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« Reply #2745 on: Nov 16, 2018, 07:11 AM »

Even Trump Can’t Stop Mocking Sean Hannity’s ‘Dumb’ Softball Questions

Trump craves friction to set off sparks and drama. Hannity’s slobbering extinguishes them.

Asawin Suebsaeng, Lachlan Cartwright
Daily Beast

Donald Trump’s close relationship—on air and off—with Sean Hannity hasn’t stopped the president from mocking the Fox News star behind his back for being such a suck-up, according to three sources who have independently heard this mockery. These sources asked to remain anonymous in order to discuss private conversations with the president, and in one case also to avoid incurring the ire of Hannity, whom they called a “perfectly nice guy.”

Trump’s many radio and TV interviews, always touted as “exclusives” and rarely making any news, have been widely derided by media critics and political observers as simpering propaganda. And the president himself, a man famous for demanding relentless validation and unwavering loyalty, feels the same way.

Trump has repeatedly—and sometimes for a sustained period of time—made fun of Hannity’s interviewing skills, usually zeroing in on the low-quality laziness of the host’s questions, the three people with direct knowledge tell The Daily Beast.

“It’s like he’s not even trying,” Trump has said, one source recalled, right before the president launched into a rough imitation of Hannity’s voice and mannerisms to complain that the questions about how “great I am” give him nothing to work or have fun with.

Another person who’s heard Trump make similar comments since his inauguration says they remember the president calling Hannity’s softball questions “dumb.” This source recalled a round of ripping on the TV talker’s interview style and cloying devotion to Trump that lasted long enough that the source glanced at their watch and started feeling sorry for Hannity.

“Election Day [2016], I actually called you, I said, ‘You’re gonna get bad news about… 5:15 that afternoon. You lost Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin.’ And you won ’em all. Polls don’t mean anything, do they?” Hannity asked during his most recent Fox News interview with Trump this month.

“I lost them based on the fake news,” Trump replied.

“Fake news,” Hannity repeated.

The president’s recurring complaints often focus on how sycophantic the TV host can be, both on and off camera, with Hannity’s slobbering leaving no friction to generate the sparks and drama that Trump craves.

“He likes it as sport,” a Republican close to the White House said, describing the president’s long-running addiction to sparring with media figures.

White House spokespeople did not respond to a request for comment on this story as of publication time. Neither did Hannity. Fox News declined to comment.

“Trump does enjoy the back-and-forth with the press—look at this whole Jim Acosta thing,” said Jeff Lord, a Trump ally and former CNN political commentator. “The president can call on anybody he wants. He could have ignored Jim Acosta. He didn’t do it. And he didn’t do it because… they would have some chance to do some verbal jousting there.”

Lord recalled that when he interviewed the then-future president at Trump Tower in 2014, Trump had enthusiastically promised he would “fight back” hard against the “dishonest” press if he ran for the White House. “Donald Trump delights in the combat with these folks,” Lord added.

Despite mocking Hannity’s softball questions, the president “loves Sean,” according to numerous Trump friends and White House officials, and is said to value him as a close pal and prominent informal political adviser who has his finger on the pulse of conservative America in a way few do.

“Sean Hannity told me last night…” is a phrase often heard by those closest to the president.

But Hannity is hardly the first friend or ally Trump has professed his love for even as he routinely disrespected or debased that person behind their back. For instance, when Oscar-winning actress and Trump acquaintance Marlee Matlin competed on Celebrity Apprentice, he repeatedly made fun of her by calling her “retarded”—simply because she was deaf.

With Hannity, Trump hasn’t always restrained himself until his friend was out of the room. Ahead of one of the president’s closing rallies before the midterm elections this month, the 2020 Trump campaign announced Hannity would be appearing onstage with Trump as a “special guest.”

Fox News began telling news outlets the “special guest” designation was wrong, and that Hannity would only be at the rally in Missouri to interview Trump for his show. Hannity himself tweeted the day of the event, “To be clear, I will not be on stage campaigning with the president,” and blamed any confusion on supposedly erroneous “reports” instead of Team Trump’s announcement.

In the middle of the political rally, the president called Hannity onstage anyway and told him to come up to the mic—which Hannity did to campaign with the president he supposedly just covers on air.

Hannity’s employer sprang into damage-control mode.

“Fox News does not condone any talent participating in campaign events,” the network said in a statement. “We have an extraordinary team of journalists helming our coverage tonight, and we are extremely proud of their work. This was an unfortunate distraction and has been addressed.”

According to a senior administration official, Trump was aware of Hannity and Fox News’ stated position that the host would not campaign that night. The president simply “did not care” and did it anyway, the official said.

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« Reply #2746 on: Nov 17, 2018, 05:52 AM »

Ice Age Asteroid Crater Discovered Beneath Greenland Glacier

It is the first impact crater discovered under one of Earth’s ice sheets, according to the scientists who found it.

By Nicholas St. Fleur
Nov. 17, 2018

Buried beneath a half mile of snow and ice in Greenland, scientists have uncovered an impact crater large enough to swallow the District of Columbia.

The finding suggests that a giant iron asteroid smashed into what is today a glacier during the last ice age, an era known as the Pleistocene Epoch that started 2.6 million years ago. When it ended only 11,700 years ago, mega-fauna like saber-toothed cats had died out while humanity had inherited the Earth.

The discovery could lead to insights into the ice age climate, and the effects on it from the eruption of debris that would have resulted from such a cataclysmic collision.

“This is the first impact crater found beneath one of our planet’s ice sheets,” said Kurt Kjær, a geologist at the Center for GeoGenetics at the Natural History Museum of Denmark and lead author of the study, published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances.

In 2015, Dr. Kjær and a colleague were analyzing a NASA map of Greenland when they noticed an enormous circular depression on the Hiawatha Glacier at Greenland’s northwest tip.

“There was a hidden landscape starting to take shape,” said Dr. Kjær. “We looked at it and said, ‘What is that?’”

At that moment Dr. Kjær thought about the car-size meteorite on display in the courtyard near his office in Copenhagen, which had coincidentally been recovered from the northwest of Greenland. He and his colleague joked that perhaps the circular structure was a crater left by an asteroid.

After the laughs subsided, they realized their suggestion might not be far-fetched. “There’s only so many ways you could create a circular feature beneath an ice sheet,” said Dr. Kjær.

We’ll bring you stories that capture the wonders of the human body, nature and the cosmos.

For three days in May 2016, his team flew over the crater in a German airplane with ice-penetrating radar, drawing imaginary grid lines across the surface.

John Paden, a radio-glaciologist at the University of Kansas, operated the radar on the flight. Every second it sent 12,000 radio wave pulses down into the ice, reflecting off the ice layers and allowing the team to measure the thickness, structure and age of the ice sheet.

The aerial survey confirmed that there was a huge pit with an elevated, circular rim and uplifting structures in the center, all telltale signs of an impact crater. The team’s analysis showed that the Hiawatha crater was nearly 1,000 feet deep and 20 miles in diameter, placing it among Earth’s 25 largest impact craters, although much smaller than the 90-mile crater left by the dino-busting Chicxulub impact.

“Once you start looking for structures beneath the ice that look like an impact crater, Hiawatha sticks out like a sore thumb,” said Joseph MacGregor, a glaciologist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland and a co-author of the study.

The bowl of the crater presses right against the edge of the glacier, giving the wandering ice sheet a semi-circle-like appearance that is visible from above. Breaking out from that semicircle is a white tongue of ice, a large river containing sediments from the bottom of the ice sheet.

Dr. Kjær ventured to the floodplain via helicopter and collected sediment. He found what he said were pieces of highly shocked quartz, which signaled that a violent impact had occurred at some time in the area’s history. The area’s sediments also had high concentrations of nickel, cobalt, chromium, gold and platinum, an indicator that the meteorite was made of iron.

Because the team has not yet searched for ejected material from the impact in ice cores, they cannot establish an accurate date for the impact, beyond saying it occurred during the Pleistocene. Their next steps are to determine whether the asteroid smashed into a glacier or an area that was subsequently covered by ice, and to assess the climatic effects of the impact.

Dr. Kjær still wonders if the meteorite in the courtyard outside his office, which was found about 200 miles away from the Hiawatha crater, may hold clues to better understanding the ancient impact.

“Even though we have looked into the planet’s surface so much, with every type of equipment,” said Dr. Kjær, “the Age of Discovery is not over yet.”

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« Reply #2747 on: Nov 17, 2018, 05:53 AM »

Toxic herbicide found in many Texans’ drinking water

Texas Tribune
17 Nov 2018 at 07:00 ET                   

Nearly 500 water utilities across the state tested positive for atrazine — a weed killer — which can lead to harmful health effects, according to a new report. The Environmental Working Group also found that utilities are testing water during times when the herbicide isn’t being used as much — and that they may be lowballing the results.

More than 10 million Texans have consumed drinking water with some level of atrazine – a toxic herbicide – with 472 water utility systems statewide testing positive in at least one detection, according to a new report from an environmental group.

Comparing the test results submitted by water utilities to state environmental regulators to those from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Washington D.C.-based Environmental Working Group concluded that water utilities are testing for atrazine at times when farmers aren’t using it — the growing season typically spans late spring and early summer — and also appear to be lowballing their numbers. The group is calling for updates to federal federal drinking water standards.

The report found that nearly 30 million Americans have atrazine in their tap water — and that Texans who live near sorghum or corn-growing areas are more likely to have contaminated drinking water.

The 472 Texas utilities with atrazine contamination serve nearly 10 million people. Water utilities in Texas send their data to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the state’s environmental regulatory agency.

In their analysis, EWG compared 2017 federal testing data collected at utilities in seven states, including Texas, with atrazine levels reported to state authorities over the same period. For 70 percent of utilities analyzed, the EWG found that tests were conducted outside periods of the atrazine spikes or that reported levels were below what EPA tests found.

Olga Naidenko, an EWG senior science advisor, said many water utilities stay in compliance with drinking water regulations by avoiding testing during seasonal spikes of atrazine.

“The utility, by playing the dates game, may not pick up the spike,” said Naidenko, one of the report’s authors. “By testing before or after the spike, they are effectively missing the spike or reporting very low levels.”

Russell Hamilton, executive director of the Texas Water Utilities Association, said he is concerned when he hears reports like EWG’s, but said there are checks and balances in place to address elevation of herbicides like atrazine in water supplies.

“If atrazine is detected, that’s when the state takes action and there are steps in place where you have to start additional or advanced treatment procedures,” said Hamilton, whose organization provides training to those seeking to become licensed as water supply operators.

Brian McGovern, a spokesman for the state environmental agency, said the TCEQ uses third-party contractors to collect all chemical compliance samples, including those for atrazine. He said that monitoring would increase to a quarterly basis if atrazine levels rose above the EPA’s maximum contaminant levels or above the regulatory detection limit.

In Texas, levels have not gone above the limit, but the EWG report said water utilities in Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky and Ohio had atrazine spikes much higher than the federal legal limit but the EWG recommends that the atrazine limit for drinking water be at 0.1 ppb. Only two Texas communities were a part of the EPA monitoring program in 2017, according to Sarah Graddy, deputy director of communications at EWG.

Texas must adopt regulations at least as stringent as those adopted by the EPA under the Safe Water Drinking act, according to the TCEQ website. The current EPA standard for atrazine in drinking water is 3 parts per billion (ppb), but EWG says it should be 0.1 ppb.

Naidenko said EWG cannot determine whether there is an intent by water utilities to deceive but said what is truly important is whether or not people consuming the contaminated drinking water are made aware of the issue. Atrazine can disrupt hormones and hurt fetuses, leading to greater risks of cardiovascular disease or developmental delays, the group said.

A medical study from the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston suggests a connection between maternal atrazine exposure and gastroschisis, a birth defect in the wall of a baby’s abdomen. Another study by UTHealth “observed modest, but consistent, associations” between maternal atrazine exposure and various deformities in male genitalia.

Under the Safe Drinking Water Act, last updated in 1996, only annual averages of atrazine need to be reported. Naidenko said it is important for state water authorities to advocate for “greater scrutiny” and to require that testing take place at a time when spike in atrazine is expected.

“We know there is under-detection because of when utilities take their samples,” Naidenko said. “All we can say is it looks suspicious that the compliance test does not show the same kind of spike as when testing is conducting by testers who are not associated with the water utilities.”

The Office of Pesticide Programs at the EPA is studying whether or not it is appropriate to revise drinking water standards as they relate to atrazine, according to an EPA spokesperson. The EPA said it continues to evaluate peer reviewed data and information on the health effects of atrazine and simazine, another dangerous herbicide.

TCEQ said Texans can find information about their drinking water supply at Texas Drinking Water Watch, which allows users to search by county and system type, among other parameters. EWG said atrazine can be removed from water using common faucet-mounted filters or pitchers with a filter.

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« Reply #2748 on: Nov 17, 2018, 05:55 AM »

Brazil's new foreign minister believes climate change is a Marxist plot

Ernesto Araújo has called climate science ‘dogma’ and bemoaned the ‘criminalisation’ of red meat, oil and heterosexual sex

Jonathan Watts Global environment editor
17 Nov 2018 17.13 GMT

Brazil’s president-elect Jair Bolsonaro has chosen a new foreign minister who believes climate change is part of a plot by “cultural Marxists” to stifle western economies and promote the growth of China.

Ernesto Araújo – until recently a mid-ranking official who blogs about the “criminalisation” of red meat, oil and heterosexual sex – will become the top diplomat of South America’s biggest nation, representing 200 million people and the greatest and most biodiverse forest on Earth, the Amazon.

His appointment, confirmed by Bolsonaro on Wednesday, is likely to send a chill through the global climate movement.

Brazil was where the international community first came together in 1992 to discuss reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Its diplomats have played a crucial role in bridging the gap between rich and poor nations, particularly during the forging of the Paris agreement in 2015.

But when the new government takes power in January, the foreign ministry that leads that work will be headed by a man who claims climate science is merely “dogma”.

In his blog, Araújo states his goal is to “help Brazil and the world liberate themselves from globalist ideology”, which he sees as anti-Christian.

The 51-year-old diplomat – who has never served as an overseas ambassador – claims unnamed leftist politicians have hijacked environmentalism to serve as a tool for global domination.

“This dogma has been used to justify increasing the regulatory power of states over the economy and the power of international institutions on the nation states and their populations, as well as to stifle economic growth in democratic capitalist countries and to promote the growth of China,” he wrote in a post last month.

In another, he claimed the centre-left Workers party in Brazil was “criminalising sex and reproduction, saying that all heterosexual intercourse is rape and every baby is a risk to the planet as it will increase carbon emissions”. He then went on to accuse the party of criminalising red meat, oil, air conditioners and Disney movies.

The incendiary rhetoric echoes that of Bolsonaro, who won last month’s presidential election with about 57.7m votes. The former army captain has since moved to put in place one of the world’s most far-right administrations and promised to align Brazil more closely to Trump and the US.

Climate negotiation experts said the appointment was sad for Brazil and the world – though they held out hope that the new foreign minister will be more pragmatic when he comes to represent his country.

“Brazil has played a very significant role for the Paris agreement. It would be really bad for the country’s image if he brings with him his ideology,” said Carlos Rittl, the executive secretary of the Brazilian Climate Observatory.

He said climate was the one area where Brazil could proudly boast to be a global leader, and urged the new foreign minister and president not to isolate the country in this field.

“Bolsonaro is not Trump. Brazil is not the United States. We don’t have the same cards,” he said. “If Brazil becomes a pariah on the global climate agenda, it would be extremely bad for our business, especially agribusiness. When they go to Europe to negotiate a deal, climate safeguards will be on the table. ”

The risk of losing soya and beef sales in Europe is thought to be why Bolsonaro has backtracked on threats to quit the Paris agreement and merge the agriculture and environment ministries.

But he remains intent on opening up the Amazon to the farmers, miners and construction companies that supported his campaign.

His pick as agriculture minister is the head of the farming lobby, Tereza Cristina Dias, who conservationists have nicknamed the “Muse of Poison” due to her enthusiastic support for relaxing controls on agro-toxins.

She and her colleagues are said to be gutting the responsibilities of the environment ministry before its new head is appointed. The environment institution is likely to be so subservient that insiders joke there will soon be two agriculture ministries in Brazil.

The slim hope now for climate advocates is that the powerful agribusiness lobby will come to realise that the rain for their crops depends on a healthy Amazon and stable global environment. More than 80% of Brazil’s municipalities have experienced drought in the past five years, which scientists have linked to deforestation.

But loggers are not waiting. The latest deforestation figures showed a sharp rise in deforestation during the election campaign, suggesting protections for nature and indigenous land are already weakening.

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« Reply #2749 on: Nov 17, 2018, 05:57 AM »

An Oil Spill in the Great Australian Bight Could Be Twice as Bad as Deepwater Horizon

Equinor, Norway's state oil company formerly known as Statoil, has faced criticism from environmentalists over its plans to drill the Great Australian Bight off the country's southern coast. A potential spill in the area would threaten the ecosystem and endanger the largest breeding populations of endangered southern right whales in the world.

Such fears are now confirmed if a blowout should actually occur, according to a leaked draft Oil Pollution Emergency Plan authored by Equinor and obtained by Greenpeace's Australia Pacific branch.

In a "worst credible case discharge" scenario—which involves a "loss of well control" and subsea releases of crude oil for more than 100 days—the spill could impact Australia's entire southern coast and even reach as far north as Sydney, the document shows.

This map shown in this tweet is based on Equinor's modeling of 100 different spills in the Great Australian Bight between the October to May drilling season.

"This leak should be the final nail in the coffin of Bight oil drilling," Greenpeace Australia Pacific senior campaigner Nathaniel Pelle said in a press release. "Not only does it show that oil could drench a previously unimaginable area that would include iconic beaches such as Bondi and Manly, it also shows that oil companies have no plan for stopping such a leak should it occur."

Not only is the Great Australian Bight a significant southern right whale calving grounds, it's a feeding area for blue whales, humpback whales, orcas, sea lions and is one of Australia's most important fisheries, Greenpeace says.

Equinor's map shows how far an oil spill could spread in 60 days after the flow of oil was stopped by drilling a relief well to kill the impacted well. Under the worst case scenario, a "loss of well control" will release an average of 6,739 cubic meters of oil per day until the well is killed on day 102.

Equinor plans to drill for oil off South Australia's Eyre Peninsula using similar plans abandoned by BP and Chevron, according to ABC Australia.

Greenpeace noted that the leaked document comes just days after the Australian regulator NOPSEMA released BP's Well Operations Management Plan, which showed that an oil spill in the Great Australian Bight could release more than twice the amount of crude oil that entered the Gulf of Mexico after the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

What's more, the safety equipment would be unusable for more than a third of the year due to high waves, Greenpeace determined.

"BP's plan showed that not only would the high waves of the Bight make the use of a capping stack impossible but they also said it was 'highly unlikely' a second rig could be found to drill a relief well and 'kill' the leak," Pelle explained.

The BP plan said that a capping stack cannot be used in seas above 3.5 meters. Greenpeace obtained data from the Australian bureau of meteorology that said the sea-state is above 3.5 meters 33.6 percent of the year.

Equinor Australia country manager Jone Stangeland told ABC Australia the leaked document was part of an unfinished environment plan distributed to state governments.

He explained that the map was "based on an extremely unlikely worst-case event, simulated 100 times in different weather conditions and without any response action taken."

"The images don't represent an actual scenario, but the combination of 100 different extremely unlikely worst-case scenarios," he added. "For Equinor, no oil spills are acceptable, and we will not go ahead until we are convinced we can drill safely."

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« Reply #2750 on: Nov 17, 2018, 06:09 AM »

Saudi women mount ‘inside-out’ abaya protest

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman says wearing the robe is not mandatory in Islam, but in practice nothing has changed

Agence France-Presse
Sat 17 Nov 2018 02.39 GMT

Saudi women have mounted a rare protest against the abaya, posting pictures on social media wearing the obligatory body-shrouding robe inside out.

The conservative petro-state has some of the world’s toughest restrictions on women, who are required to wear the typically all-black garment in public.

Powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in March said wearing the robe was not mandatory in Islam, but in practice nothing changed and no formal edict to that effect was issued.

Using the hashtag “inside-out abaya”, dozens of women have posted pictures of flipped robes in a rare protest against the strict dress code.

“Because Saudi feminists are endlessly creative, they’ve come up with new form of protest,” activist Nora Abdulkarim tweeted this week.

“They are posting pictures of [themselves] wearing their abayas inside-out in public as a silent objection to being pressured to wear it.”

Another woman on Twitter said the online campaign, which appears to be gaining traction after it surfaced this week, was an act of “civil protest”.

In an interview with CBS television in March, the crown prince said: “The laws are very clear and stipulated in the laws of Sharia: that women wear decent, respectful clothing, like men.”

But, he added, this “does not particularly specify a black abaya. [It] is entirely left for women to decide what type of decent and respectful attire to wear.”

After his comment, prominent Muslim cleric Sheikh Ahmed bin Qassim al-Ghamdi added a new wrinkle to the debate when he dismissed the long-held view that black was the only colour for abayas permissible in Islam.

Prince Mohammed, currently facing global criticism over the murder of critic Jamal Khashoggi, has spearheaded a liberalisation drive in the conservative kingdom.

In June, women celebrated taking the wheel for the first time in decades as the kingdom overturned the world’s only ban on female motorists.

The kingdom has also allowed women to enter sports stadiums, previously a male-only arena, and is pushing for greater participation of women in the workforce as it seeks to diversify its oil-dependent economy.

But in tandem with the reforms, the kingdom has seen a wave of arrests of women activists in recent months in a crack down on dissent.

The country also faces criticism over its male guardianship system, which allows men to exercise arbitrary authority to make decisions on behalf of their female relatives.

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« Reply #2751 on: Nov 17, 2018, 06:12 AM »

'They see no shame': 'honour' killing video shows plight of Syrian women

Footage of a young Syrian woman’s execution by her brother was greeted with widespread horror. Yet such violence is all too common – and as a member of the Free Syrian Army, with its own police and courts, the man is untouchable

Shawn Carrie and Asmaa Alomar
17 Nov 2018 07.00 GMT

Kalashnikov in hand, the man looks into the camera. He stands over a terrified girl, who is pleading for her life.

“Make sure we can see both your faces,” a voice orders.

Behind the shaky camera, another one goads the gunman: “Go ahead, Bashar – cleanse your honour.”

Without another word, a flurry of bullets is fired into Rasha Bseis’s body. It takes nine agonising seconds for her to die.

Rasha had been murdered on camera by her brother, Bashar Bseis, condemned by rumours that she had committed adultery, for which the punishment – in her brother’s eyes – was death.

Even in a war as long and bloody as Syria’s, the execution, shared thousands of times on social media, shocked the Syrian community. The events unfolded after a scorned suitor had posted images of Rasha online. She was dragged from her home in a camp just 2km from Turkey’s border and shot by a soldier it trained and equipped – a fighter enlisted in the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army.

“What [Bseis] did was not an ethic of the Free Syrian Army and is contrary to the principles of our revolution,” Mustafa Sejari, a spokesman for the FSA, told the Guardian, adding that an investigation was under way and that a military court in Jarabulus had issued a warrant for Bseis.

Weeks later, however, an arrest has yet to be made, and there are fears that, as an FSA fighter, Bseis will never be held to account.

“These are people who see no shame in killing the girl, but actually believe it’s what washes away the shame she has brought on the whole family,” says exiled Syrian writer Loubna Mrie. “An innocent girl is dead because some guy posted her pictures on Facebook.”

While not unique to the Middle East, “honour” killings are a problem deeply rooted in Syrian society, “and not exclusive to one area or sect or faction”, says Mrie.

Even before the war began in 2011, women’s rights groups in Syria estimated that 300 women were killed each year by male relatives, and numbers have escalated during the crisis. Until 2009, killers were allowed to walk free if they justified the act as motivated by honour. The government repealed the law, replacing it with a mere two-year maximum sentence.

“I remember I was nine years old the first time I saw a video of a guy smashing his sister’s skull with a stone while the whole village watched and cheered,” says Mrie.

Such killings are meant to seal the matter, never to be spoken of again – perpetuating a culture of silence that functions to protect the killer.

Women on all sides of Syria’s war are targeted. When violence broke out in 2011, a campaign of mass rape by Assad’s soldiers was perniciously effective in both oppressing communities and provoking defections to the loosely formed Free Syrian Army.

Today, institutional protections for women in rebel-held territories are still severely lacking.

“It’s anarchy – the only rule is by traditions and customs, and the factions,” says Ola Marwa, head of protection at Women Now for Development, which operates in northern Syria.

A culture of shame means Syrian women rarely feel safe to report sexual violence. Even if they do, there are few avenues of support because “there’s no real authority or law to stand on,” Marwa says. “It’s difficult to raise awareness about empowering women to combat sexual violence because even discussing it is seen as incitement for people to go against their culture.”

Rasha’s killing in Jarabulus adds to a host of concerns plaguing Turkey’s allies in northern Syria, and raises questions over the future rule of law in the areas its military has intervened.

Turkey has made significant investments into rebel-held Syria – training its police force, building roads, hospitals and even branches of the Turkish postal service. By managing FSA groups, officials say they seek to bolster rebels more in line with its values, while sidelining extremist elements.

“We condemn this incident very clearly and explicitly,” says Leyla Şahin Usta, human rights chair of Turkey’s ruling AK Party.

“We are making efforts to correct mistakes made – the FSA has their own police force and their own courts. As the observer country, we advise them on the norms of human rights – but at the end of the day, the FSA is in charge.”

In June, a UN report raised concerns about sexual harassment and other human rights violations endangering the rule of law in Turkey’s newly conquered territories.

“Turkey has, at least publicly, tried to professionalise their rebel allies inside Syria – but they have not invested heavily in doing that,” says Haid Haid, research fellow at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation. “That’s why you still have rebel groups committing atrocities, attacking civilians, preventing courts from arresting people, which allows some to violate the rights of others with immunity.”

A senior commander in the Turkey-backed rebel coalition adamantly denied reports of fighters committing sexual assault against local women, and vowed those who did would face a military court. “These crimes are unforgivable, and anyone who commits them will face their fair destiny,” Colonel Haitham Afisi told the Guardian.

Bashar Bseis nonetheless managed to flee to his hometown, Kastoon in Hama, outside FSA control. By the laws of the Islamic sharia courts that operate there, if he finds four witnesses to testify that Rasha committed adultery, he will be exonerated in her killing.

“Turkey definitely has a responsibility to hold its allies accountable when it comes to courts,” says Haid. “They don’t have the force yet to enforce their decisions, especially on rebel members.”

Still, “honour” killings may not be an issue the FSA is able or willing to solve, Mrie says. She questions the FSA’s motivations for starting the investigation and issuing the arrest warrant.

“I don’t know if they are doing this because they believe this guy should be held accountable, or just because it went viral on social media.”

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« Reply #2752 on: Nov 17, 2018, 06:14 AM »

CIA finds Saudi crown prince ordered Jamal Khashoggi killing – report

Washington Post says Mohammad bin Salman’s brother, the Saudi ambassador to the US, advised journalist to attend Istanbul consulate

Guardian staff and Reuters
Sat 17 Nov 2018 10.26 GMT

The CIA has concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul, the Washington Post has reported.

The Post said US officials expressed high confidence in the CIA assessment, which contradicts Saudi government assertions that he was not involved.

It is the strongest assessment to date linking Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler to the killing, and complicates Donald Trump’s efforts to safeguard US ties with one of the closest American allies in the region.
'Appalling' Khashoggi audio shocked Saudi intelligence – Erdoğan
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The crown prince has denied any involvement or knowledge of the murder of Khashoggi, a contributing columnist for the Washington Post, on 2 October this year at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, which he visited to get a document for his upcoming marriage to his Turkish fiancee.

The White House declined to comment on the Post report, saying it was an intelligence matter. The State Department also declined to comment.

The Post, citing people familiar with the matter, said the CIA reached its conclusions after examining multiple sources of intelligence, including a phone call that the prince’s brother – Khalid bin Salman, the Saudi ambassador to the United States – had with Khashoggi.

Khalid told Khashoggi he should go to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to retrieve the documents and gave him assurances that it would be safe to do so, the Post said. The newspaper, citing people familiar with the call, said it was not clear if Khalid knew Khashoggi would be killed, but he made the call at his brother’s direction.

Maher Mutreb, a security official who has often been seen at the crown prince’s side, made the call to Saud al-Qahtani, a top aide to Prince Mohammed, to inform him the operation had been completed, the Post said, citing people familiar with the call.

After the Post published its story, Khalid bin Salman denied telling Khashoggi to go to Turkey. He tweeted that the last contact he had with Khashoggi was via text on 26 October 2017, nearly a year before the journalist’s death. “I never talked to him by phone and certainly never suggested he go to Turkey for any reason. I ask the US government to release any information regarding this claim,” he said in his Twitter message.

    Khalid bin Salman خالد بن سلمان (@kbsalsaud)

    As we told the Washington Post the last contact I had with Mr. Khashoggi was via text on Oct 26 2017. I never talked to him by phone and certainly never suggested he go to Turkey for any reason. I ask the US government to release any information regarding this claim.
    November 16, 2018

In a second tweet, he published what he said was his full response to the newspaper.

    Khalid bin Salman خالد بن سلمان (@kbsalsaud)

    Unfortunately the @washingtonpost did not print our full response. This is a serious accusation and should not be left to anonymous sources. Our full response was the following: pic.twitter.com/vo1JcNAswx
    November 17, 2018

Earlier this week Saudi Arabia said it would pursue the death penalty for five suspects charged with ordering and carrying out the killing. The Saudi public prosecutor claimed Saudi agents – including the head of forensics at the national intelligence service and members of Mohammed bin Salman security detail – had orders to abduct Khashoggi but decided to kill him when he resisted.

The claim had been contradicted by an earlier Saudi finding that the murder was premeditated. Mohammed bin Salman was not implicated in the murder, a spokesman for the prosecutor said.

With Reuters

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« Reply #2753 on: Nov 17, 2018, 06:18 AM »

Apec leaders at odds over globalisation and free trade

Malaysian PM Mahathir Mohamad warns economic integration leaving many behind but Australia, China and Russia condemn protectionism

Sat 17 Nov 2018 03.33 GMT

Fault lines were quick to emerge over the future of free trade as leaders gathered for the Asia-Pacific summit on Saturday, with some calling for radical change while others argued for a return to the status quo on globalisation.

Speaking at the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation (Apec) summit in Papua New Guinea, the Malaysian prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad, warned that globalisation was leaving some people behind and fuelling inequality.

“The benefits of free and fair trade and economic integration have been ruptured, exemplified by Brexit and trade wars between major economies,” he said.

“The trade war between the US and China has amplified further the disruption to our trade and commerce.”

The Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison, followed by mounting a full-throated defence of free trade.
Apec summit in Papua New Guinea begins – in pictures

“Our efforts must be about persuading and convincing our peoples again about the domestic benefits,” he said.

Morrison said more than a billion people had been lifted out of extreme poverty since 1991 because of the jobs and more affordable consumer goods that free trade enabled.

His speech was a clear reference to the escalating trade war between the United States and China, along with the general protectionism of the US president, Donald Trump.

“We are witnessing a rising tide of trade protectionism along with financial volatility in some emerging economies,” Morrison said. “The test for us now is to stand up for the economic values we believe in and show how they work.”

Speaking on a cruise ship tethered in Port Moresby’s Fairfax Harbour, the Russian prime minister, Dimitry Medvedev, joined Morrison in warning against growing protectionism and argued for clear-cut and transparent rules on trade.

The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, is not attending the Apec summit.

The anti-protectionism sentiment was also echoed by the Chinese president, Xi Jinping.

The shadow of protectionism and unilaterism is hanging over global growth, Xi said, joining his global counterparts in pushing for free trade.

China and the US have been locked in an escalating trade war since Trump won election in 2016.
'Can they really pull it off?': the Apec summit comes to Papua New Guinea
Read more

Trump has skipped the annual meeting of the 21-nation grouping, but the US vice-president, Mike Pence, is attending.

Pence tweeted that he would discuss “Trump’s commitment to prosperity, security and freedom in the Indo-Pacific”.

China has also been at loggerheads with the US over its territorial ambitions in the Pacific, encapsulated by Xi’s Belt and Road Initiative.

Announced in 2013, the initiative aims to bolster a sprawling network of land and sea links with southeast Asia, central Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Africa.

China’s efforts to win friends in the resource-rich Pacific have been watched warily by the traditionally influential powers in the region – Australia and the US.

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« Reply #2754 on: Nov 17, 2018, 06:23 AM »

'They didn't give a damn': first footage of Croatian police 'brutality'

Migrants who allegedly suffer savage beatings by state officials call it ‘the game’. But as shocking evidence suggests, attempting to cross the Bosnia-Croatia border is far from mere sport

Lorenzo Tondo in Velika Kladusa, Bosnia
17 Nov 2018 13.44 GMT

As screams ring out through the cold night air, Sami, hidden behind bushes, begins to film what he can.

“The Croatian police are torturing them. They are breaking people’s bones,’’ Sami whispers into his mobile phone, as the dull thumps of truncheons are heard.

Then silence. Minutes go by before Hamdi, Mohammed and Abdoul emerge from the woods, faces bruised from the alleged beating, mouths and noses bloody, their ribs broken.

Asylum seekers from Algeria, Syria and Pakistan, they had been captured by the Croatian police attempting to cross the Bosnia-Croatia border into the EU, and brutally beaten before being sent back.

0:57..Footage shows asylum seekers allegedly beaten by Croatian police – video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xx1Ci1WJtCM

Sami, 17, from Kobane, gave the Guardian his footage, which appears to provide compelling evidence of the physical abuses, supposedly perpetrated by Croatian police, of which migrants in the Bosnian cities of Bihac and Velika Kladusa have been complaining.

The EU border agency, Frontex, announced on Wednesday that this year is likely to produce the lowest number of unauthorised migrants arriving into Europe in five years.

Frontex said that approximately 118,900 irregular border crossings were recorded in the first 10 months of 2018, roughly 31% lower than the same period in 2017.

Despite this steady decline in numbers, many states remain embroiled in political disputes that fuel anti-migrant sentiment across Europe.

Frontex also noted that, while entries are declining, the number of people reaching Europe across the western Mediterranean, mostly through Spain from Morocco, continues to rise. Nearly 9,400 people crossed in October, more than double the number for the same month last year.

But the brutality of what is happening on Europe’s borders is not documented. Every night, migrants try to cross into Croatia. And, according to dozens of accounts received by the Guardian and charities, many end up in the hands of police, who beat them back to Bosnia.

No Name Kitchen (NNK), an organisation consisting of volunteers from several countries that distributes food to asylum seekers in Serbia, Bosnia and Italy, registers 50-100 people a week who have been pushed back by the Croatian authorities. Roughly 70% of them claim to have been beaten.

“In the last months our team in Bosnia and Herzegovina has regularly treated patients – sometimes even women and small children – with wounds allegedly inflicted by state authorities when attempting to cross into Croatia and Slovenia, where, according to their testimonies, their claims for asylum and protection are regularly ignored,” says Julian Koeberer, humanitarian affairs officer in the northern Balkans for Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).

Since the turn of the year, the Bosnian authorities have registered the entry of about 21,000 people, coming from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran or Syria. Of these, an estimated 5,000 remain in the country.

Of 50 people to whom the Guardian spoke, mostly from Pakistan, 35 said they had been attacked by Croatian police. The majority of them arrived in Bosnia through Turkey, hoping to reach Slovenia, a Schengen country, before heading to Italy, Austria or Germany.

‘‘The Iranian police broke all my teeth, the Croatian ones broke my nose and ribs,” says Milad, 29, an Iranian asylum seeker who since September has lived in Bihac. “Yet everyone talks about the violence in Iran and nobody talks about the violence perpetrated by a European country.”

Adeel, 27, from Pakistan, claims he had his ankle broken with a truncheon. ‘‘Where are the human rights?” he asks.

Anees, 43, also from Pakistan, says he begged the police not to beat him after he was stopped in the woods on the border with Velika Kladusa. ‘‘I have a heart disease, I told them to stop because they could have killed me,’’ explains Anees, whose medical conditions are detailed in a clinical file.

On 9 June 2018, he had heart surgery at the Zdravstveni centre hospital in the Serbian city of Uzice. After the operation, he continued his journey. He struggles to breathe as he tells his story: ‘‘I told him I was sick, I showed them the clinical file. They did not give a damn. They started beating me and sent us back to Bosnia. But it does not matter. Tomorrow I will try the game again.’’

That’s what migrants call it: ‘the game”. But there is nothing fun about it. They set off in groups: 70 or 80 people, or sometimes as few as five to 10. Police, armed with truncheons, pistols and night vision goggles, patrol Europe’s longest border between Bosnia and Croatia. According to accounts provided by more than 10 migrants, some officers wear paramilitary uniforms with a badge depicting a sword upraised by two lightning bolts. This is the badge of Croatian special police.

“They stop us and, before beating us, they frisk us”, says Hamdi, 35, An Algerian language teacher. “If they find money, they steal it. If they find mobile phones, they destroy them to avoid being filmed or simply to stop us from contacting our friends. And then they beat us, four or five against one. They throw us to the ground, kick us, and beat us with their truncheons. Sometimes their dogs attack us. To them, we probably don’t seem much different from their dogs.”

Hamdi is one of three men traveling with Sami. The screams in the video are his. His face is covered in blood when he reaches his friends. His nose is broken, his lips swollen.

“After repeatedly being pushed back or forced to return to Bosnia on their own, asylum seekers find themselves in unsanitary, improvised settlements such as open fields and squats while formal government camps are full,” says Koeberer.

“Those sites still offer alarmingly inadequate conditions due to only slow improvement in provision of winter shelter (food, hygiene, legal status and medical care), and these inhumane living conditions have severe impact on people’s physical and mental health. In winter, the lives of those who are forced to remain outside will seriously be at risk.’’

At the camp in Velika Kladusa, where Hamdi lives, dozens of people sit in the mud and on piles of rubbish, awaiting the arrival of the doctors. On man has a cast on his arm and leg, the result, he says, of a police beating. Others show black eyes, bruises on their backs and legs, lumps and wounds on their heads, split lips, and scars on their legs.

‘‘There have been cases in which migrants claimed to have been stripped and forced to walk barefoot with temperatures below freezing,” said Stephane Moissaing, MSF’s head of mission in Serbia. “Cases where asylum seekers have told how police would beat children in front of their parents. From the information we have, up until now, it is a systematic and planned violence.”

Karolina Augustova, an NKK volunteer, says violence has increased since October protests in which hundreds of asylum seekers marched from the north-western town of Velika Kladusa towards Croatia to object against pushbacks that violate the rights of people to seek asylum in Europe.

The Bosnian police appear to be aware of the assaults. A Bosnian police agent guarding the camp in Velika Kladusa, who prefers to remain anonymous, points out a bruise on a boy’s leg. “You see this bruise?” he says. “It was the Croatian police. The Bosnian police know, but there is no clear and compelling evidence, just the accounts of the refugees and their wounds.”

The majority of Bosnians live in peace with migrants and view them as refugees. The scars from the war that ravaged this area in the early 1990s are everywhere, in the abandoned homes riddled with machine gun fire and in the collective memory of Bosnians. People from Bihac and Velika Kladusa know what it means to flee from war. The minarets of the numerous mosques along the border are a reminder that Bosnia is the closest Muslim community in Europe.

“I feel sorry for these people,’’ says the policeman on guard. ‘‘They remind me of the Bosnians when the war devastated our country.’’

MSF, NNK and a number of other organisations have repeatedly reported and denounced violence perpetrated by the security forces in the Balkans, but Croatian police deny all the allegations.

The Guardian has contacted the Croatian interior minister, the police and the Croatian government for comment, but has received no response.

Abdul, 33, recently arrived in Velika Klaudusa after a journey that lasted over a year. He comes from Myanmar and has lost everything: his wife and children were killed, and he has no news of his father, mother and sisters. Abdul has heard about the violence and is worried. The migrants around him, with bandaged legs and noses and bleeding mouths, cause fear.

“I lost everything, yes, it’s true,” he says. “But I have to get to Europe, one way or another. To make sense of what I lost. I owe it to my dead children. To my wife who was killed. To those who have not had the good fortune to have arrived here safe and sound.”

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« Reply #2755 on: Nov 17, 2018, 06:37 AM »

Trump, stung by midterms and nervous about Mueller, retreats from traditional presidential duties

By Eli Stokols
Nov 17, 2018
NY Times

For weeks this fall, an ebullient President Trump traveled relentlessly to hold raise-the-rafters campaign rallies — sometimes three a day — in states where his presence was likely to help Republicans on the ballot.

But his mood apparently has changed as he has taken measure of the electoral backlash that voters delivered Nov. 6. With the certainty that the incoming Democratic House majority will go after his tax returns and investigate his actions, and the likelihood of additional indictments by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, Trump has retreated into a cocoon of bitterness and resentment, according to multiple administration sources.

Behind the scenes, they say, the president has lashed out at several aides, from junior press assistants to senior officials. “He’s furious,” said one administration official. “Most staffers are trying to avoid him.”

The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, painted a picture of a brooding president “trying to decide who to blame” for Republicans’ election losses, even as he publicly and implausibly continues to claim victory.

White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly and Kirstjen Nielsen, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, who are close allies, “seem to be on their way out,” the official said, noting recent leaks on the subject. The official cautioned, however, that personnel decisions are never final until Trump himself tweets out the news — often just after the former reality TV star who’s famous for saying “You’re fired!” has directed Kelly to so inform the individual.

And, according to a source outside the White House who has spoken recently with the president, last week’s Wall Street Journal report confirming Trump’s central role during the 2016 campaign in quietly arranging payoffs for two women alleging affairs with him seemed to put him in an even worse mood.

Publicly, Trump has been increasingly absent in recent days — except on Twitter. He has canceled travel plans and dispatched Cabinet officials and aides to events in his place — including sending Vice President Mike Pence to Asia for the annual summits there in November that past presidents nearly always attended.

Jordan’s King Abdullah II was in Washington on Tuesday and met with Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo, but not the president.

Also Tuesday, Defense Secretary James N. Mattis announced plans to travel on Wednesday near the U.S.-Mexico border to visit with troops Trump ordered there last month in what is ostensibly a mission to defend against a caravan of Central American migrants moving through Mexico and still hundreds of miles from the United States.

Trump had reportedly considered making that trip himself, but has decided against it. Nor has he spoken of the caravan since the midterm elections, after making it a central issue in his last weeks of campaigning.

Unusually early on Monday, the White House called a “lid” at 10:03 a.m. EST, informing reporters that the president would not have any scheduled activities or public appearances for the rest of the day. Although it was Veterans Day, Trump bucked tradition and opted not to make the two-mile trip to Arlington National Cemetery in northern Virginia to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, as presidents since at least John F. Kennedy have done to mark the solemn holiday.

Trump’s only public appearance Tuesday was at a short White House ceremony marking the start of the Hindu holiday Diwali at which he made brief comments and left without responding to shouted questions.

He had just returned Sunday night from a two-day trip to France to attend ceremonies marking the centennial of the armistice that ended World War I. That trip was overshadowed, in part, by Trump’s decision not to attend a wreath-laying at the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery, the burial place for 2,289 soldiers 60 miles northeast of Paris, due to rain.

Kelly, a former Marine Corps general, and Marine Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, did attend to honor the American service members interred there. Trump stayed in the U.S. ambassador’s residence in Paris, making no public appearances.

Other heads of state also managed to make it to World War I cemeteries in the area for tributes to their nations’ war dead on Saturday.

Trump and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin were the only world leaders to skip a procession of world leaders to another commemoration, on Sunday, at the Arc de Triomphe. About 80 heads of state walked in unison — under umbrellas in the pouring rain — down Paris’ grand Champs-Elysees boulevard. Trump arrived later by motorcade, a decision aides claimed was made for security reasons.

Nicholas Burns, the former U.S. ambassador to NATO under George W. Bush, said the weekend events, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the end of a war in which 120,000 Americans were killed, were ripe for soaring words and symbolic gestures, which Trump failed to provide.

“Not only did he barely show up, he didn't say anything that would help Americans understand the scale of the loss, or the importance of avoiding another great war,” Burns said. “He seemed physically and emotionally apart. It’s such a striking difference between the enthusiasm he showed during the campaign and then going to Paris and sulking in his hotel room.”

He added, “The country deserves more energy from the president.”

Trump took heavy flak on social media, especially for his no-show at the military cemetery.

"President @realDonaldTrump a no-show because of raindrops?” tweeted former Secretary of State John F. Kerry, a Navy veteran. “Those veterans the president didn’t bother to honor fought in the rain, in the mud, in the snow - & many died in trenches for the cause of freedom. Rain didn’t stop them & it shouldn’t have stopped an American president.”

Nicholas Soames, a member of Britain’s Parliament and grandson of Winston Churchill, tweeted, "They died with their face to the foe and that pathetic inadequate @realDonaldTrump couldn’t even defy the weather to pay his respects to The Fallen.”

Trump, clearly feeling on the defensive days later, tried to explain himself on Tuesday, in a tweet.

"By the way, when the helicopter couldn’t fly to the first cemetery in France because of almost zero visibility, I suggested driving," he wrote. "Secret Service said NO, too far from airport & big Paris shutdown. Speech next day at American Cemetary [sic] in pouring rain! Little reported-Fake News!"

In that tweet, Trump falsely described the weather at the Sunday visit to another U.S. cemetery. Rather than “pouring rain,” photos showed him standing without a hat or an umbrella under overcast skies when he delivered remarks, though he did grasp an umbrella at one point while paying tribute at one soldier’s grave.

Just as Trump was returning to Washington on Sunday evening, Pence was heading to Asia in the president’s place, and at his first stop greeted Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Trump’s absence, experts said, is notable, and a glaring affront to many Asian leaders.

“It matters more in Asia than other regions because ‘face’ is so important,” said Matthew P. Goodman, a senior vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a former White House coordinator for Asia-Pacific strategy during the Obama and George W. Bush administrations. “Your willingness to go out there is a sign you're committed and not going is a sign you're not.”

Putin is attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, looking to expand his country’s influence in Asia. Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India and President Moon Jae-in of South Korea are also attending regional summits. And China’s President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang are simultaneously attending meetings across the region looking to broaden their country’s influence in the South China Sea and expand multilateral trade agreements.

Although Trump is set to meet with Xi at the Group of 20 summit of wealthy countries this month in Buenos Aires, his absence from the major Indo-Pacific meetings for a second straight year will “have some consequences for our position and our interests in the region,” Goodman continued. “Other countries are going to move ahead without us.”

What makes Trump’s perceived snub to the Asian powers more significant is that it comes on the heels of his brief European trip, which showcased his growing isolation from transatlantic allies. French President Emmanuel Macron rebuked Trump in a speech, stating that “nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism” as the U.S. president looked on sullenly.

Trump’s relations with Latin America, already strained, are little better after the White House last week announced that he was reneging for a second time on a commitment to visit Colombia. He had planned to go there later this month on his way back from the G-20 meetings.

In April, he’d sent Pence in his place to the Summit of the Americas in Peru, citing a need to remain in Washington to monitor the U.S. response to a chemical weapons attack in Syria. He’d planned to visit Bogota on the same trip.

This time around, there appeared to be no extenuating circumstances preventing a visit.

In a statement, the White House simply said, “President Trump’s schedule will not allow him to travel to Colombia later this month.”


Carl Bernstein explains why Trump is unraveling: ‘We’re back to the rage-aholic president’

Raw Story

Esteemed journalist Carl Bernstein appeared on CNN Friday to explain President Donald Trump’s recent behavior, including reports that he plans to fire several more key staffers.

The CNN host and Bernstein spoke about worries that the President is getting rid of the so-called firefighters in the administration and leaving in the “arsonists,” suggesting an upcoming conflagration in the White House.

They discussed why Trump appears to be unraveling further.

“We’re back to the rage-aholic president,” the veteran reporter concluded.

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Go3MhVopZno


Trump’s attorney general appointment Matt Whitaker challenged at Supreme Court

17 Nov 2018 at 18:00 ET                   

The fight over President Donald Trump’s appointment of Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general has reached the U.S. Supreme Court, with lawyers in a pending gun rights case asking the justices on Friday to decide if the action was lawful.

Critics have said the Republican president’s appointment of Whitaker, who now will oversee Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 U.S. election, on Nov. 7 to replace the ousted Jeff Sessions as the chief U.S. law enforcement official violated the Constitution and federal law.

Lawyers for Barry Michaels, who filed a lawsuit in Nevada challenging a U.S. law that bars him from buying a firearm due to prior non-violent criminal convictions, decided to make Whitaker’s appointment an issue in their pending appeal before the high court because Sessions was named as a defendant in the case.

The lawyers told the justices that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein should be the acting attorney general.

“There is a significant national interest in avoiding the prospect that every district and immigration judge in the nation could, in relatively short order, be presented with the controversy over which person to substitute as Acting Attorney General,” the lawyers, led by prominent Supreme Court advocate Thomas Goldstein, wrote in a court filing.

The court is not required to decide one way or another and could simply ignore or reject the motion.

Michaels’ lawyers argued that Rosenstein, the department’s No. 2 official, should have succeeded Sessions under a federal law that vests full authority in the deputy attorney general should the office of attorney general become vacant.

Some of the same lawyers behind Friday’s motion also are involved in a similar effort brought before a federal judge on Tuesday. In that case, Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh asked a federal judge to bar Whitaker from appearing in an official capacity as acting attorney general in the state’s ongoing lawsuit against the Trump administration over the Affordable Care Act healthcare law.

Maryland also argued that Trump violated the so-called Appointments Clause of the Constitution because the job of attorney general is a “principal officer” who must be appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate.

The Justice Department on Wednesday defended the legality of Whitaker’s appointment, saying Trump was empowered to give him the job under a 1998 law called the Federal Vacancies Reform Act even though he was not a Senate-confirmed official.

Congressional Democrats have voiced concern that Whitaker, who they have called a Trump “political lackey,” could undermine or even fire Mueller. Mueller’s investigation has led to criminal charges against a series of former Trump aides and has cast a cloud over Trump’s presidency.

Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham


Former deputy US attorney says after Wikileaks revelations, Stone connected to Trump ‘within a 15 foot putt’

Raw Story

Former deputy US attorney and MSNBC legal analyst Harry Litman said Friday that the new revelations about charges facing WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange suggest that if Roger Stone is indicted, special counsel Robert Mueller will be “within a 15-foot putt” of President Trump.

Asked what it would mean if Stone was indicted or decided to cooperate, Litman replied “I think it’s huge,” and added that Stone was “the biggest piece of the puzzle”.

“We have several charges against people in Russia for hacking against Podesta, for mischief, possibly the Russia meeting. But it hasn’t been tied up domestically,” Litman said. “Stone, there’s really good reason to think, knew about the WikiLeaks hacking in advance, touted and crowed about it.” Litman also pointed out that the legendary political dirty trickster had been in “regular communication” with Trump throughout the 2016 presidential campaign.

“If Stone is actually charged it seems to me it puts Mueller within a 15-foot putt of the president himself,” he said, adding that the special counsel’s request for an “extremely short” continuance showed “that Mueller knows what move is afoot in the very near future.”

Watch the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LYFxbnpNi5U


This is the only strategy that Donald Trump understands — and it’s going to backfire on him spectacularly

Heather Digby Parton, Salon - COMMENTARY
17 Nov 2018 at 11:40 ET                   

If there’s one thing you might have thought Donald Trump has learned in the past two years it’s that it was a huge mistake to go on TV with Lester Holt and admit that he was thinking about the Russia investigation when he decided to fire FBI Director James Comey. Recall that Trump was just rambling, in his stream-of-consciousness mode, when he just blurted it out without prompting. That revealing statement was not only what precipitated the appointment of Robert Mueller, it was also one of the most compelling pieces of evidence that Trump was trying to obstruct justice when he fired Comey — an apparent confession of intent. Trump has said and done hundreds of stupid things during his tenure, but that one really stands out as the blunder of all blunders.

Oops, he did it again. This week, in the midst of what observers everywhere are characterizing as a meltdown, Trump gave an interview to the Daily Caller in which he was asked if he had come up with any names for the permanent attorney general appointment, and whether Chris Christie had come up. Trump replied that his acting AG, Matt Whitaker, is highly respected in the Department of Justice and that he got a “very good decision” affirming that Whitaker’s appointment was legal. Then he said:

    I knew him only as he pertained, you know, as he was with Jeff Sessions. And, you know, look, as far as I’m concerned this is an investigation that should have never been brought. It should have never been had.

    It’s something that should have never been brought. It’s an illegal investigation. And you know, it’s very interesting because when you talk about not Senate confirmed, well, Mueller’s not Senate confirmed.

Nobody had mentioned Russia or the Mueller investigation. The question wasn’t even about Whitaker. Just as he blurted out his intent when asked why he fired James Comey, he blurted out his intent when he was asked about the attorney general. He doesn’t have the mental discipline not to reveal his motive for firing or hiring anyone when it comes to the Russia probe. If one didn’t know better one would think he is subconsciously begging to be indicted for obstruction of justice.

In any other administration, Whitaker would never have been chosen because of the obvious appearance of bias. He spent months trashing the investigation and declaring the president innocent of all charges. Indeed, it’s obvious that was the reason he was hired. At this point no one knows whether ethics advisers in the DOJ have been asked to weigh in on Whitaker’s possible conflict of interest, in that he worked closely with Sam Clovis, a subject of the investigation. Even so, the consensus seems to be that Whitaker can simply refuse to recuse himself even advised that he should. After what happened with Sessions, Whitaker recusing himself is about as likely as Donald Trump shaving his head. For all we know, Whitaker has been read into the investigation and has already been on the horn with Trump, sharing all the details. That might very well explain Trump’s thought process in that moment.

It would also explain why for the first time in weeks Trump fired off a volley of tweets about Mueller that are even more hysterical than usual:

    The inner workings of the Mueller investigation are a total mess. They have found no collusion and have gone absolutely nuts. They are screaming and shouting at people, horribly threatening them to come up with the answers they want. They are a disgrace to our Nation and don’t…

    — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 15, 2018

    ….care how many lives the ruin. These are Angry People, including the highly conflicted Bob Mueller, who worked for Obama for 8 years. They won’t even look at all of the bad acts and crimes on the other side. A TOTAL WITCH HUNT LIKE NO OTHER IN AMERICAN HISTORY!

    — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 15, 2018

    Universities will someday study what highly conflicted (and NOT Senate approved) Bob Mueller and his gang of Democrat thugs have done to destroy people. Why is he protecting Crooked Hillary, Comey, McCabe, Lisa Page & her lover, Peter S, and all of his friends on the other side?

    — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 15, 2018

Trump making these kinds of wild accusations is nothing new. What is new is the way he’s now talking about the “inner workings” of the investigation. This raises suspicion that he’s heard something from Whitaker, although it’s certainly possible that he’s hearing from people who were interviewed by the prosecutors or the grand jury. If so, he’s once again raising suspicions that he’s obstructing justice, this time by witness tampering. (Then again, maybe he just heard something from some mouthpiece on Fox News or is making it up out of thin air. He’s doing that with increasing frequency these days.)

The mainstream media is overflowing with reports about chaos and pandemonium inside the White House. Theories abound about why his hysteria has escalated so precipitously. (I offered mine earlier his week — he can’t deal with losing and feels he’s been betrayed by his own people.) Whatever it is, it’s clear that he’s cracking under the pressure.

However, it’s not altogether true that this is purely an emotional reaction. Trump is not a good political strategist, as the recent election results attest. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a survival strategy. He told a journalist what it was all the way back in 2016.

CBS News’ Lesley Stahl shared an anecdote last spring about an interview at Trump Tower shortly after the election. She asked the president if he planned to continue bashing the media:

    I said, “You know, that is getting tired, why are you doing this? You’re doing it over and over and it’s boring.” He said, “You know why I do it? I do it to discredit you all and demean you all, so when you write negative stories about me no one will believe you.”

I’d say he’s been quite successful, at least with about 40 percnent of the population. But he’s not just doing that with the press.  He’s demeaned the U.S. intelligence community, the Department of Justice and the Mueller investigation. He has also instilled distrust in the electoral system in ways that are absurd but plant the seeds for him to challenge the results if he loses, as he clearly planned to do in 2016.  His survival strategy is to discredit anyone he believes poses a threat to him, and thereby persuade his followers not to believe those people even if they show proof.

Right now he’s facing the choice between pulling the plug on the Mueller investigation and dealing with the firestorm that he knows will follow, or letting it unfold and hoping that enough people become so convinced that the prosecutors are biased and untrustworthy that they will react to Mueller as the public reacted to Ken Starr’s report in 1998. (Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell suggested that was possible last week, concern-trolling the Democrats about engaging in “presidential harassment.”)

Trump is escalating his attacks on Mueller and the DOJ because he believes that is how he will get out of this mess. After all, Bill Clinton survived the Starr investigation — and an actual impeachment trial — just fine. Unfortunately for Trump, all the recent opinion polls show Mueller with over 50 percent approval, while Ken Starr never had more than 28 percent. Clinton had a 60 percent approval rating on the day he was impeached — Trump remains mired in the low 40s.

Trump doesn’t seem to realize that there’s a flaw in his strategy: It doesn’t work if the person who attempts to discredit others so that no one will believe them flagrantly discredits himself in the process.

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« Reply #2756 on: Nov 17, 2018, 10:10 AM »

Donald Trump isn’t our president — he is the Jefferson Davis of a new red state confederacy in a slow-motion civil war

Lucian K. Truscott IV, Salon
17 Nov 2018 at 08:36 ET                   

In both cases, they were young, and they were white, and they were male, and the actions they took started civil wars.

In 1861, they were cadets from the Citadel Military Academy in South Carolina. On January 9, of that year, they were manning an artillery battery on Morris Island, an uninhabited island in Charleston Harbor when they fired on the United States steamship Star of the West, which was attempting to resupply the American garrison at Fort Sumter. The shots they fired that day, along with the bombardment of the fort by the Confederate States Army beginning on April 12 of that year, are generally considered by historians to be the first shots fired in what became the American Civil War.

In 2017, they were members of the so-called “alt-right” — white supremacists, neo-nazis, neo-confederates, white nationalists, and neo-fascists who were in Charlottesville for the so-called “Unite the Right” rally. On the night of August 11, 2017, as many as 200 of them marched carrying burning torches through the campus of the University of Virginia chanting white supremacist slogans such as “blood and soil” and “Jews will not replace us.” When they reached the statue of Thomas Jefferson, founder of the University of Virginia, they clashed with a group of students who had surrounded the statue. The alt-right demonstrators swung and threw their torches and used pepper spray against the counter-protestors, injuring several.

The next day, the alt-right demonstrators marched through Charlottesville carrying Confederate and Nazi flags chanting “white lives matter,” “Jewish media is going down,” and “make America great again.” Many demonstrators were armed, some with semi-automatic assault-style rifles. They clashed again with counter-protestors, and at 1:45 p.m., a white supremacist demonstrator identified as James Alex Fields Jr. drove his 2010 Dodge Challenger into a crowd of counter-protestors, injuring 19 and killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer.

She was not the first to die in the new civil war. Already dead were black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina; a native of India in Olathe, Kansas; an Army lieutenant in College Park, Maryland; and many others.

But the death of Heather Heyer would become a focus of the violence and killing in the new civil war, because President Trump would put it there.

Later the day she died, President Trump went before the cameras at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, and said, “We all must be united and condemn all that hate stands for. There is no place for this kind of violence in America. Let’s come together as one!” Responding to a question, he went on to say, “we condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides.” He was roundly criticized that day and the next for blaming the violence that caused multiple injuries and the death of Heather Heyer on “many sides.”

Responding to the criticism three days later, Trump addressed the media at Trump Tower and repeated his claim that there was “blame on both sides.” Responding to another question, Trump asserted, “Not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me. Not all of those people were white supremacists by any stretch.” He went on to criticize the movement to take down Confederate statues as “an attempt to change history,” and criticized “the very, very violent alt-left.” He went on to defend the protest by the alt-right in Charlottesville by saying “there were very fine people on both sides.”

In an interview the next day, Steve Bannon, who was then serving in the White House as Trump’s Chief Strategist, called Trump’s press conference the previous day “a defining moment” in Trump’s presidency because Trump had chosen “his people” over “globalists.”

At a rally in Phoenix, Arizona a week later, Trump defended his statements at the Trump Tower press conference and again criticized the movement to take down Confederate statues. “They’re trying to take away our culture, they’re trying to take away our history,” Trump said. “And our weak leaders, they do it overnight.”

Like a blind squirrel who found an acorn, Steve Bannon was right that Trump’s remarks after Charlottesville were a defining moment in his presidency. Trump had taken the side of “his people” when he told the world there were “very fine people on both sides,” and said “they” were taking away “our” culture and history.

It was crystal clear who “our” refers to, crystal clear why Trump felt compelled to note that “not all” of the demonstrators in Charlottesville were “neo-Nazis” and “white supremacists.” He stood with those defending the celebration of the Confederacy with statues of Confederate generals like Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. ”Our” people are white people.

The New York Times created a stunning portrait of the new civil war on the cover of its Sunday magazine on November 11. Against a photograph of a burning Nazi swastika at a white supremacist rally in Georgia this year, the Times displayed a list of 70 white supremacist demonstrations, shootings, bombings, and planned attacks going back to the killing of nine African Americans at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina by white supremacist Dylann Roof on June 17, 2015. The Times used the list to illustrate an article about how federal and state law enforcement agencies have failed to respond to the threat of white supremacist violence in this country. Read another way, it’s a list of battles in the new civil war.

On January 28, 2017, a mosque in Victoria, Texas was burned down by Marq Vincent Perez, who was later convicted of arson in the commission of a hate crime, among other charges.

On February 4, 2017, there was a white supremacist rally by Identity Evropa in New York’s Times Square.

On February 17, 2017, the white supremacist Knights Party held a “Love your Heritage” flag rally in Harrison, Arkansas.

On May 20, 2017, 23-year-old United States Army Second Lieutenant Richard Collins III was stabbed to death in a hate crime by 22 year-old-Sean Urbanski, a member of a white supremacist Facebook group known as “Alt-Reich: Nation.” Second Lieutenant Collins was black. Urbanski is white.

On May 21, 2017, the white supremacist East Coast Knights conducted a ceremonial cross-burning in Quarryville, Pennsylvania.

On January 2, 2018, 19-year-old Blaze Bernstein was killed in a park in Lake Forest, California. Twenty-one year old Samuel Woodward has been charged with the killing as a hate crime. Racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic and misogynistic materials were found in Woodward’s social media accounts. Bernstein was Jewish and out as a gay man. The two had attended the same high school and knew each other.

On January 27, 2018, there was a League of the South rally in Tallahassee, Florida.

On March 17, 2018, there was another League of the South rally in Knoxville, Tennessee.

On April 7, 2018, there was a League of the South roadside demonstration in Wetumpka, Alabama.

On May 19, 2018, there was a League of the South demonstration in Berry, Alabama.

On September 29, 2018, there was a League of the South demonstration in Newport, Tennessee.

The League of the South is a white supremacist, neo-Confederate organization headquartered in Killen, Alabama. Designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group, the League of the South has stated its goal is a “free and independent Southern republic” comprised of the former states of the Confederacy, ruled by white men.

On October 13, 2018, there was a “Build the Wall” rally in Greenville, South Carolina.

Also on October 13, 2018, there was a “Law and Order March” by the Patriot Prayer group in Portland, Oregon. Far right groups such as the Proud Boys have allied themselves with Patriot Prayer and attended their rallies.

On October 25, 2018, a white gunman shot and killed two black patrons of a Kroger supermarket in Jeffersontown, Kentucky. Gregory Bush, 51, has been charged with three counts of federal hate crimes and two state counts of murder and ten counts of wanton endangerment. The shooter is a suspected white supremacist who shouted out “whites don’t kill whites” as he gunned down the two Kroger shoppers.

On October 27, 2018, 46-year-old Robert Gregory Bowers walked into the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and shot to death 11 people and wounded six more. The gunman shouted “all Jews must die” during the attack. He is a suspected white supremacist and anti-Semite who has posted pro-Nazi material on internet websites.

Over a period of several days in October of this year, Trump supporter Cesar Sayoc allegedly sent at least 14 mail bombs to a total of 12 prominent Democratic critics of President Trump, including former President Barack Obama, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, former Vice President Joe Biden, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, and Senator Kamala Harris. Sayoc had been living in a van covered with pro-Trump and anti-Democrat stickers, including several with photos of prominent Democrats such as Hillary Clinton with the crosshairs of a rifle sight superimposed on them.

That is only a partial list of the killings and other incidents carried out by members of the “alt-right” and white supremacists. It happens day by day, week, by week, month by month, one after another.

It’s a slow motion civil war, and it’s being fought by Trump’s “very fine people.” The warriors in this civil war include a lot of people who are fighting against what might be called a pluralistic United States. Many of them have guns. Some of them have bombs. Some of them have killed the people they are at war with. Others have held repeated rallies and demonstrations to express their dissatisfaction with the United States as it is presently comprised. Many want a separate state of white people, ruled by white people. They want a new Confederate States of America.

Trump is helping to give them one. Beginning on March 10th of this year, Trump held 45 rallies to support Republican candidates in the midterm elections. Reading that list is reading the list of Trump’s America: Southaven, Mississippi. Johnson City, Tennessee. Richmond, Kentucky. Missoula, Montana. Houston, Texas. Columbia, Missouri. Fort Myers, Florida. Elkhart, Indiana. Macon, Georgia. Murphysboro, Illinois. Topeka, Kansas. Wheeling, West Virginia.

Red districts in Trump’s red state confederacy.

This weekend, Trump will travel to California, which is not one of the states in Trump’s confederacy. It’s a state he dismisses for its “sanctuary” cities and for its high taxes and its liberal political leadership and for is “mismanagement” of its forests, which he claims cause the fires that have destroyed the places he will presumably visit. To prepare for the visit by Trump, the citizens of California might consult the citizens of Puerto Rico, another place Trump doesn’t consider part of his confederacy, which he visited after a natural disaster. He might even toss them some paper towels.

Donald Trump has made a decision that he isn’t the president not of the United States of America, but president of the red states of America. Trump has embraced a new confederacy, and he is their Jefferson Davis, and a new civil war has been joined.

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« Reply #2757 on: Nov 19, 2018, 05:03 AM »

Fake fingerprints can imitate real ones in biometric systems – research

DeepMasterPrints created by a machine learning technique have error rate of only one in five

Alex Hern

Researchers have used a neural network to generate artificial fingerprints that work as a “master key” for biometric identification systems and prove fake fingerprints can be created.

According to a paper presented at a security conference in Los Angeles, the artificially generated fingerprints, dubbed “DeepMasterPrints” by the researchers from New York University, were able to imitate more than one in five fingerprints in a biometric system that should only have an error rate of one in a thousand.

The researchers, led by NYU’s Philip Bontrager, say that “the underlying method is likely to have broad applications in fingerprint security as well as fingerprint synthesis.” As with much security research, demonstrating flaws in existing authentication systems is considered to be an important part of developing more secure replacements in the future.

In order to work, the DeepMasterPrints take advantage of two properties of fingerprint-based authentication systems. The first is that, for ergonomic reasons, most fingerprint readers do not read the entire finger at once, instead imaging whichever part of the finger touches the scanner.

Crucially, such systems do not blend all the partial images in order to compare the full finger against a full record; instead, they simply compare the partial scan against the partial records. That means that an attacker has to match just one of tens or hundreds of saved partial fingerprint in order to be granted access.

The second is that some features of fingerprints are more common than others. That means that a fake print that contains a lot of very common features is more likely to match with other fingerprints than pure chance would suggest.

Based on those insights, the researchers used a common machine learning technique, called a generative adversarial network, to artificially create new fingerprints that matched as many partial fingerprints as possible.

The neural network not only allowed them to create multiple fingerprint images, it also created fakes which look convincingly like a real fingerprint to a human eye – an improvement on a previous technique, which created jagged, right-angled fingerprints that would fool a scanner but not a visual inspection.

They compare the method to a “dictionary attack” against passwords, where a hacker runs a pre-generated list of common passwords against a security system.

Such attacks may not be able to break into any specific account, but when used against accounts at scale, they generate enough successes to be worth the effort.

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« Reply #2758 on: Nov 19, 2018, 05:05 AM »

Policies of China, Russia and Canada threaten 5C climate change, study finds

Ranking of countries’ goals shows even EU on course for more than double safe level of warming

Jonathan Watts Global environment editor

China, Russia and Canada’s current climate policies would drive the world above a catastrophic 5C of warming by the end of the century, according to a study that ranks the climate goals of different countries.

The US and Australia are only slightly behind with both pushing the global temperature rise dangerously over 4C above pre-industrial levels says the paper, while even the EU, which is usually seen as a climate leader, is on course to more than double the 1.5C that scientists say is a moderately safe level of heating.

The study, published on Friday in the journal Nature Communications, assesses the relationship between each nation’s ambition to cut emissions and the temperature rise that would result if the world followed their example.

The aim of the paper is to inform climate negotiators as they begin a two-year process of ratcheting up climate commitments, which currently fall far short of the 1.5-to-2C goal set in France three years ago.

The related website also serves as a guide to how nations are sharing the burden of responding to the greatest environmental threat humankind has ever faced.

Among the major economies, the study shows India is leading the way with a target that is only slightly off course for 2C. Less developed countries are generally more ambitious, in part because they have fewer factories, power plants and cars, which means they have lower emissions to rein in.

On the opposite side of the spectrum are the industrial powerhouse China and major energy exporters who are doing almost nothing to limit carbon dioxide emissions. These include Saudi Arabia (oil), Russia (gas) and Canada, which is drawing vast quantities of dirty oil from tar sands. Fossil fuel lobbies in these countries are so powerful that government climate pledges are very weak, setting the world on course for more than 5C of heating by the end of the century.

Only slightly better are the group of countries that are pushing the planet beyond 4C. Among them are the US, which has huge emissions from energy, industry and agriculture somewhat offset by promises of modest cuts and more renewables. Australia, which remains heavily dependent on coal exports, is also in this category.

The wealthy shopping societies of Europe fare slightly better – largely because emissions on products are calculated at the source of manufacture rather than the point of consumption – but the authors of the paper say their actions lag behind their promises to set a positive example.

“It is interesting is to see how far out some countries are, even those that are considered leaders in the climate mitigation narrative,” said the study’s author, Yann Robiou du Pont of Melbourne University.

The study is likely to be controversial. Under the Paris agreement, there is no top-down consensus on what is a fair share of responsibility. Instead each nation sets its own bottom-up targets according to a number of different factors, including political will, level of industrialisation, ability to pay, population size, historical responsibility for emissions. Almost every government, the authors say, selects an interpretation of equity that serves their own interests and allows them to achieve a relative gain on other nations.

To get around these differing concepts of fairness, the paper assesses each nation by the least stringent standards they set themselves and then extrapolates this to the world. In doing so, the authors say they can “operationalise disagreements”.

Taking account of the different interpretations, they say the world needs to commit to a virtual 1.4C target in order to achieve a 2C goal. They hope their equity metric can be used in next month’s UN climate talks in Katowice and in climate litigation cases.

The authors said the study could in future be extended to the subnational level, such as individual US states. They also note that a few key sectors are currently omitted, including land-use change (which is fundamental in rapidly deforesting nations such as Brazil, Argentina and Indonesia), international shipping and aviation.

Although the study highlights the huge gap between political will and scientific alarm, Robiou du Pont said it should inspire rather than dispirit people.

“The positive outcome of this study is that we have a metric to assess the ratcheting up of ambition. Civil society, experts and decision-makers can use this to hold their governments accountable, and possibly undertake climate litigation cases as happened recently in the Netherlands,” he said. “This metric translates the lack of ambition on a global scale to a national scale. If we look at the goal of trying to avoid damage to the Earth, then I am pessimistic as this is already happening. But this should be a motivation to ratchet up ambition and avoid global warming as much and as rapidly as possible. Every fraction of a degree will have a big impact.”

Commenting on the study, other academics said it could be used by anyone to show how climate action can be navigated in a world in which each country ranks itself based on what they consider to be fair.

“This paper provides a means for countries to check how their contribution might be perceived by other countries and thus judge whether they are perceived as a climate leader or laggard,” said Joeri Rogelj of Imperial College London.

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« Reply #2759 on: Nov 19, 2018, 05:07 AM »

'Sad surprise': Amazon fish contaminated by plastic particles

Scientists in Brazil find first evidence of plastic pollution in Amazon basin freshwater fish

Ian Sample Science editor

Scientists have found the first evidence of plastic contamination in freshwater fish in the Amazon, highlighting the extent to which bags, bottles and other waste dumped in rivers is affecting the world’s wildlife.

Tests on the stomach contents of fish in Brazil’s Xingu River, one of the major tributaries of the Amazon, revealed plastic particles in more than 80% of the species examined, including the omnivorous parrot pacu, herbivorous redhook silver dollar, and meat-eating red-bellied piranha.

The researchers focused on fish in the Xingu because of their rich diversity and breadth of feeding habits. The fish ranged from 4cm to nearly a foot in length, and weighed from 2g to nearly a kilogram.

Analysis of the fishes’ stomach contents identified a dozen distinct polymers used to manufacture plastic items, including bags, bottles, and fishing gear. Most pieces were black, red, blue, white or translucent and varied from 1mm-sized particles to flakes measuring 15mm in width.

“It was a sad surprise because in the initial stage of our research the main objective was to understand the feeding ecology of fish, but when we started analysing the stomach contents we found plastic,” said Tommaso Giarrizzo, who studies aquatic ecology at the Federal University of Pará in Brazil. “It’s alarming because this pollution is spread throughout the Amazon basin.”

The scientists picked through the stomach contents of 172 fish belonging to 16 species. Writing in the journal Environmental Pollution, the scientists describe how 13 of the species had consumed plastics, regardless of whether they were herbivores that fed on river plants, carnivores that survived primarily on other fish, or omnivores. The herbivores may mistake pieces of plastic for seeds, fruits and leaves, while the omnivores are likely to ingest plastics caught in the feathery river plants, called macrophytes, which make up much of their diet. Meanwhile, carnivores such as piranha are likely to consume plastics when they eat contaminated prey.

Marcelo Andrade, also at the Federal University of Pará, said: “It is awful to know that plastic debris is ingested by 80% of analysed fish species, and that many of them are consumed by humans in the Amazon. Plastic pollution is a real threat to humans around the world.”

Overall, 96 pieces of plastic were recovered from stomachs of 46 fish. Tests showed more than a quarter were polyethylene, a material used in fishing gear that is often discarded in rivers and oceans. Others were identified as PVC, polyamide, polypropylene, rayon and other polymers used to make bags, bottles, food packaging and more.

Rivers are responsible for up to a fifth of the plastic waste found in the oceans. Much of the pollution is caused by poor waste management or by rubbish intentionally being dumped in water courses. Over 90% of the plastic debris that reaches open water comes from 10 rivers, eight in Asia and two in Africa.

Giarrizzo said more research was needed to understand the origin of the plastic in rivers in the Amazon and to assess the impact it may have on human health. One concern, he said, is that hazardous chemicals can bind to the plastics found in fish, and so eating them may lead to a build-up of dangerous chemicals in the body.

“Even though the effects of human consumption of microplastics are largely unknown, our findings are a public health concern since the Amazon has the world’s highest per-capita consumption of fish,” he said.

Prof Steve Ormerod, co-director of the Cardiff University Water Research Institute, said: “Although much of the publicity and emphasis on plastic pollution has focused on the world’s oceans, this paper adds to growing evidence that plastics are also a potential risk to the world’s river ecosystems.

“In some respects, these results are not surprising in that the Amazon is thought to carry around 60,000 tonnes of plastic trash every year into the Atlantic, and samples for this work on the Xingu tributary were collected near to Altamira – a city of over 100,000 people. Yet, with individual fish in this study on average having 22%-37% of their gut contents taken up by plastic, there are bound to be concerns about physical or toxicological effects.

“With an increasing number of studies now recording plastic inside aquatic animals, I think we now have to move beyond this descriptive phase into investigations of the key sources of plastic material in rivers, what the fate of this material is in food webs, and far more importantly what the effects are on organisms and ecosystems. This is all critical information if we’re to manage the plastic problem in an evidence-based way.”

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