

On Tuesday, The Washington Post reported that federal prosecutors have concluded an 18-month investigation and “debunked” many of the conspiracy theories in the case.

Disregarding the instruction from President Trump, the Department of Justice did cut a plea deal that involved Awan pleading guilty to a “relatively minor offense unrelated to his work on Capitol Hill: making a false statement on a bank loan application.”

Prosecutors are not recommending jail time.

“The Government has uncovered no evidence that your client violated federal law with respect to the House computer systems,” prosecutors revealed in an 11-page plea agreement. “Particularly, the Government has found no evidence that your client illegally removed House data from the House network or from House Members’ offices, stole the House Democratic Caucus Server, stole or destroyed House information technology equipment, or improperly accessed or transferred government information, including classified or sensitive information.”

President Trump had been a vocal proponent of conspiracy theories involving Awan.

“The case has highlighted Trump’s willingness to lobby for specific outcomes of federal criminal investigations and to suggest a coverup by his own Department of Justice,” The Post explained. “Trump also attempted to tie Awan to the hacking of the Democratic National Committee server — a breach that intelligence agencies have concluded was directed by Russia.”

Awan’s attorney, Christopher Gowen, slammed the “tremendous waste of law enforcement time and resources” invested in the “political prosecution” against his client.

“There has never been any missing server, smashed hard drives, blackmailed members of Congress, or breach of classified information,” lawyer Christopher Gowen said in a statement. “Yet Fox News and its media children continued to peddle a story in perfect coordination with House Republicans and the President.”

Awan directly called out President Trump during his first public statements on the investigation, concluding, “The president used me to advance his political agenda.”

In a December interview with The New York Times, President Trump cited the case to deny that his campaign colluded with Russia during the 2016 presidential campaign, allegations currently being investigated by special counsel Robert Mueller.

During the interview, which took place in the Grill Room of his Mar-a-Lago resort that Trump refers to as the Winter White House, Trump lashed out at Mueller’s investigation.

“Well, I think it’s bad for the country. The only thing that bothers me about timing, I think it’s a very bad thing for the country,” Trump argued. “Because it makes the country look bad, it makes the country look very bad, and it puts the country in a very bad position.”

“But there is tremendous collusion with the Russians and with the Democratic Party. Including all of the stuff with the — and then whatever happened to the Pakistani guy, that had the two, you know, whatever happened to this Pakistani guy who worked with the D.N.C.?” Trump asked. “Whatever happened to them? With the two servers that they broke up into a million pieces? Whatever happened to him? That was a big story. Now all of sudden [inaudible].”

It is, however, doubtful that today’s announcement will stop the conspiracy theories.

The far-right website Twitchy slammed the “sweetheart deal” and concluded, “this won’t end any of the conspiracy theories, that’s for sure.”

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

White collar crime lawyers explain why Michael Cohen is poised to become Mueller’s ‘star witness’ against Trump

Tana Ganeva
Raw Story
04 Jul 2018 at 15:45 ET                   

President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen—largely seen as the main fixer behind Trump’s shadier ventures, such as paying off women who claimed to have sexual affairs with the president and possible threatening them—has previously said he’d take a “bullet” for Donald Trump.

But in recent days, Cohen has hinted that he prioritizes his family and “patriotism” over fealty to the President. That’s led observers to speculate about whether Cohen plans to flip, offering information about the President in exchange for possible immunity.

A group of lawyers writing in the Washington Post noted that in their experience, Cohen’s actions indicate that he’s very close to turning on the president to save himself.

“With five guilty pleas and 24 indictments already filed, special counsel Robert S. Mueller III poses an obvious threat to the White House,” they wrote.

“President Trump admits as much with his incessant attacks on the investigation. But an even greater risk is on the horizon: Michael Cohen’s public statements Monday and other recent signs strongly suggest that Trump’s longtime consigliere will seek to ‘flip’ on the president, becoming a government cooperator and potential star witness,” they continued.

“Because of his role as Trump’s fixer, Cohen is more likely than anyone else to have damaging information on the president.”

The threat of jail time is a powerful motivator, a tactic prosecutors usually turn on low-income clients. In this case, an commonwealth prosecutorial tactic may be used to gain valuable information about the president.

“Potentially facing a substantial jail sentence and crippling financial penalties, Cohen is highly motivated to place his own interests above that of his former patron and trade information about the president and others for his own freedom,” they go on to explain.

They note that even if Trump isn’t indicted, Cohen spilling useful information about the President could fuel calls for impeachment.

“While Republican support for the president seems strong at the moment, that was also the case for Richard Nixon — until it wasn’t,” they concluded.

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

Trump biographer reveals how NY state investigators can get president’s federal tax returns — and make them public

Tom Boggioni
Raw Story
04 Jul 2018 at 21:28 ET                   

In an opinion piece written for the New York Times, financial reporter and biographer David Cay Johnston laid out a path for the state of New York to gain  access to President Donald Trump’s federal income tax returns and put them into the public record.

According to David Cay Johnston says that an investigation into Trump’s foundation has already opened the door to a criminal investigation into his state tax returns which should mirror — in many aspects  — what he is reporting to the IRS.

As Johnston explains it, “On June 14, the New York State attorney general, Barbara Underwood, filed a civil complaint against President Trump and his three oldest children, accusing them of ‘persistently illegal conduct’ in using the Donald J. Trump Foundation as ‘little more than a checkbook for payments from Mr. Trump or his businesses to nonprofits, regardless of their purpose or legality.'”

Johnston said that if there is evidence of criminality, it opens up a whole world of hurt for Trump — including allowing state investigators to look into his overall finances.

“A state or county criminal investigation that begins with abuse of the Donald J. Trump Foundation need not be limited to violations of charity and election law,” he explained. “It can also examine his personal and business tax filings and, in the process, lawfully put his tax returns in the public record.”

“New York State tax returns strictly adhere to the federal tax system’s definition of income, so an audit of Mr. Trump’s state tax returns would apply equally to his federal tax returns. If an investigation concludes that Mr. Trump cheated the state,Underwood and [Manhattan district attorney] Cyrus Vance Jr. have the authority to put Mr. Trump’s tax returns — both state and federal — into the public record by filing civil or criminal tax fraud charges,” Johnston continued.

Johnston then elaborated on how far the investigation could go.

“On the surface, the numbers on Mr. Trump’s tax returns will appear to comply with the law, as did the summary pages of his 2005 income tax return, which I disclosed last year. But a criminal audit would allow investigators to inspect the transactions justifying each entry on the tax returns,” he wrote. “Those transactions would reveal whether Mr. Trump engaged in money laundering for Russians and others, whether he fully reported profits from his more than 500 business organizations and whether he took unwarranted deductions or excessive expenses to lower his income taxes.”

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

Conservative columnist pens scathing July 4th column calling for destruction of ‘white-nationalist’ GOP

I left the Republican Party. Now I want Democrats to take over.

by Max Boot Columnist
July 5 2018
WA Post

“Should I stay or should I go now?” That question, posed by the eminent political philosophers known as the Clash, is one that confronts any Republican with a glimmer of conscience. You used to belong to a conservative party with a white-nationalist fringe. Now it’s a white-nationalist party with a conservative fringe. If you’re part of that fringe, what should you do?

Veteran strategist Steve Schmidt, who ran John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, is the latest Republican to say “no more.” Recently he issued an anguished Twitter post: “29 years and nine months ago I registered to vote and became a member of the Republican Party which was founded in 1854 to oppose slavery and stand for the dignity of human life,” he wrote. “Today I renounce my membership in the Republican Party. It is fully the party of Trump.”

Schmidt follows in the illustrious footsteps of Post columnist George F. Will, former senator Gordon Humphrey, former representative (and Post columnist) Joe Scarborough, Reagan and Bush (both) aide Peter Wehner, and other Republicans who have left the party. I’m with them. After a lifetime as a Republican, I re-registered as an independent on the day after Donald Trump’s election.

Explaining my decision, I noted that Trumpkins “want to transform the GOP into a European-style nationalist party that opposes cuts in entitlement programs, believes in deportation of undocumented immigrants, white identity politics, protectionism and isolationism backed by hyper-macho threats to bomb the living daylights out of anyone who messes with us.” I still hoped then that traditional conservatives might eventually prevail, but, I wrote, “I can no longer support a party that doesn’t know what it stands for — and that in fact may stand for positions that I find repugnant.”

I am more convinced than ever that I made the right decision. The transformation I feared has taken place. Just look at the reaction to President Trump’s barbarous policy of taking children away from their parents as punishment for the misdemeanor offense of illegally entering the country. While two-thirds of Americans disapproved of this state-sanctioned child abuse, forcing the president to back down, a majority of Republicans approved. If Trump announced he were going to spit-roast immigrant kids and eat them on national TV (apologies to Jonathan Swift), most Republicans probably would approve of that, too. The entire Republican platform can now be reduced to three words: whatever Trump says.

And yet there are still principled #NeverTrump conservatives such as Tom Nichols and Bill Kristol who are staying in the party. And they have a good case to make. Kristol, for one, balks “at giving up the Republican party to the forces of nativism, vulgar populism, and authoritarianism.” As he notes, “It would be bad for the country if one of our two major parties went in this direction.”

The Fix’s Aaron Blake analyzes whether calls for “civility” will help or hurt Democrats in the 2018 midterm elections. (JM Rieger/The Washington Post)

No one anticipated Trump’s takeover. It’s possible, these Republicans argue, that we might be equally surprised by his downfall. Imagine what would happen if special counsel Robert S. Mueller III found clear evidence of criminality or if Trump’s trade wars tanked the economy. I’m not saying that’s likely to happen, but if it does, it might — just might — shake the 88 percent GOP support that Trump currently enjoys. That, in turn, could open the way for a credible primary challenge that wouldn’t deny him the nomination but that — like Gene McCarthy in 1968, Ronald Reagan in 1976 and Pat Buchanan in 1992 — could help to defeat him in the general election and wrest the party from his grasp.

Personally, I’ve thrown up my hands in despair at the debased state of the GOP. I don’t want to be identified with the party of the child-snatchers. But I respect principled conservatives who are willing to stay and fight to reclaim a once-great party that freed the slaves and helped to win the Cold War. What I can’t respect are head-in-the-sand conservatives who continue to support the GOP by pretending that nothing has changed.

They act, these political ostriches, as if this were still the party of Ronald Reagan and John McCain rather than of Stephen K. Bannon and Stephen Miller — and therefore they cling to the illusion that supporting Republican candidates will advance their avowed views. Wrong. The current GOP still has a few resemblances to the party of old — it still cuts taxes and supports conservative judges. But a vote for the GOP in November is also a vote for egregious obstruction of justice, rampant conflicts of interest, the demonization of minorities, the debasement of political discourse, the alienation of America’s allies, the end of free trade and the appeasement of dictators.

That is why I join Will and other principled conservatives, both current and former Republicans, in rooting for a Democratic takeover of both houses in November. Like postwar Germany and Japan, the Republican Party must be destroyed before it can be rebuilt.


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« Reply #4238 on: Jul 05, 2018, 05:48 AM »

No, the Democrats didn’t start a new ‘civil war’ on July 4th — but could it happen again?

Chauncey Devega, Salon
05 Jul 2018 at 20:42 ET                   

At present, America feels like a broken country. Democrats and Republicans do not live in the same neighborhoods or communities. Nor do Democrats and Republicans communicate with each other in meaningful and personal ways.

Liberals and conservatives have little overlap in their fundamental beliefs about the common good and what it means to live in a just and democratic society. Even the ability to find common ground on the basic nature of empirical reality and the facts seems impossible across divides of party and political belief.

This story first appeared in Salon.

In total, Donald Trump did not create these deep fissures in American society. He and his movement put dynamite in them, lit the fuse, walked away, and laughed at the destruction and chaos which resulted — destruction which they would in turn use to advance their goals.

America is in a moment when prominent voices on both the left and the right — and often motivated by very different concerns — have begun to publicly sound the alarm about the possibility of a second civil war in the United States.

On Sunday, far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones claimed on his “Infowars” show that “Democrats plan to launch civil war on July 4.” This is a nonsense claim. But could such an outcome actually take place? What would be the social divisions which would encourage Americans to turn against one another? How does American Exceptionalism blind and complicate how the country’s citizens and elites think about conflict? In what ways has the rise of Donald Trump increased the possibility of a second civil war?

In an effort to answer these questions, I recently spoke with award-winning journalist and war correspondent Omar El Akkad. He is the author of the recent bestselling novel “American War.”

This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

How did America go so far off the rails as to elect someone like Donald Trump president? The country is very broken and the idea of a second Civil War actually feels increasingly plausible.

I come from a part of the world where the United States is for better or worse, a very bright beacon. It’s the loudest voice in the world. It’s the brightest light in the world. There is a tendency to think of the Middle East as a place where America and Americans are universally reviled. But in reality there is a kind of necessary hope, I think, among many people from my part of the world that America — or at least the mythology of America — worked out in the end because there is a sense that at the core of this country, there is the promise that you can come here and you can be left alone. You can think what you want, you can say what you want, you can do what you want. After moving here a few years ago, I came to realize that the mythology is very far from the reality. The promise has been largely unattainable for a vast parts of this country’s population — particularly racial and other types of minorities.

The very idea that the mythology could be true makes this country worth caring about and worth having a sense of hopefulness for. But that doesn’t really address our question, right? The question of how we got here has to do with the idea that this is a country with no floor and no ceiling. There are very few limits on how high you can rise in America and certainly the billionaire class is pretty evident proof of that, and also no limits on how far you can fall. I’m a citizen of Canada. I consider that my home. Canada has a very real floor. It has a social safety net. It has universal healthcare and so on. These things in large parts do not exist in the United States. That translates in practical political ways in America. There is no floor and no ceiling on ideological extremism in this country.

For decades now conservatives and the Republican Party have veered in a direction where even things that a decade or two ago would’ve been considered completely beyond the pale are now the norm. That’s one of the things you sort of have to live with when you’re in a country that has very few boundaries on how far you can go in any direction.

Eliminationist rhetoric and other appeals to violence are common language among the right-wing in America. But when they are called to account for encouraging violence — especially when said violence actually occurs — most conservatives deny responsibility for their own words and deeds. You have covered war zones in your travels as a journalist. What do you think American conservatives don’t understand about the dangers of their language and behavior? 

For eight years an entire part of the political spectrum in the United States was in a state of absolute opposition towards Barack Obama. Obviously a big part of that opposition was based on the skin color of the man who was president. This is a situation that was literally the subject of a “Simpsons” episode. We would not be in this position with Donald Trump if a significant number of Republican leaders had stood up, for example, a few years ago and said, “No, the president was not born in Kenya. He’s not a secret Muslim. These are racist conspiracy theories.”

But they did not. For eight years, there was a party in this country whose entire policy position was “no.” Their entire policy position was if it came from the Obama administration, we hate it. We hate this. We hate that. It’s not that far step to move from being the party that hates things to being the party of hatred.

I don’t think that this is something fundamentally different from what’s been going on in the United States for the past few years. I think now the only difference is that the people doing it feel far more empowered than they might have done even a decade ago.

What was the research process like for “American War”?

I started writing the book in the summer of 2014 and I finished it almost exactly a year later, about two or three weeks before Donald Trump announced he was running for president. I’ve been thinking about it for years but the actual writing took almost exactly a year. In my mind, and I still think this way, it was never a book about America. It was a book about the universal language of revenge. The idea that anybody subjected to enough damage can become damaging themselves. That the way that somebody on the other end of the planet responds to being on the receiving end of injustice if a drone flattened their home or killed their family is not especially different from how you and I or anyone in this relatively peaceful part of the world would respond to the same injustice. Those of us in the United States for examples have the privilege of assuming exotic motivations on the part of those people all the way over there. That is a privilege of living in a part of the world that hasn’t been losing a war for 30 years.

But the era in which the book has come out, with Donald Trump, has been dominated by a moment in which America is staring in the mirror and confused and horrified by what it sees. But in terms of researching this book, there’s very little in the book that hasn’t happened. It just happened to somebody far away, somebody who doesn’t have much of a voice. If you live in Yemen or if you live in Afghanistan, that’s not science fiction. A situation with drones killing people exists. I didn’t invent drones. I didn’t invent waterboarding. I didn’t invent the state of refugee camps around the world. All of these things I simply stole from real life and recast in a setting that was much closer to home.

The myth of American Exceptionalism encourages people in this country to be willfully ignorant about the rest of the world. Is this largely a function of how the American corporate news media has failed to properly inform the public?   

First of all I’m not sure that it’s possible for me to lump all of American media into a single group. The New York Times, generally, does good reporting. Every now and then they will have an op-ed that makes me immensely frustrated. But generally speaking their foreign correspondents do very good work. The Associated Press has reporters who many times are the only source of information from some very dangerous parts of the world.

I think the difference is that America of all country, and especially in this moment, it’s very easy to get lost in the sense that this is a very loud country. Everything it does is very, very loud. It’s very easy when you live here to begin to think that this is all there is. I can’t remember the last time that I saw significant coverage of important news events in most of the world being the center of an American news broadcast. America is the center of America. That’s fine. Most countries are like that. Most countries are the centers of themselves, except that America is much louder.

Part of solving a lot of these political problems has to do first and foremost with empathy, with the idea of understanding why somebody does something. But it’s very difficult to do that when you only see the most extreme examples. When we talk about radicalization, for example, we tend to see radicalization as the finish line when somebody has strapped a bomb to themselves or somebody has killed a bunch of people. We very rarely get any kind of insight into everything that happens before that moment — for example, how somebody becomes that way. I think that’s the failure.

The empathy gap is reflected along the global color line. Both abroad and in the United States, white folks as a group have shown remarkably little empathy for the suffering and life challenges of nonwhites caused by racism and other types of structural violence.

The United States has two founding sins. Genocide against Native Americans and the enslavement of black people. Those are two foundational sins of immense magnitude. A magnitude so great that hundreds of years later we see the repercussion still — and they’re not minor. They impact every aspect of life in this country. A lot of countries are founded in blood. A lot of countries have foundational sins and it’s not impossible to find some sort of reconciliation. But it requires that the acknowledgement of those sins be of equal magnitude to the magnitude of the original sin. It requires that the acknowledgement not be a small declaration by the government saying, “Hey, we’re sorry. That was pretty bad.” This is still a country where there are more monuments to slaveholders than there are to the freeing of slaves. And this is still a country when city workers in New Orleans go to take a Confederate monument down, they have to cover their faces because they’re worried about getting killed.

I think that it’s just incredibly difficult to imagine the magnitude of the event that would acknowledge the particular horrors of American history. I think that’s the stopping point for a lot of people’s empathy. They have trouble wrapping their heads around the sheer magnitude of the wrongs that were done, let alone how to address them properly.

How did your perspective as someone who has lived in another country most of their life influence your perspective on American society and politics?

The book is largely concerned with the idea of symmetry and echoes. The example I bring up often is that I was a journalist for 10 years. During that time, I was tear gassed twice. Once when I was in Cairo covering the Arab Spring. Another time when I was in Ferguson covering the Black Lives Matter Movement. I saw echoes, the visual language for example was very similar. This heavily militarized police presence where it’s the police only in name. In reality the police are a lot more like the military. They use weapons which are supposed to be facing outwards and they’re suddenly turned inwards and that’s never a good place to be as a society.

Many of those police are military veterans who have now been trained to see black and brown Americans and their communities as targets to be “pacified” and where the people who live there are almost like “insurgents.”

The other echo was the language. This ridiculous false equivalency between the destruction of lives and the destruction of property, those were two equal and offsetting events. You start to see similarities in the ways that people respond to injustice. That influenced the book in a big way.

The other thing that influenced the book was my experience as the U.S. correspondent for a Canadian newspaper. I would have to explain in detail things that Americans take for granted. You’d write a story about literally any topic and you’d have about four or five paragraphs of background information explaining, for example, any story I did on healthcare in this country. I would have to explain, “This is really how it works here.” America’s ridiculous healthcare system is not the norm. Ridiculous maternity leave policies are not the norm elsewhere. Lack of gun control policies are not the norm. When you’re an outsider coming to America there are so many things that you can explain as not being the norm anywhere else and then put some context to it.

How did you find your calling as a  journalist? What was it like to cover the Arab Spring or the war in Afghanistan?

I am obsessed with telling stories that had I not reported them they likely would not be more widely known about. For example, I was a technology reporter for a while. That was the exact opposite of what I wanted to do because if I didn’t tell you about the new iPhone launch, you’d get it from a thousand other media outlets. But being concerned with stories that otherwise wouldn’t be told naturally led to places like warzones because fewer people go there and fewer people want to know about it. That was what drew me to it.

Of course, when I was younger, there was also that Hemingway element and I wanted to go where the action was. Once I got there of course all of that faded away very quickly. The stereotype of the heroic war correspondent is nonsense. The best war correspondents are afraid a lot of the time and their names aren’t particularly well-known.

The worst war correspondents I ever met were the ones who believed in the fantasy of being the hero of the story. In reality, a lot of war reporting and a lot of conflict reporting is not done by reporters themselves. It’s done by the fixers. It’s done by the local guy in Kandahar who used to be a surgeon but now makes more money setting up interviews and getting information for the Western reporter and who puts his life in danger to do so. The fixer then tries to get that reporter to write him a reference letter so he can apply for a visa and maybe come to this part of the world and have a safer life.

That is the bulk of a lot of foreign reporting. It is just local fixers doing the work and then foreign reporter getting the byline at the end.

The idea of this innate heroism associated with war reporting has not meant anything to me for a long time. What matters to me is the idea that your obligation as a journalist is to put the true picture in front of the reader, the listener or the viewer. What they choose to do with that information afterwards is between them and their conscience. But your job is to say, “This is what it really is.” In my opinion anything beyond that is self-aggrandizement.

If you were to explain how America could be torn apart by a second civil war what would you focus on? Specifically, how would you brief military professionals about the scenario in your book “American War”?

I would spend very little time talking about America. I would take as a case study any of a number of people who we only really learn about when they’ve done something horrible, when they’ve committed a terrorist act for example. I would spend my time talking about their background. Where were they born? How did they grow up? What was done to them?  Much of this boils down to agency. I think we all as human beings have a very basic desire to have some say over the things we do and the things that are done to us. Once you start taking away people’s agency, either slowly through systemic discrimination or very quickly, which is what happens in warfare, you start to see people become damaged. Once they’ve become damaged, they want to inflict that damage on other people. That’s what I would talk about. I would spend very little time talking about particularly American issues. This country knows itself whether it wants to or not. This country knows itself very, very well.

I would also talk about how suffering is a universal language.  Moreover, the need for revenge once you’ve been wronged is also a kind of universal language. If we have any desire to stop the worst consequences of these things, we need to understand how they’re formed.

It is really easy to write a hacky cliché-filled speculative fiction dystopia novel. What were the rules for the universe you created to keep the book grounded and believable?

The rule set was pretty simple. I was going to take these conflicts that have defined the world in my lifetime. These are conflicts in which U.S. involvement has either been indirect or from a great distance. I was going to recast them as elements of something very close to home. I could think of nothing closer to home than a civil war. Once I established that founding rule, all I did was take these things that have happened to other people and recast them. For example, there’s a refugee camp in the book called Camp Patience. A lot of what happens in Camp Patience is based on things that have happened in Middle East or in refugee camps. I didn’t invent them. I took them and I renamed them and I dressed them up in different clothes. But I didn’t make them up.

There’s a chapter in the book that takes place in a detention camp called Sugarloaf, which is very clearly influenced by Guantanamo Bay. The things that happened in that camp are based on things that I either learned about while covering Guantanamo or while researching what the United States has done to many captives during the War on Terror years. The foundational rule of the book was not to veer too far from things that have actually happened. Once I had that in place, everything else fell in the place afterwards.

I get a lot of flack about the book being depressing and very bleak. Of course it’s very bleak. But I couldn’t write it any other way. I couldn’t write it in a more hopeful way or in a less bleak way and still stay true to that fundamental requirement that I mirror things have actually happened. That’s the way I want about writing.

I can also imagine critics and some readers saying that, “Oh, you’re just hyperbolic! That stuff happens over there. America, a declining power, global warming, resource wars, that’s impossible.”

I get a lot of that. But that was part of the book that I cared least about because again I was writing this  book when the idea of the United States engaging in a cold or hot civil war was much more far-fetched than it feels right now under Donald Trump. What I was trying to do was explore an idea, and I was very much unconcerned with whether, “Is the next Civil War actually going to be about climate change?” or “Is this actually how drones would go haywire?” Now I get questions about that sort of stuff all of the time. For example, I have received numerous comments about how the second American Civil War would never ever be fought over climate change; it is going to be fought over racial issues.

That’s a valid comment. My response is that the first civil war doesn’t ever feel to have truly ended. The reality is that many of those old issues and conflicts never went fully away.


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« Reply #4239 on: Jul 06, 2018, 04:13 AM »

Rise of the machines: has technology evolved beyond our control?

Technology is starting to behave in intelligent and unpredictable ways that even its creators don’t understand. As machines increasingly shape global events, how can we regain control?

by James Bridle
Guardian
7/6/2018

The voice-activated gadget in the corner of your bedroom suddenly laughs maniacally, and sends a recording of your pillow talk to a colleague. The clip of Peppa Pig your toddler is watching on YouTube unexpectedly descends into bloodletting and death. The social network you use to keep in touch with old school friends turns out to be influencing elections and fomenting coups.

Something strange has happened to our way of thinking – and as a result, even stranger things are happening to the world. We have come to believe that everything is computable and can be resolved by the application of new technologies. But these technologies are not neutral facilitators: they embody our politics and biases, they extend beyond the boundaries of nations and legal jurisdictions and increasingly exceed the understanding of even their creators. As a result, we understand less and less about the world as these powerful technologies assume more control over our everyday lives.

Across the sciences and society, in politics and education, in warfare and commerce, new technologies are not merely augmenting our abilities, they are actively shaping and directing them, for better and for worse. If we do not understand how complex technologies function then their potential is more easily captured by selfish elites and corporations. The results of this can be seen all around us. There is a causal relationship between the complex opacity of the systems we encounter every day and global issues of inequality, violence, populism and fundamentalism.

Instead of a utopian future in which technological advancement casts a dazzling, emancipatory light on the world, we seem to be entering a new dark age characterised by ever more bizarre and unforeseen events. The Enlightenment ideal of distributing more information ever more widely has not led us to greater understanding and growing peace, but instead seems to be fostering social divisions, distrust, conspiracy theories and post-factual politics. To understand what is happening, it’s necessary to understand how our technologies have come to be, and how we have come to place so much faith in them.

    The cloud is the central metaphor of the int­ernet: a global system of great power that is almost impossible to grasp

In the 1950s, a new symbol began to creep into the diagrams drawn by electrical engineers to describe the systems they built: a fuzzy circle, or a puffball, or a thought bubble. Eventually, its form settled into the shape of a cloud. Whatever the engineer was working on, it could connect to this cloud, and that’s all you needed to know. The other cloud could be a power system, or a data exchange, or another network of computers. Whatever. It didn’t matter. The cloud was a way of reducing complexity, it allowed you to focus on the issues at hand. Over time, as networks grew larger and more interconnected, the cloud became more important. It became a business buzzword and a selling point. It became more than engineering shorthand; it became a metaphor.

Today the cloud is the central metaphor of the internet: a global system of great power and energy that nevertheless retains the aura of something numinous, almost impossible to grasp. We work in it; we store and retrieve stuff from it; it is something we experience all the time without really understanding what it is. But there’s a problem with this metaphor: the cloud is not some magical faraway place, made of water vapour and radio waves, where everything just works. It is a physical infrastructure consisting of phone lines, fibre optics, satellites, cables on the ocean floor, and vast warehouses filled with computers, which consume huge amounts of water and energy. Absorbed into the cloud are many of the previously weighty edifices of the civic sphere: the places where we shop, bank, socialise, borrow books and vote. Thus obscured, they are rendered less visible and less amenable to critique, investigation, preservation and regulation.

Google Reveals Top-Secret Data centers - 17 Oct 2012Mandatory Credit: Photo by KeystoneUSA-ZUMA / Rex Features (1930453m) Council Bluffs, Iowa, U.S. - A collection of switches and routers that keep Google’s data centers in contact. The fiber optic networks connecting our sites can run at speeds that are more than 200,000 times faster than a typical home Internet connection. The fiber cables run along the yellow cable trays near the ceiling. Google Reveals Top-Secret Data centers - 17 Oct 2012

Over the last few decades, trading floors around the world have fallen silent, as people are replaced by banks of computers that trade automatically. Digitisation meant that trades within, as well as between, stock exchangescould happen faster and faster. As trading passed into the hands of machines, it became possible to react almost instantaneously. High-Frequency Trading (HFT) algorithms, designed by former physics PhD students to take advantage of millisecond advantages, entered the market, and traders gave them names such as The Knife. These algorithms were capable of eking out fractions of a cent on every trade, and they could do it millions of times a day.

Something deeply weird is occurring within these massively accelerated, opaque markets. On 6 May 2010, the Dow Jones opened lower than the previous day, falling slowly over the next few hours in response to the debt crisis in Greece. But at 2.42pm, the index started to fall rapidly. In less than five minutes, more than 600 points were wiped off the market. At its lowest point, the index was nearly 1,000 points below the previous day’s average, a difference of almost 10% of its total value, and the biggest single-day fall in the market’s history. By 3.07pm, in just 25 minutes, it recovered almost all of those 600 points, in the largest and fastest swing ever.

In the chaos of those 25 minutes, 2bn shares, worth $56bn, changed hands. Even more worryingly, many orders were executed at what the Securities Exchange Commission called “irrational prices”: as low as a penny, or as high as $100,000. The event became known as the “flash crash”, and it is still being investigated and argued over years later.

    While traders might have played a longer game, the machines, faced with uncertainty, got out as quickly as possible

One report by regulators found that high-frequency traders exacerbated the price swings. Among the various HFT programs, many had hard-coded sell points: prices at which they were programmed to sell their stocks immediately. As prices started to fall, groups of programs were triggered to sell at the same time. As each waypoint was passed, the subsequent price fall triggered another set of algorithms to automatically sell their stocks, producing a feedback effect. As a result, prices fell faster than any human trader could react to. While experienced market players might have been able to stabilise the crash by playing a longer game, the machines, faced with uncertainty, got out as quickly as possible.

Other theories blame the algorithms for initiating the crisis. One technique that was identified in the data was HFT programmes sending large numbers of “non-executable” orders to the exchanges – that is, orders to buy or sell stocks so far outside of their usual prices that they would be ignored. The purpose of such orders is not to actually communicate or make money, but to deliberately cloud the system, so that other, more valuable trades can be executed in the confusion. Many orders that were never intended to be executed were actually fulfilled, causing wild volatility.

Flash crashes are now a recognised feature of augmented markets, but are still poorly understood. In October 2016, algorithms reacted to negative news headlines about Brexit negotiations by sending the pound down 6% against the dollar in under two minutes, before recovering almost immediately. Knowing which particular headline, or which particular algorithm, caused the crash is next to impossible. When one haywire algorithm started placing and cancelling orders that ate up 4% of all traffic in US stocks in October 2012, one commentator was moved to comment wryly that “the motive of the algorithm is still unclear”.

At 1.07pm on 23 April 2013 Associated Press sent a tweet to its 2 million followers: “Breaking: Two Explosions in the White House and Barack Obama is injured.” The message was the result of a hack later claimed by the Syrian Electronic Army, a group affiliated to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. AP and other journalists quickly flooded the site with alerts that the message was false. The algorithms following breaking news stories had no such discernment, however. At 1.08pm, the Dow Jones went into a nosedive. Before most human viewers had even seen the tweet, the index had fallen 150 points in under two minutes, and bounced back to its earlier value. In that time, it erased $136bn in equity market value.


The Asus Zenbo. Designed to be a smart home assistant, Zenbo uses cameras to keep it from bumping into the walls and speakers and microphones that allow it to respond to voice commands.
The Asus Zenbo. Designed to be a smart home assistant, Zenbo uses cameras to keep it from bumping into the walls and speakers and microphones that allow it to respond to voice commands. Photograph: Asus.com

Computation is increasingly layered across, and hidden within, every object in our lives, and with its expansion comes an increase in opacity and unpredictability. One of the touted benefits of Samsung’s line of “smart fridges” in 2015 was their integration with Google’s calendar services, allowing owners to schedule grocery deliveries from the kitchen. It also meant that hackers who gained access to the then inadequately secured machines could read their owner’s Gmail passwords. Researchers in Germany discovered a way to insert malicious code into Philips’s wifi-enabled Hue lightbulbs, which could spread from fixture to fixture throughout a building or even a city, turning the lights rapidly on and off and – in one possible scenario – triggering photosensitive epilepsy. This is the approach favoured by Byron the Bulb in Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow, an act of grand revolt by the little machines against the tyranny of their makers. Once-fictional possibilities for technological violence are being realised by the Internet of Things.

In Kim Stanley Robinson’s novel Aurora, an intelligent spacecraft carries a human crew from Earth to a distant star. The journey will take multiple lifetimes, so one of the ship’s jobs is to ensure that the humans look after themselves. When their fragile society breaks down, threatening the mission, the ship deploys safety systems as a means of control: it is able to see everywhere through sensors, open or seal doors at will, speak so loudly through its communications equipment that it causes physical pain, and use fire suppression systems to draw down the level of oxygen in a particular space.

This is roughly the same suite of operations available now from Google Home and its partners: a network of internet-connected cameras for home security, smart locks on doors, a thermostat capable of raising and lowering the temperature in individual rooms, and a fire and intruder detection system that emits a piercing emergency alarm. Any successful hacker would have the same powers as the Aurora does over its crew, or Byron over his hated masters.

Before dismissing such scenarios as the fever dreams of science fiction writers, consider again the rogue algorithms in the stock exchanges. These are not isolated events, but everyday occurrences within complex systems. The question then becomes, what would a rogue algorithm or a flash crash look like in the wider reality?

Would it look, for example, like Mirai, a piece of software that brought down large portions of the internet for several hours on 21 October 2016? When researchers dug into Mirai, they discovered it targets poorly secured internet connected devices – from security cameras to digital video recorders – and turns them into an army of bots. In just a few weeks, Mirai infected half a million devices, and it needed just 10% of that capacity to cripple major networks for hours.

Mirai, in fact, looks like nothing so much as Stuxnet, another virus discovered within the industrial control systems of hydroelectric plants and factory assembly lines in 2010. Stuxnet was a military-grade cyberweapon; when dissected, it was found to be aimed specifically at Siemens centrifuges, and designed to go off when it encountered a facility that possessed a particular number of such machines. That number corresponded with one particular facility: the Natanz nuclear facility in Iran. When activated, the program would quietly degrade crucial components of the centrifuges, causing them to break down and disrupt the Iranian enrichment programme.

The attack was apparently partially successful, but the effect on other infected facilities is unknown. To this day, despite obvious suspicions, nobody knows where Stuxnet came from, or who made it. Nobody knows for certain who developed Mirai, either, or where its next iteration might come from, but it might be there, right now, breeding in the CCTV camera in your office, or the wifi-enabled kettle in the corner of your kitchen.

Or perhaps the crash will look like a string of blockbuster movies pandering to rightwing conspiracies and survivalist fantasies, from quasi-fascist superheroes (Captain America and the Batman series) to justifications of torture and assassination (Zero Dark Thirty, American Sniper). In Hollywood, studios run their scripts through the neural networks of a company called Epagogix, a system trained on the unstated preferences of millions of moviegoers developed over decades in order to predict which lines will push the right – meaning the most lucrative – emotional buttons. Algorithmic engines enhanced with data from Netflix, Hulu, YouTube and others, with access to the minute-by-minute preferences of millions of video watchers acquire a level of cognitive insight undreamed of by previous regimes. Feeding directly on the frazzled, binge-watching desires of news-saturated consumers, the network turns on itself, reflecting, reinforcing and heightening the paranoia inherent in the system.

Game developers enter endless cycles of updates and in-app purchases directed by A/B testing interfaces and real-time monitoring of players’ behaviours. They have such a fine-grained grasp of dopamine-producing neural pathways that teenagers die of exhaustion in front of their computers, unable to tear themselves away.

Or perhaps the flash crash will look like literal nightmares broadcast across the network for all to see? In the summer of 2015, the sleep disorders clinic of an Athens hospital was busier than it had ever been: the country’s debt crisis was in its most turbulent period. Among the patients were top politicians and civil servants, but the machines they spent the nights hooked up to, monitoring their breathing, their movements, even the things they said out loud in their sleep, were sending that information, together with their personal medical details, back to the manufacturers’ diagnostic data farms in northern Europe. What whispers might escape from such facilities?

    Users are encouraged to keep their phones in their beds, to record their sleep patterns. Where does all this data go?

We are able to record every aspect of our daily lives by attaching technology to the surface of our bodies, persuading us that we too can be optimised and upgraded like our devices. Smart bracelets and smartphone apps with integrated step counters and galvanic skin response monitors track not only our location, but every breath and heartbeat, even the patterns of our brainwaves. Users are encouraged to lay their phones beside them on their beds at night, so that their sleep patterns can be recorded. Where does all this data go, who owns it, and when might it come out? Data on our dreams, our night terrors and early morning sweating jags, the very substance of our unconscious selves, turn into more fuel for systems both pitiless and inscrutable.

Or perhaps the flash crash in reality looks exactly like everything we are experiencing right now: rising economic inequality, the breakdown of the nation-state and the militarisation of borders, totalising global surveillance and the curtailment of individual freedoms, the triumph of transnational corporations and neurocognitive capitalism, the rise of far-right groups and nativist ideologies, and the degradation of the natural environment. None of these are the direct result of novel technologies, but all of them are the product of a general inability to perceive the wider, networked effects of individual and corporate actions accelerated by opaque, technologically augmented complexity.



In New York in 1997, world chess champion Garry Kasparov faced off for the second time against Deep Blue, a computer specially designed by IBM to beat him. When he lost, he claimed some of Deep Blue’s moves were so intelligent and creative that they must have been the result of human intervention. But we understand why Deep Blue made those moves: its process for selecting them was ultimately one of brute force, a massively parallel architecture of 14,000 custom-designed chess chips, capable of analysing 200m board positions per second. Kasparov was not outthought, merely outgunned.

By the time the Google Brain–powered AlphaGo software took on the Korean professional Go player Lee Sedol in 2016, something had changed. In the second of five games, AlphaGo played a move that stunned Sedol, placing one of its stones on the far side of the board. “That’s a very strange move,” said one commentator. “I thought it was a mistake,” said another. Fan Hui, a seasoned Go player who had been the first professional to lose to the machine six months earlier, said: “It’s not a human move. I’ve never seen a human play this move.”

AlphaGo went on to win the game, and the series. AlphaGo’s engineers developed its software by feeding a neural network millions of moves by expert Go players, and then getting it to play itself millions of times more, developing strategies that outstripped those of human players. But its own representation of those strategies is illegible: we can see the moves it made, but not how it decided to make them.

The late Iain M Banks called the place where these moves occurred “Infinite Fun Space”. In Banks’s SF novels, his Culture civilisation is administered by benevolent, superintelligent AIs called simply Minds. While the Minds were originally created by humans, they have long since redesigned and rebuilt themselves and become all-powerful. Between controlling ships and planets, directing wars and caring for billions of humans, the Minds also take up their own pleasures. Capable of simulating entire universes within their imaginations, some Minds retreat for ever into Infinite Fun Space, a realm of meta-mathematical possibility, accessible only to superhuman artificial intelligences.

    In 2016 three networks at Google developed a private form of encryption. The machines are learning to keep their secrets

Many of us are familiar with Google Translate, which was launched in 2006, using a technique called statistical language inference. Rather than trying to understand how languages actually worked, the system imbibed vast corpora of existing translations: parallel texts with the same content in different languages. By simply mapping words on to one another, it removed human understanding from the equation and replaced it with data-driven correlation.

Translate was known for its humorous errors, but in 2016, the system started using a neural network developed by Google Brain, and its abilities improved exponentially. Rather than simply cross-referencing heaps of texts, the network builds its own model of the world, and the result is not a set of two-dimensional connections between words, but a map of the entire territory. In this new architecture, words are encoded by their distance from one another in a mesh of meaning – a mesh only a computer could comprehend.

While a human can draw a line between the words “tank” and “water” easily enough, it quickly becomes impossible to draw on a single map the lines between “tank” and “revolution”, between “water” and “liquidity”, and all of the emotions and inferences that cascade from those connections. The map is thus multidimensional, extending in more directions than the human mind can hold. As one Google engineer commented, when pursued by a journalist for an image of such a system: “I do not generally like trying to visualise thousand-dimensional vectors in three-dimensional space.” This is the unseeable space in which machine learning makes its meaning. Beyond that which we are incapable of visualising is that which we are incapable of even understanding.

In the same year, other researchers at Google Brain set up three networks called Alice, Bob and Eve. Their task was to learn how to encrypt information. Alice and Bob both knew a number – a key, in cryptographic terms – that was unknown to Eve. Alice would perform some operation on a string of text, and then send it to Bob and Eve. If Bob could decode the message, Alice’s score increased; but if Eve could, Alice’s score decreased.

Over thousands of iterations, Alice and Bob learned to communicate without Eve breaking their code: they developed a private form of encryption like that used in private emails today. But crucially, we don’t understand how this encryption works. Its operation is occluded by the deep layers of the network. What is hidden from Eve is also hidden from us. The machines are learning to keep their secrets.

How we understand and think of our place in the world, and our relation to one another and to machines, will ultimately decide where our technologies will take us. We cannot unthink the network; we can only think through and within it. The technologies that inform and shape our present perceptions of reality are not going to go away, and in many cases we should not wish them to. Our current life support systems on a planet of 7.5 billion people and rising depend on them. Our understanding of those systems, and of the conscious choices we make in their design, remain entirely within our capabilities. We are not powerless, not without agency. We only have to think, and think again, and keep thinking. The network – us and our machines and the things we think and discover together – demands it.

Computational systems, as tools, emphasise one of the most powerful aspects of humanity: our ability to act effectively in the world and shape it to our desires. But uncovering and articulating those desires, and ensuring that they do not degrade, overrule, efface, or erase the desires of others, remains our prerogative.

When Kasparov was defeated back in 1997, he didn’t give up the game. A year later, he returned to competitive play with a new format: advanced, or centaur, chess. In advanced chess, humans partner, rather than compete, with machines. And it rapidly became clear that something very interesting resulted from this approach. While even a mid-level chess computer can today wipe the floor with most grandmasters, an average player paired with an average computer is capable of beating the most sophisticated supercomputer – and the play that results from this combination of ways of thinking has revolutionised the game. It remains to be seen whether cooperation is possible – or will be permitted – with the kinds of complex machines and systems of governance now being developed, but understanding and thinking together offer a more hopeful path forward than obfuscation and dominance.

Our technologies are extensions of ourselves, codified in machines and infrastructures, in frameworks of knowledge and action. Computers are not here to give us all the answers, but to allow us to put new questions, in new ways, to the universe •

    James Bridle’s New Dark Age: Technology and the End of the Future is published by Verso. To order a copy for £14.44, go to guardianbookshop.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £10, online orders only. Phone orders min. p&p of £1.99.


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« Reply #4240 on: Jul 06, 2018, 04:16 AM »

Trump effort to lift US offshore wind sector sparks interest – from Europe

Reuters
06 Jul 2018 at 10:52 ET                   

The Trump administration wants to fire up development of the U.S. offshore wind industry by streamlining permitting and carving out vast areas off the coast for leasing – part of its ‘America First’ policy to boost domestic energy production and jobs.

The Europeans have taken note.

The drive to open America’s offshore wind industry has attracted Europe’s biggest renewable energy companies, who see the U.S. East Coast as a new frontier after years of success across the Atlantic.

Less experienced U.S. wind power companies, meanwhile, have struggled to compete in their own backyard, according to lease data and interviews with industry executives. Many are steering clear of the opportunity altogether, concerned by development costs and attracted to cheaper options on land.

The Trump administration hopes the industry will help supply power to the heavily-populated Northeast, eventually creating American jobs in manufacturing turbines, towers and other components. Its efforts are part of a broader push to relax regulations and spur development across the energy complex.

“This would be American produced energy, and American jobs,” said Vincent DeVito, energy policy advisor to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. “It fits well with the America First agenda.”

For the moment, however, Europe’s renewable energy companies are the ones using the opportunity to advance their already sizable headstart in offshore wind projects.

Since 2014, European-backed companies have won all eight of the U.S. government’s competitive offshore wind lease auctions with aggressive bids that have pumped up prices into the tens of millions of dollars.

Bidding in an auction last year for nearly 80,000 acres off the coast of New York, for example, lasted 33 rounds with Norway’s Equinor, formerly known as Statoil, eventually winning the lease for a record $42.5 million. An individual lease had never before sold for more than $5 million, according to public records.

Europeans claimed another victory in May when a partnership between Copenhagen Infrastructure Fund and Avangrid, the U.S. arm of Spain’s Iberdrola, won the largest ever U.S. contract for offshore wind power, in Massachusetts.

Of the federal government’s 12 currently active offshore wind leases, seven are owned by European-backed companies, according to Bureau of Ocean Energy Management records.

“The U.S. is one of the most desirable global offshore wind markets,” Jonathan Cole, Iberdrola’s managing director of offshore wind, told Reuters.

FLYING THE FLAG

Trump’s Interior Department gave the industry a boost this year when it announced major lease sales off Massachusetts, sought input on potential lease areas off New York and New Jersey, and began a study of all Atlantic coast waters for wind energy potential.

It also proposed easing permitting, including by allowing developers to get some permits before making key decisions, like what size of turbines they would use.

Such aggressive leasing and flexible permitting helped Europe become the world’s largest offshore wind market, with thousands of wind turbines installed in the last two decades, and more than 9 billion euros in investment expected this year, according to trade group WindEurope.

While the U.S. East Coast has wind conditions and sea depths similar to the North Sea, it boasts just one five-turbine wind farm off the coast of Rhode Island.

That wind farm was developed by privately-held U.S. firm Deepwater Wind LLC, which is backed by hedge fund D. E. Shaw Group. Deepwater Wind’s chief executive, Jeff Grybowski, called the U.S. wind industry’s hesitation to move offshore outdated.

“I’m sure that we will see more American entrants in this business as time goes on,” he said. “Until then we’re happy to fly the flag.”

Other U.S. chief executives are less sanguine. Jim Robo, CEO of leading U.S. renewable energy company NextEra, told investors on a recent conference call that development time of 5 to 10 years and uncertainty around permitting raised serious questions about prospects offshore.

“It is a moon shot in terms of building, in terms of finding people who actually know what they’re doing from a construction standpoint,” Robo said.

NextEra, which owns 120 wind farms in the United States and Canada, did not respond to a request for additional comment.

Those concerns are echoed across much of the U.S. industry.

“There are so many opportunities to do onshore, at substantially lower cost,” said Mike Garland, the CEO of Pattern Energy Group. “It makes more sense for us to be focused in that area.”

Foreign companies are not just dominating the offshore leases. Most of the early projects, according to executives, will rely almost exclusively on imports of everything from subsea cables to turbines that are not currently made domestically – meaning much of the work will be overseas.

Components for Deepwater Wind’s five turbines off Rhode Island, for example, were shipped from Spain, Denmark and France, according to Grybowski. Their steel foundations were made in Louisiana.

If construction demand picks up, the picture could change, according to a 2017 report by consultants BVG Associates Limited.

The report said building 8 gigawatts of offshore wind projects by 2030 would likely justify making most turbine components on U.S. soil, helping support up 16,700 full-time jobs.

The Interior Department’s DeVito said he saw the possibilities first hand during a visit to an offshore wind component manufacturing site in Copenhagen. He said he was he was amazed by “the level of activity, the blades, the steel towers, the cranes swinging.”

“The opportunity is to make them here,” he said.

Additional reporting by Stine Jacobsen; Editing by Richard Valdmanis and Paul Thomasch


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« Reply #4241 on: Jul 06, 2018, 04:18 AM »

Warmer waters cut Alaska’s prized salmon harvest

Reuters
7/6/2018

Warming waters have reduced the harvest of Alaska’s prized Copper River salmon to just a fraction of last year’s harvest, Alaska biologists say.

The runs of Copper River salmon were so low that the Alaska Department of Fish and Game shut down the commercial harvest last month, halting what is usually a three-month season after less than two weeks. Earlier this month, the department also shut down most of the harvest that residents along the river conduct to feed their families.

The total commercial harvest for Alaska’s marquee Copper River salmon this year after it was halted at the end of May was about 32,000 fish, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game reported. That compares to the department’s pre-season forecast of over 1.2 million and an average annual harvest of over 1.4 million fish in the prior decade.

State biologists blame warming in the Gulf of Alaska for the diminished run of Copper River salmon, prized for its rich flavor, high oil content and deep-red color.

The fish spend most of their lives in the ocean, and those waters were 3 to 5 degrees Celsius (5 to 9 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than normal, thanks to a warm and persistent North Pacific water mass that climate scientists have dubbed “the Blob,” along with other factors, said Mark Somerville, a biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Warmer temperatures caused the metabolism of the fish to speed up, Somerville said. “They need more food for maintenance,” he said. “At the same time, their food source was diminished.”

Other important salmon runs are also struggling, including those in the Kenai River – a world-famous sport fishing site – and along Kodiak Island. Others have had good numbers, though the returning fish are noticeably reduced in size, Somerville said.

In Alaska, where wild salmon is iconic, Copper River fish hold a special status.

Their high oil content is linked to their ultra-long migration route from the ocean to their glacier-fed spawning grounds. They are the first fresh Alaska salmon to hit the market each year. Copper River salmon have sold for $75 a pound.

“It’s the foie gras or Kobe of the sea, really,” said Chris Bryant, executive chef for WildFin American Grill, a group of Seattle-area seafood restaurants. But he worries about trends for Alaska salmon beyond the Copper River.

“The fish are smaller, which makes it harder for chefs to get a good yield on it and put it on the plate,” he said.

Reporting by Yereth Rosen in Anchorage, Alaska; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Chris Reese


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« Reply #4242 on: Jul 06, 2018, 04:22 AM »


'Victory for People and the Planet' as EPA Chief Scott Pruitt Resigns

By Julia Conley
Ecowatch
7/6/2018

The White House announced Thursday that U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt has resigned, following months of mounting scandals regarding his misuse of taxpayer funds for his lavish travel expenses, the extreme secrecy with which he ran the agency, his treatment of his staff, and other ethics controversies.

While Pruitt's management style and ethics-free behavior frequently threatened to distract from his activities as the nation's top official ostensibly in charge of safeguarding the environment, climate action groups and other green campaigners have repeatedly pointed to his aggressive efforts to undermine the EPA's stated mission while spearheading the Trump administration's overall effort to execute a massive giveaway to the fossil fuel industry and other corporate interests.

Friends of the Earth (FOE) called Pruitt's departure a "victory for people and the planet."

"Scott Pruitt's corruption and coziness with industry lobbyists finally caught up with him," said FOE president Erich Pica. "We're happy that Pruitt can no longer deceive Americans or destroy our environment. This victory belongs to the hundreds of thousands of activists who fought to protect the Environmental Protection Agency from a corrupt crony set on destroying it from the inside...We must work to remove every member of this administration who has abused their power and put polluter profits over people and the planet."

"Ethics matter," concluded Rhea Suh, president of the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC). "So does a commitment to the EPA's central mission. Pruitt failed miserably on both counts."

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

Here are 6 horrifying things you need to know about new EPA head Andrew Wheeler

Tana Ganeva
Raw Story
7/6/2018

On Thursday, President Donald Trump announced the resignation of scandal-plagued EPA Chief Scott Pruitt. The President said that the future of the agency “looked bright” with Andrew Wheeler at the helm.

“We have made tremendous progress and the future of the EPA is very bright!” the President announced.

The future might be bright for the coal industry, if not so much for humans and plants, both of which need sunlight and air to survive.

Here are 6 horrifying things about Pruitt’s replacement, Andrew Wheeler.

1. His last gig was as a coal industry lobbyist. Wheeler worked for Murray Energy Corporation—the largest coal mining company in America. Wheeler must have been good at his job promoting big coal interests, netting close to $3 million for the gig.

2. Murray Energy’s CEO, who doesn’t believe in climate science, worked hard to stall the Obama administration’s efforts to pass environmental protections.

3. Wheeler formerly worked for James Inhofe, pre-eminent climate change denier, according to DeSmog blog.

4. While Wheeler worked for Murray Energy, the company was forced to pay millions in fines for contaminating water in three states with coal slurry, the Columbus Dispatch reported.

5. Prior to his nomination, Wheeler hosted fundraisers for Senators in order to evaluate his chance of getting the post.

6. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, Wheeler presents a dire threat to mitigating the negative effects of climate change. “Unlike Pruitt, Wheeler worked for the EPA early in his career and has played key roles in Congressional oversight of the agency and its budget, making him a formidable opponent with intimate knowledge of the agency’s programs and regulations,” they wrote.


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« Reply #4243 on: Jul 06, 2018, 04:23 AM »


Plastics Industry Loses Legal Bid Against Chile's Landmark Bag Ban

Ecowatch
7/6/2018

Chile's Constitutional Court ratified a bill that bans plastic bags across the country after rejecting an appeal from the plastics industry.

Last month, Chile's Congress unanimously approved the ban in order to protect the environment and especially the ocean. Shortly after, the Santiago-based Association of Industrial Plastics (Asipla) launched a legal challenge to overturn the legislation, saying it was unconstitutional.

On Tuesday, the court determined the legislation was in line with the constitution, thereby paving the way for Chile to become the first country in the Americas to prohibit retailers from handing out plastics bags.

"We are very pleased with the court's decision, it was the last stage for the enactment of this law," said environment minister Marcela Cubillos, according to AFP.

In a tweet, the Ministry of Environment noted that the court's green light on the bag ban coincided with International Plastic Bag Free Day, which is observed on July 3.

Once the bill is enacted by President Sebastian Piñera's government, businesses will have will have six months to adjust to the new rule. Smaller businesses will have a year to comply, AFP reported.

Chile's move is not as extreme as it sounds. The vast majority (about 95 percent) of surveyed Chileans across all age groups approved of the plastic bag ban, according to the Ministry of Environment's website. There are also 92 cities and towns that already have measures regulating the usage of plastic bags.

Chile uses more than 3.4 billon plastic bags annually, or roughly 200 bags per person per year, according to Asipla.

However, about 97 percent of those plastic bags end up in landfills or in oceans, where they take centuries to degrade.

This is a landmark piece of legislation for both South and North America. The Santiago Times noted that a number of states and municipalities in the U.S. and Canada have similar bans but none on the national level yet. But Costa Rica announced in August that it wants to be the first country in the world to ban all single-use plastics by 2021.

Elsewhere around the globe, Rwanda and Kenya have enforced complete bans on plastic bags. In 2002, Bangladesh became the world's first country to ban the items.

Meanwhile in Texas, the state's top court ruled last month that cities cannot ban plastic bags.


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« Reply #4244 on: Jul 06, 2018, 04:25 AM »


Great Barrier Reef in Danger of Mass Coral Bleaching Events Every Two Years

Ecowatch
7/6/2018

The Great Barrier Reef—Australia's remarkable but imperiled natural wonder—is under risk of repeat coral bleaching events unless greenhouse gas emissions are slashed, Australia's Climate Council warned Thursday.

The new report, Lethal Consequences: Climate Change Impacts on the Great Barrier Reef, determined that by 2034, the extreme ocean temperatures that led to the mass bleaching events of 2016 and 2017 may occur every two years if emissions continue on current trends.

Climate Councilor and ecologist Lesley Hughes explained that the unprecedented mass coral bleaching in 2016, which killed off nearly a third of the reef's coral, is occurring more often.

"In the 1980's, we would see a 27-year gap on average in between bleaching events around the world. Now, they're hitting every six years on average," she said, as quoted by the Australian Associated Press.

Under continued heat stress, corals expel the algae that live in their tissues and give them their stunning colors, leaving behind a stark white skeleton.

"This is not sustainable because repeated bleaching events will continuously set back recovery," the report states.

The new report finds that the damage to the reefs may be irreversible and that coral mortality has led to a decline in the diversity of fish species and in the number of juvenile fish settling on the reef.

The researchers urge drastic and immediate reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, a major driver of global warming. The report says that limiting temperature rise above pre-industrial levels to no more than 1.5°C—the ambitious target set by the 2015 Paris climate agreement—is critical for the survival of reefs worldwide.

"Doing anything other than urgently and dramatically slashing our nation's rising pollution levels will essentially sign the death certificate for the Reef as we know it today," said Martin Rice, acting chief executive of the Climate Council in a statement.

In April, the Australian government announced it will invest more than $500 million (US $379 million) to protect the reef.

However, environmentalists have pointed out that most of the funds are going towards improving water quality, controlling outbreaks of coral-eating starfish and research—a "band-aid plan" as Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull's fossil fuel-friendly government promotes the building of new coal mines, which fuels global warming that harms the reef.

The report states: "Whilst sediment run-off and the crown-of-thorns starfish place additional stress on an already stressed system, there is scant evidence that local management can sufficiently reduce susceptibility of corals to bleaching from marine heatwaves in the long-term. Without effectively addressing climate change, the Federal Government's plan will not help protect the Great Barrier Reef."

Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, also spoke out against the government's plan.

"Science is well aware of what is killing coral on the Great Barrier Reef. It's the excess heat that comes from burning fossil fuels," McKibben said in a press release. "If the Turnbull government was serious about saving the Reef they would be willing to take on the industry responsible for the damage. To simultaneously promote Adani's coal mine, which would be one of the world's largest, pretending to care about the world's largest Reef is an acrobatic feat only cynical politicians would attempt."


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