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« Reply #4275 on: Sep 08, 2018, 05:08 AM »

The First Woman in Space: The Story of Valentina Tereshkova


Today, we still lament about the discrepant gender gap in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) but things were a lot worse a century ago. Only a select few women got to be scientists in the ’50s and early ’60s — at least compared to the number of men who went on to earn a PhD — and this was during a time when things started to drift towards more liberal ground.

The USSR, however, didn’t seem to share the same gender bias in science as other countries, possibly because the Marxist doctrine upon which the regime was based took granting equal rights to both men and women very seriously, including their place in society. In 1964, some 40% of engineering graduates in the USSR were females compared to under 5% in the US. By the mid-1980s, 58% of Russian engineers were women.

Roshanna Sylvester, a writer at Russian History Blog, has some thoughts as to why Soviet Russia might have succeeded where the United States failed — and is still failing, for that matter:

    Analysis of pedagogical journals suggests that girls’ quest for advancement in the 1960s was aided by the USSR’s standard school curriculum, which privileged the study of math and the hard sciences. There are also hints that girls benefited from generalized efforts by science and math educators to identify and mentor talented students as well as to improve the overall quality of instruction in those fields. As far as influences beyond the school room, sociological studies (particularly those conducted by Shubkin’s group in Novosibirsk) offer support for the notion that parents played key roles in shaping daughters’ aspirations. But those results also suggest that girls’ ideas about occupational prestige both reflected contemporary stereotypes about ‘women’s work’ and offered up challenges to male domination in science and technology fields.

This is a valid point. Even in the 1960s, long after the war, there were millions of Russians that lived like they had for centuries: through subsistence farming. Science and a job in science, either as a doctor, engineer or electrician, offered a way out and promised a place for the “new man” in the “new world”. As such, many Russians of humble origins, including women, sought to study hard and win a place. One of these women who came out of the Russian system was Valentina Tereshkova. The daughter of a tractor driver and a textile plant worker in the Yaroslavl Region of Russia, Tereshkova left school when she was 17 to work as a textile factory assembly worker, as her mother had. However, she still insisted on earning her education and opted to study by correspondence. She was also a keen amateur skydiver through the DOSAAF Aviation Club in Yaroslavl and made her first jump in May 1959 at age 22. Two years later in April 1961, the Soviet Union launched Vostok 1, aboard which was Yuri Gagarin: the first man in space.

The following year, in 1962, the Soviets launched a program for the new Vostok where they recruited 50 people to serve as cosmonauts, including five women. Of these five women, one would be selected as the first women in space. The prime candidate need not be a pilot, but since upon re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere the pilot of the Vostok spacecraft would be ejected to make a landing by parachute, skydiving experience was a must. Thanks to her jumps, Tereshkova — a woman with little formal education — was selected as one of the five women, all of whom were much more qualified than her: test pilots, engineers, and world-class parachutists. After intensive training, however, Tereshkova proved she could make the final cut. In the end, Tereshkova was one of two final candidates.

On June 14, 1963, Vostok 5 was launched into space with cosmonaut Valeri Bykovsky aboard. With Bykovsky still orbiting the earth, Tereshkova was launched into space on June 16 aboard Vostok 6. The two spacecraft had different orbits but at one point came within three miles of each other, allowing the two cosmonauts to exchange brief communications. It was a stellar achievement! Not only did Tereshkova become the first woman in space, but with one single flight, she also logged more flight time than all previous American astronauts put together at the time – 70.8 hours in space with 48 orbits of the Earth. While in space, the first female cosmonaut performed experiments intended to assess the effects of microgravity and space on the human body and took photos that helped identify aerosols in the atmosphere.

Unfortunately, her landing wasn’t a smooth one: by the time she ejected from the capsule, Tereshkova was famished and dehydrated from poor food and agonizing injuries brought about from being strapped in her seat for three days straight. According to her own recent account (at the time, any kind of internal behavior that could discredit the Soviet Union would be immediately dismissed), when parachuting down, Tereshkova saw that she was heading for a large lake. With her body numb and weak, she doubted she could swim to shore. Luckily, a high wind blew her over to the shoreline and she landed safely, albeit roughly. Her nose banged pretty hard on her helmet and she had to wear makeup in public to cover up the subsequent bruises.

After landing, Tereshkova never flew again, but did study engineering at the Zhukovsky Air Force Academy and eventually obtained her Ph.D. in 1977. She also became a prominent politician, served on international councils, spoke at international conferences, played a critical role in socialist women’s issues, and was awarded the USSR’s highest honor, the Hero of the Soviet Union medal, along with many other awards.

Unfortunately, while at the surface the Soviet society cherished her, it was secretly eating her alive. After her flight, Tereshkova dealt with Air Force officials who sought to discredit her by claiming she was insubordinate and drunk on the launch pad (they were eventually dismissed) and pressured her into marrying Andrian Nikolayev, the only bachelor cosmonaut at the time, in a lavish ceremony presided over by Khrushchev himself. The marriage wasn’t happy at all, but if the two divorced it would have meant the end of both of their careers.

In 1978, the female cosmonaut program was finally relaunched, and Tereshkova immediately signed back up. While undergoing medical review, Tereshkova met and fell in love with physician Yuliy Shaposhnikov. Although she failed her medical review and never went back into space, Tereshkova separated from and successfully divorced her first husband (the divorce had to be approved by then-Premier Leonid Brezhnev; he granted it in 1982) and married Yuliy. Following the USSR collapse in 1991, she lost political office.

In 1999, her husband died and she retired to a small house on the outskirts of Star City. In 2013, at a state celebration for her seventieth birthday, Tereshkova said she’d love to go to Mars, jokingly or not, even if it was a one-way mission. The former cosmonaut isn’t alone in committing herself to such a mission: thousands of people from around the world have signed up to a project called Mars One, which has announced plans to launch a private mission to land a group of four men and women on Mars in 2023 to found a permanent colony. So far, a hundred people have been shortlisted.

Needless to say, there are a lot of things we can learn from Tereshkova’s story, but there’s also a lot we can learn from the USSR’s approach to women in science. Take this letter from a girl in Ukraine to Yuri Gagarin:

    I have wanted to ask you for a long time already: ‘is it possible for a simple village girl to fly to the cosmos?’ But I never decided to do it. Now that the first Soviet woman has flown into space, I finally decided to write you a letter….I know [to become a cosmonaut] one needs training and more training, one needs courage and strength of character. And although I haven’t yet trained ‘properly’, I am still confident of my strength. It seems to me that with the kind of preparation that you gave Valia Tereshkova, I would also be able to fly to the cosmos.

Now, compare it to this letter written by a fifteen-year-old American girl to John Glenn:

    Dear Col. Glenn, I want to congratulate you on your successful space flight around the earth. I am proud to live in a nation where such scientific achievements can be attained. I’m sure it takes a great amount of training and courage for you to accomplish such a feat. It was a great honor to witness this historical event. I would very much like to become an astronaut, but since I am a 15 year old girl I guess that would be impossible. So I would like to wish you and all of the other astronauts much success in the future.

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« Reply #4276 on: Sep 08, 2018, 05:19 AM »

'Palau against China!': the tiny island defying the world's biggest country

Archipelago is refusing to switch diplomatic allegiance from Taiwan to China, despite a huge downturn in its tourism industry

by Kate Lyons in Koror
Sat 8 Sep 2018 02.00 BST

Wearing a Hawaiian shirt and sipping an iced tea, Ongerung Kambes Kesolei sits at a veranda bar overlooking a hotel pool, under fans that slowly push humid air around on a quiet Sunday afternoon.

But the calm of the scene is deceptive, for Kesolei is explaining that his small island home of Palau – a dot on the map in the north-west corner of the Pacific with a population of just over 20,000 people – has attracted the ire of one of the world’s most powerful nations and is now at the centre of a geo-political bunfight.

“They [China] want to weaken Tsai Ing-wen [the Taiwanese president] and that’s where Palau comes into play,” said Kesolei, the editor of one of Palau’s two newspapers.

Palau is one of just 17 countries that has refused to give up diplomatic relations with Taiwan and switch allegiance to China.

Palau, which was under US administration until its independence in 1994, struck up diplomatic relations with Taiwan in 1999 after a few years of what Kesolei calls “wooing” from both Beijing and Taipei. The almost 20-year friendship has been strong, with Kesolei saying “every Palauan has a story” of interaction with Taiwan, whether travelling there for a holiday, education or medical treatment.

But Taiwan’s allies are slowly being chipped away, as China puts the pressure on and seeks to penalise those that recognise self-ruled Taiwan, which Beijing considers a Chinese territory. El Salvador switched its allegiance last month, and Burkina Faso and the Dominican Republic severed ties with Taiwan earlier this year.

Those countries that continue to recognise Taiwan – particularly the six Taiwanese allies located in the Pacific, where China is seeking to increase its influence – are feeling the pressure.
‘The governments are having a fight’

For tiny Palau, where tourism accounts for 42.3% of GDP, this pressure has come in the form of what the locals call the “China ban”.

In November 2017, the Chinese government ordered tour operators to stop selling package tours to Palau, with reports that doing so could lead to fines.

Some insist Palau has always been a blacklisted destination but that until recently the Chinese government turned a blind eye.

Evan Rees, Asia-Pacific analyst at Stratfor, says China uses such bans – as well as the granting and withholding of Approved Destination Status (ADS) to countries – as “part of a larger toolkit for compelling behaviour”.

Last year, South Korea was the subject of such a travel ban, after a row over its deployment of a US missile defence system, which had a devastating impact on tourism to the country during the PyeongChang Winter Olympics.

The bans affect package tours booked through travel agencies, which accounts for about 45% of all Chinese tourists, said Rees, though independent Chinese travellers are still able to visit “banned” destinations.

One Palauan-based Chinese businessman said the word “Palau” had also been blocked as an internet search term in China.

The impact of the ban on Palau has been stark.

The number of tourists from China has plummeted so dramatically that one airline flying charter flights between China and Palau stopped flights at the end of August, because “the Chinese government made Palau an illegal tour destination possibly and most likely due to lack of diplomatic status”.

Palauan tour operators and government officials bridle at suggestions the ban has brought Palau to its knees – there were still 9,000 visitor arrivals in July – but occupancy rates at hotels have dropped and businesses are hurting.

The pain of the ban has been particularly acute because it was immediately preceded by a staggering boom in tourism from China, with tourist arrivals from the country skyrocketing from 634 in 2008 – making up less than 1% of all visitors – to more than 91,000 in 2015 – 54% of all visitors.

At Elilai restuarant, which is heavily promoted as the “best restaurant in Palau” on billboards all over the island, I am the sole diner in a restaurant that could comfortably accommodate 50.

Waitress Donita Rose Cagaoan-Tipay is apologetic about the empty room, saying it was the result of a “ban from China”, though she says she doesn’t know much more about it than that.

“I asked my friend who is a Chinese tour guide, he said Palau and China, the governments are having a fight,” she explains.

The boom

The empty restaurants are a far cry from 2014 and 2015, when charter flights from China began landing every day each carrying hundreds of tourists.

Leilani Reklai says the impact on the island was overwhelming. “Guys were running around town buying land, getting cash in suitcases and buying everything in sight,” says Reklai, who is the president of Palau’s tourism association.

Reklai owned two boats that took tour groups to the Rock Islands, the most famous of Palau’s tourist attractions, which before the Chinese boom would go out four days a week during peak season.

“But for almost one year my guys were going out seven days a week” she says.
'Explore lightly': Palau makes all visitors sign pledge to respect environment
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“Some people were saying ‘This is the Chinese strategy, this is what they do, they are going to pour a lot of money in here, and get you addicted like it’s Coke and then turn off the faucet’. But of course, money was louder so people weren’t listening,” says Reklai.

At 70, Francis Toribiong has had almost every job in the tourism business. He says the dip hurt “everybody”. Toribiong has been forced to sell a 25-bed hostel but says he got off relatively lightly.

“There are so many young men who went to the development bank and borrowed hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy boats,” he says. Now, demand has dropped so much that they are lucky if they are able to make enough to cover fuel and the loan repayments.

A blessing in disguise?

Despite the pain, most people agree the boom was unsustainable.

At its peak in 2015, 169,000 tourists arrived in Palau and the country’s power, water and sewage systems struggled to cope. There was huge inflation, and the price of food and rent skyrocketed.

“There was an outcry,” says Ngiraibelas Tmetuchl, chairman of the Palau Visitors Authority, the government’s tourism marketing arm. “Prices of crabs went up, prices of fish, rents went up, people were displaced. There was an apartment that was going for $500, now they charge $1,200. There was a shortage of rooms. Apartments [were converted] from apartments to hotels.”

Kevin Mesebeluu, director of the bureau of tourism, says the China ban may be “a blessing in disguise”, giving Palau a chance to reevaluate its approach to tourism.

“The president has been very clear about the direction,” he said. “High-value, low-impact sustainable tourism.”

Indeed, the country was heading down this path before the ban came into effect. In 2015, Palau’s president, Tommy Remengesau, announced a reduction in the number of charter flights between China and Palau, in response to environmental and social concerns.

Reklani thinks this decision, which came into effect gradually, means Palau escaped much more serious financial trouble. “We definitely got out in time, this pain we’re going through, it would have been so much worse,” she says.

Since the China ban, Remengesau has reiterated his commitment to Taiwan, telling the Nikkei Asian Review that while China was an “important partner” Palau had “more in common with Taiwan”.

A statement from his spokesperson was even more defiant, suggesting Palau would not bow to pressure: “Palau is a country of laws, it is a democracy and we make our own decisions.”

However, there are others who would not mind seeing Palau switch diplomatic horses.

“It’s about time that we focus our interests and views towards the People’s Republic of China,” said Senate president Hokkons Baules in July at the groundbreaking ceremony for a Chinese-backed resort, according to the Island Times.

The China-Taiwan question is expected to be a key issue at the next presidential election in 2020. But the Taiwanese ambassador to Palau, Wallace Chow, says he is not worried about the relationship, saying it is “very solid”.

Speaking to Guardian during an event for 25 Taiwanese youth ambassadors who are spending several days in Palau as part of a “soft power” mission, Chow says it is this “down-to-earth, to the people, for the people” approach that will keep Palau onside.

But Palauans may also be persuaded by the more than $10m in aid provided by Taiwan to the country each year, reminders of which are dotted around the island as signs announce that road or building projects are funded by Taiwanese grant money.

“I’m very confident that the Palauan people know who is their true partner and which side their bread is buttered,” said Chow.

Under the slowly moving fans, Kesolei says he does not expect a diplomatic switch anytime soon. “It’s part of our culture that we are very loyal to our friends,” he says.

Palauans also like the image of themselves as a country that is standing up to a superpower.

“Some of my social circle enjoy this limelight. Palau against China! This tiny thing against the world’s biggest [country]! Some of my friends say: if we have the power to decide, let’s be the last man standing with Taiwan, [other] countries will think we don’t just switch, we stay with our friends until the very end.”

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« Reply #4277 on: Sep 08, 2018, 05:24 AM »

Nicaragua strike brings country to standstill as crisis continues

Civic Alliance group called for the strike to demand release of activists charged with terrorism
Carl David Goette-Luciak and Caroline Houck in Managua
8 Sep 2018 21.53 BST

Shops, banks and businesses across Nicaragua stayed closed on Friday in the latest 24-hour strike called by opposition leaders since protests against the government of Daniel Ortega broke out in April.

In the Centro Comercial, an upscale shopping center in downtown Managua, the usually bustling avenues were empty, save for the watchmen outside shuttered storefronts and a short line of men waiting to use the ATM outside a closed bank.

Friday's strike was called by the opposition Civic Alliance to demand the release of activists including student leaders Edwin Carcache and Alejandro Centeno, who were imprisoned this week on charges of terrorism.

“With 200 political prisoners and [new] murders every day, this strike is just one more sign that nothing is normal here in Nicaragua,” said Ana Margarita Vigil, a 40-year-old national director of the outlawed opposition Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS).

After security forces and paramilitaries retook rebel strongholds in July, Ortega's government has attempted to draw a line under the crisis, but protests have continued, and negotiations brokered by the Catholic church have stalled.

Most shops and small businesses in the capital were closed on Friday, while in the nearby city of Boaco, local media reported only 7% of businesses were open.

Jorman Estrada, 23, lounged outside the bar where he normally works as a waiter. “All the bars, restaurants and businesses in this neighborhood decided to close today to support the national strike. We all have to work together to end the repression,” he said.

Earlier this week, Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the United Nations, told the UN security council that Nicaragua risks becoming another Venezuela or Syria if it continues to stifle dissent.

Last week, Ortega expelled a UN human rights mission after it published a report denouncing government repression and describing a “climate of fear” in the Central American country.

The government, however, describes the protesters as terrorists and fake agitators paid by foreign organizations.

“The majority in Nicaragua want work and peace,” Rosario Murillo, Ortega’s wife and vice-president, said on Monday. “But there are still blind people out there … these small groups [are] of bitter, blind, low-lifers, souls full of misery.”

Some larger businesses remained open and, in one of the hemisphere's poorest countries, many people said they had to keep working to avoid destitution.

“I’m in favor of the strike, something in this country has to change,” said Freddy Hernández, a 33-year-old father of two selling avocados and coconuts door-to-door in central Managua. “But if I don’t sell anything today, my family won’t eat – so I can’t join in.”

“This strike is how the people tell the dictatorship that they won’t take any more of this repression,” said Dora María Téllez, who played a key role in the 1979 Sandinista revolution, but later split with Ortega and founded the MRS. “This is evidence that the struggle against the Ortega dictatorship continues, that we Nicaraguans will not give in until Nicaragua has justice and democracy.”

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« Reply #4278 on: Sep 08, 2018, 05:28 AM »

Obama speaks out against Trump and attacks 'politics of fear and resentment'

Ex-president mentions Trump by name in impassioned speech that rebukes Republicans for ‘pitting one group against another’

Sabrina Siddiqui in Washington
Fri 7 Sep 2018 18.22 BST

Barack Obama has delivered a sharp rebuke of Donald Trump’s America, attacking his successor by name for the first time in impassioned remarks that denounced “the politics of fear and resentment”.

In his first major political speech since leaving the White House, Obama made a lengthy appeal to voters across the US to restore “a healthy democracy”, and denounced the tactics employed by Trump and Republicans in Washington as an unprecedented threat to the country’s future.

“Appealing to tribe, appealing to fear, pitting one group against another, telling people that order and security would be restored if it weren’t for those who don’t look like us, or don’t sound like us, or don’t pray like we do – that is an old playbook, it’s old as time,” Obama said.

“It did not start with Donald Trump. He is a symptom, not the cause.”

Obama added: “Trump’s just capitalizing on resentments that politicians have been fanning for years.

“When there is a vacuum in our democracy, when we don’t vote, when we take our basic rights and freedoms for granted, the politics of fear and resentment and retrenchment takes hold.”

Speaking to students on Friday at the University of Illinois where he accepted an award for ethics in government, Obama foreshadowed the themes he is expected to take to the campaign trail in the coming weeks while stumping for Democrats before the November midterm elections.

Obama’s remarks signaled he would not pull any punches in taking on Trump, whom Obama has studiously avoided attacking by name after handing him the keys to the presidency in January 2017.

    The politics of division, resentment and paranoia have unfortunately found a home in the Republican party
    Barack Obama

Until now, Obama had weighed in on just a handful of Trump’s draconian immigration policies and decisions to withdraw from landmark international agreements, such as the Paris climate accord and Iran nuclear deal.

But on Friday, Obama offered his most pointed indictment of the political climate that has formed under Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress. It was a remarkable foray back into the realm of politics, after more than a year and a half of largely sitting on the sidelines.

As Obama spoke, Trump had arrived in North Dakota to headline a fundraiser for a Republican Senate candidate.

“I watched it but I fell asleep,” Trump told the audience. “I’ve found he’s very good, very good for sleeping.”

The president also criticized his predecessor for “trying to take credit for this incredible thing that’s happening”. Obama had pointed out in his speech that the economic recovery, which Republicans have attributed to Trump, actually began under his watch.

Standing before a crowd of mostly students, Obama chronicled the chaos and dysfunction that has characterized the Trump administration – and what he framed as the Republican acquiescence that enabled the breakdown of norms.

Obama asked: “What happened to the Republican party?

“It’s not conservative, it sure isn’t normal – it’s radical. Over the past few decades, the politics of division, resentment and paranoia have unfortunately found a home in the Republican party.”

He cited the rise of the far right and its trafficking in conspiracy theories – including the origins of Obama’s birthplace and a war on “science and facts”; he waded into Trump’s attacks on his own attorney general, Jeff Sessions, and efforts to undermine the FBI and justice department investigating his campaign; and he alluded to Trump’s drawing a moral equivalence between white supremacists and counter-protesters on the left in Charlottesville.

“We are Americans. We’re supposed to stand up to bullies – not follow them,” Obama said, amplifying his tone with a note of incredulity.

“We’re supposed to stand up to discrimination, and we’re sure as heck supposed to stand up clearly and unequivocally to Nazi sympathizers. How hard can that be, to say that Nazis are bad?”

Although ostensibly an assessment of the nation’s capitol under Republican control, aides described Obama’s message as much broader than the current moment. As a former president who twice sailed to victory with huge support from young voters, Obama’s pitch was aimed at a generation of Americans at risk of becoming disenfranchised from the political process.

He implored young voters to channel their frustrations into votes at the ballot box, grassroots organizing and electing public officials who reflect the country’s rich diversity. To counter Obama’s blistering critique of the status quo, he said, concerned citizens could not afford to “wait for a savior”.

“The antidote to a government controlled by a powerful few, a government that divides, is a government by the organized, energized, inclusive many,” he said. “That’s what this moment’s about.”

Obama will spend the coming week campaigning for a handful of Democrats in California and Ohio and is expected to focus his attention on competitive districts that could hold the key to his party regaining control of the House of Representatives.

The former president endorsed a slew of candidates last month, more than half of them women, and on Friday emphasized the importance of first-time candidates and an inflection point for the country that was “too important to sit out”.

“It is a movement of citizens who happen to be younger and more diverse and more female than ever before, and that’s really useful,” Obama said. “We need more women in charge.”

The stakes, he added, were simply too high for cynicism and indifference to take hold.

“These are extraordinary times. And they’re dangerous times,” he said. “In two months we have the chance to restore some semblance of sanity to our politics.”

“There is only one check on abuses of power, and that’s you and your vote.”

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m4BNG-nL2sI


Obama vs. Trump: The clash everyone's waited for arrives

But on Friday, at least, the current president barely mustered a response to the blistering critique leveled against him by his predecessor.

09/07/2018 09:16 PM EDT

URBANA, Ill. — Barack Obama went hard. Donald Trump hardly responded.

Friday was the day Republicans and Democrats and pretty much every reporter and political obsessive have been dreaming of — the two presidents who couldn’t be more different, who are both the throbbing hearts of their own bases and the nightmare of the others’ — going head to head.

Six weeks before the midterms that are existential for both of their visions of the future, Obama unleashed for the first time with an indictment of Trump and Republicans that stopped just short of calling them traitors to the American ideal. Trump, who’s been swiping at Obama on Twitter and other appearances almost every chance he gets and months ago said Democrats who didn’t clap for his state of the union address had committed treason, made a joke about sleeping through it. A few hours later, he congratulated himself for the joke.

“That seems to be the quote of the day, by the way, which I sort of figured," Trump told donors in South Dakota.

Obama delivered some choice quotes of his own during his speech at the University of Illinois. “How hard can that be? Saying that Nazis are bad?” he asked. Later, he called Trump’s Twitter feed “electronic versions of bread and circuses.”

People close to Trump say he has long complained about the fawning coverage and adulation that he believes Obama has received, even after leaving the White House. The dynamic has only bolstered his deep-seated belief that he’ll never be treated fairly or given credit in establishment Washington.

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But Trump also sees Obama as a much more formidable political opponent than Hillary Clinton, the one he actually beat, and Trump’s allies have privately worried that the 44th president could get in his successor’s head. Obama, while publicly dismissive of Trump, has been vexed by Trump for years, from the lies about his birth certificate, to the deliberate attempts to undo his signature achievements, to worries about how much he's responsible for the backlash that helped Trump get elected.

To Obama, Democratic and Republican voters need to band together to overlook their differences and stand up for America against Trump and complicit elected Republicans. To Trump, voters need to see Democrats in office as a threat to America because they won’t work with him.

Where Obama appealed to civic duty and common decency, Trump focused on the hard-line planks of his agenda.

“We have to be tough,” Trump said.

Obama leaned back from the podium at one point and marveled about how every country in the world has signed on to the Paris climate accords, except America, because Trump pulled back from the international agreement. Trump bashed NATO, the World Trade Organization, NAFTA and all the other international norms that Obama holds dear.

Trump flew to North Dakota and South Dakota, where his party is strongest, and gave another pair of speeches bragging about his record, talked briefly about the candidates he was there to support and brought them onto the stage.

Obama flew to central Illinois, spoke about American history and what the country is supposed to stand for, then walked into a local coffee shop and introduced his candidate one by one to the voters surprised to see them there.

Obama aides were giddy to be back out, watching him give the speech that they have also been waiting for. They were all smiles as he stopped by a café afterward for a campaign stop with gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker, where Obama made a show of ordering tiramisu and telling people there that he couldn’t take selfies with all of them.

Asked what they had to say about Obama’s attacks on Trump — coming at the end of head-exploding week in the middle of the darkest period of his presidency so far — multiple Trump White House aides and people close to him said they didn’t want to get into it, letting the president’s words speak for themselves.

Democrats have been flooding Obama’s office with requests for him to come see them.
Obama finally speaks out on Trump.

Republicans, outside of the reddest states — which notably, include several of those where Democratic incumbents are scrambling to hold on — have been ducking questions on Trump for the entire year.

“You saw that Governor [Bruce] Rauner ran away from his president. I’m thrilled that we had President Obama here,” said Pritzker, needling his incumbent Republican opponent after Obama had left the café.

Trump’s public schedule on Friday put him at a disadvantage in terms of hitting back at Obama. The president had two speeches scheduled at fundraising events in North Dakota and South Dakota, but neither were in front of the massive crowds that reliably rev him up.

Still, “Isn’t this much more exciting than listening to President Obama?” Trump asked the crowd at his first event.

All three cable networks carried Obama’s speech live and in full, including Fox News, which is often blaring in the president’s cabin on Air Force One, and replayed clips of Obama’s speech. CNN didn’t carry Trump’s remarks in North Dakota live, MSNBC cut away quickly and even Fox News went to commercial before the president wrapped up. None of them carried Trump’s full speech in South Dakota later in the day.

Trump was speaking to wealthy donors at the fundraising receptions. Obama deliberately chose an auditorium full of students at the University of Illinois for his address.

Trump, at one point, acknowledged he was speaking to a largely affluent crowd, remarking that a coal mining executive he brought up on stage to praise his efforts to revive the coal industry was likely rich.

“I signed his hat,” Trump joked. “The guy’s probably loaded and I’m signing hats.”

Obama, walking around the café after his speech, asked one student, “How did you become interested in actuarial science?” When he heard another person was getting a PhD in rhetoric, Obama leaned in and waxed about “the impact of the digital world, because it lowers restraints and empathy.”

Trump riffed, as he always does. Obama spent the flight to Illinois fiddling with a pen on a printed-out copy of the speech, changing words and then changing them again.

Once it was done, Obama, per his custom, barely went off script — though he said he couldn’t help himself from a digression to take credit for the economy that Trump cites as his biggest success.

"Let’s just remember when this recovery started,” Obama said. “Suddenly Republicans are saying, 'It's a miracle!' I have to remind them that those job numbers are the same as they were in 2015, 2016."

Pushing back on that sensitive point was the only moment when Trump brought out a pre-written document. He produced four sheets of paper listing his accomplishments, running through them one-by-one in front of the crowd to argue that he’d been the one who salvaged the economy.

“Sometimes the backlash comes from people who are genuinely, if wrongly, fearful of change. More often it's manufactured by the powerful and the privileged who want to keep us divided and keep us angry and keep us cynical because that helps them maintain the status quo and keep their power and keep their privilege,” Obama said at one point. “It did not start with Donald Trump. He is a symptom, not the cause.”

By the end of the day, Trump settled on this response to his predecessor's critique: "If that doesn't get you out to vote for the midterms, nothing will.”

But there’s always Twitter to say more.

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'We’re in Crazytown': a week of dysfunction in the Trump White House

Woodward’s book Fear about the White House dropped like a bomb and an anonymous op-ed attacked Donald Trump

Joanna Walters in New York
8 Sep 2018 18.24 BST

Monday was a bank holiday in America. Donald Trump almost went golfing for the third day in a row, after attending his golf course the day before and on Saturday when he was not invited to John McCain’s funeral. Then – motorcade waiting on Monday morning – he appeared to change his mind abruptly and retreated to the White House. Maybe he could see storm clouds gathering. But it was the storm inside his own White House he needed to worry about – and on Tuesday it broke. Here’s what we learned this week.

• Tuesday kicked off badly. Protesters dressed as handmaids, and the kind of people Trump would probably call “nasty women” disrupted the opening day of the supreme court confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill for Judge Brett Kavanaugh, Trump’s ultra-conservative choice for the supreme court.

• In the early afternoon, veteran Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward’s eagerly anticipated book about the Trump White House broke cover. Fear dropped like a bomb as the Washington Post itself revealed devastating details, citing senior members of the administration calling the president, variously, an idiot, a professional liar, the mayor of Crazytown and a clueless, hopeless manchild.

• Woodward, who, with Carl Bernstein, broke the Watergate scandal that brought down Richard Nixon, describes “an administrative coup d’etat” and a “nervous breakdown” in the Trump administration. Fear tells of senior aides secretly snatching official papers from Trump’s desk in the Oval Office so he couldn’t sign them, as the only way to stop the president making dangerous policy decisions.

• Chief of staff John Kelly reportedly told staff, of Trump: “He’s an idiot. It’s pointless to try to convince him of anything. He’s gone off the rails. We’re in Crazytown. I don’t even know why any of us are here. This is the worst job I’ve ever had.”

• According to the book, previous chief of staff Reince Priebus dubbed the presidential bedroom, where Trump goes to tweet “the devil’s workshop” and called leisure time when a bored Trump tweets wildly “the witching hour”. Trump apparently referred to Priebus as a “little rat” who “scurries around”.

• Gary Cohn, Trump’s former chief economic adviser, reportedly called Trump a “professional liar” and threatened to resign after the president said “both sides” were to blame when white supremacists clashed with protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017. Trump was later persuaded to condemn the neo-Nazis, but then told aides that was “the biggest fucking mistake I’ve made,” according to Woodward.

• White House press secretary Sarah Sanders attempted to deride Fear as “nothing more than fabricated stories, many by former disgruntled employees, told to make the president look bad”. Kelly, for one, issued a statement calling the book “total BS”.

• Trump called the book a “shame” on Wednesday and Woodward a “con” and mused that US libel laws should be changed. Further details emerged, that Trump calls himself a “popularist”, despite his former aide Steve Bannon explaining that the word is populist. But this was just the eye of the storm.

• Wednesday mid-afternoon. The New York Times published an anonymous account written by a “current Trump administration official” claiming an internal White House “resistance” is working to “frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations” until he leaves – or can be removed from – office.

• The anonymous opinion column claimed aides had explored removing Trump via the 25th amendment to the US constitution, which allows for the replacement of a president who is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office”, but had decided against it. “So we will do what we can to steer the administration in the right direction until – one way or another – it’s over” the person wrote.

• Uproar ensued. Trump cried “treason” and called the author “gutless”. He was already on the prowl for the sources of Woodward’s book, but the witch-hunt escalated to fever pitch. Senator Rand Paul suggested lie detector tests for White House officials.

•Thursday saw a pitiful parade of senior administration officials, from Vice-President Mike Pence on down, issuing denials that they were the “resistance” mole in the White House. “Not mine”, “no”, “laughable” came the various statements. Trump repeated his cry of treason at a rally in Montana on Thursday evening.


Trump inauguration crowd photos were edited after he intervened

Exclusive: documents released to Guardian reveal government photographer cropped space ‘where crowd ended’

Jon Swaine in New York
8 Sep 2018 11.00 BST

A government photographer edited official pictures of Donald Trump’s inauguration to make the crowd appear bigger following a personal intervention from the president, according to newly released documents.

The photographer cropped out empty space “where the crowd ended” for a new set of pictures requested by Trump on the first morning of his presidency, after he was angered by images showing his audience was smaller than Barack Obama’s in 2009.

The detail was revealed in investigative reports released to the Guardian under the Freedom of Information Act by the inspector general of the US interior department. They shed new light on the first self-inflicted crisis of Trump’s presidency, when his White House falsely claimed he had attracted the biggest ever inauguration audience.

The records detail a scramble within the National Park Service (NPS) on 21 January 2017 after an early-morning phone call between Trump and the acting NPS director, Michael Reynolds. They also state that Sean Spicer, then White House press secretary, called NPS officials repeatedly that day in pursuit of the more flattering photographs.

It was not clear from the records which photographs were edited and whether they were released publicly.

The newly disclosed details were not included in the inspector general’s office’s final report on its inquiry into the saga, which was published in June last year and gave a different account of the NPS photographer’s actions.

By the time Trump spoke on the telephone with Reynolds on the morning after the inauguration, then-and-now pictures of the national mall were circulating online showing that Trump’s crowd fell short of Obama’s. A reporter’s tweet containing one such pair of images was retweeted by the official NPS Twitter account.

An NPS communications official, whose name was redacted in the released files, told investigators that Reynolds called her after speaking with the president and said Trump wanted pictures from the inauguration. She said “she got the impression that President Trump wanted to see pictures that appeared to depict more spectators in the crowd”, and that the images released so far showed “a lot of empty areas”.

The communications official said she “assumed” the photographs Trump was requesting “needed to be cropped”, but that Reynolds did not ask for this specifically. She then contacted the NPS photographer who had covered the event the day before.

A second official, from the NPS public affairs department, told investigators that Spicer called her office on the morning of 21 January and asked for pictures that “accurately represented the inauguration crowd size”.

In this official’s view, Spicer’s request amounted to “a request for NPS to provide photographs in which it appeared the inauguration crowd filled the majority of the space in the photograph”. She told investigators that she, too, contacted the NPS photographer to ask for additional shots.

The NPS photographer, whose name was also redacted, told investigators he was contacted by an unidentified official who asked for “any photographs that showed the inauguration crowd sizes”. Having filed 25 photographs on inauguration day, he was asked to go back to his office and “edit a few more” for a second submission.

“He said he edited the inauguration photographs to make them look more symmetrical by cropping out the sky and cropping out the bottom where the crowd ended,” the investigators reported, adding: “He said he did so to show that there had been more of a crowd.”

The investigators said the photographer believed the cropping was what the official “had wanted him to do”, but that the official “had not specifically asked him to crop the photographs to show more of a crowd”.

A summary in the inspector general’s final report said the photographer told investigators “he selected a number of photos, based on his professional judgment, that concentrated on the area of the national mall where most of the crowd was standing”.

Asked to account for the discrepancy, Nancy DiPaolo, a spokeswoman for the inspector general, said the cropping was not mentioned in the final report because the photographer told investigators this was his “standard artistic practice”. But investigators did not note this in the write-up of their interview.

The newly released files said Spicer was closely involved in the effort to obtain more favourable photographs. He called Reynolds immediately after the acting director spoke with Trump and then again at 3pm shortly before the new set of photographs was sent to the White House, investigators heard. Another official reported being called by Spicer.

At about 5.40pm that day, Spicer began a now notorious press briefing at the White House in which he falsely stated: “This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration – period.” A spokeswoman for Spicer did not respond to a request for comment.

The inspector general’s inquiry was prompted by a February 2017 complaint through the office’s website, alleging NPS officials tried to undermine Trump and leaked details of Trump’s call with Reynolds to the Washington Post, where it was first reported. The inspector general found no evidence to substantiate the allegations.

The Guardian asked in its June 2017 freedom of information request for the identity of the complainant who sparked the inspector general’s inquiry. But this, and the entire complaint, was redacted in the released documents.


Trump has grown so unhinged he’s now even complaining about Sean Hannity’s coverage of him

Shira Tarlo, Salon - COMMENTARY
07 Sep 2018 at 15:13 ET 

President Donald Trump took the stage in Billings, Montana Thursday night and launched into a round of scathing attacks against Democratic lawmakers, “deep state operatives,” vulnerable Democratic Sen. Jon Tester in Montana, the media and critics who have raised fresh questions about his fitness for office and authority over his administration.This article was originally published at Salon

In between warning his supporters what the future of the country could look like if his political rivals regain control of the House of Representatives and try to impeach him, Trump took the time to complain that Fox News’ Sean Hannity was far too critical of him.

“Do we love Sean Hannity, by the way?” Trump began on a positive note. “I love him.”

“But here’s the only part,” the president continued. “He puts up all these losers that say horrible things – I’ve got to talk to him– one after another. ‘Donald Trump, he’s lost it up here.’ You know, it is pretty tough. I stand up here giving speeches for an hour and a half – many times without notes – and then they say, ‘he’s lost it.’ And yet we have 25,000 people showing up to speeches.”

“And, by the way, look at all the fake news back there,” Trump added.

Trump’s rare rebuke of Hannity seems to suggest that even his close relationship with the conservative host has its limits.

As Salon’s Joseph Neese previously wrote, Trump and the Fox News star “frequently partake in pillow talk,” and their “not-so-secret bromance is reportedly maintained by virtue of late-night phone calls, which routinely hit the White House switchboard after Hannity’s 9 p.m. ET broadcast wraps. Albeit the duo is said to be be known to chat ‘multiple’ times a day.”

During his campaign rally, Trump also slammed Democrats over what he described as “sick” attacks against his nominee for the Supreme Court: Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh.

“He’s doing really well,” Trump said, pointing to Kavanaugh’s tense three days of confirmation hearings in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “But do you believe the anger and the meanness on the other side? Sick – it’s sick!”

    At Montana rally, Pres. Trump goes after Democrats for “sick” attacks against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. https://t.co/dC6hBoUt0O pic.twitter.com/VlhIOsywKL

    — ABC News (@ABC) September 7, 2018

Though he blasted his domestic political rivals as “sick,” Trump had no problem praising two brutal dictators: North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un and Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

“Kim Jong-Un likes me. I like him,” the president said. “Who knows what is going to happen!”

“One of my best meetings ever was with Vladimir Putin, and they said, ‘He was too nice,'” Trump told his supporters. “They wanted me to have a boxing match on this stage.”

    Trump describes Helsinki summit with Putin as one of his best meetings ever. pic.twitter.com/aAE1MdnPKk

    — Josh Marshall (@joshtpm) September 7, 2018


‘Merger between Fox News and the Trump presidency’ on display at latest campaign rally: CNN media analyst

Bob Brigham
Raw Story
07 Sep 2018 at 13:12 ET                   

The trend of Fox News looking increasingly like official state TV during the era of President Donald Trump was highlighted during a Wednesday campaign rally in Montana.

Bill Shine, who replaced Hope Hicks as the White House Director of Communications, was also given the title of Deputy Chief of Staff for Communications when he joined the administration in July.

Before joining the Trump administration, Shine had served as co-president of Fox News before being forced out in May of 2017.

CNN senior media correspondent Brian Stelter explained Shine’s role at the campaign rally, showing video of Fox News personality Pete Hegseth as the “pre-game guy” who was “warming up the crowd” for Trump.

“We also know that Fox News’ former boss now runs communication for the president,” noted anchor Robyn Curnow. “I’ve worked in a few countries where the state broadcaster does similar things.”

“When the going gets tough for President Trump, he goes to his friends, he goes literally to his Fox and Friends,” Stelter answered.

“One other really interesting detail from our colleague Jim Acosta, he says at times it appeared Bill Shine was giving stage directions — either to Trump or the Fox crew or to both — that Shine was trying to help manage and set up and prepare this interview,” he reported.

“It’s a really interesting example of this merger between Fox News and the Trump presidency,” Stelter concluded.

Watch:     When the going gets tough for President Trump, he goes to a friend at Fox. Look at his chat with Pete Hegseth last night — it looked like a pre-game show before the rally — Hegseth was warming up Trump and the crowd pic.twitter.com/gg7YJgmgre

    — Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) September 7, 2018


Confirmed: Brett Kavanaugh Can’t Be Trusted

A perfect nominee for a president with no clear relation to the truth.

By The Editorial Board

The editorial board represents the opinions of the board, its editor and the publisher. It is separate from the newsroom and the Op-Ed section.

Sept. 7, 2018
NY Times

In a more virtuous world, Judge Brett Kavanaugh would be deeply embarrassed by the manner in which he has arrived at the doorstep of a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court.

He was nominated by a president who undermines daily the nation’s democratic order and mocks the constitutional values that Judge Kavanaugh purports to hold dear.

Now he’s being rammed through his confirmation process with an unprecedented degree of secrecy and partisan maneuvering by Republican senators who, despite their overflowing praise for his legal acumen and sterling credentials, appear terrified for the American people to find out much of anything about him beyond his penchant for coaching girls’ basketball.

Perhaps most concerning, Judge Kavanaugh seems to have trouble remembering certain important facts about his years of service to Republican administrations. More than once this week, he testified in a way that appeared to directly contradict evidence in the record.

For example, he testified that Roe v. Wade is “settled as a precedent of the Supreme Court.” But he said essentially the opposite in a 2003 email leaked to The Times. “I am not sure that all legal scholars refer to Roe as the settled law of the land at the Supreme Court level since Court can always overrule its precedent, and three current Justices on the Court would do so,” he wrote then.

Judge Kavanaugh’s backers in the Senate brushed this off by pointing out that his 2003 statement was factually correct. They’re right, which means that his testimony this week was both disingenuous and meaningless.

As we’ve learned with each new trickle of previously withheld documents, Judge Kavanaugh didn’t start misleading senators just this week.

At his 2004 confirmation hearing before the Judiciary Committee, he denied any involvement in the vetting of a controversial judicial nominee while serving as one of President George W. Bush’s White House lawyers. The nominee, William Pryor Jr., had among other things called Roe v. Wade “the worst abomination of constitutional law in our history.” In fact, Mr. Kavanaugh was more than a little involved, as emails from that period — which Senate Republicans had withheld until early Thursday morning — made clear.

In that 2004 hearing and again in 2006, when he was being considered for a seat on the federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., Mr. Kavanaugh told Congress, under oath, that he knew nothing about the extensive theft of secret strategy documents from Democratic senators’ computers by Republican staffers. As it turns out, he did in fact receive those documents or summaries of them. But he now claims that he had no reason to believe that they had been stolen, even though one email he got had the subject line “spying” and began, “I have a friend who is a mole for us on the left.”

Then there are the persistent doubts about his truthfulness in telling senators in 2006 that he had no knowledge of Mr. Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program or his detainee treatment policy — claims that have been called into question by yet more emails, which showed he knew about both of those things years before they became public.

As Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois told Judge Kavanaugh on Thursday, “You say that words matter. You claim to be a textualist when you interpret other people’s words, but you don’t want to be held accountable for the plain meaning of your own words.”

Judge Kavanaugh was quick to provide lawyerly explanations for all of these discrepancies, but they paint a pattern that’s hard to ignore: He misstates facts under oath, and Republicans cover for him by making it hard, if not impossible, to get the documents proving it. With the help of the White House and a personal lawyer for Mr. Bush, Senator Chuck Grassley, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, has subverted a long-established, nonpartisan process and hidden more than 90 percent of the material pertaining to Judge Kavanaugh’s time in government.

It’s only thanks to Senate Democrats and others that we’ve been able to see important pieces of the judge’s lengthy paper trail. There is far more that was never even requested. Far from being embarrassed by all this, Judge Kavanaugh is acting like someone who knows there is virtually nothing he can do to imperil his nomination.

Instead, he’s followed his own cynical advice to a 2002 judicial nominee: “She should not talk about her views on specific policy or legal issues,” he wrote in an email then. “She should say that she has a commitment to follow Supreme Court precedent, that she understands and appreciates the role of a circuit judge, that she will adhere to statutory text, that she has no ideological agenda.”

That is more or less how Judge Kavanaugh got through his hearings. But his ideological agenda is well known, which is precisely why he’s been on Republican Supreme Court shortlists for the last decade. That agenda includes, for starters, a well-established hostility to women’s reproductive rights and a stunningly expansive view of presidential power and impunity.
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Republicans defend their steamrollering by saying that most Democrats have already made up their minds to oppose Judge Kavanaugh. That’s rich: In the months before the 2016 election, multiple high-ranking Republican senators openly vowed to block any and all Supreme Court picks by Hillary Clinton, period. It’s also irrelevant. The people deserve to know everything possible about nominees to a lifetime seat on the highest court in the land, and they depend on their senators to seek out that information and share it.

The Constitution calls this process advice and consent. Until the last few years, Republicans claimed to take that responsibility seriously. Now they are making a mockery of what is meant to be a careful and deliberative process by playing three-card monte with the American people. They did the same with last year’s tax bill, rushing it through in the dead of night with virtually no debate or review.

The Republicans engage in this sort of subterfuge for an obvious reason: While they hold unified power in Washington, most of their agenda is hugely unpopular. So they hide as much of it as possible out of a fear that if more of it came to light, they will pay at the polls. Come November, voters can make that fear come true.

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« Reply #4280 on: Sep 08, 2018, 06:13 AM »

HBO’s Bill Maher: ‘This is the week that Donald Trump found out everyone hates him’

Martin Cizmar
Raw Story
08 Sep 2018 at 22:11 ET                  

It was another wild week in Donald Trump’s America, as revelations of White House dysfunction hit from both a forthcoming Bob Woodward book and an anonymous op-ed penned by a senior Trump administration official.

Bill Maher opened his Friday night show by talking about how the two accounts.

“This is the week that Donald Trump found out everyone hates him,” Maher said. “And I don’t mean people like me, I mean people who work for him…. Bob Woodward’s new book came out, or the excerpts did, and it’s called All The President’s Men Think He’s An Idiot.”

Trump may be getting wise, Maher said.

“Donald Trump started to suspect something was going on—he went into a cabinet meeting and they were all wearing p*ssy hats,” Maher said.

Maher said First Lady Melania Trump is not a suspect.

“It’s not me: If I have something to say, I’ll write it on my jacket,'” Maher joked.

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fXrFjBLqi-E


CNN’s Don Lemon plays flashbacks of Republicans dissing Trump as ‘crazy’ and a ‘crook’ before they began praising him

Dominique Jackson
Raw Story
08 Sep 2018 at 23:06 ET                  

Former President Barack Obama gave a speech slamming President Donald Trump in Illinois on Friday.

During his speech, Obama questioned what has happened to the Republican Party under the leadership of Trump.

“The politics of division and resentment and paranoia has unfortunately found a home in the Republican Party,” Obama said.

During his Friday night show, CNN’s Don Lemon echoed the same question.

“What happened to the Republican party? ” Lemon asked. “That is a great question.”

Lemon then played video clips of Republicans contradicting themselves and dissing Trump before he took office.

“What happened to Republicans like Lindsey Graham who said this about Donald Trump back in 2016,” Lemons said.

“I think he’s a crook. I think he’s crazy. I think he’s unfit for office,” Graham said in the video clip that Lemon played.

Lemon then transitioned to a current video of Graham.

“You know what concerns me about the American press is this endless attempt to label the guy as some kind of crook who is not fit to be president,” Graham said.

“He’s the one who said it in the first place. You can’t make this up,” Lemon said.

Lemon then provided more examples such as Trump’s counselor Kellyanne Conway and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) contradicting themselves.

Watch the video via CNN: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uI8gE0oUwHY


Late Night with Seth Meyers

Seth takes a closer look at Republicans moving forward with Trump's Supreme Court pick despite anonymous warnings about his fitness for office.

The GOP’s Corrupt Bargain with "Reckless" and "Erratic" Trump: A Closer Look: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Earaz8ZpLHo

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« Reply #4281 on: Sep 10, 2018, 04:23 AM »

Faulty findings, real appeal: the psychology of pseudoscience


Whether you’re one of our long-time readers or you simply put the effort into Googling your way to this article, chances are that you have an appetite for (if not a background in) science. I find that this academic bend, given time, tends to instill a certain way of thinking. A particular way of reporting one’s self to the world around us, one that stays with us throughout our lives. A certain mental discipline, if you will, based on a few shared principles:

    We listen to facts over opinion. That doesn’t mean we’re always right, or that we’re free of our own biases. Overall, however, we tend to mold our opinions from facts, rather than the other way around.
    We maintain a critical mindset. We double-check. We scour libraries or the Internet for data, but we also pay mind to the source of that data.
    Despite this, we trust in the (provable) competence of others. There’s no fast solution to be had online that substitutes years spend in academic study and research. We do our best to weed out shady sources of information, but we also understand that unrestrained skepticism can be as toxic as no skepticism. After a certain point, you simply have to defer judgment to those whose entire job is to know what they’re talking about.

Now help yourself to some of this tasty text:

Climate change is a Chinese hoax designed to steal jobs. If it were truly happening, how could I hold this ball of snow up in Congress? (a senator actually asked this).

As we all know, vaccines cause autism — because mercury. I only use natural products for my kid, none of those chemicals for him, no sirree.

To round it all up (pun intended), the Earth is flat. There’s simply no other explanation to fit what so many of us have observed. Spherical planets orbiting around the Sun?! Go away with that mumbo-jumbo; that’s what the Government wants you to think, man! We’re living on a flat world and we will get to the bottom of why NASA is hiding it from us!
Inhofe holding snowball.

“Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) has, once and for all, disproven climate change,” the Washington Post sarcastically reported on the event.

It kinda gets the hairs to stand up on the back of your neck a bit, doesn’t it? I don’t blame you. These views feel so blissfully unencumbered by basic fact, so fundamentally opposed to how we order our thoughts, that they’re actually scary; almost insulting, too. For you and me.

Yet, to a (sadly) growing number of people out there, these words spell enlightenment and a release from outside manipulations. They’re the battle cry of those who aren’t afraid to question the unquestionable, those who would seek for themselves the truth that others are hiding away. The brave, the bold, the explorers. Something inspiring like that.

Which I find quite puzzling, to say the least.

I’ve spent the last few weeks armed with a sturdy wifi and a sturdier drink in hand delving into the deep, dark, and often confusing corners of the Internet that these conspiracy theorists and pseudoscience aficionados have claimed for themselves. I wanted to understand what makes some people actually believe a theory so bonkers that it causes most others to recoil. I bore the few chuckles and many more groans (the drinks helped) this elicited so that today, we could talk about the flat elephant in the room. Namely:

What is pseudoscience?

The line between science and pseudoscience is generally tricky to clearly delineate. ‘Science’ isn’t a sum total of information wholly beyond critique. Researchers have repeatedly disproven theories that seemed undeniable once evidence to the contrary became available. On the other hand, some theories that seemed to be pure fantasy were later proven to be true.

Science is a process — namely, the process via which we obtain that information. It’s a set of methods, of checks and balances, that we apply when verifying theories. Sticking to these rules is the best way that we know of to tease out relevant data from our own biases and preconceptions.

Pseudoscience in all its forms uses ‘facts,’ methods, and bits of data that wear the trappings of science but not the essence. Pseudoscience sounds genuine but doesn’t follow the set of accepted scientific standards, most notably the scientific method, falsifiability of claims, and the Mertonian norms. It’s part of non-science and it’s not the same as bad science — an error made while trying to follow the scientific method, but otherwise in good faith.

In other words, pseudoscience is a body of claims built on shaky reasoning and quite a bit of cherry-picking — but it still wants you to call it ‘science’.

How sure are we?

Completely. We deal with this baloney every day.

Why write this?

Stop me if I’m going too fast here, but we write about science. While it’s undeniably awesome that we can make a living out of it (thanks, guys and gals), we’re not in it for the money.

We do it because the world is an incredibly beautiful place, and science is how we explore it. This passion to know and understand is what drives us forward. We write about science because we truly believe that we were privileged to be born into families and broader societies that could afford to educate us. It shaped us profoundly, molding us into the people we are today.

Everyone, everywhere, has the right (an argument can be made that they have also have the responsibility) to access the sum of human knowledge; to an education, be it formal or informal, in school or university, in libraries or on the Internet. We were fortunate enough to be handed that. We want to honor that debt by helping others educate themselves, in turn.

There’s a reason I started off this discussion with the three principles I think all of us here share. We tend to point the finger at adepts of pseudoscience and criticize them for breaking the first two — we reprimand them for what we perceive as a preference of opinion in face of facts, and we bemoan their lack of critical thinking.

We ridicule them for their buying into these fairy tales. Which isn’t particularly nice of us.

After my wayward weeks through their blogs and forums, however, I don’t think that’s the real issue anymore. Sure, there are some really unhinged individuals lurking about these sites — that’s true in every setting. But most members of these communities strike me as quite capable of both critical thinking and of taking in new facts and integrating them into their belief systems.
RELATED  Trump's new budget proposal would slash funding for science -- especially Earth science
What then?

All others we monitor.

The motto “In God We Trust; All Others We Monitor” is displayed in the foyer of the Air Force Technical Applications Center’s radiochemistry laboratory at Patrick AFB, Fla. Surprisingly appropriate for the issue at hand, though.

The real issue with pseudoscience, I feel, lies in that third item on my list — trust. Members clump around these wild theories because they simply cannot find it in themselves to trust outside competence or outside information.

Karen Douglas, a Professor of Social Psychology at the University of Kent who specializes in social psychology and belief in conspiracy theories, largely agrees with me on this:

    “I think you are spot on regarding the lack of trust,” she told me in an email.

Needless to say, I liked her instantly. I was still very much confused about the whole affair, however. The readiness of the people I chatted with to blame conspiracies, cover-ups, and shady groups that pull on society’s strings was simply too poignant to overlook. Do adepts of pseudoscience distrust… everything? Or do they just have a burning white hate for The Gov’ment / Big Pharma / NASA / mercury? I asked Prof. Douglas if what we’re seeing is a focused or more generalized lack of trust — be it against researchers or authority in general.

We were discussing the topic of flat earthism, but this largely applies to all conspiracy theorists and pseudisciences out there:

    “Whether this is generalized mistrust or not, however, is an open question,” she told me. “As far as I can see, flat earth believers tend to mistrust scientists/NASA etc. and argue that they are providing false information.”

    “It’s not clear whether these people also mistrust other sources such as their friends, neighbours, the police, and other institutions.”

Pseudoscience disseminates this lack of trust. It is, at its nature, so completely opposed to what science is and stands for that it’s corrosive to it. Just like matter and anti-matter, science and non-science seem to cancel each other out with a bang. But the effects of such ‘theories’ are much more widespread and insidious.

This is why we’re writing this. To internalize the more high-profile pseudoscience currents out there is to toss all trust out the window and replace it with single-minded empiricism (e.g. “how can the Earth be round when I don’t see a curvature?”). It is to constantly question the motives of others and to always assume they’re out to get you (e.g. “big pharma hides that vaccines kill”). Pseudoscience requires some impressive leaps of mental dissonance and cherry picking because it requires that you only look at certain bits of data, lest the whole theory falls apart (such as the ‘snowball in Congress‘ move, a classic and one of my personal favorites).

It instills in those exposed to it the mindset that destroys confidence in researchers and, by extension, all other professionals. It breeds skepticism bordering on paranoia and fosters distrust in others while definitely making you right because, hey — everyone who says otherwise is probably part of the conspiracy.

This pattern of discussion is so prevalent among followers of conspiracy theories and pseudoscience that there’s even an essay on Wikipedia to help editors ‘defuse’ it.

Once you believe one thing based only on a feeling or a hunch, and you persist despite overwhelming evidence pointing against it, it’s easy to believe the next one.

It’s a very slippery slope.

    “Trust always appears as one of the strongest predictors of conspiracy theories, but conspiracy theories also make people more mistrustful,” Douglas explained. “That is, when people are experimentally exposed to conspiracy theories […] they become more mistrustful of the relevant institutions.”

    “Another very strong predictor of conspiracy theories is paranoia.”

    “It is also the case that conspiracy believers tend to believe in paranormal phenomena (e.g., life after death, extrasensory perception), and that they tend to be superstitious (e.g., believing in good luck charms). These are correlational relationships, so the higher the conspiracy belief, the higher the paranormal or superstitious belief (i.e., it’s not a one-one relationship and we cannot tell which one causes the other).”

So why do people believe it?

It’s hard to say. Obviously, everybody has their own reasons for doing the things they do. There is also precious little literature looking into the psychological going-ons behind pseudoscience. However, a paper that Prof. Douglass co-published in 2017, “The Psychology of Conspiracy Theories” can help get us a general idea as to why pseudoscience holds such a strong appeal.

    “Conspiracy theories appear to provide broad, internally consistent explanations that allow people to preserve beliefs in the face of uncertainty and contradiction,” the paper reads.

    …] This can also be seen in more subtle and insidious form in the way in which Brexit, for example, was campaigned for in terms of gut feelings and emotions rather than expert statistics and predictions. Science is increasingly facing problems with its ability to communicate ideas publicly, a problem that politicians, and flat earthers, are able to circumvent with moves towards populism.”

Science is awesome, and it works, and it gives you the right answer — but the truth isn’t always comforting. Science gives facts, but sometimes, people just want hope, meaning, or a way to deflect blame; things that fall under the category of ‘feels’. Science doesn’t offer many of these emotional release valves. Pseudoscience offers them a-plenty.

We have an inbuilt need to make sense of the world around us. Pseudoscience offers us a way to make sense of the world “when information is unavailable, reducing uncertainty and bewilderment when available information is conflicting, finding meaning when events seem random, and defending beliefs from disconfirmation,” Prof. Douglas’ team write in their paper. They add that “people are likely to turn to conspiracy theories when they are anxious and feel powerless.”

Conspiracy belief is “strongly related to lack of sociopolitical control or lack of psychological empowerment,” and such belief “is heightened when people feel unable to control outcomes and is reduced when their sense of control is affirmed”, the team explains. Finally, subscribing to a pseudoscientific trend is a way of satisfying our “desire to belong and to maintain a positive image of the self and the in-group,” helping us “valorize the self and the in-group by allowing blame for negative outcomes to be attributed to others.”

Pseudoscience coughs up an explanation where we don’t really know what’s happening and makes you feel part of a group that values you. It gives medicine (that doesn’t work) for diseases we can’t cure.  For the patient that doctors can’t save, pseudoscience offers a way to cope; the fact that it’s false doesn’t matter. It gives hope, or the illusion of hope, where science doesn’t — and hope is a powerful soother.

For many of their adepts, then, pseudoscientific theories offer an escape from a world that’s often cruel, unfair, or just doesn’t make sense. And that’s what makes this whole affair tragic:

    “Unfortunately, research conducted thus far does not indicate that conspiracy belief effectively satisfies this motivation,” the paper reads.

    “On the contrary, experimental exposure to conspiracy theories appears to immediately suppress people’s sense of autonomy and control.”

The growth of pseudoscience in all its forms, I feel, is one of the most worrying developments of our modern times. Dyer takes it as “a product and sign of our time; a reflection of our increasing distrust in scientific institutions, and the moves by power-holding institutions towards populism and emotions”. In his eyes, such beliefs represent a rebellion of sorts against those ‘in power’ for faults that we may never know.

For Prof. Douglas it’s a refuge; the safe place in our minds where we retreat to feel right, to hold our beliefs inviolate, to feel justified, to make our hardships mean something without facing our own faults.

For me, it’s a sign that something, somewhere, isn’t working right. By chance or design, not-insignificant groups of people choose to take refuge in ‘their own’ truth. Be it a refuge from segregation, abuse of power, a safe harbor in which to anchor their beliefs from the winds of fact — it does not matter. When people weave stories to insulate them from society, that society has failed them.

And perhaps it is time to take a good hard look at ourselves and how we helped push them into ‘alternative’ facts.

We’re facing real, significant climate change. We’re seeing the reemergence of diseases that our vaccines had almost wiped out. We’re trying to go to Mars while some people still insist the Earth is flat. We can’t afford to waste time and energy being divided on topics that are clear-cut. We can’t afford to doubt the experts and put those that make us feel good in power. We can launch world-ending nukes with a button — we can’t risk having people not listen to basic scientific fact, or judging life through a twisted lens.

Pseudoscience doesn’t work: real life has a way of knocking on your door no matter how far away you try to move. It does, however, make the things that do work, work a little bit less. It is, at its core, based on false information. It is a lie.

I, for one, think each and every one of us should work to weed out lies wherever possible — both our own and those of others.

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« Reply #4282 on: Sep 10, 2018, 04:25 AM »

The Ocean Cleanup Readies Historic Launch But Challenges Lie Ahead


After years of anticipation, The Ocean Cleanup will launch the world's first ocean cleanup system through the San Francisco Bay and out to sea this Saturday.

Five years ago, then-teenager Boyan Slat made headlines around the world for his plastic-capturing concept. Now at the age of 23, the Dutch inventor is ready to live his dream of cleaning the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a whirling vortex of trash and plastics floating off the coast of California.

"System 001" consists of a 600-meter-long floating pipe with a tapered 3-meter skirt attached underneath to catch debris like "a giant wind-and-wave-powered Pac Man," Slat said.

It will spend two weeks at a Pacific Trials location about 250-350 nautical miles offshore before being towed out to the garbage patch another 1,000 nautical miles away.

The captured plastic will be collected by a vessel every month or so. The debris will then be sorted for recycling or up-cycled to create new products.

If all goes to plan, 60 of these systems will be deployed to sea with the aim of removing 50 percent of the garbage patch within 5 years.

The Ocean Cleanup

It took years of research and development for Slat and his team at The Ocean Cleanup to get to this point, including 273 scale model tests, six at-sea prototypes and a detailed mapping of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The project has raised about $40 million in funding from investors, Wired reported.

The concept, however, has received a fair share of criticism. There's the fear that it could harm fish or other bycatch. Others have suggested that upstream designs (i.e. Baltimore Harbor's solar-powered trash wheel) and policy solutions will better stem the flow of plastics before it reaches sea. Also, the idea of a "patch" of garbage where debris floats on the surface of the water is a myth—plastics are found across the seafloor and vertically throughout the ocean.

Slat has previously addressed the criticism at length. Still, he anticipates a number of challenges.

In a recent Ocean Cleanup video, he explained the three main risks:

1) That waves and winds could alter the system's Pac-Man shape;

2) While scaled-down models have been able to collect plastic down to the millimeter range, Slat worries that the full-scale system won't be able to efficiently collect and retain plastic out at sea;

3) From high waves, strong currents, UV rays and corrosive sea salt, Slat wonders if the system will be able to survive intense oceanic conditions. "The ocean is a very destructive environment," he said.

"We believe that every risk that we can eliminate in advance we have been able to eliminate, but that doesn't mean that all risks have been eliminated," Slat said in the video. "Truly, the only way to prove that we can rid the oceans of plastic is to actually go out there and deploy the world's first ocean cleanup system."

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« Reply #4283 on: Sep 10, 2018, 04:27 AM »

Mosquito ‘Danger Days’ Rising: Protect Your Family With EWG’s Bug Repellent Guide

By Carla Burns

Experts predict mosquito and tick bites and subsequent infections will continue to rise as warmer climates expand insect habitats and populations. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that pest-borne diseases are "a large and growing public health problem in the United States." Cases of diseases from mosquito, tick and flea bites more than tripled in the U.S. from 2004 to 2016.

According to a new report by the nonprofit research group Climate Central, there is an increased risk of transmission of mosquito-borne diseases across many American cities. The report highlights that changing temperatures have resulted in an increase in the number of so-called mosquito disease danger days across more than 90 percent of the cities analyzed. Danger days have temperatures averaging between 61 and 93 degrees, the range required for mosquito-borne disease transmission.

Climate Central analyzed nearly 50 years of temperature data for 244 cities. Reno, Nevada, topped the list, with an increase of 52 mosquito disease danger days since 1970. San Francisco was second, with an increase of 47 danger days. The full list of cities is here.

As mosquito disease danger days continue to rise, it's important to protect yourself. The Environmental Working Group's (EWG) recently updated Guide to Bug Repellents can help you find the right product to protect yourself and your family.

No repellent works every place against every pest, so you should research the diseases that insects and ticks carry where you plan to spend time outside. The most effective repellent option for a hike in the woods with ticks may be different than the best repellent for a day at a beach with mosquitos.

Always choose an EPA-registered repellent at the concentration rated for the amount of time you'll be outdoors. You can find our recommended concentrations and timespans on the Top Repellent Choices page of our guide.

Whether you are in your backyard or on vacation, here are quick tips for avoiding bug bites:

    Wear pants, socks, and shirts to reduce amount of exposed skin. Tuck pants in socks to protect the ankles.

    Use repellent products in lotion, pump or towelette form.

    Use nets, screens, and/or fans over outdoor eating areas, and place nets over strollers and baby carriers.

    Don't use treated wristbands, repellent candles or clip-on repellent fans—they are not as effective at protecting you from bug bites.

    Don't use more than 30 percent DEET on anyone.

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« Reply #4284 on: Sep 10, 2018, 04:28 AM »

Major Brewery Carlsberg to Replace Plastic Rings With Recyclable Glue


Danish beer company Carlsberg is set to be the first in the industry to phase out the plastic rings connecting its cans, The Guardian reported Thursday.

The company will replace the rings with a glue that withstands cold temperatures but can easily give when you are ready to break open a cold one. When you're done, the glue can be recycled along with the can.

Carlsberg vice president of product development Myriam Shingleton told The Independent that the company had worked for three years on developing an alternative to the plastic rings that environmentalists have warned about since the 1970s.

"Environment and sustainability have always been very important to us," Shingleton said.

The ring-less cans will be available in the UK's Tesco supermarkets by Sept. 10 and then will spread to Norway.

Environmentalists have long warned that the rings from six packs could strangle marine life and urged consumers to cut them open before throwing them away, The Independent reported.

But the ring phaseout will also tackle the broader problem of ocean plastic pollution by removing 1200 UK tons (approximately 1344 U.S. tons) of plastic from the ocean each year, according to Carlsberg's estimates. That's 60 million plastic bags' worth of plastic.

"This is an interesting development and will help cut down the amount of plastic on our beaches and in our seas. These kinds of can yokes are regularly found in small numbers on our beach cleans," Marine Conservation Society senior pollution policy officer Dr. Sue Kinsey told The Guardian.

She said the last Great British Beach Clean found 100 in one weekend.

Carlsberg isn't the only company to try to find an eco-friendly solution to the plastic ring problem.

Florida's Saltwater Brewery developed a compostable ring alternative that would biodegrade if it ended up in the oceans, CBS reported in May.

That project was a collaboration with Eco Six Pack Rings (E6PR), New York ad agency We Believers and a Mexican biodegradable manufacturer called Entelequia.

Saltwater Brewery is the first to use the new rings, and offers them with the Screamin' Reels IPA at the Tasting Room and South Florida outlets Publix, Total Wine & More, Whole Foods Market, Lucky's Market and ABC Fine Wine & Spirits.

"More than 50 percent of beer consumed in the U.S. is sold in cans," We Believers co-founder Marco Vega told CBS, "a trend that is only expected to grow in the near future. Most of the material used to hold these cans is still plastic."

E6PR hopes to change that, though, and scale up its biodegradable alternative to soda and other six-pack cans, eventually replacing the plastic version, Fast Company reported.

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« Reply #4285 on: Sep 10, 2018, 04:30 AM »

A ‘SmartFlower’ Grows in Chicago: Innovative Solar Design Powers Affordable Housing Complex


A unique type of flower is growing in a community garden in Chicago's South Side.

The SmartFlower is a special type of solar panel array designed to open into the shape of a flower in the morning and generate electricity by following the sun across the sky during the day, like its namesake.

Its design makes it the perfect solar array for an urban area where space is tight, and that's why it has become one of the first community solar projects to be installed in Illinois since the Future Energy Jobs Act in 2016 called for 400 megawatts worth of community solar installations by 2030, Energy News Network reported Wednesday.

The SmartFlower was installed in the vegetable garden of an affordable-housing complex run by The Renaissance Collaborative (TRC), which supplies affordable housing and job training to low-income communities in Chicago's South Side.

TRC Executive Director Patricia Abrams told Energy News Network that renewable energy projects like this one had a double benefit for community organizations looking to serve people economically.

"If you're going to deal with and provide services for the very low-income people, that means the government is picking up the tab," Abrams said. "How do you—in the long haul—make that sustainable and affordable? Energy efficiency is one of those things I think is a must."

Abrams told Energy News Network that the SmartFlower generated energy for the first time at a press conference in June, but has lain dormant throughout the rest of the summer as TRC waits for a full permit.

The TRC installation is the first in a partnership between community-solar developer Groundswell and the Mohawk Group, a flooring company dedicated to sustainability, to install 10 SmartFlowers in communities around the country within the next two years, Groundswell said.

The collaboration will save 3.3 kilowatt-hours of energy, enough to power 300 average U.S. homes.

For the Chicago installation, the groups also partnered with Elevate Energy, which is committed to expanding clean energy use to all who need it.

Elevate Energy Contractor Development Coordinator Eya Louis explained to Groundswell how the Chicago project also empowered the community to get involved with its own energy generation.

"We surveyed residents right away to see if there were any established electricians or carpenters or other tradespeople who could be a part of this project," Louis told Groundswell. "Next, we offered training in solar installation with a local company. At our unveiling, we had our solar trainees there to witness some of what went into the installation. The instructor talked to them about the permitting process and will continue to work with them," she said.

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« Reply #4286 on: Sep 10, 2018, 04:31 AM »

Sahara Wind and Solar Farms Could Green the Desert in More Ways Than One


Renewable energy installations like wind turbines or solar panels can be an important part of fighting climate change by providing energy that does not require the burning of fossil fuels.

But models have shown that large solar or wind farms could also change the climate directly by their presence.

Now, a group of scientists led by researchers at the University of Maryland and the University of Illinois set out to model what would happen if solar and wind farms large enough to power the planet were installed in the Sahara desert, and uncovered a form of climate change that might actually help more than it hurts.

The results, published Friday in Science, found that the installations would increase rainfall and vegetation in the Sahara and neighboring Sahel region, which lies between the Sahara and the Sudanian Savanna, making them a potential net positive for the region and the planet.

"The increase in rainfall and vegetation, combined with clean electricity as a result of solar and wind energy, could help agriculture, economic development and social well-being in the Sahara, Sahel, Middle East and other nearby regions," study author Safa Motesharrei said in a University of Illinois press release published by ScienceDaily.

The researchers focused on the Sahara because it is an ideal location for such an ambitions renewable energy scheme.

"We chose it because it is the largest desert in the world; it is sparsely inhabited; it is highly sensitive to land changes; and it is in Africa and close to Europe and the Middle East, all of which have large and growing energy demands," lead author Yan Li said.

The study found that wind farms would increase rainfall because they would both increase temperature by drawing warm air down at night and decrease wind speed by creating more friction. This would lead to a doubling of rainfall where wind farms were installed.

The solar farms would increase rainfall by reducing albedo, the amount of light reflected by the land, which in turn would increase precipitation.

In both cases, researchers found that precipitation would increase vegetation, which would reduce albedo further, leading to more precipitation. The effect was increased if both solar and wind farms were installed.

Study author Daniel Kirk-Davidoff told AFP that the effect would not be that dramatic in the grand scheme of things—the desert would stay dry—but that the additional vegetation in the region's south would make an important difference for the people living there because it would increase grazing opportunities.

"It is hard to imagine that this would be a bad thing from the point of view of human communities there," he said.

While local temperature increases were part of the projected impact of the installations, the researchers made clear that those changes would stay in the Sahara and Sahel, not spread around the world like the global warming caused by greenhouse gasses, AFP reported.

One element that separated the study from previous research was its focus on vegetation, Li said in the University of Illinois press release, since most studies that have looked at the impact of solar or wind installations on climate have not also looked at how those climate changes would impact vegetation, or how the changed vegetation would then change the climate.

"Previous modeling studies have shown that large-scale wind and solar farms can produce significant climate change at continental scales," Li said. "But the lack of vegetation feedbacks could make the modeled climate impacts very different from their actual behavior."

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« Reply #4287 on: Sep 10, 2018, 04:55 AM »

Serena Williams accuses umpire of sexism and vows to 'fight for women'

The 23-times grand slam champion wins backing of tennis legend Billie Jean King after saying men are treated less harshly

Associated Press
10 Sep 2018 12.47 BST

Serena Williams has accused an umpire of sexism and treating her more harshly than men as she used a press conference to double down on her earlier on-court tirade at the official during her US Open final defeat to Japan’s Naomi Osaka.

Williams was cited by official Carlos Ramos for three code violations during her 6-2, 6-4 loss to the 20-year-old Osaka on Saturday: for getting coaching signals; for breaking her racket, which cost her a point; and for calling the chair umpire a thief, which cost her a game.

But despite the match penalties, she renewed her attack at a media conference later.

“I’ve seen other men call other umpires several things,” she said. “I’m here fighting for women’s rights and for women’s equality and for all kinds of stuff. For me to say ‘thief’, and for him to take a game, it made me feel like it was a sexist remark. He’s never taken a game from a man because they said ‘thief’.

“For me, it blows my mind. But I’m going to continue to fight for women.”

Earlier, as Williams pleaded her case on court with tournament referee Brian Earley, calling the penalties unfair, she said: “Because I’m a woman, you’re going to take this away from me?”

The two-times Australian Open champion and two-times US Open runner-up Victoria Azarenka backed up Williams’ stance, writing on Twitter: “If it was men’s match, this wouldn’t happen like this. It just wouldn’t.”

Billie Jean King, who won 12 grand slam singles titles and helped found the women’s tennis tour and pave the way for equal prize money in the sport, also commented via Twitter on what happened on Saturday.

“Several things went very wrong during the US Open women’s finals today,” King wrote. “Coaching on every point should be allowed in tennis. It isn’t, and as a result, a player was penalized for the actions of her coach. This should not happen.”

In a second tweet, King said: “When a woman is emotional, she’s ‘hysterical’ and she’s penalized for it. When a man does the same, he’s ‘outspoken’ & and there are no repercussions. Thank you @serenawilliams for calling out this double standard. More voices are needed to do the same.”

Williams’ supporters could point to recent examples of how tennis has treated women differently to men.

    Ernest Owens (@MrErnestOwens)

    Same umpire accused Venus of cheating in 2016 gave her a coaching violation because of it.

    So when I say there is racial bias, please stop denying the obvious.

    This is disgusting. Serena knew exactly what was happening and fought for the truth. #USOpen
    September 9, 2018

Just before the US Open, the French tennis federation president said that the black catsuit worn this year by Williams at the French Open would not be allowed at that tournament in the future. During the US Open, a female player, Alizé Cornet, was incorrectly admonished by a chair umpire for changing her shirt during a match, which is allowed and which men do all the time. And the US Tennis Association created a new rule last week that allows for a 10-minute break in men’s matches when the heat and humidity are too harsh; previously, only women were given that chance for a delay.

“I just feel like the fact that I have to go through this is just an example for the next person that has emotions, and that want to express themselves, and want to be a strong woman. They’re going to be allowed to do that because of today,” Williams said. “Maybe it didn’t work out for me, but it’s going to work out for the next person.”

Williams has fallen foul of officials before, most notably when she launched a tirade for a penalty in the final against the Australian player Sam Stosur at Flushing Meadows seven years ago.


At U.S. Open, power of Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka is overshadowed by an umpire’s power play

Naomi Osaka upsets Serena Williams to win controversial U.S. Open

By Sally Jenkins
WA Post

Chair umpire Carlos Ramos managed to rob not one but two players in the women’s U.S. Open final. Nobody has ever seen anything like it: An umpire so wrecked a big occasion that both players, Naomi Osaka and Serena Williams alike, wound up distraught with tears streaming down their faces during the trophy presentation and an incensed crowd screamed boos at the court. Ramos took what began as a minor infraction and turned it into one of the nastiest and most emotional controversies in the history of tennis, all because he couldn’t take a woman speaking sharply to him.

Williams abused her racket, but Ramos did something far uglier: He abused his authority. Champions get heated — it’s their nature to burn. All good umpires in every sport understand that the heart of their job is to help temper the moment, to turn the dial down, not up, and to be quiet stewards of the event rather than to let their own temper play a role in determining the outcome. Instead, Ramos made himself the chief player in the women’s final. He marred Osaka’s first Grand Slam title and one of Williams’s last bids for all-time greatness. Over what? A tone of voice. Male players have sworn and cursed at the top of their lungs, hurled and blasted their equipment into shards, and never been penalized as Williams was in the second set of the U.S. Open final.

“I just feel like the fact that I have to go through this is just an example for the next person that has emotions and that want to express themselves and wants to be a strong woman,” she said afterward.

It was pure pettiness from Ramos that started the ugly cascade in the first place, when he issued a warning over “coaching,” as if a signal from Patrick Mouratoglou in the grandstand has ever been the difference in a Serena Williams match. It was a technicality that could be called on any player in any match on any occasion and ludicrous in view of the power-on-power match that was taking place on the court between Williams and the 20-year-old Osaka. It was one more added stressor for Williams, still trying to come back from her maternity leave and fighting to regain her fitness and resume her pursuit of Margaret Court’s record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles. “I don’t cheat,” she told Ramos hotly.

When Williams, still seething, busted her racket over losing a crucial game, Ramos docked her a point. Breaking equipment is a violation, and because Ramos already had hit her with the coaching violation, it was a second offense and so ratcheted up the penalty.

The controversy should have ended there. At that moment, it was up to Ramos to de-escalate the situation, to stop inserting himself into the match and to let things play out on the court. In front of him were two players in a sweltering state, who were giving their everything, while he sat at a lordly height above them. Below him, Williams vented, “You stole a point from me. You’re a thief.”

There was absolutely nothing worthy of penalizing in the statement. It was pure vapor release. She said it in a tone of wrath, but it was compressed and controlled. All Ramos had to do was to continue to sit coolly above it, and Williams would have channeled herself back into the match. But he couldn’t take it. He wasn’t going to let a woman talk to him that way. A man, sure. Ramos has put up with worse from a man. At the French Open in 2017, Ramos leveled Rafael Nadal with a ticky-tacky penalty over a time delay, and Nadal told him he would see to it that Ramos never refereed one of his matches again.

But he wasn’t going to take it from a woman pointing a finger at him and speaking in a tone of aggression. So he gave Williams that third violation for “verbal abuse” and a whole game penalty, and now it was 5-3, and we will never know whether young Osaka really won the 2018 U.S. Open or had it handed to her by a man who was going to make Serena Williams feel his power. It was an offense far worse than any that Williams committed. Chris Evert spoke for the entire crowd and television audience when she said, “I’ve been in tennis a long time, and I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Competitive rage has long been Williams’s fuel, and it’s a situational personality. The whole world knows that about her, and so does Ramos. She has had instances where she ranted and deserved to be disciplined, but she has outlived all that. She has become a player of directed passion, done the admirable work of learning self-command and grown into one of the more courteous and generous champions in the game. If you doubted that, all you had to do was watch how she got a hold of herself once the match was over and how hard she tried to make it about Osaka.
'Still a win' for Osaka after controversial U.S. open final

Japan's Naomi Osaka held her trophy after beating her tennis idol, Serena Williams, in a dramatic U.S. Open final on Sept. 8. (Reuters)

Williams understood that she was the only person in the stadium who had the power to make that incensed crowd stop booing. And she did it beautifully. “Let’s make this the best moment we can,” she said.

The tumultuous emotions at the end of the match were complex and deep. Osaka didn’t want to be given anything and wept over the spoil. Williams was sickened by what had been taken from her and also palpably ill over her part in depriving a great new young player of her moment. The crowd was livid on behalf of both.

Ramos had rescued his ego and, in the act, taken something from Williams and Osaka that they can never get back. Perhaps the most important job of all for an umpire is to respect the ephemeral nature of the competitors and the contest. Osaka can never, ever recover this moment. It’s gone. Williams can never, ever recover this night. It’s gone. And so Williams was entirely right in calling him a “thief.”

Watch: <iframe width='480' height='290' scrolling='no' src='https://www.washingtonpost.com/video/c/embed/8d248cfc-b408-11e8-8b53-50116768e499' frameborder='0' webkitallowfullscreen mozallowfullscreen allowfullscreen></iframe>


Serena Williams fined $17,000 for U.S. Open outburst; Billie Jean King calls out ‘double standard’

Naomi Osaka upsets Serena Williams to win controversial U.S. Open

By Tramel Raggs and
Cindy Boren
September 10 2018
WA Post

Serena Williams was handed $17,000 fine by the U.S. Tennis Association for her outburst during her controversial loss in the U.S. Open Sunday. The tennis star meanwhile spent her post-loss time in mom mode, at least on social media, while Billie Jean King and the National Organization for Women called out tennis for having a double standard toward women.

Williams’s only message Saturday night was a brief Instagram video of her 1-year-old daughter Olympia, wearing a miniature version of her mom’s tutu and little sneakers, toddling with her beloved doll, Qai Qai. Serena laughed about her daughter’s shoes as she filmed the moment, asking Olympia where she’d gotten “them shoes.” On Sunday morning, she shared an image of a girl in first-day-of-school clothes with a Serena logo and asked, “What does your ‘S’ stand for? #beseenbeheard.”

It was left for others to go beyond Williams’s remarks to reporters and King, a pioneer in women’s rights and sports, quickly stepped up. “Several things went very wrong during the U.S. Open women’s finals today,” she tweeted. “Coaching on every point should be allowed in tennis. It isn’t and, as a result, a player was penalized for the actions of her coach. This should not happen.

“When a woman is emotional, she’s ‘hysterical’ and she’s penalized for it,” she continued, echoing Williams’s point that male players are never penalized for outbursts — even the profane ones. “When a man does the same, he’s ‘outspoken’ and there are no repercussions. Thank you, Serena Williams, for calling out this double standard. More voices are needed to do the same.”

The U.S. Tennis Association weighed in shortly before noon Sunday, announcing that Williams was being fined $17,000 for three code violations. That is in keeping with the events that cascaded in such ugly fashion Saturday night, when she was warned for receiving coaching during the match against Naomi Osaka, penalized a point for destroying her racket and docked a game at a critical moment in the second set for what chair umpire Carlos Ramos deemed to be verbal abuse. Williams emotionally had told him that she does not cheat and has a daughter for whom she tries to set an example. Afterward, she spoke about why she called Ramos a thief for taking her point and game and how she had cited Olympia in telling him on the court, “I don’t cheat to win.”

“I can’t sit here and say I wouldn’t say he’s a thief, because I thought he took a game from me,” Williams said. “I’ve seen other men call other umpires several things. I’m here fighting for women’s rights and for women’s equality and for all kinds of stuff. For me to say ‘thief’ and for him to take a game, it made me feel like it was a sexist remark. He’s never taken a game from a man because they said ‘thief.’ For me it blows my mind, but I’m going to continue to fight for women and to fight for us to have equal coordination — to be able to take our shirt off on the court without getting a fine. This is outrageous.

“The fact that I have to go through this is just an example for the next person that has emotions and that want to express themselves and they want to be a strong woman. They’re going to be allowed to do that because of today. Maybe it didn’t work out for me, but it’s going to work out for the next person.”

On Sunday morning, the president of the National Organization for Women pointed out that “men stretch the rules all the time and are lionized for being ‘bad boys’” and called for Ramos’s dismissal. There were multiple examples on social media, including video of Roger Federer repeatedly telling a chair umpire, “Don’t expletive talk to me” during the 2009 U.S. Open men’s final, and Jimmy Connors famously called an official an abortion repeatedly during a U.S. Open match in 1991. Neither were penalized.

“In what was a blatantly racist and sexist move, tennis umpire Carlos Ramos unfairly penalized Serena Williams in an abhorrent display of male dominance and discrimination. This would not have happened if Serena Williams was a man,” Toni Van Pelt said in a statement to The Post. “She would have been cheered and chided for ‘gamesmanship.’ Male tennis stars are reminding us that they have ‘done much worse’ and have not been penalized.

“Ramos claimed he was just following the rules, but in actuality men stretch the rules all the time and are lionized for being ‘bad boys’ while women are benched. This is also a prime example of how racism and sexism are two of the biggest obstacles that black women in America face.”

Overshadowed by the controversy was the fact that Osaka played brilliantly with her inexperience perhaps helping her weather the bizarre circumstances of the second set of her 6-2, 6-4 win.

During the second game of that set, Willams received a violation from Ramos for receiving coaching from Patrick Mouratoglou, who had made a motion from the stands that appeared to instruct Williams to go to the net more frequently. The 23-time grand slam champion vehemently argued the call, with some of her protests audible on the ESPN broadcast.

“If he gives me a thumbs up, he’s telling me to come on,” explained Williams. “We don’t have any code, and I know that you don’t know that and I understand why you may have thought that was coaching, but I’m telling you it’s not. I don’t cheat to win, I’d rather lose.”

Seemingly motivated by the violation, Williams went on a mini-run to take a 3-2 lead, but her momentum was stymied after Osaka produced a critical serve break. Williams then slammed her racket to the ground in frustration and was assessed a second violation from Ramos that resulted in a point loss.

Down 3-4 in the set, Williams told Ramos, “You stole a point from me and you are a thief.” Ramos interpreted the remark as verbal abuse, and awarded a game to Osaka, putting the eventual winner one game away from victory.

    "You owe me an apology!"

    Serena was fired up with the official in the final set of the US Open final. pic.twitter.com/r6RSbrirnV
    — ESPN (@espn) September 8, 2018

After the call, Twitter lit up with reactions. Fans, members of the media, celebrities and casual observers weighed in, clearly taking up her cause.

    You cannot continue to degrade a person and expect them not to finally pounce back. @serenawilliams has consistently displayed perseverance and grace but she is not to be made a fool of. “Let this be a remind to all... I don’t cheat to win, I’d rather lose.” #usopen pic.twitter.com/5Vwlebh7yx
    — Ryan Jamaal Swain (@RyanJamaal) September 8, 2018

    “I don’t cheat to win, I rather lose”
    -@serenawilliams #USOpen⁠ ⁠ pic.twitter.com/dq51BXpPWd
    — 1AM Creative (@1AMcreative) September 8, 2018

    Serena Williams: "There's a lot of men out here that have said a lot of things and because they're a man, that doesn't happen to them." (via ESPN) pic.twitter.com/9MqhnAja20
    — Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) September 8, 2018

    Osaka played the way you have to play to beat the greatest athlete of all time, but it should never have ended like this.

    An umpire’s feelings should never decide a game. Serena is absolutely right that men say a lot worse things and never get a violation. Bad moment for sports.
    — Michael Skolnik (@MichaelSkolnik) September 8, 2018

    Two things can be true:

    1. Serena did not lose because of Carlos. She lost because Osaka played lights out better than she did. And stayed composed.

    2. The game penalty was absurd, and this is a devastating end to the tournament.
    — Lindsay Gibbs (@linzsports) September 8, 2018

    Serena is right. I was there. And worse, he was baiting her. https://t.co/CinW6AJJNo
    — shonda rhimes (@shondarhimes) September 8, 2018

    I cried. Not just for Serena. But for the raw familiarity of what she endured and for women who are Serena all day, everyday. With poise and patience we rise above being wronged by power-tripping men. #WeAreSerena
    — Jehmu (@Jehmu) September 8, 2018

    Anyone saying Serena was out of control with the ump has no concept of how passionate and competitive sports can be at this level. She’s out there playing her guts out, not going for an afternoon tea.
    — Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) September 8, 2018

    The chair’s ego in this situation not only penalized Serena Williams but also deprived Naomi Osaka of the spotlight (and smile) she deserved. #USOpen pic.twitter.com/VEDzDucP0y
    — Arash Markazi (@ArashMarkazi) September 8, 2018

    Congratulations to Naomi for playing your very best today! What happened to @serenawilliams will resonate with women everywhere—especially women of color: too often, when we speak up, we are penalized. Serena, today you gave us just one more reason to admire you as the very best!
    — Juliana Stratton (@RepStratton5) September 8, 2018

USTA president Katrina Adams issued a statement after the match, making a point of noting Williams’s “class and sportsmanship” and calling her “an inspiration to me, personally, and a credit to our sport, win or lose.”

    USTA prez Katrina Adams puts out a statement: “What Serena did on the podium today showed a great deal of class and sportsmanship.” pic.twitter.com/XewqjEYVde
    — Ava Wallace (@avarwallace) September 9, 2018

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RHHdVdgMVg0


Serena Williams gains support of WTA and USTA chiefs after umpire row

    WTA’s Steve Simon: double standards applied by Carlos Ramos
    USTA president hails Williams’s ‘class’ and ‘sportsmanship’

Press Association
Mon 10 Sep 2018 09.19 BST

The Women’s Tennis Association has backed up Serena Williams’ claims of sexism regarding the way she was treated by umpire Carlos Ramos during Saturday’s US Open final.

Williams was given a warning for coaching, then docked a point for smashing a racket before being penalised a game by Ramos after she called him a “liar” and a “thief”. That left the 23-times grand slam singles champion one game from defeat and in tears, with Naomi Osaka clinching her first slam title shortly afterwards.

Williams argued on court with tournament officials, claiming she was being treated differently to how a man would be in such circumstances – a theme she continued in her press conference. The American has since received support from various current and former players, and on Sunday night, moments after Novak Djokovic won the men’s title, the WTA chief executive, Steve Simon, released a statement.

Simon said: “Yesterday brought to the forefront the question of whether different standards are applied to men and women in the officiating of matches. The WTA believes that there should be no difference in the standards of tolerance provided to the emotions expressed by men v women and is committed to working with the sport to ensure that all players are treated the same. We do not believe that this was done.”

Simon also called for coaching to be allowed during grand slam matches. Ramos penalised Williams after seeing her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, making a hand gesture. The Frenchman later admitted he was trying to coach his player. “We also think the issue of coaching needs to be addressed and should be allowed across the sport,” said Simon. “The WTA supports coaching through its on-court coaching rule, but further review is needed.”

Following the match, the United States Tennis Association, which runs the US Open, released a statement from its president, Katrina Adams, hailing Williams for her “class” and “sportsmanship”.

Appearing on ESPN, Adams also claimed there are double standards in terms of how umpires treat women and men. Adams said: “We watch the guys do this all the time, they’re badgering the umpire on the changeovers. Nothing happens. There’s no equality. I think there has to be some consistency across the board. These are conversations that will be imposed in the next weeks.

“I know what Serena did and her behaviour was not welcome. A line could have been drawn, but when you look at Carlos in this situation, it’s a judgment call to give that last penalty because she called him a thief. They’ve been called a lot more.

“He could have said: ‘Hey, we’re getting out of hand here, let’s tone it down.’ I think he would have said that to a male player, I think it’s a bond that they have and they way they communicate, and maybe not understanding they can have that same conversation with the women.”

Speaking after his win, Djokovic expressed sympathy for Williams but disagreed that women are treated differently from men. “I love Serena, first of all. I really felt for her yesterday,” he said. “It was a tough thing for a chair umpire to deal with, as well. Everyone was in a very awkward situation.

“I have my personal opinion that maybe the chair umpire should not have pushed Serena to the limit, especially in a grand slam final. He did change the course of the match. We all go through our emotions, especially when you’re fighting for a grand slam trophy. But I don’t see things as Mr Simon does. I really don’t. I think men and women are treated in this way or the other way depending on the situation. It’s hard to generalise things. I don’t see it’s necessary really to debate that.”

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« Reply #4288 on: Sep 10, 2018, 05:01 AM »

Sweden election: far right makes gains as main blocs deadlocked

Far-right Sweden Democrats set for significant role in policymaking as political uncertainty looms   

Jon Henley in Stockholm
Mon 10 Sep 2018 05.54 BST

Sweden faces a protracted period of political uncertainty after an election that left the two main parliamentary blocs tied but well short of a majority, and the far-right Sweden Democrats promising to wield “real influence” in parliament despite making more modest gains than many had predicted.

The populist, anti-immigrant party won 17.6% of the vote, according to preliminary official results – well up on the 12.9% it scored in 2014, but far below the 25%-plus some polls had predicted earlier in the summer. It looked highly likely, however, to have a significant role in policymaking.

The governing Social Democrats, led by prime minister Stefan Löfven, maintained their record of finishing first in every election since 1917, but saw their score fall to 28.4%, the lowest for a century, while the main centre-right opposition Moderate party also slipped to 19.8%.

On a broadly favourable night for the smaller parties, the ex-communist Left and the the centre-right Centre and Christian Democrat parties all advanced. Crucially for the centre-left’s chances of forming a government, the Green party scraped over the threshold for parliamentary representation with 4.4%.

But the new government, which could now take weeks to form, will need either cross-bloc alliances between centre-right and centre-left parties, or an accommodation with the Sweden Democrats – long shunned by all other parties because of their extremist roots – to pass legislation, potentially giving the populists a say in policy.

With the centre-left bloc on 40.6% of the vote and the centre-right on 40.2%, analysts predict long and complicated negotiations will now be needed to build a majority, or – more likely – a minority that will not easily be sunk. This looks difficult on the left, where any coalition would need to include the ex-communist Left, effectively excluding cooperation from the centre-right.

Many observers therefore see the Moderate party leader, Ulf Kristersson – who on Sunday night called for Löfven to resign – seeking to form a minority centre-right administration, possibly in coalition with the Christian Democrats and with implicit, ad hoc parliamentary support from the Sweden Democrats.

This would give the populist party the opportunity to influence policy, particularly on immigration, in exchange for votes.

Löfven said he would not be resigning, and urged cross-bloc cooperation: “The Sweden Democrats can never, and will never, offer anything that will help society. They will only increase division and hate.” The mainstream parties now had a “moral responsibility” to form a government, he said.

Addressing supporters on Sunday night, the Sweden Democrats’ leader, Jimmie Åkesson, said the 63 seats it would have in the 349-seat Riksdag represented victory. “No one can take that away from us.”

He said he was interested in cooperating with the other parties, and wanted to tell the Moderates in particular “how to govern the country … We strengthen our kingmaker role. We will have an immense influence over what happens in Sweden in the coming weeks, months, years.”

Both the smaller Liberal and Centre parties in the Moderates’ current centre-right alliance are fiercely opposed to any normalisation of relations with the populists, as are all the parties on the left.

The election was Sweden’s first since the government allowed 163,000 migrants into the country – the most per capita of any European nation – during Europe’s 2015 migration crisis, polarising the nation’s 7.3 million voters and magnifying popular concern about a welfare system many felt was already under strain.

Long waits for operations, shortages of doctors and teachers and a police force that has had difficulties dealing with a spate of gangland shootings and grenade attacks – often in deprived areas with high concentrations of immigrants – have all shaken faith in Sweden’s prized model of generous welfare and inclusiveness.

The often antagonistic campaign was largely dominated by themes of immigration, integration and welfare, with the Sweden Democrats repeatedly presenting the vote as a straight choice between immigration and welfare spending.

“This government we have had ... have prioritised, during these four years, asylum-seekers,” Jimmie Åkesson, the far-right party’s leader, told his final election rally this weekend. “Sweden needs breathing space. We need tight responsible immigration policies.”

Casting his ballot in Stockholm on Sunday, Löfven, whose government radically tightened immigration laws in 2015, also described the vote as “a referendum about our welfare”. But, he said: “It is also about decency, about a decent democracy ... and about not letting the Sweden Democrats, an extremist party, a racist party, get any influence in the government.”

Far-right parties have made significant gains at the expense of the political mainstream across western Europe in recent years in the aftermath of the 2008 global financial crisis and the 2015 refugee crisis, and are now in government in Italy, Austria, Norway and Finland.

“Traditional parties have failed to respond to the sense of discontent that exists,” said Magnus Blomgren of Umea University. “That discontent maybe isn’t directly related to unemployment or the economy, but simply a loss of faith in the political system. Sweden isn’t alone in this.”

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« Reply #4289 on: Sep 10, 2018, 05:03 AM »

'It’s not about what is fair': Macedonians prepare to vote on name change

Many Macedonians grudgingly accept need for name change in order to join Nato and EU

Shaun Walker in Skopje
Mon 10 Sep 2018 06.00 BST

North. It’s just a single five-letter word, but in Macedonia in recent weeks it has prompted many column inches of debate, hours of coffee-shop discussions and pages of online abuse.

A referendum at the end of the month will ask citizens whether they are willing to add the word to the country’s official name, making it the Republic of North Macedonia.

The change is the main part of an agreement between Macedonia and Greece signed by their respective prime ministers in June. Greece has long blocked Macedonian accession to Nato and the European Union, claiming its northern neighbour’s name is an unfair appropriation from the northern Greek region of Macedonia.

For many inside Macedonia, changing the name is a delicate issue. “It’s not just about one word. Think about Northern Ireland and Ireland. Words have meaning,” said Sasho Klekovski, a pollster and analyst who opposes the deal.

Nikola Dimitrov, Macedonia’s foreign minister, who spent months in negotiations with his Greek counterpart hammering out details of the deal, said it would offer a new path forward for the small nation of around 2 million people, which has struggled since it became independent after the collapse of Yugoslavia.

“We have lost a generation. I am 45, I was 18 when Macedonia became independent. In a way this is the second chance for our generation to make it,” he said in an interview at his office in central Skopje, Macedonia’s capital.

On 30 September the population will be asked: “Are you in favour of Nato and EU membership, and accepting the name agreement between the republic of Macedonia and Greece?”

Government critics say the wording is manipulative, but the defence minister, Radmila Šekerinska, said it was quite proper to phrase the question in two parts. “If there was a chance to get into the EU and Nato without the agreement with Greece, everyone would be thrilled,” she said. “To deny the connection between the EU and Nato and the agreement is to be irrational.”

Few Macedonians are positive about the name change, but many speak of it with the grudging acceptance that might be accorded an unpleasant but necessary medical procedure.

“We are an isolated, small and poor country, so let’s do it. It’s not fair, but it’s not about what is fair but about what is good for everyone. If there’s a chance for people to live better, let’s take it,” said Sanja Arsovska, 31, an actor at the Skopje drama theatre.

The deal has been stridently opposed by nationalists on both sides of the border – on Saturday Greeks protesters clashed with riot police – but polls suggest a slim majority are in favour of the deal, boosted by overwhelming support among Macedonia’s sizeable ethnic Albanian minority.

The longstanding dispute between Skopje and Athens has been complicated in recent years by a “antiquisation” project carried out by the nationalist government of the previous prime minister Nikola Gruevski, in which dozens of statues, fountains and grand buildings adorned with faux-marble columns were erected in Skopje.

The centrepiece is a fountain complex in the main square, topped with a statue of Alexander the Great on horseback. The monuments incensed Greece, who accused Skopje of appropriating Hellenic cultural and historical heritage.

Gruevski was ousted from office in 2016 after a wire-tapping scandal and is now on trial for an array of offences. The new government reached the deal with Greece but will need the support of parts of Gruevski’s VMRO-DPMNE party to see it through, as the referendum is only consultative.

Western diplomats are suggesting that a yes vote, even with a turnout below the 50% threshold required for it to stand, would be a mandate for change. The ruling coalition would need to persuade around 10 MPs from VMRO to vote with them in order to attain the two-thirds majority required for constitutional change.

VMRO officials are furious that Macedonia will have to change its name not only in international communications but internally as well, with passports, ministry names and all other references to Macedonia to be replaced by North Macedonia.

“They would have had a better agreement if they had let the Greeks write it themselves, because probably the Greeks would have been a bit embarrassed to give themselves absolutely everything,” said Aleksandar Nikoloski, the deputy head of VMRO, in an interview at the party headquarters, an imposing building filled with lurid artworks that reflect Gruevski’s grandiose visions.

VMRO are under intense international pressure not to scupper the agreement and have yet to announce whether or not they will call for a boycott of the referendum. Nikoloski has denied government claims that the party offered to support the deal in exchange for an amnesty for Gruevski and others.

As well as trying to get the opposition onside, Macedonian officials are keeping an eye on Moscow during the campaign. Russia has openly said it opposes Macedonia’s Nato accession and has been accused of working behind the scenes to try to scupper the deal. Greece recently expelled Russian diplomats, accusing them of offering bribes to opponents of the deal.

In Macedonia, the main pro-Russia force is Janko Bachev, a fringe politician whose United Macedonia party has sprung up in recent months. Bachev, speaking from the party offices where a Russian flag flies from the balcony, claimed the polls showing a majority of Macedonians in favour of Nato membership were “funded by the CIA” and insisted most Macedonians opposed the deal.

“All the main parties here support liberal values such as homosexuality, gay marriage, changing Macedonia’s name and erasing everything that is Macedonian,” he said, adding that the Kremlin instead supported “traditional values” that aligned with the views of most Macedonians. He denied receiving funding from Russia but said he wanted Macedonia to enter into a strategic alliance with the Kremlin.

Bachev, who is calling for a boycott of the vote, is not seen as a serious political force by most observers, but western diplomats are nevertheless following Moscow’s moves warily.

“For years, Russia never said anything about Macedonia; suddenly they are coming out with all kinds of statements,” said one. “I don’t think they are going to launch a Montenegro-style coup here, but could they put a few guys into a crowd and create a disturbance? I wouldn’t rule that out.”

Western countries are pushing strongly for the deal to be a success, with Germany’s Angela Merkel visiting Skopje this weekend.

If the deal is pushed through, Skopje and Athens have agreed to disagree on who or what constitutes a Macedonian: a sub-clause of the agreement says “the parties acknowledge that their respective understanding of the terms ‘Macedonia’ and ‘Macedonian’ refers to a different historical context and cultural heritage”.

When it comes to the Skopje monuments of Alexander the Great and other classical heroes, the government has agreed that within six months it will take “corrective action” by renaming monuments that “refer in any way to ancient Hellenic history and civilisation”.

Dimitrov said: “In the past we sacrificed our reality for mythology. Now we are sacrificing mythology for reality, and reality is what really matters.”

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