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« Reply #1080 on: Jan 13, 2018, 06:22 AM »

The Netherlands Can Feed the World. Here’s Why It Shouldn’t

By Olga Mecking, Commentary

Recently, National Geographic published an article called This Tiny Country Feeds the World, where the author extolled the innovations of a small European country that has managed to become a global powerhouse in agriculture and technology—the Netherlands. Now the second biggest exporter in value of agricultural products after the U.S., the country has managed to cut down carbon emissions and its use of fertilizer and pesticides while implementing cutting-edge technology and increasing yields.

The article opens with a vivid description of a farm close to the Belgian border where a farmer is overseeing drones from the cabin of his state-of-the-art harvester. He is the symbol of the new Dutch approach to food production: "Twice as much food using half as many resources."

The author blithely points out what we already know: There will be 9 billion people living on Earth by 2050 and the demand for food will increase accordingly.

On the surface, it sounds impressive: A tiny, densely populated country has developed the capacity to feed the world, a feat worthy of admiration. And yet this raises other, more critical questions: Is the Netherlands' technology-dependent, high-capital model actually appropriate for other countries? Is it even necessary? And what gets lost when we focus solely on increasing food efficiency?

You may not hear many Dutch people complaining about their own food, but for everyone else, it lacks quality and taste. This is best symbolized by the tomato. A German once told me, "Dutch tomatoes are best for playing tennis with." And yet the Netherlands is the third biggest exporter of tomatoes in the European Union. The given reason is always economics; the Dutch were paid the lowest price per kilo out of all EU countries.

While some good tomatoes are produced for both export and for domestic consumption, "the taste is not always good," explained Leo Marcelis, a professor of horticulture at Wageningen University and Research. "It's more the choice of the grower. Many growers go for more kilograms because then the net profit is higher."

But the problem isn't with Dutch production, but rather with Dutch choice. "The originality or creativity of the food culture—you won't find it here," said Pinar Coskun, a sociologist at Sustainable Food Lab, an Erasmus University of Rotterdam project aimed at encouraging more varied, sustainable, and plant-based diets. A country can become an agricultural powerhouse without having a rich food culture, but the focus on price, efficiency and practicality has undermined how the Dutch both consume and produce their food.

"For the Netherlands, it doesn't matter what you are importing or exporting, whether it's raw materials, or food ingredients. It has more to do with economy, distribution, logistics than getting into food culture. So that's also a little bit of rational thinking," explained Coskun.

Dutch food has a reputation for being bland, uninspired and boring, which is astounding given the country's rich history of seafaring and trading. But the Dutch were once adventurous eaters, experimenting with new ingredients and mixing them up in novel ways. Cookbooks such as De Verstandige Kok (or The Reasonable Chef), which was published in 1669, are proof that the Dutch had taken great interest in what was on their plates. They experimented with spices such as saffron and others. A recipe featured roasted goose with turmeric and quince paste cookies. Many people grew fruits and vegetables in their own gardens.

But in the 19th century, when the Dutch Golden Age of exploration and colonization was over, the Netherlands lost many of its territories to England, and frugality became fashionable. At the end of the 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th, girls were sent to special housekeeping schools, where they learned to cook simply, cheaply and quickly. Experimenting with tastes, ingredients and cooking methods was seen as frivolous, therefore was frowned upon. As a result, Dutch culinary culture lost much of its early adventurousness and became known for the bland and mashed concoctions we find today.

But this is, yet again, changing. Among others, a new collective of chefs called Dutch Cuisine is devoted to raising the profile of Dutch food in the nation and around the world.

It's underexposed, said Marjan Pijnenburg, one of Dutch Cuisine's founders, but she disagrees with the notion that the Netherlands lacks a food culture. "We have fantastic food, traditions, and products," she said. "That is something we can be proud of."

There are some benefits to a simple approach to food. For one, while the country's high-tech food industry grows the same crops year-round (for example, tomatoes), the Dutch diet relies heavily on seasonal produce from small, local, family-owned farms. Some dishes, such as stamppot (mashed potatoes with leafy green vegetables and smoked sausage) or snert (also known as erwtensoep, green split pea soup), are only eaten in wintertime. There is a growing interest in rediscovering long-forgotten fruits and vegetables, such as Jerusalem artichokes, parsnips or medlars, now sold in many health food stores. Weekly farmers markets, which offer a wide variety of fresh produce, have a long tradition in the Netherlands. And, for food purists who love knowing exactly what they are eating, the Dutch minimalistic approach seems perfect because most dishes don't require a miles-long list of ingredients.

Moreover, the culture is slowly and steadily changing, following the global trend toward healthier food. In 2014, the Netherlands topped the list of countries with the most available, healthy, nutritious and affordable food. The Dutch also increasingly buy organic food, especially when it comes to staples like eggs, milk and fish. However, not all trends are positive. The Dutch still consume large amounts of sugar and fat. The time used for food preparation and shopping has decreased in recent years, with a trend toward ready-made or take-out dishes. But the shift toward healthier and tastier cuisine can't be dismissed.

The world definitely has a lot to learn from Dutch innovations in farming, especially when it comes to reducing the use of water, pesticides and carbon emissions. But before we get overly excited about the Netherlands, let's remember that the Dutch have their own lessons to learn. In Coskun's words, "before we feed the world, we should feed ourselves."

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« Reply #1081 on: Jan 13, 2018, 06:24 AM »

EPA Rule Change Would Expose Teenagers to Highly Toxic Chemicals

By Farron Cousins

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is taking aim at two rules designed to prevent exposure to toxic chemicals by workers under the age of 18. The agency has filed notices with the federal register of its intent to either tweak or outright eliminate these protections for underage workers.

The first rule the agency is looking to change is one the Obama administration adopted in 2015 which prohibited farmworkers under the age of 18 from handling and dispersing certain pesticides deemed too toxic for public sale.

Typically, the pesticides used on large agricultural sites contain far more potent and toxic chemicals, and these pesticides are only available for sale to commercial farms due to their toxicity. These are known as "restricted use" pesticides, and the EPA provides a full list of the thousands of chemicals that fall into this category.

According to HuffPost, the rules were put in place in 2015 after doctors lobbied for tighter restrictions for underage workers due to the potential impacts of this class of chemicals on the still developing bodies of children, and they warned about very severe health impacts that these chemicals could have on brain development.

The second rule is related to the first and would loosen restrictions on who could be certified to dispense such toxic pesticides, which would open the door for minors to gain this certification.

As DeSmog has pointed out in the past, children are far more susceptible to chemical toxicity than adults, making these proposed rule changes a potential disaster waiting to happen:

As the Centers for Disease Control explained, children require more food, oxygen and water than adults in comparison to their body size. This means that a contaminant in any one of those areas will have a greater presence in the body of a child compared to the body of a full grown adult.

The CDC also said that some organ systems within the body do not fully mature until a child is in their teens, and a developing system is far more susceptible to pollutants than an established organ system, as different pollutants can delay or alter development.

The CDC described out how different types of environmental contaminants affect children differently than adults: "Exposure to the same chemical may cause different health outcomes in children compared with adults. A well-known example is the effect of lead on young children's developing nervous systems. Lead does have effects on the nervous systems of adult workers, which result in peripheral neuropathies. For children, however, intellectual development is exquisitely sensitive to even small amounts of lead; this sensitivity is not seen in adults."

Many of the pesticides that are classified as "restricted use" include at least one chemical related to at least one major health effect, according to a study by researchers in Greece.

For very obvious reasons, changing these protections could result in health disasters for youth in the U.S., particularly those working on farms. These rules were adopted on the advice of medical professionals, and changing these protections would only further show that the current administration, and EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, will continue to side with industry interests over science and public health.

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« Reply #1082 on: Jan 13, 2018, 06:31 AM »

Beijing bets on facial recognition in a big drive for total surveillance

WA Post

For 40-year-old Mao Ya, the facial recognition camera that allows access to her apartment house is simply a useful convenience.

“If I am carrying shopping bags in both hands, I just have to look ahead and the door swings open,” she said. “And my 5-year-old daughter can just look up at the camera and get in. It’s good for kids because they often lose their keys.”

But for the police, the cameras that replaced the residents’ old entry cards serve quite a different purpose.

Now they can see who’s coming and going, and by combining artificial intelligence with a huge national bank of photos, the system in this pilot project should enable police to identify what one police report, shared with The Washington Post, called the “bad guys” who once might have slipped by.

Facial recognition is the new hot tech topic in China. Banks, airports, hotels and even public toilets are all trying to verify people’s identities by analyzing their faces. But the police and security state have been the most enthusiastic about embracing this new technology.

The pilot in Chongqing forms one tiny part of an ambitious plan, known as “Xue Liang,” which can be translated as “Sharp Eyes.” The intent is to connect the security cameras that already scan roads, shopping malls and transport hubs with private cameras on compounds and buildings, and integrate them into one nationwide surveillance and data-sharing platform.

It will use facial recognition and artificial intelligence to analyze and understand the mountain of incoming video evidence; to track suspects, spot suspicious behaviors and even predict crime; to coordinate the work of emergency services; and to monitor the comings and goings of the country’s 1.4 billion people, official documents and security industry reports show.

At the back end, these efforts merge with a vast database of information on every citizen, a “Police Cloud” that aims to scoop up such data as criminal and medical records, travel bookings, online purchase and even social media comments — and link it to everyone’s identity card and face.

A goal of all of these interlocking efforts: to track where people are, what they are up to, what they believe and who they associate with — and ultimately even to assign them a single “social credit” score based on whether the government and their fellow citizens consider them trustworthy.

At this housing complex in Chongqing, “90 percent of the crime is caused by the 10 percent of people who are not registered residents,” the police report said. “With facial recognition we can recognize strangers, analyze their entry and exit times, see who spends the night here, and how many times. We can identify suspicious people from among the population.”

Adrian Zenz, a German academic who has researched ethnic policy and the security state in China’s western province of Xinjiang, said the government craves omnipotence over a vast, complex and restive population.

“Surveillance technologies are giving the government a sense that it can finally achieve the level of control over people’s lives that it aspires to,” he said.

In this effort, the Chinese government is working hand-in-glove with the country’s tech industry, from established giants to plucky start-ups staffed by graduates from top American universities and former employees of companies like Google and Microsoft, who seem cheerfully oblivious to concerns they might be empowering a modern surveillance state.

The name of the video project is taken from the Communist slogan “the masses have sharp eyes,” and is a throwback to Mao Zedong’s attempt to get every citizen spying on one another. The goal, according to tech industry executives working on the project, is to shine a light into every dark corner of China, to eliminate the shadows where crime thrives.

The Sharp Eyes project also aims to mobilize the neighborhood committees and snoopy residents who have long been key informers: now, state media reports, some can turn on their televisions or mobile phones to see security camera footage, and report any suspicious activity — a car without a license plate, an argument turning violent — directly to the police.

To the eyes of the masses, in other words, add the brains of the country’s fast-growing tech industry.
At Megvii offices in Beijing, a designer prepares marketing material for a facial-recognition product. The company's marketing manager has said Megvii's Face program has helped police make thousands of arrests.

By 2020, China’s government aims to make the video surveillance network “omnipresent, fully networked, always working and fully controllable,” combining data mining with sophisticated video and image analysis, official documents show.

China is not alone in experimenting with these new technologies. The FBI’s Next Generation Identification System uses facial recognition to compare images from crime scenes with a national database of mug shots. Police forces across the United States have been using algorithm-based techniques for several years to predict where crimes are likely to occur.

Chicago police identified and a court convicted a thief using facial-recognition technology in 2014, and Britain used a Japanese program called NeoFace Watch to spot a wanted man in a crowd in May.

The United States, with around 62 million surveillance cameras in 2016, actually has higher per capita penetration rate than China, with around 172 million, according to Monica Wang, a senior analyst in video surveillance and security at research consultants IHS Markit in Shanghai.

Yet it is China’s ambition that sets it apart. Western law enforcement agencies tend to use facial recognition to identify criminal suspects, not to track social activists and dissidents, or to monitor entire ethnic groups. China seeks to achieve several interlocking goals: to dominate the global artificial-intelligence industry, to apply big data to tighten its grip on every aspect of society, and to maintain surveillance of its population more effectively than ever before.

“Deep learning is poised to revolutionize the video surveillance industry,” Wang wrote in a recent report. “Demand in China will grow quickly, providing the engine for future market growth.”

In the showrooms of three facial-recognition start-ups in Chongqing and Beijing, video feeds roll past on big screens, with faces picked out from crowds and matched to images of wanted men and women. Street cameras automatically classify passersby according to gender, clothes and even hair length, and software allows people to be tracked from one surveillance camera to the next, by their faces alone.

“The bigger picture is to track routine movement, and after you get this information, to investigate problematic behavior,” said Li Xiafeng, director of research and development at Cloudwalk, a Chongqing-based firm. “If you know gambling takes place in a location, and someone goes there frequently, they become suspicious.”

Gradually, a model of people’s behavior takes shape. “Once you identify a criminal or a suspect, then you look at their connections with other people,” he said. “If another person has multiple connections, they also become suspicious.”

The start-ups also showcase more consumer-friendly applications of their technology. Companies like SenseTime, Megvii and Cloudwalk provide the software that powers mobile apps allowing people to alter, “beautify” or transform their faces for fun.

Much of their business also comes from banks and financial companies that are using facial recognition to check identities, at ATMs or on phones. Some airports in China already employ facial recognition in security checks, and hotels are doing the same at check-in; a Chinese version of Airbnb promises to use it to verify guests’ identities, while China’s version of Uber, Didi Chuxing, is using it to verify those of its drivers.

Some of the applications have a slightly gimmicky feel. A lecturer at a Beijing university was said to be using a face scanner to check if his students were bored; a toilet roll dispenser at a public facility outside the Temple of Heaven in Beijing reportedly scans faces to keep people from stealing too much paper, while a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant in Hangzhou allows customers to simply “smile to pay.”

Other ideas are struggling to move beyond the pilot stage: a plan to identify jaywalkers in Chongqing has already been abandoned, while residents have responded to facial-recognition gates on some apartment buildings in Chongqing and Beijing by propping the doors open.

Yet facial recognition is not going away, and it promises to become a potent tool for maintaining control of Chinese society.

So far, the technology doesn’t quite match the ambition: It is not foolproof.

“There will be false positives for the foreseeable future,” said Jim Dempsey, executive director of UC Berkeley’s Center for Law and Technology. This raises two critical questions, he said: Does a country’s due process system protect people from being falsely convicted on the basis of facial-recognition technology? And are the false positives disproportionately skewed toward certain minority groups, such as Chinese Muslims?

In China, the tech companies claim many times greater accuracy rates than, for instance, the FBI, and probably justifiably so, experts say: after all, they have been able to draw on a huge pool of photos from government records to improve their algorithms, without any pesky concerns about privacy.

More than anything else, experts say, deep learning technologies need huge amounts of data to come up with accurate algorithms. China has more data than anywhere else in the world and fewer constraints about mining it from its citizens.

“Now we are purely data driven,” said Xu Li, CEO of SenseTime. “It’s easier in China to collect sufficient training data. If we want to do new innovations, China will have advantages in data collection in a legal way.”

Smart technology backed by artificial intelligence will be a tool to assist the police forces of the future. Chinese IT and telecoms giant Huawei says its Safe Cities technology has already helped Kenya bring down urban crime rates.

But who’s a criminal? In China, documents for the Police Cloud project unearthed by Human Rights Watch list “petitioners” — people who complain to the government about perceived injustices — as potential targets of surveillance, along with anyone who “undermines stability” or has “extreme thoughts.” Other documents cite members of ethnic minorities, specifically Muslim Uighurs from Xinjiang, as subjects of scrutiny.

Maya Wang, a researcher at Human Rights Watch, said what sets China apart is “a complete lack of effective privacy protections,” combined with a system that is explicitly designed to target individuals seen as “politically threatening.”

“In other countries, we are often concerned about the use of big data for deepening existing policing bias — for example, for targeting historically disadvantaged groups like African Americans in the U.S. context — but for the Chinese systems, the targeting of people of certain ethnicity is a fundamental function of the system,” she added.

In Muslim-majority Xinjiang, where a spate of violent incidents has been blamed on separatists or Islamist radicals, facial-recognition cameras have become ubiquitous at roadblocks, outside gas stations, airports, railway and bus stations, and at residential and university compounds and entrances to Muslim neighborhoods, experts say. DNA collection and iris scanning add extra layers of sophistication.

At Megvii, marketing manager Zhang Xin boasts that the company’s Face++ program helped police arrest 4,000 people since the start of 2016, including about 1,000 in Hangzhou, where a major deployment of cameras in hotels, subways and train stations preceded that year’s G-20 summit.

Very likely among that number: some of the dozens of dissidents, petitioners and citizen journalists who were detained in and around the city at that time.

Frances Eve, a researcher for Chinese Human Rights Defenders in Hong Kong, argues that China’s tech companies are complicit in human rights abuses.

“It’s basically a crime in China to advocate for human rights protection,” she said. “The government treats human rights activists, lawyers and ethnic Uighurs and Tibetans as criminals, and these people are being caught, jailed and possibly tortured as a result of this technology.”

Shirley Feng contributed to this report.

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« Reply #1083 on: Jan 13, 2018, 06:35 AM »

Greta Gerwig regrets Woody Allen film: 'I will not work for him again'

Actor, writer and director says ‘if I had known then what I know now, I would not have acted in [To Rome With Love]’

Steph Harmon
13 Jan 2018 01.18 GMT

Greta Gerwig has expressed regret over working with Woody Allen on 2012 film To Rome With Love, saying in an online roundtable, “If I had known then what I know now, I would not have acted in the film.”

At the Golden Globes this week, where Gerwig’s critically acclaimed film Lady Bird won in two of four nominated categories, the actor, writer and director dodged a question about working with Allen.
Mira Sorvino: I am terribly sorry for working with Woody Allen
Read more

Allen has been the subject of decades-long allegations of sexual abuse by his adopted daughter Dylan Farrow, which he continues to deny.

“It’s something that I’ve thought deeply about, and I care deeply about,” Gerwig said on Sunday night. “I haven’t had an opportunity to have an in-depth discussion where I come down on one side or another.”
Greta Gerwig questioned about working with Woody Allen backstage at the Globes on Sunday - video

Some criticised Gerwig for evading the question, while others drew attention to the gendered pattern of holding women like Gerwig and Kate Winslet more accountable for working with Allen than men.

    Erica C. Barnett (@ericacbarnett)

    Yo, while we're (correctly and righteously) trashing the women who worked with Woody Allen and are now hypocritically saying #TIMESUP, can we PLEASE also talk about all the MEN who worked with him and are not experiencing remotely similar levels of scrutiny right now?
    January 9, 2018

    Bailey Disler (@baytato)

    Another day, another d(ay watching people attack primarily women for working with Woody Allen in the past instead of the men or instead of Woody Allen him damn self)ollar
    January 10, 2018

But on Tuesday night, in an online discussion with Aaron Sorkin hosted by the New York Times which covered the #MeToo wave in Hollywood, cultural appropriation and the impact of streaming services on the industry, Gerwig clarified her position on Allen.

Responding to a broad question about how allegations against artists like Allen should affect their legacy and future opportunities, Gerwig said: “I would like to speak specifically to the Woody Allen question, which I have been asked about a couple of times recently ... It is something that I take very seriously and have been thinking deeply about, and it has taken me time to gather my thoughts and say what I mean to say.

“I can only speak for myself and what I’ve come to is this: if I had known then what I know now, I would not have acted in the film. I have not worked for him again, and I will not work for him again.”

Gerwig mentioned two pieces written by Dylan Farrow – one in 2014, when she first publicly addressed her allegations against Allen, and another in October 2017 when she questioned why he was being spared in “the #MeToo revolution”. In the second piece, Farrow namechecked Gerwig, Winslet and Blake Lively as three A-list women who had broadly supported the movement while failing to account for their own professional support of Allen.

“Dylan Farrow’s two different pieces made me realise that I had increased another woman’s pain, and I was heartbroken by that realisation,” Gerwig said. “I grew up on his movies, and they have informed me as an artists, and I cannot change that fact now, but I can make different decisions moving forward.”
‘We say, time’s up!’ Who were the activists at the Golden Globes?
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Gerwig described the politicised Golden Globes ceremony as “an extraordinary night” which was indicative of “a turning point for women”.

“I think that the way women have come together to lead the Time’s Up movement and to make clear goals for our industry is how we are going to move forward with purposefulness. I was very moved that the stage was given to the leaders of this movement and the people who can be change agents. These are the women who should be apologised to, and that they were given the space was meaningful.

“The fact that many of the women attended with feminist activists from across all industries made the night even more resonant with this moment.”

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« Reply #1084 on: Jan 13, 2018, 06:49 AM »

Donald Trump Flushes Away America’s Reputation

NY Times
JAN. 13, 2018

For a fleeting moment Tuesday, President Trump seemed to signal he would do the right thing on immigration. At a 90-minute meeting with congressional Republicans and Democrats, much of it televised, he said he’d be willing to “take the heat” for a broad immigration deal of the sort urgently needed by the country and despised by his hard-core base.

Alas, it was all a charade. The real Donald Trump was back two days later with his now notorious “shithole” remark, asking why the United States should accept people from places like Haiti or Africa instead of nice Nordic countries like Norway, and then tweeting his tiresome demands for a “Great Wall” along the Mexican border.

Never mind that Norwegians are not clamoring to leave what is rated as the happiest nation on earth, and setting aside renewed questions about Mr. Trump’s fitness, the flip-flop left the issue of immigration more confused than before.

Where to begin? How about with a simple observation: The president of the United States is a racist. And another: The United States has a long and ugly history of excluding immigrants based on race or national origin. Mr. Trump seems determined to undo efforts taken by presidents of both parties in recent decades to overcome that history.

Mr. Trump denied making the remarks on Friday, but Senator Richard Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, who attended the meeting, said the president did in fact say these “hate-filled things, and he said them repeatedly.”

Of course he did. Remember, Mr. Trump is not just racist, ignorant, incompetent and undignified. He’s also a liar.

Even the president’s most sycophantic defenders didn’t bother denying the reports. Instead they justified them. Places like Haiti really are terrible, they reminded us. Never mind that many native-born Americans are descended from immigrants who fled countries (including Norway in the second half of the 19th century) that were considered hellholes at the time.

No one is denying that Haiti and some of these other countries have profound problems today. Of course, those problems are often a direct result of policies and actions of the United States and European nations: to name just a few, kidnapping and enslaving their citizens; plundering their natural resources; propping up their dictators and corrupt regimes; and holding them financially hostage for generations.

The United States has long held itself out as a light among nations based on the American ideal of equality. But the deeper history tells a different story.

The sociologists David Scott FitzGerald and David Cook-Martin have shown that the United States pioneered racially based exclusionary immigration policies in the Americas in the late 18th and 19th centuries. (Not long before he was elected president, for example, Theodore Roosevelt asserted the bigoted but then-common view that the Chinese should be kept out of America because they were “racially inferior.”)

It should sober Americans to know that authoritarian governments in Chile, Cuba and Uruguay ended racist immigration policies decades before the United States.

The current turmoil over immigration conflates several separate issues. One is DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which has provided temporary work permits and reprieves from deportation for undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children. These are the so-called Dreamers, who number about 800,000.

Another issue is the Temporary Protected Status program under which undocumented foreigners who were in the United States when disaster or conflict struck their homeland are allowed to remain in the United States. In November, the Trump administration ended the protection for about 60,000 Haitians, and on Monday the administration lifted it for almost 200,000 Salvadorans, most of whom have been in the United States for two decades.

A third issue is the future of the roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants who have come to the United States over decades and have effectively integrated into American life. The Trump administration has ordered a broad immigration crackdown against them.

And finally there’s President Trump’s imagined wall.

What is concerning is not the wall, or the word “shithole” or the vacillation on the Dreamers or the Salvadorans. It’s what ties all of these things together: the bigoted worldview of the man behind them.

Anyone who has followed Mr. Trump over the years knows this. We knew it in the 1970s, when he and his father were twice sued by the Justice Department for refusing to rent apartments to black people. We knew it in 1989, when he took out a full-page newspaper ad calling for the execution of five black and Latino teenagers charged with the brutal rape of a white woman in Central Park. (The men were convicted but later exonerated by DNA and other evidence, but Mr. Trump never apologized, and he continued to argue as late as 2016 that the men were guilty.) We knew it when he built a presidential campaign by demonizing Mexicans and Muslims while promoting the lie that America’s first black president wasn’t born here. Or when, last summer, he defended marchers in a neo-Nazi parade as “very fine people.”

Just last month, The Times reported on an Oval Office meeting on immigration during which Mr. Trump said that the 15,000 Haitians now living in the United States “all have AIDS,” and that Nigerian immigrants would never “go back to their huts” in Africa once they had seen the United States. See a pattern yet?

Donald Trump is by no means America’s first racist president. But he ran a campaign explicitly rooted in bigotry, exclusion and white resentment. To his die-hard but ever-shrinking base, comments like those he made Thursday only reaffirm his solidarity with the cause. The Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi website, certainly saw it this way. “This is encouraging and refreshing, as it indicates Trump is more or less on the same page as us with regards to race and immigration,” the site wrote in a post.

The meeting at which Mr. Trump spewed his vulgarity was meant to be a discussion of bipartisan immigration proposals by Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, and Mr. Durbin. Two other Republicans, John Kasich and Jeb Bush Jr., are the authors of an Op-Ed article in Thursday’s Times arguing against the forced expulsion of undocumented immigrants who have made a home in the United States. This shouldn’t be a hard call, especially with the economy growing modestly but steadily and unemployment hovering around 4 percent.

Instead, Republicans in Congress are spending most of their time finding ways to avoid talking about their openly bigoted chief executive. Some claimed not to have heard what Mr. Trump said. Others offered tepid defenses of his “salty” talk. House Speaker Paul Ryan called Mr. Trump’s comments “unhelpful,” clearly wishing he could return to his daily schedule of enriching the wealthiest Americans.

Mr. Trump has made clear that he has no useful answers on immigration. It’s up to Congress to fashion long-term, humane solutions. A comprehensive immigration bill that resolves all these issues would be best. But if that is not possible, given the resistance of hard-core anti-immigration activists in Congress, legislators should at least join forces to protect the Dreamers, Salvadorans, Haitians and others threatened by the administration’s cruel and chaotic actions.


'There's no other word but racist': Trump's global rebuke for 'shithole' remark

US diplomats around the world were summoned for formal reproach, amid global shock over Trump calling African nations, Haiti and El Salvador ‘shitholes’

Patrick Wintour, Jason Burke and Anna Livsey
Sat 13 Jan 2018 10.38 GMT

Donald Trump has been branded a shocking and shameful racist after it was credibly reported he had described African nations, as well as Haiti and El Salvador as “shitholes” and questioned why so many of their citizens had ever been permitted to enter America.

US diplomats around the world were summoned for formal reproach, amid global shock that such crude remarks could ever be made in a semi-public meeting by the president of America.

In a strongly-worded statement, the UN said it was impossible to describe his remarks as anything other than racist, while the Vatican decried Trump’s words as “particularly harsh and offensive”.

The 55-nation African Union said the remarks were “clearly racist”.

Trump initially allowed reported accounts of his comments to go unchallenged, but went into damage limitation mode on Friday, insisting he had not used derogatory words – but admitting that the language he had used at a meeting with Senators on immigration was “tough”.

But the democratic senator Dick Durbin – who was present at the meeting with Trump on Thursday – insisted that the reports were entirely accurate.

He said “those hate-filled things and did so repeatedly”.

“Shithole was the exact word used once not twice but repeatedly,” Durbin said, adding that the word was specifically used in the context of African countries.

The UN human rights spokesman, Rupert Colville, told a Geneva news briefing: “There is no other word one can use but racist. You cannot dismiss entire countries and continents as ‘shitholes’, whose entire populations, who are not white, are therefore not welcome.”

Salvador Sánchez, the president of El Salvador, said Trump’s words had “struck at the dignity of Salvadorans”.

“El Salvador formally protests and energetically rejects this kind of comment,” Sánchez wrote on Twitter.

US diplomats and the US embassy in San Salvador sought to assure those in El Salvador of their respect for the country. Jean Manes, the US envoy to El Salvador, tweeted in Spanish: “I have had the privilege to travel around this beautiful country and meet thousands of Salvadorans. It is an honour to live and work here. We remain 100% committed.”

Robin Diallo, the US chargé d’affaires to Haiti, was summoned to meet the Haitian president, Jovenel Moïse, to discuss the remarks. The former Haitian president Laurent Lamothe expressed his dismay, saying Trump had shown “a lack of respect and ignorance”.

Across Africa there was diplomatic fury. Botswana’s government called Trump’s comment “reprehensible and racist” and said the US ambassador had been summoned to clarify whether the nation was regarded as a “shithole” country after years of cordial relations. Uganda’s state minister for international relations, Henry Okello Oryem, called the remarks “unfortunate and regrettable”.

The African Union said it was alarmed by Trump’s language. “Given the historical reality of how many Africans arrived in the United States as slaves, this statement flies in the face of all accepted behaviour and practice,” its spokeswoman Ebba Kalondo told Associated Press.

Jessie Duarte, the deputy secretary general of South Africa’s ruling ANC, said: “Ours is not a shithole country; neither is Haiti or any other country in distress. It’s not as if the United States doesn’t have problems. There is unemployment in the US, there are people who don’t have healthcare services.”

The leader of South Africa’s main opposition party, Mmusi Maimane, described the comments as “abhorrent”. He tweeted of Trump:

    Mmusi Maimane (@MmusiMaimane)

    The comments referred to here are abhorrent. He confirms a patronizing view of Africa and promotes a racist agenda. Africa/US relations will take strain from this, with a leader who has failed to reconcile humanity. The hatred of Obama’s roots now extends to an entire continent https://t.co/Kq09tVu0Bo
    January 12, 2018

The US state department tried to pour water on the flames, issuing a tweet from its Bureau of African Affairs saying that “the United States will continue to robustly, enthusiastically and forcefully engage in #Africa, promoting this vital relationship”.

Mexico’s former president, Vicente Fox, who has been an outspoken critic of Trump, said in a colourful tweet that “America’s greatness was built on diversity”. He added Trump’s mouth was “the foulest shithole in the world. With what authority do you announce who is welcome in America and who is not? America’s greatness is based on diversity, or have you forgotten your migration background, Donald?”

David Miliband, the president of the International Rescue Committee, said Trump’s comments were leading a “race to the bottom on refugees”.

Trump has made few references to Africa since his election, and many senior Africa-focused posts in his administration remain unfilled.

In September, he appeared to invent a new country called Nambia while addressing African leaders in Washington. Trump also told them: “I have so many friends going to your countries, trying to get rich. It has a tremendous business potential.”

The US government’s Africa Media Hub made an effort to limit the diplomatic damage of the president’s words.

Without directly referring to Trump’s statement, a tweet said the “US remains committed to working together w/Africans to realize the promise of a more peaceful, more productive, more prosperous 21st century Africa. US deeply respects the people of #Africa & values its partnerships with them.”

Boniface Mwangi, a well-known social activist in Kenya tweeted:

    Boniface Mwangi (@bonifacemwangi)

    Africa isn’t a shithole. It’s the most beautiful continent in the world. Beautiful,hardworking people. We have diamonds, gold, iron, cobalt, uranium, copper, bauxite, silver, petroleum, cocoa, coffee, tea etc. Sadly we have #shithole leaders like Trump shitting on us everyday. pic.twitter.com/Vv4Wgtq4Pk
    January 12, 2018

Standing at a coffee stall outside an office block in Rosebank, a commercial and business neighbourhood in central Johannesburg, Blessing Dlamini, a 45-year-old administrative assistant, said Trump’s words came as “no surprise”.

“He has shown the world he is a racist. We should just block him from our thoughts,” Dlamini said.


Republicans will put up with Trump’s ‘sh*thole’ comment

12 Jan 2018 at 17:22 ET  

The debate over the 2016 election will continue to rage for years to come, I have no doubt, but one thing we can now say for sure: Those who defended, deflected, rationalized or overlooked candidate Donald Trump’s completely obvious racism were wrong. Further, in being wrong, Republicans are now going to overcompensate for the present moment by doubling down on the monstrosity that is Trump’s presidency, most recently demonstrated by his remark Thursday referring to nonwhite countries as “shitholes.”

The result is a presidency whose end is being hastened by its namesake, and a Republican Party staving off the inevitable long enough to extract as much as it can while it can. In short, the GOP is playing a very short game.

The Republicans know more than we do about Trump’s overseas financial ties and campaign operatives possibly conspiring with Russian agents to move the electorate against Hillary Clinton. Slowly but surely, special counsel Robert Mueller is reaching into Trump’s inner circle, even raising the prospect of interviewing the president himself. It stands to reason the Republicans knew in December that none of this can endure. If they were going to deliver tax cuts to their mega-donors, it had to be a rush job, even if that meant vaporizing norms, violating traditions and losing control of the House.

Their understanding doesn’t stop there. The Republicans know the president’s mental fitness is worth questioning, but were able to deny that fact until Michael Wolff spoiled things with the publication of Fire and Fury. Making matters worse was Trump's insistence on holding televised discussions Wednesday with Congressional Democrats in order to prove he's a "very stable genius." House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy kept him on course by practically screeching to remind him a clean bill on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, is not in the GOP's interest. Steven Bannon, too, might have been signaling his awareness of end times, when he told Wolff that Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting with Russian agents was "unpatriotic." What do you do when the president's fugue state threatens to bring it all down? Accuse his eldest son of treason.

Bannon’s in good company. According to Axios, “more than half a dozen of the more skilled White House staff are contemplating imminent departures. Many leaving are quite fearful about the next chapter of the Trump presidency.” As the next chapter looms large, the president is increasingly isolated himself—literally. He holes up daily for hours in his residence at the White House, calling people (who in turn leak those calls to the press), watching Fox and tweeting.

The more Americans see of Trump, the less they like. CNN's Ronald Brownstein argued the Republicans "have already placed the bets most likely to determine their fate in November's midterm election.” Washington Monthly’s Marty Longman put a finer point on it : “The Republicans are looking to achieve as much as they can while they have their majorities rather than trimming their sails in the effort to maintain their majorities.”

This presidency is entering a kind of political hospice care, in which Trump's attorneys reportedly lie to him to prevent him from firing Mueller, thus hastening their client's demise, while the Republicans focus on keeping the presidency alive long enough to maximize the value of their inheritance.

Again, it's a very short game, and very high risks. Perhaps the Republicans believe they can ask for forgiveness later. But this confidence depends on two things: Trump and the Democrats’ willingness to impeach him.

It is January, and we have—as of right now—a year’s worth of reasons to impeach, and another year to go before the midterms. It stands to reason we are going to see many more turning points a la “shithole countries.” It looks like 2018 is lost for the Republicans. If 2019 is the year of impeachment in the House, that's means 2020 will be lost too. 2024 is a long time from now, but that might be the price the Republicans pay for choosing to smash and grab.

John Stoehr is a fellow at the Yale Journalism Initiative, a contributing writer for the  Washington Monthly , an essayist for the  New Haven Register  and a U.S. News & World Report  contributing editor.


Ex-GOP Rep rips ‘racist’ Trump and his defenders: He’s consistently ‘expressed an ideology’ where rich, white people are better

Raw Story
12 Jan 2018 at 15:03 ET                  

Former GOP Rep. David Jolly on Friday tore into Donald Trump and his defenders, calling the president’s “sh*thole” remarks “racist” and arguing he’s consistently “expressed an ideology” where white people are valued more than people of color.

“Let’s be honest, this is an embarrassing day to be a Republican,” Jolly told CNN’s Brooke Baldwin. “And for rational Republicans, you should be angry today. I believe the president’s comments, if they were made, were racist.”

“Even if you do not, if you are a defender of Donald Trump, here’s the important thing,” Jolly continued. “We know our president, through word and deed over the past two years, has certainly expressed an ideology based upon a certain social hierarchy, a construct, where white people of European decent, particularly those of wealth, have a different place in society than poor people of color.”

Jolly explained what’s even more insidious than Trump’s rampant racism is the fact that “this is someone directing the policy of the United States” and “crafting legislation with the Hill that will effect millions of lives, particularly poor people of color.”

“As a Republican party, we went from a leader in Bush 43 who challenged, challenged the ‘soft bigotry of low expectations,’ to a president in Donald Trump who pedals the hard bigotry of no expectations for people of color,” Jolly declared.

CNN commentator Marc Lamont Hill told Baldwin Trump may be “fully aware of the hurt that he’s causing and simply indifferent to the suffering of of other people,” adding he’s “consistently shown indifference and actual angst and actual anger and actual hatred toward people of color around the world.”

Lamont called the comments “entirely consistent with everything else he’s done.”

Baldwin noted Trump’s outbursts seem to follow a pattern where the president “says something insane” and watch as Republican party leaders refuse to condemn his remarks.

“That is Donald Trump’s GOP,” Jolly argued. “This is the hijacking he has done to the Republican party.”

“What Donald Trump is doing is using the office of the presidency to give permission for Americans to listen to the lesser angels among us,” he added. “No president has done that before.”

Lamont Hill then explained that Trump’s supporters, the people who voted for him, knew what they were signing up for.

“The truth is if you voted for Donald Trump you either voted for him because you agreed with the racist statements that he made consistently throughout the campaign, or you were indifferent to it,” Lamont Hill said.

“So either way you are complicit in the racism we’re seeing prevail right now,” he added.

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


‘His spine has been removed’: Watch Nicolle Wallace blast ‘incredible shrinking man’ Paul Ryan

Bob Brigham
13 Jan 2018 at 17:12 ET                  

MSNBC’s Dateline: White House examined the extent to which President Donald Trump’s alleged racism are enabled by Republican Party leaders — in particular Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI).

Anchor Nicolle Wallace played a clip of Speaker Ryan responding to Trump’s alleged ‘sh*thole’ comments.

“Oh my God, did you say that? An ice storm is unfortunate, and we have friends from Africa? That’s like 20, 40 years ago, when people would say, ‘I have a friend that’s a lesbian,'” Wallace suggested.

“I mean, what was that? What?” Wallace asked Washington Post White House Bureau Chief Phil Rucker.

“To me, that was the most outrageous thing that happened today,” Wallace concluded. “What’s wrong with him?”

“This is Paul Ryan, this is how he was during the campaign, it’s how he’s been all year,” Rucker answered.

“He’s like the incredible shrinking man,” Wallace observed. “It’s like his spine has been removed and he’s trying to diminish himself as a moral human being, as a leader, by the hour, by the day.”

“He sees himself as a moral leader,” Rucker began to reply.

“He’s not,” Wallace interrupted.

“But he doesn’t actually challenge this president and he’ll say it’s because he wants to advance the tax cuts or whatever,” Rucker continued.

“Tax cuts have been passed,” Wallace reminded.

“I know, but he just — he can’t bring himself to stand up to Trump and call a spade a spade,” Rucker explained. “They all try to stroke Trump’s ego and satisfy him and try not to enrage him and set him off. at the end of the day, Trump is the leader of their party, the Republican Party, and the Republican Party is defined by this president and his actions and behavior.”

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7c4FG-SWMTU


Obama to Trump: Watch your behavior

12 Jan 2018 at 14:10 ET  

Former President Obama has a message for President Donald Trump: Pay close attention to your behavior, because it has the potential to impact the nation's culture and values.

"One of the things that Michelle figured out, in some ways faster than I did—was part of your ability to lead the country doesn’t have to do with legislation, doesn’t have to do with regulations, it has to do with shaping attitudes, shaping culture, increasing awareness," Obama told David Letterman on the first episode of his new Netflix show, which was released Friday.

The comments were recorded last fall and Obama never explicitly mentioned Trump, but this has often been the former president's preferred tactic when criticizing his successor, with whom he has long butted heads. Obama has frequently spoken about the importance of respecting the "peaceful transition of power," which helps explain the shift in his direct attacks on Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign versus his more veiled critiques post-election Day.

Obama's remarks on presidential behavior, albeit recorded months ago, were particularly pertinent on Friday as the nation reacted to Trump's alleged comments––initially reported by The Washington Post––on not wanting people from "shithole countries to come to the U.S." Trump reportedly said this Thursday during a meeting with lawmakers regarding a bipartisan immigration deal. The alleged comments caused a media firestorm and led many to refer to the president as "racist."

The White House did not deny the president made this comments in a statement on Thursday, but Trump to Twitter on Friday morning and refuted he used such language, at least in connection to Haiti.

"The language used by me at the DACA meeting was tough, but this was not the language used. What was really tough was the outlandish proposal made - a big setback for DACA!" Trump tweeted. "Never said anything derogatory about Haitians other than Haiti is, obviously, a very poor and troubled country. Never said 'take them out.' Made up by Dems. I have a wonderful relationship with Haitians. Probably should record future meetings - unfortunately, no trust!"

Trump has often generated controversy over his comments on immigration and related issues, beginning his presidential campaign by referring to Mexican immigrants as  "drug dealers," "rapists," "killers" and "murderers." His proposal to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. was also decried by people across the country. The alleged "shithole" comments, however, seem to have generated a new level of anger and disgust among the president's critics.


Donald Trump paid porn star $130,000 to stay silent over alleged affair – report

    Trump’s lawyer denies president had affair with Stormy Daniels in 2006
    Wall Street Journal alleges lawyer Michael Cohen oversaw payment in 2016

Molly Redden in New York
Sat 13 Jan 2018 10.39 GMT

Donald Trump’s lawyer has denied the president had an affair with an adult film star 12 years ago, but did not address a specific allegation that Trump paid her $130,000 to prevent her from discussing the encounter.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday that longtime Trump Organization attorney Michael Cohen oversaw the payment in the final days of the 2016 presidential election.

Cohen did not address that claim in a statement to the Journal, but he denied the allegation that Trump and Stephanie Clifford, who performs under the name Stormy Daniels, had a sexual encounter in 2006, the year after he married Melania.

Cohen also showed the journal an email, apparently signed by “Stormy Daniels,” that reportedly read: “Rumors that I have received hush money from Donald Trump are completely false.” The statement denied that Clifford and Trump had a “sexual and/or romantic affair”.

The Journal based its report on interviews with “people familiar with the matter” and did not claim to have seen any documents substantiating the agreement.

An attorney for Clifford did not immediately respond to questions, but sent a full copy of Clifford’s statement denying the affair to BuzzFeed, dated 10 January.

    BuzzFeed News (@BuzzFeedNews)

    In a statement provided by the lawyer who reportedly set up the deal, adult film star Stormy Daniels denies taking hush money for sleeping with Trumphttps://t.co/su5Jfrp49x pic.twitter.com/wvIcrI4dNc
    January 12, 2018

A White House official told the Guardian: “These are old, recycled reports, which were published and strongly denied prior to the election.”

In the tumultuous last days of the presidential race, Clifford was reported to have been in discussions with Good Morning America to disclose an alleged affair with Trump. At the time, Trump was under intense scrutiny for a series of sexual assault allegations and claims of sexism.

A Trump campaign spokesperson denied that the two had a sexual encounter, which was described to the Journal as consensual, and Clifford never appeared on the program.

A photo from Clifford’s MySpace account shows her posing with Trump and was reportedly taken in July 2006.

Trump was dressed in the same outfit in a photo circulated by adult film star Jessica Drake when Drake accused Trump of groping her at a golf tournament “a decade ago”. Speaking in 2016, Drake recalled that Trump offered her $10,000 and the use of his private plane if she would agree to come back to his room and accompany him to a party.

Clifford’s attorney, Keith Davidson, also represents Karen McDougal, a onetime Playboy model who reportedly received $150,000 from the National Enquirer for the rights to her own story about an alleged 2006 sexual encounter with Trump. No such story ever ran in the Enquirer, suggesting the magazine acquired the story in order to keep it under wraps, a tactic known as “catch and kill”.

David Pecker, the chair and CEO of the group that owns the Enquirer, is Trump’s longtime friend.

The Trump campaign denied any affair and American Media Inc, which owns the Enquirer, said: “AMI has not paid people to kill damaging stories about Mr Trump.”

Additional reporting by Ben Jacobs


Another adult film actress claims Stormy Daniels and Trump invited her to their hotel room: report

Noor Al-Sibai
Raw Story
12 Jan 2018 at 19:28 ET                  

Adult actress Alana Evans claims porn star Stormy Daniels and Donald Trump invited her to their hotel room in a report that offered further corroboration of the Wall Street Journal‘s account earlier on Friday.

As The Daily Beast reported, Evans, a friend of Daniels’, said she received multiple calls from the fellow actress while she was in a room with Trump.

“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,'” Evans told the Beast.

She ultimately turned down the offer, but learned more about Daniels’ encounter with the real estate mogul the next day.

“She tells me, ‘All I’m going to say is: I ended up with Donald in his hotel room. Picture him chasing me around his hotel room in his tighty-whities.’ I was like, ‘Oh I really didn’t need to hear that!’ Then she said he offered her keys to his condos in Florida, and I was like, ‘Wow guess you had a good night,’ and that was the last we ever spoke of it,” Evans said.

The Beast also reported that they had been in “protracted” talks with Daniels to publish her story before the presidential election, but she ended up backing out on November 3, 2016.

In a statement provided by Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen, who the Journal reported paid off Daniels (née Stephanie Clifford) $130,000 to keep her from going public about her relationship with the president, the adult actress denied that she they’d ever had any romantic or sexual involvement.


Trump called intel analyst a ‘pretty Korean lady’ — and asked why she wasn’t negotiating with Kim Jong Un: report

Brad Reed
Raw Story
12 Jan 2018 at 14:47 ET                  

President Donald Trump’s latest outburst about immigrants from “sh*thole” African countries is far from his first time making racist statements.

In fact, sources tell NBC News that Trump made a career U.S. intelligence officer uncomfortable last year when he grilled her on her Korean heritage and demanded to know why she wasn’t being used to negotiate with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

According to NBC News, Trump first asked the officer where she was from after she had finished delivering an intelligence briefing. She replied that she originally hailed from New York City, but Trump pushed her by asking where “your people” originally came from.

At that point, she admitted that both of her parents were from Korea — at which point Trump turned to an adviser and asked them why the “pretty Korean lady” wasn’t being used as an asset to negotiate with North Korea over its nuclear arsenal.

“The officials who told NBC News of the fall exchange between Trump and the intelligence briefer in the Oval Office in the fall said the president likely meant no harm with his inquiry, but it raised concern of a lack of cultural sensitivity and decorum,” NBC notes, while also adding that a source close to the president claims that his advisers regularly try to get him to stop talking about people’s race — but to no avail.


How many times has Donald Trump cheated on his wives?

13 Jan 2018 at 00:08 ET  

A Wall Street Journal article on Friday alleged that President Donald Trump cheated on his wife, Melania, with a porn star—and it wasn’t the first time Trump has been in the center of a public cheating scandal or fallout over his behavior toward women.

Below is a look back at some of the most public cheating scandals Trump has been involved in.

Ivana Trump (1977-1992)

Trump’s first marriage imploded on the covers of all of New York’s tabloids, after he brazenly took his mistress, Marla Maples, on a family vacation in Aspen along with his wife, Ivana, attempting to hide her away, until she approached Ivana and said, “I’m Marla and I love your husband. Do you?”

A famous issue of the New York Post in 1990 featured a quote from Maples plastered across its front page—“Best sex I ever had!” referring to Donald—while he was still married to Ivana. Trump famously pushed the story forward and called the tabloids to make sure his name stayed in the papers. At the time, he was a prominent New York real estate figure, but not known for much more than that.

In a recent memoir, titled Raising Trump, Ivana refers to the mistress as “freaking Marla.”

Marla Maples (1993-1999)

When Trump was dating his one-time mistress, Marla Maples, he famously posed as his own spokesman, “John Miller,” and told a People reporter that he’d never marry Maples, and that he had “three other girlfriends” at the time.

Melania Trump (2005-present)

The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday that Trump's lawyer had allegedly paid a porn star, Stephanie Clifford, over $130,000 for her silence about the affair they had in 2006, one year after Trump married Melania.

Clifford, 38, goes by the name “Stormy Daniels” in the adult film industry, and said she met Trump denied the allegations.

The Wall Street Journal also reported on another alleged affair in November of 2016—one in the same year, 2006, as the alleged affair with Clifford. The woman, in that case, was Karen McDougal, the 1998 Playmate of the Year. Trump’s staff denied the allegations. The report focused on the agreement between McDougal and the National Enquirer, which paid her $150,000 for the story, and then never printed it.  

Trump’s Alleged Sexual Harassment:

Nineteen women have come forward to accuse Trump of sexual harassment. The public allegations range from the 1980s to 2013, and they include former contestants on  The Apprentice, an adult film star, a journalist at  People Magazine, a journalist at Fox News and many others. Though those incidents were non-consensual, many happened while Trump was married.  

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« Reply #1085 on: Jan 13, 2018, 07:06 AM »

Russian-trained mercenaries back Bosnia's Serb separatists

Security minister confirms report, fuelling fears of destabilisation of the Balkans and a resistance to Nato enlargement

Julian Borger in Washington
13 Jan 2018 18.23 GMT

Russian-trained mercenaries are helping to establish a paramilitary unit serving the Serb separatist leader in Bosnia, it was reported in Sarajevo on Friday.

The report on the Žurnal news site, which was confirmed by the Bosnian security minister, comes at a time of mounting western anxiety about Russian efforts to destabilise the Balkans and resist Nato enlargement in the region.

On Tuesday, Milorad Dodik, the hardline leader of the Serb half of Bosnia, staged a military parade in Banja Luka in defiance of a ruling by the country’s constitutional court.

The Žurnal report said that a militia called “Serbian Honour” – which it said had been trained in a Russian-funded “humanitarian centre” in Serbia – was in the process of setting up a paramilitary group to be used against Dodik’s opponents.

It published photographs of the militia on the streets of Banja Luka, the administrative centre of the Republika Srpska, a semi-autonomous entity within Bosnia created by the Dayton peace agreement that ended the 1992-95 war. The pictures show the paramilitaries posing in black sweaters and in combat gear.

The report, including a picture of the award ceremony, says one of the group’s leaders, Bojan Stojković, is a former Serbian paratrooper who had trained in Moscow, and had been awarded a medal by Valeriy Kalyakin, a Russian general.

Dragan Mektić, the Bosnian security minister, said intelligence and security services were aware of the presence and activities of the group.

“We have been using this information for a long time, we have collected quite a lot of information about that,” Mektić said, adding he could not provide further details as his officials were compiling a full report for the Bosnian prosecutor’s office.

The Zurnal report said the group was recruiting from the Serb criminal underworld to form a new paramilitary unit loyal to Dodik. It quotes a leaked security service document as saying that Dodik’s aides discussed the aims of the new unit with “Serbian Honour” leaders and the goals would include “possible intervention if the opposition seeks to obstruct the functioning of the authorities”.

“For such a president, it is worth to give one’s life”, Stojković wrote under a picture of Vladimir Putin on his Instagram profile, according to the report.

Under the photo of Dodik, he wrote: “Nobody can do us any harm, we are stronger than destiny”.

The appearance of the paramilitaries in Bosnia comes 15 months after Russian intelligence was implicated in an abortive coup in Montenegro, in which mercenaries planned to storm parliament, assassinate Milo Đukanović, the country’s pro-western leader, , and prevent it from joining Nato. The plot was foiled and Montenegro became a Nato member in June 2017.

The Bosnian government is also pursuing Nato membership, but the resistance of the Republika Srpska under Dodik is hindering progress.

“This is part of a larger change in the international order, starting with the invasion in Georgia, Syria, Ukraine, the meddling in the US elections,” said Reuf Bajrović, Bosnia’s former energy minister, calling the appearance of the paramilitaries in Banja Luka a “watershed moment”.

“The Russians have decided to use their leverage in the Balkans to get the outcome they want: the end of the Dayton accords and the creation of a Serb statelet.”

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« Reply #1086 on: Jan 14, 2018, 07:43 AM »

This is what the shitstain called Trump did while Hawaii was subjected to the false incoming missile alert: this is your 'president America

Former Pentagon official Col. Morris Davis blasts Trump for golfing while Hawaii panicked over false missile alert

Tom Boggioni
Raw Story
13 Jan 2018 at 14:39 ET  

Former Guantanamo Chief Prosecutor Col. Morris Davis took to Twitter Saturday afternoon to criticize President Donald Trump for continuing his golf game as Americans in Hawaii were panicking over a mistaken missile threat.

“For 38 minutes American citizens in Hawaii braced for a ballistic missile strike … and @realDonaldTrump continued his round of golf in Florida on his 120th taxpayer funded vacation day in less than a year,” Morris tweeted, linking to a Fox New report.

In what was called “a hell of a mistake to make,” Civil Defense officials in Hawaii sent out an incorrect warning to the island residents that a ballistic missile was on its way, stating: “Ballistic missile inbound to Hawaii. Seeks shelter immediately. This is not a drill.”

You can see the Morris tweet below:

   For 38 minutes American citizens in Hawaii braced for a ballistic missile strike … and @realDonaldTrump continued his round of golf in Florida on his 120th taxpayer funded vacation day in less than a year. https://t.co/tSSSNiDLDk

    — Col. Morris Davis (@ColMorrisDavis) January 13, 2018


Hawaii officials freak out populace by sending out mistaken ‘inbound ballistic missile warning’ to cell phones

Tom Boggioni
Raw Story
14 Jan 2018 at 13:38 ET    
Warning sent to cell phone in Hawaii

In what was called “a hell of a mistake to make,” Civil Defense officials in Hawaii sent out an incorrect warning to the island residents that a ballistic missile was on its way.

Lawmaker Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) sent out a screenshot of the warning she received that stated: “Ballistic missile inbound to Hawaii. Seeks shelter immediately. This is not a drill.”


You can see Gabbard’s tweet along with a few others below:


    — Tulsi Gabbard (@TulsiGabbard) January 13, 2018

    Please retweet https://t.co/ry6FPmUQNS

    — Brian Schatz (@brianschatz) January 13, 2018

    Civil Defense just confirmed that the Ballistic Missle alert to Hawaii was a mistake!!! That is a hell of a mistake to make. #Wow

    — Jason Parker (@NutzFordBucks) January 13, 2018

    I just now saw the news about Hawaii, and I'm gonna need a minute to decompress. Nerves are shaky.

    — Charlotte Clymer🏳️‍🌈 (@cmclymer) January 13, 2018

Click to watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=3&v=7CBstGGwvic


Here’s how the false Hawaii missile alert happened

14 Jan 2018 at 17:25 ET  

The false alarm alerting Hawaiians of an incoming ballistic missile was caused by “human error,” according to Hawaii Governor David Ige.

Residents received a terrifying false alarm on Saturday announcing that a ballistic missile was headed their way and advising immediate action to take shelter.

"It was a mistake made during a standard procedure at the change over of a shift, and an employee pushed the wrong button," said Ige, according to CNN.

    — Tulsi Gabbard (@TulsiGabbard) January 13, 2018

The alert caused panic across the state, where officials have been preparing for the possibility of a nuclear attack for months. Cold War-era sirens began running drills last month, in order to educate the public on how to handle a possible missile. The sirens did not sound when the alert went out Saturday.

Despite preparations, the push notifications were mistakenly sent out to Hawaiians, who jumped into action before receiving the second alert 38 minutes later announcing that it was a false alarm.

The governor explained the reason for the error after Hawaii Emergency Management Agency Administrator Vern Miyagi headed to the agency's 24-hour operations center to find out why the false alert was sent out, and after the FCC promised to launch an investigation to figure out why the notification went out. Lawmakers and residents alike were quick to criticize the mistake, calling for accountability and a safer process to prevent future mistakes.

    AGAIN FALSE ALARM. What happened today is totally inexcusable. The whole state was terrified. There needs to be tough and quick accountability and a fixed process.
    — Brian Schatz (@brianschatz) January 13, 2018

Hawaiians have worried whether their state is ready for a nuclear attack, and the latest error provided fodder for critics who say the emergency preparedness plan is lacking. Hawaii lies 4,600 miles from North Korea.

The White House responded to the alert with the understanding that it had been an exercise, apparently in contrast with the governor's explanation.

“The President has been briefed on the state of Hawaii’s emergency management exercise. This was purely a state exercise,” White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said, according to Reuters.


WATCH: Chilling video appears to show terrified Hawaiians hiding their kids in storm drains while Trump golfed

When an emergency alert was "accidentally" sent to Hawaiians that a ballistic missile was inbound and it was almost an hour before any correction was issued, you know what would have helped a great deal? A tweet from our President assuring them that, no, they are not going to die.

Sure, as former Obama defense official Patrick Granfield noted, "thank God the President was playing golf" when the alert went out or we may have witnessed the United States launching a nuclear missile at North Korea or otherwise "acting rashly," but while he was busy doing that, terrified parents were desperately trying to keep their kids safe from the threat no one told them for an excruciating 40 minutes was not a threat.


Can you imagine receiving such a terrifying alert then having to decide to stuff your kids down a storm drain so they might have a chance to live? Having to suppress every fear you have of toxic gases, or your kid getting stuck somehow, or maybe the storm drain not being an adequate shelter to begin with, all on the random chance that their world might otherwise be about to end?

Many hours after the false alert, Trump has still said nothing about the false alert, but if Kim Jong Un wanted to launch a missile at Hawaii, he now knows our President* will not give a single fuck about it if he's golfing. We can't let little things like ballistic missiles mess up his vacation from doing nothing, can we?

Eventually, Trump was briefed on the false alert, which a White House spokeswoman calls "purely a state exercise" despite an overwhelming number of reports that the message was sent entirely in error.

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‘Texting goodbyes and shielding their baby’: CNN’s Tapper reports on tears in Hawaii after horrific false missile attack report

Tom Boggioni
Raw Story
13 Jan 2018 at 15:29 ET                  

According to CNN’s Jake Tapper, following the mistaken alert sent out to everyone in Hawaii that a missile attack was imminent, he heard from friends in the island chain who were crying and sending their goodbyes to friends.

Early Saturday morning, an official in Hawaii issued an erroneous warning that reached cell phones and interrupted television programming to announce a missile attack — presumably from North Korea.

According to the message that sent in big bold letters reading: “Ballistic missile inbound to Hawaii. Seeks shelter immediately. This is not a drill.”

In his tweet, Tapper relayed, “So sorry for all the people in Hawaii who went through that — we know someone who’s there with her family. Crying in closet texting goodbyes to loved ones, husband shielding their baby. Sounds traumatic. Hang in there, folks.”

Tapper’s comments were seconded by others on Twitter who also shared panicked and sorrowful text messages.

You can see them below:

    So sorry for all the people in Hawaii who went through that — we know someone who’s there with her family. Crying in closet texting goodbyes to loved ones, husband shielding their baby. Sounds traumatic. Hang in there, folks.

    — Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) January 13, 2018

    This was my phone when I woke up just now. I’m in Honolulu, #Hawaii and my family is on the North Shore. They were hiding in the garage. My mom and sister were crying. It was a false alarm, but betting a lot of people are shaken. @KPRC2 pic.twitter.com/m6EKxH3QqQ

    — Sara Donchey (@KPRC2Sara) January 13, 2018

    From the tourist perspective, there were dozens of them gathered in this hotel lobby panicking and holding each other. pic.twitter.com/s2weP4trxO

    — Gene Park (@GenePark) January 13, 2018

    A big issue with today’s false alarm: how long it took for an official alert to go out saying it was, in fact , a false alarm.

    I received this text from a dear friend describing her family in Hawaii’s experience + how tweets were what revealed there was no real threat. Scary. pic.twitter.com/s7CovtD9wi

    — Lisa Feierman (@lisathefeierman) January 13, 2018

    My friend in Hawaii got the alert and had to quickly choose between which members of his family he would spend his last moments on Earth with because they were ALL too far apart from each other. He had to make the difficult choice of going immediately to his youngest children. pic.twitter.com/n8LNPiVscP

    — Gene Park (@GenePark) January 13, 2018


Jake Tapper: Hawaii missile alert could have led to ‘nuclear war’ if Trump had been watching Fox & Friends

Tom Boggioni
Raw Story
14 Jan 2018 at 10:07 ET                  

During a State of the Union interview with Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (D) on Saturday’s missile launch alert debacle, CNN host Jake Tapper took a shot at President Donald Trump, saying Americans were relieved he was on the golf course when it happened and not glued to Fox News.

According to Gabbard, “Traumatic understates the experience that the people of Hawaii went through yesterday. Getting that alert that went out to over a million cell phones, all across the state, not to speak of the visitors who were there who got that same alert, saying an incoming missile is headed your way, take shelter, this is not a drill.”

“Hawaii has just started a few months ago, these monthly nuclear attack sirens as a test. You hear this siren, you’ve got 15 minutes to seek shelter,” she explained. “So, when the people of Hawaii got this message yesterday, they’re literally going through this feeling of, I’ve got minutes to find my loved ones and say my last goodbyes. To figure out where could I possibly find shelter that would protect them from a nuclear attack. This was unacceptable that this happened, but it really highlights the stark reality that the people of Hawaii are facing.”

Then the topic of Trump came up after Gabbard added, “The fact that these processes failed so epically, that caused this trauma, that caused this terror all across the state of Hawaii, must be fixed immediately. And those responsible for this happening need to be held accountable in making sure that this cannot, it cannot happen again.”

“I  think there are a lot of people out there, and I don’t want to be flip about this, but I think there are a lot of people out there who are happy that this at least didn’t happen while President Trump was watching ‘Fox & Friends,’  and instead it happened when he was out on the golf course and he was informed about this by layers of advisers and such,” Tapper remarked.

“Because we know that historically, misunderstandings and false alarms have almost led to nuclear confrontation, nuclear war,” the CNN host continued. “Are you at all worried about the fact that an accident, a misunderstanding might lead to something like this?”

“There’s no question,” Gabbard replied. “And that really highlights the global consequence of what Hawaii just went through yesterday. This is not just about Hawaii. And that’s why I really hope that people across the country, that leaders here in Washington are paying attention to what people went through and what the consequences of that can be. ”

You can watch the video via CNN: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s5kg5VaxiRE

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« Reply #1087 on: Jan 14, 2018, 07:48 AM »

‘Shithole’ projected onto Trump Hotel in Washington DC

14 Jan 2018 at 05:20 ET 

Trump Hotel in downtown Washington DC got a surprise makeover last night—with the expletive President Donald Trump has used to describe developing world countries beamed onto its outer walls.

Video posted on Twitter shows the words “This Place is a Shithole” projected onto the walls of the hotel Saturday night, alongside poop emojis, and an arrow pointing at the establishment’s arched entrance.

In a  meeting with lawmakers last week on protection for immigrants, Trump had reportedly called developing world countries including Haiti and some African states “shithole” countries. Trump's words have been described as "racist" by the U.N.'s human rights office.

Other messages beamed onto the building Saturday included “The President of the United States is a Known Racist and Nazi Sympathiser,” alluding to the president’s controversial comments after the Charlottesville white nationalist rally in August.

Video of the stunt was posted on the Twitter account of Robin Bell, who has previously used projectors for political messages—projecting “emoluments welcome” and images of flags where Trump has business projects on the wall of the hotel in May.

Trump is being sued by activists for allegedly violating a clause of the constitution banning presidents from receiving cash gifts by foreign governments.

That same month, Bell projected “#SessionsMustGo” and “I thought the KKK was OK until I learned that they smoked pot” on the Department of Justice building, in reference to Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Bell has been described by The Washington Post as a “hit-and-run editorial writer.”

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« Reply #1088 on: Jan 15, 2018, 04:59 AM »

Will natural genetic selection ultimately make us more dumb?

16 Jan 2018 at 05:40 ET 

Humans aren’t necessarily becoming more dumb. However, if our genes that predispose us to spend more years in school continue to decline, it’s possible that our IQs will drop in the decades to come, according to a large study.

A genetic firm in Iceland was curious how our "education attainment genes" are being affected, so they analyzed data from more than 100,000 people in the country. Our education genes are derived from what scientists call our “polygenic scores,” which is a crude measure used to predict certain outcomes. Someday polygenic scores may even be able to predict academic success, Scientific American notes.
Related: School Books Should Include LGBTQ Americans, California Education Activists Demand

Their findings, which were published in the journal the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in December 2016, revealed a number of things, including that education genes may affect family size.

“It isn’t the case that education, or the career opportunities it provides, prevents you from having more children,” lead study author Kari Stefansson, CEO of Icelandic genetics firm deCODE, told The Guardian. “If you are genetically predisposed to have a lot of education, you are also predisposed to have fewer children.”
Related: No Education for Kids: Nigeria Leads the World in Uneducated Children

Their findings also showed that if the trend continues, it may lead our IQs to drop about 0.04 points each decade. Although that number itself is very small, over the years it could add up to make a noticeable difference.

“The cumulative effect over time means this is going to have a dramatic effect on the genetic predisposition to educational attainment, and unless something comes along to counteract that, it could have a profound effect on educational attainment in our society,” Stefansson said.

But, it’s important to note that this data is all just based on one country and there’s a whole lot of other factors that come into play. In fact, humans are still evolving, argues Jonathan Beauchamp, an economist at Harvard University, therefore, it’s an issue if we try to forecast this trend because it can change before we know it.   

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« Reply #1089 on: Jan 15, 2018, 05:23 AM »

We Ignore Urgent Global Warnings at Our Peril


A year ago, we revisited the 1992 "World Scientists' Warning to Humanity." Signed by a majority of Nobel laureates in sciences at the time and more than 1,700 leading scientists worldwide, the document warned, "Human beings and the natural world are on a collision course."

It called for a new ethic that encompasses our responsibility to ourselves and nature and that recognizes our dependence on Earth and its natural systems. It also called for stabilizing human population through "improved social and economic conditions, and the adoption of effective, voluntary family planning." Now, 25 years later, we've added two billion people, a 35 percent increase.

Despite progress in stabilizing the stratospheric ozone layer, all the other problems scientists looked at in 1992 have worsened.

On the declaration's 25th anniversary in November, more than 15,000 scientists from around the world signed a new warning—"the most scientists to ever co-sign and formally support a published journal article." The BioScience article states, "By failing to adequately limit population growth, reassess the role of an economy rooted in growth, reduce greenhouse gases, incentivize renewable energy, protect habitat, restore ecosystems, curb pollution, halt defaunation and constrain invasive alien species, humanity is not taking the urgent steps needed to safeguard our imperiled biosphere."

It raises concerns about climate change, driven by greenhouse gas emissions from "burning fossil fuels, deforestation and agricultural production—particularly from farming ruminants for meat consumption." And it points out, "we have unleashed a mass extinction event, the sixth in roughly 540 million years, wherein many current life forms could be annihilated or at least committed to extinction by the end of this century."

Some have criticized the warning for being overly alarmist, but the situation is alarming, and we aren't doing enough to avert catastrophe. Where will we be 25 years from now? It won't be chance that determines our future. It will be the choices we make today.

There's a hint of hope. The scientists note that co-operative government actions resulted in a "rapid global decline in ozone-depleting substances," and that global poverty and hunger rates have dropped. Investing in education for girls and women has contributed to falling birth rates in many regions, deforestation has been reduced in some countries, and the renewable-energy sector has been growing rapidly.

We can make positive changes if we co-operate, but it will take action from all of humanity. We can't leave it to governments, especially as so many in thrall to the fossil fuel industry are failing to work for citizens. As the scientists argue, "Sustainability transitions come about in diverse ways, and all require civil-society pressure and evidence-based advocacy, political leadership, and a solid understanding of policy instruments, markets and other drivers."

The warning offers many solutions, many policy-based. They include protecting habitat on land, water and air; recognizing and maintaining the important services intact ecosystems provide; restoring forests and other "native plant communities"; re-introducing native species "to restore ecological processes and dynamics"; using policy to protect species from poaching and illegal trade; reducing food waste and promoting a shift to more plant-based diets; reducing fertility rates through "access to education and voluntary family-planning services"; promoting nature education and appreciation; shifting investment and spending to "encourage positive environmental change"; fostering advances in green technologies and renewable energy while eliminating subsidies to fossil fuels; altering the economy to reduce wealth inequality "and ensure that prices, taxation and incentive systems take into account the real costs which consumption patterns impose on our environment"; and "estimating a scientifically defensible, sustainable human population size for the long term while rallying nations and leaders to support that vital goal."

In short, if we take the urgency to heart, there are solutions.

Although government action and policy are crucial, so too is citizen engagement. "With a groundswell of organized grassroots efforts, dogged opposition can be overcome and political leaders compelled to do the right thing. It's also time to re-examine and change our individual behaviors, including limiting our own reproduction (ideally to replacement level at most) and drastically diminishing our per capita ­consumption of fossil fuels, meat and other resources."

As a new year begins, we can and must do everything possible to shift course. If we wait another 25 years, it will be too late.

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« Reply #1090 on: Jan 15, 2018, 05:27 AM »

Giant curtain erected in Peru in bid to reveal secrets of the cloud forest

Global warming is predicted to push clouds higher in the sky. One scientist hopes to understand the future of our forests by suspending a vast fog-catching mesh in the Peruvian jungle

Daniel Grossman in Wayqecha

What will happen if climate change pushes clouds higher into the sky, as models predict? One ecosystem that will be seriously affected will be cloud forests – tropical jungles persistently bathed in fog.

Until now, little research had been done on the likely impacts of rising clouds, but one scientist is planning to change that using an enormous curtain strung up in the middle of the forest.

Cloud forest thrives on mountainsides at 500-4,000 metres above sea level, making up about 1% of the world’s forest in a tropical band that hugs the equator. But, though the area covered is small, the forests are vital to much broader regions. For instance, they help regulate rivers across vast tracts of lowlands, absorbing moisture into spongy soil when the weather is wet and releasing water when it’s dry. And they provide habitats for many birds, such as the coppery headed emerald hummingbird of Costa Rica and the elfin wood warbler of Puerto Rico, both of which live only in cloud forests.

Many scientists believe the process forcing clouds higher may already have begun. This would diminish a cloud forest’s moisture and it’s uncertain whether forests could successfully migrate uphill in response. Examining the impact of clouds relocating is critical to understanding the future of the forests.

Dan Metcalfe, a biology professor at Lund University in Sweden, wants hard data so he can determine what will happen to the forests that remain if the models are correct. He explains he’s trying something never before done: “an experimental approach where we actually physically try to remove clouds from a portion of the forest”.

Metcalfe had planned to encircle a square plot twice the size of a basketball court with a mesh curtain suspended from 10-storey phone poles at each corner. Fog would condense on the fabric, leaving the interior moisture-starved. He chose the Wayqecha Biological Station, a cloud forest research centre 3,000m above sea level in Peru. But he didn’t factor in the difficulty of operating heavy equipment at Wayqecha. Precipitous slopes and fragile soil prevent hauling in the kind of drill rig that could set corner posts deeply enough for big nets. No roads penetrate to Wayqecha’s groves, only footpaths.

Metcalfe realised he’d have to install bolted metal lattice towers. These can be hand-carried in pieces, then assembled on site. They can be built atop slender footings and stabilised by guy wires installed with lightweight equipment. But they’re expensive. He couldn’t afford two, let alone four, and feared that he might have to cancel the project. But then Metcalfe heard that not long before, the station had suffered a misfortune that could help him.

Wayqecha already had three lattice towers, supporting a catwalk over a ravine. Until recently, the walkway had included a fourth tower, but it had been toppled by a landslide. However, the structure’s struts and decking were undamaged. Rather than completely enclosing a plot in nets, Metcalfe realised he could suspend a single mesh curtain across the path of mist blowing up a valley. The fog-catching curtain would dangle from a cable stretched between one of the undamaged towers and a new one he’d build out of the one that had fallen.

Metcalfe encountered obstacle after obstacle even carrying out his plan: a key member of his construction team got sick and needed months of recovery; a fire destroyed expensive gear; and Peruvian customs balked when they saw that a shipping container of construction supplies included the bow and arrow he’d need for stringing cables. In the four years since he started the project, his wife had a child. And then another. It got tougher to leave home for Peru.

But finally, the curtain is nearly done. A crew built the tower in September and the last step, suspending the curtain above the forest floor, was completed at the end of October. Soon, Metcalfe will be able to shed light on the future of the forest.

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« Reply #1091 on: Jan 15, 2018, 05:29 AM »

Oceans suffocating as huge dead zones quadruple since 1950, scientists warn

Areas starved of oxygen in open ocean and by coasts have soared in recent decades, risking dire consequences for marine life and humanity

Damian Carrington Environment editor

Ocean dead zones with zero oxygen have quadrupled in size since 1950, scientists have warned, while the number of very low oxygen sites near coasts have multiplied tenfold. Most sea creatures cannot survive in these zones and current trends would lead to mass extinction in the long run, risking dire consequences for the hundreds of millions of people who depend on the sea.

Climate change caused by fossil fuel burning is the cause of the large-scale deoxygenation, as warmer waters hold less oxygen. The coastal dead zones result from fertiliser and sewage running off the land and into the seas.

The analysis, published in the journal Science, is the first comprehensive analysis of the areas and states: “Major extinction events in Earth’s history have been associated with warm climates and oxygen-deficient oceans.” Denise Breitburg, at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in the US and who led the analysis, said: “Under the current trajectory that is where we would be headed. But the consequences to humans of staying on that trajectory are so dire that it is hard to imagine we would go quite that far down that path.”

“This is a problem we can solve,” Breitburg said. “Halting climate change requires a global effort, but even local actions can help with nutrient-driven oxygen decline.” She pointed to recoveries in Chesapeake Bay in the US and the Thames river in the UK, where better farm and sewage practices led to dead zones disappearing.

However, Prof Robert Diaz at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, who reviewed the new study, said: “Right now, the increasing expansion of coastal dead zones and decline in open ocean oxygen are not priority problems for governments around the world. Unfortunately, it will take severe and persistent mortality of fisheries for the seriousness of low oxygen to be realised.”

The oceans feed more than 500 million people, especially in poorer nations, and provide jobs for 350 million people. But at least 500 dead zones have now been reported near coasts, up from fewer than 50 in 1950. Lack of monitoring in many regions means the true number may be much higher.

The open ocean has natural low oxygen areas, usually off the west coast of continents due to the way the rotation of the Earth affects ocean currents. But these dead zones have expanded dramatically, increasing by millions of square kilometres since 1950, roughly equivalent to the area of the European Union.

Furthermore, the level of oxygen in all ocean waters is falling, with 2% – 77bn tonnes – being lost since 1950. This can reduce growth, impair reproduction and increase disease, the scientists warn. One irony is that warmer waters not only hold less oxygen but also mean marine organisms have to breathe faster, using up oxygen more quickly.

There are also dangerous feedback mechanisms. Microbes that proliferate at very low oxygen levels produce lots of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas that is 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

In coastal regions, fertiliser, manure and sewage pollution cause algal blooms and when the algae decompose oxygen is sucked out of the water. However, in some places, the algae can lead to more food for fish and increase catches around the dead zones. This may not be sustainable though, said Breitburg: “There is a lot of concern that we are really changing the way these systems function and that the overall resilience of these systems may be reduced.”

The new analysis was produced by an international working group created in 2016 by Unesco’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission. The commission’s Kirsten Isensee said: “Ocean deoxygenation is taking place all over the world as a result of the human footprint, therefore we also need to address it globally.”

Lucia von Reusner, campaign director of the campaign group, Mighty Earth, which recently exposed a link between the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico and large scale meat production, said: “These dead zones will continue to expand unless the major meat companies that dominate our global agricultural system start cleaning up their supply chains to keep pollution out of our waters.”

Diaz said the speed of ocean suffocation already seen was breathtaking: “No other variable of such ecological importance to coastal ecosystems has changed so drastically in such a short period of time from human activities as dissolved oxygen.”

He said the need for urgent action is best summarised by the motto of the American Lung Association: “If you can’t breathe, nothing else matters.”

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« Reply #1092 on: Jan 15, 2018, 05:31 AM »

Coral reef bleaching 'the new normal' and a fatal threat to ecosystems

Study of 100 tropical reef locations finds time between bleaching events has shrunk and is too short for full recovery

Helen Davidson

Repeated large-scale coral bleaching events are the new normal thanks to global warming, a team of international scientists has found.

In a study published in the journal Science, the researchers revealed a “dramatic shortening” of the time between bleaching events was “threatening the future existence of these iconic ecosystems and the livelihoods of many millions of people”.

The study examined 100 tropical reef locations across the world, analysing existing data on coral bleaching events as well as new field research conducted on the Great Barrier Reef after the longest and worst case of bleaching caused by climate change killed almost 25% of the coral.

“Before the 1980s, mass bleaching of corals was unheard of, even during strong El Niño conditions,” said lead author Prof Terry Hughes, director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies. “Now repeated bouts of regional-scale bleaching and mass mortality of corals has become the new normal around the world as temperatures continue to rise.”

The study found that time between bleaching events had diminished five-fold in the past 30 to 40 years, and was now too short to allow for a full recovery and was approaching unsustainable levels.

While mass bleaching events used to occur about once every 27 years, by 2016 the median time between them had shrunk to 5.9 years. Only six of the 100 sites had escaped bleaching.

“Our analysis indicates that we are already approaching a scenario in which every hot summer, with or without an El Niño event, has the potential to cause bleaching and mortality at a regional scale,” the paper said.

Globally, the annual risk of severe and moderate bleaching had increased by almost 4% a year since the 1980s, from an expected 8% of locations to 31% in 2016.

The Western Atlantic remained at highest risk but Australasia and the Middle East saw the strongest increases in risk of bleaching.

Hughes said he hoped the “stark results” would prompt stronger action on reducing greenhouse gases. In May scientists warned that the central goal of the Australian government’s protection plan was no longer feasible because of the dramatic impact of climate change.

Friday’s paper also determined the link between El Niño and mass bleaching events has diminished as global warming continues.

Prior to the 1980s mass coral bleaching on a regional scale was “exceedingly rare or absent” and occurred in localised areas stretching tens of kilometres, not the hundreds of kilometres affected in recent times, the paper said.

These local bleaching events were largely caused by small-scale stressors like unusually hot or cold weather, freshwater inundation or sedimentation.

Then global warming increased the thermal stress of strong El Niño events, the paper said, widening the impact of individual bleaching events. Now, they are occurring at any time.

“Back in the 80s it was only during El Niño events that waters became hot enough to damage corals and induce them to bleach,” co-author Andrew Baird, a professor at James Cook University, told Guardian Australia.

“But now it’s 30, 40 years later and we’re seeing those temperatures in normal years.”

Baird said it was difficult to know if the current conditions were reversible but “the window to address it is diminishing”.

“It’s impossible to know if this is the end of coral reefs but it might be,” he said. “We really need to get on top of climate change as soon as possible.”

There have been several large-scale and devastating mass bleaching events in recent years. The 2015-16 event affected 75% of the reefs studied by the researchers, who said it was comparable to the then unprecedented mass bleaching of 1997-98, when 74% were affected.

“Interestingly one of the first papers that effectively drew attention to the issue – back in 1999 – suggested that by 2016, 2017, 2020, we would be seeing bleaching annually,” Baird said. “That’s pretty close to what’s happening unfortunately.

“Some of these earlier works were quite prescient in their prediction and unfortunately we didn’t pay enough attention back then.”

The study follows a discovery late last year that 3% of the Great Barrier Reef could facilitate recovery after bleaching – a finding the researchers at the time suggested was akin to a life-support system but small enough not to be taken for granted.

On Friday scientists announced that a major outbreak of coral-eating crown of thorns starfish had been found munching the Great Barrier Reef in December, prompting the Australian government to begin culling the spiky marine animals.

The predator starfish feeds on corals by spreading its stomach over them and using digestive enzymes to liquefy tissue.

“Each starfish eats about its body diameter a night, and so over time that mounts up very significantly,” Hugh Sweatman, a senior research scientist at the Australian Institute of Marine Science told ABC radio. “A lot of coral will be lost,” he said.

The crown of thorns were found in plague proportions in the Swains reefs, at the southern edge of the Great Barrier Reef, by researchers from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.

The authority already killed some starfish at Swains reefs in December and said it would mount another mission in January.

There have been four major crown of thorns outbreaks since the 1960s in the Great Barrier Reef but it recovered each time because there were always healthy populations of herbivorous fish. The outbreaks are usually triggered by extra nutrients in the water but the reason for the current outbreak was unclear, Sweatman said.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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« Reply #1093 on: Jan 15, 2018, 05:33 AM »

Brazil raises hopes of a retreat from new mega-dam construction

Hydropower policy to be rethought in face of environmental concerns, indigenous sensitivities and public unease, says surprise government statement

Jonathan Watts

After swathes of forest clearance, millions of tonnes of concrete and decades of hydro-expansion, Brazil has raised hopes that it may finally step back from the construction of new mega-dams.

In a surprise statement, a senior government official said hydropower policy needed to be rethought in the face of environmental concerns, indigenous sensitivities and public unease.

Anti-dam activists welcomed the apparent shift, despite scepticism about the declared motives, which they believe mask a drying up of bribes from the construction industry. The decision could reprieve the Tapajos and free-flowing rivers from a plan to open half the Amazon basin to hydro-development.

Brazil already gets more than 70% of its electricity from hydropower – one of the highest proportions in the world. Until recently, most of the generating capacity came from plants near the southern border and the economic hubs of São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Belo Horizonte.

But in recent years, the dam builders – backed by the Workers’ party administrations of Dilma Rousseff and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva – pushed north into the Amazon with the huge Belo Monte project on the Xingu river, despite environmental concerns, court battles and fierce resistance from indigenous residents.

The Tapajos was the next major river in the sights of the consortium led by utility Eletrobras and major construction firms such as Odebrecht. Two dams have already been completed on the Teles Pires tributary and hundreds more were planned elsewhere.

But the momentum has diminished along with falling government revenues, sluggish economic demand and an increasingly unpredictable climate that has made hydropower generation less reliable and more expensive.

Opponents have capitalised on this. After indigenous demonstration and critical scientific studies, the environment agency rejected a licence application for a dam at São Luiz do Tapajós which would have flooded Munduruku indigenous territory.

The current centre-right government of Michel Temer now appears to be considering a far bigger retreat.

“We don’t hold preconceptions about big projects, but we have to respect the views of society, which has reservations about them,” said Paulo Pedrosa, the executive secretary of the Ministry of Mines and Energy, in an interview with O Globo newspaper.

Government studies suggest Brazil could add 50 gigawatts of hydroenergy by 2050, but Pedrosa noted that less than a quarter of the necessary dams would be free from challenges over protected land.

Pedrosa said such costs should not be hidden, an apparent reference to the Rousseff administration’s refusal to heed warnings about the Belo Monte dam, which has since proved a social and environmental disaster.

The Car Wash corruption investigation exposed how the Workers’ party received campaign donations from Odebrecht in return for over-inflated contracts to build Belo Monte and other infrastructure projects.

Now the kickbacks have dried up, government officials have little incentive to cover up the social and environmental costs of future projects.

Few believe the Temer administration is any cleaner or greener. It is closely allied to the agribusiness lobby, which is primarily responsible for Amazon clearance. Last year, the government also attempted to open up protected areas to mining companies.

But it is in the process of privisatising Eletrobras, which will mean the economic feasibility of mega-projects will come under greater scrutiny, particularly with wind and solar energy becoming more viable.

The government will propose a new model for project evaluation to Congress this year that takes greater account of costs.

“Current projects when priced appropriately - including transmission costs, risks associated with the seasonality of energy and the possible delay of works - show them to be much less competitive than in previous assessments,” the Ministry of Mines and Energy noted in an email response to The Guardian.

It is unlikely to be a complete panacea Given the pro-business stance of the ruling coalition, there are fears that other environmental licensing criteria may be weakened.

With a presidential election in October, any changes of policy could also be rapidly reversed, but anti-dam activists hold out hope this - in regard to mega-projects at least - this will be a turning point.

“The Brazilian government’s announcement validates what scientists, indigenous activists and economists have long known: that these costly, corrupt hydropower projects are destroying lives, livelihoods and the vibrant ecosystem of the Amazon, the lungs of the planet,” Kate Horner, executive director of International Rivers, said. “Brazil can meet its energy needs without mega-dams, and now it will finally get the chance.”

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« Reply #1094 on: Jan 15, 2018, 05:36 AM »

UK government spells out plan to shut down coal plants

Government unveils phase-out plan, with one of eight remaining power stations to stop generating electricity this year

Adam Vaughan

One of the UK’s eight remaining coal power stations is expected to cease generating electricity this year, the government has said as it laid out new rules that will force all the plants to close by 2025.

The coal phase-out is one of the Conservative party’s flagship green policies, and the long-awaited implementation plan comes ahead of a speech by Theresa May on the environment next week.

While three plants shut in 2016, and most are expected to halt operations by 2022, the last ones standing will be forced to close in October 2025 because of new pollution standards.

However, the plan reveals the sector will continue to be propped up by hundreds of millions of pounds in backup power subsidies for several years, paid through consumer energy bills.

Experts said allowing coal operators to continue receiving capacity market subsidies had thrown the sector an unnecessary lifeline.

Dr Jonathan Marshall, energy analyst at the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, a UK-based thinktank, said: “While delivering on the top line of a 2025 closure, the government’s decision to allow coal plants to compete in the capacity market on equal footing until then looks like something of a missed opportunity.”

Ministers will also retain emergency powers to suspend the phase-out in the case of an emergency shortfall in electricity supplies.

“We consider it prudent for the secretary of state to retain provisions to act in emergency situations, as a last resort, where there might be a shortfall in electricity generation, or risk of one, and that suspension would wholly or partially mitigate that risk,” the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said.

But officials said it was unlikely those powers would be called on, because the gap created by the coal plants’ closure would probably be filled by old gas power stations staying open longer.

While no coal power stations closed in 2017, the government’s official assessment points out that a carbon tax and relatively low gas prices have hurt the profitability of coal plants.

As a result, it foresees one major plant will close this year, with the loss of up to 250 jobs, followed by a further closure next year. The government predicts coal’s capacity of 13.8GW last year will have plummeted to 1.5GW by 2025 because of unfavourable economics.

The government rejected calls by campaigners and industry groups for the deadline of 2025 to be brought forward, citing cost and energy security grounds. It also rebuffed suggestions of a gradual phase-out before 2025, arguing coal use was low enough to make that unnecessary.

Coal’s fall has been swift and dramatic, with power generation from the polluting fuel plunging by more than 80% since 2012.

Plants have closed in recent years as EU pollution standards started to bite, but it was increases in the UK’s carbon tax that sealed their fate. In the budget, the Treasury confirmed the levy would continue at the same level until 2025.

The closure of the last coal plant in seven years’ time will be mandated through the use of a new emissions performance standard, which ministers will need to legislate for.

The standard sets a limit on the amount of carbon the plants can emit – 450g CO2 per kW hour – which coal operators could meet only by retrofitting costly carbon capture equipment.

Officials said the coal phase-out policy would cost less than 1% of an average household energy bill.

Green groups welcomed the confirmation of the plan. Greenpeace hailed “significant progress on making coal history in the birthplace of the industrial revolution”, while WWF praised government for “hitting this dirty industry where it hurts.”

However, ClientEarth cautioned against replacing coal with another fossil fuel. “We are concerned that the door is left wide open for investments in new, long-term gas capacity, locking us into another generation of fossil fuel power,” said Sam Bright, energy lawyer at the campaigning law firm.

Labour said while it backed the coal phase-out, more support was needed for clean power. Alan Whitehead, shadow energy minister, said: “The government’s lacklustre support for renewables and scrappage of a number of green schemes has left it on course to miss its own climate targets.”

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