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« Reply #4365 on: Feb 23, 2018, 06:15 AM »

Canada indigenous leaders divided over Trudeau's pledge to put them first

While some welcomed the promise to recognize ‘the rights of First Nations’, others saw it as a way to silence negative press

    Justin Trudeau pledges full legal framework for indigenous Canadians

Leyland Cecco in Toronto
23 Feb 2018 11.00 GMT

When the Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau, came to power in 2015, he pledged to mend the broken relationship with indigenous peoples across the country, recognizing that “the rights of First Nations in Canada are not an inconvenience but rather a sacred obligation”.

In a speech to the House of Commons this week, he admitted the promise has gone unfulfilled.

The address came in a turbulent week of rallies and protests after farmer Gerald Stanley was acquitted by an all-white jury in the murder of Colten Boushie, a young Cree man.
Canada: indigenous groups urge reform after shock of white farmer's acquittal
Read more

“Too many feel and fear that our country and its institutions will never deliver the fairness, justice, and real reconciliation that indigenous peoples deserve,” said Trudeau in his address.

Indigenous leaders were cautiously optimistic over the announcement.

“I welcome his words. It’s an entire paradigm shift in how the crown will deal with our rights and title,” said the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Perry Bellegarde. “It’s going to be done in a true partnership and that’s going to be the key.”

Natan Obed, the National Inuit leader, said that the overhaul “requires systematic recognition and redress for outstanding human rights violations”, and that “respect for Inuit as rights-holders – not as stakeholders” is critical for the success of any talks moving forward.

But not everyone was “wooed by [Trudeau’s] great words”, said Pam Palmater a prominent Mi’kmaw lawyer, professor and chair of indigenous governance at Ryerson University, who called the speech a way to distract from the negative press surrounding the Stanley verdict.

Her biggest concern with the speech is what Trudeau left out. “The question that he never talks about in any of speeches or announcements is lands, resources and power. Those are big ticket items that are the crux of reconciliation,” she said. “He’s staying well within the realm of the superficial.”

The proposed overhaul marks the largest change to legal relationship between indigenous peoples and the federal government since Section 35 of the Constitution Act – which guarantees rights to First Nations, Métis and Inuit – enacted 36 years ago.

Despite numerous reports and commissions to determine a path towards indigenous self governance, the pace has remained frustratingly slow, says Naiomi Metallic, a law professor at Dalhousie University.

“There’s always this dance between the courts and the federal government, with indigenous people caught in the middle.”

For years, one of the only avenues for indigenous peoples to have rights confirmed is through the court system – a costly, drawn out process that costs millions of dollars.

Trudeau himself admitted the failures of past governments, lamenting the disregard for court-affirmed rights for indigenous peoples.

“Indigenous peoples were forced to prove, time and time again, through costly and drawn-out court challenges, that their rights existed, must be recognized and implemented,” he said.

For communities that have lived those extended court battles, the news was long overdue.

“As Tsilhqot’in, we have pushed for over 150 years for change in this country and progress is far too slow,” said Chief Joe Alphonse, the tribal chairman of Tsilhqot’in national government in central British Columbia.

The Tsilhqot’in were forced to fight an expensive, decades-long battle with the provincial government over title rights after land they had long hunted was slated to be logged.

Their struggle culminated in a 2014 victory at the supreme court of Canada – part of
a 30 year string of court battles fought by indigenous communities for recognition of pre-existing rights.

Palmater and others worry that instead of fixing a broken system, the Trudeau government is developing a new one that effectively prevents and discourages indigenous groups from using the courts to win back pre-existing rights the government has refused to recognize.

“Instead of doing a nation-wide review of Canada’s laws, which are the problem, he’s going to create a new set of laws that will define and effectively limit the scope of aboriginal and treaty rights. And that’s the part that most people don’t hear,” she says. “They’re going to try to rush and legislate and define and limit aboriginal and treaty rights so that there isn’t consent from indigenous peoples. That’s a huge concern.”

She worries the speech may lull Canadians into thinking a messy tangle of laws, promises and treaties might easily be resolved – all before the next election in 2019.

“It’s almost easier to fight the bully government than it is the oozing ‘we love you so much’ government,” she says. “But the facts of the matter, and their actions, speak far different.”

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« Reply #4366 on: Feb 23, 2018, 06:17 AM »

02/23/2018 11:15 AM

Interview with Poland's Prime Minister: 'Europe Has Run Out of Gas'

Interview Conducted by Jan Puhl

In an interview, new Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki discusses his country's reputation problems, EU proceedings against Warsaw, Poland's controversial refugee policy and the heated debate over history.

DER SPIEGEL: Mr. Prime Minister, since your party, Law and Justice (PiS), has been in power in Warsaw, Poland has suffered from a bad image. It used to be the model pupil among the new European Union member states, but now it is considered un-democratic, nationalistic and quick-tempered. What happened?

Morawiecki: Those are opinions and not facts. Poland is a democratic nation-state like all the other countries of Europe. And we are pragmatic. We have a problem with a part of the European political elite and with journalists, but not with the normal people. For example, 97 percent of all foreign investors would come to us again. You are right, though, that we need to make a greater effort to explain our policies. We are facing major changes in Poland. Now, we would like to see the majority of our population benefit from our economic growth. Just because foreign observers used to praise Poland does not mean that the policies of the time were also good for the majority of the population.

DER SPIEGEL: But Poland isn't being criticized for its social policies or its administrative reforms. It is being criticized because your judicial reform, in the EU's view, violates the principle of the rule of law. That's why your country is facing EU proceedings that could end with the loss of voting rights in Brussels.

Morawiecki: We consider this allegation to be false. According to polls, three-quarters of Poles consider the judiciary to be "bad" or "very bad." We are now improving our communication and have revived the dialogue with the European Commission. We have already achieved improvements and Brussels is now acting more as a partner and less as a schoolmaster. We will also attempt to address the concerns point by point and clarify our position.

DER SPIEGEL: The fact that your country has become the first in the history of the European Union to be subjected to such proceedings is not just due to communications shortcomings. The accusation is that your party wants to control the staffing of the courts.

Morawiecki: We, meaning Poland and the Commission, are absolutely united about the fact that the condition of the Polish justice system is a millstone around our neck. Our courts are completely ineffective, they take a lot of time to reach decisions and they are not transparent. Poland spends three times more on its judges than the average among EU countries. We have 10,000 judges compared to 7,000 in France, a much bigger country. Does Poland want to control the staffing of the courts? No, Poland wants to once again place its judiciary under democratic controls. In Germany, for example, the justices of the highest courts are appointed by a committee for the election of judges. Half of that body is comprised of ministers from the states and the others are members of the Bundestag (the German federal parliament). Furthermore, there was a failure here to discharge judges who were contaminated by the communist era. In former East Germany, after being screened by the Gauck Agency (the Stasi records agency), only 58 percent of the judges and prosecutors could keep their jobs. In Poland, it was 100 percent.

DER SPIEGEL: That was at least 25 years ago. How many of them are even still in office?

Morawiecki: As a young activist with the Solidarity union, I experienced repression myself. And a few of these judges who convicted my comrades-in-arms are still sitting in the highest court. Our reforms make the judicial apparatus more transparent, effective and independent. We now have random assignment of cases to courts in order to minimize suspicions of partiality. We will explain that, and it will hopefully provide the basis for working out a compromise.

DER SPIEGEL: Poland appears in many respects to be removing itself from the core of Europe. The term a "Europe of Nations" is used in your party. What role does Poland want to take within the EU?

Morawiecki: The majority of European societies want a Europe of Nations and not a federation of the United States of Europe. The trans-Atlantic alliance and North America's alliance with Europe are essential for peace in the world. They guarantee democracy, freedom and prosperity. I would like to see Poland make its contribution so that Europe and the United States continue working together toward these goals. As part of that, we want to be a good, predictable partner here at the eastern flank of the EU, not far from Russia.

DER SPIEGEL: So there is no chance that Poland could leave the EU?

Morawiecki: Correct, it is as unlikely as Germany or France leaving. Like the overwhelming majority of Poles, I am very pro-European. We are pushing, for example, for the development of a joint defense program. We also support working together to close tax loopholes. At the same time, we also believe that Brussels should not create policies that disregard the societal moods in the individual countries. Podemos in Spain, the success of the AfD (Alternative for Germany), Le Pen and Mélenchon in France, Five Star in Italy -- there is lava flowing beneath us, there are massive tensions... …

DER SPIEGEL: Do you not count PiS among this group of protest parties?

Morawiecki: I count PiS as being among the parties that want to correct the unjust consequences of the transformation of 1989. We are handing the opportunity for development back to millions of Poles who were excluded by the economic boom. As such, we are channeling discontent. People in Europe should acknowledge that.

DER SPIEGEL: Polls show that the overwhelming majority of Poles are still in favor of the European Union, but also that their great euphoria for the EU has evaporated. What caused that?

Morawiecki: I would say that Europe has run out of gas in terms of ideals. During the post-World War II era, this fuel was the prospect of growth and lower unemployment. Later, it was the integration of the formerly communist countries. People today consider that to be self-evident. Peace, the market economy -- that worked for decades, but it is no longer enough. European societies are making that loud and clear. They want fairness and less inequality. I am an idealist. We have to work on new ideas for Europe. For me, that would be things like the question of how we are going to deal with robotization, with accelerated capitalism, with the transformation of our working world through automation and artificial intelligence, and with inequality, which has grown exponentially? Those are the questions of the future, I agree with Thomas Piketty on this ...

DER SPIEGEL: … ... the French economist and critic of capitalism.

Morawiecki: We have to consider whether there are European answers to these questions. We need a new European partnership agreement.

DER SPIEGEL: You speak of inequality. Why is it such a massive problem for a country with 38 million people and a flourishing economy to take in a few thousand refugees from Syria? Your government has doggedly refused to do so.

Morawiecki: Poland is taking in refugees from the countries to the east of us, from Ukraine.

DER SPIEGEL: Can you really make that comparison? Ukrainians have been coming to Poland for years -- they benefit Poland as cheap laborers and are well-integrated.

Morawiecki: The influx has increased five-fold since the war in Ukraine and, particularly from the Donbass region, more and more are coming. They no longer have a roof over their heads and they have often lost family members. This kind of refugee is not even recognized in the West. After our interview, incidentally, I will fly to Lebanon, where I will visit a refugee camp and take considerable financial support along with me. There, in the Syrian border region, Poland is providing for 20,000 refugees. Studies have shown that you can do a better job of helping people there than here by building hospitals and schools. Of all the countries participating in the Economic Resilience Initiative, Poland has given the most money: 50 million euros. It is a project by the European Investment Bank to provide local economic support in the region. I give you my word that we want to do even more. But you also have to keep in mind that forcing intake quotas on a sovereign nation creates societal tensions.

DER SPIEGEL: What do you mean by forcing? The liberal government that preceded yours agreed to the quota in Brussels in 2015.

Morawiecki: You are right about that. But such important decisions that affect sovereignty, the defense of borders and protection from terrorism should not simply be pushed through via a majority votes in the European Council (the powerful EU body that represents the member state governments) and against the reservations in those societies. If a country is incapable of defending its borders, it should not turn it into everybody's problem.

DER SPIEGEL: By that, you mean Germany?

Morawiecki: Not only. I also want to enter a dialogue on this issue. We want to provide our contribution to refugee policies, and the problem can become significant again at any time. If, for example, Moscow further escalates the conflict in Ukraine. If a second Baltic Sea pipeline is built, as Germany desires, Russia will be able to deliver gas to the West without having to rely on any pipes that go through Ukraine. The country would then be entirely defenseless, and Russia could advance in the east even more aggressively. It could not be ruled out that there would suddenly be millions of refugees at the EU's eastern flank.

DER SPIEGEL: Can you understand that many Germans consider the Polish position to show a lack of solidarity? On the one hand, you have a Poland that profits from money sent by Brussels. On the other hand, it doesn't want to help in an emergency.

Morawiecki: At best, I can halfway understand it. Even German politicians, like (Foreign Minister) Sigmar Gabriel, for example, admit that the German economy also benefits from the EU structural aid provided to the new member states. Some 80 percent of the money flows to German companies because they are implementing EU-sponsored construction projects here. In Poland, we know very precisely what solidarity means. It is an important goal, but another is domestic security and policies that are independent and sovereign.

DER SPIEGEL: Is Germany still the most important partner in Europe for your government?

Morawiecki: Yes. There are tensions every now and then -- when, for example, a radical article is published here or there. But for me the glass is half full rather than half empty. I have long worked in the business sector and our economic ties are closer than ever. Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary have together become the most important export market for Germany, more important even than France. I want to support this development.

DER SPIEGEL: Poland disclaimed reparations payments from Germany in 1953 for the crimes committed during World War II. Now leading politicians in your party want to demand damages retroactively. What is your position?

Morawiecki: The Sejm (the Polish parliament) just agreed to do another precise calculation of the material damages and the loss of human life. So far, the Poles have received 1 percent of the compensation that citizens in the Western countries or Israel have received. Yet our losses as a share of the total population were the highest in the world.

DER SPIEGEL: Your government introduced a law that makes it a crime to use the term "Polish concentration camp" or statements that attribute any complicity by the Polish nation or government in the Nazi crimes. Is the penal code really the right way to fight historical misrepresentation and cluelessness?

Morawiecki: Yes. Germany and Israel also do this. You can be punished there for denying the Holocaust or incitement. Last year alone, Polish embassies intervened 250 times around the world because someone used the formulation "Polish death camp." Our Supreme Court is currently giving the law another review to determine if it contains any misleading wording.

DER SPIEGEL: But the plan has been strongly criticized by the Israeli side.

Morawiecki: We are explaining our position and I believe that the Israeli side is growing more understanding toward us. We are noticing that in diplomatic discussions and we are seeing increasingly friendly editorials in the press. Yes, we did have thousands of "Szmalcownicy," Poles who murdered Jews or betrayed them to the Nazis. At the same time, however, even in occupied Warsaw, hell on earth, 90,000 Catholic Poles helped their Jewish neighbors. The Polish underground state and the London exile government never collaborated with the Nazis. We support precise research into our history.

DER SPIEGEL: Most Germans understand why it is wrong to use the term "Polish concentration camp." Isn't your reaction a bit over the top? The term is usually used out of sloppiness and not because Germans want to relativize any guilt. Do you believe, like many of your compatriots, that the Germans don't want to take responsibility for the crimes of the Nazis?

Morawiecki: The recent statements by Chancellor Angela Merkel and Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, who have clearly admitted German guilt, show that there is much understanding for our position in Germany.

DER SPIEGEL: The greatest concern of most Poles is neighboring Russia. Vladimir Putin has clearly demonstrated his expansionist desires in Ukraine. At the same time, U.S. foreign policy vis-à-vis Moscow has become unpredictable. Has life become more dangerous in your region?

Morawiecki: We have to take this threat from the east very seriously. That is why we welcome joint defense efforts and perhaps it will even result in a joint army someday -- within the framework of NATO.

DER SPIEGEL: Do you feel that the European Union is watching Moscow closely enough?

Morawiecki: No, unfortunately I do not believe so. Russia is not only playing an ominous role in Ukraine, but also in Syria. We want to discuss the problem with the Germans, but also, of course, with France, a nuclear power. But let's not deceive ourselves: Although we don't know what policies the White House will choose, we are still under the Americans' umbrella. In that sense, the Germans are getting a free lunch -- they spend little but enjoy full protection. Of course, I do hope that we can come to agreement with the Russians in the future. At the moment, though, it is good to be strong militarily. That makes understanding easier.

DER SPIEGEL: Mr. Prime Minister, we thank you for this interview.

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« Reply #4367 on: Feb 23, 2018, 06:31 AM »

Robert Mueller files 32 new fraud charges against ex-Trump aides

The move marks the latest step in ratcheting up pressure on former Trump campaign aides Paul Manafort and Rick Gates

Julian Borger in Washington
Fri 23 Feb 2018 01.21 GMT

More than 30 new charges, involving millions of dollars of bank and tax fraud, were filed on Thursday against Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, and his business partner.

The 32 new charges were filed by Robert Mueller, the special prosecutor looking into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and a Russian intelligence operation to skew the 2016 presidential election.

The move marks the latest step in ratcheting up pressure on Manafort, and Rick Gates, his business partner who was deputy chairman of the Trump campaign. Gates has been reported to be negotiating a cooperation deal with Mueller’s office, which is in turn likely to significantly increase the pressure on Manafort to cooperate with Mueller’s investigation into collusion.

The new charges come on top of the original 12-count indictment of Manafort and Gates in October, which focused on money-laundering and failure to register as a foreign agent.

No trial date has yet been set for Manafort or Gates, and Manafort remains under house arrest, as the special counsel’s office has argued against his lawyers’ bail proposals, questioning the true value of his assets.

In a statement, Manafort’s spokesman reiterated his client’s innocence, adding: “The new allegations against Mr. Manafort, once again, have nothing to do with Russia and 2016 election interference/collusion. Mr. Manafort is confident that he will be acquitted and violations of his constitutional rights will be remedied.”

The new charge sheet portrays the two men as resorting to increasingly desperate efforts to keep money flowing to finance extravagant lifestyles, when contracts from their main clients, pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine, dried up after 2014, when the Moscow-backed president, Viktor Yanukovych fled to Russia.

Manafort and Gates are alleged to have used elaborate schemes, starting in 2006, to hide their Ukrainian income from US tax authorities, through offshore accounts, and describing cash transfers as loans.

After the Ukrainian funds evaporated, the two men are alleged to have falsified profit and loss and asset statements so that Manafort could convince banks to make loans based on collateral that either did not exist or was grossly exaggerated. The new loans were used as spending money or to pay off older loans that had fallen due.


No good options’: Morning Joe says Manafort and Flynn may be facing life in prison or Russian assassins

Travis Gettys
Raw Story
23 Feb 2018 at 08:21 ET                   

MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough explained how Paul Manafort finds himself facing no good options after another round of indictments were handed up against him in the special counsel probe.

Manafort and his longtime lieutenant Rick Gates were served Thursday with 32-count indictments on tax and bank fraud charges, in addition to previous indictments on money laundering and conspiracy charges.

That leaves the former Trump campaign chairman and his associate make a risky gamble on a presidential pardon, take their chances in court or face the music with the Russian oligarch they’re accused of defrauding.

“If the feds don’t send Manafort to jail for life, if the allegations are true, New York state will send him to jail for life because (special counsel Robert) Mueller is sharing information with New York state,” Scarborough said.

The “Morning Joe” host said Manafort and other top Trump campaign officials implicated in the probe — such as Mike Flynn, who has already pleaded guilty to lying to investigators and agreed to cooperate with Mueller — find themselves in an astonishingly bad situation.

“There’s a reason why the former national security advisor (Flynn) is saying, ‘I don’t want anybody’s help, I am Mueller’s guy,’ because he could face kidnapping charges out of Pennsylvania that would send him to jail for life,” Scarborough said. “There are no good options for these people.”

Even if Manafort manages to somehow escape prosecution, he may have made deadly enemies of his former clients in Russia and Ukraine.

“The only thing I can think is, Manafort doesn’t want to be killed by a Russian or people with connections to Russia,” Scarborough said. “He stole like $20 million from a Russian. Children, do not try that at home.”


Donald Trump has cheapened the whole idea of the presidency

History News Network
23 Feb 2018 at 13:46 ET                  

Presidents’ Week only serves to remind me that this is a very difficult time to be a presidential buff. I have been one since 1955 when President Eisenhower graciously responded to my “get well” letter following his heart attack. Not only did I receive a beautifully embossed card, which I actually thought he penned personally, but news of my card from the President was announced on the school “loudspeaker” as we called it back then.

After that I was hooked on presidents. All presidents. As evidence that my obsession never faded, I have so far passed it to my kids and grandkids. In fact, even I was surprised (and proud) when my then 8 year old grandson told me a couple of years ago, out of the blue, that he thought that “Jane Appleton Pierce” (the 14th first lady) had “such a sad life.”  The “Appleton” part astonished even me.

Naturally I have been to most of the presidential museums and libraries and have lots of presidential memorabilia around the house. Fortunately my wife has come to share my passion.

One might say that I love all presidents. But I don’t. I am a liberal Democrat and although my favorites includes a few Republicans, most are progressive Democrats like FDR, Clinton,JFK and Obama. But I am fascinated by them all and enjoyed my visit to the Coolidge homestead in Plymouth Notch, Vermont as much as I did the LBJ ranch in Johnson City, Texas.

That is until now.

For me, Donald Trump cheapens the whole idea of the presidency. No, not just his politics which I abhor, but no more than I did those of Reagan or George W. Bush.

For me, it Trump’s coarseness that demeans the presidency. I understand that some previous presidents used foul and ugly language. Certainly Richard Nixon did, as we know from the tapes, but never in public. He had no expectation that his tapes would ever come out and, if they hadn’t, we would have no first hand record of his manner of speaking. In public he was proper, even prim, and no one had to worry that the kids might be negatively influenced by seeing him on television.

Nixon, despite his colossal faults, respected the office he held, the office he had sought his entire adult life. He would not sully it, in public anyway. This is true, more or less, of every one of the 44 men who held the office (with the possible exception of Andrew Johnson, the president who most resembles Trump).

But Trump seems to have little if any respect for the office, demonstrated over and over again in his tweets. Particularly repellent is Trump’s endless vilification of whoever offends him at the moment. From Mexicans, to the disabled, to the family of a fallen Muslim soldier, to Democratic members of Congress, Trump’s spewing of hate, along with his endless mockery of those who merely disagree with him, slimes not just him but the presidency. As for his attacks on Hillary Clinton, there has not been a single previous president who relentlessly and personally attacked his opponent in the election that brought him to the presidency. Just suggesting the idea of President Eisenhower name-calling Adlai Stevenson or President Kennedy publicly obsessing on Richard Nixon or, President Nixon endlessly reviling Hubert Humphrey, is as absurd as is imagining any previous president constantly tweeting. No, they didn’t fail to tweet only because the technology didn’t exist. They would not have imagined setting U.S. policy in 280 character comic book word balloons.

Nonetheless, every one of our former presidents is retrospectively tainted by Trump’s presence in the office. After all, how literally awesome can the presidency be if Trump achieved it. Think about Theodore White’s classic history of JFK’s election, The Making of The President 1960. That book made for riveting reading decades after Kennedy’s presidency. How did this 42-year old Catholic do it? What brilliant political strategy, and personal qualities, brought him to the presidency? The same questions were addressed about the election of Barack Obama, the first African American president, and Ronald Reagan, who went from being a B actor to a very credible president.

These questions are no longer particularly interesting. Nor will they be after we elect the first woman, as exciting as that will be. After all, if Trump can be president, anyone can. That is if he is rich and a celebrity.

Of course, in the end, I won’t really give up my passion. I will just treat Trump as a terrible anomaly. Otherwise, how can I justify my upcoming trip to Lawnfield, the James Garfield National Historic Site in Ohio.

M.J. Rosenberg is a Washington D.C.-based writer, and worked for twenty years as a speechwriter and legislative aide at the House, Senate, and State Department.

This article was originally published at History News Network


The Second Amendment was ratified to preserve slavery

Thom Hartmann, AlterNet
22 Feb 2018 at 22:05 ET                  

The real reason the Second Amendment was ratified, and why it says “State” instead of “Country” (the Framers knew the difference – see the 10th Amendment), was to preserve the slave patrol militias in the southern states, which was necessary to get Virginia’s vote.  Founders Patrick Henry, George Mason, and James Madison were totally clear on that . . . and we all should be too.

In the beginning, there were the militias. In the South, they were also called the “slave patrols,” and they were regulated by the states.

In Georgia, for example, a generation before the American Revolution, laws were passed in 1755 and 1757 that required all plantation owners or their male white employees to be members of the Georgia Militia, and for those armed militia members to make monthly inspections of the quarters of all slaves in the state.  The law defined which counties had which armed militias and even required armed militia members to keep a keen eye out for slaves who may be planning uprisings.

As Dr. Carl T. Bogus wrote for the University of California Law Review in 1998, “The Georgia statutes required patrols, under the direction of commissioned militia officers, to examine every plantation each month and authorized them to search ‘all Negro Houses for offensive Weapons and Ammunition’ and to apprehend and give twenty lashes to any slave found outside plantation grounds.”

It’s the answer to the question raised by the character played by Leonardo DiCaprio in Django Unchained when he asks, “Why don’t they just rise up and kill the whites?”  If the movie were real, it would have been a purely rhetorical question, because every southerner of the era knew the simple answer: Well regulated militias kept the slaves in chains.

Sally E. Haden, in her book Slave Patrols: Law and Violence in Virginia and the Carolinas, notes that, “Although eligibility for the Militia seemed all-encompassing, not every middle-aged white male Virginian or Carolinian became a slave patroller.” There were exemptions so “men in critical professions” like judges, legislators and students could stay at their work.  Generally, though, she documents how most southern men between ages 18 and 45 – including physicians and ministers – had to serve on slave patrol in the militia at one time or another in their lives.

And slave rebellions were keeping the slave patrols busy.

By the time the Constitution was ratified, hundreds of substantial slave uprisings had occurred across the South.  Blacks outnumbered whites in large areas, and the state militias were used to both prevent and to put down slave uprisings.  As Dr. Bogus points out, slavery can only exist in the context of a police state, and the enforcement of that police state was the explicit job of the militias.

If the anti-slavery folks in the North had figured out a way to disband – or even move out of the state – those southern militias, the police state of the South would collapse.  And, similarly, if the North were to invite into military service the slaves of the South, then they could be emancipated, which would collapse the institution of slavery, and the southern economic and social systems, altogether.

These two possibilities worried southerners like James Monroe, George Mason (who owned over 300 slaves) and the southern Christian evangelical, Patrick Henry (who opposed slavery on principle, but also opposed freeing slaves).

Their main concern was that Article 1, Section 8 of the newly-proposed Constitution, which gave the federal government the power to raise and supervise a militia, could also allow that federal militia to subsume their state militias and change them from slavery-enforcing institutions into something that could even, one day, free the slaves.

This was not an imagined threat.  Famously, 12 years earlier, during the lead-up to the Revolutionary War, Lord Dunsmore offered freedom to slaves who could escape and join his forces.  “Liberty to Slaves” was stitched onto their jacket pocket flaps.  During the War, British General Henry Clinton extended the practice in 1779.  And numerous freed slaves served in General Washington’s army.

Thus, southern legislators and plantation owners lived not just in fear of their own slaves rebelling, but also in fear that their slaves could be emancipated through military service.

At the ratifying convention in Virginia in 1788, Henry laid it out:

“Let me here call your attention to that part [Article 1, Section 8 of the proposed Constitution] which gives the Congress power to provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining the militia, and for governing such part of them as may be employed in the service of the United States. . . .

“By this, sir, you see that their control over our last and best defence is unlimited. If they neglect or refuse to discipline or arm our militia, they will be useless: the states can do neither . . . this power being exclusively given to Congress. The power of appointing officers over men not disciplined or armed is ridiculous; so that this pretended little remains of power left to the states may, at the pleasure of Congress, be rendered nugatory.”

George Mason expressed a similar fear:

    “The militia may be here destroyed by that method which has been practised in other parts of the world before; that is, by rendering them useless, by disarming them. Under various pretences, Congress may neglect to provide for arming and disciplining the militia; and the state governments cannot do it, for Congress has an exclusive right to arm them [under this proposed Constitution] . . . “

Henry then bluntly laid it out:

    “If the country be invaded, a state may go to war, but cannot suppress [slave] insurrections [under this new Constitution]. If there should happen an insurrection of slaves, the country cannot be said to be invaded. They cannot, therefore, suppress it without the interposition of Congress . . . . Congress, and Congress only [under this new Constitution], can call forth the militia.”

And why was that such a concern for Patrick Henry?

“In this state,” he said, “there are two hundred and thirty-six thousand blacks, and there are many in several other states. But there are few or none in the Northern States. . . . May Congress not say, that every black man must fight? Did we not see a little of this last war? We were not so hard pushed as to make emancipation general; but acts of Assembly passed that every slave who would go to the army should be free.”

Patrick Henry was also convinced that the power over the various state militias given the federal government in the new Constitution could be used to strip the slave states of their slave-patrol militias.  He knew the majority attitude in the North opposed slavery, and he worried they’d use the Constitution to free the South’s slaves (a process then called “Manumission”).

The abolitionists would, he was certain, use that power (and, ironically, this is pretty much what Abraham Lincoln ended up doing):

    emphasis mine]: but no person religiously scrupulous of bearing arms, shall be compelled to render military service in person.”

But Henry, Mason and others wanted southern states to preserve their slave-patrol militias independent of the federal government.  So Madison changed the word “country” to the word “state,” and redrafted the Second Amendment into today’s form:

    “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State [emphasis mine], the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

Little did Madison realize that one day in the future weapons-manufacturing corporations, newly defined as “persons” by a Supreme Court some have called dysfunctional, would use his slave patrol militia amendment to protect their “right” to manufacture and sell assault weapons used to murder schoolchildren.

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« Reply #4368 on: Feb 24, 2018, 06:15 AM »

Bacterial sex: the promiscuous process driving antibiotic resistance

24 Feb 2018 at 07:31 ET

Formidable sexual promiscuity. That's not the teaser for a pornographic video but a serious health threat that humans face. It's the term microbiologists use to describe bacterial sex, the ancient process that contributes to the very modern scourge of antibiotic resistance, which could account for 10 million deaths a year by 2050.

Bacteria and fungi created natural antibiotics eons before drug companies turned them into medicines. To counter these natural microbe killers, bacteria and other microbes also created fiendishly effective antibiotic-resistance mechanisms long before humans started pumping antibiotics into humans and livestock. While overuse of antibiotics has been fingered as the driver of resistance to these drugs, the contribution of bacterial sex plays an underappreciated role, one that could bedevil efforts to fight antimicrobial resistance.

I'm a microbiologist by training, and I continue to be fascinated by all things microbial. For the past four years, I have been working on a biography of Esther Lederberg. With her husband, Joshua Lederberg, and their colleagues, she turned the light on bacterial sex 70 years ago, work that continues to inform our understanding of bacterial genetics and antimicrobial resistance today.

Before going further, a brief lesson from Genetics 101 may be helpful. In humans and other multicellular organisms, genes are largely confined to chromosomes which, in turn, are confined to the nucleus of each cell. Bacteria are different. They have no nucleus and their genes reside in two places: Most are located on the single, main chromosome; others sit outside the chromosome in small genetic elements called plasmids. These are cleverly designed to be shared with other bacteria.

Since the 1800s, scientists have known that bacteria reproduced by fission: A cell simply splits in two, resulting in two genetically identical daughter cells.

In 1946, Joshua Lederberg and Edward Tatum astonished the genetics world with their discovery that bacteria could exchange genes through a process now known as conjugation. It's really a form of bacterial sex which, oddly enough, is entirely separate from bacterial reproduction.

Conjugation occurs when two bacteria - a donor and a recipient - sidle up to each other. The donor creates a tube, called a pilus, that attaches to the recipient and pulls the two cells together. A plasmid from the donor passes to the recipient, providing the recipient with new genetic information. This process, also known as horizontal gene transfer, won Joshua Lederberg a share of the 1958 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine.

A year after the initial discovery of bacterial conjugation, Joshua Lederberg married Esther Zimmer, who had just earned a master's degree in genetics from Stanford University while working in Tatum's lab. The young Lederberg team - Joshua was 22 and Esther 24 - moved to the University of Wisconsin, where they began to explore the strange world of bacteria sex.

Esther Lederberg was an exceptionally talented bench scientist. Her remarkable powers of observation and creativity helped put bacterial genetics at the center of DNA research in the 1950s. One of her important findings led to the discovery of the fertility factor, which she called the F-factor. Its presence makes a bacterium a donor cell. F-factor was the first plasmid identified. Others soon followed, including the R-factor (R for resistance), which combines the F-factor and antibiotic resistance genes.

Esther Lederberg also discovered how viruses spread bacterial genes. One day in 1950, she observed that something seemed to have been nibbling at the edges of some of her bacterial colonies. She eventually identified the culprit: viruses hiding inside the chromosomes of their bacterial hosts. This kind of virus, known as a bacteriophage, is usually dormant. But when activated by some environmental stress, it emerges from dormancy, multiplies inside the bacterium, then erupts, killing its host and spewing copies of itself - along with some of the bacterial genes it had been hiding between - into the environment. These copies then infect nearby bacteria, and the cycle begins again. This process, known as specialized transduction, is another type of horizontal gene transfer.

The identification of F-factor and bacteriophages suggested a dynamic dimension to bacterial genetics.

Since the discovery of penicillin in 1928, more than 100 antimicrobial drugs have been developed. These drugs have saved countless lives. But they also have a dark side. The overuse of antibiotics has encouraged the emergence of terrifying, drug-resistant organisms, such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and other so-called superbugs.

An early indication that bacteria could develop resistance to antibiotics was seen in the aftermath of dysentery epidemics in Japan following World War II. Scientists assumed that the appearance of drug-resistant bacteria "was the result of a predictable process," wrote Tsutomu Watanabe, who communicated the Japanese findings to Western researchers in the 1960s.

The predictable process he was referring to is natural selection: Spontaneous genetic mutation conferring drug resistance occurs in a bacterium, and the resistant strain multiplies in the presence of the drug. But Watanabe and his colleagues uncovered another phenomenon at work. They demonstrated that the genes for antibiotic resistance were all transferred together and "at one stroke." They also concluded that the transfer of the resistance genes occurred within a patient's own intestinal tract, from harmless E. coli bacteria to Shigella, the pathogen that causes dysentery.

This finding indicated that, in the strange world of bacterial sex, there is no species barrier. To make matters worse, a bacterium that acquires resistance genes also acquires the F-factor, meaning it can turn around and spread those genes to others.

In my former life, I taught biology to high school students. The unit on genetics was a favorite because many students were curious to learn about heritable traits they got from their parents. But imagine an alternate reality in which human genetics was like bacterial genetics. Instead of being able to pass your genes only to your offspring, you could share them with family members or friends - or birds, for that matter - and acquire genes from them. This is the world bacteria live in. "They can exchange DNA as easily as we might exchange phone numbers, money, or ideas," wrote Ed Yong in his book, "I Contain Multitudes."

The discovery of bacterial sex provided useful tools for cloning genes and sequencing genomes. The recombinant DNA revolution represents the culmination of technological development that began with the Lederbergs' bacterial mating experiments. It was only later that researchers appreciated the natural role of bacterial sex in the dissemination of antibiotic resistance.

A modern outgrowth of the Lederbergs' legacy is the field of metagenomics, the study of microbial populations in their natural habitats. By applying new combinations of powerful DNA-based technologies, scientists can sample, sequence, and study entire microbial ecosystems at the genetic level. Recent studies have uncovered a vast reserve of antibiotic resistance genes throughout domestic and wild habitats. These studies suggest that antibiotic resistance genes are ancient and can be readily accessed by modern pathogens through bacterial sex.

To fight antimicrobial resistance, researchers are exploring strategies to inhibit bacterial conjugation. Some are looking at ways to block the enzymes needed to transfer plasmids. Some are trying to find ways to interfere with the construction of the pilis. Still others are trying to exploit natural mechanisms, such as restriction-modifying enzymes or CRISPR-Cas gene-editing systems, that bacteria use to defend against invading genomes.

Despite discoveries by the Lederbergs and others that bacteria have sophisticated ways to transfer genes and obtain new ones, clinical medicine and the pharmaceutical industry have only recently begun to appreciate the remarkable adaptability and genetic innovation that bacteria possess. As University of Chicago microbiologist James Shapiro once put it, "Bacteria do not have fixed specific genomes, but instead share a vast genome distributed across multiple cells and virus particles." In other words, beyond the threat of individual pathogenic, antimicrobial-resistant species lies a World Wide Web of sharable genetic information.

That's likely to complicate the fight against antimicrobial resistance. But it may also offer strategies for preventing the emergence of new superbugs.

T.E. Schindler is a science writer with a background in microbiology research, biotechnology, and education.

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« Reply #4369 on: Feb 24, 2018, 06:16 AM »

Norway to spend $13 million to upgrade ‘doomsday’ Arctic seed vault

24 Feb 2018 at 13:51 ET                   

Norway plans to spend 100 million Norwegian crowns ($13 million) to upgrade a doomsday seed vault on an Arctic island built 10 years ago to protect the world’s food supplies, the government said on Friday.

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is meant as a natural deep freeze to back up the world’s gene banks in case of disasters ranging from nuclear war to global warming. It has about 900,000 seed samples.

The revamp would cover “construction of a new, concrete-built access tunnel, as well as a service building to house emergency power and refrigerating units and other electrical equipment that emits heat through the tunnel,” the Agriculture Ministry said in a statement.

An unexpected thaw of permafrost meant some water flowed into the entrance of the tunnel to the vault in late 2016. A decade ago, Norway said that it had cost $9 million to build the facility.

In 2015, researchers made a first withdrawal from the vault after Syria’s civil war damaged a seed bank near the Syrian city of Aleppo. The seeds were grown and re-deposited at the Svalbard vault last year.

“This demonstrates that the seed vault is a worldwide insurance for food supply for future generations,” Agriculture Minister Jon Georg Dale said in a statement.

($1 = 7.8579 Norwegian crowns)

(Reporting by Alister Doyle; editing by Mark Heinrich)

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« Reply #4370 on: Feb 24, 2018, 06:21 AM »

For the first time, scientists directly observe how Northern Lights are formed

ZME Science
24 Feb 2018 at 09:06 ET

With the advent of new satellite technology, researchers have confirmed the theories behind this impressive phenomenon.

When it comes to natural shows, it doesn't get much better than the Northern Lights. This dazzling light show was admired by humans since the beginning of time, but scientists still haven't been able to fully confirm theories about its formation - until now. For the first time, geophysicists at the University of Tokyo have directly observed the underlying mechanisms causing the Northern Lights, thereby confirming long-held theories about their formation.

    "Auroral substorms … are caused by global reconfiguration in the magnetosphere, which releases stored solar wind energy," writes lead author Satoshi Kasahara, an associate professor in the Department of Earth and Planetary Science at the Graduate School of Science of the University of Tokyo in Japan, the lead author of the paper. "They are characterized by auroral brightening from dusk to midnight, followed by violent motions of distinct auroral arcs that eventually break up, and emerge as diffuse, pulsating auroral patches at dawn."

The spectacular light show starts with a type of plasma wave called chorus waves. The magnetic reconfiguration can cause these chorus waves to rain electrons into the upper atmosphere. This balances the system, but in the process, gives off colorful lights as electrons fall into the atmosphere.

The scattered electrons precipitate into the atmosphere resulting in auroral illumination. Intermittent occurrence of chorus waves and associated electron scattering leads to auroral pulsation. Image credits: The 2018 ERG science team.

It's been the leading theory for sometime, but there were still question about whether these chorus waves have enough energy to produce the auroras. Now, researchers have finally caught them in the act.

    "We, for the first time, directly observed scattering of electrons by chorus waves generating particle precipitation into the Earth's atmosphere," Kasahara said. "The precipitating electron flux was sufficiently intense to generate pulsating aurora."

They were able to observe this phenomenon thanks to a new type of equipment. Generally, electron sensors cannot distinguish the precipitating electrons of other types, so Kasahara and his team developed a new sensor that can observe the interactions between electrons and chorus waves. The sensor was fitted aboard the Exploration of energization and Radiation in Geospace (ERG) satellite launched by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency in December 2016.

A full understanding of all the physical processes involved in the creation of different types of auroras is still incomplete, but the pieces are starting to fall into place. Researchers will now use the ERG satellite to understand other phenomena associated with the magnetosphere.

Journal Reference: S. Kasahara at al. Pulsating aurora from electron scattering by chorus waves. Nature, 2018; 554 (7692): 337 DOI: 10.1038/nature25505

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« Reply #4371 on: Feb 24, 2018, 06:25 AM »

Debt for dolphins: Seychelles creates huge marine parks in world-first finance scheme

An innovative exchange of sovereign debt for marine conservation, backed by the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio, could pave the way to saving large swaths of the world’s oceans

Damian Carrington in the Seychelles
24 Feb 2018 12.00 GMT

The tropical island nation of Seychelles is to create two huge new marine parks in return for a large amount of its national debt being written off, in the first scheme of its kind in the world.

The novel financial engineering, effectively swapping debt for dolphins and other marine life, aims to throw a lifeline to corals, tuna and turtles being caught in a storm of overfishing and climate change. If it works, it will also secure the economic future of the nation, which depends entirely on tourism and fishing. With other ocean states lining up to follow, the approach could transform large swaths of the planet’s troubled seas.

The challenge for the Seychelles is clear on the coral reef fringing Curieuse Island, once a leper colony and now a national park. The mass bleaching caused by warming waters in 2016 has left the white limbs of branching corals lying like bones in a ploughed graveyard, with rare flashes of the cobalt-blue coral survivors.

“The biggest changes are climate change,” says David Rowat, a marine scientist and diving school owner for 30 years, who says storms and bleaching events are becoming more frequent. Some clownfish have never returned since the major bleaching in 1998, he says: “The ‘nemos’ all went.” As the reef recovered, the 2016 bleaching was a “kick in the teeth”, Rowat says.

Overfishing, and the killing of dolphins, sharks and turtles as bycatch in tuna nets, is also taking its toll across the Seychelles’ vast ocean territory. The new marine plan bans fishing around biodiversity hotspots, keeping them healthy and better able to resist climate change.

The biodiversity jewel in the Seychelles crown is the Aldabra archipelago, which rivals the Galapagos in ecological importance. Spinner dolphins, manta rays, humpback whales and nurse, lemon and tiger sharks share the waters with hawksbill and green turtles, and seabirds from some of the world’s largest colonies soar above. Dugongs - or sea cows - are the most endangered species in the Indian Ocean and shelter here, while 100,000 rare giant tortoises slowly roam the land.

The new protected area around Aldabra is 74,000 square kilometres - almost the size of Scotland - and bans all extractive uses, from fishing to oil exploitation. The second new protected area is 134,000 sq km, centred on the main Seychelles island of Mahe. It allows controlled activities but is, for example, banning “fish aggregating devices” – rafts that concentrate fish but drive up bycatch.

Together, the parks cover 15% of the Seychelles ocean and the government will double this by 2021, putting it far ahead of an international target of 10% by 2020. The parks resulted from the first ever debt-swap deal for marine protection in which $22m of national debt owed to the UK, France, Belgium and Italy was bought at a discount by The Nature Conservancy (TNC), the NGO that has assisted the Seychelles.

TNC also raised $5m from donors to pay off part of the debt and cut the interest rate charged to the Seychelles government on the outstanding loan. This has freed up $12m over the next 20 years to help implement the new marine plan.

“The Seychelles is positioning itself as a world leader in ocean governance,” says environment minister, Didier Dogley. “But we are not doing this because we have such a great ego but because we truly believe these initiatives will create prosperity for our people, conserve critical biodiversity and build resilience against climate change.”

Leonardo DiCaprio, whose foundation donated $1m towards funding the debt swap, said: “These protections mean that all species living in these waters or migrating through them are now far better shielded from overfishing, pollution, and climate change.”

Benoît Bosquet, environment practice manager at the World Bank, which is not involved in the Seychelles marine plan, said: “They are a leader in this field worldwide and may be an example for many other countries.”

However, despite the biggest consultation since the Seychelles nation was founded, some islanders have not welcomed the new plan. On Praslin island, as he unloads his catch of job fish and white spotted snappers onto Grande Anse beach, fisherman Richard Bossy, says: “We are worried. They want to make a lot of regulated areas where we can’t fish. Fishing is already harder and we are going to lose a lot. If there is not enough enforcement, it will never be implemented.”

Leroy Lesperance, who charters glass-bottomed and game-fishing boats to tourists on Praslin, is also sceptical the plan will become a reality: “I am 44 and I have heard this talk since I was at school.”

But others have bought into the idea, including Graham Green, a young fisherman at Baie St Anne on Praslin: “If the fish are protected where they are spawning, I’ve heard they will get bigger. We need to do it if we are going to be catching fish in 20 years.”

Green expects the benefits will take perhaps five-10 years to be realised, but sees it as an investment: “You couldn’t start a business today and be a millionaire tomorrow - if you could everyone would be a millionaire.”

Another challenge to the marine plan is a controversial new military base planned for the island of Assumption, about 20 miles from the Aldabra atoll and to be paid for by India. One well-informed source, who asked for anonymity, told the Guardian: “I am worried that it could damage the biodiversity of Aldabra. We are talking about big ships coming in to berth.” That implies pollution and the dredging of channels, which can cover corals in silt, he says.

“The Assumption saga will certainly test the credibility of the marine spatial plan process,” says Keith Andre, from the Fisherman and Boat Owners Association.

But Seychelles vice-president, Vincent Meriton, says the military base will have to pass environmental assessments and will actually benefit protection, by enabling better surveillance around the isolated Aldabra archipelago: “This facility will allow us to better monitor. It augurs well.”

Meriton also says the Seychelles will need to use new satellite surveillance programmes that use machine learning algorithms to detect the tell-tale movement patterns of fishing boats, already in use in some parts of the Pacific.

Oil exploration is another dilemma for the Seychelles, which could be sitting on “world-class” reserves, according to Patrick Joseph, CEO of PetroSeychelles, a state-owned company. It has given up some high-priority prospects, such as the Wilkes seamount which is now in the Aldabra protection zone.

But, pointing to the revisions to the plan expected every five years, he says: “If the price of oil goes a bit higher, there will be companies drilling here in the Seychelles.” Andre, pointing to the possibility of seismic surveys in the protected zone around Aldabra, says: “The nature and impacts of these activities contradicts the authenticity of the entire process.”

Many of the details of exactly what is allowed in the protected zones could not be finalised until the areas were selected and are still being worked out, meaning many difficult negotiations still lie ahead. “It is a chicken and egg situation,” says Helena Sims, TNC’s project manager in the Seychelles. “But we have built trust from the bottom up and if we keep that and are transparent I am positive our targets can be met.”

The Seychelles debt swap is a vital test case for this new way of funding ocean conservation. Rob Weary at TNC did the deal and expects to close a $60m debt swap deal with Grenada this year and a series of others in the Caribbean in the next couple of years. Mauritius also has serious interest.

Despite the election of Donald Trump scuppering for now planned swaps of US debt for Palau and the Marshall Islands in the Pacific, Weary is confident debt swaps for marine conservation are going to grow: “In the next three to five years we could potentially do a billion dollars of these deals. We have a sight line to that.”

“All eyes are on us to see whether it works,” says Sims. The Seychelles, which is 99% ocean, will have gone from 0.04% to 30% protected area in a few years if it does.

Questions, such as oil exploration, remain. But environment minister Dogley says: “We don’t have answers for everything now but the marine spatial plan has started the process of thinking about these things - before we were not. The debt swap triggered everything.”

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« Reply #4372 on: Feb 24, 2018, 06:28 AM »

US court blocks Trump administration from ending oil, gas waste rule

24 Feb 2018 at 11:04 ET                   

A U.S. court temporarily blocked the Trump administration from delaying or ending an Obama-era rule aimed at preventing oil and gas leaks during production, according to court documents, marking the fourth time either Congress or the courts have upheld the rule’s implementation.

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, in an order filed on Thursday, granted the states of California and New Mexico’s bid for a preliminary injunction and denied the administration’s request to move the trial to another court venue in Wyoming.

Its decision was part of a lawsuit filed by the two western U.S. states against U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and the Bureau of Land Management in a case that was combined with another filed by a coalition of 17 groups, including the Sierra Club environmental advocacy organization and several tribal groups.

The rule, finalized in November 2016, took effect in January 2017 and was aimed at reducing leaks of natural gas, or methane, that happen through venting and flaring during oil production on federal land. The Obama administration said that venting of methane cost taxpayers over $330 million a year in lost revenues from natural gas.

In his ruling, U.S. District Judge William Orrick said he granted the request for an injunction given that the bureau’s “reasoning behind the Suspension Rule is untethered to evidence contradicting the reasons for implementing the Waste Prevention Rule,” adding that the plaintiffs were likely to prevail on the merits of their case.

“They have shown irreparable injury caused by the waste of publicly owned natural gas, increased air pollution and associated health impacts, and exacerbated climate impacts,” the judge wrote in his decision.

Orrick also said the lawsuits addressed the administration’s “alleged failure to justify a different rule,” not the substance of the rule that is part of other legal issues before the U.S. District Court of Wyoming. The Wyoming court has separately denied an injunction to block the rule.

Additionally, an attempt by lawmakers in Congress to invalidate the rule failed to secure enough votes last May. In October, another California court also overturned the Interior Department’s decision to suspend the methane waste rule.

Representatives for the Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Land Management could not be immediately reached for comment.

The Environmental Defense Fund, one of the advocacy groups suing the administration over the issue, said the move leaves current regulations under the Waste Prevention, Production Subject to Royalties, and Resource Conservation Rule in place.

“The protections restored by today’s decision will help to prevent the waste of natural gas, reduce harmful methane, smog-forming and toxic pollution, and ensure communities and tribes have royalty money that can be used to construct roads and schools,” the group’s lead attorney, Peter Zalzal, said.

(Writing by Susan Heavey and Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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« Reply #4373 on: Feb 24, 2018, 06:32 AM »

Britain and Europe must ban palm oil in biofuel to save forests, EU parliament told

Forest peoples affected by plantations urge EU to enact ban despite diplomatic opposition

Jonathan Watts
24 Feb 2018 01.04 GMT

If Britain and other European nations are to fulfil forest protection goals, they must ban the use of palm oil for biofuel and tighten oversight of supply chains, a delegation of forest peoples told parliamentarians this week.

The call for urgent, concrete action comes amid an increasingly heated diplomatic row over the issue between the EU and the governments of major palm-producing nations such as Indonesia, Malaysia and Costa Rica.

The European parliament voted last April to prohibit sales of biofuels made from vegetable oils by 2020 in order to meet its climate goals. This was followed by a related vote last month. Whether and how this might be implemented is now being considered by the European Commission and member states.

The pushback has been strong, particularly in south-east Asia, the origin of 90% of the world’s palm oil exports, which is used in hundreds of supermarket products. Palm oil can also be blended with diesel to power engines, which is what the ban would halt.

Influential politicians in these countries, many of whom are closely linked to the industry, accuse the EU of trade protectionism, colonial thinking and undermining poverty reduction efforts. Malaysia’s plantations minister described the proposed ban as “crop apartheid.”

But indigenous and other communities who are negatively affected by the plantations urge the EU to push ahead with the ban and to go further by tightening other supply chain controls to prevent damage to their land, rights and environment.

Franky Samperante, a founder of the indigenous peoples’ organisation Pusaka, said the Indonesian government had granted concessions to more than 50 companies to open plantations on 1.2m hectares of land claimed by local communities. For him, any palm oil from this area should be considered a conflict product and prohibited from sale in Europe.

“There should be sanctions. If not, there is no point,” he said.

Samperante is part of a group of 14 forest peoples representatives from 11 nations in Asia, Africa and Latin America visiting Europe this week to lobby for a new action plan on sustainable supply chains.

The delegation proposed concrete steps, including for European nations to establish sustainable trade ombudsmen to look into reports of human rights and environmental violations, and for companies to adopt binding human rights policies rather than voluntary actions. Their call was supported by a coalition of environmental NGOs including the Forest People’s Programme, Global Witness, Greenpeace, WWF and the Environmental Investigation Agency.

Tom Griffiths, the author of a report on rights and deforestation, said lofty goals to protect forests were being undermined by a failure to protect the rights of those who live in them.

“There are so many pledges and commitments by companies and government that sound good on paper, but the reality on the ground is starkly different,” he said. “At the meetings this we, they are all saying close the gap.”

Their recommendations will be presented at a multilateral meeting in Paris in June, when the French president, Emmanuel Macron, is expected to launch his strategy for “deforestation-free trade”

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« Reply #4374 on: Feb 24, 2018, 06:40 AM »

Risky relationships: why women are more likely to die of a broken heart

In her new book, heart surgeon Dr Nikki Stamp explores how modern medicine is only beginning to understand the connection between body and emotion

Bri Lee
24 Feb 2018 23.41 GMT

Takotsubo cardiomyopathy – commonly known as broken heart syndrome – is rare but real. As a heart and lung surgeon, Dr Nikki Stamp has seen a few cases herself, and the phenomenon provides a compelling opening chapter to her first book, Can You Die of a Broken Heart? The title reminds us of when Debbie Reynolds died “of a broken heart” the day after her daughter, Carrie Fisher, passed away in 2016, but this book rises far above the online pseudoscience accompanying those reports. It is possible to be so affected by grief or shock that a predisposed heart simply cannot cope, and Stamp uses this as an opener to explore the myriad ways modern medicine is only recently understanding (and admitting) to the connection between body and emotion.

“We’ve sort of come full circle in terms of emotion and health,” Stamp says. “When early physicians were discovering organs and the body, they actually thought the heart was the centre of emotion, because it was warm and hot and that’s where the idea of being ‘hot-blooded’ came from. And then we got kind of cold and clinical; that your emotions come from the brain, that your emotional state has nothing to do with your physical state, and now we’ve come full circle and we’re starting to encompass a more holistic view of health.”

Relationships are a great example. “There is a trend to suggest that the risk of dying is higher after the loss of someone important and close to you,” Stamp says. Conversely, she says, both romantic and platonic relationships are hugely beneficial. “There’s a lot of positive physiology and positive actions that happen in the body when you’re in a relationship. When you have social connection and emotional connection, it seems that our brains recognise that as something that means you’re healthy.”

Good hormones such as serotonin and oxytocin flood the body, preventing inflammation and assisting with blood flow.

The book doesn’t sugarcoat the risks of relationships though, and the section about divorce is sobering. One study Stamp notes in the book showed that pain centres in the brain lit up when people were shown photos of their ex-partners, and of course pain and stress have negative effects on the heart.

    One of the sad inevitabilities of life is that heartbreak is going to happen to all of us at some point
    Dr Nikki Stamp

“It’s interesting because we’ve come to a point in culture and in society where we’re socially more accepting of divorce, yet it still has this profound effect on our health,” Stamp says. Divorce puts women under significantly more physiological strain than men, research reveals. When men remarry, their risk of heart attack drops again, but Stamp writes that, for women, divorce means a rewriting of their health prospectus forever: “The risks posed by divorce to a woman’s heart health is on a similar level to that of high blood pressure or smoking.” Men married to women, on the other hand, are significantly less likely to have heart attacks in the first place and those who do recover from them much faster than single men or women married to men.

The gendered issues inherent in heart health don’t end there either. In fact, Stamp says one of the reasons she started writing Can You Die of a Broken Heart? was because of how “scary and frustrating” it was that “women don’t identify with heart disease” despite it being the No 1 cause of death in Australian women. The book explains: “If you’re a woman under 50 years of age and you have a heart attack, then you are twice as likely to die than a man in the same boat.” Why? A contributing factor is the dearth of resources put into women’s heart health because most of the research has been done “by men, on men”.

Stamp – who is often mistaken for a nurse and referred to by her first name where her male colleagues are addressed with titles – explains that gendered issues in the industry affect medicine itself. “Women in academic medicine or even in higher levels of medical research in general are quite underrepresented. And whether we like it or not, we all have a bias towards looking at things that are more pertinent to ourselves,” she says. “So, with all of that, we’re only just now learning about both the biological and social differences between men’s and women’s hearts. And because of that, the knowledge isn’t there among healthcare practitioners, and so we don’t know what to look out for and we dismiss symptoms. Women don’t want to seem silly and then they go to their healthcare expert, a doctor or nurse, and they dismiss it as well because the symptoms are strange or because women are more likely to be perceived as being anxious. It’s just this storm of complications that mean that women’s hearts are so much more at risk.”

The most affecting thing about the book is Stamp’s infectious admiration for the organ. She describes how “breathtaking” it was the first time she saw a heart beating inside a chest as though it were love at first sight. Her book is peppered with compelling anecdotes from her professional adventures (when one patient threw a table at her, she responded, “No judgment there: grief is a nasty piece of work”). “A lot of health books seem quite prescriptive and almost paternalistic. I didn’t want to write something like that,” Stamp says. In the introduction we learn that “the very human side of what it is to care for another person” is what got her “into” medicine, and it shows. One patient’s heart surgery was put on hold so she could marry the love of her life right there in the ward. “Two days after her wedding she was wheeled down the same corridor to the operating theatre.”

Stamp admits that knowing the effect of heartbreak on her heart hasn’t made her superhuman. “At times when I was researching this book and learning about the effects of heartbreak it just sort of made me cross at the people who had broken my heart all over again,” she says, laughing, “But I think I muddle through. One of the sad inevitabilities of life is that heartbreak is going to happen to all of us at some point in time and I just hope that if and when it happens again that I do remember some of this stuff and that I might muddle my way through it just a little bit better.”

• Can You Die of a Broken Heart? by Dr Nikki Stamp is out now through Murdoch Books

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« Reply #4375 on: Feb 24, 2018, 06:44 AM »

A Recovering Sex and Porn Addict Tells All

FEB. 24, 2018
NY Times   

Is sex addiction real? I was never particularly convinced, until one afternoon spent in a dark theater in Si Racha, Thailand, changed my mind. It was the spring of 2014, and the movie onscreen was called “Thanks for Sharing.” It starred Mark Ruffalo, Pink and others as addicts fighting to maintain sobriety — from pornography, from masturbation, from intercourse before commitment. They attend 12-step groups; they have televisions removed from business trip hotel rooms so pay-per-view won’t tempt them; they struggle for intimacy. They relapse (they hole up and order hookers); then they find strength anew and start counting days again.

I was overseas at a place called Hope Rehab, receiving my own treatment for what was, in my mind back then anyway, a much more “normal” addiction to prescription drugs; the excursion to the cinema was a field trip. My dates for the flick were other clients: a whole row of junkies, alcoholics and even one video game addict from Australia. In the car ride back to campus, we all agreed: It was an interesting movie — an educational movie — and we were glad to have seen it.

“Getting Off,” the debut book by the 35-year-old Mexican-American essayist Erica Garza, is comparably affecting. The memoir shines light on the lonely (albeit impressively multi-orgasmic) world of a woman who binges not on food or pills, but on hookups and “getting off.” Oh, and porn. Lots of porn. Teenage-cheerleader-and-her-stepdad-on-the-kitchen-counter porn. Wasted-girls-getting-walked-around-on-leashes-at-parties porn. “Bukkake” porn. You get the idea.

Garza, a native of Montebello, Calif. (“the Mexican Beverly Hills”), holds a swaggy M.F.A. in nonfiction writing from Columbia, but her prose is appealingly no-frills and accessible. She writes in the style of one who knows better than to linger too long on the eroticism of her memories — one who has learned the hard way how crucial it is to keep dangerous rushes of euphoric recall in check. She recalls, flatly but in explicit detail, a tequila-ridden sexual episode with a Colombian waiter named Andres while on a trip to Hawaii — despite being in a committed relationship with another man back home in New York. Such boudoir scenes abound in this book, and they are both good and mercifully brief. She beds dudes all over the world (naturally, the S.T.D. that pops up on Page 123 is only her first): Los Angeles, London, Paris, Bali and Shanghai. But these encounters are not without their consequences for her, emotionally. “The adrenaline racing through my body made me feel invincible at the time,” she writes. “And the shame I felt afterward was even better.”

As a narrator, Garza is a master of identifying such dark, postcoital feelings as these. She wallows in the aftermath of sex with a gnarly older man (also in Hawaii), an act she has engaged in not because she wanted to, really, but because he has given her free dinners at his restaurant. “Keeping my eyes on the red taillights of some distant car ahead, I felt the erotic thrill of that moment with Luc slowly drain from my system, leaving behind a big black hole.” We’ve all been there, and in reading Garza’s insight into her own experiences, we better understand ourselves.

“This disease is a … bitch,” Tim Robbins’s character tells Ruffalo’s in “Thanks for Sharing.” He gestures at his crotch. “It’s like trying to quit crack while the pipe is attached to your body.” When Garza — at last humbled, exhausted by years of compulsion and spiritual disease — finally makes moves to get it together, the road isn’t easy. For the person in recovery, triggers are everywhere, even Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous sessions. (“I came so hard I thought my heart would explode,” she writes of one post-meeting masturbation session. “Afterward, I crawled under the covers and cried.”) But the strong final chapters, sublimely set in Southeast Asia, are both inspirational and, dare I say it, still pretty kinky. God bless a lost person who has found her way. Thanks for sharing, Erica.

GETTING OFF: One Woman’s Journey Through Sex and Porn Addiction
By Erica Garza
210 pp. Simon & Schuster. $26.

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« Reply #4376 on: Feb 24, 2018, 06:52 AM »

Ex-Trump chair Paul Manafort vows to fight 'untrue' charges as Gates cuts plea deal

Defiant Manafort says ‘I had hoped my business colleague would have had the strength to continue the battle to prove our innocence’   

Tom McCarthy and agencies
24 Feb 2018 22.09 GMT

Former Donald Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort protested his innocence and vowed on Friday to fight numerous federal felony charges against him, after his former colleague and confidante Rick Gates cut a plea deal with special counsel Robert Mueller.

Gates pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy and making false statements in a federal courthouse in Washington and agreed to cooperate with Mueller’s team.

The development seemed to represent clear and present danger for Manafort, whom Gates was accused of helping to launder $30m in corrupt payments from the former Soviet bloc through secret offshore bank accounts.

Deepening Manafort’s trouble, new charges against him came to light late on Friday, alleging that he and Gates used millions from secret offshore accounts to pay senior European lawmakers to lobby US lawmakers on behalf of a Ukrainian client. The Europeans did not disclose the payments to US officials.

In a statement released by a spokesman immediately upon the Gates plea, Manafort vowed to fight on.

“Notwithstanding that Rick Gates pled today, I continue to maintain my innocence,” Manafort said. “I had hoped and expected my business colleague would have had the strength to continue the battle to prove our innocence. For reasons yet to surface he chose to do otherwise.

“This does not alter my commitment to defend myself against the untrue piled-up charges contained in the indictments against me.”

Last October, Gates and Manafort pleaded not guilty to 12 felony charges brought by Mueller, including a conspiracy to launder money and serving as unregistered foreign agents.

On Thursday new criminal charges against the pair were unsealed, including tax fraud and bank fraud.

Gates became the third known former Trump aide to plead guilty to making false statements in the course of the Mueller investigation into Russian meddling in the US presidential election. He was preceded by former national security adviser Michael Flynn and foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos.

The cooperation of Gates with Mueller could also create new problems for Trump and his family, who have been caught up in the investigation by Mueller of Russian election tampering.

Trump has attempted to distance himself from both Gates and Manafort, whose role in the presidential campaign he has downplayed.

Manafort worked for the Trump campaign from March 2016 and was campaign manager from June to August that year.

Gates was the Trump campaign’s liaison to the Republican National Committee and a member of the presidential transition team.

On Friday Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee, which is investigating alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, said Gates was “in a position to observe the inner workings of the campaign at its most senior level” and “could prove a key source of information”.

Gates, 45, was Manafort’s protege and partner in a political consultancy business in the former Soviet bloc, with a focus in Ukraine. Gates was actively involved in a campaign to boost the image and fortunes of Viktor Yanukovych, the pro-Kremlin former Ukrainian president.

That work brought in $17m for Manafort’s lobbying firm between 2012 and 2014, payments that were not disclosed until last year after Mueller’s probe into their business was well under way.

After Trump fired Manafort in August 2016, Gates continued to work for the campaign.

The known charges against Manafort and Gates do not appear to relate directly to their work on the Trump campaign.

Manafort, who is preparing for trial, could now come under more pressure to seek a plea deal. Such deals involve promises to cooperate with an investigation in exchange for more lenient sentences. Any deal for Gates, who has a young family, would limit his risk of lengthy prison time. A “status report with regard to sentencing” was set for 14 May.

The New York Times and ABC News first reported that Gates was expected to plead guilty, sourcing their reports to unidentified people familiar with the plea agreement.


North Korea sanctions: Donald Trump announces 'largest ever' package

Measures aim to cut off sources of revenue for nuclear program, according to excerpts of plan released by White House

Julian Borger in Washington
24 Feb 2018 20.52 GMT

Donald Trump announced on Friday a new package of measures against North Korea aimed at cutting off smuggling routes and warning that if sanctions fail, the next phase would be “very unfortunate for the world”.

The new US sanctions are aimed at ships and trading companies around the world being used to smuggle oil into North Korea, and coal and other products out of the embattled nation, in defiance of a UN-imposed embargo. The US and its allies believe the smuggling allows the regime to continue to finance its nuclear weapon and missile programs.

Asked what the US would do if the new measures fail to stop those programs, Trump replied: “We’ll have to see. If the sanctions don’t work we’ll have to go phase two. Phase two may be a very rough thing. It may be very, very unfortunate for the world.”

“It really is a rogue nation,” the president told reporters at a joint appearance with the Australian prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull. “If we can make a deal it will be a great thing. If we can’t, something will have to happen.”

Earlier in the day, Trump used a speech at a conservative conference to announce the package of new US measures which target over 50 vessels, shipping and trading companies that the US say have been helping North Korea evade international sanctions.

“Today I am announcing that we are launching the largest-ever set of new sanctions on the North Korean regime,” Trump was to say, according to excerpts of a speech released by the White House before his address to a conservative conference.

He said the treasury department “will soon be taking action to further cut off sources of revenue and fuel that North Korea uses to fund its nuclear program and sustain its military”.

The Trump administration scored its greatest diplomatic victory so far in September by persuading the UN security council to impose its strongest sanctions to date on the Pyongyang regime in response to its sixth nuclear test and a series of long range missile tests.

Those sanctions included a cap on North Korean oil imports. However, since then, western intelligence sources have reported a string of ship-to-ship transfers of fuel in international waters by sanctions-busting ships.

The new sanctions designate 28 ships and 27 entities located, registered or flagged in North Korea, China, Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, the Marshall Islands, Tanzania, Panama, and the Comoros.

One individual was also sanctioned – the Taiwanese businessman Tsang Yung Yuan, who, the US treasury alleges, has been coordinating illicit North Korean coal exports with a Russian-based North Korean broker.

However, no Russian ships or entities have been sanctioned in the new set of measures, despite reports in December that Russian ships had been involved in illegal ship-to-ship fuel transfers.

Administration officials said Russian entities had been targeted on previous occasions for sanctions-busting over North Korea, and could be again.

“We have been in very close discussions with the Russians about sanctions and sanctions impliementation,” a senior administration official said. “It is an ongoing process.”

“The treasury is aggressively targeting all illicit avenues used by North Korea to evade sanctions, including taking decisive action to block the vessels, shipping companies, and entities across the globe that work on North Korea’s behalf,” the treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, said.

“The president has made it clear to companies worldwide that if they choose to help fund North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, they will not do business with the United States.”

The new US measures include a worldwide shipping advisory to alert other governments and companies about the ruses the North Korean regime uses to disguise its identity when buying and selling materials, including false flags and painting over the names of ships.

“Each vessel has an underlying support structure and out goal is to dismantle these structures,” a senior administration official said.


You have to be kidding ....... Ivanka Trump calls for ?

Ivanka Trump calls for 'maximum pressure' on North Korea

Experts say North’s diplomatic overtures aimed at driving a wedge between Washington and Seoul

Benjamin Haas in Pyeongchang
Sat 24 Feb 2018 03.59 GMT

Ivanka Trump is leading a US delegation to the Winter Olympics in South Korea in an effort to show a softer side of US diplomacy on the peninsula while calling for maximum pressure to be put on North Korea.

Trump watched snowboarding events in Pyeongchang with South Korea’s first lady, Kim Jung-sook, and foreign minister Kang Kyung-wha. Wearing a Team USA hat and red snowsuit, she captured the attention of local media. Her trip comes less than two weeks after Kim Yo-jong, Kim Jong-un’s younger sister, visited the South and largely overshadowed US vice president Mike Pence.

“We cannot have a better, or smarter, person representing our country,” Donald Trump said in an early morning tweet.

At a dinner on Friday, Ivanka Trump’s message of “maximum pressure” seemed to clash with South Korean president Moon Jae-in’s strategy of denuclearisation through dialogue. Experts have said the North’s recent diplomatic overtures are aimed at driving a wedge between Washington and Seoul, and the mixed messages suggested there may be tension between the allies.

“Active dialogue is being held between the South and the North amid the North’s participation in the Olympics,” Moon said, according to the Yonhap news agency. “This is greatly contributing to easing tension on the Korean Peninsula and improving the South-North relationship.”

Friday’s meal featured “Korean food designed to be palatable for foreigners” including bibimbap, a rice dish topped with various vegetables and meat “that mixes different ingredients evenly and symbolises harmony”, according to the presidential Blue House. Moon has rolled out the red carpet for Trump, who is an adviser to her father.

“I thank you for hosting us all here tonight as we reaffirm our bonds of friendship, of cooperation, of partnership and reaffirm our commitment to our maximum pressure campaign to ensure that the Korean Peninsula is denuclearised,” she said.

As Trump landed in Seoul, the US announced a new round of sanctions against Pyongyang in an effort to curb the country’s nuclear and missile programs. The measures targeted 27 shipping and trading companies, 28 vessels and one person, all suspected of helping North Korea circumvent current sanctions.

Washington’s hard line emerged as the dominant theme of Trump’s trip, with White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders telling reporters: “We are going to continue a campaign of maximum pressure, the latest sanctions are the strongest that we have had on North Korea. We are going to continue in that form.”

The US is “going to ask all of our allies and partners to step up and do more as well and join us in that effort,” she added.

Trump’s visit will coincide with a high level delegation from North Korea, with both attending the closing ceremony of the Winter Olympics. US and South Korean officials have said there is no meeting planned between the two sides, but the possibility of direct talks had led to intense speculation.

Pence was set to meet with officials from the North during his trip, but it was cancelled at the last minute.

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« Reply #4377 on: Feb 24, 2018, 06:54 AM »

Missing Nigerian girls declared ‘national disaster’ by president

Troops sent to find dozens of children who disappeared after Boko Haram raid on school

Agence France-Presse in Abuja
24 Feb 2018 18.42 GMT

President Muhammadu Buhari has said Nigeria has suffered a “national disaster” after dozens of girls went missing following an attack by Boko Haram jihadists on their school in north-east Nigeria.

“This is a national disaster. We are sorry that this could have happened,” he said in a statement, issued five days after the attack in the town of Dapchi in Yobe state.

“We pray that our gallant armed forces will locate and safely return your missing family members. Our government is sending more troops and surveillance aircraft to keep an eye on all movements in the entire territory on a 24-hour basis in the hope that all the missing girls will be found.”

There is confusion over the number missing after Monday’s attack, with estimates ranging from around 50 to more than 100.

According to a newly formed parents association 105 girls were listed as missing after the attack on their boarding school on Monday evening. With many of the girls failing to return home, fears are growing that dozens have been kidnapped, reviving memories of the mass abduction of more than 200 girls from Chibok in April 2014.

The attack has cast doubt on Nigeria’s ability to secure hard-to-reach rural areas in the remote region and the government’s repeated claims that Boko Haram is on the verge of defeat.

Boko Haram’s relentless assault on Nigeria’s north-east since 2009 has spared few, targeting not only schools but mosques and markets.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) said the tragedy of the Chibok girls’ abduction had not been forgotten and described the latest kidnapping as a “new horror”.

It said more than 2,295 teachers had been killed and almost 1,400 schools destroyed since the jihadist insurgency began in 2009. The jihadists have increasingly turned to kidnapping for ransom as a way to finance their operations and win back key commanders in prisoner swaps with the Nigerian government.

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« Reply #4378 on: Feb 24, 2018, 07:10 AM »

The Syrian teenager tweeting the horror of life in Ghouta – video


Muhammad Najem, a​ 15​-​year​-​old ​resident of the ​devastated rebel enclave on the outskirts of Damascus, is using social media to share videos of daily bombardments, and food and medical shortages. With hundreds of civilians killed this week alone, Muhammad's latest posts have called on the international community to take action and accused President Bashar al-Assad of killing his childhood

    ‘We can change this reality’: the women sharing news of war in Ghouta
    UN security council fails to agree on Syria ceasefire after second day of talks

Click to watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5MvFs8tFcOc


UN security council fails to agree on Syria ceasefire after second day of talks

Negotiations follow appeal by Macron and Merkel urging Putin to stop blocking resolution

Julian Borger in Washington and Martin Chulov in Beirut
24 Feb 2018 18.16 GMT

The UN security council failed to agree after a second day of intensive talks on a proposed 30-day ceasefire across Syria to allow for emergency humanitarian deliveries and medical evacuations.

Backroom negotiations continued throughout the day on Friday. One deadline passed after another, as other council members tried to persuade Russia to agree to a resolution. The talks at the UN headquarters in New York followed an appeal by French and German leaders to Vladimir Putin, asking for Russia to stop blocking the measure’s passage, pointing to the dire situation of the trapped civilian population in the rebel enclave of eastern Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus.

How does eastern Ghouta compare to Aleppo?

The draft resolution calls for a nationwide truce to come into force within 72 hours of its adoption, but it is not clear how forces in Syria would respond even if it was passed.

Eastern Ghouta has come under particularly intense regime bombardment in recent days as the government of Bashar al-Assad seeks to crush the resistance in the district, home to an estimated 400,000 people. Reports from the area said that more than 400 civilians had been killed there this week, and that hospitals and clinics had been directed targeted.

The security council negotiations on Friday were focused on addressing Russian objections to the version put forward by Sweden and Kuwait.

Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, had signaled earlier in the day that Russia would consider supporting the 30-day ceasefire if the US would guarantee that rebel groups would stick to it.

“There are no guarantees that [the rebels] will not continue shooting at Damascus residential areas,” Lavrov said in a briefing.

“That’s why, for the resolution to be efficient – and we are ready to agree on the text which would make it so – we propose a formula which would make the ceasefire real, based on the guarantees of all who are inside eastern Ghouta and outside eastern Ghouta.”

How bad is the situation in eastern Ghouta and is aid getting in?

Supporters of the ceasefire resolution had hoped for a vote on Thursday. When Russian opposition became apparent, it was put off until 11am local time in New York. As the bargaining continued, it was postponedagain until 2.30pm while diplomats discussed the text behind closed doors, with the US adding edits aimed at addressing Russian demands.

The 2.30pm deadline passed with no sign of a compromise and ultimately a decision was made to put off a vote to Saturday, with no clarity on whether Moscow was close to accepting a ceasefire or whether the Russian government was playing for time while its Syrian allies press on with their offensive on eastern Ghouta.

Meanwhile in Washington, Donald Trump was asked about the situation in eastern Ghouta and delivered an unusually harsh attack on Moscow.

“What Russia and what Iran and what Syria has done recently is a humanitarian disgrace. I will tell you that,” Trump said.

The 10 non-permanent, elected members to the council said they were united behind the draft ceasefire resolution and wanted it passed on Friday. Mansour al-Otaibi, the envoy from Kuwait, who co-wrote the resolution, said the council was “so close” to adopting the resolution.

A 2016 ceasefire agreed with Russia, intended to safeguard the citizens of Aleppo, collapsed on the day it was supposed to take effect, as regime forces pressed on with an offensive that ultimately led to the fall of the rebel enclave.

The letter Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel sent to Putin on Friday said the continuing attacks on civilian populations represented “clear violations of international humanitarian law”.

A statement by the French president’s office said: “In the face of the suffering of the people of eastern Ghouta, France and Germany call for an immediate cessation of hostilities and the implementation of a humanitarian truce to allow aid to be provided to civilian populations and emergency medical evacuations to take place, as has been requested by the United Nations. France and Germany call on Russia to assume its full responsibilities in this regard.”

Federica Mogherini, the EU foreign policy chief, called on Friday for an immediate ceasefire and aid deliveries in eastern Ghouta after more than 400 civilians were killed there since Sunday.

Why is the regime targeting eastern Ghouta?

“The massacre in eastern Ghouta must stop now,” Mogherini said. “The European Union is running out of words to describe the horror being experienced by the people of eastern Ghouta.”

On Friday, for a sixth straight day, warplanes flown by Syrian government forces and their allies pounded densely populated eastern Ghouta, the last rebel bastion near Damascus.

The civilian casualties and devastation there are among the worst in Syria since the government captured rebel-held parts of Aleppo in intense fighting in 2016.

At least 436 people have been killed and many hundreds injured in less than a week, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group. The dead include at least 99 children.

Previous attempts at a cessation of hostilities in Syria have quickly unravelled.

This week’s sustained air campaign has led to strident criticism from aid agencies, but until Friday had generated little diplomatic momentum despite repeated claims that the attacks constituted war crimes.

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« Reply #4379 on: Feb 24, 2018, 07:16 AM »

'Everything is gone': satellite images in Myanmar show dozens of Rohingya villages bulldozed

Government says it is rebuilding area in Rakhine state but persecuted Rohingya Muslim minority say their culture is being erased

Associated Press
Sat 24 Feb 2018 03.39 GMT

Myanmar’s government is using bulldozers to erase dozens of villages in Rakhine state in a vast operation that rights groups say is destroying evidence of mass atrocities against the ethnic Rohingya Muslim minority.

Satellite images released by Colorado-based DigitalGlobe on Friday show the empty villages and hamlets completely levelled by authorities in recent weeks. The villages were all set ablaze in the wake of violence in August last year, when a clearance operation drove hundreds of thousands of Rohingya into exile in Bangladesh.

While Myanmar’s government claims it is simply trying to rebuild a devastated region, the operation has raised concern among human rights advocates, who say the government is destroying scores of crime scenes before any credible investigation. The Rohingya believe the government is intentionally eviscerating the remnants of their culture to make it nearly impossible for them to return.

One displaced Rohingya woman said she recently visited her former home in Myin Hlut and was shocked by what she saw. Most houses had been torched last year, but now, “everything is gone, not even the trees are left”, the woman, named Zubairia, said. “They just bulldozed everything ... I could hardly recognise it.”

The 18-year-old said other homes in the area that had been abandoned but not damaged were also flattened. “All the memories that I had there are gone,” she said. “They’ve been erased.”

Myanmar’s armed forces are accused not just of burning Muslim villages with the help of Buddhist mobs, but also of carrying out massacres, rapes and widespread looting. The latest crisis in Rakhine state began in August after Rohingya insurgents launched a series of unprecedented attacks on security posts.

Aerial photographs of the damage were first made public on 9 February when the European Union’s ambassador to Myanmar, Kristian Schmidt, posted images taken from an aircraft of what he described as a “vast bulldozed area” south of the town of Maungdaw.

Satellite imagery from DigitalGlobe indicates at least 28 villages or hamlets were destroyed in a 50km radius around Maungdaw between December and February. On some of the cleared areas, construction crews had erected new buildings and helipads. A similar analysis by Human Rights Watch on Friday said at least 55 villages had been affected.

The government has spoken of plans to rebuild the region for months, and it has been busily expanding roads, repairing bridges, and constructing shelters, including dozens at a large transit camp at Taungpyo, near the Bangladesh border. The camp opened in January to house returning refugees; but none have arrived and Rohingya have continued to flee.

Myanmar’s parliament has also approved a $15m budget to build a fence and related projects along the Bangladesh border in Rakhine state, from which about 700,000 Rohingya have fled since August. Deputy home affairs minister General Aung Soe testified on Thursday that fences covering 202km of the 293km border had already been completed.

Myint Khine, a government administrator in Maungdaw, said some of the new homes were intended for Muslims. Many Rohingya fear authorities are seizing land they’ve lived on for generations.

One list, published by the government in December, indicated 787 houses but only 22 were slated for “Bengalis” – the word Myanmar nationalists often use to describe the Rohingya, who they say are illegal migrants from Bangladesh.

Myint Khine denied an ulterior motive. “Of course we have been using machines like earth removers and bulldozers because we have to clear the ground first before building new houses,” he said.

Chris Lewa, whose Arakan Project monitors the persecuted Muslim minority’s plight, said: “How will they identify where they lived, if nothing is left, if nothing can be recognised?

“Their culture, their history, their past, their present – it’s all being erased. When you see the pictures, it’s clear that whatever was left – the mosques, the cemeteries, the homes — they’re gone.”

Richard Weir, a Myanmar expert with Human Rights Watch, said: “There’s no more landmarks, there’s no trees, there’s no vegetation.”

“Everything is wiped away, and this is very concerning, because these are crime scenes,” he said. “There’s been no credible investigation of these crimes. And so, what we’re talking about really is obstruction of justice.”

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