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Darja
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« Reply #4365 on: Aug 17, 2018, 05:11 AM »

'McCarthy-era tactics': ex-spy chiefs round on Trump in Brennan row

Admiral who oversaw Osama bin Laden raid says he would be honoured to have his security clearance removed like John Brennan’s

Guardian
Fri 17 Aug 2018 05.25 BST

More than a dozen senior intelligence officials, including the retired navy admiral who oversaw the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, have heavily criticised Donald Trump, accusing him of trying to stifle free speech in revoking the security clearance of former spy chief John Brennan.

Writing in the Washington Post, William H McRaven, who presided over the Bin Laden raid, called Trump’s moves “McCarthy-era tactics” and said he would “consider it an honor” if Trump revoked his clearance as well.

“Like most Americans, I had hoped that when you became president, you would rise to the occasion and become the leader this great nation needs,” he wrote. “A good leader tries to embody the best qualities of his or her organization. A good leader sets the example for others to follow. A good leader always puts the welfare of others before himself or herself.

“Your leadership, however, has shown little of these qualities. Through your actions, you have embarrassed us in the eyes of our children, humiliated us on the world stage and, worst of all, divided us as a nation.”

McRaven also praised Brennan as “a man of unparalleled integrity, whose honesty and character have never been in question, except by those who don’t know him”.

    Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump)

    “Director Brennan’s recent statements purport to know as fact that the Trump campaign colluded with a foreign power. If Director Brennan’s statement is based on intelligence he received while leading the CIA, why didn’t he include it in the Intelligence Community Assessment......
    August 17, 2018

It came after Brennan called Trump’s repeated denials that his campaign colluded with Russia during the 2016 election “hogwash” and accused the president of revoking his security clearance as part of a “desperate” attempt to interfere with the special counsel’s investigation.

The criticism was followed late on Thursday by a joint letter from 12 former senior intelligence officials calling Trump’s action “ill-considered and unprecedented”. They said it “has nothing to do with who should and should not hold security clearances – and everything to do with an attempt to stifle free speech”.

The signatories included six former CIA directors, five former deputy directors and former director of national intelligence James Clapper. Two of them – Clapper and former CIA director Michael Hayden – have appeared on a list of people whose security clearance the White House has publicly threatened to remove.

Trump on Wednesday openly tied his decision to strip Brennan of his clearance – and threaten nearly a dozen other former and current officials – to the investigation into Russian election meddling and possible collusion with his campaign. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Trump again called the probe a “rigged witch hunt” and said “These people led it!”

“So I think it’s something that had to be done,” he said.

The president’s comments were a swift departure from the official explanation given by the White House earlier on Wednesday that cited the “the risks” posed by Brennan’s alleged “erratic conduct and behavior”.

Attorneys said the revocation appeared to be within the president’s authority. But they noted the power play also could be used to reinforce a case alleging obstruction of justice, following the president’s firing of former FBI director James Comey and his repeated tweets calling for the investigation to end.

Patrick Cotter, a former assistant US attorney in the eastern district of New York, said a prosecutor could argue Trump’s move was intended as a warning against helping the Russia investigation, but probably not obstruction in itself. However, he said the move would be a “powerful piece of evidence” for prosecutors as part of a pattern to demonstrate an intent to use presidential power in connection with the investigation.

Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor, agreed. “What it shows is that the president is fixated on the Russia investigation, he’s angry about it, and he wants to do everything he can to discourage or slow down the investigation,” he said.

Special counsel Mueller and his team have been looking at Trump’s public statements and tweets as they investigate whether the president could be guilty of obstruction. “I don’t think it advances the criminal obstruction case, but I think it’s factually relevant,” said Mark Zaid, a national security attorney. “I think it shows the state of mind and intent to interfere or impede any unfavorable discussion of his potential connection to Russia.”

Former CIA directors and other top national security officials are typically allowed to keep their clearances, at least for some period.

The initial White House statement about Brennan’s clearance made no reference to the Russia investigation. Instead, the president said he was fulfilling his “constitutional responsibility to protect the nation’s classified information,” even though he made no suggestion that Brennan was improperly exposing the nation’s secrets.

“Mr Brennan’s lying and recent conduct characterized by increasingly frenzied commentary is wholly inconsistent with access to the nations’ most closely held secrets,” Trump said.

A few hours later his explanation had changed. “You look at any of them and you see the things they’ve done,” Trump told the Journal. “In some cases they’ve lied before Congress. The Hillary Clinton whole investigation was a total sham.”

“I don’t trust many of those people on that list,” he said. “I think that they’re very duplicitous. I think they’re not good people.”

The episode was reminiscent of Trump’s shifting explanations for firing Comey and the evolving descriptions of the Trump Tower meeting between top campaign aides and a Kremlin-connected lawyer – both topics of interest to Mueller.

In announcing Comey’s firing, the White House initially cited the former FBI director’s handling of the inquiry into Clinton’s emails. A few days after Comey was dismissed Trump said he was really thinking of “this Russia thing”. Trump later changed again, tweeting that he “never fired James Comey because of Russia!”

This month he admitted in a tweet the Trump Tower meeting, which was arranged by his son Donald Trump Jr, “was a meeting to get information on an opponent”. That directly contradicted a July 2017 statement from Trump Jr – written with the consultation of the White House – that claimed the meeting had been primarily about adoption.

Associated Press contributed to this report

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

Russian oligarch tweets threat to Trump: This ‘will be his last term’ if he doesn’t ‘extinguish Russophobia’

Dominique Jackson
Raw Story
17 Aug 2018 at 21:38 ET                  

Artem Klyushin, a Russian billionaire who serves as a government advisor to the Kremlin, tweeted a clear message for President Donald Trump on Thursday.

The Russian billionaire has claimed that he put President Trump in the White House. He also recently warned several Trump critics who the president has targeted for revocation of security clearances.

The Russian official warned Trump to stop encouraging a culture of fake news that spreads “Russophobia.”

“Democrats and Republicans in the United States compete in the one who no longer loves Russia and who will come up with crueler sanctions. They stuff political points on this, and the people of Russia suffer. If Donald Trump does not extinguish the fire kindling FAKE NEWS Russophobia – it will be his last term,” Klyushin wrote according to Microsoft and Google translation applications.

    Демократы и республиканцы в сша соревнуюются в том, кто больше не любит Россию и кто придумает санкции пожесче. Они набитают на этом политические очки, а страдает народ России. Если @realDonaldTrump не погасит огонь FAKE NEWS разжигающих русофобию – это будет его последний срок.

    — АРТЕМ КЛЮШИН  (@ARTEM_KLYUSHIN) August 16, 2018    

President Trump has continuously attacked the media. So much so that the United States Senate banned together to protect journalists against the president’s remarks in a new resolution.

“We swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution, including the First Amendment,” Senator Brian Schatz, a Democrat and an author of the resolution told Reuters. “Today, every senator upheld that oath by sending a message that we support the First Amendment, and we support the freedom of the press in the face of these attacks.”

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

Omarosa releases new tape of Trump campaign's 'hush money' offer

Ex-White House aide says $15,000-a-month job offer from Trump’s daughter-in-law Lara was ‘an attempt to buy my silence’

Ben Jacobs in Washington
Guardian
17 Aug 2018 19.21 BST

Omarosa Manigault Newman, the former White House aide, has released fresh audio recordings that she claims show she was offered “hush money” by Donald Trump’s re-election campaign.

Manigault Newman has already made several serious and provocative accusations about Trump and the White House in her book Unhinged, including that there are recordings of Trump using the N-word. The White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said earlier this week she was unable to guarantee that any such recording did not exist.

During an appearance on MSNBC on Thursday, Manigault Newman played excerpts of an apparent phone conversation between her and Lara Trump, Donald Trump’s daughter-in-law, which Manigault Newman claims was recorded shortly after her dismissal from the White House.

In the call, Lara Trump, who has a senior role in Donald Trump’s re-election campaign, offers Manigault Newman a job that would pay $180,000 a year in exchange for occasionally attending meetings in New York and doing “speaking engagements”.

Lara Trump said in the phone conversation that “it sounds a little, like, obviously, that there are some things you’ve got in the back pocket to pull out”. However, she noted that if Mangault Newman joined the campaign, everything she would say about Trump would have to be “positive”.

Manigault Newman, a former Apprentice contestant who was once the most prominent African American in the Trump administration, told MSNBC she saw the offer as “an attempt to buy my silence, censor me and pay me off – $15,000 a month”.

Asked if she saw it as “hush money,” Manigault Newman responded: “Absolutely.”

In the course of the conversation, Lara Trump noted “the only thing we have to consider where we’re talking about salary as far as the campaign is concerned is that, as you know, everything is public”.

Manigault Newman said that Lara Trump was clear during their phone conversation that the impetus for the phone call came from Donald Trump.

In a statement, Lara Trump criticized Manigault Newman, calling the tapes “a fraud”, although she did not directly contradict anything on the recording.

She said that the Trump family “had no idea about basis of her dismissal” when she was fired from White House, and said “we still wanted her on our team because we cared so much about her personally. That’s why I reached out to offer her a position with the 2020 Trump campaign before we knew anything about the gross violations of ethics and integrity during her White House tenure.”

Lara Trump said she “formed a sisterhood bond that is unlike any I have experienced in my life” with Manigault Newman. She went on: “I am absolutely shocked and saddened by her betrayal and violation on a deeply personal level.”

Manigault Newman refused to rule out releasing further recordings.

“Every single time the Trump people challenge me, I bring the receipts,” she said of the criticism she has received for making the recordings, and making them public.

She alleged she had further evidence of Trump corruption and said there are “things I’m going to write about and things to save share when the time is right”.

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/embed/1R2WUCT9XlE?rel=0&showinfo=0&embed_config=%7B%22adsConfig%22%3A%7B%22nonPersonalizedAd%22%3Afalse%7D%7D&enablejsapi=1&origin=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.theguardian.com&widgetid=1

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

Furious Trump told advisers that he wants Jeff Sessions to arrest Omarosa over her book: report

Brad Reed
Raw Story
16 Aug 2018 at 12:02 ET                  

A new report from Vanity Fair’s Gabriel Sherman claims that President Donald Trump now wants to see estranged aide Omarosa Manigault-Newman arrested over her recently published book.

According to one of Sherman’s sources, “Trump told advisers that he wants Attorney General Jeff Sessions to have Manigault Newman arrested” despite the fact that “it’s unclear what law Trump believes she broke.”

One former Trump White House official said that Trump’s fury at Omarosa was setting him on a “death spiral” similar to the one that engulfed his campaign in the summer of 2016 when he attacked a Gold Star father who was critical of his proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States.

Two former White House officials also tell Sherman that Omarosa has been masterful in the roll out of her book, as it seems her every move is designed purposefully to make Trump explode with rage.

“She is doing everything perfect if her ultimate goal is to troll Trump,” one official explained.

Trump this week has furiously attacked his former aide after she accused him of being racist and in “mental decline” in her book, “Unhinged: An Insider’s Account of the Trump White House.” Among other things, the president has called Omarosa a “lowlife” and a “dog,” and his campaign has filed a complaint against her for allegedly violating a nondisclosure agreement she supposedly signed while she was working for the Trump campaign.

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

White House officials fear what Omarosa has on her 200 tapes almost as much as Mueller’s Russia probe: NYT reporter

Tom Boggioni
Raw Story
17 Aug 2018 at 09:12 ET                   

Appearing on CNN on Friday morning, New York Times White House correspondent Maggie Haberman said there is a new undercurrent of fear running through the White House as staffers worry as much about what they may have said to former Trump aide Omarosa Manigault as they do about the ongoing Russian collusion investigation.

Speaking with host John Berman, Haberman prompted, “Your reporting, which I think is so interesting, and I’ll paraphrase here, I don’t want to put words in your mouth but you’re reporting there is as much concern about this back-and-forth with Omarosa inside the White House as just about anything else that has gone on — save the Russia investigation.”

“It has put them all, not completely in control,” Haberman began. ‘They don’t know how many tapes she was walking around with. Some believe she was using a special recording device in a pen because one version I heard about her going in the Situation Room with [White House Chief of Staff] John Kelly is that she did check her phone, which you’re supposed to do.”

“My understanding is there are 200, possibly more, there are dozens and dozens and she is going to leak them out slowly,” she continued. “Politico put it very well that this is like the mental siege of WikiLeaks on the Clinton campaign which was just the daily — they had no idea what they were going face.”

“This is something akin to that,” Haberman went on to explain. “And Donald Trump hates feeling out of control. And when he feels out of control his aides hear about it and it creates anxiety.”

You can watch the video via CNN: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y2CgIvIBUaU

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

‘This is what he does when he’s most afraid’: Former Trump casino executive explains president’s Omarosa meltdown

Noor Al-Sibai
Raw Story
16 Aug 2018 at 20:06 ET                  

A former Trump casino executive explained to CNN Thursday that Donald Trump’s attacks against his former protegée Omarosa Manigault Newman are a “tell” for his state of mind.

“I think he is afraid,” onetime Trump Plaza Hotel president and chief operation officer Jack O’Donnell told a CNN panel. “And this is what he does when he is most afraid — he attacks, attacks and attacks.”

The former Trump executive said Manigault Newman’s tape of Lara Trump appearing to offer her “hush money” days after her firing from the White House reminded him of his own experiences with whistleblowing on his old boss.

“Thse tactics are similar to what he used when he tried to stop my book,” O’Donnell said of his 1991 tell-all “Trumped!”

“The letter comes to the publisher, then they come to you directly trying to buy you off, and then after that, the threats begin,” he said. “Looks like the same pattern is there for his behavior.”

Though O’Donnell initially expressed hesitation at the thought that, like Manigault Newman asserted, Trump has met his match, he seemed to believe that she’s going to give the president a run for his money.

“He might have met his match here,” the onetime casino executive said. “He trained her, and Ithink she’s learned some lessons from him.”

Watch via CNN: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dok6_JadZrg

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

‘He likes to be begged’: DC insider tells Morning Joe what Trump likes best about pardon power

Travis Gettys
Raw Story
17 Aug 2018 at 07:14 ET                   

President Donald Trump gets a “kick” out of issuing pardons, according to a well-connected Washington reporter, because only he can do it — and he likes to watch people beg.

Mike Allen, co-founder and executive editor of Axios and former chief political reporter for Politico, appeared Friday on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” to discuss his new reporting on Trump’s favorite presidential powers.

“The president loves to remind people that he has the pardon power — he can use it, will use it — and again, he likes to be begged for it.”

Allen said Trump also enjoys his power to revoke security clearance for his enemies, as he did to former CIA director John Brennan, and he expects the president to take similar unilateral actions.

“We see here with this Brennan decision a microcosm of a lot of the ways the president loves to operate, and that we can expect to see even more this fall as we head towards midterms and re-election in 2020,” Allen said. “He loves instant gratification. You would see that with a pardon.”

Allen said the action against Brennan was not intended just to punish or silence Brennan, a strong critic of the president, but was another way to rally his base supporters.

“The president feeds off of his enemies, that’s why he loves to call attention to them,” Allen said. “He loves to create these foils that he then uses to fuel the base.”

Taking away Brennan’s access to classified material draws attention to the former intelligence official, so Trump can then drag him down, Allen said.

“He loves the idea of having someone that we’re going to cover that we respect, as the face of the deep state, and someone that he can go out this fall and talk about,” Allen said. “Why we saw him tweeting last night again, the president talking about John Brennan. He wants to call attention to him, make him part of his cast of characters.”

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GeH8_sopYjk

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

‘Trump wears that intent on his sleeve’: Ex-prosecutor says president is obviously guilty of obstruction

Travis Gettys
Raw Story
16 Aug 2018 at 13:36 ET                  

A former federal prosecutor said special counsel Robert Mueller should have no trouble proving an obstruction of justice case against President Donald Trump.

Mimi Rocah, a former U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of New York, said it was “chilling” that former CIA director John Brennan believed publicly available evidence existed to prove collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia — and now it was up to Mueller to determine which laws were broken.

“The question is, does it meet the elements of a criminal conspiracy that can be charged or written up as a charge either in a court of law or for impeachment proceedings, not that that’s the only standard for impeachment, of course,” Rocah said.

“I’m thinking more and more that those elements are going to be met,” she continued. “But obviously Mueller will be the one to decide those.”

Brennan said the special counsel must determine whether the Trump campaign was criminally liable for conspiracy, and whether the president had committed obstruction — and Rocah said he’d already helped prove the most difficult element for prosecutors.

“Usually the hardest part of an obstruction charge is not the act but showing someone’s intent, that they’re trying to influence the outcome of an investigation,” Rocah said. “Trump wears that intent on his sleeve.”

She said the president had made multiple public statements that help prosecutors show his state of mind in taking actions that could be considered obstruction.

“I mean, this statement about taking away Director Brennan’s security clearance because of his involvement in the Russia investigation seems to me to be very clear intent,” Rocah said.

“If I had a drug dealer that I was prosecuting,” she added, “and he said that he was going to retaliate against a witness because that witness was involved in an investigation against him, that would be really good evidence of obstruction — and that’s exactly what Mr. Trump is doing here.”

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=an01KHosgpE

**********

Senate unanimously adopts resolution backing free press after Trump attacks

Reuters
16 Aug 2018 at 17:25 ET                  

The U.S. Senate on Thursday unanimously adopted a resolution affirming support for a free press and declaring that “the press is not the enemy of the people.”

The non-binding resolution approved by voice vote was a rebuke to President Donald Trump who for more than 18 months has frequently called reporters “the enemy of the people.”

The resolution “reaffirms the vital and indispensable role that the free press serves to inform the electorate, uncover the truth, act as a check on the inherent power of the government, further national discourse and debate, and otherwise advance the most basic and cherished democratic norms and freedoms of the United States.”

The vote comes after more than 300 hundred U.S. newspapers on Thursday launched a coordinated defense of press freedom and a rebuke of President Donald Trump for denouncing some media organizations as enemies of the American people.

“A central pillar of President Trump’s politics is a sustained assault on the free press,” said the editorial by the Boston Globe, which coordinated publication among more than 350 newspapers.

Trump has frequently criticized journalists and described news reports that contradict his opinion or policy positions as fake news.

He lashed out again on Thursday, tweeting “THE FAKE NEWS MEDIA IS THE OPPOSITION PARTY. It is very bad for our Great Country….BUT WE ARE WINNING!”

At a Senate hearing, Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai again said he did not agree that the press was “the enemy of the people” but declined to offer a view of Trump’s anti-press rhetoric.

“We swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution, including the First Amendment,” said Senator Brian Schatz, a Democrat and an author of the resolution. “Today, every senator upheld that oath by sending a message that we support the First Amendment, and we support the freedom of the press in the face of these attacks.”

The White House did not immediately comment on the Senate action.

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by David Gregorio


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« Last Edit: Aug 17, 2018, 07:54 AM by Darja » Logged
Darja
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« Reply #4366 on: Aug 18, 2018, 05:31 AM »

Why Native Americans struggle to protect their sacred places

The Conversation
19 Aug 2018 at 07:31 ET                   

Forty years ago the U.S. Congress passed the American Indian Religious Freedom Act so that Native Americans could practice their faith freely and that access to their sacred sites would be protected. This came after a 500-year-long history of conquest and coercive conversion to Christianity had forced Native Americans from their homelands.

Today, their religious practice is threatened all over again. On Dec. 4, 2017, the Trump administration reduced the Bears Ears National Monument, an area sacred to Native Americans in Utah, by over 1 million acres. Bears Ears Monument is only one example of the conflict over places of religious value. Many other such sacred sites are being viewed as potential areas for development, threatening the free practice of Native American faith.

While Congress created the American Indian Religious Freedom Act to provide “access to sacred sites,” it has been open to interpretation. Native Americans still struggle to protect their sacred lands.
Land-based religions

Native Americans have land-based religions, which means they practice their religion within specific geographic locations. As Joseph Toledo, a Jemez Pueblo tribal leader, says, sacred sites are like churches; they are “places of great healing and magnetism.”

Some of these places, as in the case of Bears Ears National Monument, are within federal public lands. As a Native American scholar, I have visited many of these places and felt their power.

For thousands of years, tribes have used Bears Ears for rituals, ceremonies and collecting medicines used for healing. The different tribes – the Hopi, Navajo, Ute Mountain Ute, Ute Indian Tribe and the Pueblo of Zuni – have worked to protect the land. Together they set up a nongovernmental organization, the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition to help conserve the landscape in 2015.

The tribes believe Bears Ears is one of the last large undisturbed areas in the lower 48 states and contains the spirits of those who once lived there. Bears Ears Navajo elder Mark Maryboy emphasized, “It’s very important that we protect the earth, the plants, and special ceremonial places in Bears Ears for future generations — not just for Native Americans, but for everybody.”

Sacred landscape

My great-grandparents, Páyotayàkχkumei and Kayetså’χkumi, (translated as Aims-while-flying-through-the-air and Hollering-in-the-air), were well-known religious leaders on the Blackfeet reservation. They lived in the foothills of the south side of the reservation. However, they went into the mountains and onto public lands in an area now called the Badger-Two Medicine in northcentral Montana to practice their religion.

My great-grandfather traveled into Badger canyon to trap eagles and gather their feathers which he used in ceremonies and for divine protection. My great-grandmother gathered medicinal plants used in healing ceremonies. Together they prayed and sought solitude in this sacred landscape.

Similar to Bears Ears, the Badger-Two Medicine, a 130,000-acre area within the Lewis and Clark National Forest, became embroiled in a controversy over potential natural resource development between 1982 and 2017. The Blackfeet tribe argued that these lands were sacred. And that tribal members, such as my great-grandparents, had used these lands for years for spiritual purposes.

The Blackfeet tribe ultimately succeeded in stopping development, but only after a 35-year-long fight with the Department of Interior, which initially approved almost 50 oil and gas leases. In 2017 Interior Secretary Jewell canceled the last of these leases. This means these public lands will not be used for natural resource development in the future.

Now my family and other Blackfeet, who have used the Badger-Two Medicine for millennia, can use these public lands for their religious practice in solitude.

Forty years later

The reality is, however, that not every dispute between tribes and the U.S. government ends up in favor of the tribes. Historically, Native American tribes have struggled to explain why certain landscapes are sacred for them.

In 1988, just 10 years after the passage of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, the Supreme Court considered a case involving the construction of a U.S. Forest Service road through undeveloped federal lands sacred to northern California tribes in the Six Rivers National Forest.

The lower court had ruled in favor of the Yurok, Karok and Tolowa tribes stating the road would impact their religious practice.

However, the Supreme Court reversed the decision, ruling that building a road through a sacred landscape would not prohibit the tribes “free exercise” of religion.

The tribes lost, because the Supreme Court viewed the American Indian Religious Freedom Act as a policy and not a law with legal protections.

Ultimately, the road was not built because Congress stepped in and added this sacred area to the existing Siskiyou Wilderness, which is a protected area by federal law.

What was noteworthy in the SCOTUS deliberations, though, was the dissenting opinion of Justice William Brennan, who defended land-based religions. He said,

“Native American faith is inextricably bound to the use of land. The site-specific nature of Indian religious practice derives from the Native American perception that land is itself a sacred, living being.”

Indeed, religion scholars such as Yale professor Tisa Wenger point out that “the most important religious freedom issues for Native Americans” center around protecting their sacred places.

The ConversationAt a time when the Trump administration has created a new task force to address discrimination against certain religious groups, the exclusion of Bears Ears and other places of religious significance from these discussions raises important questions about religious freedom in the United States and also the legacy of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act.

Rosalyn R. LaPier, Associate Professor of Environmental Studies, The University of Montana


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« Reply #4367 on: Aug 18, 2018, 05:35 AM »


Sydney's bushfire season starts in winter: 'We may have to rethink how we live'

Hotter, drier summers in Australia mean longer fire seasons – and urban sprawl into bushland is putting more people at risk

Lisa Cox in Sydney
Guardian
18 Aug 2018 10.00 BST

At first the smoke on the horizon “didn’t look like anything major,” says Joe Mercieca of that day in 2013. But then the wind picked up.

His house in the Blue Mountains, an hour and a half out of Sydney, was soon surrounded by the blaze. “I told my wife it was too late, let’s retreat,” he says. Mercieca, Merylese and their dog took shelter in the concrete fire bunker they had built beneath their house. “We sat in there and listened to everything explode.”

Overall, more than 200 houses were lost in the fire. The Merciecas lost four vehicles and their home office, destroyed when a flaming truck crashed into it. In the five years since, Mercieca has used his construction business to educate people about the importance of fire preparedness in their homes.

In the past, bushfire season – the period of heightened risk declared by state-specific authorities, often accompanied by fire bans – has typically begun in New South Wales in October and run until March. But an unusual period of months of exceptionally warm and extremely dry weather this year has prompted authorities to start the season early. Not only is Australia’s increasingly hotter, drier weather a cause for concern, but the country’s rapid urbanisation means more people are at risk than ever before.

For large areas in the north and west, bushfire season has been brought forward a whole two months to August – well into winter, which officially began 1 June. The rest of the state, including Sydney, will follow suit from 1 September, closer to spring but still four weeks earlier than usual.

The decision has already been justified. On the first weekend of August, a fire broke out at Doyalson on the NSW Central Coast, just north of Sydney, that crews had to fight to control. Two days later there were 11 uncontained fires in the state.

Rob Rogers, deputy commissioner of the NSW Rural Fire Service, notes that last season fire crews were battling blazes as late as April. “That’s not really bushfire season, and yet we had a big fire on the outskirts of Sydney,” he says.

    If you look at Spain, everyone has white houses. It’s ridiculous that here it’s a trend to have a black roof
    Stephen Bali, Blacktown city council

According to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology (Bom), the January to July period 2018 was the warmest in NSW since 1910. Rogers linked these “unseasonably warm temperatures” with the deadly heatwaves in Greece and North America. “It’s fair to say that the climate is changing and longer fire seasons are something we’re starting to experience.”

Bushfires mostly threaten the bushland and national parks surrounding Australian cities, but as their limits edge ever-outwards – the country has one of the highest rates of sprawl in the world – urban areas are increasingly under threat. One of the late-season fires in NSW in April was in Holsworthy, a suburb 30km south-west of inner-city Sydney, forcing the evacuation of hundreds of people and sleepless nights for many more.

Even when not threatened by fire, western Sydney is known to be one of the hottest parts of the entire state of NSW. The area consistently reaches far higher temperatures than the eastern Sydney suburbs because of its unique geography and lack of sea breeze, which combine to create an urban heat island within an urban heat island.

In January this year Penrith – a major metropolitan area 50km west of the city centre – was the hottest place on Earth, reaching 47.3C while Sydney itself was 44C. Annually there are 14 heat-related deaths per 100,000 people in western Sydney, compared with five by the coast. The number of days above 35C a year is projected to increase by five to ten by 2030, while a recent study has predicted that summer heatwaves in major Australian cities are likely to reach highs of 50C by 2040.

Linden Ashcroft, a climate researcher at Bom, says the temperature difference between coastal and western Sydney can be massive and deadly. “The hot days are really dramatic and potentially really dangerous, but it’s the nights that are the real concern.

“If you think of an elderly person or vulnerable member of the community, they struggle through the day generally but then the nights should bring relief. If you’re getting that [urban heat island] effect, you don’t.”

Eight agencies in the western Sydney region have been working together to bring down temperatures through measures including tree-planting, installing air conditioning in public facilities, such as libraries and increasing opening hours for swimming pools in summer.

Stephen Bali, the mayor of Blacktown city council and president of the Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils, says there is a wider problem with the way Australian homes are built – typically with dark colours that absorb heat and without features that reduce the need for heating and cooling, such as double-glazed windows and double brick facades.

New homes being built in bushfire-prone areas must meet stringent building requirements, such as stronger glass with some ability to withstand heat and non-combustible features. But Bali says councils need the backing of state governments to mandate materials that are better suited to the Australian climate more broadly.

    We may run into a situation where we exhaust our capacity to fight major fires and we have to rethink the way we live
    Ross Bradstock, University of Wollongong

“We need to look at building codes. If you look at Spain, everyone has white houses. It’s ridiculous that here it’s a trend to have a black roof.”

Andy Pitman, director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes at the University of NSW, agrees. “We design almost all our developments perfectly wrong for keeping cities cool,” he says. “Have you ever been to the Mediterranean? Build our houses like that.”

“They are well insulated. They have brightly coloured roofs to reflect sunlight. They don’t need a lot of cooling in summer, and they don’t need a lot of heating in winter.”

Australia’s rapid population growth, focused on its major cities, poses another challenge. Western Sydney is projected to absorb two-thirds of the 1.7m extra people expected in the city by 2036.

Not only will greater population density exacerbate the urban heat island effect, the state’s Office of Environment and Heritage has predicted that the conversion of areas in the north-west and south-west of Sydney from forest and grasslands to new urban development may double the projected temperature increases from climate change in the near future.

As urban areas from Darwin to Melbourne sprawl outwards in hotter, drier summers, the scene is set for a potentially catastrophic combination. “People cause fires,” says Ross Bradstock, the director of the centre for environmental risk management of bushfires at the University of Wollongong. “When you’ve got high densities of populations you can get lots of ignitions, either from people lighting fires directly or from things like power lines for transport.” There are strong indications that conditions conducive to major fires will increase with the changing climate, Bradstock adds.

Earlier starts and later finishes to bushfire season also mean authorities have less time in which to try to reduce the risk through controlled burns. “Sydney is surrounded by bush and a lot of it goes into the suburbs themselves,” says Rogers. “We’ve been trying to do burn-offs and reduce the fuel ahead of summer but in Sydney that’s challenging because people get concerned about the amount of smoke– we haven’t done as much as we’d like.”

Bradstock and his team have been using technology including satellite data and forecasting to pinpoint critically dry areas around Australian cities on a day-to-day basis, and predict that more than half a million houses are now directly exposed to bushfire risk.

Heatwaves are already the country’s deadliest natural disaster, with climatologists warning that they will only increase in frequency, severity and duration. Even Australian cities – better acclimatised to heat than many in the world – must adapt to the changing climate. Bradstock says that could include evaluating how close homes are built to bushland. If major fires become more frequent, as looks likely, “we may run into a situation where we exhaust our capacity to fight them and we have to rethink the way we live”.


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« Reply #4368 on: Aug 18, 2018, 05:37 AM »


Top Seed Companies Urge EPA to Limit Dicamba

Ecowatch
8/18/2018

Two of the nation's largest independent seed sellers, Beck's Hybrids and Stine Seed, are urging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to place limits on the spraying of the drift-prone pesticide dicamba, Reuters reported.

This could potentially hurt Monsanto, which along with DowDupont and BASF SE, makes dicamba formulations to use on Monsanto's Xtend seeds that are genetically engineered to resist applications of the weedkiller. Beck's Hybrids and Stine Seed, as well as other companies, sell those seeds.

The push from the two companies comes after a University of Missouri report in July that estimated 1.1 million acres of non-resistant soybeans have been accidentally damaged by dicamba this year so far. Off-target damage has also been reported on other agricultural crops, trees and plants. In 2017, the highly volatile chemical damaged a reported 3.6 million acres of crops, according to the University of Missouri.

Crop injuries have surfaced despite efforts from the EPA and many states that have introduced restrictions to prevent off-target dicamba damage.

"I've been doing this for 50 years and we've never had anything be as damaging as this dicamba situation," Stine Seed founder and CEO Harry Stine told Reuters. "In this case, Monsanto made an error."

Monsanto, which was purchased for $63 billion by German chemicals and pharmaceuticals giant Bayer, has been sharply criticized for selling its dicamba-tolerant Xtend seeds before securing EPA approval for the herbicide designed to go along with it. Monsanto developed the Xtend system to address superweeds that have grown resistant to glyphosate, the main ingredient in Roundup.

In a June 27 letter to the EPA, Beck's urged the EPA to modify the current dicamba label on Xtend crops to only allow usage as a pre-plant option and disallow in-season applications.

Monsanto and BASF told Reuters that farmers need dicamba to beat back weeds. DowDuPont did not offer a comment in the report. The companies have said their products can be safely used with proper training and if farmers adhere to label instructions.

But in a Beck's poll of 690 farmers, only 22.6 percent said the label should be kept the way it currently reads, according to a Aug. 10 statement from Beck's CEO Sonny Beck and President Scott Beck.

"There is still a significant amount of dicamba complaints in 2018 as there was in 2017. It appears that although people may follow the label, the product continues to move off-target," they said.

In a blog post this week, Bob Hartzler, an Iowa State University (ISU) professor of agronomy and an extension weed specialist, said off-target dicamba injury has continued despite new label restrictions and mandatory training for applicators.

"The majority of growers using the Xtend system are happy with the increased performance in weed control obtained with dicamba compared to alternatives," he wrote. "However, one ISU Extension and Outreach agronomist stated that farmers planting non-dicamba resistant soybean 'are really upset with the continued off-target movement of dicamba.'"

He noted that while less than 5 percent of Iowa's nearly 10 million soybean acres have been injured by dicamba, "if you are a farmer whose crop has been damaged by dicamba, the fact that the majority of soybean in the state were not affected is of little consolation."

Hartzler said that efforts to limit crop injuries have been unsuccessful. "It is my opinion that the new label restrictions placed following the 2017 growing season, and the training required for applicators of the new dicamba products, has failed to reduce off-target problems to an acceptable level."

Dicamba's federal approval is subject to expiration this fall, during which the EPA will decide whether to renew the registration or let it expire.


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« Reply #4369 on: Aug 18, 2018, 05:38 AM »


Thailand to Ban Imports of Plastics and E-Waste

Ecowatch
8/18/2018

Thailand has joined Vietnam and Malaysia in cracking down on the world's trash. Thailand will stop accepting more than 400 types of electronic waste (e-waste), including circuit boards, old TVs and radios, within six months, an environment ministry official told Reuters.

The decision was made Wednesday at a meeting chaired by Surasak Kanchanarat, the environment minister. Imports of plastic waste will also be banned in two years, although specific details of the program are not yet known, Reuters reported.

Southeast Asian countries have been filling a void left by China, which implemented a strict waste import policy earlier this year so it could focus on its own pollution problems. The decision from China—formerly the world's largest importer of waste—left exporting countries scrambling for solutions for their trash. In some U.S. cities, the pile-up has even resulted in recyclables being directly sent to landfills.

Thailand announced the ban after accepting massive amounts of e-waste from the U.S., the European Union, Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan, according to DW. While electronic scraps can contain valuable metals such as gold, silver and copper, they can also contain harmful components such as lead, mercury and cadmium.

Surasak admitted to The Nation that the ban will impact the country's recycling industry and some business operations. However, he noted, "we need to prioritize good environment and health protection for our citizens before industrial development."

"I have no doubt that the recycling of plastic waste and used electronic parts are profitable businesses at the moment," he added. "Some business operators may make a lot of profit from the recycling industry, but what will the country gain from their prosperity when our environment becomes polluted and the people suffer?"

Thailand is one of the world's top five producers of plastic trash, generating two million metric tons of the waste material each year, according to The Nation.

The country's plastic crisis was underscored this June when a pilot whale washed up dead in southern Thailand after swallowing 17 pounds of mostly plastic bags.

The Thai initiative follows efforts made last month in Vietnam and Malaysia to limit imported trash. Vietnam will no longer issue new licenses for scrap imports, in order to crack down on illegal shipments and increased pollution near processing facilities, Reuters reported in July. The same month, the Malaysian government revoked the import permits of 114 factories that process plastic waste.


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« Reply #4370 on: Aug 18, 2018, 05:41 AM »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
08/18/2018 04:51 PM

The Matchmakers: China's 200 Million Singles Are a Big Business

By Katrin Kuntz

Many people in China who want to get married are having trouble finding a partner. The country's decadeslong one-child policy led to the country having more young men than women, and their growing prosperity is making them pickier.

The fate of eight young men will be decided today inside a cool, neon-lit shopping center in Hangzhou, its façade emblazoned with a sign for "Intimate City."

On their first day of the course, the men fan out in different directions, wearing ironed shirts and gelled hair. Some hook their thumbs into the loops of their jeans, strutting around like peacocks as they try to impress women. Dr. Love, their coach at the seminar on flirting, taught them how.

One of the men is Liu Yuqiang, who works at a Chinese supermarket. He wanders the shiny corridors, wearing wiry glasses, a jacket and polished shoes, all intended to hide the fact that he comes from a village of only 80 families. A man from a rural area would be out of the question as husband material for China's attractive urban women, that much Liu knows. Besides, he's 27, fairly old to be single here.

Liu puts one foot in front of the other and moves shyly. He gazes at young women with shopping bags. They seem to intimidate him. Dr. Love is trying to get him to talk to them, to "go hunting," as they call the exercise here at the Feel Love Flirt Academy.

China is home to around 200 million singles. As a result of the government's decades long one-child per family policy and a preference for boys, an imbalance of the sexes has developed. For every 114 men in China, there are 100 women; overall, there are 30 million more men than women. And no Chinese person wants to end up at the end of the line in the family tree. Those who remain unmarried die a quick social death in the country.

At Intimate City in Hangzhou, Dr. Love teaches his students how to hunt for their prey. "Walk sideways toward the women," he whispers, looking sternly at Liu. "Think of the safe distance of 5 feet. Pretend you have an appointment, but say you find her enchanting. Take down her phone number, and keep moving."

"I got it," says Liu. You can see the fear and admiration in his eyes.

Dr. Love, 26, wears a red pullover with the words "Fuck Em All" on it. A silver chain dangles above it, with the kind of arrows you might find in a western Film.

"Just let her be nice," Liu whispers before jaunting past the stores. He walks and walks without talking to a single woman. Ten minutes pass. "Hello," he whispers to one. She carries on without noticing.

Dr. Love quietly observes him. Three times he gives him a gentle nudge toward giggling Chinese women. But every time, Liu acts as though he has tripped. He just can't do it.

The Downside of the Boom

Love has become a complicated matter in China. The country's economic boom is estranging people from one another, tearing them out from their villages and small towns. For centuries, parents paired their children with partners who had the same socio-economic background. But the boom has dramatically changed the love lives of the Chinese, and the country is developing faster than many people can cope with. The combination of freedom of choice and social pressure has become overwhelming for many. Thousands of flirt trainers, marriage brokers and love gurus are now employed in China's quest for happiness.

Baihe, the largest online platform for people looking for someone to marry, has over 300 million members and 3,000 would-be matchmaker employees. Baihe's psychologists fly around the country to hold the hands of crisis-stricken singles; its love experts deliver bouquets of flowers to the beloved, and they sneak around, prying like detectives on people suspected of cheating. They review the solvency of marriage candidates and arrange loans for men who otherwise wouldn't be able to afford a home. China's matchmaking businesses have revenues of several hundred million dollars a year. So, why are millions of singles having such trouble finding a match?

The lesson on "Talking to Women" is ending at Intimate City in Hangzhou. One of the eight course participants has succeeded in getting a vague agreement for a date for that evening, but the others are going away empty-handed. "You've got work to do," Dr. Love says in a serious tone before releasing his students.

An hour later, Liu leans against the wall in a café and takes hasty sips of water from his thermos flask. His parents are pressuring him. When he recently visited them in the countryside, he kept taking bites of pork just to avoid their questions. "They've worked hard," says Liu. "Now, I have to make them happy." And it would be a shame not to respect their wishes. Liu is, after all, their only child.

A Fateful Policy

His fate was determined in 1979, long before he was even born. At the time, China's Communist Party began its one-child policy, a radical experiment that lasted 35 years. Until the 1960s, Mao Zedong had encouraged his citizens to have as many children as possible. But then reformer Deng Xiaoping announced that China's rise could only succeed with fewer births. Women were subjected to forced sterilizations and female fetuses were aborted. China's strategists created a population that will be too male, too old and at some point too small to feed its labor market.

For many men, their preponderance isn't the only handicap. "If you're going to be a man, then you certainly don't want to come from Jiangxi," says Liu. The fact that he comes from this relatively poor provincial region in the southeast significantly diminishes his prospects for finding a match. The origin of a potential husband is extremely important for well-educated Chinese women, who value prestige and status: things like an apartment and a car. China is a country of ascension, and nobody wants to be seen as sliding backward.

This makes life especially difficult for millions of unmarried migrant workers. They're separated from love by "three high towering mountains," says Liu: a lack of money, time and connections.

Liu's parents also migrated around the country. And like many other children, he grew up with his grandmother. When his grandfather came home, his grandmother would put rice on the table, but she never showed her husband physical affection. "People who survived China's Great Famine have little time for romance," Liu says, adding that he never had any role models when it came to loving relationships.

He also didn't have any girlfriends as a student. Teachers and parents discouraged teenage flirtation -- they didn't want anything to distract their expensive only child from learning. And so it was that Liu slipped into the marriage market with a typical Chinese inexperience with love and relationships. He should have long since been married by now, but instead he has no experience with women at all.

'Bachelor Villages'

After school, Liu migrated to the city like millions of others. Increasing numbers of brides from North Korea or Cambodia began arriving in the typical "bachelor village" in the provinces they left behind. Parents are seeking foreign women for their sons out of sheer desperation. United Nations workers note that there has also been an increase in human trafficking in China's rural areas.

Liu moved into a tiny apartment in the city. He sells instant noodles for a supermarket and is on the prowl for a wife on the side. He has seven dating apps on his mobile phone, including Tantan, China's answer to Tinder. His profile photo shows him doing archery, even though he has no clue about the sport. Dr. Love took the pictures and recommended Liu use a soft-focus lens on his face. "Chinese women love baby skin," he says.

Sometimes Liu dreams of so many homes, cars and employees that the women come chasing after him.

He doesn't seem to know that even the rich struggle with love. Indeed, there are men in China who invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in their search for a bride. They also suffer as a result of their status, striving for perfection that matches their wealth.

$15,000 a Month for 'Custom Services'

The elite agency Diamond Love has its headquarters about 200 kilometers from Liu, in Shanghai, China's shining business metropolis. It has 5 million members, with the especially well-to-do paying up to $15,000 a month for "custom services" promising them the wife of their dreams. Two hundred consultants and 200 full-time matchmakers are at the disposal of the top tier at six locations across the country.

"We need four women between 5 foot 4 inches and 5 foot 6 inches, a degree from a top university, very white skin, extravagant," Ren Xuemei says to two employees scouting for women for her on the streets.

Ren is a professional matchmaker. The elegant 42-year-old woman, with a canary yellow blazer and shiny hair, studied psychology. She knows the romantic problems of the upper class like few others.

"Our customers have lost their compass with China's rise," Ren says, speaking in a Starbucks café in Shanghai. "They think they're running the world." She opens her MacBook and shows the questionnaire clients must fill out before the agency commences its matchmaking services for them.

For women, the questionnaire distinguishes between "hardware" and "software," between appearance and character. Ren says the trend is toward "very white skin with soft texture," "a fine, oval face and a degree from a top Chinese university." A woman, she says, should be under 30, "warm and hardworking." She says most people want "as little past relationship experience as possible." Ren smiles. "In other words, she should be a virgin."

Ren's trickiest case is a 47-year-old man she calls "Mr. Rich." He paid 1 million yuan, the equivalent of almost 130,000 euros, to find the right match. On the phone, he asks excitedly when there will be "fresh resources." He thought all 50 of the women Ren matched him with were boring. "You're sending me the wrong ones!" he would say after each dinner she organized for him at the Ritz-Carlton.

'Immeasurable Expectations'

Mr. Rich is one of the Fuyidai, as the first generation of wealthy Chinese are called. He comes from a modest background, and he began investing overseas. It's impossible to speak with Mr. Rich, but if one spends time with his agent for several days, a certain worldview emerges. "China's elite are used to always being the boss," says Ren. "Their expectations are immeasurable."

Mr. Rich, she says furtively, isn't particularly good looking. She says he's skinny and smokes too much. Still, she says, he believes he deserves the most beautiful wife, and he has signed a yearlong contract with Diamond Love, through which he is entitled to meet five women per month. She says he treats her matches like luxury cars with unsightly rust marks.

Ren is an extremely polite women, but her clients' behavior can be so extreme that her anecdotes about them can be free-flowing. One client looked at 3,000 women in the agency's database and rejected them if an eyebrow was too high. Another complained about every skin imperfection. The Fu'erdai, the children of the nouveau riche, she says, are demanding. "We failed in our attempt to pair up a couple because neither of them wanted to compromise about the location of the date," says Ren.

She says the one-child policy was a catastrophe that has led to the rise of impossible-to-please narcissists.

Diamond Love's matchmakers drive their red Minis around in nine cities, scouting universities, academies and luxury boutiques for women who stand out in the crowd. Once, they organized the "Oriental Lady" contest in which hundreds of women took part and did singing and dancing performances. They didn't know the contest's head juror was himself a client looking for a wife.

While Ren waits for results at Starbucks, love scouts run after attractive passersby in the shopping quarter. One, wearing skinny jeans and a bomber jacket, stops. "Hey gorgeous, are you single?" the scout asks. "We organize events through the agency for you." She unsuspectingly passes along her information, having no idea that she might soon be drinking tea with Mr. Rich.

The "resources," as Ren calls the women, don't immediately need to know that Diamond Love is screening them as potential wives. She says she doesn't want to give the impression the selection follows the Cinderella principle, and explains that the women need to pass tests and interviews with psychologists before they can meet a client. Out of 100 women, the agency only selects a dozen.

"Mr. Rich would like a young wife, who isn't overly successful," says Ren. "But after the first meetings, he complained they weren't mature enough." When the agent sat down with him again, she remembers how he said to her, "I would like you." She answered: "I have 12 years more life experience than the woman you chose, and I'm married."

Since then, Ren has smuggled in a few older "B-women" among the twenty-something "A-women" who fit Mr. Rich's criteria. She says it was a "battle" for him to recognize it. She calls it "re-education." After six months with Mr. Rich, she says, she has had one success. "He has raised the age limit." His future bride, she explains, can now be up to 32 years old -- up from 30.

They have less glamorous problems at the school of flirting in Hangzhou, where Liu is sitting at a table with five other men, his hands holding a glass of tea. All the students come from poorer rural areas. They work in restaurants or in construction.

'What's Wrong with You Guys?'

Dr. Love straightens his Indian necklace. "What's wrong with you guys?" he asks.

"I don't know which subject I should choose when I talk to a woman," says one. Another responds: "As soon as I ask for a meeting on a dating app, the women block me." Liu says, "When I meet a woman, I get so nervous that none want to see me again."

"You need to talk on their level," says the trainer. "The women, after all, aren't meant to be marrying you for your wealth."

A person's social status in China is determined by the authorities. The so-called Hukou system of household registration, splits all people into two categories: rural or urban. The place where a Chinese person is registered determines their access to doctors, schools - and also to urban, middle-class women. No date takes place in China without someone politely asking about the other person's Hukou status. Someone who moves to the city can, with some luck, attain the same privileges as the people who were born there. A yearslong rural Hukou, however, is like a scarlet letter. At the flirt school, the men are taught how to compensate for their origins through charm.

The syllabus for the course also includes a "one-on-one critique of chatting." Liu is interested in a colleague. But every time he would like to make a move, she leaves the chat.

Dr. Liu connects Liu's mobile phone to a projector, which he uses to read Liu's chronology of failure out loud. Sometimes Liu starts a conversation about their company in the middle of the night. Then he wants to play "truth or dare." He copies a sentence from a dating advice text: "I have something secret to tell you," without any follow up. Dr. Love shakes his head.

He takes the mobile phone and chats, pretending to be Liu. After 20 minutes of small talk, it gets serious.

Her: "I'm sleeping now."

Him: "Don't sleep, let's have a relationship."

Her: "Are you joking?"

Him: "Of course, that was only a joke. Go to sleep."

Her: "Now I can't sleep."

Him: "Sleep."

Her: "Will you give me a foot massage?"

Silence falls over the room. Dr. Love has skills.

"Your online relationship is already taken care of," says Dr. Love to Liu. "Now you just need an offline meeting."

Late in the evening, when the course has ended, Liu steps out into the night. His mind is running in circles. How could he forget how a woman once described him as a "triple zero" and said that a relationship with him would only result in a "naked wedding" -- no celebration, no ring, no financial gifts, no car, no honeymoon. Of course, who would even want that in a China where there are wedding studios everywhere in which you can pose in front of islands, skyscrapers or a home you have allegedly purchased?

The next day, Liu calls his colleague from the chat. A meeting? Suddenly, she doesn't have any time after all.

The Chinese government long ago recognized that the hordes of frustrated men migrating to the cities are a problem. What is to be done with the prospectless, aging, single men from the country? The party now wants more children and is organizing mass group dates across the country that are attracting hundreds of people. It is launching online dating sites and holding romantic game nights in areas where loneliness is particularly prevalent. Managers at state-owned companies have even taken to arranging dates for their employees without being asked.

Leftover Women

It is difficult for women to resist this push for marriage, especially those who aspire to being more than just a wife.

"My parents looked for a husband for me," says Hui Xue, unable to conceal her embarrassment. She's at a marriage market in Shanghai where frustrated parents offer up their single children. Hui is 29, very beautiful, an economist. She has studied in London and the United States, and she now jets between Europe and China in the employ of a large company. And yet her chances of finding a husband are, despite the excessive numbers of men, bad. From a Chinese perspective, she is too career-oriented for a woman.

Since dawn, about 500 mothers and fathers have been fighting for the best spots to place their open umbrellas, to which they have pinned their children's resumes. A female doctor is looking for a partner. A designer wants to get married. A banker is looking for love. Every resume is like a top-level application. Almost all parents are touting daughters in their late twenties. They call these women "Sheng nu" in China, leftover women.

Chinese parents often invest a large part of their money in raising their only child, pampering him or her like a prince or a princess. They're only happy once their project is crowned with the arrival of the perfect spouse.

Hui says her visit to the wedding market is mostly meant to calm her parents. "My parents are asking about a husband," she says. Many parents have been coming with their umbrellas for years, without any success. It makes them feel better to confront their children's fate together.

The state-run women's organization All-China Women's Federation has defined "leftover women" as those who remain unmarried and are over the age of 27. In its official view, women need to "fight" starting at the age of 25, and women between the ages of 31 and 35 are considered "high-ranking leftover women." Beyond the age of 35, a woman might have "a luxury apartment, a car and a company," but is still "left over." The government is using these verbal attacks to encourage women to have children.

Hui's father pushes his daughter to the unremarkable corner where sons are being presented. A doctor gets the family's attention. The father finds his basic parameters acceptable. Hui's mother dreamily looks at the umbrellas. "A marriage," she says, "is a union between two families."

Three days later, when the marriage market has ended and Hui is once again sitting in her office, she calls the journalist. Now that her parents aren't listening, she would like to correct something.

"A marriage," she says, "is a union between two people."

Unlike Liu from the flirting class or Mr. Rich from the elite agency, she believes that feelings are more important than status. After decades of the one-child policy, she says, as a woman, she can choose. "I can afford to wait," she says. "I don't need to feel pushed."

Hui hasn't told her mother yet, but she's dating a colleague. A polite man who treats her well, but he isn't a high achiever. "I don't know yet if he's good enough for marriage," she says. Her family, she argues, needs to approve her selection. She says she went to the movies with him over the weekend. When the lights went out and the movie started, they kissed.


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« Reply #4371 on: Aug 18, 2018, 05:49 AM »


Imran Khan sworn in as prime minister of Pakistan

Former cricketer promises to combat corruption and break powerful landowners’ monopoly on politics

Associated Press
Sat 18 Aug 2018 07.02 BST

Pakistan’s cricket star-turned-politician Imran Khan has been sworn in as prime minister after his party won the most votes in last month’s election despite protests by opposition parties, which accuse the security services of intervening on his behalf.

Khan took the oath of office on Saturday, a day after being elected by a majority of lawmakers in the national assembly.

His Tehreek-e-Insaf party won the most seats in the 25 July national elections but fell short of an outright majority. It allied with independents to form a coalition.

Khan had campaigned on promises to combat Pakistan’s endemic corruption and break landowners’ monopoly on political power.

Opposition parties have held regular protests since last month’s election, alleging vote rigging by the powerful security establishment.

Security officials have rejected the allegations.


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« Reply #4372 on: Aug 18, 2018, 05:51 AM »


Merkel, Putin share a headache: Donald Trump

New Europe
8/18/2018

FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) — German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russia's President Vladimir Putin will have plenty to talk about when they meet Saturday — thanks in no small part to U.S. President Donald Trump, whose sanctions and criticisms over trade, energy and NATO have created new worries for both leaders.

The two will meet at the German government's guest house outside Berlin and will give short statements beforehand but aren't planning a news conference, German officials have said. Government spokesman Steffen Seibert has said that topics will include the civil war in Syria, the conflict in Ukraine, and energy questions.

Putin is facing the possibility of more U.S. sanctions on Russia imposed by Trump, and has an interest in softening or heading off any European support for them. Meanwhile, while both countries want to move ahead with the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline — roundly criticized by Trump as a form of Russian control over Germany.

Stefan Meister, a Russia expert at the German Council on Foreign Relations, said that there is "an increased interest on both sides to talk about topics of common interest" and that, in part because of Trump, the two sides have shifted focus from earlier meetings that focused on Russia's conflict with Ukraine. Merkel was a leading supporter of sanctions against Russia over its annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region.

The two leaders are far from being allies, however. Meister wrote in an analysis for the council that the talks will still involve "hard bargaining" from Putin's end and neither side is likely to make significant compromises — but both could send a signal that they will "not let themselves be pressured by Trump."

The background to this meeting includes Trump's announcement that he plans to impose sanctions on Russia in response to the poisoning of former Russian agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Britain. A first set of sanctions would target U.S. exports of goods with potential military use starting Aug. 22, while a second set of broader sanctions could take effect 90 days later if Russia does not confirm it is no longer using chemical weapons and allow on-site inspections. Russia has denied involvement in the poisoning.

Meister said that Putin can use the meeting to "send a signal to Washington that there are allies of the U.S. that still do business with Russia." Beyond that, he can push for Germany and the European Union not to support further sanctions, particularly a second round that might hit businesses working with the Nord Stream 2 project.

The project would add another natural gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea, allowing more Russian gas to bypass Ukraine and Poland. Trump has criticized Nord Stream 2 and the gas supplies, saying German is "totally controlled" by Russia by being dependent on the energy. Trump's criticism was linked to his push for other NATO member countries, particularly Germany, to pay a bigger share of the cost of NATO's common defense.

From her end, Merkel will push for a Russian commitment to keep at least some gas transiting Ukraine, which earns transit fees from it. Putin has said he's open for shipments to continue if Ukraine settles a gas dispute with Russia.

Germany also has a strong interest in seeing some of the Syrian refugees in Germany return home in any settlement of the civil war in their home country, and could seek Russia's support for that with President Bashar Assad. Russia has backed Assad with military force. Putin has pushed Germany and other Western nations to help rebuild Syria's economy ravaged by more than seven years of civil war, arguing that it would help encourage refugees from Syria to return home, easing the pressure on Europe.

Merkel's decision to allow in a flood of refugees in 2015 led to a backlash against her immigration policy and boosted the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany party. Both Germany and Russia have expressed a desire to maintain the agreement with Iran to limit its nuclear program in return for easing some economic sanctions. Trump has pulled the U.S. out of the program and imposed new sanctions, saying that they will also hit foreign countries that keep doing business with Iran.

Merkel and Putin have met and spoken by phone numerous times since she became chancellor in 2005. They share some common background. Merkel grew up under communism in East Germany, as Putin did in the Soviet Union; she speaks Russian and he speaks German after living in East Germany as a KGB agent during the Soviet era. That said, the relationship is characterized by hard bargaining over each side's national interest.


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« Reply #4373 on: Aug 18, 2018, 06:02 AM »

Furore over revoked security clearance grows as Trump said to threaten more

President suggests first target would be DoJ official Bruce Ohr amid report a list of prominent figures has been drafted

    John Brennan: White House revokes security clearance of ex-CIA chief and Trump critic

Julia Carrie Wong
Guardian
Sat 18 Aug 2018 03.00 BST

Amid mounting criticism after he revoked the former CIA director John Brennan’s security clearance, Donald Trump threatened to similarly punish a current official and is reportedly preparing to do the same to others who have criticized him.

The president’s remarks and the report from the Washington Post escalated worsening tensions between the White House and the intelligence community.

Trump discussed his intention to revoke security clearances while speaking to reporters Friday before he left the White House for a fundraiser on Long Island. The president suggested that his first target would be Bruce Ohr, a largely unknown justice department official who has become a frequent target of criticism by Trump and the rightwing media.

“I think Bruce Ohr is a disgrace,” Trump said. “I suspect I’ll be taking it away very quickly.”

Ohr’s wife, Nellie, was employed during the 2016 campaign by Fusion GPS, the firm that commissioned an infamous dossier on Trump’s alleged ties to Russia that was authored by Christopher Steele, a former British spy.

Also on Friday, the Washington Post, citing anonymous sources, reported that the the White House had already drafted documents to strip a number of other prominent intelligence community figures of their clearances.

The Post’s list of targets includes the former director of national intelligence James Clapper, the former FBI directors Michael Hayden and James Comey, the former national security adviser Susan Rice, the former acting attorney general Sally Yates, the former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe, and the former FBI agents Lisa Page and Peter Strzok.

According to the Post, a White House official acknowledged that the revocation of Brennan’s clearance had been prepared in July, but was released this week to distract attention from media coverage of the former Trump aide Omarosa Manigault Newman’s scathing memoir about her time at the White House.

The source said that White House communications officials have similarly discussed plans to release the other revocations as a distraction to unwelcome news coverage.

The cancellation of Brennan’s security clearance continues to draw harsh criticism from bipartisan leaders in the intelligence community.

A joint letter released Thursday by 12 former senior intelligence officials called Trump’s action “ill-considered and unprecedented” and said it “has nothing to do with who should and should not hold security clearances – and everything to do with an attempt to stifle free speech”.

The letter was signed by six former CIA directors, five former deputy CIA directors, and Clapper.

Speaking to reporters Friday, Trump responded to the criticism that he was attempting to use his power to silence his critics.

“There’s no silence. If anything, I’m giving them a bigger voice,” Trump said. “Many people don’t even know who [Brennan] is, and now he has a bigger voice. And that’s OK with me, because I like taking on voices like that. I’ve never respected him.”

On Friday evening, another group of 60 former intelligence officers released their own letter criticizing the use of security clearance as a political tool.

“It is our firm belief that the country will be weakened if there is a political litmus test applied before seasoned experts are allowed to share their views,” the former CIA officers wrote.

Senator Mark Warner, a Democrat from Virginia, announced Friday on Twitter that he planned to introduce an amendment “to block the president from punishing and intimidating his critics by arbitrarily revoking security clearances”.

Sabrina Siddiqui, Joanna Walters and agencies also contributed reporting

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

Former CIA Director John Brennan accuses Trump of being ‘drunk on power’ during blistering Rachel Maddow interview

Cody Fenwick, AlterNet
18 Aug 2018 at 08:05 ET                  

Former CIA Director John Brennan appeared on MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show” Friday night and fired back at President Donald Trump after a week of abuse from the White House.

The White House announced this week that it is revoking Brennan’s security clearance, an unprecedented move that many believed was a transparent effort by the president to punish a critic. Brennan, along with many others, was appalled at the decision.

“The fact that he’s using the security clearance of a former CIA director as a pawn in his public relations strategy, I think, is just so reflective of somebody who, quite frankly — I don’t want to use this term maybe — but he’s drunk on power,” Brennan said. “He really is.”

He continued: “I think he’s abusing the powers of that office. I think right now this country is in a crisis in terms of what Mr. Trump has done and is liable to do. Are the Republicans on the Hill who have given him a pass, are they going to wait for a disaster to happen before they actually find their backbones and spines to speak up against somebody who clearly, clearly is not carrying out his responsibilities with any sense of purpose and common sense from a standpoint of national security?”

When Maddow asked what Brennan feared Trump could do in his desperation, he suggested that the president might launch an overseas military adventure to distract the nation — a classic “wag the dog” scenario.

Watch the clip: https://twitter.com/AlterNet/status/1030653631287238656/video/1

    Former CIA Director John Brennan warns Trump may use a “wag the dog” strategy to distract from his legal troubles pic.twitter.com/9BdnD83Gqf

    — AlterNet (@AlterNet) August 18, 2018

***********

The people on Trump’s hit list aren’t enemies — they are witnesses

Lucian K. Truscott IV, Salon - COMMENTARY
18 Aug 2018 at 08:49 ET                   

Have a gander at Trump’s enemies list:

John Brennan – 25 years in the CIA. Director of the Terrorist Threat Integration Center, 2003-2004. Director of Central Intelligence, 2013-2017.

James Clapper – 32 years in the Air Force, retired as a three-star general with three Legions of Merit, two Bronze Stars, and two Air Medals. Flew 73 combat support missions over Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, 1991-1995. Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence, 2007-2010. Director of National Intelligence, 2010-2017.

This article first appeared on Salon.

Michael Hayden – 41 years in the Air Force, retired as a four-star general with three Defense Distinguished Service Medals, two Defense Superior Service Medals, one Legion of Merit, and one Bronze Star. Director National Security Agency, 1999-2005. Deputy Director National Intelligence, 2005-2006. Director of Central Intelligence Agency, 2006-2009.

Susan Rice – Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, 1997-2001. United States Ambassador to the United Nations, 2009-2013. White House National Security Adviser, 2013-2017.

James Comey – United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, 2002-2003. Deputy Attorney General, 2003-2005. Director Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2013-2017.

Sally Yates – United States Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, 2010-2015. Deputy Attorney General, 2015-2017. Acting Attorney General, 2017.

Andrew McCabe – 22 years in the FBI. Deputy Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2016-2018. Acting Director FBI, 2017.

Peter Strzok – 22 years in the FBI. Deputy Assistant Director, Counterintelligence Division. Section Chief, Counterespionage Section.

Lisa Page – FBI attorney serving under FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and FBI Director James Comey.

Bruce G. Ohr – Former Associate Deputy Attorney General. Former Director Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force.

You want to know what these people have in common? With the sole exception of Bruce Ohr, they’ve all be questioned by either the House or Senate Intelligence committees, and most of them have testified before the grand jury in Washington D.C. empaneled by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. In other words, they are all witnesses in the investigation of the Trump campaign’s contacts with elements of the Russian government during and after the election of 2016.

What Trump is doing by yanking their security clearances or threatening to do so isn’t punishing them. He’s cutting them loose, and it’s going to backfire on him.

Rachel Maddow did a brilliant job on her show on Thursday night showing several of those on Trump’s enemies list testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee in May of 2017. She was making another point, that pulling their security clearances will end the ability of any of Trump’s enemies to consult their personal papers and notes from their time in government service when preparing to give testimony before either congress or Mueller’s grand jury because their notes and papers contain secrets.

But the tape of those hearings also showed something else. It showed that the “secrets” Brennan, and Comey, and Yates and Clapper and the rest of them learned were actually knowledge of crimes that were committed by the Trump campaign. They were secrets only because of their official positions and security clearances. But the knowledge they had was real.

“I don’t believe I can answer that question in an open setting,” Comey answered. His answer clearly indicated that he had classified information about collusion between Trump and the Russians, because if he didn’t, he would have simply answered, “no.”

Sally Yates was asked, “Do you have any evidence that anyone in the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government or intelligence services in an improper fashion?”

“My answer would require me to reveal classified information, Senator,” Yates replied. Her answer indicated the same thing, that she had such information, but it was classified. If she didn’t have any information, she would have answered, “no.”

Comey was asked, “Was the FBI able to confirm any criminal allegations contained in the Steele document?”

“That’s not a question I can answer in an open setting,” Comey answered, indicating that the FBI indeed had confirmed such allegations and had done so using classified information, or he would have answered, “no.”

Comey was asked a question about why Jeff Sessions had recused himself from the Russia investigation: “What was it about the Attorney General’s actions with the Russians” that led to Sessions’ recusal?

“We were aware of facts I can’t discuss in an open setting that would make his continued engagement in a Russia investigation problematic,” Comey answered, obviously referring to classified information damaging to Sessions.

Sally Yates and James Clapper were both asked a long, complicated question about whether they knew of British and other intelligence agencies sharing intelligence in 2015 and 2016 with American intelligence officials about contacts between the Trump campaign and Russians.

Yates simply replied, “I can’t answer that,” indicating her knowledge of these contacts was classified. Clapper said, “Yes, and it’s also quite sensitive,” indicating the same thing. Both were admitting that they knew of the intelligence sharing, or they would have answered, “no.”

John Brennan was asked if he knew of any Trump campaign officials making false statements about contacts with Russians, or who failed to disclose those contacts to United States officials.

“I think that’s something we can pursue in closed session,” Brennan answered, indicating that he had knowledge of the Trump campaign having contacts with Russians, but it was classified.

Here is why going back over this old testimony by these former American intelligence and justice officials is important.

They were testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee on May 23, 2017. The FBI had opened its investigation into the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russians in July of 2016 while Comey was FBI Director. By May of 2017, he had knowledge of Flynn’s contacts with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, the Trump Tower meeting between Paul Manafort, Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner and four Russians, and the contacts between Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos and Russians and Russian spies in Rome and London. Papadopoulos was questioned by the FBI on January 27, 2017. None of this was known to you or me, but it was known to Comey, and probably to Brennan, Clapper and Yates. We wouldn’t even hear the name “Papadopoulos” until he was arraigned and pled guilty on October 5, 2017.

They knew about Papadopoulos, and they knew about Flynn in May of 2017. That’s why they couldn’t talk about what they knew. It was still a secret.

But what Trump’s enemies knew in May of last year isn’t secret any longer. Mueller has already indicted or secured guilty please from 32 people and three Russian companies. He indicted 25 Russian citizens for breaking our election laws and conspiring to defraud the United States. He’s got multiple American citizens cooperating with his investigation into the contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian officials.

The secrets that the people on Trump’s enemies list were keeping as they testified before the Senate Intelligence Committees were secrets about crimes being committed during and after the 2016 election, and they’re not secrets anymore.

Their security clearances are being yanked or threatened for the petty, venal reason that they’ve been critical of Donald Trump, and he wants to retaliate against them.

Trump is making a very big mistake. By creating his enemies list, he’s confirming what they know is accurate, because their knowledge is a threat to him. By lashing out, he’s unleashing them. What motivates any person on Trump’s enemies list to keep secrets that aren’t secret anymore?

If I were Brennan, Clapper, Comey, Hayden, Yates, Rice, McCabe, Strzok, Page, and Ohr, I’d get together in Washington D.C. and compare notes and hold a press conference and tell the world everything they know. Because what they know about are crimes, and having knowledge of crimes isn’t a secret, it’s evidence.

That’s why Trump’s enemies list will backfire on him. He’s not shutting them up. He’s cutting them loose, and what they know is going to put people in jail and possibly drive him from office.

**********

Watch: Legal expert Laurence Tribe explains how Trump’s ‘collusion’ with Russia has already been proven

Bob Brigham
Raw Story
18 Aug 2018 at 15:21 ET                  

Harvard Law School constitutional law scholar Laurence Tribe offered a fascinating theory as to why President Donald Trump’s collusion with Russia has been proven.

“How damning does the evidence from Robert Mueller need to be, and do you think he is on something of a stopwatch right now, that there is a limited amount of time for him to come out with this report and still maintain public confidence? MSNBC anchor Katy Tur asked. “Do you think that’s eroding with all the president’s attacks?”

“The president’s attacks are certainly taking a toll,” Tribe replied. “But I think fundamentally putting a stopwatch on this kind of investigation is against the interests of all of us, of the United States.”

Professor Tribe cited a recent op-ed column by former CIA director John Brennan.

“Certainly we know there has been collusion, as Brennan said in that remarkable op-ed,” he continued.

“Hold on,” Tur interrupted. “Hold on.”

“You said we know there has been collusion. I think there are those out there that would argue that we do not know that,” Tur challenged.

“What I think they mean is that is we don’t know exactly what responsibility the president had for actually conspiring in a criminal way with Russians,” he answered. “But as Jen [Rubin] says, you don’t need criminal conspiracy — what you need is abuse of power.”

“And it is an abuse of power of the first order to cooperate with a foreign adversary, to seize the presidency of the United States, and then to make it hard for the American people to discover exactly who did what and how best to stop it,” Tribe explained.

“That is the fundamental issue and it’s an issue that goes to the free speech rights of those the president attacks and the national security of this country,” he added. “Nothing could be more serious.”

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SRGXmvfyg2E

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

MSNBC legal analyst explains why Michael Cohen’s sudden silence is terrible news for Trump

Noor Al-Sibai
Raw Story
18 Aug 2018 at 17:45 ET                  

A group of MSNBC panelists detailed what the “radio silence” from the president’s former “fixer” Michael Cohen could mean — and why it spells trouble for Donald Trump.

Responding to a Thursday Wall Street Journal report that suggests the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape may have been the impetus for Cohen to begin trying to bury his client’s past, host Nicolle Wallace noted in Trumpworld, “it’s all in the timing.”

The attorney’s decision to “buy” the silence of former Trump mistress Stormy Daniels after the “Access Hollywood” tape hurt his candidacy adds fuel to the theory that it was a campaign violation, the host noted — and an ex-federal prosecutor agreed.

“Cohen has gone from this volatile public presence to radio silence,” Ex-U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance said, “and that is a sign loud and clear that he is cooperating or approaching cooperation with prosecutors in the Southern District of New York.”

Bloomberg‘s Tim O’Brien agreed with the ex-prosecutor.

“Of coure he’s cooperating because he has no cards left to play,” O’Brien said. “It looks like there’s overwhelming evidence on him suggesting bank fraud and tax fraud.”

Cohen’s decision to leak tapes of the president discussing another “hush money” agreement with former Playmate Karen McDougal was likely a signal, O’Brien said.

“I think they were sending signals to Trump that he should pay attention to him,” the editor said. “And now he’s gone silent and I do think he’s cooperating.”

Watch via MSNBC: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iyzOs-C8WVY


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« Reply #4374 on: Aug 19, 2018, 06:00 AM »

 SPIEGEL ONLINE
8/19/2018 05:19 PM

Rise of the Autocrats: Liberal Democracy Is Under Attack

Autocratic leaders and wannabes, from Putin to Trump, are making political inroads around the world. In recent years, Western liberal democracy has failed to live up to some of its core promises, helping to fuel the current wave of illiberalism. By DER SPIEGEL Staff

Russian President Vladimir Putin isn't actually all that interested in football. He's more of a martial arts guy, and he loves ice hockey. But when the World Cup football championship gets started on Thursday in Moscow, Putin will strive to be the perfect host. The tournament logo is a football with stars trailing behind it, evoking Sputnik, and a billion people will be tuning in as Putin presents Russia as a strong and modern country.

During the dress rehearsal, last summer's Confed Cup, Putin held an opening address in which he spoke of "uncompromising, fair and honest play ... until the very last moments of the match." Now, it's time for the main event, the World Cup, giving Putin an opportunity to showcase his country to the world.

The World Cup, though, will be merely the apex of the great autocrat festival of 2018. On June 24, Turkish voters will head to the polls for the first time since approving President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's constitutional reforms last year. The result of the vote will in all likelihood cement his claim to virtually absolute power until 2023 or even beyond. Should he miss out on an absolute majority in the first round of voting -- which is certainly possible given rising inflation in the country -- then he'll get it in the second round. The result will likely be a Turkey -- a country with around 170 journalists behind bars and where more than 70,000 people have been arrested since the coup attempt two years ago, sometimes with no grounds for suspicion - that is even more authoritarian than it is today.

And then there is Donald Trump who, after turning the G-7 summit in Canada into a farce, headed to Singapore for a Tuesday meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. And many pundits have argued this week that the greatest beneficiary of that summit was actually Chinese President Xi Jinping, the man who poses a greater challenge to Western democracy than all the rest.

At home, Trump is continuing his assault on the widely accepted norms regarding how a president should behave. He has the "absolute right" to pardon himself in the Russian affair, he recently claimed -- and then he went off the rails in Canada, picking fights with his allies and revoking his support for the summit's closing statement by sending out a tweet from Air Force One as he left. Trump, to be sure, is an elected president, but he is one who dreams of wielding absolute power and sees himself as being both above the law and above internationally accepted norms of behavior.

The Backward Slide

The upshot is that global politics are currently dominated by a handful of men -- and only men -- who have nothing but contempt for liberal democracy and who aspire to absolute control of politics, of the economy, of the judiciary and of the media. They are the predominant figures of the present -- and the decisions they make will go a long way toward shaping the future ahead. The globalized, high-tech, constantly informed and enlightened world of the 21st century finds itself in the middle of a slide back into the age of authoritarianism.

And this is not merely the lament of Western cultural pessimists, it is a statement rooted in statistics. A recent study by the German foundation Bertelsmann Stiftung found that 3.3 billion people live under autocratic regimes, while the UK-based Economist Intelligence Unit found that just 4.5 percent of the global population, around 350 million people, live in a "full democracy." In its most recent annual report, issued in January of this year, the nongovernmental organization Freedom House wrote that in 2017, "democracy faced its most serious crisis in decades." It went on to note that "the right to choose leaders in free and fair elections, freedom of the press and the rule of law are under assault and in retreat globally."

How can this global trend be explained? Are autocrats really so strong, or are democrats too weak? Is liberal democracy only able to function well in relatively homogeneous societies where prosperity is growing? Why do so many people doubt democracy's ability to solve the problems of the 21st century, challenges such as climate change, the tech revolution, shifting demographics and the distribution of wealth?

The optimistic Western premises -- that greater prosperity leads to more freedom, increased communication leads to greater pluralism, and more free trade leads to increased economic integration -- have unraveled. Following the end of the Cold War, the American political scientists Juan Linz and Alfred Stepan said in 1996 that Western democracy was "the only game in town." Now, though, it would seem to have lost its attraction. The expectation that democracy's triumphant march would be impossible to stop has proven illusory. China is currently showing the world that economic success and societal prosperity are also possible in an authoritarian system.

The fact that established dictatorships in the world, such as those in Belarus, Zimbabwe or Vietnam, aren't showing any signs of change is only part of the problem. Rather, everywhere in the world, authoritarian phases are following on the heels of brief -- or more extended -- experiments with democracy, a development seen in places like Egypt, Thailand, Venezuela and Nicaragua, for example. At the same time, liberal democracy is eroding in many countries in the West.

Perhaps the greatest danger, though, is the increasing attraction of autocratic thinking in Europe. Some elements of such systems are sneaking into Western democracies, such as the growing contempt for established political parties, the media and minorities.

In Italy, a new government was just sworn in under the leadership of Matteo Salvini, an avowed Putin fan. In Hungary, Viktor Orbán just won a landslide victory in parliamentary elections held, according to OSCE election observers, in an atmosphere of "intimidating and xenophobic rhetoric." Polish voters are set to go to the polls next year, and there too, the right-wing nationalist PiS stands a good chance of emerging victorious.

Across the Atlantic, the U.S. under the leadership of Donald Trump has thus far resisted sliding into autocracy, but only because the institutional hurdles in the form of the judicial and legislative branches of government have managed to hold their ground. Nevertheless, liberal democracy is under attack in precisely the country where it first emerged.

Anxiety is likewise growing in other Western democracies. "Until recently, liberal democracy reigned triumphant. For all its shortcomings, most citizens seemed deeply committed to their form of government. The economy was growing. Radical parties were insignificant," writes the Harvard-based German-American political scientist Yascha Mounk in his book "The People vs. Democracy." But then the situation began changing rapid: Brexit, Trump's election and the success of other right-wing populist movements in Europe. The question, Mounk writes, is "whether this populist moment will turn into a populist age -- and cast the very survival of liberal democracy in doubt."

The Western political system, Mounk writes, is "decomposing into its component parts, giving rise to illiberal democracy on the one side and undemocratic liberalism on the other." The one, he argues, is dominated by manipulated majority opinion while the other is controlled by institutions such as central banks, constitutional courts and supranational bureaucracies like the European Commission that can operate independent of direct, democratic debate.

"Take back control" was the slogan used by the Brexiteers during their successful campaign. Indeed, the feeling of living in an era in which they have lost control is likely a common denominator among all European populists. Taking back that control is something they all promise.

It is combined with the desire to shake off the corset that allegedly makes life in the West anything but free. All the laws, rules, decrees and contracts that dictate to people, companies and entire countries how to behave. What they are allowed to say and what not. What they can buy and what is off limits. How things may or may not be produced. This desire to apply a new set of self-made, simpler rules to the world is feeding the popularity of the autocratically minded.

These days, it is rare that democracies collapse under attack from armed, uniformed adversaries. Such images belong to the past; the coup d'état has become a rarity. On the contrary, many autocrats have come to power by way of the ballot box, govern in the name of the people and regularly hold referenda to solidify their power.

But once in power -- in Turkey, Venezuela or Russia -- they bring the institutions of democracy under their control. They tend not to be committed ideologues. Rather, they are strategists of power who used ideologies without necessarily believing in them themselves. Furthermore, they don't generally wield violence indiscriminately, another difference to the murderous regimes of the past. Sometimes, a journalist loses their life, or an oligarch ends up in jail. But otherwise, the new autocrats are much subtler than their totalitarian predecessors. Generally, a timely threat issued to insubordinate citizens suffices. And they are particularly adept at the dark art of propaganda. They know that many people have become insecure and are afraid of the future and foreigners. They have learned how to augment those fears, so they can then pose as guarantors of stability.

China's System Works Well

The Beijing airport lies like an enormous red manta ray in the city's northeast, one of the world's largest buildings. Following four years of construction, it was opened in 2008 and is now the second busiest airport in the world. But the airport's three terminals are already hopelessly overcrowded, so a new, even larger airport is currently under construction to the south of the city. It is to be opened in 2019, also after just four years of construction.

Only very few people doubt that the new airport will open on time. The past 40 years have demonstrated that most government forecasts end up being quite accurate, both the positive ones and the more negative prognoses, both the general ones, and the more specific.

When President Xi Jinping came into office in 2013, China's economy was already the second largest in the world. Today, five years later, it has grown by another 50 percent. Hourly wages have tripled in the last 10 years and household disposable income has doubled. Even the poorest Chinese are faring better than they were just a few years ago and they expect to see their incomes continue rising.

That expectation is one of the Communist Party's primary instruments of power. Political scientists speak of "legitimacy through performance," a classic leadership principle of authoritarian developing nations. China's rulers have pushed this principle to the limit, with government experts thinking in terms of decades and in global dimensions. Because they are undisturbed by individual interests and the election cycles seen in democracies, their plans tend to be realized. Thus far, the mixture of planned and free-market economy has worked well.

But the economy is but one of several instruments. The Communist Party's power, China expert Minxin Pei has written, is today based on four pillars: robust growth, sophisticated repression, state-sponsored nationalism and co-opting social elites.

China is also setting new benchmarks when it comes to the second pillar. The melding of Leninism with technology has given birth to an unprecedented surveillance system. The internet, seen in Western democracies as a tool of free speech, is increasingly used in China as a means of social control, as a mood barometer and instrument of manipulation.

At the same time, the regime disseminates a grand narrative of the fatherland on state media and the internet, referred to as the "Chinese Dream" or the "Renaissance of the Chinese Nation," depending on the context. The message is clear: China, a leading political and economic power until the outbreak of the Opium Wars in the mid-19th century, is returning to "center stage," as President Xi put it at the 19th party congress in October, following more than 100 years of degradation and colonialism. It is an effective narrative on two counts: Domestically, it serves to solidify a nationalist consensus while at the same time radiating Beijing's growing self-confidence to the world at large.

Thus far, the country's leadership has been satisfied with the ideological and economic projection of its power. In contrast to its geopolitical rivals USA and Russia, China has avoided military adventures such as those in Ukraine or the Middle East. But the country's aggressive behavior in the South China Sea and its arms buildup clearly demonstrate that it might do so in the future.

One year ago, Beijing hosted a noteworthy summit focused on the most ambitious development project of the century: The New Silk Road. Recep Tayyip Erdogan came from Turkey as did Rodrigo Duterte from the Philippines, Viktor Orbán from Hungary and Vladimir Putin from Russia. They parked their government airplanes on the tarmac of the airport in the Chinese capital and headed for the Great Wall, where Xi presented his vision of a new world. It was a meeting of the like-minded. Western politicians were also present, but they seemed strangely sidelined.

The New Silk Road is the core of China's 21st century development policy. At first glance, it looks like a vast infrastructure project that will connect China with Africa and Europe. In truth, though, it is a plan for a new world order dominated by China.

China, he said, will set an example and connect the West and East in "peace, harmony and a better future." China, the country's president said, is "ready to share practices of development with other countries, but we have no intention to interfere in other countries' internal affairs." The word "dynasty" came up five times in the speech and "invest" appeared nine times. The terms "democracy," "rule of law" and "freedom of opinion" were missing entirely.

The Chinese dictatorship of development poses the greatest economic, political and intellectual challenge to the liberal world order. Because of its size and population, China creates economic dependencies that smaller countries on its periphery simply cannot escape. But even politicians and business leaders in Western industrialized nations fall victim to the dynamism and efficiency of the Chinese model.

"The China One Belt, One Road," Siemens CEO Joe Kaeser said at Davos in January, using the formal name of the project, "is going to be the new WTO, like it or not."

Racism, Nationalism and Corruption: What Populists Have in Common
It is indeed easy to become overwhelmed by the numbers. By the 25,000 kilometers of tracks for high-speed rail that have been laid in the last 10 years. The massive cities that have appeared out of nowhere. Such accomplishments are particularly awesome from the point of view of a place like Germany, where transportation policy is far from being adequate to face future challenges, where the mobile and broadband network is hopelessly insufficient, where public construction projects have recently made all the wrong kinds of headlines.

Furthermore, many Chinese companies spend almost as much on research and development as their Germany competitors. The era when China was dependent on innovations from the West is approaching its end. In the development of artificial intelligence, companies in China are neck-and-neck with Silicon Valley.

Migration, climate change, technological development, demographics: Nowhere are such challenges so openly discussed as they are in Western democracies. Yet we often seem unable to address them. Freedom, it would seem, is not a necessary precondition for entrepreneurial or societal creativity.

That is an extremely uncomfortable realization. The belief that the guarantee of individual freedoms makes our system superior to others is at the very core of our self-image. What if it's wrong?

There are, at the very least, alternatives. China seems to have found one of them.

For many centuries, Chinese civilization was extremely well developed culturally, technologically and militarily. But around 200 years ago, the West left China behind, a development connected to the Renaissance, to science, research and weapons technology. None of that, though, is merely a Western privilege anymore, which is why that era could now be coming to an end. It is not an inevitability, but it is certainly possible.

Russians View Putin As Historical Figure

One year ago, pollsters asked Russians to name the "most outstanding people of all time and all nations. Lenin was named in the results, as was Czar Peter I., Napoleon and the dictator Josef Stalin. But among all of the deceased leaders of the past was one who is still alive: Vladimir Putin, in second place behind Stalin.

Though he is still the country's leader, Russians already view Putin as a historical figure. He is no longer a politician, but the mythological embodiment of an entire nation. "As long as Putin exists, Russia exists. No Putin, no Russia." That is how a senior Kremlin official formulated it in 2014.

Voters would seem to agree, with a large majority re-electing Putin in March of this year even though he didn't even bother to present a campaign platform or even to campaign at all. Nobody, it would seem, expects a program for the future from a historical figure. And Putin, as has become abundantly clear, doesn't have much to offer for the future. His promise is the past: Russia's return to great-power status. "Make Russia Great Again" is his only promise.

And Putin has delivered returns on that promise. Following the chaotic years under his predecessor Boris Yeltsin, Putin was able to re-establish the authority of the Russian state. In a brutal war, he defeated Chechen separatists and brought the chaos in his country to an end. He also brought the media, business leaders and the political opposition under his control. All of that gave at least the appearance of stability.

More than anything, though, Putin has given Russia its voice back on the world stage. China may have emerged as a serious challenger to the West's position of dominance, but Russia is an antagonist. And it can't really do more than that, with its economic output roughly on par with that of Spain. But Putin has given back to his people the feeling of being a global power as they were during the Soviet era -- without demanding all of the sacrifices that Soviet citizens were required to make.

The wars in Eastern Ukraine and in Syria have required a relatively limited amount of resources and not much in the way of personnel either. When possible, mercenaries and dubious volunteer fighters have been sent. To exert influence on elections around the world, a couple hundred hackers and trolls are all that's necessary.

The result is that Putin has managed to successfully relegate the ignominy of 1991, when the Soviet Union disintegrated, to the history books. Even if Russians themselves may feel weak, humiliated and neglected by the state and impoverished by corruption, at least they have one consolation: Russia has "risen from its knees," as is often said in the country.

That alone, however, wouldn't be sufficient to make the "Russian Model" attractive to many in the West as well. For that, Putin is necessary. The president himself is Russia's offer to the rest of the world, this embodiment of masculinity who still allows himself to be photographed shirtless even though he is 65 years old. Putin embodies the longing for an unbroken, unambiguous identity that seems to have gone missing in pluralistic, heterogenous societies. A desire for a kind of patriarchal state of nature free of #MeToo, headscarves and transsexuals and led by a strong, charismatic, capable leader.

In contrast to the totalitarian rulers of the 20th century, the Russian president is not in pursuit of some deeper truth or of an ideology he seeks to impose and spread. In contrast to Xi and Erdogan, Putin isn't even a member of a political party. Instead, the Kremlin and the media it controls seek to undermine the belief that such a thing as truth even exists.

Russia seeks to wield influence both directly and indirectly. Russian hackers have attacked the German parliament, the Democratic Party in the U.S. and Emmanuel Macron's movement En Marche. Russia is also thought to have played a role in the Italian election and the Brexit referendum as well. Russia is waging war in Ukraine but acts as though its own soldiers and military advisers weren't even there.

Democratic systems don't have many tools at their disposal to confront these asymmetric attacks. Currently, the response is almost always that of waiting until the storm has passed. That, though, is exactly the kind of weak response that Putin and his allies expect from the liberal West.

From a historical perspective, liberal democracy of the type currently practiced in the West is a recent development. According to Samuel Huntington, the political scientist who passed away in 2008, it expanded in three waves. The first, he argues, began at the beginning of the 19th century with the rise of the American constitutional state, with 29 additional countries joining that group by 1926. The second wave began after 1945 and by the beginning of the 1960s, there were 36 democracies. The third wave began with the Carnation Revolution in Portugal in 1974 and continued to grow, with the number of democracies tripling after 1989.

A Lost Promise

The end of the Cold War, fellow political scientist Francis Fukuyama wrote in 1989, marks "the end point of mankind's ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government." It was, he wrote, "the end of history." And by the end of the millennium, there were more than 100 democracies in the world.

In Europe, liberal democracy thrived on the rubble of World War II. It embodied the optimism of the postwar years as prosperity grew, many people were able to afford a vacation for the first time and could buy homes and cars. But at least since the 2000s, the certitude that children will have it better than their parents no longer applies. Globalization is one reason, as is the fact that global prosperity growth now largely takes place in China and elsewhere in Asia.

One of the most important promises of liberal democracy has been that it can guarantee perpetually increasing prosperity. The fact that this promise can no longer be fulfilled today is one of the causes of its current crisis.

Another is rooted in the fact that postwar European societies -- following the genocide, expulsions, resettlements and newly drawn borders that came out of World War II -- became more homogeneous than they had been before the war. But since then, all Western European societies have become more diverse and the same process has long since begun in Eastern European countries as well. And it's not just about ethnicities and ancestry, but also about sexual, cultural and religious identity.

This atomization of identity has played into the hands of authoritarian parties within liberal democracies because the development has paralyzed the political system. For decades, the political systems of most Western democracies were dominated by two political camps, the center-left and the center-right. But this dualism no longer exists: With the end of homogenous societies, the spectrum of political parties has also splintered. Established centrist parties must join forces to form a government if they don't want to enter a coalition with populists.

The Contagion in Europe

That has been seen in many European countries in recent years, including in Germany following last September's parliamentary elections. Because votes were shared out among so many different parties, none of the possible coalitions stood for a clear ideological direction. All of them were merely pragmatic solutions to a challenging math problem and none of them was particularly inspiring.

The result is that in parliamentary democracies like most of those in Europe, the liberal-democratic system is no longer able to offer voters real political alternatives. Except those offered by parties that stand in opposition to liberal democracy, such as right-wing populists. Fittingly, perhaps, Germany's contribution to that ilk is known as the "Alternative for Germany," or AfD.

Jaroslaw Kaczyinski, head of the governing nationalist-conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party in Poland, has coined a term to describe the phenomenon: "Imposybilizm" or "impossibilism." For Kaczyinski, the term serves as justification for his efforts to erode democracy. And he ascribes to it a number of different meanings: a bureaucratic constitution, exaggerated concern for the country's minorities, overwrought fear of how Poland is viewed abroad, "cowardice" and "opportunism." All of that, Kaczyinski believes, prevented the liberal government that came before his own from enacting effective policies for the "little people."

To defeat this "impossibilism," PiS is laying claim to more and more powers. Kaczyinski apparently would like to see the separation of powers mitigated in order to grant political leaders greater leeway. His party has already largely disempowered the country's constitutional court.

Kaczynski's political approach is also an answer to the "we have no other choice" politics of necessity that have been pursued in the West since the 1990s -- an approach that lost its credibility during the financial crisis when it became necessary to save large banks from collapse. Suddenly, there was sufficient money to do so even though money had previously been lacking to refurbish decrepit school buildings or build affordable housing. The same politics of necessity characterized the response to the euro crisis, during which treaties, rules and the financial markets limited the scope of action that could be taken by governments suffering from the crisis. The resulting feeling of impotence proved a boon to nationalists and populists across Europe.

And despite warnings from all sides that it would be too expensive, PiS did in fact introduce a child benefit of 500 zloty (117 euros) per month. It is anti-impossibilism in practice. And the message to voters was clear: Anything is possible, and we'll do it for you.

Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in Hungary has adopted a similar approach, one which has kept him in power for eight years and recently got him elected for four more. His people now occupy not only all key positions in Hungarian ministries and agencies, but also in universities, clinics, theaters and courtrooms. He has also managed to bring a large part of the economy under his control by way of a network of companies that are well-disposed toward him.

There is no censorship in Orbán's empire, but there also is hardly a newspaper in the country that isn't published by a friend of his. Those who rebel against the political views of Orbán's Fidesz party don't lose their freedom or their lives as was the case in old-fashioned dictatorships. They lose their jobs.

Yet the "illiberal democracy," as Orbán himself calls it, isn't undemocratic per se. Elections are held and the prime minister has a majority of the electorate behind him. It's just that the system is no longer liberal. The rights of minorities have been limited and the separation of powers weakened.

But "impossibilism" only partially explains the rise of illiberalism in Eastern Europe. There is also an authoritarian heritage that, beginning with the monarchies of the 19th century, survives to the present day despite the two intervening world wars and the decades of communism. The collapse of communism in 1989 did not erase it either, and the much touted "return to Europe" merely serves to conceal it. Societies don't change very quickly. Particularly given that the new elites often got their start as functionaries in the previous system. And given that, while capitalism has led to greater economic prosperity, it has come at the cost of greater insecurity.

Viktor Orbán himself was once a proponent of liberal renewal before he became a ringleader of illiberalism.

The paradox is that without EU membership, which is supposed to uphold the norms and values of democracy, Orbán's system would quickly collapse. It only works within the framework of a community bound together by solidarity, an otherwise liberal environment from which money and mandates flow into the country, allowing Orbán to distribute them among his friends and sycophants.

If the EU were in a position to punish Orbán and Kaczynski for their transgressions, their strutting would quickly come to an end. But it isn't quite that simple.

The complex system of EU rules was configured from the very beginning for liberal democracies. Their foundation is the belief that the future belongs to democracy and that Europe will continue on the path toward becoming an "ever closer union." An allowance was made for countries that wanted to leave the union. But a country that weakens its democratic institutions yet nevertheless wants to remain part of the bloc? There are no tools in place to deal with such a situation. An examination of a country's adherence to the rule of law, which could theoretically end with a member state losing its voting rights, must be decided on unanimously. It is unlikely that that would ever happen.

None of that would be quite so dramatic, perhaps, if these developments weren't taking place at a time when the most powerful democracy in the world is rapidly losing credibility. Because it is being led by a man who holds little respect for democracy. To be sure, there have been U.S. presidents in the past who were less than perfect exemplars of democracy, who overthrew elected leaders and launched ill-advised wars. But they nevertheless sought to spread the idea of freedom and human rights, combined with the promise of prosperity, into the world at large.

The Frustrated Autocrat

Now, though, we have Donald Trump, a man who apparently gets along better with political leaders like Duterte, Erdogan, Xi and, most recently, North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un than he does with democratic leaders like Angela Merkel and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Based on what he says in person and on Twitter, based on his plans and the way he makes personnel decisions, based on the way he mixes his office with his business empire and, finally, based on the way he constantly insults the news media, he seems to be more of a wannabe autocrat than a reliable proponent of liberal democracy.

One-and-a-half years after his inauguration, it isn't his erstwhile adversary Hillary Clinton -- a woman who he promised to lock up -- who is under investigation, but Trump himself. Trump has not managed to destroy the institutions of state and, aside from tax reform, hasn't managed to implement a single one of the ground-breaking plans he promised. The U.S. president, one could argue, has become something of a poster child for the stability of democracy.

In their new book "How Democracies Die," political scientists Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt write that Trump had wanted to follow the playbook of an authoritarian ruler. But the president "has talked more than he has acted, and his most notorious threats have not been realized."

For the time being, in other words, Trump can be seen as a frustrated autocrat.

Still, the long-term damage is likely to be immense. The populists of this world now have an ally in the White House and U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell even said recently that he hopes to strengthen conservative, anti-establishment movements in Europe. Trump's former chief strategist Stephen Bannon was recently in Rome celebrating Italy's new government as the next domino in a complex chain that, he says, will ultimately lead to the EU's collapse.

It used to be that America promoted the spread of democracy. These days, however, it is promoting the spread of populism.

The autocrats and illiberals of the 21st century have many similarities. They are both racist and nationalist, and they constantly evoke an external threat that must be kept in check. They also harbor distrust of real or perceived elites, of the privileged who have purportedly forgotten the language of the common people. They make campaign promises that can only be financed through massive borrowing and huge debts. They despise democratic institutions.

They also share a penchant for promising to restore some grand past. Trump's motto is "Make America Great Again." President Putin promises the Russians national glory. Erdogan conjures up the return to the greatness of the Ottoman Empire. Viktor Orbán has erected statues throughout his country commemorating Hungary's glorious past. In Poland, the PiS has even passed a law forbidding any share of the responsibility for the Holocaust being attributed to the Polish nation, as if historical truth was subject to present-day law.

History, they believe, must be a source of pride. Otherwise, it is false.

The opposite can be observed in liberal democracies. Admitting responsibility for past crimes is practically one of their structural characteristics. This is not only true of Germany, but also of the United States, where the debate continues today over slavery and its consequences. French President Emmanuel Macron has described his country's colonialism in Algeria as a "crime against humanity."

No modern democracy believes it can avoid coming to terms with its past. Under that tacit agreement, only those who learn from the crimes of their grandfathers can create a better society.

But authoritarian forces reject this claim, it is one of their trademarks. For AfD Chair Alexander Gauland, the Nazi era is only "a speck of bird shit " relative to the achievements of Germany's long history and his party is calling for the country to turn its back on its culture of remembrance of the atrocities it committed during WWII.

Among Brexiteers in Britain, there is no small number who would like to restore the lost British Empire. In Donald Trump's America, white nationalists glorify racism in the southern states that were defeated in the Civil War with the president's tacit approval.

Vast Patronage

Once they come to power, enemies of liberal democracy have another commonality: corruption. Almost all of them are corrupt. And this despite the fact that almost all have risen to power on the pledge that they will put an end to corruption.

This also applies to Donald Trump, who as president benefits his own family business, issues pardons to political friends and whose daughter Ivanka suddenly benefited from Beijing registering trademarks for her company in the course of negotiations with China.

Be it Putin or Erdogan, the Communist Party of China or Fidesz in Hungary, they all rule through a complex system of patronage. Autocratic rule is based on finely spun dependencies. This has always been the case, and nothing has changed in the 21st century.

Even show trials and death sentences against corrupt officials and party leaders like those seen in China cannot prevent corruption. Greed is human, and it stretches to all corners of life. That's why the separation of powers in a constitutional state is one of the most effective means available for combating corruption, even if it is unable to prevent every instance.

The ancient Greeks believed in a cycle of political systems in which a monarchy would be succeeded by tyranny. This, in turn, is gradually replaced by aristocracy, oligarchy and democracy. After mob rule, a monarchy follows again. Simply because people are never satisfied. Because stable conditions make things comfortable and comfort leads to decadence. Is this where we've arrived now?

After 1945, liberal democracy provided the framework for European unification, the social welfare state and the Ostpolitik policies of detente between Western and Eastern Europe. None of these achievements was without conflict. But that was also the point: identifying problems, offering solutions, mediating conflicts and building societal consensus time and again. It was one of the reasons why liberal democracy prevailed in the Cold War. It also happened to be economically and militarily superior. It was simply the better system.

But these days, that's no longer considered a given.

'Democratic Recession'

American political scientist Larry Diamond refers to the finding that the number of functioning democracies is shrinking again as the "Democratic Recession." But why? "The most important and pervasive answer is, in brief, bad governance," he wrote in a January 2015 essay in the Journal of Democracy.

In fact, the reversal of liberal democracy's global reputation coincided with serious failures on the part of the West: the disastrous Iraq War, which began under false allegations and undermined the credibility of Western parliamentary systems around the world, and the global economic crisis, which shook confidence in the Western economic order after 2007.

But that's looking at the very big picture. There are also smaller examples. It was 18 years ago, to name one of them, that the Süssmuth Commission in Germany, an independent panel appointed by the government to recommend immigration policies, presented a proposal for the country's first comprehensive immigration law. Nothing came out of it. Germany is an important destination for immigrants, but the country has proven incapable of regulating immigration. The way the country addresses technological advancement will be decisive in determining Germany's economic future, and yet the government still hasn't come up with a comprehensive tech strategy. The German economy is highly reliant on its car industry, but instead of hailing the end of the era of the internal combustion engine, the government instead protects corporate profits.

This list could go on and on. Climate change, demographics, technological development, the coming transformation of the working world and the distribution of wealth are but a few items on that list.

Germany has had a number of different government coalitions during this time -- the center left together with the Greens, the conservatives together with the business-friendly liberals and the conservatives and the center-left. The fundamental problems have often been discussed, but there have been too few attempts to seriously tackle them. At least that's how many people feel, not least because great visions often wind up as small compromises in democracies.

With the Marshall Plan, liberal democracy once had its own New Silk Road. If the money that the U.S. pumped into Europe between 1948 and 1952 were translated into today's dollars, it would amount to about $135 billion. The idea was to make Western Europe liberal, democratic and able to stand up to the Soviet Union. That was the plan. And it worked, as we now know.

And it wasn't just about money. Liberal democracy in Germany was also reinforced by the soldiers sent by the Americans, the British and the French who were stationed in the country for almost 50 years. It was supported by educational programs, economic cooperation and through institutional interdependencies. These efforts all had to be fought for and implemented with an enormous amount of effort - all in the belief that this system was the best one possible. And that it is beneficial to democracies when other countries adopt the system as well.

Our problems today are different than they were then. Germany no longer has any war rubble to clean up. At issue today are the consequences of global capitalism and technological developments, migration and the fear of refugee influx. But we were once able to solve such problems. Merely recalling those times isn't enough.

By Christian Esch, Maximilian Popp, Jan Puhl, Tobias Rapp, Christoph Scheuermann and Bernhard Zand


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« Reply #4375 on: Today at 04:06 AM »

GMO rice may hold the key to fighting HIV on the cheap

ZME
8/20/2018

How’s that for internal conflict, eh, soccer moms?

An international team of researchers, with members from Spain, the U.S., and the U.K., plans to fight HIV using only cereal; namely, rice. In a new paper, they describe how they developed a strain of the plant that produces HIV-neutralizing proteins, and how the resulting rice can be used to prevent the spread of this disease.

Rice 2.0

    “Our paper provides an approach for the durable deployment of anti-HIV agents in the developing world,” the team writes.

HIV isn’t the death sentence it used to be. Researchers and doctors have had quite a lot of success in developing treatments for people infected with HIV and — at least in more developed countries — death rates associated with HIV have declined significantly. The real prize is to develop a functional vaccine against the virus, an endeavor which has so far borne no fruit.

Still, since we don’t yet have such a vaccine ready, oral medication has been developed that can keep an infection at bay for a limited amount of time. However, such treatments are still expensive — prohibitively so for the many areas in third world countries that are struggling under high rates of HIV infection. Compounding the problem is that production of such drugs — involving a process known as recombinant protein manufacturing — is technologically-intensive and time-consuming, meaning that any production facilities these countries could put together wouldn’t come anywhere near to satisfying demand.

Here’s where the rice comes in. The strain engineered by the team synthesizes the same HIV-neutralizing compounds used in oral medication. Once the crop is fully grown, farmers can process the grains to make a topical cream and apply it to their skin — allowing these active compounds to enter the body. The rice plants produce one type of (monoclonal) antibody and two kinds of proteins that bind directly to the HIV virus (the lectins griffithsin and cyanovirin-N), preventing them from interacting with human cells.

    “Simultaneous expression in the same plant allows the crude seed extract to be used directly as a topical microbicide cocktail, avoiding the costs of multiple downstream processes,” the team explains in their paper “This groundbreaking strategy is realistically the only way that microbicidal cocktails can be manufactured at a cost low enough for the developing world, where HIV prophylaxis is most in demand.”

Turning the seeds into cream is a very simple process, the team notes, allowing virtually anybody anywhere to have access to an HIV treatment option if required. It’s also virtually free once you have the rice. The team hopes that people living in areas with high rates of infection will simply grow as much of the rice as they need, potentially providing treatment for whole communities at a time.

However, there’s still work to be done before the GMO rice hits paddies around the world. The team wants to run an exhaustive battery of tests to ensure that their genetic machinations didn’t introduce genes for unknown (and potentially harmful) chemicals in the plants.

They’re also very much aware that GMOs are a subject of much debate, and their efforts might have to suffer from the controversy that has built around GM crops in recent years. There will also be regulatory hurdles to overcome in each part of the world where the rice might be grown and used.

The paper “Unexpected synergistic HIV neutralization by a triple microbicide produced in rice endosperm” has been published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


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« Reply #4376 on: Today at 04:09 AM »

In Shadow of Mt. Etna, Europe Makes a Last Stand for Solar

By Stanley Reed and Keith Bradsher
NY Times
Aug. 20, 2018

CATANIA, Italy — The enormous glass building on the outskirts of this Sicilian city had been intended for making silicon wafers for flash memory chips. That plan got crushed by the global financial crisis.

Built in the early 2000s, it was overhauled in 2011 to churn out conventional panels used to build solar farms in Greece, Italy and South Africa. Once again, the factory struggled, this time losing ground to Chinese rivals that trumped it on price, as well as on technology.

Now, the facility’s owner, the Italian utility Enel, is changing tack again, betting on an advanced, commercially untested system for solar panels. This time, Enel hopes it finally has what it takes to challenge the industry behemoth — China.

A short distance beyond the toe of Italy’s boot, Europe is making what may be its last-gasp bid to remain a player in the global solar sector.

The region was an early backer of technology harnessing the sun’s energy. But manufacturing of solar panels here has fallen off in the years since, as Chinese companies have cut prices and ramped up production.

Enel believes that by focusing on an esoteric technology, it can afford to make panels here and avoid a price war. It hopes that its products, which can capture more energy from the sun’s rays than those of rivals, will offer greater value than cheaper models.

China is a tough challenger to beat. The country’s manufacturers have established giant factories, complex supply chains and global networks of suppliers. Having driven prices relentlessly lower, they, too, are now innovating, rivaling the world’s best in efficiency while scoring breakthroughs like building enormous floating solar farms or experimenting with installing solar panels in roads.

“Making solar power is not rocket science,” said Jenny Chase, a solar analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance, a research firm. “It is something you can do more cheaply when you have a big manufacturing base.”

At the foot of Mount Etna, Catania is known for its trove of ornate buildings fashioned from black and gray lava rock and decorated with winged cherubs. The city has also long served as an industrial and agricultural hub for Sicily, thanks in part to a busy port, which is also an entry point for thousands of migrants from North Africa, across the Mediterranean.

More recently, it has fallen on harder times. And, like the city itself, the building housing the Enel factory has struggled to adapt to economic shifts. Every time it charted a path, Chinese rivals were quick to crowd it out.

In the latest such instance, as prices for solar power dropped sharply in recent years, the Italian utility came to a difficult conclusion: Its panels were already a third less efficient than those developed by Chinese manufacturers, and that gap is likely to widen over time.

“We said to ourselves: ‘We have bought the company. What do we do?’” said Antonello Irace, the head of the Catania unit, known as EGP 3Sun.

Mr. Irace eventually admitted defeat, shutting down the old production line last fall to retool the plant.

Enel is spending 87.5 million euros, or about $101 million, on new equipment and other changes, of which the Italian government is chipping in €14 million. The European Union is adding an extra €9 million to help cover operating expenses.

The Catania plant is likely to begin producing state-of-the-art solar panels next year, after trial runs in the coming months. It is embracing heterojunction technology, a system that has not been commercially proven. It involves adding a new, microscopic layer of silicon to solar cells, increasing their ability to gather sunlight and convert it into electricity.

These new panels will also be “bifacial,” meaning they will be able to gather light not only directly from the sun but also from stray beams that bounce off the ground.

Enel expects that panels made in the first year will be able to convert around 20 percent of sunlight to energy, which is toward the higher end of industry averages. It hopes to reach 25 percent in five years — which would help offset their higher cost.

That could make a big difference in winning projects. Bids on giant solar farms worth hundreds of millions of dollars are increasingly price sensitive, and costs are falling fast.

Mr. Irace said the new designs were especially promising for the sunny Middle East, where countries like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have been ramping up solar programs.

Those efforts may amount to little, however, if Enel cannot produce its panels on a larger scale, sufficient to compete with rivals from China.

For now, Enel aims to produce around 500,000 panels a year, a drop in the bucket compared with its Chinese competitors. In effect, it is “shipping cartons and crates,” said Chris Buckland, head of technology at Lightsource BP, a British solar developer. By contrast, Chinese companies are filling “40-foot containers.”

The Italian utility’s difficulties ramping up output point to the vastly changing fortunes of the solar sectors in Europe and China.

Solar energy was largely commercialized in Europe around 20 years ago. Governments stimulated demand with generous subsidies, encouraging homeowners to install panels on their roofs and utilities to invest in larger-scale solar farms.

But its popularity was limited in those early years by the high cost of the electricity that was being generated. Seeing little prospect of widespread sales, companies in the West built small factories, the largest of which had only a few hundred workers.

Beijing changed that equation with an ambitious industrial policy. It pushed state-owned banks to lend to renewable energy projects at low interest rates. Factories employing thousands of workers were built, leading to hefty economies of scale. By 2015, panel prices worldwide had dropped 90 percent from a decade earlier, opening up a wider range of customers able to afford them.

China now makes about 65 percent of the world’s solar panels, and Chinese companies build at least another 10 percent at factories in Southeast Asia, according to GTM Research, a unit of the consulting firm Wood Mackenzie.

Europe, by contrast, has less than a tenth of the market. Dozens of American and European companies have gone bankrupt or closed production. Factories have shut down, and equipment makers have moved to Asia.

A few companies, notably Tesla, are trying to establish production lines in the West, using new technologies that Chinese factories cannot easily emulate.

That is the route Enel is trying to follow in Sicily. Although heterojunction technology is not patented, Enel hopes that refinements it has made to the manufacturing process will give it a head start on rivals.

“We have to manufacture modern, advanced, innovative products in their initial life cycle,” said Antonio Cammisecra, the chief executive of Enel Green Power.

If Enel succeeds, it will give a crucial lift to a region that has lost as much as a quarter of its industrial capacity since the financial crisis, said Armando Castronuovo, an expert on the area at the University of Catania. The city’s economic backbone — agribusiness and tourism — has held up relatively well, but youth unemployment remains around 40 percent.

Enel has drawn on the local university to find the advanced science graduates necessary to ensure it can continue to come up with cutting-edge technology. In all, it has preserved some 300 jobs at the plant and a nearby research center.

Andrea Canino, 38, said science students like himself had benefited from close collaboration between the university and companies like Enel.

Mr. Canino obtained his doctorate in physics from the University of Catania in 2008, at the depths of the downturn, but managed to get work at a research institute and, later, at a small semiconductor company. Finally, in 2012, he landed his job with Enel.

“Here in Sicily, it is not easy to find technology work,” he said. “I always prepared for other possibilities.”

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« Reply #4377 on: Today at 04:12 AM »


How Delhi's rising heat and a love of concrete caused a deadly water crisis

Reports warn it could run out of groundwater by 2020. Has Delhi run out of time to reverse years of mismanagement and unchecked urbanisation?

Ashish Malhotra in Delhi
Guardian
20 Aug 2018 07.15 BST

It’s about 4pm on a muggy monsoon day in Wazirpur, a low-income urban village in Delhi. A group of 30 women are lined up in the 34C heat (93F) behind an assortment of empty coolers, buckets, petrol containers – anything they can store water in once the government tanker arrives.

“We’ve been here since 10am,” says 55-year-old Gudi. “You never know if the tanker will come or not – we come here every day and wait.”

When it finally arrives, the waiting women rush to attach hoses. Water gushes out at full force into containers, while a few children grab plastic bottles to catch any trickles leaking from the tanker’s pipe. The deadly heatwave that swept south Asia this summer, forcing temperatures towards 50C, was a forceful reminder that every drop counts.

    We never imagined someone would die over water … This has become normal
    Rohit, Wazirpur resident

For many in this megacity of 29 million, this desperate jostle for water has become a part of daily life, with people sometimes missing out on work to wait for water that may not come. “It’s wrong. People who have water in their house can just fill it up in the morning and get on with their day,” says Vishnu, 60, another Wazirpur resident. “Here we wait for water and manage our routine based on that.”

Population growth, climate change, disputes between states, urbanisation and poor management of resources have made water – especially fresh, clean water – a commodity that is not readily available to all. A recent government thinktank report revealed that several major cities in India, including Delhi, could run out of groundwater as soon as 2020.

Meanwhile, temperatures continue to climb. India has seen an average increase of 0.5C over the past 50 years, leading to a rise of nearly 150% in heatwaves responsible for at least 100 deaths. The heatwave of summer 2015 was one of the worst in south Asia’s history, killing an estimated 3,500 people in Pakistan and India. But a predicted rise of 2.2C-5.5C by the end of the century would put hundreds of millions of lives at risk, with the most extreme, quarter-century heatwaves getting even hotter.

    When we started getting all these supplies from distant places or tube wells ... we forgot about our local resources
    Manu Bhatnagar, urban environmental planner

Currently, about 2% of India’s population is sometimes exposed to a 32C wet-bulb temperature, which factors in humidity. A 2017 study by MIT found that proportion would increase to 70% by 2100, with 2% sometimes exposed to the limit of survivability of 35C – the point at which the body cannot cool itself enough to survive for longer than a few hours.

Access to water is already a matter of life and death, with gross inequities in its distribution leading to desperate scrums. In furnace-like conditions, tensions can easily boil over. In Wazirpur in March, a 60-year-old man reportedly died of a heart attack after being beaten with a pipe when an argument broke out over the distribution of water from a tanker.

The man’s son, Rohit, says his brother also later died from injuries sustained during the fight. “Our family has been here for 30-40 years, but we never imagined someone would die over water – now two people from our family have. This has become normal. Today it’s happened with us, tomorrow it will happen with someone else.”
Paving over history

Ironically, the fight for water now comes amid heavy rain. May’s heatwave has given way to the monsoon season, causing flooding across India. Last week flash floods in Kerala killed 37 people and displaced a further 36,000.

For much of Delhi’s history, this seasonal rainfall was harnessed for use during the summer from March to May, with water stored and distributed through check dams, stepwells (baolis) and natural drains (nullahs). It reflected a philosophy that urban environmental planner Manu Bhatnagar calls “respecting the topography”, which has since fallen by the wayside in the city.

“Everybody respected the rain … [people knew] they had to gather it,” says Bhatnagar, director of natural heritage at the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage. “When we started getting all these supplies coming from distant places or tube wells, taking water from 300 or 400 feet [below ground], we forgot about our rainfall. We forgot about our local resources.”

The neglect of those resources is said to have much to do with Delhi’s massive urbanisation, especially in recent decades. The city’s 1976 master plan featured 201 natural drains; as of last year, only 44 could be traced. Those that remain are mostly filthy open sewers, while the rest have been paved over with roads and parks. The Delhi water board did not respond to repeated requests for an interview.

    Our national water policy is a fine document. But nothing got put into practice on the ground
    ​Rashmi Verma, water policy researcher

This intense and rapid concretisation of the city also compounds the heat. “The whole city is a heat island – it’s storing the heat during the day and, during the night, it is radiating and releasing that stored heat,” says Bhatnagar. “When temperatures are higher, the soil moisture goes down and evaporation increases.”

This has not only almost entirely killed off certain water bodies – such as nullahs, which took water to the now heavily polluted Yamuna River – but has also contributed heavily to the city’s low water table, preventing rainfall from seeping into the ground and recharging aquifers. “Delhi has lost its lakes, which are natural recharge bodies,” says Rashmi Verma, a senior researcher on water policy at the Centre for Science and Environment. “If we destroy these areas [with concrete], how can water go inside the ground?”

Bhatnagar says the situation could be addressed easily with porous paving, allowing rainwater to reach the ground, but for the fact many drains have been boxed in by two layers of concrete – one on top and one underneath. “They are interested in laying cement and concrete,” he says of contractors, politicians and civic agencies. “More concrete, more money. Suppose they had not lined the bottom – at least whatever flow was there, there would have been a recharge.”

Many traditional baolis have also dried up because of the lack of groundwater. Agrasen ki baoli, in the middle of one of the most built-up areas of the city, dates back to the 14th century and, at 60m long and 15m wide, has significant capacity. But in recent years it has become a popular hangout spot for young people, and is seen as an ancient architectural marvel: worthy of a selfie, but of no practical use.
A full baoli or a step-well at Nizamuddin Dargah, New Delhi. Traditional resources such as these wells are being neglected, say activists.

“Not a single person knows the importance of that place,” says Vikramjit Singh Rooprai, a heritage activist who focuses on baolis. He pulls out his computer and opens a photo of the baoli in 1926, surrounded by lush greenery. Today, it is hidden below the ground in a narrow alleyway. “This baoli was recharged because of its catchment area,” says Rooprai. “Now it’s a concrete jungle. This is why this baoli can never come back.”

Rooprai, 34, quit his job as a software engineer three years ago to dedicate himself to preserving Delhi’s historical water systems, and knows only too well the harsh reality for residents. His neighbourhood, in residential Tilak Nagar, only gets piped water during brief windows of time in the morning and evening. It often arrives dirty and mixed with sewage, and if residents don’t turn their pumps on in time, they must go without until the next opportunity.

With as much as 40% of Delhi’s water supply lost due to leakages and theft, the basic provision of water is haphazard – and this amid temperatures that can reach 45C. During heatwaves such mismanagement can be especially dangerous, though action plans in several cities in recent years have brought fatalities down drastically. A similar plan is in the works for Delhi, but it is lagging behind other cities, in part due to its complex setup of multiple governing agencies.

“The urgency of implementing a heat action plan is critical – especially as it gets hotter in a city with such a large population and many slum communities,” says Anjali Jaiswal, of the US-based National Resources Defense Council, which has been advising on heat-mitigation plans in India. “Delhi is missing a major opportunity to protect human health by not putting a plan into place sooner, contrary to many other cities that have plans dating back to 2013.”

    People have no other option. You can talk to them [about why illegal borewells are bad]. But are you giving them any alternative?
    Vikramjit Singh Rooprai, heritage activist

In the meantime, public awareness of the threat heat poses is low. The central Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Narayan Hospital reportedly received three to four patients suffering from heat stress every day last summer, but with Delhi’s sizeable slum population, far more people suffer than the small number who seek treatment.

It is no wonder that people feel they have no alternative other than to dig illegal borewells – narrow, deep wells drilled into the ground; Rooprai says his own family dug them until recently. Illegal extraction has become so commonplace that groundwater in 15 of Delhi’s 27 administrative divisions is categorised as “overexploited”, contributing to the city’s shrinking water table. The government is trying to crack down on borewells in overexploited areas, but Rooprai says they are easy to hide or keep by bribing local officials. “People have no other option,” he says. “You can talk to them [about why it’s bad]. But are you giving them any alternative?”

‘We are doomed’

Authorities are trying to tackle the water crisis. Last month, the Delhi government said it was moving forward with a wastewater treatment plan modelled after Singapore’s “toilet to tap” initiative. Officials hope it will boost the city’s water supply by 15%-20%.

The government has previously promised 20,000 litres of free water per household, and rainwater harvesting systems are mandatory for buildings on plots of land above a certain size. But while these policies may look good on paper, they are rarely carried out. “Our national water policy is a fine document,” says Verma. “But nothing got put into practice on the ground. The problem is with the implementation.”

Activists have been pushing for the use of community systems through which wastewater can be reused, but Rooprai is cynical about Delhi’s ability to adapt. “We are doomed … We need to change the way we think, but I know how we think,” he says. “People are not ready to listen.”

Bhatnagar is equally sceptical. On an old map of Delhi, he points to an S-shaped body of water he recently stumbled across. When he went to investigate it to see how much remained, he found it largely encroached on by villagers. Bhatnagar wrote to the Delhi Development Authority, the city’s main housing agency, calling for it to protect the area. But months later, he found that even more of the lake had been filled with homes.

Bhatnagar intends to pursue the issue in the country’s top environmental court, but he knows that, as temperatures continue to rise, time is ticking for the city and its ability to change course.

“We are not concerned with the environment, we are just thinking about exploiting land,” he says, adding that the complacency of government and communities may lead to severe shortages and more social unrest similar to the violence in Wazirpur earlier this year.

“When that happens there are no overnight solutions. But perhaps that’s the kind of bitter medicine Delhi needs.”


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« Reply #4378 on: Today at 04:16 AM »


A Toxin in Every Household

By Alison Cagle
Ecowatch
8/20/2018

When was the last time you looked around your kitchen or bathroom for chemicals that are toxic to your health? In many households, those chemicals don't just come in the form of liquid products like pesticides or bleach. They often can be found in the most common items lying around, like frying pans used to cook up a morning egg, or in that popcorn bag heating up in the microwave. That's because a class of highly toxic, long-lasting chemicals called perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) has become ubiquitous in American products.

PFAS have been used in American households since the 1950s, when it was first marketed in Teflon cookware by DuPont. Today, PFAS are added not just to nonstick pans, but also water-resistant clothing, grease-repelling fast food wrappers, stain-proof carpets, and other products. Its unusual resistance to degradation is what makes PFAS so damaging to human health and the environment: decades of study has shown that accumulation of PFAS in the bloodstream can cause various cancers and birth defects. Yet the Trump administration is reluctant to make the dangers of PFAS, and its common use, widely known to the American public.

In January, the Trump administration tried to suppress a report about PFAS that was conducted by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (a division of the EPA)—the latest instance of the administration's predilection for scientific censorship. An internal aid stated that public knowledge of PFAS toxicity and its use in consumer goods would create "a public relations disaster." Six months later in June, the ATSDR released the report, which conclusively links PFAS to a host of harmful side effects and recommends lowering the EPA's current non-enforceable risk level to 12 parts per trillion, down from 70 ppt (about the size of a drop of water in an Olympic pool).

The report links PFAS exposure to liver toxicity, immune disruption, and developmental problems. In court cases against chemical manufacturers, plaintiffs and medical studies have also linked PFAS in drinking water to kidney cancer, testicular cancer, thyroid disease, ulcerative colitis, pancreatic cancer, and birth defects. "It's an unusual list of chemical effects," says Sonya Lunder, Senior Toxics Policy Advisor at Sierra Club. "It's hard to tie that all together—it's affecting multiple parts of the body in different ways."

Exposure to PFAS isn't only limited to household products, and its presence in drinking water has led to intense litigation. Thousands of people who live near manufacturing plants owned by companies such as 3M and DuPont have reported water toxicity levels exponentially higher than the EPA limit, often sourced from storm runoff that seeps from chemical plants into the ground—or, from illegal dumping directly into rivers and creeks. In the absence of federal regulation, numerous states have sued chemical manufacturers that produce PFAS for damages to public health and the environment. Minnesota filed a lawsuit in January against Wolverine World Wide, to recoup the cost of PFAS cleanups and municipal water installations for contaminated wells. In February, North Carolina sued Chemours, a spinoff of DuPont, for failing to take action after rainwater runoff mixed with GenX, Chemours' special group of PFAS used in Gore Tex clothing, and contaminated the Cape Fear River. In that same month, Ohio sued DuPont and Chemours for contaminating waterways with PFAS used to make Teflon, and for withholding knowledge of PFAS' dangerous side effects to the public.

These lawsuits are not without precedent, and some have already been successful. In 2017, DuPont settled a class action lawsuit in West Virginia for $671 million dollars, in reparations for 3,550 personal injury cases in the state over contaminated water and cancerous side effects. In February of this year, 3M settled a lawsuit with the state of Minnesota for $850 million, after eight years of litigation over PFAS that had leached into public drinking water as a result of making Scotchguard.

Despite these cases and the evidence they present, PFAS remains unregulated, and the path to controlling its production faces a troubling obstacle. The U.S. Department of Defense uses PFAS as a critical component in firefighting foam at military bases throughout the country, where it's used to put out jet fuel explosions and in demonstrations for Navy training exercises. Compounding this, the cost of waterway cleanups and carbon filtration in contaminated cities would net an estimated $2 billion—all on the Department of Defense's budget. To protect its relationship as a supplier for the DoD (and defend against the massive litigation in West Virginia), in 2001 the chemical industry created theFire Fighting Foam Coalition, a lobbying alliance of chemical manufacturers and distributors. The FFFC has spent years making persuasive presentations to the EPA and the military, arguing that PFAS are not only nonhazardous, but necessary for domestic security.

Today, 99% of Americans are predicted to have PFAS in their bloodstream, where it is passed on to newborn babies. The Environmental Working Group estimates that more than 1,500 drinking water systems across the country, serving at least 110 million people, are contaminated with PFAS.

The solution to PFAS regulation should not hinge on the outcome of case-by-case litigation. As high as DuPont's $671 million settlement with West Virginia sounds, it was a drop in the bucket compared to the company's $79.5 billion revenue for the year of 2017. Regulating PFAS by individual chemical, and not class, is also untenable: GenX was created by DuPont directly in response to the EPA banning production of PFOA, the main chemical in Teflon; the new class is just different enough from PFOA to escape regulation, but with all the same side effects. "PFAS has to be regulated as a group; we can't just ban one or two chemicals, and watch the industry shift to another similar one," says Lunder. "We need to stop all unnecessary uses of these chemicals in new products. It's not for [city and state] water districts to go bankrupt cleaning up the water[of contaminated regions]."

One step to fighting PFAS production is to raise awareness in communities where chemical manufacturing plants are, and to ensure that the public has legal representation to fight back— and demand that elected officials prevent chemical companies from producing it in their state. Sierra Club is working with environmental lawyers and county officials in North Carolina, Colorado, and other states where PFAS are produced, with the aim of ensuring that every affected citizen is aware of and armed against the toxic secret living in their environment.

"We are taking the veil of secrecy off this," says Lunder. "Facilities need to be reporting their PFAS use and emissions into the environment. Pollution is profitable, but [with the] price tag of these cleanups, it's not viable."

Reposted with permission from our media associate SIERRA Magazine


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« Reply #4379 on: Today at 04:18 AM »

85% of Tampons Contain Monsanto's 'Cancer Causing' Glyphosate

Ecowatch
8/20/2018

Glyphosate, a widely popular herbicide that has been linked to cancer by the World Health Organization's cancer research arm, was detected in 85 percent of cotton hygiene products tested in a preliminary study from researchers at the University of La Plata in Argentina.

Sixty-two percent of the samples also tested positive for AMPA (or aminomethylphosphonic acid), a derivative of glyphosate.

“Eighty-five percent of all samples tested positive for glyphosate and 62 percent for AMPA, which is the environmental metabolite, but in the case of cotton and sterile cotton gauze the figure was 100 percent," Dr. Damian Marino, the study's head researcher.

According to Revolution News, the samples—which included gauze, swabs, wipes and feminine care products such as tampons and sanitary pads—were purchased from local supermarkets and pharmacies in the La Plata area.

The findings were presented last week at the third national congress of Doctors of Fumigated Towns in Buenos Aires.

“Eighty-five percent of all samples tested positive for glyphosate and 62 percent for AMPA, which is the environmental metabolite, but in the case of cotton and sterile cotton gauze the figure was 100 percent," Dr. Damian Marino, the study's head researcher, told the Télam news agency (via RT.com). An English translation of the Télam report can be read here.

“In terms of concentrations, what we saw is that in raw cotton AMPA dominates (39 parts per billion, or PPB, and 13 PPB of glyphosate), while the gauze is absent of AMPA, but contained glyphosate at 17 PPB," said Dr. Marino.

Dr. Medardo Avila Vazquez, president of the congress, said (via RT.com) that the result of this research is "very serious when you use cotton or gauze to heal wounds or for personal hygiene uses, thinking they are sterilized products, and the results show that they are contaminated with a probably carcinogenic substance.

“Most of the cotton production in the country is GM [genetically modified] cotton that is resistant to glyphosate. It is sprayed when the bud is open and the glyphosate is condensed and goes straight into the product."

Glyphosate is the key ingredient in biotech giant Monsanto's Roundup, the most popular weedkiller in the U.S. “Roundup Ready" cotton, soy and corn crops have been genetically modified to withstand application of the herbicide.

In fact, farmers sprayed 2.6 billion pounds of Monsanto's glyphosate herbicide on U.S. agricultural land between 1992 and 2012, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

In 2015, the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that adoption of genetically modified-varieties, including those with herbicide tolerance, insect resistance or stacked traits, accounted for 94 percent of the nation's cotton acreage.

The graph below from the U.S. Department of Agriculture indicates an upward trend on the country's adoption of genetically modified soybean, corn and cotton.

Monsanto maintains the safety of their product, citing its approval from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which "classified the carcinogenicity potential of glyphosate as Category E: 'evidence of non-carcinogenicity for humans.'"

Monsanto is also demanding a retraction of the World Health Organization's classification of glyphosate as a possible carcinogen.

This is not the first time that the chemical makeup of feminine care products has been put under the lens. A 2013 report by Women's Voices for the Earth detailed how the feminine care industry sells products containing unregulated and potentially harmful chemicals, including preservatives, pesticides, fragrances and dyes.


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