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« Reply #4395 on: Jan 15, 2018, 05:55 AM »

'A great milestone': Somaliland adopts legislation outlawing rape

Activists welcome initial approval of law designed to curb rising sexual violence, but warn scope and implementation could prove problematic

Verity Bowman

Somaliland has introduced a bill outlawing rape, the first piece of legislation to address gender-based violence in the self-declared state.

Under the Somaliland rape and other related offences bill, all forms of sexual offence would be criminalised, including rape, gang rape, sexual assault, trafficking and child marriage. Rapists who infect their victims with HIV would receive life sentences.

Nafisa Yusuf, executive director of the Nagaad Network of 45 women’s organisations in Somaliland, said: “This is a great milestone achieved by Somaliland women.”

The network said the legislation is particularly significant given the rise of gender-based violence in recent years. Drought in the Horn of Africa in 2017 displaced tens of thousands of people in Somaliland and throughout the wider region, leaving women and young mothers especially vulnerable to assault.

The bill has been agreed in the lower house of parliament, but still needs approval from the upper house. It is hoped the bill will be signed by the president on 1 March.

“We are encouraging them [upper house] to approve it as well,” said Yusuf. “There is a very challenging and long way to go.”

Despite the achievement of getting a bill into parliament, Guleid Ahmed Jama, chairperson of Human Rights Centre Somaliland, pointed out that the new law does not specifically cover domestic violence or female genital mutilation.

He said: “The shortcoming of the bill is that it does not make lack of consent the key determinant of rape. The victim has to prove ‘use of force, intimidation or threat.’”

Ayan Mahamoud, resident representative of Somaliland to the UK and the Commonwealth, said more needed to be done to help survivors. “The more support we can give them in terms of medical, in terms of protection, the more they will be encouraged to seek justice.

“It is the protection that really matters. Protection and support to give victims the confidence that they can rely on the system.”

Concerns have also been raised about the country’s ability to implement the law. Mark T Jones, an adviser on African affairs, said: “There is of course the issue of appropriate training for police and the judiciary, this is a big ask in a cash strapped nation.”

It is unclear how or when police in Somaliland will be trained to enforce the new bill.

Faiza Mohamed, director of Equality Now’s Africa office, said: “It remains to be seen whether the law will be enforced or customary rule, which tolerates rape of women and is hence unacceptable, will prevail.

“We urge the new administration to ensure girls and women are protected from rape.”

Rape around the world

According to the World Health Organization, one in three women globally will experience some form of physical or sexual violence in their lifetime.

Yet some countries still allow perpetrators to escape justice.

Analysis of rape laws in 82 jurisdictions by Equality Now found that in 10 countries – including India, Nigeria, Oman and Singapore – husbands are legally allowed to rape their wives.

At least eight countries – Greece, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Russia, Serbia, Thailand and Tunisia – have laws exempting rapists from punishment if they marry the survivor. Jordan and Tunisia have passed legislation to remove the caveat.

Belgium and Croatia, meanwhile, are among a dozen states that allow exemptions if the perpetrator and victim reach a settlement.

Countries including the Philippines, Serbia, Thailand, Turkey, Romania and Singapore offer exemptions if the survivor forgives the perpetrator.

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« Reply #4396 on: Jan 15, 2018, 06:00 AM »

Adult actress Jessica Drake is being silenced by Trump nondisclosure agreement: report

David Ferguson
15 Jan 2018 at 18:54 ET   

Jessica Drake — one of the more than 20 women who accuse President Donald Trump of sexually harassing, groping, forcibly kissing or inappropriately touching them — is being prevented from speaking out by a nondisclosure agreement, said The Daily Beast on Saturday.

“Jessica’s NDA blankets any and every mention of Trump, so she’s legally unable to comment,” Drake’s publicist told The Daily Beast on Friday evening. “Jessica signed a non-disclosure agreement after her allegations of misconduct, and she can’t do as much as peep his name publicly.”

As the Daily Beast’s Marlow Stern and Aurora Snow noted, nondisclosure agreements (NDAs) are often used by abusers who settle allegations as a means of keeping their victims silent.

These types of gag orders were a mainstay for Fox News, which covered up decades of sexual abuse, harassment and intimidation by forcing victims of the network’s ousted CEO the late Roger Ailes and its one-time star anchor, Bill O’Reilly.

“In late October 2016, Drake became the 14th woman to accuse then-candidate Trump of sexual misconduct,” wrote Stern and Snow. “At a public press conference, Drake, flanked by her attorney Gloria Allred, claimed that after she met Trump in July 2006 at Nevada’s American Century Celebrity Golf Championship, where she was working a promotional booth on behalf of the adult film company Wicked Pictures, he made a pass at her. Trump’s wife, Melania, had recently given birth to their son Barron at the time.”

Trump has been broadsided in recent days by questions about an apparent financial arrangement with another adult performer, Stormy Daniels. Daniels reported received $130,000 from Trump attorney Michael Cohen, but signed a statement assuring that this was not “hush money” as part of the deal.

Yet another adult performer, Alana Evans, said on Friday that Trump did have an affair with Daniels after marrying First Lady Melania Trump and that Trump and Daniels once invited her to join in on a menage à trois.

“Stormy calls me four or five times, by the last two phone calls she’s with Donald [Trump] and I can hear him, and he’s talking through the phone to me saying, ‘Oh come on Alana, let’s have some fun! Let’s have some fun! Come to the party, we’re waiting for you,’” said Evans.

Evans declined the offer.

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« Reply #4397 on: Jan 15, 2018, 06:17 AM »

In planned speech, Sen. Jeff Flake compares Trump’s media attacks to comments by Stalin

By Ed O'Keefe
January 15 2018
Wa Post

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) plans to give a speech in the coming days that compares President Trump’s public criticism of the news media to similar comments once made by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.

A spokesman said that Flake, who will retire after this year amid intense political pressure sparked by his criticism of the president, plans to deliver the speech Wednesday before Trump announces the winners of his self-described “fake news” awards.

Trump announced via Twitter that he would be handing out awards Wednesday to news outlets he thought unfairly covered him.

Flake continues to be one of Trump’s most frequent critics, often speaking out to warn that the president’s words and actions could be detrimental to the future of the Republican Party and the nation’s standing worldwide.

In recent days, he was among the lawmakers who denounced Trump for describing certain African nations and Haiti as “shithole countries” during an Oval Office meeting on immigration policy. Flake has been negotiating a bipartisan deal on immigration with Sens. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) and Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.). In an interview with The Washington Post on Friday, Flake said that he was not at the meeting, but heard about Trump’s comment “before it went public. And what I’ve heard reported is consistent about what I heard about the meeting.”

“I’m not surprised at the sentiment expressed — it’s consistent with what he’s said — but that he would do that knowing the fury it would cause,” Flake added.

Flake plans to use his upcoming speech to denounce Trump for calling the news media “the enemy of the American people” last year.

In excerpts provided by his office, he is poised to blast Trump’s “unrelenting daily assault on the constitutionally-protected free press” that he will call “as unprecedented as it is unwarranted.”

“It is a testament to the condition of our democracy that our own president uses words infamously spoken by Josef Stalin to describe his enemies,” Flake will say, according to the excerpts. “It bears noting that so fraught with malice was the phrase ‘enemy of the people,’ that even Nikita Khrushchev forbade its use, telling the Soviet Communist Party that the phrase had been introduced by Stalin for the purpose of ‘annihilating such individuals’ who disagreed with the supreme leader.”

Flake will add that Trump “has it precisely backward — despotism is the enemy of the people. The free press is the despot’s enemy, which makes the free press the guardian of democracy. When a figure in power reflexively calls any press that doesn’t suit him ‘fake news,’ it is that person who should be the figure of suspicion, not the press.”

On MSNBC Sunday night, Flake said that in addition to Stalin, Mao Zedong, the former leader of the Chinese Communist Party, also referred to the media as the  “enemy of the people.” And he repeated his point that Khrushchev later forbade the use of the term.

“I don’t think that we should be using a phrase that’s been rejected as too loaded by a Soviet dictator,” Flake said on “Kasie DC.”

Flake was elected to the Senate in 2012 and announced last year that he would not seek a second term this November. The Republican contest to succeed him includes former Maricopa County sheriff Joe Arpaio, Rep. Martha McSally and former state senator Kelli Ward. The winner is expected to face Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D) in the general election.

Flake has declined to endorse a potential successor.

Here are the excerpts provided in advance by Flake’s office:

2017 was a year which saw the truth — objective, empirical, evidence-based truth — more battered and abused than any other in the history of our country, at the hands of the most powerful figure in our government. It was a year which saw the White House enshrine “alternative facts” into the American lexicon, as justification for what used to be known simply as good old-fashioned falsehoods. It was the year in which an unrelenting daily assault on the constitutionally-protected free press was launched by that same White House, an assault that is as unprecedented as it is unwarranted. “The enemy of the people,” was what the president of the United States called the free press in 2017.

Mr. President, it is a testament to the condition of our democracy that our own president uses words infamously spoken by Josef Stalin to describe his enemies. It bears noting that so fraught with malice was the phrase “enemy of the people,” that even Nikita Khrushchev forbade its use, telling the Soviet Communist Party that the phrase had been introduced by Stalin for the purpose of “annihilating such individuals” who disagreed with the supreme leader.

This alone should be a source of great shame for us in this body, especially for those of us in the president’s party. For they are shameful, repulsive statements. And, of course, the president has it precisely backward — despotism is the enemy of the people. The free press is the despot’s enemy, which makes the free press the guardian of democracy. When a figure in power reflexively calls any press that doesn’t suit him “fake news,” it is that person who should be the figure of suspicion, not the press.

I dare say that anyone who has the privilege and awesome responsibility to serve in this chamber knows that these reflexive slurs of “fake news” are dubious, at best. Those of us who travel overseas, especially to war zones and other troubled areas around the globe, encounter members of U.S. based media who risk their lives, and sometimes lose their lives, reporting on the truth. To dismiss their work as fake news is an affront to commitment and their sacrifice. Mr. President, a new report from the Committee to Protect Journalists documents that the number of journalists imprisoned around the world has reached 262, which is a new record. This total includes 21 reporters who are being held on “false news” charges.

 Watch the video: https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x6d4rll


Trump’s response to Hawaii missile snafu proves he can’t be trusted with more nukes: New York Times

Tom Boggioni
Raw Story
15 Jan 2018 at 13:12 ET                  

In a cautionary editorial published after the citizens of Hawaii were thrown into a panic over a mistaken alert announcing missiles were incoming, the New York Times said the President blithe response was a reason to not entrust him with an expanded nuclear arsenal.

Following the frightening announcement in Hawaii on Saturday morning, the president was reportedly advised about what was going on, but chose to continue to play golf instead of, at the very least, attempting to quell the panic by using his heavily followed Twitter account to dispute the warning.

In fact, long after the warning had been debunked, the only statement issued by the White House stated: “The President has been briefed on the state of Hawaii’s emergency management exercise. This was purely a state exercise.”

Three hours after the alert, the president finally tweeted: “So much Fake News is being reported. They don’t even try to get it right, or correct it when they are wrong. They promote the Fake Book of a mentally deranged author, who knowingly writes false information. The Mainstream Media is crazed that WE won the election!” with no mention of Hawaii.

The Times called the president out for it.

“The authorities quickly announced that the alert was a mistake. But it made tangible the growing fears that after decades of leaders trying to more safely control the world’s nuclear arsenals, President Trump has increased the possibility of those weapons being used,” the editors wrote.

“At a time when many are questioning whether Mr. Trump ought to be allowed anywhere near the nuclear ‘button,’ he is moving ahead with plans to develop new nuclear weapons and expanding the circumstances in which they’d be used,” the editorial continued. “Such actions break with years of American nuclear policy. They also make it harder to persuade other nations to curb their nuclear ambitions or forgo them entirely.”

Noting the the President is about to “make public a new policy that commits America to an increasing investment in those very weapons,” the Times said the plan to invest in “new low-yield nuclear weapons” is “insane.”

“President Barack Obama made a down payment on a saner policy by narrowing to ‘extreme circumstances’ the conditions under which nuclear weapons would be used and ruling out their use against most non-nuclear countries,” the piece continues. “Mr. Trump’s policy also talks about ‘extreme circumstances,’ but it dangerously broadens the definition to include significant non-nuclear strategic attacks,’ which could mean using nuclear weapons to respond to cyber, biological and chemical weapon attacks.”

Turning to the Hawaii panic, the Times urged extreme caution based on what could have happened with a president who has stated that nukes can be answers to conflicts.

“Until Mr. Trump, no one could imagine the United States ever using a nuclear weapon again. America’s conventional military is more than strong enough to defend against most threats. But Mr. Trump has so shaken this orthodoxy that Congress has begun debating limits on his unilateral authority to launch nuclear weapons,” the editorial states, before concluding, “Expanding the instances when America might use nuclear weapons could also make it easier for other nuclear-armed countries to justify using their own arsenals against adversaries. As the residents of Hawaii can tell you, it’s a risk the world cannot afford.”

You can read the whole report here: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/13/opinion/sunday/trump-nuclear-weapons-war.html?action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=opinion-c-col-left-region&region=opinion-c-col-left-region&WT.nav=opinion-c-col-left-region&_r=0


WATCH: Lawmaker calls ‘dangerous racist’ Trump an ‘asteroid of awfulness’

David Ferguson
Raw Story
15 Jan 2018 at 19:20 ET                  

A British legislator, Emily Thornberry (L) said that President Donald Trump is a racist, a danger to the world and has shown himself to be “an asteroid of awfulness.”

She was appearing on “The Andrew Marr Show,” when she said, “He is an asteroid of awfulness that has fallen on this world. I think that he is a danger and I think that he is a racist.”

Thornberry is a member of the House of Commons and represents the Islington South and Finsbury communities.

She told Marr that she wished Trump would stick to his declaration not to come to London until the British learn to love him.

“And I was quite relaxed about that,” she said, meaning it would clearly never happen.

Trump backed out of a trip to the U.K. at the last minute, postponing a state visit indefinitely.

Watch the interview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W-6NJcC4uxM


Trump is a liar — but his ‘sh*thole’ remark shows he’s often scariest when he says what he truly believes: LA Times

Los Angeles Times
15 Jan 2018 at 05:48 ET  

In an off-the-cuff comment with legislators gathered in the Oval Office on Thursday to discuss immigration, President Donald Trump laid bare his world vision. There are wealthy white countries such as Norway, which are welcome to send immigrants to the United States. Then there are what the president called "shithole countries" — Haiti and all the nations of Africa — whose people (overwhelmingly black and brown) the president doesn't think belong here.

Trump's comment was outrageous, immature, inhumane and vulgar — and it shames the nation. It's shocking that an American president would think so reductively and heartlessly about so much of the world. Nevertheless, it is unlikely that the president himself will feel shame. Instead, he'll bluster and bray about "fake news" and try to drag in the 2016 election results and the stock market, and in the end, he is unlikely to be punished by his base for what he said.

But his comments stand for themselves. "What do we want Haitians here for?" the president reportedly asked. "Why do we want all these people from Africa here? Why do we want all these people from shithole countries?" Then he added: "We should have people from places like Norway."

The Washington Post first reported the president's comments, based on information from people briefed on the meeting. The White House quickly issued a statement that didn't deny the comments, but defended Trump's efforts to "fight for the American people." None of whom, apparently in the eyes of the White House, are people who trace their ancestry to Africa, Haiti or El Salvador, which was also part of the immigration policy discussion.

"Certain Washington politicians choose to fight for foreign countries, but President Trump will always fight for the American people," spokesman Raj Shah told the Post. "... Like other nations that have merit-based immigration, President Trump is fighting for permanent solutions that make our country stronger by welcoming those who can contribute to our society, grow our economy and assimilate into our great nation."

So Trump's dismissal of a large portion of the world is framed now as an argument for merit-based immigration?

That's self-serving baloney. It's hard to interpret Trump's statement — comparing Haiti and Africa with Norway, in effect — as anything other than an attack on people of color around the world. But even those who don't interpret it that way should be appalled that the president would express such disdain and disgust for countries where poverty is rampant, where people struggle because they lack the economic advantages of Americans, where wars are not infrequent.

Ten months ago, the Los Angeles Times editorial board published a multipart series about President Trump calling him "Our Dishonest President." We called him that because of a pattern of lies, misstatements and denials of reality that we argued were designed not just to deflect criticism, but to undermine the very idea of objective truth.

But sometimes Donald Trump is at his scariest when he's saying what he truly believes.

Trump's dwindling ranks of supporters say they like him because he calls things as he sees them. He's not polished — he's the antithesis of the smooth-talking pol, the Washington insider, the denizen of the D.C. swamp. Fine. But now he has offered us another glimpse into what the unfettered Trump sees. The ugliness here isn't in the view, but in the viewer. Add these comments to the long list of embarrassments we've suffered as a nation since Nov. 8, 2016.


Trump misquotes himself while claiming he was misquoted

15 Jan 2018 at 12:07 ET  

Let’s go to the tape. Again and again.

President Donald Trump on Sunday misquoted himself in a tweet complaining about how he had supposedly been misquoted in a scrutinized Wall Street Journal interview. The Journal soon released audio of the interview to prove the president said what it reported, and the White House followed up minutes later with a seemingly identical recording trying to prove the Journal wrong.

Trump on Twitter took issue with the most notorious line from his Thursday interview: When he said “I probably have a very good relationship with Kim Jong Un,” the North Korean dictator who has been threatening for months to launch a nuclear attack on the United States.

“I have relationships with people. I think you people are surprised,” Trump added, declining to say whether he had ever spoken directly with Kim.

Trump’s cryptic comment stood out not only because of the shared hostility between him and Kim, but also because the U.S. has no diplomatic ties with North Korea, and it would be unprecedented for an American president to have a “very good relationship” with the leader of the world’s most hermetic nation.

But on Sunday, after days of speculation over his remarks, Trump claimed the whole thing was a mistake.

“The Wall Street Journal stated falsely that I said to them ‘I have a good relationship with Kim Jong Un’ (of N. Korea). Obviously I didn’t say that. I said ‘I’d have a good relationship with Kim Jong Un,’ a big difference. Fortunately we now record conversations with reporters... ...and they knew exactly what I said and meant. They just wanted a story. FAKE NEWS!” he wrote over two tweets.

Within minutes, the Journal released audio from the interview that seemed to clearly show Trump’s comment had been reported right the first time. The recording backed up a transcript already released by the Journal that included the quote Trump now disputes.

The Journal said in a statement that it “stands by what it reported.”

But that wasn’t enough for the White House, which responded minutes later with its own recording of the conversation. The White House clip sounded identical to the Journal audio, but it had a more muffled sound quality, making it harder to make out Trump’s exact words.

On Saturday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tweeted a “fake news” alert accusing the Journal of botching Trump’s Kim comment.

Trump’s battles with media organizations are routine for him, but the Sunday spat showed him facing off against a publication that he has mostly regarded favorably. The right-leaning newspaper has published many editorials supporting Trump’s controversial stances, and Trump has thanked the Journal on Twitter for “very nice” coverage and often shared its stories. (But he has also, in nearly equal measure, attacked the paper as “ever dwindling,” “dying” and “phony,” and he has previously disputed some of its reporting.)

The Journal jumble came two days after the paper broke the story of Trump’s lawyer arranging to pay porn star Stephanie Clifford (also know as Stormy Daniels) $130,000 in the final month of the 2016 campaign to keep quiet about an alleged consensual sexual encounter with Trump in 2006, one year after he had married First Lady Melania Trump.


Former FBI investigator: ‘I think Kushner is criminally exposed’ on Russia and money laundering

David Ferguson
Raw Story
15 Jan 2018 at 18:43 ET                  

Frank Figliuzzi — former Assistant Director for Counterintelligence at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) — said on Sunday that he thinks President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner potentially faces criminal charges completely separate from those having to do with Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

Political reporter Betsy Woodruff of The Daily Beast said that the Trump administration has always feared that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation would veer off of Russian meddling and into questionable financial dealings by members of Trump’s family.

“We also know that Jared Kushner and his family’s business have drawn the attention of investigators into other matters,” Woodruff said.

“I’ve actually said before here on MSNBC that I think Kushner is criminally exposed,” said Figliuzzi.

“I think there’s concerns about the family money,” the former FBI official said, indicating that there are rumors that former FBI Director James Comey was fired because his investigation was getting too close to Kushner family financial deals.

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« Last Edit: Jan 15, 2018, 06:50 AM by Darja » Logged
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« Reply #4398 on: Jan 15, 2018, 06:19 AM »

Russia has autonomous underwater nuclear drone with 100-megaton warhead: Pentagon report

15 Jan 2018 at 21:53 ET

Russia is in possession of an underwater nuclear drone capable of carrying a 100-megaton nuclear warhead, a recently leaked draft of the Pentagon's Nuclear Posture Review confirmed.

The weapon, referred to in the document as an “AUV,” or autonomous underwater vehicle, is featured in a chart that lays out Russia's multiple nuclear delivery vehicles.

Pentagon officials warn in the posture review that Russia has actively diversified its nuclear capabilities, a strategic advantage it has over the United States:

    In addition to modernizing ‘legacy’ Soviet nuclear systems, Russia is developing and deploying new nuclear warheads and launchers. These efforts include multiple upgrades for every leg of the Russian nuclear triad of strategic bombers, sea-based missiles and land-based missiles. Russia is also developing at least two new intercontinental range systems, a hypersonic glide vehicle and a new intercontinental, nuclear-armed undersea autonomous torpedo.

The draft of the posture review was obtained and published by the Huffington Post.

In a statement, the Pentagon did not deny that the draft is authentic:

    Our discussion has been robust and several draft have been written. However, the Nuclear Posture Review has not been completed and will ultimately be reviewed and approved by the President and the Secretary of Defense. As a general practice, we do not discuss pre-decisional, draft copies of strategies and reviews.

As outlined by Valerie Insinna of Defense News, the Russian undersea drone, officially known as Ocean Multipurpose System Status-6  and nicknamed "Kanyon" by the Pentagon, was reportedly tested in Nov. 2016. It was launched from a Sarov-class submarine used to test and validate new tech, as reported by the  Washington Free Beacon reported in Dec. 2016, citing unnamed Pentagon sources.

The Pentagon had not publicly confirmed the existence of Status-6 prior to Huffington Post's report on this year's posture review.

According to Russian media outlets cited by the Washington Bureau, Status-6 has a range of 6,200 miles, a top speed in excess of 56 knots and can descend to depths of 3,280 feet below sea level. It was built by Rubin Design Bureau, the largest submarine manufacturer in Russia. It was designed to be launched from at least two different classes of nuclear submarines, including the Oscar-class, which can carry four Status-6 drones at a time.

The nuclear posture review reaffirms the need for a full nuclear triad, or a full range of air, sea, and ground-based nuclear missiles. But, as noted by Defense News, the review offers "no sign that the Pentagon is interested in developing unmanned undersea vehicles capable of delivering a nuclear weapon."

The leaked posture review draft made headlines for confirming what many in the nuclear industry suspected for months: The Trump administration is vying to substantially increase the U.S.'s nuclear stockpile. The review also illustrates how the Pentagon plans to match some of Russia's new nuclear capabilities.

Fears of nuclear war have risen to historic levels, in large part due to the verbal back-and-forth between Trump and Kim Jong-Un of North Korea. Those fears percolated on Saturday after an emergency alert was mistakenly sent in Hawaii, warning residents to "seek immediate shelter" from a ballistic missile threat.

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« Reply #4399 on: Jan 15, 2018, 06:28 AM »

Japan to provide $3 million to Myanmar for Rohingya return

New Europe

BANGKOK  — Japanese's foreign minister on Friday urged Myanmar's civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi to guarantee the safe and voluntary return of Rohingya Muslims who have fled violence in troubled Rakhine state.

While Foreign Minister Taro Kono is visiting Myanmar, the Japanese government announced a grant of $3 million to Myanmar's government to help facilitate the repatriation of the Rohingya. Myanmar and Bangladesh signed an agreement on the repatriation of Rohingya refugees on Nov. 23, and Myanmar said it would start the process by Jan 23. The exact numbers and extent of the repatriation is still unclear.

"We have decided to provide the aid in response to the agreement between Myanmar and Bangladesh to represent an international message of support so that the repatriation can be carried out promptly," said Foreign Ministry official Shinobu Yamaguchi in a statement.

Kono's three-day visit to Myanmar includes traveling to Rakhine state. Humanitarian groups and independent media are prohibited from traveling to the area freely. More than 650,000 Rohingya have fled to neighboring Bangladesh to escape a brutal crackdown in which security forces have been accused of systematic abuses tantamount to ethnic cleansing.

During a meeting on Friday, Kono asked Suu Kyi's government to allow humanitarian and media access to the affected area, the resettlement of returned refugees, and the implementation of recommendations made by former U.N Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

Kono also said Japan plans to give further aid of $20 million to improve humanitarian conditions and development in Rakhine state. "We are thankful to Japan for its willingness to support the needs both for short term and long term," Suu Kyi said at the joint news conference.

Yamaguchi stressed that Japan will monitor how the repatriation will be carried out. "The money will be paid in a timely manner based on the progress of repatriation," Yamaguchi added. Myanmar's state-run media on Wednesday said authorities have started the land work to construct buildings to accommodate returned refugees from Bangladesh in northern Rakhine, where refugees will be temporarily placed after their citizenship is scrutinized.

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« Reply #4400 on: Jan 15, 2018, 06:31 AM »

German economy grew in 2017 at fastest pace in 6 years

New Europe

BERLIN  — The German economy accelerated last year to grow by 2.2 percent, putting in its strongest performance for six years thanks primarily to increasing demand at home, official data showed Thursday.

The figure released by the Federal Statistical Office was the strongest since 2011, when Europe's biggest economy grew by 3.7 percent. Gross domestic product expanded by 1.9 percent in 2016 and 1.7 percent in 2015.

Household spending by Germans was up 2 percent last year, while investment in machinery and other equipment was up 3.5 percent. Exports — a traditional strength of the German economy — grew by 4.7 percent, a much stronger performance than the previous year's 2.6 percent. But they were outpaced by imports, which expanded by 5.2 percent, up from 3.9 percent in 2016. Overall, foreign trade contributed only 0.2 percentage points to last year's GDP growth.

Eight consecutive years of growth have also boosted Germany's public finances. Germany had its fourth budget surplus in a row last year, totaling 1.2 percent of GDP, according to Thursday's report. That was up from 0.8 percent the previous year as growth in the state's income outpaced increased spending.

The statistics office offered a rough estimate that the economy grew by a bit more than a half-percent in the fourth quarter compared with the previous three-month period. However, it won't release an official figure until mid-February, after data for December become available.

The same things that helped German growth in the last two years should remain in place this year, said Carsten Brzeski, an economist at ING-DiBa — low interest rates, a relatively weak euro, strong domestic momentum and a recovering eurozone economy. But he pointed to signs of weakness in areas such as digitalization, services and education and called for the incoming government to tackle those.

A major German business group called for more investment in education and infrastructure. Martin Wansleben, the Association of German Chambers of Commerce and Industry's chief executive, said there also should be financial "relief for companies, in any case no tax increases."

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« Reply #4401 on: Jan 15, 2018, 06:55 AM »

Tuesday Becomes Execution Day in Egypt

Mona Eltahawy
JAN. 15, 2018
NY Times

For the past three Tuesdays, Egypt has hanged civilians sentenced to death by military tribunals:

Jan. 9: Three men were hanged. They had been convicted of rape and sentenced to die by a military tribunal in 2011.

Jan. 2: Four men accused of being Islamic militants were hanged. They had been tried and sentenced to death by a military tribunal for an attack in 2015 outside a stadium that killed three military academy students.

Dec. 26: Fifteen men accused of being militants were hanged. A military tribunal had convicted them in November and sentenced them to death for an attack on a military checkpoint in the Sinai Peninsula in 2013 in which one officer and eight soldiers were killed.

The Sinai attack occurred amid violence that broke out across Egypt shortly after the military ousted Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood leader who had been elected president. The day before that attack, security forces killed nearly 1,000 people while breaking up two Muslim Brotherhood sit-ins in Cairo. No member of the security forces has been held accountable for those mass killings, which human rights groups believe President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi orchestrated when he was defense minister.

It is gut-wrenching to try to absorb the enormity of the state-sanctioned murder — which I believe executions to be. We talk of having an independent judiciary in Egypt, but it is far from impartial. Whether in a military tribunal courtroom or a civilian one, the arc of the Egyptian moral universe bends not toward justice, but instead toward the political whim of whoever has power. That is especially pronounced in military tribunals.   

Since Mr. Sisi has been in power, the numbers of death sentences and executions have risen markedly. According to the state news media in Egypt, in 2017 courts handed down 186 death sentences, triple the 60 handed down in 2016. And the number of executions doubled to 44 in 2016 from 22 in 2015. Last year, Egypt executed 16 people. In just the first nine days of 2018, it has hanged almost half that number.

When the Egyptian authorities are not putting to death people through their courts, they do so extrajudicially. In April, Human Rights Watch said military forces in the Sinai Peninsula had executed at least two and as many as eight unarmed detainees and covered up the killings to make it appear that the victims were armed terrorists shot to death in a raid.

In the 15 hangings on Dec. 26, Egyptian human rights groups have said, the legal procedures were flawed and at least one of the 15 appeared to have been tortured. One lawyer, who was in touch with families and lawyers of those hanged, said the executed men’s lawyers were not given time to present an appeal before the defense minister signed off on their executions. And even small mercies were denied. The families had no chance to say goodbye before the men were hanged.

In a similar vein, a sister of one of the men hanged last Tuesday told the independent Egyptian news site Mada Masr that their families don’t know where the executions were carried out, nor how to claim their kin’s bodies. A military court had scheduled an appeal for Feb. 25 — six weeks after the hangings.

Why hold 22 executions over three successive Tuesdays? They seem a clear message from a government determined to show it is in control. There is usually a security clampdown in the run-up to Jan. 25, the anniversary of the uprising in 2011 that spread revolutionary protests against the dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak across Egypt.

But is Mr. Sisi really in control? He has also ordered security forces to use “brutal force” against an armed militant campaign in northern Sinai, even though several years of such force by security forces have failed to stem violence. Just last November, for example, militants killed more than 300 worshipers at Friday prayer in a gun and bomb attack.

Another factor may be that this month Egypt announced a presidential election to be held in March. Mr. Sisi, a former general and head of military intelligence, was pronounced the winner of the last election in 2014, with a difficult-to-believe 96.1 percent of the votes.

Lest there be doubt about the outcome two months from now, consider this: Candidates must register by the end of January. One potential candidate is in prison. Another was kept under effective house arrest until he withdrew. A third is on trial and will be disqualified if his conviction is upheld. And a fourth must try to get thousands of signatures in support before he can qualify to run. (Candidates must obtain the backing of at least 20 members of Parliament or be supported by at least 25,000 eligible voters in at least 15 of Egypt’s 27 administrative districts, called governorates.)

Mr. Sisi has yet to announce his candidacy, but more than three-quarters of the members of Parliament expressed support for him the day after the election date was announced.

Through all of this bad news, Egypt’s human rights abuses are falling through the cracks of an increasingly insular Trump administration in Washington and a global climate of rising tolerance for repression that has challenged even the most hardened of advocates. The office of the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, has denounced the recent executions in Egypt. But Mr. Hussein has decided not to seek a second four-year term, saying it “might involve bending a knee in supplication.”

I hold little hope that on a visit to Egypt scheduled for Saturday, the American vice president, Mike Pence, will condemn the horrific number of recent executions in Egypt. After all, successive American administrations have paid little more than lip service to human rights in Egypt, even as they sent billions of dollars in aid and weaponry.

And let’s be honest: When it comes to the death penalty, the United States is hardly in a position to preach. There were 2,832 people on death row there at the end of 2016, according to Amnesty International. Still, too many await death by hanging in Egyptian prisons. What Egyptian can forget the notorious judge who, after a cursory trial of a few sessions lasting just minutes, sentenced more than 680 people to death in April 2014 for the killing of one police officer?

The death sentence is unjust and barbaric, everywhere. It is especially an abomination in countries where justice is rarely served. Egypt must not make Tuesdays synonymous with mass hangings.

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« Reply #4402 on: Jan 15, 2018, 06:59 AM »

Is It Time for Netanyahu to Resign Yet?

Shmuel Rosner
JAN. 15, 2018
NY Times

TEL AVIV — Last Monday, Israel learned that the son of its prime minister is an embarrassment.

That evening, a recording surfaced of Benjamin Netanyahu’s son Yair partying in strip clubs and making lewd jokes. It produced a scandal. The prime minister was forced to respond, of course, to this affair. No doubt, it was a distraction — and from something important: According to reports, the same night the younger Netanyahu was exposed as an imbecile, the Israeli air force was attacking Syrian military installations, the kind of attack that most likely requires the prime minister’s authorization — and his attention.

The possibility of distraction is the most serious argument used by Israelis who say that it will soon be the time for Mr. Netanyahu to leave office. And the source of that distraction pales in comparison with an unruly, crude son: The prime minister is under investigation for corruption.

“The prime minister of the State of Israel is one of the busiest world leaders,” two scholars recently said in a paper for the Israel Democracy Institute. When he spends time on and preparing for police interrogations, clearly his capacity to give his full attention to the affairs of the state is impaired.”

Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud Party has itself invoked this argument before, when Ehud Olmert, Mr. Netanyahu’s predecessor as prime minister, was in legal trouble. “No place of work — surely not the prime minister’s office — can afford a manager who spends most of his time consulting with his attorneys,” said Gilad Erdan, then a Knesset member who is now minister of public security in the Netanyahu government. If the prime minister cannot properly do his job with a cloud of criminal suspicion hanging above him, then he must leave.

The demand for Mr. Netanyahu to resign is growing louder. But the prime minister is adamant about staying. Moreover, he asserts that the people calling for his resignation are dishonest. They want him out not because they worry about dysfunction but because they oppose his policies.

So who gets to decide why and when a prime minister must step down?

Mr. Netanyahu is implicated in several investigations. He is suspected of illegally receiving gifts; he is suspected of negotiating a deal with a newspaper magnate in exchange for favorable coverage. His closest aides were investigated in connection with a corruption scandal concerning the purchase of submarines from Germany. (The prime minister, who maintains is innocent, has not been indicted in any of these cases.)

These accusations, Mr. Netanyahu’s opponents say, disqualify him for at least two reasons: A man suspected of crimes should not rule Israel, and, more practically, the country needs a full-time prime minister, not one who spends half his days being questioned by prosecutors and police officers, or consulting with defense lawyers.

The legal case, however, is weaker: The prime minister, like all citizens, is innocent until proved otherwise in court. The law does not say he must step down just because he’s accused; forcing him out could amount to punishment for an innocent man.

This is not the first time Israelis have had to think about this. All of our recent prime ministers faced criminal investigation: Mr. Netanyahu, during his first spell in office in the mid-1990s, followed by Ehud Barak, followed by Ariel Sharon, followed by Ehud Olmert. The fates of these prime ministers were all different. Mr. Barak’s term was too short to be affected by investigations; Mr. Sharon was incapacitated by a stroke before investigations concluded; Mr. Olmert was forced to resign, and then convicted and jailed.

What will happen to Mr. Netanyahu? Will he be forced out because of his legal trouble?

The stories of his predecessors should help provide an answer. These stories include several stages of suspicion and action: First, there is a police investigation. Then, the police pass their findings to the state attorneys, often with a recommendation to indict or not. If the prosecutors decide to indict the prime minister, the case goes to court.

We know from experience that a police recommendation to indict isn’t the final word. In 1997, the police recommended indicting Mr. Netanyahu on charges of trading votes for appointments. He was never indicted. In 2004, Israel’s state attorney recommended that Mr. Sharon be indicted on charges of taking bribes. This also did not happen.

But when a police recommendation is followed by a decision to indict the prime minister, the legal water gets murky.

In a 1993 ruling, Israel’s Supreme Court made it mandatory for a prime minister to suspend a cabinet minister who has been indicted. Some legal scholars say this likewise makes it mandatory for an indicted prime minister to be suspended. But that argument is shaky, as Emanuel Gross, a Haifa University law professor, explained recently in an op-ed essay for Haaretz.

“There is no parallel,” Professor Gross wrote, between a cabinet minister and the prime minister. When a prime minister is forced out, the whole government is dismantled. The law does not allow, Professor Gross writes, “a violation of the voter’s decision only because it was decided to file an indictment against the prime minister.”

For the police, or the attorney general, to have the power to determine when a government should be replaced is problematic. It could even be dangerous. For the Supreme Court to demand a resignation of Israel’s leader over suspicions that were not yet proved in court would be similarly problematic.

Still, the lesson of Mr. Netanyahu’s predecessors is not necessarily that a prime minister has to stay in office until the very end of a legal process. The lesson, as frustrating as it seems, is that the legal experts need to step aside and leave the decision to the politicians.

Charges that involve the prime minister are first a public matter, and only second a legal matter. The public elected the prime minister, so the public — or its representatives — should decide when it is time for him to go. They are entitled to decide to let the legal process run its course. They are also entitled to decide that Mr. Netanyahu must go for a reason other than a purely “legal” one — such as he’s doing a bad job or is hurting their party.

In such case, the politicians must own this decision. If they fire him it is not because he is morally unworthy of the job (he is innocent until proven otherwise), not because he is corrupt (corruption is proved only in court), not because he is legally bound to go (he is not). If they fire him it is because they no longer believe he is the best prime minister for Israel.

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« Reply #4403 on: Today at 05:13 AM »

In the Bones of a Buried Child, Signs of a Massive Human Migration to the Americas

Carl Zimmer
NY Times

The girl was just six weeks old when she died. Her body was buried on a bed of antler points and red ocher, and she lay undisturbed for 11,500 years.

Archaeologists discovered her in an ancient burial pit in Alaska in 2010, and on Wednesday an international team of scientists reported they had retrieved the child’s genome from her remains. The second-oldest human genome ever found in North America, it sheds new light on how people — among them the ancestors of living Native Americans — first arrived in the Western Hemisphere.

The analysis, published in the journal Nature, shows that the child belonged to a hitherto unknown human lineage, a group that split off from other Native Americans just after — or perhaps just before — they arrived in North America.

“It’s the earliest branch in the Americas that we know of so far,” said Eske Willerslev of the University of Copenhagen, a co-author of the new study. As far as he and other scientists can tell, these early settlers endured for thousands of years before disappearing.

The study strongly supports the idea that the Americas were settled by migrants from Siberia, and experts hailed the genetic evidence as a milestone. “There has never been any ancient Native American DNA like it before,” said David Reich, a geneticist at Harvard Medical School who was not involved in the study. 

The girl’s remains were unearthed at the Upward Sun River archaeological site in the Tanana River Valley in central Alaska. Ben A. Potter, an archaeologist at the University of Alaska, discovered the site in 2006.

It was apparently home to short-lived settlements that appeared and disappeared over thousands of years. Every now and then, people arrived to build tent-like structures, fish for salmon, and hunt for hare and other small game.

In 2010, Dr. Potter and his colleagues discovered human bones at Upward Sun River. Atop a hearth dating back 11,500 years were the cremated bones of a 3-year-old child. Digging into the hearth itself, archaeologists discovered the remains of two infants.

The two infants were given names: the baby girl is Xach’itee’aanenh T’eede Gaay (“sunrise girl-child,” in Middle Tanana, the dialect of the local community), and the remains of the other infant, or perhaps a fetus, is Yełkaanenh T’eede Gaay (“dawn twilight girl-child”).

The Healy Lake Village Council and the Tanana Chiefs Conference agreed to let scientists search the remains for genetic material. Eventually, they discovered mitochondrial DNA, which is passed only from mother to child, suggesting each had different mothers. Moreover, each infant had a type of mitochondrial DNA found also in living Native Americans.

That finding prompted Dr. Potter and his colleagues to begin a more ambitious search. They began collaborating with Dr. Willerslev, whose team of geneticists has built an impressive record of recovering DNA from ancient Native American bones.

Among them are the 12,700-year-old Anzick Child, the oldest genome ever found in the Americas, and the Kennewick Man, an 8,500-year-old skeleton discovered in a riverbank in Washington State. Questions over his lineage provoked a decade-long legal dispute between scientists, Native American tribes and the Army Corps of Engineers.

Living Native Americans descend from two major ancestral groups. The northern branch includes a number of communities in Canada, such as the Athabascans, along with some tribes in the United States like the Navajo and Apache.

The southern branch includes the other tribes in the United States, as well as all indigenous people in Central America and South America. Both the Anzick Child and Kennewick Man belonged to the southern branch, Dr. Willerslev and his colleagues have found.

So he was eager to see how the people of Upward Sun River might be related. But the remains found there represented a huge scientific challenge.

The search for DNA in the cremated bones ended in failure, and Dr. Willerslev and his colleagues managed to retrieve only fragments from the remains of Yełkaanenh T’eede Gaay, the youngest of the infants.

But the researchers had better luck with Xach’itee’aanenh T’eede Gaay. Eventually, they managed to put together an accurate reconstruction of her entire genome. To analyze it, Dr. Willerslev and Dr. Potter collaborated with a number of geneticists and anthropologists.

Xach’itee’aanenh T’eede Gaay, they discovered, was more closely related to living Native Americans than to any other living people or to DNA extracted from other extinct lineages. But she belonged to neither the northern or southern branch of Native Americans.

Instead, Xach’itee’aanenh T’eede Gaay was part of a previously unknown population that diverged genetically from the ancestors of Native Americans about 20,000 years ago, Dr. Willerslev and his colleagues concluded. They now call these people Ancient Beringians.

Beringia refers to Alaska and the eastern tip of Siberia, and to the land bridge that joined them during the last ice age. Appearing and disappearing over the eons, it has long been suspected as the route that humans took from Asia to the Western Hemisphere.

There has been little archaeological evidence, however, perhaps because early coastal settlements were submerged by rising seas. Thanks to her unique position in the Native American family tree, Xach’itee’aanenh T’eede Gaay has given scientists a clear idea how this enormous step in human history may have happened.

Her ancestors — and those of all Native Americans — started out in Asia and share a distant ancestry with Chinese people. In the new study, the scientists estimate those two lineages split about 36,000 years ago.

The population that would give rise to Native Americans originated somewhere in northeast Siberia, Dr. Willerslev believes. Archaeological evidence suggests they may have hunted for woolly rhino and other big game that ranged over the grasslands.

“It wasn’t such a bad place as we kind of imagine it or as we see it today,” he said. In fact, Siberia appears to have attracted a lot of genetically distinct peoples, and they interbred widely until about 25,000 years ago, the researchers determined.

Ancient Beringians

DNA recovered from an infant who died 11,500 years ago has revealed a previously unknown population of early Native Americans. The Ancient Beringians are thought to have split off from the ancestors of all living Native Americans about 20,000 years ago, and to have remained in Beringia.

Arctic Ocean



Upward Sun River site



Approximate coastline 20,000 years ago.



East or west? Researchers have not determined whether the ancestors of Native Americans split after they reached Alaska, or whether the split happened in Siberia and led to two or more migrations into Beringia.

Ancient North Eurasians

Ancient Beringians



years ago

Northern Native Americans

Ancestral populations in Asia

Split 15,700 years ago

East Asians

Southern Native Americans



Ancient North Eurasians

Ancient Beringians

Northern Native Americans

20,000 years ago

15,700 years ago

East Asians

Southern Native Americans

By The New York Times | Sources: Moreno-Mayar et al., Nature; Science

About a third of living Native American DNA can be traced to a vanished people known as the ancient north Eurasians, known only from a genome recovered from the 24,000-year-old skeleton of a boy.

But the flow of genes from other Asian populations dried up about 25,000 years ago, and the ancestors of Native Americans became genetically isolated. About 20,000 years ago, the new analysis finds, these people began dividing into genetically distinct groups.

First to split off were the Ancient Beringians, the people from whom Xach’itee’aanenh T’eede Gaay descended. About 4,000 years later, the scientists estimate, the northern and southern branches of the Native American tree split.

According to Ripan Malhi, an anthropologist at the University of Illinois and a co-author of the new study, these genetic results support a theory of human migration called the Beringian Standstill model.

Based on previous genetic studies, Dr. Malhi has argued that the ancestors of Native Americans did not rush across Beringia and disperse across the Americas. Instead, they lingered there for thousands of years, their genes acquiring increasingly distinctive variations.

But while the new study concludes early Native Americans were isolated for thousands of years, as Dr. Malhi had predicted, it doesn’t pinpoint where.

“The genetics aren’t giving us locations, with the exception of a few anchor points,” said Dr. Potter.

Indeed, while the co-authors of the new study agree on the genetic findings, they disagree on the events that led to them.

“Most likely, people were in Alaska by 20,000 years ago, at least,” said Dr. Willerslev. He speculated that the northern and southern branches split afterward, about 15,700 years ago as the ancestors of Native Americans expanded out of Alaska, settling on land exposed by retreating glaciers.

Dr. Potter, however, argues that the lineage that led to Native Americans started splitting into three main branches while still in Siberia, long before reaching Alaska.

Pointing to the lack of archaeological sites in Beringia from 20,000 years ago, he believes it was too difficult for people to move there from Asia at that time. “That split took place in Asia somewhere — somewhere not in America,” Dr. Potter said.

If he is right, the mysterious earliest settlers of this hemisphere didn’t arrive in a single migration. Instead, the Ancient Beringians and the ancestors of the tribes we know today took separate journeys. “Even if there was a single founding population, there were two migrations,” he said.

But these scenarios all depend on timing estimated from changes in DNA, which “can be very sensitive to errors in the data,” Dr. Reich cautioned. More tests are required to be confident that the Ancient Beringians actually split from other Native Americans 20,000 years ago, he said.

And while the new study reveals the existence of the Ancient Beringians, it doesn’t tell scientists much about their ultimate fate.

But knives and other tools found at the Upward Sun River site belong to a tradition, called the Denali Complex, that endured until at least 7,000 years ago. The people who made those tools elsewhere in central Alaska may have been Ancient Beringians.

If so, they survived for nearly 13,000 years after splitting from the ancestors of other Native Americans. “The archaeology fits with them lasting for quite long,” said Dr. Potter.

The Native Americans who today live around the Upward Sun River site belong to the northern branch of the genetic family. The new study indicates that their ancestors returned north at some point to Alaska, perhaps replacing or absorbing the Ancient Beringians.

If the latter, and if geneticists are able to sequence more DNA from northern branch tribes, then they may stumble across living proof of an ancient North American people that no one knew existed.

“My answer to the question, ‘What happened to the Ancient Beringians?’ is: ‘We don’t know,’” said Dr. Potter. “And I like that answer.”

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« Reply #4404 on: Today at 05:37 AM »

Radical ecologists v Big Agriculture: the rival factions fighting for the future of farming

The Oxford Farming Conference and its upstart sibling, the Oxford Real Farming Conference, seem poles apart. But faced with big changes, from Brexit to the future of meat itself, a united front may be the best option

Bibi van der Zee

It’s a brisk five minute stroll up the high street to get from the Oxford Farming Conference to its upstart younger sibling the Oxford Real Farming Conference – but a much longer mental leap.
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Stately, careful and well-connected, the OFC has been going for 80 years. Sponsored by Big Agriculture businesses such as chemistry multinational BASF and farm machinery specialists Massey Ferguson, the cloakroom creaks with waxed cotton and quilted Barbours, while the audience is overwhelmingly male, white and upwards of 40. The great and good – royalty, government ministers, international politicians – come to speak to a polite, attentive audience; this is the thoughtful end of commercial British farming, brought together over bacon baps and craft beer.

The nine-year-old ORFC is a much less tidy, reverential affair: founded in order to talk about radical agricultural ideas – agro-ecology, permaculture, raw milk or community growing, for example – it has grown from 85 people in a library to 980 attendees this year, with more than 250 people turned away.

It has seen some of its more radical ideas move from the fringe to the mainstream in a single decade. Though still mainly white, the audience is far younger with women equally represented; there is blue hair, tattoos, babies in slings and even the odd hipster moustache. As Zac Goldsmith, surveying the scene from the stage as he kicks off a Q&A with environment secretary Michael Gove, comments: “This looks more like a movement. If this is the Real Farming Conference I don’t know what that makes the other one.”

And yet, beneath the surface differences, both conferences are agonising over the same existential threats. Brexit is, of course, top of the agenda. Did farmers want Brexit in the first place? No one can agree. A poll by Farmers Weekly before the referendum suggested that 58% supported leave, but everyone thinks that was flawed. At the ORFC one farmer tells me that by his calculations only about 10% voted leave, while in the live poll at the OFC on the last morning, 71% vote in favour of remain. The lone two farmers who vote in another question that Brexit will be “plain sailing” are amiably ribbed by the entire audience.

Last year, according to one ORFC attendee, all was gloom and doom and anxiety about what would replace the subsidies handed out by the EU. But this year the appointment of Gove and his promises of a new environmentally angled subsidy system have changed everything and progressive farmers express tempered optimism about the promises being made.

Gove presents his own existential dilemma to many ORFC attendees – “I always hated him,” one tells the Guardian, “but now I pray for him not to be reshuffled.”

“We’ve been calling for a public goods approach for years,” says ORFC co-founder Colin Tudge, “but I had little hope we’d ever actually see it.” The OFC farmers are relieved about promises around subsidies, but all still fear the trade department will trump Gove, or that he’ll be moved, or that it will all turn out to be an illusion.

And behind the iceberg of Brexit and UK farming policy is lurking the even bigger iceberg of our changing relationship to meat. “This house proposes that by 2100 meat consumption will be a thing of the past,” is the evening OFC debate at the Oxford Union, with George Monbiot telling a packed house of animal farmers they’re a dying breed.

“I imagine I’m about as welcome as a Jehovah’s witness during the world cup final,” he starts off to warm laughter, before laying out his argument that animal protein is the most inefficient way to consume protein in terms of land use and external costs in the form of pollution. The farmers bounce up with counter-arguments and a few jibes at “vegans” – a word that seems for some to be interchangeable with “militant anti-farming activist” – but their verbal missiles are deflected. At the beginning of the evening just 20 people voted for Monbiot’s proposal; by the end Monbiot has persuaded a stunning 120 farmers to vote for him.

Beneath the jokes is a deep pulse of sadness. Certainly some of the farmers are dismissive of environmental and welfare “nonsense”, but there are also many who care passionately about the land and their work. Gareth Wyn Jones, opposing Monbiot, speaks from the depths of his heart about the land his family has farmed for 350 years: “I believe farming and nature can live as one,” he says. And over at the ORFC farmers such as Ian Boyd whose cattle is 100% pasture fed, or Tony Davies of the newly launched Nature Friendly Farming Network, echo his words, arguing that the meat they produce is totally sustainable.

But there is a sense after the debate that the tide of history is turning away from these farmers. One sheep farmer I speak to voted with Monbiot because, as she says, “it feels inevitable. You can’t argue with his figures.”

The farming of the future is exciting in some ways. OFC delegates sit looking both baffled and excited as the Small Robot Company explains how robots could do all the planting and weeding and spraying and save farmers thousands, while elsewhere there are discussions about genomics, peer-to-peer apps and millennial food trends. ORFC delegates contemplate mobile abattoirs, ecological land co-operatives, and incubator farm systems.

But some see the future as terrifying: “a dystopian vision where one huge company provides cultured meat instead of thousands of small farmers,” says one delegate.

In a world where farming is now being fingered for environmental disaster and where vegans sprout on every corner, what hope for farmers? In the face of these uncertainties, the two conferences – once very “us and them” as one of the OFC organisers puts it – are inevitably moving closer together.

The issues that once were raised only at the ORFC now make an appearance on the OFC agenda as commercial farmers begin to suspect their scruffy green colleagues may have some ideas that need to be heard. Better, after all, Britain’s farmers seem to be concluding, to face the huge blank of the future as a united front.


South-east England at risk of water shortages this summer, officials warn

A year of unusually dry weather means parts of England are facing summer drought with groundwater and some reservoirs well below normal

Damian Carrington Environment editor
16 Jan 2018 17.00 GMT

A year of dry weather, only slightly alleviated by recent storms, has left much of south-east England facing drought this summer.

Groundwater and some reservoir levels are well below normal and only above-average rainfall in the next three months will refill them, officials warned on Friday. One water company, Southern Water, has applied for a drought permit to allow them to take more water than normally allowed from the River Medway in Kent, to try to avoid water restrictions for households in the summer.

Last winter was unusually dry, with 25% less rain than normal, as was last spring. Summer rains are nearly all taken up by trees and plants and autumn was particularly dry in the south-east, with 63% less rain than usual in October and 34% less in November.

This has left almost half of groundwater monitoring sites across the south and east of England “exceptionally” or “notably” low. The water companies facing the greatest risk of drought are all in the south-east: Southern Water, Affinity Water and Sutton and East Surrey Water.

“Despite the recent wet weather at the end of December, we had a dry end to the autumn with rainfall much lower than average in the south-east of England,” said Stuart Sampson, Environment Agency (EA) water manager. “Above-average rainfall is now needed in parts of this region over the winter months to replenish groundwater supplies for 2018.”

“The EA is actively working with water companies, business and farmers to balance the needs of water users, and our teams are ready to respond to potential impacts of dry weather on people, the environment and wildlife,” he said.

Southern Water has applied to take more water than normally allowed from the Medway, which has had below average flows for most of the last year. This is to refill the Bewl reservoir, which is currently only 44% full, far below the 75% that is usual at this time of year.

Alison Hoyle at Southern Water said: “The reservoir is a key resource. As well as supplying our customers in the Medway towns, Thanet and Hastings, it is also used by South East Water. It is vital that we can put more water into it and we would like to see it reach levels of 75% before the end of March.”

The EA could grant this permit within two weeks if it does not endanger wildlife or navigation on the river, and no objections are received from the public. The EA and water companies hope such action will cut the risk of restrictions such as bans on hosepipes and car washing. Such actions can affect businesses as well as households as, for example, garden centres lose business during hosepipe bans, which were last seen in 2012.

“Water companies will be advising their customers to use water wisely and considering action to preserve and enhance water supplies,” said Sampson.

Last May, after an exceptionally dry spring, the Guardian revealed that the vast amount of water that leaks from company pipes every day has not fallen for at least four years. Furthermore, many companies in the parched south and east of England have been set leak reduction targets for 2020 of zero or even targets that could allow leakage to increase.

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« Reply #4405 on: Today at 05:44 AM »

EPA Under Siege: The New Assault on the U.S. Environmental Protection System

By Bob Sussman

The system took shape in the 1960s and 70s as the public and politicians sounded the alarm about the environmental legacy of decades of uncontrolled industrialization. Faced with the threat of unsafe and polluted air, contaminated rivers and streams, hazardous chemicals in homes and products and toxic waste sites, Congress enacted an ambitious set of laws calling for far-reaching protections of public health and the environment. Support for these laws came from across the political spectrum and from presidents as diverse as Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

Since 1970, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been the prime mover in translating the lofty goals of our environmental laws into concrete progress. Thanks to many committed professionals and strong leadership at the top, EPA can take credit for impressive improvements in environmental quality.

Its accomplishments include the dramatic lowering of blood lead levels in American children, sharp declines in air pollution and an accompanying reduction in death and disease, and large reductions in harmful emissions from cars, trucks and factories. Add to that list the cleanup of thousands of contaminated waste sites and their return to productive use, recovery of the ozone layer after years of depletion, and restoration of numerous water bodies previously too polluted for fishing and recreation.

Many Americans take these environmental gains for granted, forgetting that they did not occur by chance but resulted from the hard work of a dedicated agency that insisted on results, refused to cut corners and held polluters accountable if they violated the law. Our environment is far from perfect, but a resolute EPA has enabled the U.S. to avoid the rampant environmental degradation that is endangering the health and well-being of hundreds of millions of people around the globe.

Now, however, the EPA's credibility, professionalism and independence are facing a serious threat from the Trump Administration and its EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt. The EPA has faced many challenges over its nearly 50-year history, but the president and Administrator Pruitt are putting at risk its effectiveness and even its survival to an extent that is unprecedented.

A historical strength of our system has been the stability and continuity of environmental policy from one president to the next. With rare exceptions, EPA leaders of both parties have built on the work of their predecessors, preserving protections on the books and adding new programs in response to changes in scientific understanding, emerging threats and public concerns. But Pruitt is turning this history on its head, both by a sweeping attack on the accomplishments of the Obama EPA and by extreme steps to dismantle the basic machinery of environmental protection.

In less than a year, Pruitt has moved to undo, delay, or otherwise block more than 30 rules issued by the Obama EPA, a far larger number than in any prior administration. These rules address serious threats to health and the environment, such as mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants, contamination of rivers and streams from leaking coal ash impoundments and water pollution. Other rules the new administration has blocked cover catastrophic chemical releases from industrial accidents and spills, risks of hazardous pesticides to farmworkers and excess emissions harmful to air quality, and impacts on the climate from passenger vehicles and trucks.

The choice of these rules appears to be a knee-jerk response to right-wing grievances against EPA and the special pleading of industry lobbyists. If there's a guiding philosophy, it seems to be that the Obama EPA grossly overreached, cooked the books in its scientific and economic assessments, and abused its authority, all to the detriment of job creation and economic growth.

These are longtime articles of faith among vocal EPA detractors, but they've been refuted by many studies and don't represent the reality of what the Obama administration actually did. Missing from Pruitt's obsessive attacks on the Obama EPA is any meaningful explanation of how we might benefit from rolling back its rules and why we should sacrifice the basic human and ecological protections that these rules provide.

Nowhere has the administrator been more destructive than in his effort to reverse U.S. progress on climate change under President Obama—progress that EPA spearheaded through rules lowering carbon pollution from power plants, transportation, landfills and oil and gas production. A cheerleader for President Trump's withdrawal from the Paris agreement, Pruitt has been a sharp critic of the scientific consensus on climate change, claiming that the contribution of human activity to global warming is unproven despite overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary.

Despite these claims, Pruitt has been unwilling or unable to act on his rhetoric by making a case against EPA's 2010 "endangerment finding," an authoritative assessment of climate science that has been the driving force for cutting carbon pollution under the Clean Air Act. Instead, he has made the dubious claim that the Obama EPA acted outside its delegated authority from Congress. This claim is being contested in court by many states and environmental groups resisting the rollback of Obama climate rules.

At the same time as he is undoing rules on the books, Pruitt is presiding over an unprecedented weakening of our nation's environmental protection capability. EPA's workforce, already at historically low levels, is being downsized further, resulting in the loss of irreplaceable expertise, and its budget is on track to be cut significantly. The elimination of research funding and turmoil on the agency's scientific advisory committees are together eroding the agency's technical and scientific competency. An effective moratorium on new rules is crippling EPA's ability to address emerging threats. Enforcement activity has dropped well below the levels of previous administrations, lowering the threat of civil and criminal penalties that deter violations. And budget uncertainties, attrition of key staff and conflicting signals from leadership have reduced EPA's ability to oversee state programs and assure that they maintain a fundamental floor of protection.

These trends will take a large toll on EPA's effectiveness that will be difficult to reverse. Inevitably, this will mean dangerous backsliding in the overall level of public health and environmental protection, and the public will pay a big price as a result. The many Americans who value the environmental progress EPA has achieved and don't want to lose it should come to its defense before it's too late.

We don't have to sit and watch as Administrator Pruitt and his fossil fuel allies work to roll back the policies that protect our families and our planet. EPA introduced the Clean Power Plan to make dirty power plants cut the dangerous emissions choking our air and changing our climate. Now, Pruitt wants to repeal this vital policy, but Americans across the country are standing up to stop him. Join them and add your name to our comment by Jan. 15 and together we'll send a clear message to DC: Americans want clean energy.

Bob Sussman was senior policy counsel to the EPA administrator during the Obama Administration and is an adjunct professor at Georgetown Law Center.

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« Reply #4406 on: Today at 05:47 AM »

The Story Behind the Beauty Industry’s Most Eco-Friendly Packaging

By Annie Tomlin

Here's a sobering fact: The average American generates 4.4 pounds of trash daily, a whopping 30 percent of it packaging. Some people might read that statistic and vow to be stricter about recycling. Julie Corbett took things a tad further.

For Corbett, the wake-up call came in 2008, when her daughters' elementary school in Berkeley, California, adopted a zero-waste policy (no Ziploc bags, only reusable water bottles). Suddenly, the mom of two started questioning the sustainability of every item in her family's household, from milk cartons to cleaning supplies. "The innovation on the product side was there," Corbett recalls. "Yet in packaging, it was the same old thing."

Inspired by the then-new iPhone's curved fiber nesting tray and the Canadian milk pouches of her youth, Corbett envisioned an environmentally-friendly bottle with an outer shell of recycled paper concealing a thin, plastic, recycled liner inside. The concept could, she believed, reduce carbon emissions by more than a third. Turning it into a full-fledged company, however, proved an uphill climb. "Potential investors thought I was just some chick from Berkeley who didn't know what she was talking about," Corbett said. Until, that is, she ran a successful test pilot with a local dairy at an Oakland Whole Foods.

By 2013, Corbett's enterprise, Ecologic, claimed a bustling a factory in Manteca, California, and a client list that included Seventh Generation and Nestlé. Business appeared to be booming. In truth? "We struggled to find the right technology, equipment, and people," she admited, explaining that Ecologic relied too heavily on manual labor and found it impossible to scale. So focused was the company on fixing the manufacturing process that they began ignoring calls and emails from potential clients—among them, Scott Schienvar, head of supply chain operations at L'Oreal.

At the time, in mid-2016, Schienvar had been tasked with tracking down the maker of Seventh Generation's packaging for a new purist brand, Seed Phytonutrients, that L'Oreal was incubating. He hit a brick wall at Ecologic. "They were ignoring us," he remembered. "So I totally stalked them."

Schienvar isn't exaggerating: When his emails to Corbett went unanswered, he contacted her on—where else?—Facebook. "I got a Facebook message from Scott going, 'Please call,'" Corbett said. "Then 10 minutes later, I got another message. I thought, 'I should call this guy back, because at this point, I'm being rude." Though she planned to let him down politely, Schienvar proved persistent.

"We're coming to Manteca to see you," he said.

Within days, he and Seed's founder, Shane Wolf, were sitting down in California with Corbett and Greg Rodrigues, Ecologic's new CEO, whose experience in manufacturing has helped transform the company. Seed's message immediately resonated and they believed —"Shane's vision is authentic," Corbett said—but could Ecologic handle the volume required? Even if they could, Shane wanted things they couldn't yet deliver: The packaging had to be recyclable and compostable—that meant glue was out. It also had to withstand a hot shower environment—when an uncoated paper container gets wet, it becomes soggy and falls apart, especially when shampoo suds further weaken the structure. And to reduce waste, the plastic pouch needed to be thinner than any other on the market.

Wolf remembers the meeting well. "They needed a big influx to help them move their technology from something that was labor-intensive to something sustainable from a business perspective." His proposal: He'd provide funding to develop a new packaging concept if Ecologic agreed to meet their ecological requests.

Corbett was game. "We approached it one step at a time," she said. By adding a combination of earth minerals, they created a water-resistant paper bottle that could stand up to the pressures of a shower. Instead of glue, the bottle uses a clever interlocking design that's just as sturdy. The interior liner (made with food-grade recycled plastic) is 60 percent thinner than typical plastic bottles. A unique pump evacuates up to 98 percent of the available shampoo—a consumer-pleasing innovation that also lightens the carbon footprint. What's more, the containers can be shipped nested, making them far more efficient to transport than traditional packaging.

The resulting bottle just may be the most ecologically sound in the world of beauty. "It's totally new—nobody has done this in our industry," Schienvar said. "It's stylish, it's clean-looking, it's a really strong bottle." Each one comes with a hidden gift inside, too: a packet of organic seeds from the Hudson Valley Seed Company, a farm-based heirloom seed producer in upstate New York, meant to encourage consumers to grow their own plants at home and participate in the cycle.

As proud as the Seed and Ecologic teams are of their accomplishment, this is just the beginning. "We use post-consumer paper now," Schienvar said. "But soon, we'll be making these containers from our own waste paper and cardboard boxes." That will then create a closed loop, which will bring Seed one step closer to the ideal vision of zero waste.

Ecologic is back on its feet. Thanks to the Seed Phytonutrients partnership, the company has proven its new technology and has the machinery to produce at scale. For Corbett, securing the future of the business has been hugely positive, but pushing the boundaries of sustainability is even more meaningful. "When I started the company, if you'd asked me whether my bottles would ever go in the shower, I'd have given you a big fat no," she said. "But I made a big mental leap, because this group came together with common values around preservation and collaboration. I'm starting to see this come alive—and it is beautiful."

Reposted with permission from our media associate Modern Farmer.

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« Reply #4407 on: Today at 05:52 AM »

China on track to lead in renewables as US retreats, report says

IEEFA report says China will dominate international investment in renewable technology over the next several decades

Helen Davidson
16 Jan 2018 03.08 GMT

China is moving towards becoming a global leader in renewable technology as the US pulls away, a new report has said.

China is the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases and still invests in coal but in recent years it has become the largest investor in domestic renewable energy. The country is now on track to lead international investment in the sector, according to the report by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA).

“As the global transition toward renewables gains pace and as battery storage and electric vehicles technologies pick up momentum, China is setting itself up to dominate these sectors globally over the next several decades of this century,” said IEEFA.

IEEFA identified a record high spend of more than US$44bn by China on international takeovers and projects worth more than $1bn – a 38% year-on-year growth.

China’s One Belt One Road agenda, which drives infrastructure investment along ancient trade routes, is leading the country’s growth. $8bn of solar equipment has been exported from China since it began, and the country has overtaken the US and Germany to become the number one exporter of environmental goods and services.

“China’s presence in wind power globally is also on the rise, led by international activities of companies such as Goldwind and by China Three Gorges’ diversification away from hydroelectricity,” the report said.

The trajectory is in stark contrast to that of the US, which last year pulled out of the Paris climate accord and has renewed its support for the coal industry. The decision to abandon the Paris agreement “led to China’s quick reaffirmation of its emissions-reduction pledge”, the report said.

“That allows it to further project itself globally as a responsible major power while addressing its domestic air pollution concerns and building world-leading capacity in new energy markets.”

As part of its Paris commitments, China pledged to peak its emissions by 2030 while making best efforts to peak earlier. It would also increase the share of renewable or nuclear energy sources to 20%.

Co-author of the report and director of IEEFA, Tim Buckley, said China was setting itself up as a global technology leader “whilst the US government looks the other way”.

“Although China isn’t necessarily intending to fill the climate leadership void left by the US withdrawal from Paris, it will certainly be very comfortable providing technology leadership and financial capacity so as to dominate fast-growing sectors such as solar energy, electric vehicles and batteries.”

The report noted the August 2017 merger of China’s top coal mining company, Shenhua Group Corp, with one of the “big five” power utilities, China Guodian Corp.

The newly named China Energy Investment Corp created the world’s largest power generator, and with the clean-energy assets of Guodian, Shenhua’s growth was no longer dependent on the pursuit of coal.

“This strategic posture [of pursuing coal] has burdened China’s power companies and limited their appetite for innovative new clean energy technologies,” the IEEFA said.

The report also found China was “outmanoeuvring other economies” in securing energy commodity supplies such as lithium, nickel and cobalt, allowing them to dominate manufacturing of batteries and electric vehicles.

On Monday, the US federal energy regulatory commission rejected a plan by the Donald Trump-led US administration to provide subsidies for coal-fired and nuclear power plants.

Last year the energy secretary, Rick Perry, proposed moves to slow the phasing out of the ageing plants and Trump vowed to repeal Obama-era environmental regulations in a bid to end a so-called “war on coal”.

However, independent analysis found the subsidies plan would cost taxpayers $10.6bn a year, and the commission on Monday said there was no evidence that retiring coal-fired power plants threatened the reliability of the nation’s electricity grid.

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« Reply #4408 on: Today at 05:57 AM »

Plastics Pile Up as China Refuses to Take the West’s Recycling

JAN. 16, 2018
NY Times
LONDON — Ever since China announced last year that it no longer wanted to be the “world’s garbage dump,” recycling about half of the globe’s plastics and paper products, Western nations have been puzzling over what to do when the ban went into effect, which it did on Jan. 1.

The answer, to date, in Britain at least, is nothing. At least one waste disposal site in London is already seeing a buildup of plastic recyclables and has had to pay to have some of it removed.

Similar backups have been reported in Canada, Ireland, Germany and several other European nations, while tons of rubbish is piling up in port cities like Hong Kong.

Steve Frank, of Pioneer Recycling in Oregon, owns two plants that collect and sort 220,000 tons of recyclable materials each year. A majority of it was until recently exported to China.

“My inventory is out of control,” he said.

China’s ban, Mr. Frank said, has caused “a major upset of the flow of global recyclables.” Now, he said, he is hoping to export waste to countries like Indonesia, India, Vietnam, Malaysia — “anywhere we can” — but “they can’t make up the difference.”

In Britain, Jacqueline O’Donovan, managing director of the British waste disposal firm, O’Donovan Waste Disposal, said that “the market has completely changed” since China’s decision went into effect. Her company collects and disposes of about 70,000 tons of plastic trash every year, she said, and expects “huge bottlenecks across the whole of England” in the coming months.

Britain’s prime minister, Theresa May, pledged on Thursday to eliminate avoidable wastes within 25 years. In a prepared speech, she urged supermarkets to introduce plastic-free aisles where all the food is loose.

The European Union, for its part, plans to propose a tax on plastic bags and packaging, citing the China ban and the health of the oceans among other reasons.

Those measures might help ease the situation some day, but for now Britain is faced with growing piles of recyclables and no place to put them. Experts say the immediate response to the crisis may well be to turn to incineration or landfills — both harmful to the environment.

China’s ban covers imports of 24 kinds of solid waste, including unsorted paper and the low-grade polyethylene terephthalate used in plastic bottles, as part of a broad cleanup effort and a campaign against “yang laji,” or “foreign garbage.” It also sets new limits on the levels of impurities in other recyclables.

China had been processing at least half of the world’s exports of waste paper, metals and used plastic — 7.3 million tons in 2016, according to recent industry data. Last July, China notified the World Trade Organization that it intended to ban some imports of trash, saying the action was needed to protect the environment and improve public health.

“Large amounts of dirty wastes or even hazardous wastes are mixed in the solid waste that can be used as raw materials,” Beijing wrote to the W.T.O. “This polluted China’s environment seriously.”

Chinese officials also complained that much of the recyclable material the country received from overseas had not been properly cleaned or was mixed with non-recyclable materials.

The sudden move has left Western countries scrambling to deal with a buildup of plastic and paper garbage while looking for new markets for the waste.

“It’s not just a U.K. problem,” said Simon Ellin, chief executive of the Recycling Association in Britain. “The rest of the world is thinking, ‘What can we do?’ It’s tough times.”

In Halifax, Nova Scotia, which sent 80 percent of its recycling to China, Matthew Keliher, the city’s manager of solid waste, said he had largely found alternatives to accept plastic, except for the low-grade plastic film that is used to make shopping bags and for wrapping. Stockpiles of those plastics have so exceeded the city’s storage capacity that Halifax had to get special permission to bury about 300 metric tons of the material in a landfill.

In Calgary, Alberta, which sent 50 percent of its plastics and 100 percent of its mixed papers to China, the material has been stockpiled in empty storage sheds, shipping containers, trailers and warehouses since last fall. So far, 5,000 tons has been collected, Sharon Howland, the city’s lead manager of waste and recycling services, told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

“The material are a sellable resource, so we will store them as long as we can and evaluate our options from there,” she said.

In Britain, even the political class appeared caught by surprise. When asked in front of lawmakers about the impending ban last month, Environment Secretary Michael Gove fumbled: “I don’t know what impact it will have. It is something to which — I will be completely honest — I have not given sufficient thought.”

Pollution from plastics has captured global attention in recent years. A new David Attenborough series on the BBC, “Blue Planet II,” has shown plastic bags and bottles clogging oceans and killing fish, turtles and other marine wildlife, prompting governments to put in place more stringent rules.

Every year, Britain sends China enough recyclables to fill up 10,000 Olympic-size swimming pools, according to Greenpeace U.K. The United States exports more than 13.2 million tons of scrap paper and 1.42 million tons of scrap plastics annually to China, the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries has reported. That is the sixth-largest American export to China.

“There may be alternative markets but they’re not ready today,” said Emmanuel Katrakis, the secretary general of the European Recycling Industries’ Confederation in Brussels.

Mr. Katrakis dismissed China’s claims that all imported scrap waste contained high levels of contaminants, and said that Beijing’s thresholds for most types of scrap were “far more demanding” than in Europe or the United States. At the same time, he said, Europe has focused too much on collecting plastic waste and shipping it out, and not enough on encouraging manufacturers to use it in new products.

“We’ve got to start producing less and we’ve got to produce better-quality recyclable goods,” Mr. Ellin said.

Too often, he said, manufacturers produce environmentally harmful products and then “pass the buck” to retailers, who in turn pass it to local councils to pick up the tab to sort out the waste for recycling.

“What’s happened is that the final link in the supply chain has turned around and said: ‘No, we’re not going to take this poor-quality stuff anymore. Keep it for yourself.’”

“The contamination can no longer be more than 0.5 percent,” he said, referring to the stringent levels that China has imposed on some of the materials that it hasn’t banned so far.

Is plastic waste from overseas “the reason why you can’t see blue skies in China?” he asked. “I don’t think so. Go fight the big battles, not the small battles.”

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« Reply #4409 on: Today at 05:59 AM »

New round of oil drilling goes deeper into Ecuador's Yasuní national park

State oil company starts second phase of drilling in one of the world’s most biodiverse hotspots

Jonathan Watts
16 Jan 2018 17.30 GMT

Ecuador’s state oil company has begun drilling the first of 97 planned wells inside a new field of the Yasuní national park, one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots.

The opening of the Tambococha-2 well has triggered fierce criticism from conservationists, who say President Lenín Moreno is backtracking on a promise to protect the Amazon and pay greater heed to the opinion of indigenous groups.

This is the second phase of the controversial Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini (ITT) project, which started in 2016. Environmentalists say it goes deeper into the national park.

At Tambococha-2, Petroamazonas will take eight days to drill down 1,800 metres to tap a reserve estimated at 287m barrels of crude, the company said. In the coming months and years, it plans to build four platforms and drill almost 100 wells.

The company insists it will do so unobtrusively by concentrating drilling in a small area, burying pipes and putting in place precautions against spills.

But critics say it is impossible to guarantee zero impact on such a biologically sensitive area. They say the opening of roads and influx of workers is likely to accelerate deforestation, hunting and colonisation and could result in conflict with two isolated nomadic tribes.

It is a conundrum for Moreno, who was praised by environmentalists last year after promising the United Nations he would do more to protect the Amazon. He has agreed greater consultation with local communities before granting new mining concessions and Ecuador will shortly hold a referendum on whether to expand protections for Yasuní.

That may come too late, given Petroamazonas’s latest move, which is the most intrusive development yet in the ITT area of Yasuní.

“Drilling in Yasuni directly contradicts Moreno’s UN pledge and the expanded protections proposed in the referendum,” said Carlos Mazabanda, Ecuador field coordinator with Amazon Watch.

“It also contradicts Ecuador’s constitution, which recognises the rights of nature and seeks to protect sensitive ecosystems from ‘activities that could lead to species extinction, the destruction of ecosystems, or the permanent alteration of natural cycles’.”

Yasuní was once a beacon of hope for global conservation. In 2007, former president Rafael Correa offered to leave the oil in the ground in return for $3.6bn (£3bn) compensation from the global community, but the plan was scrapped six years later with less than 10% of the target figure raised.

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