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Author Topic: ENVIRONMENT, CLIMATE, GLOBAL WARMING, AND CULTURE  (Read 1285275 times)
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Darja
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« Reply #3540 on: Jul 11, 2018, 06:08 AM »

Trump Derides NATO as ‘Obsolete.’ Baltic Nations See It Much Differently

By Marc Santora
Guardian
July 11, 2018

RIGA, Latvia — Near midnight on the outskirts of the Latvian capital, close to 100,000 spectators joined 16,500 singers last week in a song about a mystical castle that is submerged when foreign powers hold sway only to rise again.

The castle is a metaphor for their nation. The foreign powers?

Well, from the 20th century, take your pick. First it was the Russians. Then the Germans. Then the Russians again. Only in the last quarter-century has Latvia been able to reclaim its nationhood, and only in the last decade has it felt secure in that claim.

The security came from one thing: joining NATO, an alliance of nations forged after the fires of World War II and expanded during the Cold War as a buffer against Soviet aggression.

Now, with Russia once again on the prowl, that alliance seems to be at risk in ways that were virtually inconceivable when Latvia joined in 2004.

As President Trump joins his second NATO summit meeting — having called the alliance “obsolete,” derided its members as deadbeats and suggested that American military protection is negotiable — there is deep unease on the alliance’s eastern flank. And that sense has only been heightened by Mr. Trump’s scheduled one-on-one meeting next week with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.

The United States ambassador to Estonia, James D. Melville Jr., became so exasperated with the constant statements from Mr. Trump disparaging the alliance and the European Union that late last month he quit in disgust.

And as the Trump-Putin meeting approached, a popular Russian-language Latvian newspaper ran a picture of the two men, cheek by jowl, with the ominous headline: “What Will Trump and Putin Agree On: The End of the E.U.?”

For the nations of Latvia and Estonia, nestled between Russia and the Baltic Sea and with large ethnic Russian populations, NATO is no abstraction.

Long before the debate over the Kremlin’s interference in the American election, there was alarm in the Baltic nations over Russian attempts to influence public opinion and exploit the complicated issues of ethnic identity in a region reshaped by war and occupation. In both the annexation of Crimea and its actions in Ukraine, the Russian government has used protecting the rights of ethnic Russians as a pretext for intervention. About one-third of the populations of Latvia and Estonia are ethnic Russians.

Even as Mr. Trump has railed against NATO, the United States military has continued to lead the alliance in combating what is now commonly referred to as Russian hybrid warfare: asymmetric and nontraditional military capabilities used to destabilize democracies through cyberattacks, disinformation and propaganda campaigns.

NATO member nations have also devoted energy and resources to improving battle readiness and the speed of deployment, in the event they should face a sudden crisis with their aggressive neighbor to the east.

During a visit to Latvia on his way to the NATO meeting, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada acknowledged that “these are uncertain times” and said that NATO must remain alert to “changing threats.”

He condemned Russia for its annexation of Crimea, its actions in Ukraine and what British intelligence says is its involvement in the use of a nerve agent in England, which has evolved into a murder case after the death of a British woman last Sunday.

Mr. Trudeau sidestepped questions about his relationship with Mr. Trump, who derided the Canadian leader as “very dishonest and weak” after the Group of 7 summit meeting in June. But he said that Canada’s decision to increase its military spending 70 percent over the next decade was not the result of pressure from Washington, but rather a response to new and emerging threats.

But for all the fighting over financial contributions to NATO from member states, the struggle in the Baltics to confront sophisticated propaganda campaigns aimed at ethnic Russian populations showed that it will take more than money and beefed up military forces to counter the emerging threat.

In that new fight, culture is a battleground — and music is a weapon. The Czech Republic had its Velvet Revolution, but Latvia’s struggle to break free from the Soviet Union is known as the Singing Revolution.

Last week, in what organizers described as “a national cultural vaccination that’s administered every five years,” the country held its Latvian Song and Dance Festival, a seven-day extravaganza expected to draw nearly 500,000 people, about a quarter of the country’s total population.

Latvia’s culture minister, Dace Melbarde, said the festival, which stretches back about 145 years, was about much more than singing and dancing. “It is about the awakening of the national consciousness in the 19th century that set the framework to become a nation,” she said.

That this year’s festival fell on the 100th anniversary of the nation’s founding has given more resonance to what is already a deeply emotional event. Even when Latvia was occupied by foreign powers and not allowed to fly its flag, the tradition continued.

The festival culminates with a final concert, described as “a cosmic journey through destiny, history, nature and family that ends with a return home along the Milky Way,” and the singing of “Gaismas pils,” the song about the magic castle.

In conversations with dozens of people at the festival and around Riga, worries about NATO were not the top concern, but there was a nagging sense that the world was off-kilter and the guarantees of recent years might not be as solid as they once seemed.

Edgars Vilumsons, 29, has grown so used to Russian provocations that he sees them as part of the background noise of daily life.

“It’s like if your neighbor had a mean dog and every day you walk past that dog but all it does is bark,” he said. “You are not going to stop what you are doing.”

His 85-year-old grandmother, he said, was not as sanguine. She often talks of being caught between Russian and German artillery fire, which destroyed the family home. After the annexation of Crimea, which shook Latvia, the theoretical seemed possible. Mr. Trump has suggested that he might be open to recognizing Russia’s annexation of Crimea, which the international community uniformly condemned as an act of blatant aggression.

Ms. Melbarde, still a bit bleary eyed from singing until dawn, said that one had to understand Latvia’s ethnic makeup and generational divide to understand its anxiety.

Most of the ethnic Russians arrived after the war, when the country was under Soviet domination. They have long been educated in separate schools and formed different social bonds as the nation has struggled to integrate them into society.

But the assimilation process has been made harder by increasingly aggressive propaganda campaigns in the Russian-language news media, narratives widely believed to be directed from Moscow with the intent of heightening divisions.

For example, Ms. Melbarde said, an annual summer festival based on ancient pagan traditions celebrating nature was portrayed as something sinister. “They reported that a bunch of neo-Nazis got together in the woods and set fires,” she said.

Ms. Melbarde said that more work needed to be done to combat the disinformation flowing to Russian speakers. NATO’s new strategic communication center in Latvia provided crucial help in fighting false and malicious narratives, she said.

Her hope is that in the near future, Russian speakers will feel that they can be proud of their ethnic identity but also feel a shared sense of national identity.

Indeed, research conducted by the Latvian government indicates that many younger ethnic Russians are willing to see themselves as Latvian.

The government hopes to capitalize on that sense by starting to integrate the schools, a move that failed in 2003 because of political opposition but that was recently approved by the legislature.

Anastasia Stankevich, 18, said that prospect terrified people like her parents, who are afraid that their children will forget their culture in Latvian schools.

Ms. Stankevich, who is deciding whether to attend college outside Latvia, said she shared the ambivalence of many Russian speakers.

“I feel a bit different than the Latvians,” she said. “We like different jokes.”

They also celebrate different holidays, including one that deeply divides the country: May 9. For Russian speakers, that was the day that World War II ended and is a cause for celebration. For Latvians, it was the day the occupation started.

Russia has never acknowledged itself as an occupying force, and lawmakers in Moscow passed a law specifically stating that Latvia’s being a part of the Soviet Union was justified by international law.

“On this day, I read the Latvian news and see one thing and then read the Russian news and see something totally different,” Ms. Stankevich said.

She said she understood the different perspective and just wanted to live in a country “where everyone respects each other’s culture.”

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« Reply #3541 on: Jul 11, 2018, 06:33 AM »

Believe it or not, Trump just told the truth

WA Post
7/11/2018
by Dana Milbank Columnist

I used to say that if you wanted to know whether President Trump was telling the truth, flip a coin. But it turns out I overstated the odds of Trumpian truthfulness.

The Post’s Fact Checker reviewed all claims Trump made at his Montana rally last week and found that 76 percent of them were false or suspect. Therefore, assuming this proportion holds for all Trump utterances, the odds he is telling the truth are closer to the chance of drawing a spade at random from a 52-card deck.

So what happened Tuesday morning was, by definition, improbable: Trump emerged from the White House, stood on the South Lawn — and said something quite accurate.

Departing for meetings in Europe with NATO officials, British leaders and then Russian President Vladimir Putin, Trump observed: “Frankly, Putin may be the easiest of them all. Who would think?”

Actually, we all would think — because Trump outlined it for us during that Montana rally.

Of Europeans, he said this: “They kill us on trade. They kill us on other things. . . . On top of that, they kill us with NATO. They kill us.” He went on to say that “we are the schmucks that are paying for the whole thing,” using a Yiddish word for male genitals.

2:12..One Trump rally: 76 percent of claims are dubious | Fact Checker: <iframe width='480' height='290' scrolling='no' src='https://www.washingtonpost.com/video/c/embed/d77d817c-83ee-11e8-9e06-4db52ac42e05' frameborder='0' webkitallowfullscreen mozallowfullscreen allowfullscreen></iframe>

President Trump's campaign style rally on July 5 was littered with claims that are false, misleading or lack evidence. (Meg Kelly /The Washington Post)

But he said this of Putin: “I might even end up having a good relationship, but they’re going, ‘Will President Trump be prepared? You know, President Putin is KGB and this and that.’ You know what? Putin’s fine. He’s fine.”

So Putin is fine, but Europeans are killing us. Using this distinction, we can extrapolate a taxonomy:

Things that Trump thinks will kill us:

● Free markets.

● Free trade.

● Democracy.

● Free speech.

● Free press.

● Opposition parties.

● Independent courts.

● The rule of law.

● Human rights.

Things that Trump thinks are fine*:

(* from the April human rights report on Russia by Trump’s State Department)

● Extrajudicial killings.

● Enforced disappearances.

● Torture.

● Arbitrary arrest and detention.

● Lack of judicial independence.

● Political prisoners.

● Severe interference with privacy.

● Severe restrictions on freedom of expression.

● Violence against journalists and bloggers.

● Blocking and filtering of Internet content.

● Severe restrictions on the rights of peaceful assembly.

● Increasingly severe restriction on freedom of association.

● Restrictions on freedom of movement.

● Severe restrictions on the right to participate in the political process.

● Restrictions on opposition candidates’ ability to seek public office and conduct political campaigns.

● Widespread corruption at all levels and in all branches of government.

● Thousands of fatal incidents of domestic violence, to which the government responded by reducing the penalty for domestic violence.

● Thousands of fatal incidents of child abuse.

● Trafficking in persons.

● Institutionalization in harsh conditions of a large percentage of people with disabilities.

● State-sponsored as well as societal violence against LGBTI people.

As we have seen for some time during the Trump era, the good guys are the bad guys, and vice versa. The world has been upside down for so long that American toilets now swirl in the opposite direction.

Just a few weeks ago, Trump insulted his allies in the Group of Seven and called the leader of Canada weak and dishonest — and then flew off to Asia to hail North Korea’s Kim Jong Un as honorable. North Korea is now back to calling the Trump administration “gangster-like,” but Trump continues to have “confidence” in his new friend.

On his European trip this week, Trump isn’t merely drawing a verbal distinction between the European killers and the fine Putin. He is acting accordingly.

On the eve of his NATO meeting in Brussels, Trump kept up a steady attack on fellow members for failing to pay their share. Responding to European Council President Donald Tusk’s warning that the United States has few allies left, Trump on Tuesday dismissed the fraying NATO alliance by saying it “helps them a lot more than it helps us.”

After Belgium, Trump goes to Britain, where Prime Minister Theresa May helped limit Trump’s exposure to protests (including a giant balloon of a baby Trump in a diaper) and arranged an audience with the queen. Trump repaid her Tuesday by lavishly praising Boris Johnson, the Brexit leader whose resignation as foreign secretary has brought May’s government to the verge of collapse.

From there, Trump proceeds to Helsinki to meet Putin, whom Trump has already rewarded with a call for Russia to be readmitted to the G-7, a deepening rift in the transatlantic alliance and an acceptance of Putin’s claim that Russia didn’t interfere in U.S. elections.

The European killers will watch anxiously to see what gift Trump might bestow this time. Recognition of Russia’s annexation of Ukraine? A drawdown of U.S. troops in Europe?

It is probably true that hanging out with Putin is the “easiest” thing Trump will do in Europe. But such a fine man requires fine gifts.


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« Reply #3542 on: Jul 11, 2018, 07:46 AM »

Meanwhile ...

Mitch "I don't have a soul, only a rancid abscess" McConnell says not worried about Trump withdrawing U.S. from NATO

Reuters
10 Jul 2018 at 15:16 ET                  

The top Republican in the U.S. Senate, Mitch "I don't have a soul, only a rancid abscess" McConnell, on Wednesday said he was not worried that President Donald Trump will withdraw the country from NATO, as Trump, who has a history of fiercely criticizing and occasionally scrapping international agreements, traveled to a major summit of NATO members.

Mitch "I don't have a soul, only a rancid abscess" McConnell also said “there is nothing inherently wrong” about Trump meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin while he is in Europe. The two leaders plan to meet alone, without any extra staff.

Reporting by Amanda Becker; Writing by Lisa Lambert; Editing by James Dalgleish

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

GOP senator melts down while trying to defend Trump’s NATO posturing: ‘I’m never comfortable with anything’

Noor Al-Sibai
11 Jul 2018 at 09:41 ET                   

Amid light grilling from CNN’s Alisyn Camerota, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) began twisting himself in knots trying to defend President Donald Trump’s aggressive NATO posturing.

According to the Iowan Republican, Trump’s anti-NATO rhetoric is meant to put pressure on the group to act more sternly with Russia — an issue the host suggested was never made explicit during the summit so far.

“Would you have liked for President Trump to bring up that point?” Camerota asked Grassley.

“Well, don’t you think that he — that it’s evident?” the senator retorted. “He doesn’t have to bring it up.”

“I don’t know about that, senator,” she responded. “I don’t know where he stands with Russia.”

But Grassley was already cutting her off.

“It is evident that Russia is in Crimea, Russia is threatening the Baltics, Russia is in Ukraine,” the senator said. “You know that.”

Camerota responded that she was aware of Russia’s incursions, but wanted to know how it’s “evident” to Grassley that that’s the reason for Trump’s NATO aggression.

She continued to push as Grassley skirted the question, asking him for specific evidence that Trump’s “adversarial” tone is about Russia, to which he responded that it’s clear because NATO is “spending more money.”

“So you are comfortable with the message and tone he started the NATO summit with?” the host asked.

“I don’t want to ever say that I’m comfortable with anything,” Grassley said.

Watch the entire interaction via CNN: https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x6ob11u


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« Reply #3543 on: Jul 12, 2018, 04:07 AM »

Never Mind the Summer Heat: Earth Is at Its Greatest Distance From the Sun

During aphelion, our planet receives 7 percent less sunlight than in January, but changes in the planet’s orbit are not what causes our seasons.

By Shannon Hall
NY Times
7/12/2018

On Friday, Earth will swing toward the outermost point in its orbit, known as aphelion. You, me and everyone on the planet will be three million miles farther from the sun than when we are closest to it.

The change occurs because our planet’s orbit is not perfectly circular. Instead, it is squashed into an ellipse with the sun offset from the center — an effect that causes Earth to orbit to its farthest point every July and its innermost point, or perihelion, every January (the exact dates vary slightly from year to year).

So, while record-breaking temperatures and raging wildfires in the Northern Hemisphere might lead you to believe the sun is punishingly close right now, remember that it is just the opposite. In fact, the extra distance causes the amount of received sunlight to drop by 7 percent compared to January. 

But don’t expect any relief from summer. Seasons on Earth are the product of changes in the amount of direct sunlight as the planet tilts toward and away from the sun — not its orbital path. It would take a much greater swing, so that the amount of received sunlight dropped significantly, in order to notice the difference.

To consider what life would be like on a planet under these orbital circumstances, you only have to look as far as Mars, whose elliptical orbit causes the amount of received sunlight to vary by as much as 31 percent over the course of the planet’s year.

“I find it amusing that the common misconception about Earth’s seasons is actually true if you are on Mars,” said David Grinspoon, an astrobiologist at the Planetary Science Institute. “School children on Mars will need to be taught differently.”

Just like Earth, Mars swings toward the frigid outer solar system at the peak of its Northern Hemisphere’s summer and its Southern Hemisphere’s winter. But because that swing is so much more dramatic, the plunge in sunlight creates a milder northern summer and a downright frigid southern winter. Later, Mars snuggles up close to the sun, leading to a milder northern winter and a simmering southern summer.

“It’s like toasting your marshmallow slowly from a safe distance above the campfire, then swooping in close for the nice quick char,” said Tanya Harrison, a planetary scientist at Arizona State University, referring to that southern summer.

In short, the planet’s dramatic orbit moderates the swing between seasons in the north but exaggerates it in the south.

The effect is so strong it can even be seen through a backyard telescope. The Red Planet’s polar ice caps, for example, grow in the winter and shrink in the summer. But because the southern winter is far more extreme than the northern winter, the southern polar ice caps grow more than twice as far as their northern counterparts.

On the flip side, that sizzling southern summer gives rise to winds so strong they rip dust off the Martian floor and into the atmosphere. That can kick-start dust storms that grow so large they envelop the entire planet, much like the one currently threatening NASA’s Opportunity Rover.

What’s more: Not only does such a squashed orbit cause an asymmetry in the strength of the seasons, but also in their length. As a planet edges toward the outermost point in its orbit, it will slow down significantly. Then, it will pick up speed as it starts to fall back toward the sun. That means that while those Martian southern summers are intense, they’re also roughly 30 days shorter than northern summers.

Still, the change in seasons on Mars is not as dramatic as it could be.

“Martians feel their change in orbital distance much more distinctly than Earthlings do,” said Richard Binzel, an astronomer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “But the Plutonians have it even worse.”

The dwarf planet’s orbit is even flatter than Mars’s orbit, causing the sunlight to vary by as much as 64 percent. That said, during Pluto’s nearly 250-year-long orbit around the sun, its closest approach occurs during its spring and fall, when added sunlight has a less pronounced effect than during a hemisphere’s summer. But that wasn’t always the case. Because of fluctuations among the planets across our solar system’s eons, Pluto’s closest approach steadily shifts across the seasons.

Just under 1 million years ago, Pluto nestled up closer to the sun during its northern summer. The two effects conspired to create a “super season” where temperatures were so warm that liquids of methane and nitrogen could have flowed across its frigid surface. “That is a very hot day on Pluto,” Dr. Binzel said. Signs of these flows were detected by NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft when it studied the planet in 2015.

And while the planet has cooled over the last 900,000 or so years, it will reach another super season in another 900,000 years when the planet’s Southern Hemisphere tips toward the sun at the exact point it swings closest.

Earth’s orbit, will also change one day. While our planet’s closest approach to the sun currently takes place during the northern winter, it has slowly shifted over time. In about 10,000 years, its closest approach will occur six months later during the northern summer.

But given Earth’s relatively circular orbit, it will never have super seasons like those on Pluto or the extreme, asymmetric seasons of Mars. Instead, our planet will stay relatively stable — a characteristic that just might have given rise to life.

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« Reply #3544 on: Jul 12, 2018, 04:11 AM »


India's unofficial recycling bin: the city where electronics go to die

In Moradabad, whole communities subsist by processing waste created by the world’s love affair with electronic goods. In this extract from their book, Assa Doron and Robin Jeffrey investigate the impact of this dangerous trade

Assa Doron and Robin Jeffrey
Gu ardian
12 Jul 2018 11.00 BST

From the road one could see locals washing the ash from burned e-waste and using sieves to recover fragments of metal. Women and children broke apart and segregated the printed circuit board components, prying open the object and separating the gold, silver and copper-plated components.

Locals in Moradabad in western Uttar Pradesh described [to us] the process of recycling this hazardous material. Once the basic dismantling and separation were achieved, different methods of extraction followed: typically burning, grinding, washing and bathing in acid.

The city of Moradabad, home to 900,000 people, was once celebrated as the brass capital of India. Now it is notorious as a centre for e-waste processing, an industry built on the declining fortunes of its famed brassware sector.

This e-waste economy is thriving as the hazardous material, exported from the affluent developed world, continues to plague cities in developing countries. Can anything be done to stem the flow?

According to a report from the Indian Centre for Science and Environment, the brass industry suffered a severe blow from the global recession of 2008. Dwindling demand led people practised in metalwork to make the “natural” move into the e-waste industry, and streams of electronic goods began arriving from across the country and beyond.

The figures, according to one estimate, were staggering: 50% of the printed circuit boards used in appliances in India end up in Moradabad. With more than nine metric tonnes of waste arriving daily, the industry was said to employ tens of thousands of workers, most of whom earned between 100 and 300 rupees (£1-£3) a day.

    50% of the printed circuit boards ​used in appliances in India end up in Moradabad

The major e-waste processing site we observed was situated beside the bridge over Moradabad’s Ramganga river, in a predominantly Muslim neighbourhood. Men managing the flow of goods were visible from the bridge, as rickshaws carrying electronic discards made their way through the gate and disappeared into the alleys. Rhythmic hammering echoed up to the bridge.

The role of the police presence was hard to gauge, but according to one local there was an arrangement between the police and various parties – presumably intended to appear as though strict regulations on e-waste processing were in force.

In fact, the gatekeeping function was to exclude outsiders. Local people believed the police received money and goods from e-waste dealers who wished to protect their businesses, and that benefits flowed up and down the chain of command. The lowly police on the gate relied on small gratuities, but locals suggested that bigger favours went to more senior officials. The e-waste industry required protection from busybodies who might want to enforce the law or from potential competitors who might pry into their business and steal clients.

Moradabad’s old specialty of brass manufacture simplified the shift to recycling electronic waste. Brass making requires high heat to melt and combine copper and zinc. Pit furnaces, used to turn the recovered metals into ingots, were available and well understood.

Once the circuit boards from phones and computers were burned to dislodge metals from plastics, they were turned into powder by ball mills of the kind used in brass manufacturing. The powder from the dissolved circuit boards was separated by sieves or by washing in water. The pit furnaces finished the task of melting metal into ingots.

Copper was by far the largest proportion of metal recovered in this extraction process, and much of the copper was sold back to the brass industry in the city. The recovery of much smaller quantities of platinum, gold and other precious metals was worthwhile because of their high market value.

This e-waste industry relies on what anthropologist Anna Tsing calls “salvage capitalism”, in which value is gained with little capitalist control and regulation. Indeed, many of the transactions and restrictions characterising the Moradabad slum depended on a local, non-capitalist economy that has its own value system. Families work in dismal conditions to sustain an elaborate network of exchange. But this informal economy creates value for capitalist enterprises that benefit from the semi-clandestine activity.

In the absence of an international standard coding that clearly defines what constitutes hazardous or toxic waste, it becomes relatively easy to smuggle across borders with impunity. This is further facilitated by a host of actors and institutions that populate the waste trade and handle transnational waste flows with entrepreneurial innovation.

E-waste will continue to plague the subcontinent. The increase in electronic discards from a more affluent population compounds the problem of waste dumping from developed countries. Lax regulations and a cheap labour force make India an attractive place for disposal and processing.

The offshoring of industrial hazardous waste from first-world countries to the third world is notoriously difficult to track, identify and quantify – but there is evidence to suggest that illegal dumping continues unabated.

    This article is an extract from Waste of a Nation: Garbage and Growth in India by Assa Doron and Robin Jeffrey, published by Harvard University Press.


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« Reply #3545 on: Jul 12, 2018, 04:13 AM »

Nestlé products removed from Melbourne zoos over palm oil

Zoos Victoria made the decision after Nestlé lost its sustainable certification

Melissa Davey
Guardian
12 Jul 2018 03.17 BST

Products from the food and drink giant Nestlé will no longer be stocked at the stores and food carts at Melbourne and Werribee zoos.

Zoos Victoria made the decision after the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) suspended Nestlé’s membership when the company failed to submit a 2016 progress report, and its 2017 report lacked a timetable for producing or buying certified sustainable palm oil.

“Nestlé was given the opportunity to complete its annual communications of progress report for 2017 through active engagement, and has declined to submit a time-bound plan,” a statement from RSPO said.

It said Nestlé also had an unpaid membership fee of €2,000 (A$3,150).

It means Nestlé will no longer be able to claim to be an RSPO member or that its products contain certified sustainable palm oil.

A Nestlé spokeswoman said the company was “disappointed” by the suspension and by the response of Zoos Victoria.

“Absolutely nothing has changed for our products: we are continuing to use exactly the same palm oil ingredients from the same RSPO certified supply chains,” she said.

“Any palm oil in Nestlé products sold at zoos in Victoria is sustainably sourced. We’re disappointed that our RSPO membership has been suspended. We’re talking to the RSPO and hope to requalify in the coming days.”

The spokeswoman said RSPO certification was important to holding the palm oil sector to account.

“While our approaches differ, we believe that the sector will be stronger if we work together,” she said.

Zoos Victoria’s director of wildlife conservation and science, Rachel Lowry, said the zoo’s stance was clear.

“The only palm oil we sell is from companies who source only 100% certified sustainable palm oil through the RSPO,” she said.

“We will continue to keep our zoo shelves clear of Nestlé products until they take the necessary steps to comply with the RSPO standards, for we remain confident this is the best and most reliable way that we, as an organisation committed to fighting wildlife extinction, can guarantee that the food that we are selling across our zoos is not contributing to the loss of wildlife such as orangutans and Sumatran tigers abroad.”

An analysis published in June by the International Union for Conservation of Nature found palm oil was damaging global biodiversity, affecting 193 threatened species.

“Certified palm oil has so far proven to be only marginally better in terms of preventing deforestation than its non-certified equivalent, but the approach is relatively new and holds potential for improving sustainability,” the IUCN said in a statement. “More efforts are needed to ensure that sustainability commitments are honoured and that their reporting is transparent, but also that there remains a demand for certified palm oil.”


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« Reply #3546 on: Jul 12, 2018, 04:15 AM »

Hawaii to Approve Landmark Ban on Coral-Damaging Sunscreens

Ecowatch
7/12/2018

Hawaii Gov. David Ige signed a bill Tuesday prohibiting the sale of sunscreen that contains chemicals considered harmful to ocean ecosystems, including coral reefs.

The Aloha State is the first in the nation to enact such a law.

"Studies have documented the negative impact of these chemicals on corals and other marine life. Our natural environment is fragile, and our own interaction with the earth can have lasting impacts. This new law is just one step toward protecting the health and resiliency of Hawai'i's coral reefs," said Gov. Ige in a press release.

The measure, introduced by Democratic State Sen. Mike Gabbard, bans in Hawaii the sale and distribution of all sunscreen containing oxybenzone or octinoxate, or both, without a prescription from a licensed healthcare provider.

Extensive coral bleaching is occurring in Hawaii's most popular snorkeling spot, Hanauma Bay. While studies have identified climate change as one of the drivers of the bleaching, scientists also blame the estimated 412 pounds of sunscreen that leaches into the tourist-heavy bay per day.

Even a drop of oxybenzone in 4.3 million gallons of water, or six and a half Olympic sized swimming pools worth, is enough to harm corals, the New York Times reported.

Gabbard noted in an Instagram post that the landmark legislation is not just a first for the U.S., it's also the first law of its kind in the world.

He pointed out that since the ban does not take effect in the state until 2021, it's important for the world to take notice of this timely issue, as the health of coral reefs are declining in waters across the globe.

Up to 14,000 tons of sunscreen bleed into the world's reefs every year, according to a 2015 study published in the journal Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology.

Hawaii's legislation was praised by conservation groups.

"The significance of this action will extend far beyond the islands. With 9 million visitors each year, Hawaii's commitment will educate consumers worldwide about the harmful effects that sunscreen can have on marine life," Matt Ramsey, director of Conservation International Hawaii in a press release.

"Coral reefs are a critical component of our food, culture, economy and overall way of life. We simply must protect them," Ramsey added.

Oxybenzone and octinoxate, which filter UV rays, can be found in more than 3,500 sunscreen products, including popular ones sold by Hawaiian Tropic, Banana Boat and Coppertone.

There are many reef-safe sunscreen options available, which contain minerals such as zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide. Edgewell Personal Care, makers of Banana Boat and Hawaiian Tropic sunscreens, told Outside: "To meet consumer needs, we produce several Banana Boat and Hawaiian Tropic products that are free of oxybenzone and octinoxate."

In his Instagram post, Gabbard linked to a 5-minute video called Reefs At Risk that highlights the sunscreen additives' adverse effects on fragile coral reefs and other marine life.

Watch here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aGP9loQ0dqs


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« Reply #3547 on: Jul 12, 2018, 04:18 AM »

3 Reasons the Deadly Lac-Mégantic Oil Train Disaster Could Happen Again

By Justin Mikulka
Ecowatch
7/12/2018

In the five years since the oil train disaster in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, claimed 47 lives, the world has learned much about the risks that hauling oil by rail poses. One of the clearest lessons is how little has been done to address those risks, which means that deadly event could easily happen again.

To mark the anniversary, Kathleen Fox, chair of the Transportation Safety Board (TSB) of Canada, released a statement on oil-by-rail. "Much has been accomplished in the intervening years, but more remains to be done," she said.

Fox is correct about one thing: More remains to be done. Much more.

Here are three main reasons history may yet repeat itself.

Read this explainer for background on what unfolded during the fiery early morning hours of July 6, 2013 in Lac-Mégantic: https://www.desmogblog.com/2018/01/23/rail-workers-acquitted-trial-deadly-lac-megantic-oil-train-disaster

Reason #1: Inadequate Safety Regulations

The Bakken shale oil carried on the runaway train that decimated the small Quebec town of Lac-Mégantic is a very light and highly volatile crude oil that ignites easily. Despite many calls for regulations in the U.S. to make that oil safer via a process known as stabilization—including from Obama's Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx, the issue of stabilizing oil volatility on trains remains unaddressed on either side of the border.

Similar concerns are arising for trains shipping oil from Alberta (home of the tar sands) after multiple derailed trains have resulted in fires and explosions reminiscent of those involving Bakken oil.

Another apparent safety gap in regulations involves the outdated brake systems on oil trains, which is the case in both the U.S. and Canada. Rail experts have testified repeatedly that modern electronically controlled pneumatic (ECP) brakes would be a huge improvement over the current air braking system that was considered revolutionary in the 19th century. When the U.S. Department of Transportation released an overhaul of rules governing oil trains in 2015, ECP brakes were among the requirements. However, that measure was repealed in late 2017 due to intense industry pressure.

An important point to keep in mind here is that all of the major oil-by-rail carriers (BNSF, CSX, CN, CP) move oil from both the U.S. and Canada, which leads to something known as harmonization in the regulations. Because the trains couldn't easily cross the border if the rules were different in each country, the regulatory agencies in both must work together to ensure harmonization.

Canada's TSB Chair Fox noted in her recent remarks that the DOT-111 tank cars, which were carrying the oil that destroyed part of Lac-Mégantic are no longer permitted to move crude oil, in either Canada or the U.S. Those tank cars clearly were unsafe for transporting flammable liquids—something they were never designed to do.

However, Fox also noted that rail companies have until 2025 to phase in the new rail tank cars that will replace DOT-111s, and progress on that transition has been slow. The 2015 oil train rules mandate stricter standards for rail tank cars carrying hazardous materials, which means rail companies have a decade to switch to new DOT-117 cars. Yet Fox does not address the real issue at play with tank cars.

The real problem is that DOT-117 tank cars are also proving inadequate for moving oil safely, as evidenced when an oil train of cars meeting the new standards derailed in Iowa in June 2018. Many of the cars ruptured, resulting in a spill of 230,000 gallons of oil into a flooded Iowa river. These new DOT-117 tank cars don't appear to offer any real safety benefits over the older cars. They may look nicer with the new paint and lack of grafitti, but that seems to be the only demonstrable improvement.

DOT-117 tank cars, the new rail cars that are slowly replacing the DOT-111 cars carrying oil.
Justin Mikulka

Another gap involves an automatic braking technology known as positive train control (PTC), which was first recommended in 1970. The rail industry resisted moving forward with PTC for almost 40 years until 2008 when Congress mandated that rail companies install PTC on all trains, passenger and freight, by 2015. Despite the congressional mandate, the industry refused to cooperate.

Instead, the rail industry threatened to shut down the U.S. economy if required to fulfill the legislative requirement. In response, Congress granted the industry a three year extension. As the third year of that extension winds down, the largest oil-by-rail company, BNSF, has asked for another two year extension.

Why would rail companies refuse to implement this well-known safety technology that reportedly could have saved nearly 300 lives between 1969 and 2015? Because it costs money to implement and it only costs a fraction of that money to hire lobbyists to fight the regulations.

That priority was starkly revealed in a 2015 story by The Intercept, which reports that during a 2009 investor call, a Wall Street analyst told rail executives they need to do more to "further educate" Congress about why the PTC mandate was unacceptable.

That exchange occurred six years before the industry was required to implement PTC, giving rail companies plenty of time to hire lobbyists to argue against implementing a safety technology now almost 50 years after it was first recommended.

Yet another example of a regulatory gap in rail safety measures stretches back to Lac-Mégantic, which involved a runaway train parked on a hill above the town. Corporate cost cutting and a lack of rules to prevent runaway trains helped lead to the 47 lives lost in that town. In her statement reflecting on the five years since the disaster, TSB Chair Fox mentions that "the issue of additional physical defenses, which the TSB has called for to help prevent uncontrolled movements, has yet to be sufficiently addressed."

"Additional physical defenses" are ramps or locks placed in front of a train to prevent it from running away in the event something else goes wrong. A simple and proven solution. But starting and stopping trains with these safety devices in place takes longer, and because time is money in the rail industry, companies generally don't use them.

Despite being one of the easiest problems to solve, runaway trains, or "uncontrolled movements," are increasing since Lac-Mégantic. CBC News reported that Faye Ackerman, a TSB board member, noted the situation is getting worse. "… in the last five years, the number of these uncontrolled movements has been on the rise," Ackerman said.

In June 2017, an event eerily similar to Lac-Mégantic (minus the explosion and fatalities) unfolded when a 72 car train was not properly braked and ran away for "five kilometres onto a busy track just north of Toronto."

There are many factors that could eliminate runaway trains. The train in Lac-Mégantic had back-up braking systems, but no rules require their use and the company policy was to not use them. In addition, positive train control could also prevent runaway trains, and modern ECP brakes would also help. But the simplest solution would be the "additional physical defenses" that Fox referred to.

Reason #2: Oil Trains Derail More Often

Another lesson revealed in the wake of Lac-Mégantic is that oil trains derail more often than similar trains carrying ethanol, another hazardous material. The reason is likely because oil trains tend to be longer and heavier and may be subject to more sloshing forces from the liquid moving inside the not-entirely-full tank cars. Unlike tanker trucks or other types of trains, oil trains don't have to be weighed, and some evidence indicates rail companies may be overfilling oil train cars beyond the current weight limits. And no regulations exist dictating the train lengths safe for transporting flammable materials like oil.

Of course, longer and heavier trains make more money for railroads. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal notes that one of the reasons the rail industry is shifting to ever-longer trains is due to pressure from "activist investors." Activist investors—much like the one who told industry executives they need to lobby against positive train control—apparently are calling the shots about how companies operate their trains.

Given the lack of real safety improvements after Lac-Mégantic, this issue is not going away. Canada just reported record levels of oil-by-rail movements for April of this year. And that number is likely to increase significantly in the next several years, as the oil industry there continues to face pipeline constraints. U.S. oil-by-rail movements are increasing too but remain below the peak levels reached during the Bakken oil-by-rail boom, which lasted from about 2012 to early 2016.

After the recent oil train derailment in Iowa, Kevin Birn of IHS Markit, an energy analytics and consulting company, stated the obvious:

"The accident is a manifestation of increased crude-by-rail from Western Canada due to pipeline constraints."

Despite the evidence showing that long, heavy trains filled with oil derail more often, very little has been done to improve the safety of moving oil by rail since Lac-Mégantic. As oil-by-rail continues on its latest uptick, another catastrophe like the one that claimed 47 lives in a small Quebec town is likely inevitable.

Reason #3: The Rail Barons Are in Charge

In December 2016, a group came together in Ottawa, Canada's capital, to discuss Lac-Mégantic and what the industry and regulators have learned since the devastating events of July 2013.

Brian Stevens, National Rail Director for Unifor, Canada's largest private sector union, was one of the speakers. Stevens previously spent 16 years as an air-brake mechanic working on trains.

Stevens summed up the problem: "Nothing has changed. The railway barons are still there. And stronger than ever."

And while this statement was made by a Canadian at a conference in Canada about an accident in Canada, the rail barons are on both sides of the Canadian-American border.

His statement even came before the Trump administration began its efforts to remove safety measures enacted during the Obama adminstration. Since then, the rail barons successfully had the regulations for modern ECP brakes repealed. Trump appointed the former head of rail company Conrail as the new top rail regulator at the Federal Railroad Administration. If you are a rail baron, this was all great news.

In the first Congressional hearing about rail safety in the Trump era, Rep. Bill Shuster got right to the point about the goal of any changes to regulations when he said that government should "allow the railroad industry to keep more of their profits."

This statement reveals why so little has been accomplished to improve oil-by-rail safety. Moving oil-by-rail in a safe manner may be possible given the raft of potential safety measures outlined here, but it is highly unlikely that the venture would still be profitable for rail companies. As a result, the rail industry is favoring the status quo and federal regulators in the U.S. and Canada have done little to nothing to change that.

Five years after the derailment in Lac-Mégantic, all of the major risks related to moving oil by rail still exist, but the large portion of downtown Lac-Mégantic destroyed that day in 2013 does not. Its continued absence stands as a stark reminder of the very real dangers of the current oil-by-rail industry.


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« Reply #3548 on: Jul 12, 2018, 04:20 AM »

You Care Where Your Food Comes From. Why Not Your Pot?

By Dan Nosowitz
Ecowatch
7/12/2018

With it's increasing legality across the U.S., cannabis is going through growing pains.

Because it was illegal for so long, cannabis is way behind compared to other plants in terms of our understanding of its best used, grown and sold. A 2015 study showed that the two major types of cannabis—indica and sativa—aren't even usually marked correctly. For context, this is kind of like not knowing whether a tomato is a beefsteak or a roma—different flavors, different uses.

Another side effect of cannabis's illegality is that, in states where the herb is now permissible, consumers suddenly have the the power of choice. For most of our lifetimes, cannabis purchasing was restricted to whatever we could get. "If [your dealer] even had two or three different strains or varieties, that meant you had a great connection," said Ben Gelt, the board chair of the Cannabis Certification Council (CCC). Contrast that to other farm-grown greenery and produce, where choice abounds.

Over the past two decades, this country has had a massive reckoning in terms of how much we care about where our food comes from. Organic food sales hit $47 billion in 2016. Farm-to-table restaurants can be found in almost every city. Sustainable, local and pesticide-free are buzzwords; they don't describe the majority of this country's food, not by a long shot, but the basic fact is that people are beginning to really care about where their food comes from.

And yet: when was the last time you even asked where your weed came from?
Where's All The Organic-Labeled Weed?

Prior to its localized legalization, cannabis crops were necessarily a black-market operation. There were no regulations, no inspections, no rules about what you could and couldn't do on a cannabis farm, because the entire farm was against the law. That led to cannabis farms becoming, mostly unbeknownst to consumers, among the most destructive agricultural operations in the country. Cannabis farmers used, and continue to use, insane amounts of pesticides and truly awful farming practices. Why not? If the authorities find your farm, your excess use of rat poison will be the least of your worries. But that's lead to widespread environmental poisoning, deaths of endangered animals, pesticides dumped right into waterways.

Even in places where cannabis is now legal, the regulations lag far behind those of other crops. "States have become expert at taxing the industry and controlling the industry, but not at dealing with these very real public health and safety issues," said Gelt.

While many groups are working on getting stricter regulations, the CCC is working on getting consumers to demand better products. A logical way to do that would be to embrace the organic label: the theory, which has sort of worked with food, is that you convince people organic food is a better way to grow (or healthier to eat), then people demand it, and farmers grow more of it because they can charge more.

There inlies the problem: There is no organic cannabis—at least in the way we think about organic-labeled food. Because cannabis isn't legal across the entire country, the USDA's organic certification program won't certify any cannabis farm, even those that are legal in their jurisdiction and are following all the rules. That means that the people who are actually growing ethical cannabis are just losing money, because they don't have a label (or the demand) that allows them to charge more—and the same way it costs more to grow ethical tomatoes or raise ethical chickens, it costs more to grow ethical cannabis.

The other big problem is that the CCC, like many other folks, believes that the USDA's organic program is deeply flawed, beholden to agribusiness and full of loopholes. That same distaste led some groups to create their own organic label with stricter rules. For the CCC, which focuses on a crop that can't even get regular organic certification, it's a no-brainer: make your own label.
Where's the Market for "Organically Grown and Fairly Produced" Cannabis?

The CCC's will be called CCC Certified, with language specifying that the labeled product is "organically grown and fairly produced." (I asked Gelt whether he thought the USDA might sue him for using the word "organic." "That particular phrasing came from our attorneys," he said. And, to be honest, if the USDA sues the CCC, the resulting attention could likely be nice.)

But nobody is asking for organic weed right now. "People haven't gotten totally used to the fact that they're in command. It's almost like, am I allowed to be here?" said Amy Andrle, the owner of an ethical cannabis operation in Denver and a CCC board member. There is a substantial overlap between people who buy cannabis and people who care about where their food comes from, and yet few seems to realize that cannabis should follow the same rules: A 2016 study from Elizabeth Bennett at Lewis and Clark College found that many involved in the cannabis trade—both sellers and consumers—believed that cannabis was inherently "natural" or environmentally friendly, either because of an assumption about the attitudes of the growers or, bizarrely, because cannabis is a plant product.

This is emphatically not the case. To help get consumers on the right track, the CCC is starting out with a year-long education campaign. They're trying out a marketing campaign called "What's In My Weed?" as an attempt to make the public aware, at least a little, about this issue.

In lots of ways, it's an understandable dilemma. "I know how to shop for eggs, for meat, for coffee, for a car," said Gelt. "But I haven't been taught how to shop for cannabis."

The actual CCC label is a ways off; the CCC hasn't ironed out all of the details. There's the added trouble of how cannabis is grown, for one thing: many of those unsatisfied with the USDA's organic farming label are mad that it allows hydroponics and container-grown plants. But the vast majority of cannabis in the U.S. is grown indoors, and the CCC does not plan to exclude that. So where does that leave the label? (There are, of course, good and less good ways to grow plants indoors, just as there are for outdoor plants.) And the actual science of cannabis consumption lags so far behind that a rash of new studies stemming from legalization could change what's considered ethical.

This is a period of exploring, trying new things, and inevitable making mistakes for the cannabis industry. But education is a vital part of getting the industry into the right place. And everything's got to start somewhere.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Modern Farmer.


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« Reply #3549 on: Jul 12, 2018, 04:22 AM »

Fishing Companies Halt Activities in Waters Proposed for Antarctic Sanctuary

Ecowatch
7/12/2018

The five companies responsible for 85 percent of krill fishing in Antarctica announced Monday that they would put a "voluntarily permanent stop" to fishing in vulnerable areas earmarked by conservationists for the world's largest ocean sanctuary, the Guardian reported.

Krill are an important food source for iconic Antarctic marine life like whales, seals and penguins. They also help fight climate change by eating carbon-heavy food near the ocean's surface and excreting it in deeper water, according to the Guardian.

"The momentum for protection of the Antarctic's waters and wildlife is snowballing," Frida Bengtsson of Greenpeace's Protect the Antarctic campaign told The Guardian. "This is a bold and progressive move from these krill fishing companies, and we hope to see the remainder of the krill industry follow suit."

The five companies make up the Association of Responsible Krill Harvesting (ARK) and come from Norway, Chile, South Korea and China, AFP reported.

They said they would stop fishing in the coastal waters that Greenpeace and 1.7 million supporters want to see converted into a sanctuary and would also restrict fishing in "buffer zones" around penguin breeding sites, according to the Guardian.

The ARK also officially backed a proposal to create a network of marine protected areas (MPAs) in the waters around Antarctica, AFP reported.

"Our members agree that the industry must develop sustainably to ensure long-term viability of the krill stocks and the predators that depend on it," ARK said in a statement reported by AFP.

The ARK's decision comes after supporters of the sanctuary pushed retailers including Holland and Barret to stop selling supplements containing krill, the Guardian reported.

The fate of the sanctuary now rests in the hands of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), which consists of 24 governments that manage Antarctic waters.

The CCAMLR passed a U.S.-and-New-Zealand-proposed sanctuary around the Ross Sea in 2016, but rejected a plan backed by Australia and France for a sanctuary in East Antarctica last year, AFP reported.

The EU proposed another area five times the size of Germany in the Weddell Sea last October, and Greenpeace launched its current campaign to support that proposal. The CCAMLR will vote on the proposal this October.

The Pew Charitable Trusts' Antarctic and Southern Ocean head Andrea Kavanagh hoped the krill companies' decision would inspire the governments to act.

"Governments should follow industry's lead and support MPAs," she told AFP.

World Wide Fund for Nature's (WWF) Antarctica program head Chris Johnson said it was important that the companies' voluntary action was backed up by enforceable laws.
"A comprehensive and effective network of marine protected areas surrounding the continent—which must include no-take marine sanctuaries—is essential for safeguarding biodiversity and improving sustainable fisheries," he told The Independent.


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« Reply #3550 on: Jul 12, 2018, 04:56 AM »

‘A miracle, a science, or what’: How the world came together to save 12 boys trapped in a Thai cave

by Shibani Mahtani and Panaporn Wutwanich
July 12  2018
WA Post

Footage shows members of the boys soccer team, who were rescued from a cave complex in northern Thailand, recuperating in a Chiang Rai hospital. (Government of Thailand)

MAE SAI, Thailand — Divers compared it to mountain climbing — but in tight, pitch-black spaces and buffeted by swirling floodwaters, towing a child.

They had to guide their charges through passages as narrow as a couple of feet, weighed down by bulky equipment. A diver in front led the way, with a boy tethered to him and another diver following behind.

Each arduous round-trip extraction took between nine and 11 hours.

Finally, on Tuesday, the “all-star” team of expert cave divers from at least six countries completed the mission once feared impossible, pulling to safety the last of the 12 young soccer players and their 25-year-old coach from the remote cave where they had been marooned for more than two weeks.

“We’ve rescued everyone,” said Narongsak Osatanakorn, the former governor of Chiang Rai province and the lead rescue official, as volunteers and journalists erupted in jubilant cheers and claps. “We achieved a mission impossible.”

The Thai navy SEALs added in a Facebook post: “We are not sure if this is a miracle, a science, or what.”

The disappearance of the boys and their novice monk turned soccer coach from this small town on the Thailand-Myanmar border — and their remarkable discovery, alive, nine days after they went missing June 23 — launched an extraordinary saga of international cooperation and ingenuity, as experts from many fields planned how to maneuver all 13 out alive.

When no clear opening could be found atop the mountain range housing the cave, having the boys swim out with the 18-strong team of British, Australian, Chinese, Thai, American and Danish divers was considered the least risky of a range of daunting options.

The dramatic three-day mission kicked off Sunday after days spent preparing the cave — and the boys. One diver said in a Facebook post that he had spent 63 hours in the cave system over the past nine days.

The effort, which swelled and gained momentum after the group was found July 2, involved more than 100 rescuers inside the cave, 1,000 members of the Thai army and almost 10,000 others who facilitated all kinds of assistance, from rides up to the cave site to meals of fried chicken, eggs, and rice and noodle soups for divers, volunteers and journalists. International experts set up rescue communications, while Thai villagers set up coffee stalls and massage stations.

The mission was also a race against the weather.

Rescuers spent days balancing the risk of impending monsoons, which could have flooded the cave again, against the boys’ readiness, weakened as they were by their ordeal. Rain fell periodically throughout the three days of extractions, but pumping efforts were so successful that the amount of time the boys spent underwater was minimized, officials said.

The tension that had gripped this small town near the site finally broke Tuesday evening as the last of the ambulances turned on their lights and sirens and raced downhill from the cave. Thai police officers lining the road from the entrance laughed and flashed thumbs-ups at the vast numbers of news organizations from all over the world waiting for this very scene.

Onlookers cheered “Hooyah moo pa!” — a reference to the name of the boys’ soccer team, Moo Pa, or Wild Boars.

A hint of setting sun and blue skies broke through the heavy clouds behind the caves as a helicopter whirred through the sky, carrying the last boys recovered to a hospital in nearby Chiang Rai.

Thai navy SEALs and an Australian medic who had been stationed with the boys for days, preparing them for their dive, were brought out of the cave soon after.

On Sunday, officials decided they could no longer wait, saying conditions were “as perfect as they will be” for a rescue attempt. Over the next three days, the boys were brought out in groups: four on the first day, four on the second day and four, plus their coach, on Tuesday.

Among those rooting for their rescue were world leaders, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and billionaire inventor Elon Musk, who tasked his team of engineers with building a “kid-sized submarine” made out of rocket parts that would be able to move the young boys through the cave’s narrow passageways.

Shortly after the full rescue was announced, President Trump sent a congratulatory message.

“On behalf of the United States, congratulations to the Thai Navy SEALs and all on the successful rescue of the 12 boys and their coach from the treacherous cave in Thailand. Such a beautiful moment — all freed, great job!” he wrote.

Doctors attending to the eight boys who were rescued Sunday and Monday said they are generally in good health. It was an incredible result considering that the boys spent nine days incommunicado, without food, until they were found, and then waited days more before embarking on an hours-long dive that even the most skilled cave divers described as among the most dangerous they have attempted.

A retired Thai navy SEAL died Friday after he ran out of oxygen while placing compressed-air tanks along the exit route.

“Doctors have treated the boys, and now all of them are okay and cheerful and are talking normally,” said Jesada Chokedamrongsuk, permanent secretary of the Thai Ministry of Public Health. One of the boys initially had a heartbeat that was too slow, and some had low white-blood-cell counts, but they have since been stabilized. Two have been treated for minor lung infections, doctors added. They were all treated for rabies — in case there were bats in the cave — as well as tetanus, and they were given IV drips.

Doctors expect the boys to be in the hospital for about seven days, although they could be out sooner if their bloodwork comes back negative for abnormalities.

None of them have fevers, and all are able to eat normal “medical” food, Jesada said, an improvement from the watered-down porridge they were fed when they were first rescued. A nutritionist is monitoring their diet and has recommended that they eat nothing spicy or salty — despite the boys’ cravings for spicy basil pork and rice and grilled pork.

By Monday evening, the boys were able to joke, laugh and have normal conversations, doctors said. So far, their families have seen them through a glass barrier.

Officials said families of the rescued group were preparing to head to Chiang Rai, finally able to see their loved ones after weeks of agony. Among them was Umporn Sriwichai, an aunt of assistant coach Ekapol Chanthawong. She has cared for the young man since his parents died when he was 10.

“I just want to give him a hug and say ‘I missed you,’ ” she said. “That is the first thing I will do.”

Timothy McLaughlin and Steve Hendrix in Mae Sai and Brian Murphy in Washington contributed to this report.

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

‘He loved them more than himself’: How a 25-year-old former monk kept the Thai soccer team alive

Shibani Mahtani
7/11/2018
WA Post

Thai forest rangers examine a map as they view a possible drilling option during rescue operations for the soccer team and their assistant coach on July 7. (Rungroj Yongrit/EPA-EFE/Rex/Shutterstock)

MAE SAI, Thailand — The head coach of the Thai soccer team spent the morning of June 23 preparing his young assistant for an important task: looking out for the boys by himself.

Nopparat Khanthavong, the 37-year-old head coach of the Moo Pa (Wild Boars) soccer team, had an appointment that morning. Ekapol Chanthawong, his assistant, was to take the younger boys to a soccer field nestled by the Doi Nang Non mountain range, a formation with numerous waterfalls and caves that straddles the Thai-Myanmar border.

“Make sure you ride your bicycle behind them when you are traveling around, so you can keep a lookout,” he wrote in a Facebook message he shared with The Washington Post. Ekapol coaches the younger boys, so Nopparat told him to bring some of the boys from the older team for additional eyes.

“Take care,” he wrote.

The hours that followed kicked off a chain of events that has riveted the world: a dramatic search and rescue that found the boys alive nine days later, huddled on a small, muddy patch surrounded by floodwaters. Attention has focused on the only adult, 25-year-old former novice monk Ekapol, and the role he has played in both their predicament and their survival.

Efforts to extract the boys have involved a swelling team of thousands of divers, engineers, military personnel and volunteers from all over the world — including Elon Musk’s SpaceX — with no clear plan in sight. Diving, the most probable method, is seen as too risky for now given the boys’ lack of swimming experience, pitch-black muddy waters through narrow passageways, and the death this week of a retired Thai Navy SEAL who was among those readying the cave for the boys’ dive. Engineers have been searching for a way through the mountain’s surface, hoping to drill down and reach them within the cave, but acknowledge it could take months and alter the cave’s geography in the process.

As the rush to figure out how to rescue the group continues, some have chided Ekapol for leading the team into the cave. A large warning sign at the cave’s entrance raises the risk of entering so close to the monsoon season, they say, and he should have known better.

But for many in Thailand, Ekapol, who left his life in the monkhood three years ago and joined the Wild Boars as an assistant coach soon after, is an almost divine force, sent to protect the boys as they go through this ordeal. A widely shared cartoon drawing of Ekapol shows him sitting cross-legged, as a monk does in meditation, with 12 little wild boars in his arms.

According to rescue officials, he is among the weakest in the group, in part because he gave the boys his share of the limited food and water they had with them in the early days. He also taught the boys how to meditate and how to conserve as much energy as possible until they were found.

“If he didn’t go with them, what would have happened to my child?” said the mother of Pornchai Khamluang, one of the boys in the cave, in an interview with a Thai television network. “When he comes out, we have to heal his heart. My dear Ek, I would never blame you.”

Ekapol was an orphan who lost his parents at age 10, friends say. He then trained to be a monk but left the monastery to care for his ailing grandmother in Mae Sai in northern Thailand. There, he split his time between working as a temple hand at a monastery and training the newly established Moo Pa team. He found kindred spirits in the boys, many of whom had grown up poor or were stateless ethnic minorities, common in this border area between Myanmar and Thailand.

“He loved them more than himself,” said Joy Khampai, a longtime friend of Ekapol’s who works at a coffee stand in the Mae Sai monastery. “He doesn’t drink, he doesn’t smoke. He was the kind of person who looked after himself and who taught the kids to do the same.”

He helped Nopparat, the head coach, devise a system where the boys’ passion for soccer would motivate them to excel academically. If they got certain grades in school, they would be rewarded with soccer gear, such as fresh studs for their cleats or a new pair of shorts. The two spent time looking for sponsors and used the Moo Pa team to prove to the boys that they could become something more than their small town would suggest — even professional ­athletes.

“He gave a lot of himself to them,” Nopparat said. He would ferry the boys to and from home when their parents could not and took responsibility for them as if they were his own family.

He also kept the boys on a strict training schedule, according to physical education teachers at the school field where they practiced. That included biking across the hills that surround Mae Sai.

On that Saturday two weeks ago, Nopparat did not know where Ekapol would be bringing the young soccer team but thought it would be a learning experience for him to manage them on his own.

The older Wild Boars were having a match in the evening, he said, so he put his phone away. When he checked it at 7 p.m., there were at least 20 calls from worried parents, none of whose sons had come home. He frantically dialed Ekapol and a number of the boys in quick succession but reached only Songpol Kanthawong, a 13-year old member of the team whose mother picked him up after training. He told Nopparat that the team had gone exploring in the Tham Luang caves. The coach raced up there, only to find abandoned bicycles and bags at its entrance and water seeping out the muddy pathway.

“I screamed — ‘Ek! Ek! Ek!’ ” he said. “My body went completely cold.”

Information had slowly started to come outabout the boys’ nine-day ordeal before they were eventually found on Monday night, through letters and limited communication between the coach, the team and the rescuers who have been with them in a small cave chamber.

The rush of euphoria that ran through the town of Mae Sai and across the world when the group was found has settled into a grim reality that neither Ekapol nor the 12 in his care may see daylight for days or even weeks. Officials said Saturday that they have a three- to four-day window in which conditions will be “most favorable” for the boys to attempt to dive out before monsoon rains hit and continue for months.

Urgent concerns include the amount of oxygen in the section of the cave that the group is taking refuge in, which had fallen below healthy levels. Officials are now limiting the number of rescue workers who can travel into the cave to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide that builds when they exhale. Rising water levels, too, could force a quick extraction, but authorities say the boys are not ready to make the dive.

Friends, meanwhile, grow worried for Ekapol. He had the boys’ complete trust, and it is unlikely that they would have set off ­exploring in the cave’s chambers without him.

“I know him, and I know he will blame himself,” said Joy, his friend at the monastery.

On Saturday morning, the Thai Navy posted photos of letters that the group had written to their family and the outside world. Ekapol’s, scribbled on a yellow-stained piece of paper, torn out from a notebook, was brief, but included a promise and an apology.

“I promise to take the very best care of the kids,” he wrote. “I want to say thanks for all the support, and I want to apologize.”


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« Reply #3551 on: Jul 12, 2018, 04:59 AM »

'Our fingers bleed': India's female miners toil over sandstone for the UK

Anumeha Yadav in Bhilwara district
Guardian
12 Jul 2018 07.25 BST

In Bhilwara district, in the northern Indian state of Rajasthan, sandstone slabs form a makeshift fence around a field, marking the boundaries of a temporary worksite. In the centre, *Seema, a tall young woman, lifts sandstone cobbles into large wooden crates.

A firm in Jaipur, the state capital, has ordered the stones for export to Britain, where they will be used to pave streets and build sea defences.

Employed by a contractor on piece-rate wages, Seema has no idea where the stones will end up. She arrives for work at 8am, after cooking and cleaning for her family, and works through the peak afternoon heat, her thumb bandaged from recurring cuts. She will be paid 60 rupees (66p) for each crate she fills.

Seema is a Dalit at the bottom of India’s caste hierarchy, and has been a casual labourer in Bhilwara’s sandstone mines for 11 years. She has no employment record and no health cover. She is one of thousands of lower-caste women labouring on the margins of the mining industry.

Despite one of the world’s highest growth rates, India has one of the lowest female work participation rates, with just 27% in employment. Accurate figures are hard to find, but in 2011 women constituted 8% of registered full-time workers in the mining sector, and today’s numbers are likely to be higher.

India’s mining laws effectively ensure that women are confined to less safe, insecure, manual work. They are not legally allowed to work in underground mines or on night shifts.

“Better-paid or technical jobs in mines do not usually go to women, nor do women receive training in mineral sciences or engineering,” says academic Kuntala Lahiri-Dutt.

Recently the National Democratic Alliance proposed amendments to simplify India’s labour laws, but the new draft labour code on occupational safety, health and working conditions retains the same restrictions on when and where women can work. It says nothing about the low wages and the discrimination female mine workers face.

“Despite a great deal of rhetoric regarding ‘empowerment’ of women, the super-exploitative conditions of employment the majority of women workers are in is not a matter of public concern or debate in government circles, or the media,” says Indrani Mazumdar, a senior researcher at the Centre for Women’s Development Studies in Delhi, who has analysed gender and employment trends.

Mazumdar notes that although this year’s government budget report was published in pink to show a commitment to gender equality, there was “utter indifference” to the enormous hardships women face.

Rajasthan produces 10% of the world’s sandstone, exporting to the UK, US, Canada, Australia and United Arab Emirates.

In Bhilwara, one of the top three centres of production, stone is processed manually using hammers and chisels. Men excavate the sandstone, and are employed in blasting, drilling and processing. Women work as labourers to transport the stone, usually on their heads, and to sweep and clean inside mines – the lowest-paid jobs.

Kailashi has worked in mining for 30 years. She started out as a hamal, loading stones, when she first came to Bhilwara as a child bride. She earns 200 rupees a day, a third less than men are paid for the same work.

“The labour contractor argues that men pick heavier loads than women, but this is not true,” says Kailashi. “The mine supervisor keeps a watch – even he can see we work with equally heavy loads, continuously. They pay us less because they simply do not want to treat us equally.”

Prem started working after her husband was diagnosed with silicosis two years ago. She says that when men and women work together, they are paid equally – 300 rupees for each trolley they fill. “But if it is an all-women group, then the mine owners slash the payments by one third or half,” she says.

Miner Sugna says women try to negotiate better wages, but find it difficult to get their voices heard. “Usually, three or four of us will go to approach the employers and contractors collectively, asking them to increase wages to at least 200 rupees, close to the minimum wage,” she says. “But they are dismissive, they will tell us: ‘You are women, and you ought to stay at home.’”

Govindram Gehlot, from the rights group Gramin and Samajik Vikas Sansthan, says the mine owners hire men to work as masons, and women to carry head loads, as helpers. “Carrying and loading sandstone in opencast mines is equally arduous,” he says. “Under the law, both should be paid the same. But the employers believe – or like to portray – that women’s work is easy, and get away with paying them less.”

As well as entailing long, hard days, work in the mine can lead to serious illness. According to the Rajasthan state human rights commission, between 2013 and August 2017, 9,278 miners in Rajasthan were diagnosed with fatal silicosis – caused by inhaling fine dust in the quarries. The government has begun organising screening programmes.

Sugna says the stone cobbles make her fingers bleed so badly that she cannot work more than 10 or 15 days in a month. Most female workers report recurring joint pain, as well as stomach ache from the lack of access to clean water and food. Their long hours continue at home where they are expected to cook and clean.

Gendi, a frail-looking 55-year-old, has cleared debris in the mines for 32 years. Her knees and elbows constantly ache. She buys painkillers from the local government health centre and from unregistered practitioners. “The government health centres often remain shut, or they turn us away,” says Gendi. “Even unregistered medical practitioners charge 70 rupees on one visit, which is more than my daily wages. I can barely afford it.

“Even in case of accidents, mine owners will help only the men financially. If women workers get injured if the slab falls on them, or if our fingers bleed from loading stones, the employers do not offer even casual help.”

*Workers’ last names removed to protect identities


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« Reply #3552 on: Jul 12, 2018, 05:01 AM »

China: new rules to prevent sex-selective abortions raise fears

Measures in Jiangxi province prompt concerns over state control and rights of women

Lily Kuo
Guardain
7/12/2018

New rules restricting abortions in a Chinese province have prompted concern from citizens and activists over state control of women’s bodies.

Jiangxi province issued guidelines last week stipulating that women more than 14 weeks pregnant must have signed approval from three medical professionals confirming an abortion is medically necessary before any procedure. The measures are meant to help prevent sex-selective abortions, which are illegal in China. The sex of a child is often discernible after 14 weeks.

“Your womb is being monitored,” said one comment on the Weibo microblogging website. “What is the purpose and basis of this policy? The reproductive rights of women in this country seem to be a joke,” said another. One user wrote simply, “The Handmaid’s Tale,” referring to the TV series set in a dystopian future where women’s reproductive functions are tightly controlled by the state.

Jiangxi’s guidelines come as Chinese officials look for ways to deal with the country’s ageing population and low fertility rates, the result of decades of restricting family size, known as the one-child policy.

Loosened restrictions over recent years to allow all parents to have two children has so far failed to resolve China’s demographic problems, which threatens economic growth. The government is considering scrapping limits altogether.

Some worry China’s family planning apparatus will turn its heavy-handed approach to restricting women’s choices.

“People are worried that the government will go from lifting restrictions, to encouraging reproduction, to imposing restrictions on abortion and restricting people’s own decisions,” said Lu Pin, founder of Feminist Voices, a blog on gender issues.

Lu added that many Chinese women, who had chosen not to have a second child despite the new policies, were fearful that strict social policies will be introduced. “There are plenty of signs that show their worries are not unfounded,” she said.

China’s family planning policies have long encouraged the use of abortions, along with contraceptives and sterilisation, as a way to restrict population growth. Since 1971, when the country first introduced limits, doctors have performed 336m abortions, according to government data released in 2013.

In the past, other provinces have implemented similar rules to crack down on aborting female foetuses, a practice that has left China with a massive gender imbalance of 30 million more men than women.

In 2004, Guizhou was the first province to enact such a ban. Other Chinese provinces such as Jiangsu, Hunan, Qinghai, Anhui, Henan, and the city of Shanghai have followed suit with varying restrictions on abortions after 14 weeks.

More provinces are likely to follow Jiangxi’s lead, according to Cai Yong, an associate professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. “In a top-down system, and at a time of tight central control, it is hard for me to imagine this act is a spontaneous one... It definitely signals a major policy change.

Still, Yong doubted whether China would go as far as barring abortions to encourage women to have more children. “Certainly China is capable and has a history of doing that kind of thing but whether it will go all the way to ban abortion … I think that’s a little too far.”


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« Reply #3553 on: Jul 12, 2018, 05:03 AM »


Czech communists return to government as power brokers

Party gains real influence for first time since 1989 after deal to help prime minister win confidence vote

Robert Tait in Prague
Guardian
Thu 12 Jul 2018 07.11 BST

Czech communists have savoured their first taste of power in nearly 30 years after their backing in a parliamentary confidence vote paved the way for a government headed by Andrej Babiš, a scandal-tainted billionaire tycoon, amid vehement protests against their return to the political mainstream.

The 15 MPs of the Communist party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM) provided the votes needed to allow a pact formed between Babiš’ Action of Dissatisfied Citizens (ANO) movement and the Social Democrats (ČSSD) to survive its first test, ending nearly nine months of political stalemate that saw the Czech Republic governed by temporary administrations.

The vote - shortly after 1am local time on Thursday - followed a marathon debate lasting more than 12 hours in which opposition MPs voiced fierce opposition to the idea a government reliant on Communist support and questioned Babiš’ fitness to govern in the face of criminal allegations against him.

Protests took place outside the parliament building and one conservative opposition party, Top 09, staged a symbolic walkout. In the end, 105 MPs in the 200-member chamber voted for the new government. One leading Social Democrat, Milan Chovanec, a former interior minister, declined to give his backing, citing his conscience.

The show of support came after the communists signed a deal with ANO agreeing to “tolerate” the new government – overriding ideological misgivings about Babiš’ wealthy status in exchange for having some policy pledges adopted and being given influential roles in public utilities.

Although the party will formally remain outside the coalition, the agreement marks a return to influence and responsibility for the first time since the 1989 Velvet Revolution that ended the communists’ 41-year rule of the former Czechoslovakia.

MPs from a conservative opposition party, Top 09, walked out in protest before Wednesday’s vote, while members of the right-wing Christian Democrat party unfurled a banner featuring Soviet red star in a vivid sign of enduring anti-communist feeling in the country.

Demonstrations have been staged in Prague and other cities against the rehabilitation of a party still remembered bitterly for its totalitarian methods and ruthless clampdown on dissent during the cold war.

“For many people who support right-of-centre parties, this is a big moral and psychological problem, because they see it in symbolic terms and feel it’s not right,” said Jiří Pehe, director of New York University’s campus in Prague and a Czech political analyst.

Babiš, who was sworn in as prime minister for a second time last month, disregarded such qualms after more moderate parties declined to serve under him because he faces criminal fraud charges over allegations that he falsely obtained nearly €2m of EU funds for his giant agrochemical business a decade ago. He denies the charges, which he has called politically motivated.

Babiš, the Czech Republic’s second-richest man, has also been tarred with a communist past after being named as a former secret police agent when he worked for a Czechoslovak trading company, a charge he disputes.

He won communist support for his coalition by agreeing to tax church property that had been restored to it after being seized while the party was in power. However, he has resisted their demands to dilute the Czech Republic’s commitments to Nato, knocking back its demand to cut troop deployments to the Baltic republics and Afghanistan.

Babiš’ previous caretaker administration also angered the communists – considered close to the government of Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin – by expelling three of Moscow’s diplomats in solidarity with Britain over the poisoning of the former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury.

“Babiš has done all this because he feels he doesn’t have democratic legitimacy and is suspected of not being a true liberal democrat,” said Pehe. “He wants to look pro-western, pro-Nato and pro-EU – and he’s made it clear to the communists that he’s not going to compromise on that.”

But his government is certain to maintain a hardline anti-migrant stance after Miloš Zeman, the populist Czech president, refused to accept the Social Democrats’ nominee for foreign minister, the MEP Miroslav Poche, on the grounds that he was too liberal on immigration.


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« Reply #3554 on: Jul 12, 2018, 05:05 AM »

Greece to expel Russian diplomats over alleged Macedonia interference

Russia accused of trying to fan opposition to deal which will weaken its influence in Balkans

Patrick Wintour Diplomatic editor
Guardian
12 Jul 2018 19.56 BST

Four Russian diplomats will be banned from Greece after evidence revealed Russia was trying to foment opposition to a historic deal between Greece and Macedonia that is likely to pave the way for Macedonia’s Nato membership and so weaken Russian influence in the western Balkans.

Greece said it would expel two Russian diplomats and ban two others.

Zoran Zaev, the Macedonian prime minister, speaking at the Nato summit in Brussels, indicated he knew Russia was behind some of the protests outside his own parliament, but he said his country was not going to seek conflict. “We are a small country. We want to build a friendship with everybody. There is no alternative but Nato membership,” he said.

He said countries, such as Bulgaria, managed to triple foreign direct investment after joining Nato, and he hoped it would deliver the same boost to his country.

Russia, involved in a wider struggle for influence with the EU across the region, has already been accused of backing a failed coup in Montenegro in 2016.

Russia said it would respond to the Greek expulsions by taking similar steps against Greek diplomats in Moscow.

The expulsion of the diplomats, revealed in the Greek media on Wednesday but relayed by the Greek government to Russia on 6 July, follows evidence they were encouraging rallies to oppose the Macedonian name deal, including offering bribes to opponents of the deal.

The historic naming deal, agreed on 17 June, will see the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia bow to Greek objections and change its name to Northern Macedonia. Greece had claimed the title Macedonia implied a territorial claim on the Greek province of the same name.

The Greek newspaper Kathimerini named the Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society, an organisation which promotes Russian ties to Christians in the Middle East, as being among the groups trying to fan Russian influence in Greece, including in the Greek Orthodox monastic community of Mount Athos.

A representative of the society denied it was involved in any alleged attempts to bribe senior Greek Orthodox clergymen, the Russian state Interfax news agency reported.

In 2008 Nato agreed to invite Macedonia to join the military alliance once its name dispute was settled, and Wednesday’s Nato summit meeting in Brussels will conclude with a formal invitation to join Nato.

The name has been disputed between the two countries ever since the break-up of the former Yugoslavia.

“We had issued warnings to Russian authorities for some time over [the actions of] these specific four diplomats and civilians, and on Friday it was officially raised, giving them a reasonable period of a few days to leave the country,” said a Greek government source.

The deal faces opposition in both Greece and in Macedonia, where a heated referendum is planned this autumn.

The Macedonian opposition is trying to block the establishment of an electoral commission required to prepare for the referendum. It is also accusing leading politicians in the Macedonian government of treason for agreeing to the deal.

Rejection of the deal inside Greece is, amongst others, coming from the seven MPs inside Independent Greeks (ANEL), the small rightwing nationalistic party in a governing coalition with the left wing Syriza, headed by Greece’s prime minister, Alexis Tsipras.

The name issue has led to splits inside ANEL, and Russian media has been promoting the idea of a new populist party led by Dimitris Kammenos, dedicated to blocking the name change.

Russia and Greece have until now maintained warm relations, with Athens one of the few countries that rejected a British request to expel diplomats in the wake of British claims of Russian involvement in the poisoning of the Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury. But the Russian embassy in Athens has been previously accused of interfering in Greek politics following the leak of a tranche of emails in 2015.

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