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Author Topic: ENVIRONMENT, CLIMATE, GLOBAL WARMING, AND CULTURE  (Read 679313 times)
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Darja
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« Reply #4365 on: Jan 12, 2018, 06:02 AM »

'An employer? No, we have a master': the Sikhs secretly exploited in Italy

After years of arduous, badly paid work in the fields of southern Italy, Singh reported his employer to the police. But in a country where justice moves at a glacial pace, abused migrant workers have scant incentive to come forward

by Daniela Sala and Marco Valle
Modern-day slavery in focus is supported by
Humanity United
1/12/2018

Singh was full of resolve the day he walked into an Italian police station to report the abuse he was facing in the fields of southern Italy. “I am a Sikh,” says the farm worker from Punjab in northern India. “And when a Sikh takes a decision, he will go forward, no matter what.”

Singh knew the risk he was taking. A few days after his visit to the police station, he says, the threats and intimidation began in earnest. Within a week, he had lost his job and been forced to move home.

“It is not easy for us. Here, we’re foreigners,” says Singh. “I’m afraid to go back [to India] because I have nothing there. But I know what is happening to us here in Italy is wrong.”

According to labour unions and community leaders, Italy’s largely hidden community of Sikh migrant workers – there are an estimated 10,000 officially employed on farms in Pontina alone – are increasingly vulnerable to exploitation and intimidation in some of Italy’s biggest food-producing regions.

Corruption and organised crime extend their tentacles throughout Italy’s food and farming sector, making an estimated €21.8bn (£19.3bn) in illegal profits from this area alone in 2016. Pontina is no exception. Here, many workers rely on unofficial gangmasters to find jobs in the thousands of farms scattered throughout the region. They are expected to work for far less than the official minimum wage.

After arriving in Italy from his family home in Punjab in northern India in 2008, Singh laboured 12 hours a day, six days a week on a fruit and vegetable farm in Pontina. The work was backbreaking, the wages poor – €150 a week at most – and he says his employer was violent and abusive.
On 18 April, roughly 2,000 Sikh workers gathered in Freedom Square, in Italy’s Latina province, to protest against their working conditions and request a minimum hourly wage of five euros

    In April, roughly 2,000 Sikh workers gathered in Freedom Square, in Italy’s Latina province, to protest against their working conditions and request a minimum hourly wage of five euros – still four less than the legal minimum.

According to reports by Medu, an organisation run by Italian doctors, 43% of Sikh migrant farm workers in Italy do not speak Italian, meaning they are effectively cut off from mainstream criminal justice and support services. As well as poor pay and frequent non-payment of wages, the organisation identified serious health problems – notably chronic back injuries, overcrowded accommodation and exposure to dangerous pesticides – as routine for Italy’s Sikh farm workers.

Opioid use among Sikh workers is also spiralling: they mix opium into their chai tea every morning and take strong painkillers at night just to keep going. The problem is particularly acute among older workers, says Harbajan Ghuman, a former farm worker and Sikh community leader. Ghuman claims some farmers are supplying the drugs directly to workers to ensure their productivity doesn’t flag. “How can a 50- or 60-year-old person cope through the day otherwise?” he says.

M pick up artichokes that will be transported and sold wholesale and retail at the market of Guidonia.
A worker relaxes after a morning in the field. A Sikh labourer works about 10-12 hours a day, up to seven days a week.

Pino Cappucci, regional secretary of labour union Flai-CGIL, says the number of undocumented workers from northern India is also creating the conditions for mass exploitation and misery. Cappucci believes there could be up to 10,000 Sikh workers unofficially employed on farms throughout the region, all potentially vulnerable to exploitation.

Corruption and deception is trapping workers and leaving them heavily in debt. Most Sikh labourers enter on a legal seasonal working visa. Yet, according to CGIL Latina and the testimony of the workers, many pay between €7,000 and €13,000 to an Indian intermediary in Italy to obtain these documents – often with the complicity of an Italian farmer.

One such worker is Kumar, a Punjabi Sikh. For 25 years, his father worked in the Middle East to support his family. As the eldest of four siblings, when Kumar turned 18 he felt it was his turn to go abroad and find work.'

The Pontina’s Sikh community gather for an annual celebration at which people eat typical Indian dishes and attend dance shows

    The Pontina’s Sikh community gather for an annual celebration at which people eat typical Indian dishes and attend dance shows.

His parents pawned the house and paid €13,000 for him to go to Italy and get his seasonal visa. In 2010, when his plane touched down, a car was there to meet him and drive him 45 miles south of the capital to Latina province. Since he arrived he has worked 13-hour days for about €4 an hour. He knows he isn’t earning enough, but feels unable to report his situation to the authorities for fear of being unable to work or being sent back to India. He says he finds the work humiliating.

“We do not have an employer – we have a master,” he says. “He often yells at us and, when you talk to him, you should step back and bow your head.”
Kamal is a tailor. She lives with her uncle and aunt, who brought her with them to Italy. Among Indian migrants in Italy, 46% are women

    Kamal is a tailor. She lives with her uncle and aunt, who brought her with them to Italy. Among Indian migrants in Italy, 46% are women.

For Singh, the decision to go to the police came after he met social workers from In Migrazione, a workers’ cooperative.

“Before, I was blind. They told us about our rights and I woke up,” he says.

After Singh made his police report, the gangmaster who recruited and controlled the workers at farms across the region was arrested.

In April 2016, the suicide of a young greenhouse worker in Pontina led to a public demonstration. An estimated 2,000 Sikh workers took to the streets to protest against their working conditions and to request a minimum hourly wage of €5, still well under the legal minimum of €9 set by the Italian government.

Since the strike in 2016, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of workers who, like Singh, report their employers to the authorities.

“Before the strikes, we had five cases reported in 10 years. Since the strikes we’ve had more than 80,” says social worker Marco Omizzolo, who founded In Migrazione.

Yet the initial momentum has slowed, he says, partly because of the drawn-out pace of the Italian legal system, which is dissuading others from reporting their employers. Like Singh, those who do almost inevitably lose their jobs and are vulnerable to intimidation. Singh says that since filing his report he has received no support or protection from the police.

All of this makes it difficult to persuade workers to testify against their employers, says Omizzolo.
Keshav cuts Charanjeet’s hair. In the Sikh community, barbers have a peculiar role. According to the religion, the hair should never be cut and the head should be kept covered to respect God.

    Gurpreet and his friend show both the Italian and Indian flags after winning the first official cricket tournament set up in Pontina by local NGOs.

In October 2016, the Italian parliament passed a new law designed to deter gangmasters from recruiting and controlling seasonal workers. Police controls in the area increased, yet the police admit they are not making sufficient progress.

Three years after he walked into the police station, Singh’s case is finally making it to court. Yet for him, life has remained the same. He is currently working on another big farm in Pontina, facing the same conditions.

“Sometime I think about doing something again,” he says. “But if I am the only one to speak up, they will just send me away. If everybody was doing something together then things might change. None of us can really do anything to make things better alone.”


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« Reply #4366 on: Jan 12, 2018, 06:06 AM »

Some Afghan Children Find an Alternative to Jail — for Now

By ROD NORDLAND
NY Times
1/12/2018

KABUL, Afghanistan — On visiting days in the women’s wing of Pul-e-Charki prison in Kabul, Najia Nasim would regularly see a little girl named Dahlia waiting outside her mother’s cell, standing up straight, wearing a small backpack. Inside the backpack were all of the girl’s clothes and a few personal possessions.

Ms. Nasim goes to the prison regularly to look for children who are older than 5, and thus eligible to be freed and put in one of her organization’s orphanages. These are children who are in prison only because their mothers are there, with no one else in their family willing or able to take them.

Dahlia was hardly bigger than a toddler, but her mother claimed she was 5, which Ms. Nasim did not believe; 4 at most, she said.

“Her mother would always say, ‘The last time when you didn’t take her, she cried all day.’ She begged me please take her,” Ms. Nasim said. Their orphanages were not equipped for children younger than 5, but Dahlia was advanced for her apparent age, toilet trained and able to dress herself, and Ms. Nasim finally gave in. “I couldn’t help it,” she said.

Now the girl is among 108 children at the Children’s Support Center in Kabul, an orphanage run by Women for Afghan Women and financed by the United States government as a refuge for the children of imprisoned mothers. Ms. Nasim is the group’s country director.

Most of the women in Afghan jails are there for so-called morals crimes, like abandoning abusive husbands or having been charged with “attempted adultery,” which is the suspicion of leaving home to commit adultery.

The women are hardly career criminals; most want what is best for their children, and that is not an adult jail, Ms. Nasim said. “Some of them have been so desperate they threaten that they’ll start beating their children if we don’t take them.”

When journalists from The New York Times visited the group’s Kabul center recently, Dahlia had only been out of prison a few months, and had not yet started going to school. (The school year ends in early December in Kabul.) But the girl had already learned how to sing the Afghan national anthem, which she did, solo and a cappella, to applause from the center’s staff. Some 55 staff members, mostly women, work there.

Women for Afghan Women runs four children’s support centers around the country, housing 356 children. The future of those centers, however, is endangered.

The American government expects the Afghan government to take over financing the orphanages, but Afghan officials say they do not have the funding or capacity to do so. American financing was continued recently for one more year, but is expected to run out after that, according to Afghan government officials.

The children in those centers are the lucky ones. At least 333 other children, from newborns to 18-year-olds, are incarcerated with their mothers in 33 prisons throughout the country, according to a Times survey this month; 103 of them are older than 5.

One of them, a girl named Meena, 11, was born in jail and has roomed with her serial killer mother ever since. Her mother refuses to allow her to leave prison, but even if the woman agreed, there is no facility to take her in the city of Jalalabad.

Dahlia’s mother was sentenced to 18 years in jail last year for a murder she and her husband committed. Dahlia served the first year of her mother’s sentence with her in Pul-e-Charki, where prison populations are running at double the facility’s capacity, according to a recent study by Integrity Watch.

If the children’s centers end up closing, it would double the population of innocent children in Afghan jails.

“These vulnerable and unaccompanied children are easy prey for terrorists and criminals alike,” said Manizha Naderi, the executive director of Women for Afghan Women. “With the cutting of aid to projects around the world by the Trump administration, the future is unknown,” Ms. Naderi said.

Women for Afghan Women, which runs an extensive network of shelters and other facilities for vulnerable women and girls in Afghanistan, began opening the orphanages in 2009. “Since then, with generous U.S. government support, we have offered lifesaving services to over 1,100 children whose families could not afford an alternative care while their mothers were serving their time in prison,” Ms. Naderi said.

The centers’ supporters say they have been more successful than they originally imagined was possible. The children are taken to normal public schools in buses, but aside from occasional outings, most of their free time is spent in the center, where extra tutoring is available. The result is grades for the centers’ children far above the average for children from less troubled homes — generally in the 90th percentile or better, according to Ms. Nasim.

One of the Kabul center’s high achievers was Laila Rasekh, 19, who did so well that she won scholarships first to a high school in India, and then to college. She now studies at Ashoka University in Haryana, India.

Ms. Rasekh said her mother forced her into prostitution beginning at the age of 8. When her mother was sentenced to five years in prison for that crime, Ms. Rasekh would have had to join her mother in jail, even though she was a prosecution witness against her.

Women for Afghan Women found out about Ms. Rasekh, however, and brought her to the child support center, where she spent five years before going on to India. “If the C.S.C. or W.A.W. wasn’t there, if I had gone with my mother, I would have been in one of the prostitution centers in Kabul now,” Ms. Rasekh said.

What is needed is more such centers, not the closure of the few that now exist, said Bashir Ahmad Basharat, the director of the Child Protection Action Network, a joint government and private sector partnership that brings charities, international organizations and government agencies together to support child welfare programs.

“There’s a massive need to have more of these support centers,” Mr. Basharat said. “But the U.S. government says the Afghan government should take over the ones there are, and the government can’t afford even to support those four. If you close them, these kids will be forced back into jail with their mothers, or worse.”

The four centers cost about $2 million annually to operate, Ms. Nasim said.

Dahlia is precocious for a 4- or 5-year-old, so a staff member at her center asked how life in the center compared to prison.

“I was never in prison,” she said, earnestly. She looked around, nervously, as if checking to see if anyone was contradicting her. “I like it here.”


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« Reply #4367 on: Jan 12, 2018, 06:08 AM »


A 7-year-old Pakistani girl was raped, strangled and left in a dumpster

By Amanda Erickson
January 12 2018
WA Post

At least two civilians were killed in protests in Pakistan on Jan. 10 over the rape and murder of a 7-year-old girl. (Reuters)

Muslim custom decrees that the dead must be buried almost immediately. But the father of 7-year-old Zainab, who was raped and strangled last week, says he won't bury her until her killer is found and punished.

“We will not bury her until we get justice,” he told reporters. “We are now afraid of letting our children leave the home. How was our child kidnapped from a busy market?”

As her relatives tell it, Zainab's horrifying last few hours unfolded like this: The child had been staying with her aunt while her parents traveled to Saudi Arabia to perform the umrah pilgrimage. On Thursday, relatives say, she left home for a nearby Koran recital. She never returned.

On Tuesday, police found her body in a dumpster about a mile from her home in Kasur, a city in Punjab province. According to early autopsy reports, Zainab had been raped multiple times and strangled four or five days earlier.

    The condemnable & horrific rape & murder of little Zainab exposes once again how vulnerable our children are in our society. This is not the first time such horrific acts have happened. We have to act swiftly to punish the guilty & ensure that our children are better protected. pic.twitter.com/9f7OM3hYT1

    — Imran Khan (@ImranKhanPTI) January 10, 2018

CCTV footage purporting to show Zainab walking hand-in-hand with a stranger has been circulating online and publicized by several Pakistani news outlets.

Police say that they are investigating the death and that charges should follow soon. Officials say that DNA was recovered from Zainab's body and that early evidence suggests the perpetrator was a family acquaintance. But lawmakers also seemed to suggest that Zainab's family deserved some blame for what happened to her.

“A child's safety is its parents' responsibility,” Rana Sanaullah, the law minister of Punjab, told the newspaper Dawn. Zainab's father, however, has pointed the finger at police. “If the police had acted immediately, the culprit would have been caught,” he told reporters.

    Chief Minister Punjab @cmshehbaz took notice of minor girl's murder after rape in Kasur. The Chief Minister said, "Swift action will be taken to arrest the culprits. I am personally following the progress of the case" pic.twitter.com/aE9wAW3VRL

    — Govt Of The Punjab (@GovtOfPunjab) January 10, 2018

The sexual abuse of children has been a recurring issue in Kasur. At least 12 children have been sexually assaulted and killed in the past two years. Last month, a 9-year-old girl went missing from the city center near her home. She escaped her captor, but reports say she remains “severely traumatized.”

Police say at least five of the killings can be linked to one person, who is the focus of a manhunt involving hundreds of law enforcement officials. Police say at least 90 potential suspects have had their DNA tested.

In 2015, police busted a gang running a child sex ring. The gang had allegedly abducted and assaulted at least 280 children since 2009. The families of the abducted children were often blackmailed, and video clips and images of the assaults were sold online.

Zainab's case, though, seems to have hit a nerve, prompting attention from politicians, athletes and performers. On Wednesday, riots erupted over alleged inaction by authorities. At least two people were fatally shot when protesters tried to storm a police station to demand justice, according to Dawn. Shop owners in the city shut their doors on Wednesday in solidarity with Zainab's family.

In Pakistan, rape and violence against women are endemic. Sometimes, they're even sanctioned by traditional authorities. In Pakistan, tribal councils have come under fire for ordering the rape of women whose relatives commit crimes. In July, a 12-year-old girl was raped by a teenager in a field. Two days later, the perpetrator's 16-year-old sister was sexually assaulted as punishment. Although it's hard to know how often this happens, experts estimate that hundreds of women suffer this fate each year.

Watch: <iframe width='480' height='290' scrolling='no' src='https://www.washingtonpost.com/video/c/embed/204a5d3e-f6ce-11e7-9af7-a50bc3300042' frameborder='0' webkitallowfullscreen mozallowfullscreen allowfullscreen></iframe>


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« Reply #4368 on: Jan 12, 2018, 06:11 AM »

German coalition talks 'to move on to next stage' after marathon session

Angela Merkel’s CDU and the centre-left Social Democrats have reportedly agreed compromises on wide-ranging issues

Philip Oltermann and agencies
Guardian
Fri 12 Jan ‘18 08.43 GMT

Leaders of Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democratic Union bloc and the centre-left Social Democrats have reportedly cleared a first hurdle towards the formation of the next German government after marathon overnight talks.

The DPA news agency and other German media, citing talks participants, reported on Friday that party leaders were preparing to recommend formal coalition negotiations after agreeing compromises on a wide-range of issues.

Newspaper Bild reported that the breakthrough was reached after Merkel’s conservatives ceded to the demands of the SPD leader, Martin Schulz, for a equalisation of health-insurance contributions made by employers and employees.

Under Germany’s multi-payer healthcare system, employers and employees used to contribute an equal amount towards each individual’s statutory “sickness fund”, but since a reform to the system in 2005 insurants have increasingly had to shoulder additional payments on their own.

In return, reports indicated that the Bavarian sister party of Merkel’s CDU had succeeded in its goal to limit the number of family members who can be reunited with refugees that have already been granted asylum in Germany.

Christian Democrat and Social Democrat leaders have reportedly also agreed to lower the tax surcharge introduced to fund the reunification of east and west Germany by 10bn euros by 2021.

According to a coalition paper leaked to German press on Friday morning, the new government would be “prepared to make higher contributions to the EU budget”, as well as support “funds for economic convergence and social convergence and support of structural reforms that can be starting point for future investment budget for Eurozone”.

In the early stages of exploratory talks this week, it was reported that Germany’s would-be coalition partners have agreed to drop plans to lower carbon dioxide emissions by 40% from 1990 levels by 2020.

Without additional measures, Germany is set to miss its 2020 emissions target, due to higher-than-expected levels of economic growth.

Negotiation talks at the SPD headquarters in Berlin were on Thursday night accompanied by noisy protests by climate change activists and workers in the country’s coal industry.

SPD delegates will vote on whether to move talks to the next stage at a party conference on 21 January. Even then, the Social Democrats’ leaders will still have to sell the coalition to their membership, and will face resistance.

If talks fail, Merkel’s only remaining options will be to form a minority government or hold new elections.

The Social Democrats had initially ruled out another coalition with Merkel after poor results in the 24 September election, but reconsidered after her talks with two other parties failed.


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« Reply #4369 on: Jan 12, 2018, 06:13 AM »

Polish MPs back even tougher restrictions on abortion

If enacted, the ‘stop abortion’ bill would outlaw terminations carried out because of a congenital disorder of the foetus

Christian Davies in Warsaw
Guardian
12 Jan ‘18 19.11 GMT

The Polish parliament has rejected proposed legislation to liberalise abortion laws, voting instead to pass proposals for tough new restrictions to a parliamentary committee for further scrutiny.

Poland already has some of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe, with terminations permitted only when the life of the foetus is under threat, when there is a grave threat to the health of the mother, or if the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest.

If enacted, the “stop abortion” bill – a so-called citizens’ initiative proposed by hardline conservative groups – would outlaw abortions carried out because of a congenital disorder of the foetus.

Such cases account for about 95% of legal abortions in Poland. It is estimated that tens of thousands of illegal terminations occur in Poland each year, and many Polish women seeking abortions also go abroad, or order abortion pills online.

“This is a black day for Polish women,” said Krystyna Kacpura, an executive director of the Federation for Women and Family Planning. “If the bill is passed, Polish women will die. We are treated as unneeded – we are just there to give birth, and if we give birth to a very sick child, we are left to bring the child up by ourselves without any help.”

In 2016, Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) was forced to back away from a blanket ban on abortion when the proposal’s passage to the committee stage provoked mass street demonstrations that came to be known as the “black protests”.

But the rightwing party’s leader, Jarosław Kaczyński, indicated that the government would continue to seek to tighten the law. He said: “We will strive to ensure that even in pregnancies which are very difficult, when a child is sure to die, strongly deformed, women end up giving birth so that the child can be baptised, buried, and have a name.”

Introducing the proposed restrictions on Wednesday, Kaja Godek of the anti-abortion Life and Family Foundation told MPs that “we have come to parliament today because we don’t want hospitals turning into abattoirs”.

Since assuming office in 2015, PiS has ended state funding for IVF treatment and restricted access to emergency contraception, introducing a requirement for a prescription in order to obtain the morning-after pill.

Łukasz Szumowski, appointed health minister during a government reshuffle this week, is one of almost 4,000 Polish doctors to have signed a “declaration of faith” committing not to participate in “abortion, euthanasia, contraception, artificial insemination, and/or in vitro fertilisation” on the grounds that such acts “not only violate the basic commandments of the Decalogue, but reject the creator as well”.

MPs considered a proposal to liberalise abortion laws. The “save women” bill would allow abortion until the 12th week of pregnancy and provide for better access to emergency contraception, medical care and sex education.

But its progress to the committee stage was rejected by eight votes, prompting recriminations as pro-choice activists accused opposition MPs of betraying Polish women by failing to show up. Dozens of opposition MPs who were present abstained.

“Many politicians believe their careers depend on the Catholic church,” said Kacpura. “But we will continue to fight this, because we are fighting for our lives.


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« Reply #4370 on: Jan 12, 2018, 06:34 AM »

Trump pans immigration proposal as bringing people from 'shithole countries'

Trump reportedly disparaged El Salvador and Haiti during pitch to protect immigrants, prompting swift bipartisan rebuke as Democrats called him ‘racist’

• ‘Unkind, divisive, elitist’: international outcry over Trump’s remark

Lauren Gambino in Washington
Guardian
Fri 12 Jan ‘18 00.13 GMT

Donald Trump described El Salvador, Haiti and certain African nations, as “shithole” countries during a meeting with lawmakers on Thursday, according to a report.

“Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” Trump said, after being presented with a proposal to restore protections for immigrants from those countries as part of a bipartisan immigration deal, the Washington Post reported, citing aides briefed on the meeting.

The president demanded to know why the US would accept immigrants from these countries rather than places like Norway, whose prime minister he had met with the day before.

In a statement, the White House did not deny the account, instead highlighting Trump’s hardline immigration stance.

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

He added that Trump will “always reject temporary, weak and dangerous stopgap measures that threaten the lives of hardworking Americans, and undercut immigrants who seek a better life in the United States through a legal pathway”.

The president’s comments drew swift and bipartisan rebuke while a chorus of Democrats condemned Trump as a “racist”.

“We always knew that President Trump doesn’t like people from certain countries or people of certain colors. We can now we say with 100% confidence that the president is a racist,” said congressman Luis Gutiérrez, a Democrat from Illinois.

“This is the real Donald Trump and my biggest fear is that his voters will applaud him,” he added.

Senator Orrin Hatch, a Republican of Utah who has helped implement the president’s legislative agenda, said: “I look forward to getting a more detailed explanation regarding the President’s comments. Part of what makes America so special is that we welcome the best and brightest in the world, regardless of their country of origin.”

Haiti’s ambassador to the US told MSNBC that their government had “formally summoned” a US official to explain Trump’s comments.

Vicente Fox, the former president of Mexico and a sharp-tongued critic of Trump, returned the insult on Twitter, adding: “America’s greatness is built on diversity, or have you forgotten your immigrant background, Donald?”

    Vicente Fox Quesada (@VicenteFoxQue)

   .@realDonaldTrump, your mouth is the foulest shithole in the world. With what authority do you proclaim who’s welcome in America and who’s not. America’s greatness is built on diversity, or have you forgotten your immigrant background, Donald?
    January 11, 2018


Congressional lawmakers met at the White House on Thursday to discuss a proposal reached by a bipartisan group of senators. Those in attendance included Senators Lindsey Graham, David Perdue and Dick Durbin, the only Democratic lawmaker present, as well as congressman Kevin McCarthy, the House majority leader, Bob Goodlatte and Mario Diaz-Balart.

Trump’s comments reportedly left lawmakers taken aback.

The Oval Office meeting came on a day of frantic negotiations on all the aspects of immigration law now in the balance. The fate of hundreds of thousands of young, undocumented immigrants remained hanging in the air Thursday after being kicked around Washington amid fierce partisan infighting.

Confusion roiled Capitol Hill as initial optimism that a deal had been struck to avoid the so-called Dreamers becoming vulnerable to deportation was quickly deflated by the White House and conservative lawmakers.

“There has not been a deal reached yet,” said White House press secretary Sarah Sanders. “However, we still think that we can get there. We’re very focused on trying to make sure that that happens. ”

Republican Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, a member of a bipartisan working group focused on finding a legislative solution for Dreamers, the young people who came to the country illegally as children, set off a firestorm when he announced that the six negotiators had reached an agreement.

“We’re at a deal. We’ll be talking to the White House about that and I hope we can move forward with it,” Flake said, declining to offer specific details. “It’s the only game in town.”

When Donald Trump ended Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the Obama-era program that has allowed nearly 800,000 immigrants to work and go to school in the US without fear of deportation, he gave lawmakers a six month deadline to resolve the issue.

As that window closes, lawmakers are scrambling to find a solution that also accommodates a list of demands laid out by the president: that the bill increase border security and provide funding for a wall; restrict family-based immigration; and end the state department’s diversity visa lottery.

The bipartisan group, which includes Republican senators Flake, Lindsey Graham and Cory Gardner as well as Democratic Senators Dick Durbin, Michael Bennet and Bob Menendez, said their agreement meets those requirements and “we are now working to build support for that deal in Congress”.

Meanwhile, Marc Short, the White House director of legislative affairs, told reporters on Capitol Hill that negotiators still have a “ways to go”.

A federal judge earlier this week issued a nationwide injunction, ordering that the administration reinstate the Daca program while the courts deliberate how to rule on the president’s order.

Lawmakers insist that the court order in no way diminishes the need to resolve the issue quickly.

House minority leader Nancy Pelosi insisted lawmakers would reach a deal by next week.

She also mocked a parallel effort to the Senate working group, which consists of the congressional number twos, which includes Durbin, Cornyn, House majority leader Kevin McCarthy and House minority whip Steny Hoyer as well as White House chief of staff John Kelly.

“The Five White Guys, I call them,” Pelosi said. “Are they going to open a Hamburger stand next or what?”

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

UN condemns as racist Donald Trump's 'shithole countries' remark

Human rights office steps into row as residents of nations maligned by president respond angrily and demand an apology

Patrick Wintour, Jason Burke and Anna Livsey
Guardian
Fri 12 Jan ‘18 11.46 GMT

Remarks by Donald Trump describing immigrants from Africa and Haiti as coming from “shithole countries” were racist, the United Nations human rights office has said, as it led global condemnation of the US president.

On Thursday, Trump questioned why the US would want to have immigrants from Haiti and African nations, instead suggesting the US should bring more immigrants from Norway, whose prime minister he had met on Wednesday.

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

The African Union said it was “frankly 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,” AU spokeswoman Ebba Kalondo told the Associated Press. “This is particularly surprising as the United States of America remains a global example of how migration gave birth to a nation built on strong values of diversity and opportunity.”

The former Haitian president Laurent Lamothe also expressed his dismay, saying the US president’s remark “shows a lack of respect and ignorance”. The Haitian ambassador to the US, Paul Altidor, said Trump’s views were “based on stereotypes”.

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”.

According to a report in the Washington Post, Trump said “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” after he had been presented with a proposal to restore protections for immigrants from El Salvador, Haiti and certain African nations as part of a bipartisan immigration deal. In a statement, the White House did not deny the account, instead highlighting Trump’s hardline immigration stance.

Cedric Richmond, Democratic representative and chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said Trump’s comments were “yet another confirmation of his racially insensitive and ignorant views” that reinforce “the concerns that we hear every day, that the president’s slogan ‘Make America Great Again’ is really code for ‘Make America White Again’.”

Mia Love, a Utah Republican whose family came from Haiti, condemned Trump’s remark as “unkind, divisive, elitist” and demanded an apology for the American people and the nations he “wantonly maligned”.

James Comey, who was fired as director of the FBI by Trump, quoted the inscription on the Statue of Liberty:

    James Comey (@Comey)

    “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” This country’s greatness and true genius lies in its diversity.
    January 12, 2018

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-focussed posts in his administration remain unfilled.

In September he amused some by appearing to invent a new country called Nambia while address 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.”

Boniface Mwangi, a well-known social activist in Kenya tweeted that 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,” Mwangi said.

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.

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

‘Shithole countries’? Words worthy of a racist-in-chief

Richard Wolffe

Donald Trump has made no secret of his bigotry. The sad truth is his comments about Haiti and Africa reflect the US’s historic racism

Guardian
Fri 12 Jan ‘18 11.20 GMT

Donald Trump knows a thing or two about “shitholes” – the label he apparently bestowed on El Salvador, Haiti and various African nations during an Oval Office meeting about immigration. His own father was reportedly so ashamed of coming from Germany – widely considered to be a “shithole” by Americans fighting in two world wars – that he pretended for most of his life that he was Swedish.

These Aryan dreams glowed all blond and bright through Trump’s seminal book, The Art of the Deal, in which he claimed his father arrived as a child from Sweden like some kind of Nordic dreamer.

And they persist to this day inside the White House, where the 45th president of the United States wonders why oh why can’t we get more Norwegians to restock the racial purity of our immigrant bloodlines?

Before the Finns complain about prejudice, we need to have a frank discussion, Mr President.

You don’t need to be ashamed of your own “shithole” past. Like you, my family also hails from a “shithole”. Half my family comes from Morocco, which is an African country. Like you, I was even born in a “shithole” part of a nation that was once frequented by Viking invaders. I grew up in Birmingham, which you might think of as the Queens of England. (Memo to the White House: Not the Queen of England. She’s totally different, although she’s also from a German family.)

Just as all those snooty Manhattan types disdain your birthplace, most of London sneers at mine. I feel your pain. Us shitholers need to stick together. There’s hope for us, you know. You became president because your Russian friends thought you’d be good for a giggle. I learned how to read and write, and chanced upon a job as a typist. It’s funny how immigration opens doors like that.

Far too many people are surprised by your racism, which is as ignorant as it is blatant. This is confusing because you’ve made no secret of your attitudes.

You started this political trip by insisting that America’s first black president wasn’t really American, despite all evidence to the contrary. You seem driven by an irrational hatred of everything Obama: you even blamed him on Thursday for building a new US embassy in London, even though the decision was taken by his white Republican predecessor. You campaigned against Mexico by peddling the libel that the country was sending its criminals and rapists to America. You now want to kick out 200,000 immigrants from El Salvador who keep the economy humming in your new hometown of Washington.

When neo-Nazis marched in Charlottesville, carrying torches and shouting about racial purity, you said they were good people. You endorsed the Britain First brand of neo-Nazism by sharing its racist lies on Twitter.

With a depressing frequency, you have made it clear that you are literally a neo-Nazi sympathizer. If at some stage you promote eugenics on Twitter, we will save a few letters on our character counts and simply call you a neo-Nazi.

For now, your power to shock says more about us than it does about you. Some people were genuinely ready to believe you were considering a deal on immigration after you allowed the TV cameras to broadcast your civil discussion inside the cabinet room on Tuesday. The media seemed surprised that you could speak like a sane person without dribbling on to your shoes.

This is of course a low bar. But so is feeling outrage about your recent comments about Haitians and Africans.

We could spend some time celebrating the fact that there’s still consensus about hating your blithering racism. But we’re far better off if we understand that you aren’t some alien invasion, even if your family were aliens from a country you were ashamed of until recently.

There’s a clear thread connecting your racism about immigration to historic racism in the country your family adopted as home.

One of your first executive actions in office was the Muslim travel ban. Perhaps your advisers haven’t told you this, but the courts certainly noticed that its racial and religious underpinnings run counter to the landmark 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act. That legislation overturned the racist attitudes that you share, enshrined into immigration laws in the 1920s which kept non-Aryans out of America.

Those 1920s laws did not happen by chance. They were shaped by supposedly expert testimony from advocates of the new pseudo-science of eugenics.

They were a singular achievement of the newly revived Ku Klux Klan, which found fresh converts by spewing hate about Jewish and Catholic immigrants even as it sought to revive the racist corpses of the confederacy. The Klan liked to say they were keeping America for Americans.

When he signed those immigration restrictions into law, President Calvin Coolidge said: “America must remain American.”

Sounds familiar? Ask your attorney general Jeff Sessions about that 1924 law, because he told one Steve Bannon (before he “lost his mind”) that America did really well after that eugenics-inspired law took hold. Then the country went downhill after the 1965 reforms. “We’re on a path to surge far past what the situation was in 1924,” Sessions told Bannon on his radio show in 2015.

No wonder you found it so hard to disavow the KKK during your presidential campaign.

Those who disavow Trump now are the only glimmers of hope. We salute you, Mia Love, the former rising star of the Republican party, who represents Utah in Congress and whose family has Haitian origins. “The president must apologise to both the American people and the nations he so wantonly maligned,” she declared.

Those who seek to justify or even celebrate Trump must face as much public disgust as the racist-in-chief himself. Yes, we’re looking at you Tucker Carlson, Fox News host, who insists that Trump is just speaking truth to liberals. Or perhaps Tucker and friends still believe in the Donald Trump who said this to Haitian-American voters late in the presidential election: “Whether you vote for me or not, I really want to be your biggest champion.”

If this is what it looks like when Trump is their biggest champion, it’s time for Haitians to ask the president to stand down. They have surely suffered enough.

• Richard Wolffe is a Guardian columnist


**********

‘He’s an evil man’: MSNBC’s Donny Deutsch says Trump is much worse than just ‘stupid and crazy’

Travis Gettys
Raw Story
12 Jan 2018 at 08:12 ET                   

MSNBC’s Donny Deutsch said President Donald Trump’s “shithole” remarks about Haitian and African immigrants prove he’s a white supremacist.

The “Morning Joe” contributor said the president’s mental fitness has been and should be questioned, but he said Americans should consider an even more disturbing possibility.

“You take Charlottesville and his blessing and love of or kinship with and understanding there are nice Nazis out there,” Deutsch said. “If we take his implied support of a pedophile and now if we take this additional very clear racist thing, he’s an evil man. We don’t talk about that a lot. We talk about he’s insane, crazy — that’s evil. This is just an evil, evil man.”

“To me the kill shot in that quote was Norway,” Deutsch continued. “You know, after that, it was — if in any way you could twist that racist statement, but then (he said) let’s let the white guys in. When I say white, let’s let the Aryans in — you know what I mean. You couldn’t get any whiter.”

“Our president is not only stupid, imbalanced — he is evil,” he added.

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

Trump reverses stance on surveillance law in series of contradicting tweets

Trump encourages House to renew program to collect intelligence on foreign targets abroad despite initial tweet saying it may have ‘abused’ his campaign

Staff and agencies
Guardian
12 Jan ‘18 23.14 GMT

In a confusing series of tweets, Donald Trump on Thursday pushed the House to renew a critical national security program that allows spy agencies to collect intelligence on foreign targets abroad, after having earlier attacked the legislation.

A White House official said staffers had consulted with Trump after his initial tweet opposing the administration’s stance.

The House passed a bill this morning to reauthorize the key foreign intelligence collection program with an important tweak. It requires the FBI to get a warrant if it wants to view the contents of Americans’ communications swept up in the process.

The House passed what is known as Section 702 of a program that allows spy agencies to collect information on foreign targets abroad. The bill passed 256-164. The Senate must still pass the bill before it is sent to the White House for the president’s signature.

Earlier, the House rejected a measure to impose stiffer restrictions on the FBI. It would have required the FBI to get a warrant to continue even querying the database when Americans are involved.

“This vote is about foreign surveillance of foreign bad guys on foreign land,” Trump said in a morning tweet a few hours before the votes. “We need it! Get smart!”

But before that he had sent out a contradictory tweet suggesting that the programme was used to collect information that might have been used to taint his campaign.

“‘House votes on controversial FISA ACT today,’” Trump wrote, citing a Fox News headline. “This is the act that may have been used, with the help of the discredited and phony Dossier, to so badly surveil and abuse the Trump Campaign by the previous administration and others?”

Representative Adam Schiff of California, the ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee, said Trump’s tweets were “inaccurate, conflicting and confusing”.

He suggested that a vote on the bill should be delayed until the White House’s position can be ascertained. But Republicans said the vote should be held.

The program allows US spy agencies to collect information on foreign targets outside the United States. Americans’ communications are inadvertently swept up in the process and privacy advocates and some lawmakers want to require the FBI to get a warrant if it wants to query and view the content of Americans’ communications that are in the database to build domestic crime cases.

Trump’s initial tweet linking the Fisa programme that his White House supports to the dossier that alleges his campaign had ties to Russia seemed to be in opposition to his administration’s position, potentially putting the reauthorisation vote in doubt.

His tweets came shortly after a Fox & Friends segment that highlighted the Fisa programme, calling it “controversial”. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, A Republican who has also made the television rounds in recent days, has pushed for less invasive spying measures.

The White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, struggled to explain the apparent about-face as she was repeatedly questioned during Thursday’s press briefing.

Jim Acosta, CNN’s chief White House correspondent, said: “There seems to be a pattern – and correct me if I’m wrong and there is no pattern – where the president watches something on Fox & Friends and then he tweets about it.”

Pundit Andrew Napolitano had appeared on the show and criticised the Fisa programme, noted Acosta, who asked if there was a cause and effect at work. Sanders tried to deflect the question by saying: “I’m sure you are disappointed he’s not watching CNN.”

Acosta, often a thorn in the side of the administration, shot back: “I think he watches a lot of CNN, if you don’t mind me saying it.”

Sanders replied tartly: “I don’t think that’s true. Your numbers would be higher.”

There were some disapproving howls in the press room. The spokeswoman continued: “The president has a great deal of understanding. This is top of mind. He was talking about it last week. He has issued a presidential memo on it, so it’s not just something that happened this morning. It’s been an ongoing discussion and something of great importance to the president.”

In another testy exchange, Hallie Jackson, chief White House correspondent of NBC News, challenged Sanders: “His tweet today was confusing. It was contradictory. It just was.” She asked how anyone could trust that those who claim to represent the president’s position actually are.

The press secretary replied dismissively: “I think that the premise of your question is completely ridiculous and shows the lack of knowledge that you have on this process. I’ve tried several times – I’ll do it for a 10th time here. Look, the president supports the 702 but he has some very strong concerns about the Fisa programme more generally … [The tweet] wasn’t confusing for me; I’m sorry if it was for you.”

The president’s reversal was yet another example of him seemingly taking cues from television, particularly the morning Fox News show, while also personalising an issue, in this case the dossier, over a policy position.

There are no obvious links between the dossier and the reauthorization of the spying program, but Trump has repeatedly denounced the document in recent days. The dossier has been back in the news with the release of a transcript of a congressional interview with Glenn Simpson, one of the men behind it.

The document – compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele – makes an allegation that there was a “conspiracy of cooperation” between Russian agents and the Trump campaign, and the president has frequently scorned it since its publication last January.

In March last year, Trump drew fierce criticism when he suggested without evidence that Barack Obama had “wire-tapped” his offices in New York before the presidential election.

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

Donald Trump cancels London visit amid protest fears

President will not open new US embassy next month, with secretary of state Rex Tillerson likely to take his place

Heather Stewart Political editor, and David Smith in Washington
Guardian
Fri 12 Jan ‘18 09.49 GMT

Donald Trump has cancelled a visit to Britain next month to open the new US embassy in London, amid fears of mass protests.

The president claimed on Twitter that the reason for calling off the trip was his displeasure at Barack Obama having sold the current embassy for “peanuts” and built a replacement for $1bn (£750m). “Bad deal,” he wrote.

But the embassy’s plan to move from Mayfair to Nine Elms in London was first reported in October 2008, when George W Bush was still president.

The London mayor, Sadiq Khan, said Trump had “got the message” that many Londoners staunchly opposed his policies and actions.

“It appears that President Trump got the message from the many Londoners who love and admire America and Americans but find his policies and actions the polar opposite of our city’s values of inclusion, diversity and tolerance,” Khan said on Friday.

“His visit next month would without doubt have been met by mass peaceful protests. This just reinforces what a mistake it was for Theresa May to rush and extend an invitation of a state visit in the first place.”

The prime minister invited Trump for a state visit when she became the first world leader to visit the president in the White House a year ago. Activists immediately pledged to stage protests and MPs have said they would not give the president the opportunity to address parliament.

Asked about Trump’s cancellation, a Downing Street spokesman repeated the government’s longstanding position that “an invitation has been extended and accepted, but no date has been set”.

The White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said: “The invitation was made and has been accepted we are still working to finalise a date.”

Instead of a state visit, it had been expected that Trump would make a brief, less formal “working visit” in February to cut the ribbon on the embassy in south-west London, and hold meetings with May. Officials had also been examining plans for the president to meet the Queen without the pomp of a full-blown state banquet.

Government sources suggested Washington had signalled that the secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, would instead open the embassy.

Trump confirmed on Twitter late on Thursday night that the trip was off. “Reason I canceled my trip to London is that I am not a big fan of the Obama Administration having sold perhaps the best located and finest embassy in London for “peanuts,” only to build a new one in an off location for 1.2 billion dollars,” he wrote just before midnight local time. “Bad deal. Wanted me to cut ribbon-NO!”

Citing security and environmental reasons, the US state department agreed to sell the current embassy building in Grosvenor Square to the Qatari Diar Real Estate Investment Co, which plans to turn it into a luxury hotel. Estimates put the site’s value at £500m before it was made a listed building, which would have diminished the value because of restrictions on development.

British relations with the president hit a low late last year when May criticised his decision to retweet videos posted by the far-right extremist group Britain First.

Trump responded by tweeting directly to the prime minister that she should focus on tackling domestic terrorism.

The government was so concerned about his decision to share the videos that Britain’s ambassador to Washington, Sir Kim Darroch, took the rare step of raising the issue directly with the White House.

Trump’s ambassador to London, Woody Johnson, subsequently insisted: “The president and the prime minister have a very, very good relationship. I know the president admires and respects the prime minister greatly.”

May’s government has been keen to strike up a close relationship with the Trump administration despite his erratic behaviour, because of Britain’s desire to strike a swift trade deal with the world’s largest economy when it leaves the European Union.

Trump has sparked alarm among diplomats by repeatedly entering into Twitter spats with key public figures, including the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, to whom he recently boasted about the size of the US nuclear arsenal.

The White House has been rocked in recent days by the revelations in an explosive book, Fire and Fury, by the US journalist Michael Wolff, who suggested senior figures in the administration questioned the president’s fitness for office.

Asked about the revelations last weekend, May said she believed they were not serious, and Trump was a man making decisions “in the interests of the United States”.

Trump faced fresh criticism on Thursday night after the Washington Post reported that he had questioned planned changes to immigration rules, asking colleagues why the US had to welcome arrivals from “shithole countries”.

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

London mayor takes a victory lap over Trump’s canceled UK trip: ‘He got the message — not welcome here’

Brad Reed
Raw Story
12 Jan 2018 at 07:16 ET                  

London mayor Sadiq Khan issued a blistering statement in the wake of President Donald Trump’s announcement that he had canceled his planned trip to London this year.

After Trump wrote on Twitter that he was not going to London due to his personal dislike of the location of the new American embassy, Khan put out a statement telling Trump that his city didn’t want him to come anyway.

“Many Londoners have made it clear that Donald Trump is not welcome here while he is pursuing such a divisive agenda,” wrote Khan. “It seems he’s finally got that message.”

    Many Londoners have made it clear that Donald Trump is not welcome here while he is pursuing such a divisive agenda. It seems he’s finally got that message. This reinforces what a mistake it was for Theresa May to rush and extend an invitation of a state visit in the first place. pic.twitter.com/lNaQGx9iBw

    — Mayor of London (@MayorofLondon) January 12, 2018

The London mayor then took a swipe at U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May, and he said she made a “mistake” by inviting Trump to the country in the first place.

Even though Trump used the embassy as his excuse for canceling the U.K. trip, reporting from last year indicates that the president fears being greeted with mass protests if he ever set foot inside the country.

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

‘F-52’ planes Trump boasted of selling to Norway only exist in the ‘Call of Duty’ video game

Brad Reed
Raw Story
11 Jan 2018 at 14:17 ET                  

President Donald Trump this week boasted of delivering “F-52” jets to the Norwegian government — however, it turns out there is no such thing as an F-52.

As the Washington Post reports, F-52 jets are fictional planes that are only found in the video game “Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare.”

“In November we started delivering the first F-52s and F-35 fighter jets,” Trump said this week during a press conference with Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg. “We have a total of 52 and they’ve delivered a number of them already a little ahead of schedule.”

According to the “Call of Duty” Wiki page, the F-52 is “an advanced fighter aircraft in service of the United States of America and the Sentinel Task Force” that “is equipped with afterburners for greater speed to outrun aircraft, as well as air brakes, which provide the fighter with additional maneuverability in tight corners or for avoiding enemy fire.”

The Washington Post asked White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders if President Trump is a “Call of Duty” fan, but the White House so far has declined to comment.

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

Trump accuses ex-Mueller team member Peter Strzok of treason

Noor Al-Sibai
Raw Story
12 Jan 2018 at 16:57 ET                  

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, President Donald Trump said a former member of special counsel Robert Mueller’s team who was found to have sent text messages critical of him was guilty of treason.

The remarks were mentioned in a short paragraph about FBI agent Peter Strzok whose texts about Trump, according to the president, “amounted to treason.”

Mueller dismissed Strzok from the team investigating Trump’s campaign after discovering he had exchanged negative texts about the prospect of a Trump presidency with FBI lawyer Lisa page. When those texts were revealed to the public late last year, they became a major GOP talking point that “proved” bias against Trump within the bureau, leading to a new congressional probe into whether Page and Strzok were “leaking” to the press.

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

Fox News executives privately view Trump ‘as this crazy person who calls all the time’: report

Sarah K. Burris
Raw Story
12 Jan 2018 at 18:44 ET                  

It was revealed recently that President Donald Trump watches between four and eight hours of cable news each day. He typically comes into the office after 11 a.m. and is known for tweeting about his favorite show “Fox and Friends.”

One report, however, claims Trump and Fox News are stuck in a positive feedback loop in which both are promoting each other and verifying each other’s opinions. Now that Roger Ailes is gone, “Vanity Fair” argues that the president is the new programmer for the network.

Conversations about the future of Fox have brought executives, producers, and hosts to see Trump as a kind of “looming figure” over the network.

“When you worked at Fox, you knew that at any moment Roger Ailes was watching. Every day was like a job interview with Ailes. Now it’s the same way for Trump,” a Fox News contributor said.

“What he usually does is he’ll call after a show and say, ‘I really enjoyed that,’” a former Fox anchor said. “The highest compliment is, ‘I really learned something.’ Then you know he got a new policy idea.”

While Trump doesn’t dictate talking points as Ailes did, the so-called “audience of one” has staff keenly aware what they say and do is being monitored. But unlike many Fox viewers, what Trump sees impacts more than just his millions in Twitter followers.

“He has the same embattled view as a typical Fox viewer—that ‘the liberal elites hate me; they’re trying to bring me down,’” one Fox executive said.

According to “Vanity Fair,” however, the relationship “makes it extremely complicated to cover the administration’s near-constant conflagrations.”

“They don’t want to see stuff about Michael Wolff. It’s depressing,” one staffer said about the Fire and Fury book. Instead, everyone is on board with attacking Hillary Clinton and her family.

So, the network is stuck with two options: they can report the news in it’s entirety and risk upsetting the president or they can tell him what he wants to hear and score retweets that draw in his audience to their website. The business decision is to kowtow to the president. The relationship can be advantageous for both.

“He’s sort of viewed as this crazy person who calls all the time,” a Fox executive said.

While the network was once opposed to Trump it has now “become a safe space for Trump fans,” an executive noted. Fox hosts who weren’t on board the Trump train suffered consequences. Bob Beckel, a former co-host of “The Five,” spoke out against Trump and found an unsigned note in his office saying he needed to back off. Oddly enough, hosts and journalists like Chris Wallace and Shep Smith seem to be immune to the pressure and frequently report whatever they want. However, their shows air during an hour when Trump is generally not watching.

Meanwhile, those who have celebrated Trump have been promoted. Sean Hannity, Jesse Watters and Jeanine Pirro have all talked about right-wing conspiracy theories that Trump is the victim of an FBI-led coup. Pirro has been up front that her motives aren’t even about the report or the punditry. She wants to come aboard the Trump train officially.

“I really want a job in this administration,” Pirro proclaimed while walking out of her makeup room, one person who witnessed it said.

While Pirro might celebrate the president’s constant promotion to the network, others aren’t comfortable.

“It’s freaky to see him tweeting at Fox & Friends,” one staffer said. “That doesn’t help us. We’re not state television.”

**********

‘The Lowest White Man’

Charles M. Blow
JAN. 12, 2018
NY Times

I guess Donald Trump was eager to counter the impression in Michael Wolff’s book that he is irascible, mentally small and possibly insane. On Tuesday, he allowed a bipartisan session in the White House about immigration to be televised for nearly an hour.

Surely, he thought that he would be able to demonstrate to the world his lucidity and acumen, his grasp of the issues and his relish for rapprochement with his political adversaries.

But instead what came through was the image of a man who had absolutely no idea what he was talking about; a man who says things that are 180 degrees from the things he has said before; a man who has no clear line of reasoning; a man who is clearly out of his depth and willing to do and say anything to please the people in front of him.

He demonstrated once again that he is a man without principle, interested only in how good he can make himself look and how much money he can make.

Yes, he has an intrinsic hostility to people who are not white, particularly when they challenge him, but as a matter of policy, the whole idea of building a wall for which Mexico would pay was just a cheap campaign stunt to, once again, please the people in front of him.

Trump is not committed to that wall on principle. He is committed only to looking good as a result of whatever comes of it. Mexico is never going to pay for it, and he knows it. He has always known it. That was just another lie. Someone must have stuck the phrases “chain migration” and “diversity lottery” into his brain — easy buzzwords, you see — and he can now rail against those ideas for applause lines.

But he is completely malleable on actual immigration policy. He doesn’t have the stamina for that much reading. Learning about immigration would require reading more words than would fit on a television news chyron.

If Donald Trump follows through with what he said during that meeting, his base will once again be betrayed. He will have proved once again that he was saying anything to keep them angry, even telling lies. He will have demonstrated once again his incompetence and unfitness.

And once again, they won’t care.

That is because Trump is man-as-message, man-as-messiah. Trump support isn’t philosophical but theological.

Trumpism is a religion founded on patriarchy and white supremacy.

It is the belief that even the least qualified man is a better choice than the most qualified woman and a belief that the most vile, anti-intellectual, scandal-plagued simpleton of a white man is sufficient to follow in the presidential footsteps of the best educated, most eloquent, most affable black man.

As President Lyndon B. Johnson said in the 1960s to a young Bill Moyers: “If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.”

Trump’s supporters are saying to us, screaming to us, that although he may be the “lowest white man,” he is still better than Barack Obama, the “best colored man.”

In a way, Donald Trump represents white people’s right to be wrong and still be right. He is the embodiment of the unassailability of white power and white privilege.

To abandon him is to give up on the pact that America has made with its white citizens from the beginning: The government will help to underwrite white safety and success, even at the expense of other people in this country, whether they be Native Americans, African-Americans or new immigrants.

But this idea of elevating the lowest white man over those more qualified or deserving didn’t begin with Johnson’s articulation and won’t end with Trump’s manifestation. This is woven into the fabric of the flag.

As I have written here before, when Alabama called a constitutional convention in 1901, Emmet O’Neal, who later became governor, argued that the state should “lay deep and strong and permanent in the fundamental law of the state the foundation of white supremacy forever in Alabama,” and as part of that strategy he argued:

“I don’t believe it is good policy to go up in the hills and tell them that Booker Washington or Councill or anybody else is allowed to vote because they are educated. The minute you do that every white man who is not educated is disfranchised on the same proposition.”

In his essay “Black Reconstruction in America, 1860-1880,” W.E.B. Du Bois discussed why poor whites didn’t make common cause with poor blacks and slaves but instead prized their roles as overseers and slave catchers, eagerly joining the Klan. This fed the white man’s “vanity because it associated him with the masters,” Du Bois wrote.

He continued:

“Slavery bred in the poor white a dislike of Negro toil of all sorts. He never regarded himself as a laborer, or as part of any labor movement. If he had any ambition at all it was to become a planter and to own ‘niggers.’ To these Negroes he transferred all the dislike and hatred which he had for the whole slave system. The result was that the system was held stable and intact by the poor white.”

For white supremacy to be made perfect, the lowest white man must be exalted above those who are black.

No matter how much of an embarrassment and a failure Trump proves to be, his exploits must be judged a success. He must be deemed a correction to Barack Obama and a superior choice to Hillary Clinton. White supremacy demands it. Patriarchy demands it. Trump’s supporters demand it.


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California in revolt: how the progressive state plans to foil the Trump agenda

From immigration to the environment and recreational cannabis, state leaders and activists are finding paths to circumvent the administration. Will it work?

Sam Levin in San Francisco
Guardian
12 Jan ‘18 10.00 GMT

California prides itself on being first with progressive laws on climate change, labor rights and marijuana. In 2018, the Golden State’s “firsts” are defensive – bold proposals and legal maneuvers to protect citizens from Donald Trump.

State leaders have pushed legislation and lawsuits to circumvent and undo Trump’s agenda on immigration, the environment, internet freedom and other liberal causes. One of the most consequential victories came Tuesday when a judge in San Francisco blocked the Trump administration’s plan to end a program that allows 800,000 undocumented people to study and work in the US.

At the same time, activists have also launched grassroots campaigns to shield residents from the White House’s attacks – and to pressure local Democrats to do more to mobilize the largest state against the president.

Immigration

California lawmakers have adopted the most expansive “sanctuary state” law in the country, restricting police from questioning people about citizenship status and limiting cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice).

The state has also taken the Trump administration to court to challenge his travel ban on Muslim-majority countries and his decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (Daca) program.

A US judge in San Francisco sided with California on Tuesday in the Daca battle, ruling that the Obama-era program that protects “Dreamers” – undocumented immigrants brought to the country as children – must remain in place.

    The immediate goal is to provide a first line of defense
    Maria Sofia Corona-Alamillo, attorney

But Trump – who has a reputation for being vindictive and has openly expressed disdain for California – is on track to retaliate. Ice already arrested hundreds in targeted raids in sanctuary cities last year, and the agency’s acting director has promised to ramp up deportations in the state this year, even suggesting California politicians should be prosecuted.

Across California, vast networks of attorneys and volunteer advocates have formed, leading the resistance to Ice on the ground, sometimes saving lives in the process.

Though Obama deported more immigrants than any other president, the need is even greater now with Ice indiscriminately picking up people in raids, according to Maria Sofia Corona-Alamillo, an attorney working with the Los Angeles County Rapid Response Network.

“The immediate goal is to provide a first line of defense for community members that are facing removal from the country and imprisonment in government-run detention centers, which we for many reasons find inhumane.”

Last year, she said the network mobilized after Ice agents showed up to an auto repair shop with guns drawn and, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, arrested a group of workers even though they had a warrant for only one individual. Ice declined to comment.

Jennifer Lee Koh, an attorney with a Sacramento network, said she represented a Mexican immigrant who was apprehended and threatened with deportation last year. Instead of the typical outcome of removal, the network helped the man, who has three young children, get temporary relief, and he is now on track to get a green card.

“We counter this climate of fear and terror that a lot of these enforcement actions bring to these communities,” said Hamid Yazdan Panah, attorney coordinator with the Northern California Rapid Response Network.

There’s more legislators could to proactively protect immigrants, activists argued. Koh urged California’s governor, Jerry Brown, to issue more pardons to immigrants threatened with deportation due to previous criminal convictions.

Some have argued that stricter enforcement of sanctuary rules is necessary considering that even in liberal jurisdictions like Los Angeles and Oakland, local police have been caught continuing to assist Ice.

Javier Hernandez, director of the Inland Coalition for Immigrant Justice, said California should provide “universal representation” – ensuring access to lawyers for all immigrants facing deportation: “Give everyone a fair chance to fight.”

Oil drilling

Trump unveiled a plan last week to open up US offshore territory to oil and gas drilling, including previously protected areas along the Pacific Ocean.

The administration later reversed its position, saying it would not allow drilling off the Florida coast, following pressure from the state’s Republican governor. That further fueled claims that Trump was again targeting California, which has the world’s sixth largest economy and overwhelmingly voted against the president.

    We have a beautiful pristine coastline. We are going to do everything in our power to make sure it remains that way
    Kevin de León, state senate leader

Brown condemned the decision, and lieutenant governor Gavin Newsom said the state was working to prevent new federal drilling leases.

“We have a beautiful pristine coastline. We are going to do everything in our power to make sure it remains that way,” said state senate leader Kevin de León.

Despite the defiant statements, environmentalists argued that Brown has a poor record on oil and gas, with not-for-profit Consumer Watchdog pointing to his administration’s approval of more than 200 new offshore wells between 2012 and 2016.

Brown should halt all offshore drilling in state waters, said Liza Tucker, the group’s energy project director: “That would be truly drawing a line in the sand.”

Brown’s spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.

Days after California launched what is expected to be the largest recreational cannabis market in the world, the US attorney general, Jeff Sessions, announced he was repealing an Obama-era policy that had allowed states to legalize pot.

Amid bipartisan backlash, California lawmakers said they were preparing to resist a potential crackdown on weed through a new law that could establish a “sanctuary state” for cannabis.
High time: introducing the Guardian's new cannabis column for grownups
Read more

Assemblyman Reginald Byron Jones-Sawyer said he knows seniors, veterans, relatives and others who depend on medical cannabis – motivating him to advance legislation that would block the state from assisting federal authorities in arrests, investigations or prosecution targeting legal operations.

“Jeff Sessions’ call for cannabis enforcement is not only ill-conceived, it’s still that federal war on drugs that hasn’t worked … which is really a war on African Americans and Latinos.”

Criminal justice reform advocates have also urged California leaders to decrease its prison and jail populations for drug crimes and help people with past convictions work in the legal market.

Sessions’ attacks have “only advanced our cause quicker and further”, added Erich Pearson, a cannabis CEO in San Francisco: “We’re in a much more organized time than we’ve ever been.”

Homes in San Francisco. Trump’s tax plan sets a $10,000 cap on the amount of property and income taxes that residents can deduct from federal taxes.

Taxes

Trump’s tax reform legislation, the most drastic change to the code in 30 years, is slated to hurt California by setting a $10,000 cap on the amount of property and income taxes that residents can deduct from federal taxes. The average California deduction was nearly $8,500 more than the new cap, according to one analysis, meaning many stand to suffer.

Lawmakers, however, are hoping to bypass Trump’s policy with the Protect California Taxpayers Act, which would allow state residents to make charitable donations to a fund and receive a tax credit in exchange.

“We won’t allow California residents to be the casualty of this disastrous tax scheme,” De León said in a statement.

If the bill is successful, other states could follow suit.

Net neutrality

In a state home to the world’s most powerful technology companies, the recent repeal of net neutrality rules, designed to protect an open internet, sparked significant protests. The win for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chair, Ajit Pai, a Trump appointee, dismantled regulations that ensured internet service providers (ISPs) treated all websites equally and couldn’t charge some more for delivering certain services.

While Democrats in Washington DC work to overturn the repeal, California lawmakers are working to reinstate net neutrality in the Golden State. The bill would empower California regulators and law enforcement to establish and enforce net neutrality requirements on ISPs operating in the state.


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« Reply #4372 on: Jan 12, 2018, 06:43 AM »

Hard-won victories of Arab spring appear more fragile than ever

As the protests in Tunisia show, the underlying economic and social grievances that sparked the original regional uprisings remain

Martin Chulov Middle East correspondent
Guardian
Fri 12 Jan ‘18 05.00 GMT

In the cradle of the Arab spring, it’s reckoning time again, when the hopes for the Tunisian revolution of seven years ago are measured against its gains. In Tunisia, and in other Arab states rocked by the insurgencies it sparked, hard-won victories appear more fragile than ever.

In many cases the underlying issues that fired revolts first in Tunisia, then in Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Yemen and Syria, remain unchanged. Sclerotic state structures that withered under sustained challenge from the street, and whose demise was seen as transformative, have clawed back losses by re-empowering the security forces that had shielded them for generations.

In Tunisia, as the anniversary of President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali’s departure approaches, many conditions that led to his ousting still apply. Large numbers of young people are underemployed and a stagnant economy remains dependent on the International Monetary Fund, which has imposed austerity measures that have sparked fresh protest. And figures from the Ben Ali regime have made political comebacks.

“There has been a clear effort by the political elite to bring an end to the revolutionary momentum of 2011,” said Rory McCarthy, an expert on Tunisia and fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford University. “These protests are people pushing back against that. So far it’s been a very conservative transition. There have been political reforms, lots of parties, free elections, but few social or economic reforms. Plus, there’s lots of evidence of backsliding towards old techniques of rule.”

Anti-government protests that have raged through Tunisia for the past week are expected to intensify over the weekend, and authorities have been accused of the sort of indiscriminate retaliation that caused demonstrations in the days before Ben Ali’s fall.

Economic and social marginalisation remains a driving theme in Tunisia, as it does in Egypt, where a security structure that was partly dismantled after the autocratic leader Hosni Mubarak was forced to resign again holds sway over most aspects of society. Open defiance in Egypt is now rare, with President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s government allowing little space for political discourse or dissent. The country’s economy remains in dire shape, with inflation spiking and lower income earners struggling to survive. Human rights activists and journalists are enduring an unprecedented crackdown.

“The situation is far worse, repression under Mubarak was not like this. The main difference is the political setting, which is very different,” said Nancy Okail, executive director of the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy. “Currently, any other actors outside the security nexus around the president … are completely marginalised and have no ability or power to participate in government; neither the cabinet, the parliament or the local councils, who have not been re-formed since they were dismantled in 2011.”

Sisi has cast himself as the only man capable of fighting a jihadist insurgency in the Sinai, which has claimed more than 1,000 lives.

Countering terrorism trumps all other political obligations, as it has in Libya, where initial hopes for a transition away from Muammar Gaddafi’s four-decade dictatorship have led to a country effectively split in two, with tribes, clans, the Islamic State terror group and a nascent old guard ruthlessly competing for power and influence, with little to no effective central governance.

In Bahrain and Syria, the street protests sparked by Tunisia’s revolt that exposed the fragility of authority and rattled both regimes have long given way to different outcomes. Bahrain’s revolt has become a low-level insurgency, backed by Iran and countered with the help of Saudi Arabia, which holds tutelage over the small Gulf kingdom. The monarchy, which offered only minimal concessions to protesters, has been safeguarded.

In Syria, a destructive civil war had replaced calls for civil change by early 2012. Six years on, it appears to be approaching an endgame, with few of the protesters’ calls for change having been met, and the Assad regime, directed by its backers, Iran and Russia, in a winning position after huge losses of blood and assets.

In Tunisia, where it all began, protesters say they have not lost hope for lasting change. The country remains the only relative success story of the Arab spring, and has made moves towards democratic rule, with free elections, seamless transitions of power, and attempts to build institutions, among other gains. “It’s far more successful than any other Arab spring country obviously,” said McCarthy. “But the future is still contested.”


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« Reply #4373 on: Jan 13, 2018, 06:12 AM »

Spanish researchers discover 30,000 year-old cave paintings

The team used cutting-edge technology to identify the prehistoric artwork.

By Aristos Georgiou
IBT
1/13/2018   

Researchers have discovered four new sets of cave paintings in Cantabria, northern Spain, the oldest of which was made nearly 30,000 years ago – making it one of the earliest known examples of prehistoric art in the world.

The team from the Museum of Prehistory of Cantabria, led by Spanish prehistorian Roberto Ontañón, used cutting-edge imaging techniques to identify the drawings.

Twenty years ago, a speleologist – a scientist who studies caves – had informed archaeologists of the possible existence of ancient paintings in various rock cavities in Cantabria. However, the techniques available at the time were not sufficient to confirm the existence of the art.

The paintings, like much prehistoric artwork, had degraded so much over time that they were difficult to identify with the naked eye. To overcome this, Ontañón and his team used a 3D laser scanning method, which reproduced the artwork on a computer.

"These technologies allow you to detect colors beyond the range of the visible spectrum (infrared to ultraviolet) and, in this way, 'reveal' paintings that at first sight are imperceptible or difficult to
distinguish", Ontañón told IBTimes UK.

The artworks are estimated to have been made between 30,000 and 20,000 years ago, making them older than the famous bison drawings at the renowned UNESCO World Heritage Site at nearby Altamira – created around 16,000 years ago – but not as old as the earliest example in the region.

That title goes to the cave drawings at El Castillo, also in Cantabria, which were made more than 40,000 years ago and are arguably the oldest in the world.

Cantabria has some of the highest concentrations of prehistoric art anywhere on Earth. This can be attributed to the fact that the region was a good place to live during glacial periods in the Earth's history, a result of its temperate climate and abundance of wild animals.


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« Reply #4374 on: Jan 13, 2018, 06:20 AM »


Ivory Trade in China Is Now Banned

China's ivory trade ban is now in effect, making it illegal to sell and buy ivory in the country.

Ecowatch
1/13/2018

China, one of the world's largest markets for both legal and illegal ivory, has been a major driver of elephant poaching in Africa. Last year, the Chinese government announced its commitment to shut down its legal, domestic ivory markets by the end of 2017. By March 3, about 67 ivory carving factories and shops had been closed, according to Xinhua News. The remaining markets and factories are said to have been shut by Dec. 31, 2017.

Conservationists have welcomed this ban.

"Decades from now, we may point back to this as one of the most important days in the history of elephant conservation," Ginette Hemley, senior vice president of wildlife conservation at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) said in a statement. "China has followed through on a great promise it made to the world, offering hope for the future of elephants."

Raising awareness about the ban and reducing demand for ivory, however, is critical for the ban to work, conservationists say. In a recent survey, WWF and TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, found that only 19 percent of the people interviewed in mainland China had heard of the ivory ban. But on learning about the ban, 86 percent of the people surveyed said they would support it.

The ivory ban has also received support from celebrities like NBA star Yao Ming. In 2012, conservation groups WildAid, African Wildlife Foundation and Save the Elephants, together with Yao Ming, launched a large public awareness campaign to highlight how the demand for ivory was fueling elephant poaching in Africa.

"We can start 2018 hopeful that elephants will be safer now that China has banned commercial ivory sales," WildAid CEO Peter Knights said in a statement. "Prices are down and law enforcement efforts in many parts of Africa and Asia are much improved."

The ivory ban alone, however, won't end the poaching of elephants, Hemley said. "It's equally critical that China's neighbors follow suit and shut down ivory markets across Asia. Only then can we ensure the open trade doesn't simply shift to other countries and offer traffickers safe channels for newly-poached ivory."

"The fate of Africa's elephants depends on global rejection of ivory trade, and governments hold the key to driving this," Hemley added.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Mongabay.


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« Reply #4375 on: Jan 13, 2018, 06:21 AM »


China to Plant New Forests the Size of Ireland This Year

Ecowatch
1/13/2018

China's government announced plans for a major reforestation project. The country aims to grow about 6.66 million hectares of new forests this year, an area roughly the size of Ireland.

The announcement was made last week by Zhang Jianlong, the head of China's State Forestry Administration, in an effort to shed the country's image as a major polluter and become a global environmental leader, the Telegraph reported.

China is the world's largest emitter and remains heavily dependent on coal, but the country has been cleaning up its act in recent years due to concerns over the impacts of air pollution and climate change.

The administration announced several forestry goals, which include increasing the country's forest coverage rate to 23 percent from 21.7 percent by the end of the decade. Then from 2020 to 2035, China plans to further boost the percentage of forest coverage to 26 percent.

"Companies, organizations and talent that specialize in greening work are all welcome to join in the country's massive greening campaign," Jianlong said. "Cooperation between government and social capital will be put on the priority list."

The new forest areas will be built in the northeast Hebei province, the Qinghai province in the Tibetan Plateau and in the Hunshandake Desert in Inner Mongolia.

Zhang said that China has spent more than 538 billion yuan (about $83 billion) on planting forests over the past five years, putting the country's total forest area to 208 million hectares.

According to Reuters, the government is also promoting an "ecological red line" program to force provinces and regions to restrict "irrational development" to curb construction near rivers, forests and national parks.


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« Reply #4376 on: Jan 13, 2018, 06:22 AM »


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

By Olga Mecking, Commentary
Ecowatch
1/13/2018

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 #4377 on: Jan 13, 2018, 06:24 AM »


EPA Rule Change Would Expose Teenagers to Highly Toxic Chemicals

By Farron Cousins
Ecowatch
1/13/2018

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 #4378 on: Jan 13, 2018, 06:31 AM »

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

WA Post
1/13/2018
CHONGQING, China

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 #4379 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
Guardian
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.”
0:57
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?
Read more

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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