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« on: Nov 22, 2015, 09:31 AM »


We are going to restart our thread on the climate, our environment, and the consequences of global warming that we had to remove because of being threatened by The Guardian with legal actions because we had dared to post some of their articles on this subject in that thread.

This restart happened in 2015 and has been posting and accumulating articles since that time. Over time this has taken up lot's and lot's of space on our server that became way to much. So we will be now be adjusting how long we store articles posted to it to one year at most.

God Bless, Rad
« Last Edit: Oct 14, 2018, 09:05 AM by Rad » Logged
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« Reply #1 on: Apr 28, 2018, 05:55 AM »

Trump and Merkel tried – and failed – to hide their differences in Washington

After the French president’s warm visit, the frosty atmosphere was clear as the US and German leaders discussed Nato and Iran

David Smith in Washington
Sat 28 Apr 2018 12.31 BST

Donald Trump and Angela Merkel worked hard to present a united front on Friday but could not mask deep differences in substance and style.

Although the two leaders stressed the US and Germany’s close ties, their low-key meeting offered a stark contrast to the lavish state visit of French president Emmanuel Macron – and their body language was distinctly colder.

At a joint press conference at the White House, Trump bemoaned America’s $151bn trade deficit with the European Union, whose exemption from steel and aluminum tariffs expires on Tuesday unless the US grants an extension.

Merkel suggested little progress had been made on the issue. “The president will decide – that’s very clear,” she told reporters. “We had an exchange of views on the current state of affairs and the negotiations. The decision lies with the president.”

Trump said: “We need a reciprocal relationship, which we don’t have. We’re working on it and we want to make it more fair and the chancellor wants to make it more fair.”

    We need a reciprocal relationship, which we don’t have. We’re working on it and we want to make it more fair
    Donald Trump

But he added that he did not blame Merkel, Germany or the EU for the imbalance. “I blame the people that preceded me for allowing this to happen,” he said.

The US president also reiterated his criticism of Nato members that do not spend the mandatory 2% of GDP on defence; Merkel said Germany’s latest budget would take defence spending to 1.3% of GDP. He said: “Nato is wonderful but it helps Europe more than it helps us, and why are we paying a vast majority of the costs?”

On her first visit to Washington since re-election, Merkel had been expected to back up Macron’s case for defending the Iran nuclear deal, which Trump is threatening to scrap. The chancellor acknowledged that the deal is “anything but perfect – it will not solve all the problems with Iran”, but she described it as a building block. She said Trump must decide whether the US would withdraw.

He offered no fresh clues to his thinking but said: “They will not be doing nuclear weapons. That I can tell you. They’re not going to be doing nuclear weapons. You can bank on it.”

Merkel looked on bemused as Trump gave rambling answers about his plans for a new embassy in Jerusalem and the withdrawal of Ronny Jackson as nominee for veterans affairs (VA) secretary. Trump praised Jackson and said: “I explained Washington can be a very mean place; you don’t know about that, chancellor. A nasty place.”

Listening via a translation device, Merkel frowned and grimaced. Moments later, Trump said about accountability reforms in the VA: “When someone treats our veterans badly, we can fire them so fast – almost as fast as they fire people in Germany.” Merkel raised her eyebrows and forced a smile.

When Merkel last visited, Trump was criticised for not shaking her hand in the Oval Office. This time, he greeted Merkel outside the West Wing with a handshake and a kiss on each cheek. He insisted: “We have a really great relationship, and we actually have had a great relationship right from the beginning, but some people didn’t understand that.”

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« Reply #2 on: Apr 28, 2018, 06:20 AM »

Lawyer Who Was Said to Have Dirt on Clinton Had Closer Ties to Kremlin Than She Let On

By Andrew E. Kramer and Sharon LaFraniere
April 28, 2018
NY Times

MOSCOW — The Russian lawyer who met with Trump campaign officials in Trump Tower in June 2016 on the premise that she would deliver damaging information about Hillary Clinton has long insisted she is a private attorney, not a Kremlin operative trying to meddle in the presidential election.

But newly released emails show that in at least one instance two years earlier, the lawyer, Natalia V. Veselnitskaya, worked hand in glove with Russia’s chief legal office to thwart a Justice Department civil fraud case against a well-connected Russian firm.

Ms. Veselnitskaya also appears to have recanted her earlier denials of Russian government ties. During an interview to be broadcast Friday by NBC News, she acknowledged that she was not merely a private lawyer but a source of information for a top Kremlin official, Yuri Y. Chaika, the prosecutor general.

“I am a lawyer, and I am an informant,” she said. “Since 2013, I have been actively communicating with the office of the Russian prosecutor general.”

The previously undisclosed details about Ms. Veselnitskaya rekindle questions about who she was representing when she met with Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort and others at Trump Tower in Manhattan during the campaign. The meeting, one focus of the special counsel investigation into Russia’s election interference, was organized after an intermediary promised that Ms. Veselnitskaya would deliver documents that would incriminate Mrs. Clinton.

Ms. Veselnitskaya had long insisted that she met the president’s son, son-in-law and campaign chairman in a private capacity, not as a representative of the Russian government.

“I operate independently of any governmental bodies,” she wrote in a November statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee. “I have no relationship with Mr. Chaika, his representatives and his institutions other than those related to my professional functions as a lawyer.”

But that claim had already been undercut last fall by revelations that her talking points for the Trump Tower meeting — detailing tax and financial fraud accusations against two Democratic Party donors tied to a Kremlin opponent — matched those in a confidential memorandum circulated by Mr. Chaika’s office.

And a sheaf of Ms. Veselnitskaya’s email correspondence released Friday appeared to show that her relationship with Mr. Chaika’s office is far closer than she has described.

The emails were obtained by Dossier, an organization set up by Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky, a former tycoon who was stripped of his oil holdings, imprisoned and then exiled from his native Russia. He has emerged as a leading opponent of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.

Shown copies of the emails by Richard Engel of NBC News, Ms. Veselnitskaya acknowledged that “many things included here are from my documents, my personal documents.” She told the Russian news agency Interfax on Wednesday that her email accounts were hacked this year by people determined to discredit her, and that she would report the hack to Russian authorities.

The exchanges document Mr. Chaika’s response to a Justice Department request in 2014 for help with its civil fraud case against a real estate firm, Prevezon Holdings Ltd., and its owner, Denis P. Katsyv, a well-connected Russian businessman.

Federal prosecutors say Ms. Veselnitskaya was the driving force on Mr. Katsyv’s defense team, a description she has echoed in court filings. In a declaration to the court, she identified herself as a lawyer in private practice, representing Mr. Katsyv and his firm.

The Justice Department prosecutors charged Mr. Katsyv’s firm in 2013 with using real estate purchases in New York to launder a portion of the profits from a tax scheme in Russia. They were seeking Russian bank, tax and court records, the type of documents that typically form the crux of civil money-laundering cases. The Justice Department asked the Russian government to keep the matter confidential, “except as is necessary to execute this request,” according to court documents. Russia and the United States have a mutual legal assistance treaty governing law-enforcement requests.

The emails indicate that a senior prosecutor on Mr. Chaika’s staff, Sergei A. Bochkaryov, worked closely with Ms. Veselnitskaya to craft the Russian government response. She knew him well enough to address him in friendly terms.

“Dear Sergei Aleksandrovich!” Ms. Veselnitskaya wrote on Aug. 2, 2014, in one of at least 11 emails exchanged. “I am sending you the edits in the draft response, as per instructions. I am ready to answer any questions that arise, at any time convenient for you.”

The language in their final email exchange matches that of the prosecutor general’s official response to the Justice Department.

The judge in the case later wrote that the Russian government had “spurned” the Justice Department’s request for evidence, instead sending a lengthy treatise on why Ms. Veselnitskaya’s client was innocent.

Ms. Veselnitskaya’s involvement in the official communications with the Russian government “raises serious questions about obstruction of justice and false statements,” said Jaimie Nawaday, a former assistant United States attorney in Manhattan who was a prosecutor on the case.

She said Ms. Veselnitskaya’s actions should be referred to the United States attorney’s office for investigation, including whether she misrepresented herself to the court. “It’s completely outrageous,” Ms. Nawaday said.

Asked about the Russian government’s culpability, Andrew Keane Woods, a professor at the University of Kentucky law school who specializes in international law, said, “If there was funny business, then they are not really complying with the terms of the treaty.” But, he added, “there is no clear sanction” for failing to comply.

Moscow’s refusal to provide records to the American prosecutors dealt a severe blow to the case. In the end, the Justice Department agreed to settle it for about $6 million. Prevezon did not admit fault.

Although Ms. Veselnitskaya appears to have influenced how the Russian prosecutor general’s office justified its decision, its refusal to cooperate was not unexpected. The tax fraud was uncovered by Sergei L. Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer who was imprisoned and died in custody after disclosing the theft. Russian officials contend that the Magnitsky case, which became a cause célèbre in Washington, was a fraud concocted by the West to justify sanctions against Russian citizens.

The release of Ms. Veselnitskaya’s emails by Mr. Khodorkovsky marks a second foray by Russian opposition figures into the controversy over Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. In a telephone interview, Mr. Khodorkovsky said someone had deposited the email records anonymously into an electronic drop box maintained by his organization.

This year, Aleksei A. Navalny, a key opposition leader in Russia, also publicized videos that he said hinted at a role for Oleg V. Deripaska, a well-known Russian oligarch, in the Russian government’s efforts to meddle in the American political process. A spokesman for Mr. Deripaska said Mr. Navalny’s accusations were utterly false.

Andrew E. Kramer reported from Moscow, and Sharon LaFraniere from Washington.


Here is why the Russian lawyer from the Trump Tower meeting suddenly changed her story

Cody Fenwick, AlterNet
28 Apr 2018 at 06:58 ET                   

Natalia Veselnitskaya, one of the key figures in the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting held by top members of the Trump campaign in an effort to get dirt on Hillary Clinton, originally told Congress that she was a private lawyer without ties to the government.

The New York Times reported Friday, however, that Veselnitskaya misled Congress and the American people when she testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee last November that she works “independently of any governmental bodies.” The Times found evidence that had previously worked with Russia’s chief legal office, and she later confirmed she was an “informant” for the government.
 One of the reporters who helped break the story, Sharon LaFraniere, went on CNN Friday night and explained how she changed her story.

“She was a little bit taken by surprise because we and NBC News obtained a series of emails exchanges  between her and the Russian prosecutor general,” LaFraniere said. “An NBC News correspondent chased her down in Moscow — and she just blurted it out when she was asked: ‘What’s your relationship with the prosecutor general?’

“She said, ‘Well, I have a dual role, I’m a private attorney and I’m an informant.’ From there on, she backtracked.”

Separately, Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) said on MSNBC that even this word was misleading. “She’s a spy,” he said.


The new House GOP report on Russia is revealing. But not in a good way for Trump

by Paul Waldman and Greg Sargent
April 28 2018
WA Post

Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee on Friday released a report on Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election. Although it is meant to exonerate President Trump and everyone around him, what it actually does is bring the utter degradation and disgrace of that committee to its fullest expression.

By contrast, there may be real news in the Democrats’ response to the report. In particular, the Democrats detailed new information that appears to shed light on what Republicans would not do in their investigation.

The response by Democrats makes this important charge: That Republicans refused to follow up on a lead that could have demonstrated whether, despite his denials, Trump had advance knowledge of the now-infamous Trump Tower meeting in June 2016 between a group of Russians and Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort.

During an interview with us today, Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), the committee’s ranking member, expanded on this claim.

The GOP report does address that Trump Tower meeting, allowing that it showed “poor judgment” on the part of the Trump campaign. As we learned from Trump Jr.’s emails, those top Trump campaign officials went to the meeting in the full expectation of receiving dirt on Hillary Clinton, supplied by the Russian government. But the GOP report brushes this off, concluding there was “no evidence that the Trump campaign colluded, coordinated, or conspired with the Russian government.”

President Trump said April 27 he was “very honored” by a report by House Intelligence Committee Republicans from a probe into Russia’s influence campaign. (The Washington Post)

But the Democratic response fills in some extremely important context — and it may involve the president himself, though we cannot know one way or the other right now.

According to the Democratic response, right after Trump Jr. set up the specifics of the meeting, he had two calls with a number in Russia belonging to Emin Agalarov. Between those two calls, the Democratic response recounts, Trump Jr. received a third call from a blocked number. Who might it have been?

Democrats wanted to find out, but Republicans blocked it from happening, according to the Democrats’ response.

“We sought to determine whether that number belonged to the president, because we also ascertained that then-candidate Trump used a blocked number,” Schiff said during our interview. “That would tell us whether Don Jr. sought his father’s permission to take the meeting, and [whether] that was the purpose of that call.”

Schiff added that Democrats asked Republicans to subpoena phone records to determine whose number it was, but Republicans “refused,” Schiff said. “They didn’t want to know whether he had informed his father and sought his permission to take that meeting with the Russians.”

Trump has denied he knew or heard about the meeting. So naturally, any investigator would want to find out if Trump Jr. spoke to his father at the very moment he was arranging the meeting.

Again, we don’t know who made that third call. But if Trump Jr. did inform his father of the meeting in between calls with Emin Agalarov, it would be absolutely explosive news. First, it would mean the president has lied about his knowledge of the Trump Tower meeting. Second, it would show he was an active participant in a manner of speaking, though he wasn’t in the room.

If the Democratic response is accurate, what we know is that Republicans didn’t want to find out one way or the other. “It speaks to all the majority was determined to ignore, and the fundamental unseriousness of what they did,” Schiff said.

There is at least some reason to suspect that Trump may have known about the meeting. As the Democrats point out in their response, on June 7, the day after Trump Jr.’s conversations to set up the meeting, Trump told a crowd:

    “I am going to give a major speech on probably Monday of next week and we’re going to be discussing all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons. I think you’re going to find it very informative and very, very interesting.”

The Trump Tower meeting happened two days later, and didn’t produce the promised dirt — and the “major speech” never took place.

We may still find out the truth on this front — because it’s possible special counsel Robert S. Mueller III will take an interest in these phone records, if he hasn’t already.

“I certainly hope that if he hasn’t already that he will,” Schiff said. “I have to think that he has.”

The broader story about this GOP report is that, again and again, it acknowledges contact between members of the Trump campaign and Russians, but essentially says, “Okay sure, that happened, but it wasn’t collusion.” That’s their explanation for the Trump Tower meeting; for Carter Page’s Russia contacts; for George Papadopoulos’ Russian contacts; for everything Paul Manafort did; for the campaign’s enthusiastic use of the material hacked from Democratic email systems; for conversations with the Russian ambassador that Michael Flynn and Jeff Sessions later lied about; for all of it.

To paraphrase David St. Hubbins, there’s a fine line between stupid and clever, and the committee’s Republicans seem to think they’re firmly on the right side of it. After conducting seven separate congressional investigations into Benghazi, it is clear they just want the Russia story to go away. The only consolation is that they’re not even competent enough to mount a credible cover-up.

Clarification: An earlier version of this post mistakenly said the Democratic response claimed a third call was made by Donald Trump Jr. In fact, the report says the call came in to Trump Jr. from a blocked number. We have edited the above to correct the error.


GOP report says Flynn went to infamous Russian spymaster’s house for ‘very productive’ 2015 meeting

Brad Reed
Raw Story
27 Apr 2018 at 10:31 ET                   

The House Republicans’ report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election claims that there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia — despite the fact that it also contains a potentially damaging new piece of evidence against former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Specifically, the report claims that both Flynn and his son, Michael Flynn Jr., met with former Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak at his private residence in early December of 2015 — just two months before Flynn would formally join the Trump campaign as a foreign policy adviser.

What’s more, the report says that Flynn Jr. sent an email to the Russian embassy after the meeting that described it as “very productive.”

Despite this, the report says that investigators did not reach out to the Flynns to learn the nature of this meeting because both of them had made clear their “intent to assert their Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination.”

Days after the meeting at Kislyak’s house, Flynn flew to Moscow and attended a dinner commemorating the 10th anniversary of the founding of Russian state media outlet RT.com that was also attended by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Read the whole excerpt from the GOP’s report below.

    Did we already know Flynn and his son met Kislyak at his house before the infamous RT dinner? https://t.co/wGbsTKYFeH pic.twitter.com/hsK6MYXJZk

    — southpaw (@nycsouthpaw) April 27, 2018


Donald Trump’s creed of greed shows how he’s the product of the twisted worship of wealth

Conor Lynch, Salon
28 Apr 2018 at 07:24 ET                   

If there is one phrase that captures the personal philosophy that has guided Donald Trump throughout his life and presidency thus far, it may well be the infamous words of Gordon Gekko, the villain played by Michael Douglas in Oliver Stone’s classic film “Wall Street”: “Greed is good.”

The president has long subscribed to this philosophy of greed, and during his campaign in 2016 he boasted about his own greediness as if it were a virtue: “I like money. I’m very greedy. I’m a greedy person. I shouldn’t tell you that, I’m a greedy — I’ve always been greedy. I love money, right?” It quickly became evident why Trump — who claims to be Christian, even though Christian dogma clearly states greed as one of the seven deadly sins — was bragging about his greed when he went on to declare that he wanted to be “greedy” for America. “I want to be greedy. I want to be so greedy for our country.”

This story first appeared at Salon.

This rhetoric was consistent with his campaign pledge to run the United States government as he ran his business, which appealed to many voters who have been hoodwinked into believing that running a country like a for-profit company is the solution to all our problems. This notion, along with the belief that businesspeople have unique abilities that qualify them to run a country, has long been prevalent in America, but it became increasingly popular toward the end of the 20th century.

In the 1980s — the decade when Trump went from being the ultra-privileged son of a wealthy real estate developer to the national poster boy for hedonism, avarice and vice — supply-side economics went from being a fringe ideology to the core doctrine of one of the major parties in America. It was the age of greed, and billionaires and businessmen like Trump became celebrities in their own right, being hailed as “job-creators” and “masters of the universe.” The ethos of this era is captured in the rest of Gekko’s famous speech:

    Greed is good, greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms … has marked the upward surge for mankind, and greed [will save] that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA.

This philosophy of greed that came to dominate American culture in the final decades of the 20th century had various antecedents, whether it was the social Darwinism of the late 19th century (popular with the robber barons) or the “objectivist” philosophy of novelist Ayn Rand, who preached the “virtue of selfishness” in the mid-20th century (a philosophy that “is nearly perfect in its immorality,” as Gore Vidal wrote).

At the heart of supply-side economics is a kind of hero worship of the wealthy that was famously displayed in Rand’s tedious (yet astonishingly popular) novel “Atlas Shrugged,” a paean to the capitalist class that envisioned what would happen if the capitalists (i.e., the producers) went on strike against the “parasites” and “looters” — that is, working people and evil bureaucrats. There is no doubt that Donald Trump sees himself as a character right out of a Rand novel, though more Howard Roark than John Galt. Indeed, of the three books that Trump has spoken about liking (yes, three!), Rand’s “The Fountainhead” was one (the other two being his own ghostwritten book, “The Art of the Deal,” along with the Bible). “It relates to business, beauty, life and inner emotions. That book relates to … everything,” the president has said of Rand’s second novel.

In modern America, this Randian veneration of the wealthy has become the norm, even if most people have never heard of John Galt. Though the U.S. is known as the most religious country in the developed world, as a society America worships money more than anything else. To be wealthy is to be successful, smart and superior, and thus to be greedy and selfish is a virtue, not a sin. The profit motive is the guiding principle, the invisible hand the golden rule.

It is no wonder, then, that those who succeed in the private sector are often held in higher regard than those who work in the public or nonprofit sectors. Trump’s billionaire status made him uniquely qualified to run the country and fix that “malfunctioning corporation” known as the U.S. government. After all, if he could make a fortune in the world of business, surely he could turn things around in  government, where parasitic bureaucrats, politicians and so-called “experts” have long run things (notice the deep anti-intellectual thread that runs through this worldview).

Trump’s election was a chance to put this popular belief — that the government should be run like a business, and that successful businesspeople are more capable of leading a country — to the test. Trump has filled his administration with fellow billionaires and businessmen (and they are almost all men), while applying his famous business acumen to the presidency and carrying out a supply-side agenda that favors big business and billionaires like himself (that is, the “job-creators”).

The result? The Trump administration is already one of the most corrupt and scandal-ridden administrations in the history of the United States. “More than at any time in history,” write Joy Crane and Nick Tabor in a recent New York magazine article documenting Trump’s corruption, “the president of the United States is actively using the power and prestige of his office to line his own pockets: landing loans for his businesses, steering wealthy buyers to his condos, securing cheap foreign labor for his resorts, preserving federal subsidies for his housing projects, easing regulations on his golf courses, licensing his name to overseas projects, even peddling coffee mugs and shot glasses bearing the presidential seal.”

“Not since the Harding administration, and probably the Gilded Age, has the presidency conducted itself in so venal a fashion,” declared their New York magazine colleague Jonathan Chait. Former FBI director James Comey, meanwhile, has compared the president to a mob boss in his new bestselling book, writing that Trump’s leadership is “ego driven and about personal loyalty.” The man who promised to “drain the swamp,” in other words, has filled it with the most monstrous swamp creatures imaginable (along with his family members).

Of course, this was all predictable. Throughout his life Trump has been driven by greed and self-interest, and in the world of business this mentality has served him well. As the owner of his own company, Trump ran things with an iron fist, which partly explains his authoritarian style and why he has had such a difficult time adjusting to running a democratic government where his power is limited by checks and balances. Trump’s corrupt and self-serving administration should put to rest the notion that government ought be run like a private, for-profit company, or that managing a business (or, better yet, having a lot of money) qualifies one to run a country. Of course, it probably won’t.

Donald Trump is the product of a society that values monetary success over all other forms of achievement (e.g., intellectual, creative, etc.), where the philosophy of greed has become the dominant ideology. This philosophy is established on Adam Smith’s concept of the invisible hand, which famously posits that when each individual pursues his or her own narrow self-interests — i.e., pursues profit — all those decisions unintentionally benefit society as a whole. This theory is true up to a certain point, and there is no doubt that capitalism has produced immeasurable wealth and technological innovations that have improved the lot of countless people over the past few centuries.

Yet Smith introduced the theory of the invisible hand long before globalization and the rise of multinational corporations, when most commodities were still being produced by local artisans, farmers and so on. As wealth has become increasingly concentrated with industrialization, the profit motive has created twisted incentives that often lead to psychopathic behavior. This was recently displayed in a Goldman Sachs report on gene therapy that pondered whether curing patients was a sustainable business model:

“The potential to deliver ‘one shot cures’ is one of the most attractive aspects of gene therapy, genetically-engineered cell therapy and gene editing. However, such treatments offer a very different outlook with regard to recurring revenue versus chronic therapies,” wrote the analyst, as reported by CNBC. “While this proposition carries tremendous value for patients and society, it could represent a challenge for genome medicine developers looking for sustained cash flow.”

When profit clashes with potential societal benefits, there is little doubt that corporations — whose sole purpose is to make profit — will choose profit over people. This is one of the major criticisms that universal health care advocates direct at the current health care system in America, which is based on the profit motive. (In most other developed countries, health care is understood as a public service.) At least one of the reasons why the U.S. still has a private, for-profit health care system is because the philosophy of greed is so entrenched in our way of thinking.

The psychopathic behavior inspired by the profit motive is demonstrated daily by President Trump. Indeed, Trump embodies the philosophy of greed more than even Gordon Gekko. Of course, Gekko was a fictional character dreamed up by a left-wing, muckraking filmmaker who had hopes his revolting creation would expose the greed on Wall Street and have a moralizing effect. Unfortunately, the culture of greed has only proliferated since then. Perhaps the real-life poster boy for greed will have more of an impact now that he is president of the United States.


House Chaplain Was Asked to Resign. He Still Doesn’t Know Why

“Catholic members on both sides are furious,” said the Rev. Patrick J. Conroy, who has served as the House chaplain since 2011.CreditTom Williams/CQ Roll Call, via Associated Press

By Elizabeth Dias
NY Times
April 28, 2018

The chaplain of the House said on Thursday that he was blindsided when Speaker Paul "I am not a slujt for the oligarchs" Ryan asked him to resign two weeks ago, a request that he complied with but was never given a reason for.

The sudden resignation of the chaplain, the Rev. Patrick J. Conroy, shocked members of both parties. He had served in the role since he was nominated in 2011 by Speaker John A. Boehner, a fellow Catholic. In an interview, Father Conroy was categorical: His departure was not voluntary.

“I was asked to resign, that is clear,” Father Conroy said. As for why, he added, “that is unclear.”

“I certainly wasn’t given anything in writing,” he said. “Catholic members on both sides are furious.”

Father Conroy said he received the news from Mr. Ryan’s chief of staff. “The speaker would like your resignation,” Father Conroy recalled being told. He complied.

“As you have requested, I hereby offer my resignation as the 60th chaplain of the United States House of Representatives,” Father Conroy wrote in a letter to Mr. Ryan several days later. “I wish all the best of the House of Representatives, and for your upcoming search for a worthy successor in the office of the chaplain.”

His final day will be May 24.

Father Conroy’s resignation is all the more contentious in Catholic circles because Mr. Ryan is a Catholic conservative, whereas Father Conroy is a Jesuit, a branch that is viewed by some as more liberal.

Asked whether differences in politics were a factor in his ouster, Father Conroy said: “I do not want to politicize this. I have thoughts about it, but I am not contributing to that.”

But, he said, Capitol Hill is an inherently political place. “There are Catholics who are Republicans and there are Catholics who are Democrats,” he said. “I don’t know if there is a religious divide; there certainly is a political one.”

Though Father Conroy said he did not know whether politics were behind his departure, he pointed to a prayer he had given on the House floor in November, when Congress was debating tax overhaul legislation.

“May all members be mindful that the institutions and structures of our great nation guarantee the opportunities that have allowed some to achieve great success, while others continue to struggle,” he prayed. “May their efforts these days guarantee that there are not winners and losers under new tax laws, but benefits balanced and shared by all Americans.”

About a week later, Father Conroy said, he heard from the speaker’s office. “A staffer came down and said, We are upset with this prayer; you are getting too political,” he said. “It suggests to me that there are members who have talked to him about being upset with that prayer.”

Shortly after, when he saw Mr. Ryan himself, Father Conroy said that the speaker told him, “Padre, you just got to stay out of politics.”

“That is what I have tried to do for seven years,” Father Conroy said. “It doesn’t sound political to me.”

“If you are hospital chaplain, you are going to pray about health,” he added. “If you are a chaplain of Congress, you are going to pray about what Congress is doing.”

Father Conroy said that was the only time anyone from the speaker’s office had ever chastised him for veering into the political realm. “I’ve never been talked to about being too political in seven years,” he said.

A congressional aide for Mr. Ryan said that no specific prayer had led to the decision.

Father Conroy said that his only communication with Mr. Ryan or his office since he was asked to resign came on Wednesday morning, when the speaker thanked him for his seven years of service before the House welcomed President Emmanuel Macron of France.

Father Conroy said he did not ask Mr. Ryan why he was asked to resign, and he does not plan to contest his departure. “I do not want to debate this,” he said. “My understanding going into this is that I serve at the prerogative of the speaker.”

But lawmakers from both parties are demanding answers.

Representatives Walter B. Jones, Republican of North Carolina, and Gerald E. Connolly, Democrat of Virginia, are circulating a letter for their colleagues to sign, asking Mr. Ryan for more information.

“I’m very upset,” Mr. Jones said. “If this is true about the prayer, and we have freedom of religion in America, how about freedom of religion on the floor of the House?”

“The members of the House vote for the chaplain,” he continued. “This is not a one-man decision. The House should have the facts of whatever the problem is.”

Mr. Connolly said he was worried about the precedent Mr. Ryan’s decision could set. The letter asks the speaker for a description of the process that was followed, and for a justification of the decision.

“We believe that, absent such details, questions will inevitably arise about the politicization of the process for hiring and dismissing a House chaplain,” the letter says. “Not revealing such details could also risk resurrecting prior questions of religious bias.”

“Pat is a fairly popular figure in the House,” Mr. Connolly said. “He’s counseled people and tended to their personal and spiritual needs. This is a personal and jarring decision that affects all of us in a big way.”

Because of the lack of clarity surrounding his resignation, Father Conroy said that he had been fielding calls from friends and House members, some inaccurately congratulating him on his retirement or worrying that he was sick.

“They asked me why I am leaving, why I am abandoning them, congratulations on your retirement, what is next,” he said. “To which I say, ‘I wasn’t looking for a job.’”

“For the most part, that information has been met by shock,” he continued. “That is the gratifying part.”

Father Conroy said that he had thoroughly enjoyed being the House chaplain, and that he had not politicized his work.

“I have found it myself to be personally liberating because I have not been allowed to engage in the politics of the day, which has been very healthy for me,” he said. “I’m grateful that that was my ministry.”

When Pope Francis visited the United States in 2015, Father Conroy gave him a personal blessing in Spanish. He has traveled with congressional delegations to Southeast Asia and to the Middle East. He has also acted as personal spiritual adviser to many members of both parties, and to their families.

“I’m going to miss that kind of stuff,” Father Conroy said. But, he added, “There will be another ministry.”

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« Reply #3 on: Apr 30, 2018, 03:59 AM »

Enzyme that affects aging, cancer decoded: study

Agence France-Presse
30 Apr 2018 at 07:39 ET                   

Elated scientists announced Wednesday the completion of a 20-year quest to map the complex enzyme thought to forestall ageing by repairing the tips of chromosomes in plants and animals, including humans.

Decoding the architecture of the enzyme, called telomerase, could lead to drugs that slow or block the ageing process, along with new treatments for cancer, they reported in the journal Nature.

“It has been a long time coming,” lead investigator Kathleen Collins, a molecular biologist at the University of California in Berkley, said in a statement.

“Our findings provide a structural framework for understanding human telomerase disease mutations, and represent an important step towards telomerase-related clinical therapeutics.”

Part protein and part RNA — genetic material that relays instructions for building proteins — telomerase acts on microscopic sheaths, known as telomeres, that cover the tips of the chromosomes found inside all cells.

In humans, each cell contains 23 pairs of chromosomes, including one pair of sex chromosomes — the “X” and “Y” — that differ between males and females.

Australian-American biologist Elizabeth Blackburn, who shared the 2009 Nobel Prize in Medicine for discovering telomeres and their protective function in the 1970s, likened them to the tiny plastic caps that keep shoelaces from fraying.

Eventually, however, shoelace tips and telomeres do break down: every time a cell divides the telomeres get worn a little bit more, until the cell stops dividing and dies. This, biologists agree, is probably central to the natural ageing process.

But there is a twist.

– A ‘Wow!’ moment –

In 1985 Blackburn discovered telomerase, and its remarkable capacity to extend a cell’s lifespan by essentially rebuilding telomeres with extra bits of DNA, much in the same way that retreading a tyre can make it nearly as good as new.

Telomerase, in other words, was revealed to be a key agent in longevity.

It can also be linked to disease.

“Inherited genetic mutations that compromise telomerase function cause disorders,” said Michael Stone, a professor at the Center for Molecular Biology or RNA at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

A deficiency of the enzyme could accelerate cell death. At the other extreme, too much telomerase “supports unbridled cell growth in most human cancers,” he wrote in a commentary, also in Nature.

But early efforts to develop drugs that could control the enzyme’s expression — essentially switching it on or off — “were hampered by an incomplete understanding of the structure and organisation of the telomerase complex,” Stone added.

To crack the telomerase code, Collins and her team used a state-of-the-art cryoelectron microscope (Cryo-EM) to see the enzyme in action at unprecedented resolutions of seven or eight angstroms.

An angstrom is one ten-billionth of a metre long.

Cryo-EM can decipher the molecular structures of compounds that cannot be crystalized and imaged with X-rays. It’s developers won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

“When I got to the point where I could see all the subunits — we had 11 proteins in total — it was a moment of ‘Wow! Wow! This is how they all fit together’,” said lead author Thi Hoang Duong Nguyen, a post-doc at UC Berkeley’s Miller Institute for Basic Research in Science.

A 2010 study showed that ageing could be reversed in mice that were treated with telomerase.

And in 2011, scientists found a way to transform age-worn cells from people over 90 into rejuvenated stem cells indistinguishable from those found in embryos.

In lab experiments, several critical markers of ageing in cells were “reset”, including the size of telomeres.

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« Reply #4 on: Apr 30, 2018, 04:02 AM »

Immersive Docu-Series Lets You 'See' Climate Change in Virtual Reality


In last year's virtual reality (VR) film Melting Ice, viewers traveled with former Vice President and An Inconvenient Truth star Al Gore on a trip to Greenland to "see" and "experience" ice sheets diminishing, glaciers collapsing and melting ice becoming raging rivers.

Now, and just in time for Earth Day 2018, directors Danfung Dennis and Eric Strauss have released three more, 10-minute immersive episodes in their This is Climate Change docu-series. Fire, Feast and Famine shows the powerful reality of global climate change, from California's burning blazes to drought-ridden Somalia—and you don't even need to leave your couch.

"Climate change isn't a new problem, and certainly not a new documentary subject, but we think it may require a new medium to make this vital, headline-deficient topic powerfully real for audiences," the directors said in a joint statement.

"That was the impetus behind This Is Climate Change: to use the unprecedented sensorial richness of virtual reality to show the very tangible effects of rising temperatures on a wide variety of ecosystems."

Here is a synopsis of each film:

    MELTING ICE transports viewers instantly to the glacial ice sheets of Greenland with climate change leader and former Vice President Al Gore to witness with him gargantuan glaciers collapsing into crystalline blue waters, icebergs dramatically calving into colossal chunks, and ice thawing at breakneck speed to become roaring rivers—all building to a thought-provoking climax: a "sunny day" Florida flood on the other side of the world, triggered by heightening sea levels.

    FIRE drops you into the rapid-response lives of the brave firefighters who are sent to battle a drier and drier California and its ever-worsening yearly wildfires. Here, you will also witness helicopter dispatches that show raging blazes across vast terrain, strategic drops of water and retardant from dizzying heights, dangerous ridges where brush must be cleared, and the aftermath of charred ruins that are all that's left of entire neighborhoods.

    FEAST soars over Brazil's increasingly threatened rainforest to witness majestic trees felled by loggers working illegally, then takes viewers straight into the heart of an outlaw logging operation and inside one of the many enormous cattle farms that are now the biggest driver of deforestation in the Amazon. As viewers see up close how cows are raised for food, the question becomes: Is an insatiable demand for beef going to wipe out the rainforest?

    FAMINE transports audiences directly into the arid expanse of Somalia, where crushing drought caused by rising temperatures has made once-fertile lands a year-round desert, and is putting a generation of malnourished children in danger as a result. Up close at a crowded refugee camp, where water must be delivered daily, and in an overworked hospital, we see the region's most vulnerable people endure unimaginable suffering.

The VR series doesn't just bring awareness to audiences about the devastating effects of climate change, it calls on them to take action.

"One of the greatest strengths of VR is that it can cultivate an awareness of oneself, and we hope This is Climate Change shakes viewers from their indifference towards this subject by giving them something more immediate than just 2D information," the directors said.

"Whether it's a crumbling ice sheet above you, smoldering destruction all around you, a frightened cow in a kill chute below you, or a malnourished child in front of you, the immersive, 'you-are-there' effect of this groundbreaking medium is a powerful tool that brings us all closer to this ongoing tragedy."

This is Climate Change will debut at the Tribeca Film Festival in its VR theater and will stream on the Within VR app (available on iOS, Android and all major VR headsets) on April 21.

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« Reply #5 on: Apr 30, 2018, 04:05 AM »

Losing Wild Fish Would Be a Nuisance in Some Places, a Health Crisis in Others

By Amy McDermott

Local, wild seafood is essential for global health. Around the world, more than 3 billion people rely on fish as a substantial part of their diet. Nearby fisheries offer vitamins and minerals otherwise unavailable in poor coastal areas.

But local seafood, and the nutrients it provides, is at risk. More than half of wild fisheries are threatened. Without seafood, many coastal communities would lose access to key nutrients, leading to chronic illness.

"There's a large proportion of the planet, where losing access to seafood will drive people further and further into undernutrition," said Chris Golden of Harvard's T.H. Chan School of Public Health, "derailing much of global progress in food security."

A Global Need

Fish is a staple in dozens of countries according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N. The majority are developing nations, where coastal people often turn to fish as their main source of essential micronutrients like zinc, iron and iodine, that the body needs in small amounts for proper development.

In Bangladesh, for example, whole small fish are a major source of vitamin A. Madagascar's coastal Vezo people rely on wild seafood for the majority of their diet, said economist Andrés Cisneros-Montemayor with the Nereus Program at the University of British Columbia. Coastal indigenous peoples eat 15 times more seafood per capita than non-indigenous populations, and often live in remote areas, far from grocery stores, he added. Without seafood, many of these communities wouldn't have zinc, iron and other essential micronutrients. Chronic health problems would likely plague such remote and rural areas, researchers say, if fish disappeared.

Prevention is key because micronutrient deficiency is hard to recognize. It's an insidious kind of malnutrition often called hidden hunger. "In the vast majority of cases, you'd never be able to look at someone and know if they were deficient," Golden said. "It's in the details of their blood that you gain understanding of this."

More than 2 billion people suffer from micronutrient deficiencies worldwide, and so face an elevated risk of disease. Many more would be afflicted without wild fish.

Wealth and Access

Dig into the connections between wild fisheries and food security, and patterns start to emerge.

In wealthy nations like the U.S. and Japan, offshore fisheries could collapse, and plenty of people wouldn't even notice. Grocery stores and restaurants would absorb the shock by importing fish from somewhere else.

Most of the fish that Americans eat aren't local or wild anyway, said fisheries scientist Eddie Allison at the University of Washington in Seattle. And if people can't get hold of fish, "there are plenty of other things to eat," he said.

Less affluent countries have fewer options. People will respond in one of several ways, depending on their access to nourishing food, and its cost, Golden said.

In places like Madagascar, where cheap and nutritious alternatives to wild fish are hard to find, many people would suffer from zinc, iron and vitamin A deficiencies. Other countries, like Brazil, Mexico and Pacific island nations, are already turning away from traditional diets, to cheap fast food. Collapsing fisheries would only accelerate the transition. Fish farming could temper nutrient deficiencies and worsening diets in some places, like Bangladesh, Thailand and Vietnam, Allison said, but not everywhere.

Divisions exist inside countries, not just between them, said Cisneros-Montemayor. "Even within countries, there are segments that are much more vulnerable than the rest," he said. Towns fringing the coast tend to rely most heavily on fisheries, especially in developing nations.

Some of these are indigenous communities, in remote areas. They need seafood for nutrition and often as a connection to their cultural heritage, Cisneros-Montemayor said. Familiar issues of access and cost dictate how they can respond when fisheries change. "In many places there are just no stores, or the roads are bad," he explained. When stores do come to very rural areas, like the Canadian Arctic, "a liter of orange juice is, like, $20."

Worldwide Ties

Wealthy and impoverished regions will have very different responses to a changing ocean. But no coast exists in isolation; the sea touches them all.

Fishing has globalized in the last century. Now, wealthy countries send their fleets around the world, often taking fish off the coasts of developing nations. That's not necessarily a bad thing, Allison said. It depends what foreign fleets are catching, and if they help or hurt local economies.

It's hard to tell the extent to which wealthy nations drive developing nations into fisheries decline, Cisneros-Montemayor added. But it would be foolhardy to think of rich and poor as separate. "When it comes to seafood, the whole world is connected," he said. "And unfortunately, it's always the poorest people who suffer the biggest impacts."

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« Reply #6 on: Apr 30, 2018, 04:09 AM »

Scientists Develop 'Infinitely' Recyclable Plastics Replacement


One of the factors driving the plastic pollution crisis is that very little of it gets reused effectively—as of 2015, only 9 percent of all plastics ever made had been recycled, a 2017 Science Advances study found.

This is because, as ScienceNews explained, when plastics break down, they usually break down into molecules that can't be easily reshaped into plastics or other useful items without going through many different chemical processes.

But researchers at Colorado State University (CSU) have developed a potential solution to the plastic recycling problem.

In an article published in Science today, they unveiled a new polymer with many of the same characteristics as plastic that can be more easily returned to its original molecules to be recycled, without the need for toxic chemicals or complicated lab processes, a CSU press release reported Thursday.

"The polymers can be chemically recycled and reused, in principle, infinitely," Eugene Chen, a CSU chemistry professor whose lab developed the material, said.

Polymers, of which plastics are one type, are made from chains of repeating molecules. The new polymer developed by Chen's lab shares important characteristics with plastic such as strength, durability, lightness and heat resistance.

The recent polymer builds on another developed by Chen's lab in 2015, which could only be made under commercially impractical cold conditions. It was also softer than plastic, with less heat resistance and molecular weight.

But Chen said the lessons learned from that polymer were essential to developing the newer model, which can be made without solvents and under room temperature conditions that could be more easily replicated by industry. It can also be easily broken down using a catalyst and returned to its original shape for reuse.

The polymer still needs more work before it will be available commercially. Chen and his team have received a grant from CSU ventures that they are using to develop an even cheaper, more efficient process for developing similar polymers, as well as exploring how they can be produced on a larger scale. But Chen thinks he and his team are headed in the right direction.

"It would be our dream to see this chemically recyclable polymer technology materialize in the marketplace," Chen said in the press release.
If Chen makes that dream come true, his work could aid governments and businesses as they work to reduce plastic pollution. Just a day before his paper was published, more than 40 UK businesses joined a UK Plastics Pact that aims, among other things, to source 30 percent of the UK's packaging from recyclable sources by 2025.

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« Reply #7 on: Apr 30, 2018, 04:12 AM »

Exclusive New Video from Greenpeace Reveals Massive Deforestation in Indonesia


A palm oil supplier to Mars, Nestlé, PepsiCo and Unilever is destroying rainforests in Papua, Indonesia, a new investigation by Greenpeace International has revealed. Satellite analysis suggests that around 4,000 hectare of rainforest were cleared in PT Megakarya Jaya Raya concession between May 2015 and April 2017—an area almost half the size of Paris.

Photos and video (below) taken in March and April 2018 show massive deforestation in PT MJR, a palm oil concession controlled by the Hayel Saeed Anam Group (HSA), including in an area zoned for protection by the Indonesian government in response to the devastating forest fires in 2015. Development is prohibited in these areas. The footage is being released soon after Greenpeace revealed that these leading global brands are falling behind in their publicized commitments to eliminate deforestation from their supply chains by 2020.

"Just weeks ago we asked major consumer brands like Pepsi and Nestlé to confirm that they were making good on their commitments to stop buying palm oil from companies that destroy forests, but this footage reveals just how far behind they really are," said Palm Oil Campaigner at Greenpeace USA Diana Ruiz. "Brands need to ensure their supply chains are free from deforestation and the only way to do this is to proactively monitor and enforce their no deforestation standards."

Although PT MJR is not yet producing palm oil, two other HSA subsidiary companies—Arma Group and Pacific Oils & Fats—supplied palm oil to Mars, Nestlé, PepsiCo and Unilever, according to supply chain information released by the brands earlier this year. Each of these consumer companies has published a "no deforestation, no peat, no exploitation" policy that should prohibit sourcing from rainforest destroyers.

"Brands have been talking about cleaning up their palm oil for over a decade. Companies like Unilever and Nestlé claim to be industry leaders. So why are they still buying from forest destroyers like the HSA group? What are their customers supposed to think? What will it take to get them to act?" added Richard George, forest campaigner at Greenpeace UK.

This case also raises serious questions for the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). Many HSA Group palm oil companies are members of the RSPO, although PT MJR and the other HSA Group concessions in this district are not. Members of the RSPO are not allowed to have unaffiliated palm oil divisions, and the development witnessed in PT MJR would also violate several of the RSPO's Principles and Criteria.

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« Reply #8 on: Apr 30, 2018, 04:15 AM »

The MacLehose Trail Is Hong Kong's Great Escape

By Mike Ives

Gauzy lights flicker in the fog, outlining a summit. Otherwise, darkness. The only sounds I can hear are my breathing and the rustling of my windbreaker. A rocky chasm yawns below me, just steps from the trail. For a moment, I imagine that I'm watching a search party traverse a remote wilderness.

But no, I'm solo hiking in Hong Kong, and the lights are the head-lamp beams of three other travelers on the MacLehose Trail. Beyond them, through occasional breaks in the fog, I can just barely see some of the blinking lights on the apartment towers—the edge of a global financial center where 7.4 million humans squeeze into an urban area roughly the size of Boston. Soon I'll be pitching a bright-orange tent on a seaside bluff, as far from that madding crowd as possible.

Hong Kong, a former British colony and now a semiautonomous Chinese territory, has some of the world's densest urban districts. But less than a quarter of its total land is inhabited. Another 40 percent—a noncontiguous area twice the size of Seattle—is divided into 24 country parks that receive more than 11 million visitors a year. The parks' peaks and ridges are known for their panoramic views of skyscrapers, but that's only part of their appeal: They also ease the stress of living in a crowded city wracked by soaring inequality.

It's hard to survive here without a generous corporate salary. Every month, my wife and I, both of us journalists, stretch our budget to rent a tiny walk-up apartment. The price of food and basic services always makes us cringe, and we never manage to save money. Our standard of living could be far worse: One in five Hong Kongers lives below the poverty line, and the affordable-housing crisis is so severe that some locals live in stacked cubicles called "cage homes" or "coffin cubicles." Hong Kong's extreme wealth disparities get under our skin. In our neighborhood, Ferraris and Lamborghinis whiz by a welfare office as the poor queue around the block.

Which explains why I often feel like escaping the grid for a few hours, to a place where trees outnumber people, the cellular signal can be hit or miss, and the Darwinian struggle is mainly waged by other species.

The future of the country parks is uncertain, however. The British established many of them in the 1970s, often on lands that bordered streams or reservoirs. Now, as Hong Kong's property market soars, a few local politicians are beginning to talk of carving up some of the parks to make room for housing. The initial cuts, if they ever occur, would likely be modest. But the mere suggestion has rattled conservation groups. Cutting into the parks would set a dangerous urban-development precedent, they warn, and the authorities should focus instead on developing idle sites near existing skyscrapers.

A key feature of the country parks is a nearly 200-mile network of four hiking trails. The longest is the MacLehose Trail, which runs for 62 miles and is named for the British official who governed Hong Kong in the 1970s. I like it because it takes me furthest afield.

The trail begins by edging along the South China Sea, darting through scrubby forests and along sandy bluffs. The air here is heavy with humidity and sea salt, and the location—the far corner of a vast country park—is free of condominiums. One summer afternoon, the only human presence I see from a bluff is an oil tanker cutting through whitecaps. Otherwise it's just me, the breeze, and a sea the color of my wife's engagement ring.

Farther on, the MacLehose passes through a village with surfboard rentals and open-air restaurants that smell of seafood and garlic. Nearby lies a white-sand beach that's tucked into a rocky cove and partially sheltered from the wind. Some local surfers say that the best break in the territory is here, though only in the winter typhoon season, when the swell picks up and the crowds of fair-weather weekenders thin out.

After its seaside leg, the MacLehose hooks west, brushing past the 2,303-foot summit of Ma On Shan (Horse Saddle Mountain) and across a miles-long ridge dotted with graffiti-spattered concrete pillboxes. British soldiers built this so-called Gin Drinkers Line of fortifications in the 1930s to protect nearby Hong Kong Island from invasion. Japanese forces seized the territory anyway, in 1941. Britain regained control after World War II, and the pillboxes still bear London-inspired names like Charing Cross and Shaftesbury Avenue.

"Artillery observation post," a sign on one of them says. "No playing war game."

The artillery is long gone. Today, high-rises, power lines, and cellular towers hover in the not-too-distant background along nearly the entire sweep of the trail. An "unspoiled" wilderness this is not; I'm never more than about 90 minutes from a bus stop or train station. Yet the juxtapositions of urban life and natural scenery are beautiful in their own right: A mountain view framed by a halo of smog, say, or packs of elderly joggers who blare Cantonese opera on handheld radios. Who am I to ask them to turn down the volume? Sometimes, and in some places, it's easier to appreciate wildness if you are reminded of its limits at practically every turn.

Where: MacLehose Trail, Hong Kong

Getting there: The trail traverses a total of eight country parks, mainly in the New Territories, a vast area north of Kowloon and Hong Kong Island. Most trailheads can be reached by a mix of bus, train, or ferry. A taxi or private car will often, though not always, get you there faster.

When to visit: The best time to hike Hong Kong's country parks is late fall through early spring. From late spring through early fall, bring lots of water if you hike on especially hot or humid days.

Camping: There are 41 campsites in the country parks, and a few are scattered along the MacLehose Trail. The campsite at Ham Tin Wan, on the second of the trail's 10 sections, is especially popular because it sits steps from a pretty beach.

Pro tip: Consider a varied range of hikes. The MacLehose, Wilson, Lantau, and Hong Kong Trails are all spectacular in different ways, with offshoots connecting back to the city.

Further reading: The Serious Hiker's Guide to Hong Kong by Pete Spurrier (FormAsia Books, 2007)

This article appeared in the May/June 2018 edition with the headline "Hong Kong's Great Escapes."

Reposted with permission from our media associate SIERRA Magazine.

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« Reply #9 on: Apr 30, 2018, 04:16 AM »

EU Approves Ban on 'Bee-Killing' Neonicotinoids


European governments approved Friday a proposal to widen a ban on neonicotinoid pesticides that studies have found are harmful to bees and other pollinators.

The move completely bans the outdoor uses of three neonicotinoids, or neonics, across the European Union. They include Bayer CropScience's imidacloprid, Syngenta's thiamethoxam and clothianidin developed by Takeda Chemical Industries and Bayer CropScience.

The EU had already opted for a partial ban in 2013 on the use of the three chemicals on flowering crops that attract bees, such as maize, wheat, barley, oats and oil seed rape (canola).

"All outdoor uses will be banned and the neonicotinoids in question will only be allowed in permanent greenhouses where exposure of bees is not expected," the European Commission said in a statement.

In February, the European Food Safety Authority issued a report adding to the mounting scientific evidence that neonics are a risk to wild bees and honeybees, whose numbers have been plummeting in recent years.

"The Commission had proposed these measures months ago, on the basis of the scientific advice from the European Food Safety Authority," Vytenis Andriukaitis, the European commissioner for Health and Food Safety said today.

"Bee health remains of paramount importance for me since it concerns biodiversity, food production and the environment."

According to Greenpeace EU, the member states supporting the ban were France, Germany, Spain, Italy, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Austria, Sweden, Greece, Portugal, Ireland, Slovenia, Estonia, Cyprus, Luxembourg and Malta, representing 76.1 per cent of the EU population. Romania, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Denmark voted against. Poland, Belgium, Slovakia, Finland, Bulgaria, Croatia, Latvia and Lithuania abstained from the vote.

BBC News noted that manufacturers and some farming groups opposed the action, saying the science remains uncertain.

"The Commission hasn't been able to find that these restrictions have delivered any measurable benefits for bees," Chris Hartfield from the National Farmers' Union in the UK, told the BBC.

"That has been a big question for us, and if we can't be certain they can deliver measurable benefits why are we doing this?"

The ban on the insecticides received widespread public support. Almost 5 million people signed a petition from campaign group Avaaz and more than 633,000 people signed another petition from international consumer group SumOfUs.

"This move is critical for protecting bees and other important pollinators—we hope this ban will encourage governments around the world to follow suit," said Wiebke Schröder, a SumOfUs campaign manager.

New Zealand's Environmental Protection Agency, for one, closely watched the vote.

"When new information is released, the EPA always takes a good look at the science, evaluating it to see if there's something we need to factor into our thinking here," said Fiona Thomson-Carter, the EPA General Manager for Hazardous Substances and New Organisms.

"While existing New Zealand rules around the use of neonicotinoids are working, there could still be instances where non-target organisms, like bees and insects are exposed to the insecticide."

Greenpeace EU food policy adviser Franziska Achterberg welcomed the news but urged the EU to make sure the three neonics are not simply swapped with other harmful chemicals.

"These three neonicotinoids are just the tip of the iceberg—there are many more pesticides out there, including other neonicotinoids, that are just as dangerous for bees and food production. Governments must ban all bee-harming pesticides and finally shift away from toxic chemicals in farming," Achterberg said.

Lori Ann Burd, director of the Center for Biological Diversity's environmental health program, praised the decision by European Union regulators, but added that the "EU's wisdom highlights the Trump EPA's folly."

"Although U.S. beekeepers reported catastrophic losses again this winter, and just this past week the EPA closed a comment period on another suite of damning neonicotinoid risk assessments, rather than banning these dangerous pesticides, the agency is actually considering increasing the use of neonics across another 165 million acres," Burd said.

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« Reply #10 on: Apr 30, 2018, 04:18 AM »

Environmental Leaders Under Threat in Paraguay and Peru, Amnesty Reports


Authorities in Paraguay and Peru are unjustly criminalizing activists who speak out to protect their environment and land, an Amnesty International report released Thursday revealed.

The report, A Recipe for Criminalization: Defenders of the Environment, Territory and Land in Peru and Paraguay, outlined the three "ingredients" both countries use to undermine the efforts of activists. First, they delegitimize activists through smear campaigns. Second, they apply laws and regulations that allow for forced evictions. And, third, they misuse the criminal justice system to prosecute activists for unfounded reasons.

"Those who bravely stand up to defend their land and the environment are frequently targeted because of their work. These attacks have a devastating impact on their physical, mental and emotional wellbeing, as well as that of their families and communities," Amnesty International Americas director Erika Guevara-Rosas said in a press release.

The report included examples of how these ingredients combine on the ground.

For example, Amnesty International highlighted the case of community activists working to protect their home in Peru's Cajamarca region from the gold and copper Conga mining project. On 26 April 2013, police arrested 16 protesters on trumped up charges of abduction and coercion. The state prosecutor sought 30-year prison sentences. But the evidence presented was secondhand and so spotty and contradictory that a court dismissed the case in 2017.

In Paraguay, the Tekoha Sauce community of the Avá Guaraní People was evicted from their ancestral lands by a court order following a dispute with local businessman German Hultz. The community was forced onto a nature reserve where they struggle to survive because hunting and fishing is not allowed. During the court proceedings leading up to the eviction, their opponents stigmatized the indigenous community by referring to them as a "gang of criminals."

The report recommended that the governments of the two countries "must recognize as legitimate the work of human rights defenders working on issues related to land, territory and the environment." It also concluded that both governments should incorporate a gender- and ethnic-specific perspective to protect activists into legislation, stop abusing the justice system to prosecute environmental defenders, investigate and put a stop to all instances where the justice system is being used to harass protesters, and further investigate and prosecute anyone who is carrying out attacks on activists and land defenders.

To reach their conclusions, the Amnesty International team took two trips to Peru and one to Paraguay, and spoke with representatives of 10 human rights groups in Peru and 14 in Paraguay.

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« Reply #11 on: Apr 30, 2018, 04:19 AM »

Fracking in Colorado: Lawsuit Targets Federal Shell Game Hiding Harm to Communities and Wildlife


Conservation groups on Thursday sued Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and the Bureau of Land Management for approving new leases to allow fracking on more than 45,000 acres in western Colorado, including within communities and within a half-mile of a K-12 public school, without analyzing or disclosing environmental and public health threats as required by federal law.

"Fracking is a filthy, dangerous business, and dodging environmental analysis puts people and public lands at risk," said Diana Dascalu-Joffe, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. "The Trump administration is trying to ignore science, public health and climate change threats to enrich corporate polluters, but it can't shrug off the law."

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Denver, challenges leases in and around the towns of De Beque, Molina and Mesa on the western slope of the Rocky Mountains. Fracking would be allowed near three state parks—James M. Robb-Colorado River, Vega and Highline, a migratory bird hot spot and the site of the "18 Hours of Fruita" mountain bike race. Leases also have been offered within a half-mile of a K-12 public school in De Beque and beneath Vega Reservoir, important for wildlife, recreation, irrigation and hydroelectric power.

"Not only did the Bureau of Land Management move forward with these lease sales without looking at the climate effects of fracking, the agency also failed to examine its likely public health risks," said Kyle Tisdel with the Western Environmental Law Center. "In addition, the agency failed to analyze or acknowledge the enormous water depletion drilling will impose on the Colorado River, already in low-flow conditions. BLM is simply drilling in the dark on these lease sales."

These areas would face toxic air pollution, industrialization and potential spills and groundwater contamination from fracking operations. The BLM is using a shortcut called a "determination of NEPA adequacy" to bypass analysis of fracking harms required under the National Environmental Policy Act. This cursory review, used with increasing frequency under the Trump administration, presumes that leasing complies with broad resource-management plans and delays site-specific review until drilling permits are requested, thereby ignoring NEPA's requirement to disclose impacts at the earliest possible time. The BLM routinely bypasses that promised review at the drilling stage and says that it can't block drilling once land has been leased to industry.

"BLM has reverted to a lease before you look policy that marginalizes the public, ignores environmental impacts, and violates the law—all for the benefit of oil and gas companies," said Wilderness Workshop's Peter Hart. "We asked BLM to consider the impacts of these decisions and our requests were denied. Now we're asking a federal court to order the agency to comply with its legal obligations."

"Once again, Ryan Zinke's efforts to please corporate polluters are leaving American communities to suffer the consequences," said Sierra Club associate attorney Marta Darby. "Zinke wants to limit public input and hide the environmental and public health threats of this huge expansion of fracking in Colorado, but he is not above the law. We will continue to fight to ensure our communities are protected from the dangers of fracking."

The areas to be fracked include habitat for rare wildlife like peregrine falcon, spotted leopard lizard and burrowing owl. It also includes critical habitat for threatened and endangered species, including the Colorado pikeminnow and two flowers, the Parachute beardtongue and DeBeque phacelia. Fracking, which can use more than 20 million gallons of water per well, would threaten the pikeminnow and the Colorado River with spills and water depletions at a time when climate-driven drought is already reducing river flows throughout the Colorado River Basin.

"The water of the Colorado River Basin is essential for the 40 million people relying it. The system is already strained from climate change and overuse," said Sarah Stock, program director with Living Rivers Colorado Riverkeeper. "The last thing we need right now is to add more water hungry, polluting industry without the proper regulatory framework or public process in place to protect this priceless resource."

The administration's oil and gas leasing shell game is consistent with Trump's new "energy dominance" edict and policies directing the BLM to avoid NEPA analysis by prioritizing the use of DNAs when issuing oil and gas leases. The policy also limits or removes public notice and gives the public only 10 days to raise concerns.

Dascalu-Joffe and Kyle Tisdel of the Western Environmental Law Center are representing the Center for Biological Diversity, Wilderness Workshop, Living Rivers Colorado Riverkeeper and Sierra Club in the lawsuit.

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« Reply #12 on: Apr 30, 2018, 04:22 AM »

South Korea's Most Damaging Earthquake Linked to Geothermal Fracking


One of South Korea's largest earthquakes was likely triggered by hydraulic fracturing associated with geothermal energy production, according to two studies published Thursday in the journal Science.

The 5.5-magnitude temblor that struck the city of Pohang on Nov. 15, 2017 was the second most powerful on record and its most damaging, leaving the infrastructure in ruins, injuring dozens of people and leaving about 1,500 homeless.

Hydraulic fracturing, aka fracking, works by injecting high-pressure fluid underground to fracture rock in order to achieve increased rates of flow. Fracking is often associated with unlocking oil and natural gas deposits, but in this case, the intention was to enable circulation to produce geothermal energy.

Using geological and geophysical data, South Korean researchers from one of the studies suggested that the Pohang earthquake was induced by fluid from an enhanced geothermal system site that was injected directly into a near-critically-stressed subsurface fault zone.

Kwanghee Kim, a seismologist at Pusan National University and lead author of the study, explained that the well's high-pressure water lubricated an unknown fault in the rock, causing it to slip and trigger the quake.

In the second study, researchers from the University of Glasgow, ETH-Zurich in Switzerland, and GFZ-Potsdam in Germany found that the mainshock and its largest aftershocks occurred within 2 kilometers or less of the geothermal site, where many thousands of cubic meters of water were injected under pressure into boreholes.

They also determined that the mainshock and the 46 aftershocks detected between Nov. 15-30 all occurred at depths of 3 to 7 kilometers, which is unusually shallow compared to previous quakes in the area.

"It would be a very remarkable coincidence if this earthquake were to be unrelated to the activity at the site, given that it occurred so close to it," Robert Westaway, a senior research fellow at Glasgow university's school of engineering, and one of the paper's co-authors, told The Guardian. "My own personal view is that it is highly likely there is a connection."

Other research has linked fracking for oil and gas to anthropogenic, or man-made, earthquakes, including a 4.8-magnitude earthquake in 2016 in northern Alberta. The alarming swarm of quakes currently rocking Oklahoma has been connected to the disposal of large volumes of wastewater from oil and gas production into underground wells.

Geothermal energy is often touted as a source of clean power, but previous studies have also found that drilling deep into Earth to tap its natural heat could cause seismic activity, thus raising questions about the long-term risks of this energy source.

"If the Pohang earthquake proves to be human-caused, it would be the largest known associated with deep geothermal energy, and this would certainly impact future projects," team member Stefan Wiemer of the Swiss Seismological Service told New Scientist.

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« Reply #13 on: Apr 30, 2018, 04:49 AM »

Millions of trees at risk in secretive Network Rail felling programme

Exclusive: Plan to stop leaves and branches falling on lines has already led to thousands of trees being chopped down

Sandra Laville Environment correspondent
30 Apr 2018 21.19 BST

Millions of trees are at risk in a secretive nationwide felling operation launched by Network Rail to end the nuisance of leaves and branches falling on the line.

Thousands of poplars, sycamores, limes, ash trees and horse chestnuts have already been chopped down across the country from Yorkshire to Dorset, and the scale of the potential destruction outlined in a Network Rail blueprint involves 10m trees growing within 60 metres of track.

The company has used drones to create an aerial map of its 40,000 hectares of railway and identified “hotspots” where mature trees might cause a problem at an unspecified time in the future. Engineers are operating in a targeted felling programme that dwarfs the operation by Sheffield city council that was halted in the face of huge public protest and condemnation from the environment secretary, Michael Gove.

Over the last fortnight, people around the country have woken to the sound of chainsaws and expressed concern at the lack of consultation and the scale of the destruction.

In one incident, police in Bournemouth were called by residents to complain that engineers were operating illegally as the felling is taking place during the nesting season.

At one west London station this week, an engineer felling five mature trees said they were carrying out a “pre-emptive strike” in case branches or leaves fell on the line in future.

Ray Walton witnessed hundreds of trees being chopped down along the length of track between Christchurch and Bournemouth. “It was total mass destruction, they obliterated every tree,” he said. “These trees were mature 30-foot-high trees which have been there for 50 years in some cases and never caused a problem.

“This went far beyond reasonable management of the trees. They took them all out, and destroyed the habitat for wildlife.”

Network Rail boasts of the green corridor along its tracks as a haven for wildlife, but in London, Dorset, the Midlands and Yorkshire thousands of trees and the vegetation beneath them are being cleared, leaving habitats devastated.

James Graham, from Manchester, said he saw thousands of trees being felled last week along a 10-mile section of the trans-Pennine route from Manchester to Leeds.

“I know they have to manage the trees, but this was excessive,” he said. “It looked like some kind of logging operation. I was sitting in the train and looking out at the countryside and all you could see was mile after mile of tree stumps and sawdust. They had felled trees which were a long way from the track. It was extreme.”

In Sutton Coldfield, teams working for Network Rail have been felling hundreds of trackside trees. Elsewhere in the country, tree surgeons working for the rail firm are engaged in mass felling.

Network Rail admits the vast majority of the trees are healthy. It defended the felling, saying its new tree database of hotspot problem trees has “revolutionised” its approach to “vegetation management” to cut delays and risks to passengers from tree branches.

The company said the average tree had between 10 and 50,000 leaves, any or all of which could fall on the line.

The timing has caused increased outrage because it is taking place during nesting season – between March and August – despite promises by Network Rail that no felling would take place when birds are nesting.

Caroline Lucas, the co-leader of the Green party, said the scale of the operation was shocking and an act of environmental vandalism.

“While some tree work is required on safety grounds,” she said, “Network Rail’s approach tends to be one of slash and burn. To be taking action in the nesting season is even more reckless.”

An RSPB spokesperson said: “The worry is that much of this work is ... non-urgent work that is simply being carried out with little regard to the presence of birds and other animals.

“If such ... work is being done without reference to the Wildlife and Countryside Act, which offers basic protection to nesting birds, it may well be in breach of the law.”

Network Rail refused to provide the Guardian with its database of trees or reveal how many of the 10m trees identified alongside the tracks have been earmarked for felling.

Paul de Zylva, nature campaigner for Friends of the Earth, criticised the insensitive clearance of habitats.

“Rail corridors are sanctuaries for wildlife and trees can be important screening for communities,” he said. “Network Rail should be improving how it manages its land for wildlife as trees and plants are likely to be habitats for a variety of British wildlife, including nesting birds.”

Network Rail said: “Network Rail is a big, responsible, public company that takes its environmental obligations seriously. We manage our lineside to provide healthy biodiversity advised by experts in the field. We do remove tress that are, or could be dangerous, or impact on the reliability of services that serve over 4.5m people everyday.

“We make our policies in this area public, in an open and transparent
way and work with environmental organisations to help us get it right when we do have to take action.”

On its website, it said the tree felling was part of its Orbis (Offering Rail Better Information Service) programme and was saving the taxpayer thousands of pounds in repair and clean-up costs and reducing the likelihood of a train colliding with a fallen tree or branch.

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« Reply #14 on: Apr 30, 2018, 04:58 AM »

The fall of self-styled spiritual gurus, from Gurmeet Ram Rahim to Asaram

Asaram is not the only ‘spiritual guru’ or godman who is accused or convicted of rape. Here is a look at other “godmen” who have been charged with sexual assault.

HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi

A special court in Jodhpur on Wednesday found self-styled godman Asaram guilty of raping a minor girl at his ashram in 2013.

Apart from this case, Asaram and his son Narayan Sai, who is a senior functionary in his spiritual empire, are also accused of rape and sexual assault by two Surat-based sisters.

Asaram is not the only ‘spiritual guru’ or godman to be accused of rape and sexual assault and yet have a large, dedicated following. Here is a look at other “godmen” who have been charged with sexual assault:

Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh

In August 2017, self-styled godman Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh wasconvicted of rape and was sentenced to 10 years in jail in Rohtak. After the guilty verdict, angry supporters of Ram Rahim went on a rampage and the ensuing violence left 36 people dead.

Singh’s conviction has led to newspaper editorials and social media debate on why people have cult-like faith in godmen accused of rape and sexual harassment.

Narayan Sai

Asaram’s son Narayan Sai is in jail for allegedly raping a Surat-based woman disciple of his father between 2002 and 2005. She was allegedly raped when she was living at Asaram’s ashram in Surat. Sai, 40, is also accused of having physical relations with eight other girls.

Gangananda Theerthapatha

Theerthapatha, a self-styled godman of an ashram in Kollam, was allegedly sexually exploiting a law student for five years on the pretext of conducting pooja (rituals). The woman took revenge on him by chopping off his penis, says this report in May. Theerthapatha allegedly exploited the woman for five years during visits to her family’s home in Thiruvananthapuram. Theerthapatha says he cut off his own penis as penance.

Mehndi Kasim

A Mumbai court in April 2016 convicted the 43-year-old self-styled godman for raping seven girls and sentenced him to life imprisonment. Kasim knew four sisters who had mentally challenged sons and healthy daughters. He promised to cure the boys and asked their mothers to send to him their daughters to him as well for ‘treatment’ that would ensure they don’t give birth to mentally challenged children.

Santhosh Madhavan, alias Swami Amritha Chaitanya

A Kerala court in May 2009 found Madhavan guilty of raping three minor girls. He lured the minor girls hailing from poor families, confined them and assaulted them. He was sentenced to 16 years of rigorous imprisonment and a penalty of Rs 2,10,000 in 2009. Madhavan is also accused of cheating a Dubai-based Indian woman of Rs. 40 lakh.

Swami Premananda

Premananda left war-ravaged Sri Lanka and moved to India in 1984 to set up an ashram in Tiruchirappalli. But in 1994, a young girl from the ashram alleged that she was pregnant after being raped by Premanand. In August 1997, Premananda and six of his accomplices were convicted of raping 13 minor girls.


He spent 14 years in jail for three murders. After his release, he met a British family and convinced them that their daughter was his ‘wife’ in a previous birth. He then sexually abused and tortured the woman for years. After she escaped and complained to her parents and the police, Gnyanachaitanya was arrested again.


Asaram case: Self-styled godman’s journey from puritanical preacher to rape convict

Hindustan Times, Bareilly

In 2008, Asaram’s spiritual empire was worth nearly Rs 5,000 crore.Then his troubles started.

The arrest of Asaram in a rape case in 2013 marked a remarkable – some say ironic—turnaround in fortunes for the self-styled godman based in Motera near Ahmedabad. Four-and-a-half decades ago, he had shot to fame by preaching about controlling sexual desire.

On Wednesday, a Jodhpur court found him guilty.

Asaram started his religious discourses from a small hut in 1971 on the banks of the Sabarmati, not far away from Mahatma Gandhi’s ashram. In two decades he amassed millions of followers and build hundreds of ashrams across India and in the US, Hong Kong, Canada and South Africa.

By 2008, Asaram’s empire was worth Rs 5,000 crore, according to a chargesheet filed by police in a separate case against him in Gujarat. His Sant Shri Asaramji Ashram Trust ran 40 traditional schools called gurukuls, a printing press that publishes material on his interpretation of Hindu religious scriptures and an Ayurveda unit that produces medicines, soaps, and shampoos.

“He marketed the spiritualism quite well. He would give food, utensils, and medicines for free to followers. But at the core, he grew into a true businessman with ownership of chunks of lands and also a huge investment in shares and the stock market,” a senior journalist said.

Asaram was born as Asumal Sirumalani on April 17, 1941, in Berani village in Sindh province, now in Pakistan. His family migrated to Maninagar in Ahmedabad after Partition and set up a business in coal and firewood. He dropped out of Jai Hind High School in Class 3 after his father died.

According to the biography Sant Asaram ki Jivan Jhankhi, published by his ashram, he ran away to an ashram in Bharuch before his wedding only to be persuaded to return by his family.

At 23, he again left for the Himalayas and found his spiritual guru in Lilashahji in Nanital. Lilashahji named him Asaram.

Asaram started his own ashram in Ahmedabad with just ten followers. Asaram’s next big stop was Surat, where he found a large number of followers among tribals.

As his followers grew, he attracted politicians to his crowded satsangs or religious discourses. The Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party governments in the state gave Asaram land to expand his ashrams.

His wife Lakshmi Devi, daughter and son Narayan Sai, who is in jail in a separate rape case, helped him manage the ashrams and other establishments.

Asaram’s troubles began in 2008 when the mutilated bodies of two cousins and gurukul mates Dipesh Vaghela (10) and Abhishek Vaghela (11) were found from the Sabarmati river bank near his ashram in Motera. Some vital organs were missing from the boys’ bodies.

Shantilal Vaghela, Abhishek’s father, staged an indefinite fast accusing Asaram of killing the boys for black magic rituals. He ended his fast after the administration appointed an inquiry commission by retired judge DK Trivedi.

Gujarat police booked seven of Asaram’s followers in 2009 for the death of the two children and filed a chargesheet against them in September 2012. Asaram was not implicated in this case and the BJP government is yet to table the inquiry commission’s report.

As he fell from grace, the BJP-led state government’s stance over his land holdings reflected its changing equation with him. The state government decided in 2009 to take back the land given to his Ahmedabad ashram. A year later, then revenue minister Anandiben Patel informed the state assembly that the nearly 68,000sqm plot had been taken back.

Finally, Asaram was arrested after a 16-year-old girl accused him sexually assaulting her at a religious retreat near Jodhpur in August 2013.

Two sisters from Surat came forward to register similar cases against Asaram and his son Narayan Sai just months later.

The sisters, who lived at Asaram’s ashram in Gujarat between 1997 and 2006, lodged separate complaints against the godman and his son, accusing them of repeated rape and illegal confinement, among other charges. Five others, including Asaram’s wife and daughter, were also charged by the police of abetting the rapes.

Ashram.org, Asaram’s official website, dismisses all allegations and cases against him, including land grabbing, black magic, murder and rape. It also provides updates about court proceedings in the cases. The Motera ashram still holds satsangs thrice a day and continues to attract followers.


Asaram rape case: Woman’s family under police protection, seeks strict punishment

A police picket with three constables and an assistant sub-inspector has been deployed outside the woman’s home and security personnel stationed in areas close to the area

Hindustan Times, Bareilly

The district administration in Shahjahanpur town in Uttar Pradesh tightened security near the house of the woman raped by Asaram in 2013, who was a minor at the time, ahead of a special court in Rajasthan’s Jodhpur convicting him.

“We are aware of the law and order challenges which may come up after the judgement. We have made arrangements for the security to the girl and her family,” Shahjahanpur’s superintendent of police KB Singh had said.

Singh said a police picket with three constables and an assistant sub-inspector has been deployed outside the woman’s residence and security personnel stationed in areas close to the area.

“A circle officer is monitoring the security arrangements. He is in touch with the family and can call additional force if required,” he added.

The woman’s family members said they were expecting strict punishment for the self-styled godman.

“We have been boycotted by friends devoted to Asaram. We received threats and suffered a lot in the last five years,” the woman’s father said.

“Despite all threats, we held on with the truth and expect that court will do justice to us by awarding maximum punishment to Asaram,” he added.

Followers of Asaram reportedly distributed pamphlets in Shahjahanpur in December last year, saying that the rape allegations by the woman and her family were lies.

A complaint was lodged against Asaram and 11 others in the Chowk police station of Shahjahanpur and the case is still under investigation.

The woman was 16 when she was raped by Asaram at his ashram in Jodhpur in August 2013. Her family filed a complaint in Delhi on August 20, 2013, after which Asaram was charged with rape, wrongful confinement, sexual harassment, trafficking, criminal intimidation and criminal conspiracy.

The 79-year-old Asaram was also booked under sections of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012, and the Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. He has been in the Jodhpur Central Jail for the last 56 months.

The quantum of sentence is yet to be pronounced. Asaram faces a minimum of 10 years in jail, going up to life imprisonment.

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