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Author Topic: ENVIRONMENT, CLIMATE, GLOBAL WARMING, AND CULTURE  (Read 2347837 times)
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Darja
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« Reply #1935 on: Feb 11, 2019, 05:01 AM »

For Detroit Students, Water Fountains are Health Hazards

Nexus Media
Feb 11 2019
Ecowatch

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has created an office for clean water, housed within the newly formed Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy, to investigate complaints about water quality. "Right now, communities across our state don't trust the water coming out of their taps, and there is a real lack of trust in state government," Whitmer said. Her executive order comes at a time when many Michiganders lack access to clean water—and the resources to fix the problem.

Just ask students in Detroit. For the last six months, the nearly 50,000 students enrolled in Detroit Public Schools (DPS) have not been able to use the drinking fountains.

In August, Superintendent Nikolai Vitti tested the water quality at 86 DPS schools. There is no law requiring schools to test their water, but Vitti had good cause for concern. At 57 of the schools tested, results showed elevated levels of lead and copper. Vitti ordered all drinking water to be shut off at every school in the district.

Lead is rarely found naturally in lakes, rivers or wells. It tends to enter drinking water through the corrosion of aging pipes, solder and faucets. Copper may enter into drinking water either by directly contaminating well water or through the corrosion of copper pipes. The presence of both lead and copper in drinking water at DPS schools is the result of corrosion.

"It's all about the infrastructure. In DPS schools, they didn't take care of the infrastructure. They didn't do what they were supposed to do," said a Detroit Water and Sewer company employee who wished to remain anonymous. "They have not put money into keeping up the pipes."

The tests results have left students worried. "When they told us the water was being shut off because it had lead and copper in it, they didn't give us any information on how the contaminated water affects us, so I looked it up on my own," said Southeastern High School freshman Isiah Pearl. "I found out drinking water with lead and copper in it makes you dumber."

In children, exposure to even low levels of lead has been linked to learning disabilities, lower IQ, hyperactivity, stunted growth, impaired hearing and anemia. For this reason, the federal government banned lead-based paint in 1978 and began to phase out the use of lead gasoline in 1974. Although water with lead is considered safe for washing hands, some students remain concerned. "They say we can wash our hands, but if we can't drink it, I don't understand how it doesn't affect our outside body," said Joi Morgan, a senior at Southeastern High School.

Southeastern math teacher Kiarra Ambrose quenches her thirst at a water cooler.
Sierra Searcy

To address the fountain shutoff, schools have provided portable water coolers, one for every 100 students. Southeastern has only three water cooler across three floors to serve its 300 students and staff, many of whom don't have time to reach a water cooler between classes.

"Getting to class on time is already hard, so stopping to get water most of the time means going out of my way and being late," said Southeastern freshman Christopher Robbins. "The building's old. It's always so hot, so we get thirsty easily. But they are so strict here. We can't be late to class, or we will get in trouble."

Pearl shared Robbins' frustration. "In middle school, kids would get sick [with dehydration] because we didn't have any water fountains," he said. "The school was basically falling apart."

A cafeteria staff member who wished to remain anonymous said that water contamination has also made it more difficult to make lunch. Instead of going to the faucet, the kitchen staff must use bottled water. "It has made my job harder, but we have to do what we have to do to feed these babies," the staff member said of the students. "We don't want them to get sick."

The lack of water is another setback for a district that has been beset by financial problems for more than a decade. Already facing shortages of books, supplies and teachers, many students in the largely black, working-class school district are disappointed about the water contamination, but not surprised. "We just saw it as another problem. I was just like, 'Oh, now the water doesn't work.'" said Southeastern senior Steffon Horton. "I haven't thought too much about it."

Lead contamination is no stranger to black communities. Studies show that black children are more likely to be exposed to lead than white children, a fact affirmed by the experience of teachers and students in Detroit. "I haven't heard about schools in Farmington or Southfield [wealthier and whiter communities near Detroit] with this problem," said Southeastern English and Language Arts teacher Jacqueline Robinson.

"I feel like we would have more resources if we were in a suburban community," Morgan said. "They feel like they can give us this little water station and we will be okay because they think we don't want to come to school anyway, but that's not the case."

Lacking funding to address the water crisis, Superintendent Vitti raised $2.4 million in donations from philanthropies to pay for filters that will remove lead and copper from water from drinking fountains. The district is in the processing of installing the filters at every DPS school, though the filters will need to be replaced regularly. The only permanent fix is to replace the aging pipes.

Water contamination in Detroit schools is indicative of larger infrastructure issues across the state. The American Society of Civil Engineers gave Michigan's schools a D+ on its most recent infrastructure report card, as many districts are "utilizing facilities built in the 1950s and 1960s following the Baby Boom, in the condition they were originally constructed." Michigan's drinking water infrastructure received a D in the same report, whhttp://schoolofevolutionaryastrology.com/forum/index.php/topic,1201.3720.htmlich noted the state would need to spend nearly $14 billion to bring its drinking water into compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act.

In his state of the union address this week, President Trump called for an infrastructure overhaul. Democrats in Congress are willing to work with Trump on an infrastructure package this year. As part of that effort, there are steps that federal lawmakers could take to improve drinking water as part of a larger push on infrastructure, such as establishing a federal Water Infrastructure Trust Fund to help finance local improvements and repairs in cities like Detroit.

For now, students and staff will continue pushing for a solution. "We won't stop talking and using our voices until we are heard," Robbins said. "We need a change. We demand a change, and I won't give up until that change happens."

Reposted with permission from our media associate Nexus Media.


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« Reply #1936 on: Feb 11, 2019, 05:05 AM »


Ancient Spirituality Guides a Maya Town’s Conservation Efforts

Mongabay
Feb. 011, 2019
By Jorge Rodríguez

It was Thursday, Nov. 8, but the Mayan calendar marked the day as Wukub' Q'anil, or 7 Rabbit, a good day to ask for the rebirth of sterile lands and the fertility of all living beings.

Rumualdo López, a Maya priest and spiritual guide, was prepared to hike up to the top of Siete Orejas, a mountain sacred to the Maya Mam of Concepción Chiquirichapa, a town of roughly 18,000 in western Guatemala, to perform a fire ceremony. The purpose was to connect with the energies of the mountain and ask for wisdom and the blessing of the Creator, the Ajaw as the Maya Mam call it.

"Nowadays there are many people who prefer to connect with the Ajaw through other rites, such as Christians or Catholics," López had said the day before the ceremony, checking the Mayan calendar. "The important thing is for people to recognize the energy that surrounds us and to connect with it, no matter what type of beliefs they have."

As has been done for thousands of years, Mayan traditions and knowledge are still passed on by word of mouth. Priests or Ajq'ij, which means "counter of days" in the Maya K'iche language, rely on the Mayan calendar, as an astrological chart, to understand the energies of each day and determine when to perform certain ceremonies and what to ask of the Ajaw.

There is no specific time at which ceremonies should be performed. Sometimes the first light of dawn is when guides give thanks to the Ajaw and all the living energies of the universe. On this occasion, however, López, along with Marcelino Aguilar, the head of Concepción's Department of Protected Areas (DAP, by its Spanish initials), decided to set out from the town center for the mountain at 8:00 in the morning.

Like López, Aguilar believes in the knowledge of their ancestors. "We all depend on each other to survive," he said. That is why he has dedicated his life to protecting the environment and educating the people of Concepción to value and respect the forest.

A sign inside Concepción Chiquirichapa's Kum Kum Wutz park on Siete Orejas mountain reads "Without the environment there is no future."

To reach the top of Siete Orejas takes about 45 minutes by car, one and a half hours by foot. While driving his pickup truck, a Maya Mam radio station playing in the background, Aguilar talked about the community's work over the past four decades to reforest and protect its section of the mountain's cloud forest. Since the 2000s the community got the government to designate a 1,200-hectare (4.6-square-mile) park on Siete Orejas as a protected area; regulated the extraction of organic matter, wood and other natural resources there; created the DAP, a municipal office dedicated to the protected area's management; and started several environmental education and sustainable economic development programs.

While Aguilar spoke, López listened. Sometimes, he would smile or add some detail to the story: "When I was young, this [forest] used to have fewer trees than it has right now." But most of the time his face was serious, as if he were feeding on energy from the forest that rose above the dirt road leading up the mountain.

To be an Ajq'ij is a great honor for anyone who believes in the ancient traditions. Ajq'ijes are believed to serve as the connection between the spiritual and material worlds. They are meant to seek the truth of all things and constantly study the environment and the signals that nature manifests, like the way the wind blows, the shape of the clouds on a rainy morning or the song of certain birds.

Siete Orejas is important because of the energy that lives there, López said. "As Maya we believe in the 13 energies of the nahuales," he said, referring to the connections, represented by different animals, between the natural and spiritual worlds. According to the Maya, every living thing has a nahual, including mountain peaks like Siete Orejas's.

Mountain summits are special places in Mayan spirituality, because the energy flow there is believed to be stronger than in other places. In spots where they believe the mountain's energy dwells, they make altars to perform rituals. There are 22 on Siete Orejas.

Aguilar parked the truck at the entrance to a camping area inside the park and went off briefly to the registration booth to check in with the municipal tour guides working there. López stretched his legs and grabbed the bag of materials for the ceremony from inside the truck.

During the final 25-minute hike to the top of the mountain, he carried in one hand a black plastic bag with candles of various colors, sugar, a ceremonial incense called pom, white rum, water steeped with flowers called florid water, and resin from the ocote tree (Pinus montezumae). In the other he carried a wooden rod called a Tz'ite that is considered the Ajq'ij's spiritual partner and believed to allow him or her to read energies that human senses cannot detect.

At the top, López asked Aguilar to find him some herbs for the ritual. The altar was a semicircle of lichen-crusted rocks in the bare gravel, decorated with a shoulder-high wooden Catholic cross. Large pines and pinabete (Abies guatemalensis) trees surrounded it.

Since the colonization of Guatemala in the 16th century, Mayan spirituality has incorporated some Catholic beliefs and imagery, like the cross. "Catholic believers have a different interpretation of the cross, because it is unbalanced," López said. "For us the sides of the cross are the same length, since they represent our origin, our destiny and the energies that govern our path."

He cleaned the altar of leaves and debris because everything that burns in the fire has a specific meaning. Then, in its center he drew a Mayan cross inside a circle with the sugar: "to sweeten the bitterness and allow us to read in the fire."

Inside the circle, he placed the pom balls, made from the resin of the copal tree (Protium copal). They are one of the most sacred offerings used in rituals, along with the ocote resin. With the florid water he cleaned and blessed the place and those attending the ceremony. After a silent prayer, he started the fire and began the ritual.

As the fire began to rise, López spoke in his native language, thanking the Ajaw for the blessings it provides through Mother Nature. He walked in circles to symbolize the cycles of time as he asked for the well-being of the other Ajq'ij, of his people and of all living things in the universe.

The Maya understand the dance that fire performs at certain times as a manifestation of the energetic connection that exists during ceremonies. "The nahuales tell us if something is wrong. With the candles, we make requests that are then burned and become part of everything that surrounds us," López said.

For more than 40 minutes, López's prayers and thanks rose with the smoke of the materials he brought. To further purify the act, he poured the rum over the fire, over the rocks of the altar and over the people present at the ceremony.

"This is a day to ask for understanding, for good work and to remove pests from crops," he said, referring to Wukub' Q'anil. At the end of the ceremony, he collected the empty bags and containers and raised a final thanks to the sky, kissing the ground several times.

Ancient Beliefs for Modern Times

The day before the ritual, at his office in Concepción's municipal building, López, who is an elected member of the municipal council in addition to being an Ajq'ij, had lamented how urban growth and the culture of consumerism were taking over life in Concepción, and how this directly affected the natural environment and the spirit of the community.

"Now we see disconnection [between people] and their surroundings. We have seen how the clouds have decreased and the wind no longer blows as it did before," he'd said. "Therefore, we are looking for new sacred places, because we are in a time when humanity needs to be redirected toward the spiritual, above the material."

During the ride back to town from Siete Orejas, Aguilar recognized that the spiritual connection with the mountain and a profound respect toward the natural word, knowledge inherited from their grandparents, had propelled him and his supporters to double their efforts to conserve the local forests.

"We are getting the people to understand that everything is connected, that we have to learn how to coexist with the wildlife that inhabits the woods," he said. "Though there are some who oppose what we do, or simply don't care, we are certain that the majority of the people of Concepción are grateful for the efforts we make to ensure the survival of our mountain."


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« Reply #1937 on: Feb 11, 2019, 05:11 AM »


Plummeting insect numbers 'threaten collapse of nature'

Exclusive: Insects could vanish within a century at current rate of decline, says global review

    Why are insects in decline, and can we do anything about it?

Damian Carrington Environment editor
Guardian
11 Feb 2019 18.00 GMT

The world’s insects are hurtling down the path to extinction, threatening a “catastrophic collapse of nature’s ecosystems”, according to the first global scientific review.

More than 40% of insect species are declining and a third are endangered, the analysis found. The rate of extinction is eight times faster than that of mammals, birds and reptiles. The total mass of insects is falling by a precipitous 2.5% a year, according to the best data available, suggesting they could vanish within a century.

The planet is at the start of a sixth mass extinction in its history, with huge losses already reported in larger animals that are easier to study. But insects are by far the most varied and abundant animals, outweighing humanity by 17 times. They are “essential” for the proper functioning of all ecosystems, the researchers say, as food for other creatures, pollinators and recyclers of nutrients.

Insect population collapses have recently been reported in Germany and Puerto Rico, but the review strongly indicates the crisis is global. The researchers set out their conclusions in unusually forceful terms for a peer-reviewed scientific paper: “The [insect] trends confirm that the sixth major extinction event is profoundly impacting [on] life forms on our planet.

“Unless we change our ways of producing food, insects as a whole will go down the path of extinction in a few decades,” they write. “The repercussions this will have for the planet’s ecosystems are catastrophic to say the least.”

The analysis, published in the journal Biological Conservation, says intensive agriculture is the main driver of the declines, particularly the heavy use of pesticides. Urbanisation and climate change are also significant factors.

“If insect species losses cannot be halted, this will have catastrophic consequences for both the planet’s ecosystems and for the survival of mankind,” said Francisco Sánchez-Bayo, at the University of Sydney, Australia, who wrote the review with Kris Wyckhuys at the China Academy of Agricultural Sciences in Beijing.

The 2.5% rate of annual loss over the last 25-30 years is “shocking”, Sánchez-Bayo told the Guardian: “It is very rapid. In 10 years you will have a quarter less, in 50 years only half left and in 100 years you will have none.”

One of the biggest impacts of insect loss is on the many birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish that eat insects. “If this food source is taken away, all these animals starve to death,” he said. Such cascading effects have already been seen in Puerto Rico, where a recent study revealed a 98% fall in ground insects over 35 years.

The new analysis selected the 73 best studies done to date to assess the insect decline. Butterflies and moths are among the worst hit. For example, the number of widespread butterfly species fell by 58% on farmed land in England between 2000 and 2009. The UK has suffered the biggest recorded insect falls overall, though that is probably a result of being more intensely studied than most places.

Bees have also been seriously affected, with only half of the bumblebee species found in Oklahoma in the US in 1949 being present in 2013. The number of honeybee colonies in the US was 6 million in 1947, but 3.5 million have been lost since.

There are more than 350,000 species of beetle and many are thought to have declined, especially dung beetles. But there are also big gaps in knowledge, with very little known about many flies, ants, aphids, shield bugs and crickets. Experts say there is no reason to think they are faring any better than the studied species.

A small number of adaptable species are increasing in number, but not nearly enough to outweigh the big losses. “There are always some species that take advantage of vacuum left by the extinction of other species,” said Sanchez-Bayo. In the US, the common eastern bumblebee is increasing due to its tolerance of pesticides.

Most of the studies analysed were done in western Europe and the US, with a few ranging from Australia to China and Brazil to South Africa, but very few exist elsewhere.

“The main cause of the decline is agricultural intensification,” Sánchez-Bayo said. “That means the elimination of all trees and shrubs that normally surround the fields, so there are plain, bare fields that are treated with synthetic fertilisers and pesticides.” He said the demise of insects appears to have started at the dawn of the 20th century, accelerated during the 1950s and 1960s and reached “alarming proportions” over the last two decades.

He thinks new classes of insecticides introduced in the last 20 years, including neonicotinoids and fipronil, have been particularly damaging as they are used routinely and persist in the environment: “They sterilise the soil, killing all the grubs.” This has effects even in nature reserves nearby; the 75% insect losses recorded in Germany were in protected areas.

The world must change the way it produces food, Sánchez-Bayo said, noting that organic farms had more insects and that occasional pesticide use in the past did not cause the level of decline seen in recent decades. “Industrial-scale, intensive agriculture is the one that is killing the ecosystems,” he said.

In the tropics, where industrial agriculture is often not yet present, the rising temperatures due to climate change are thought to be a significant factor in the decline. The species there have adapted to very stable conditions and have little ability to change, as seen in Puerto Rico.

Sánchez-Bayo said the unusually strong language used in the review was not alarmist. “We wanted to really wake people up” and the reviewers and editor agreed, he said. “When you consider 80% of biomass of insects has disappeared in 25-30 years, it is a big concern.”

Other scientists agree that it is becoming clear that insect losses are now a serious global problem. “The evidence all points in the same direction,” said Prof Dave Goulson at the University of Sussex in the UK. “It should be of huge concern to all of us, for insects are at the heart of every food web, they pollinate the large majority of plant species, keep the soil healthy, recycle nutrients, control pests, and much more. Love them or loathe them, we humans cannot survive without insects.”

Matt Shardlow, at the conservation charity Buglife, said: “It is gravely sobering to see this collation of evidence that demonstrates the pitiful state of the world’s insect populations. It is increasingly obvious that the planet’s ecology is breaking and there is a need for an intense and global effort to halt and reverse these dreadful trends.” In his opinion, the review slightly overemphasises the role of pesticides and underplays global warming, though other unstudied factors such as light pollution might prove to be significant.

Prof Paul Ehrlich, at Stanford Universityin the US, has seen insects vanish first-hand, through his work on checkerspot butterflies on Stanford’s Jasper Ridge reserve. He first studied them in 1960 but they had all gone by 2000, largely due to climate change.

Ehrlich praised the review, saying: “It is extraordinary to have gone through all those studies and analysed them as well as they have.” He said the particularly large declines in aquatic insects were striking. “But they don’t mention that it is human overpopulation and overconsumption that is driving all the things [eradicating insects], including climate change,” he said.

Sánchez-Bayo said he had recently witnessed an insect crash himself. A recent family holiday involved a 400-mile (700km) drive across rural Australia, but he had not once had to clean the windscreen, he said. “Years ago you had to do this constantly.”


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« Reply #1938 on: Feb 11, 2019, 05:19 AM »


‘My boyfriend sold one of my kidneys – then he sold me’: trafficking in Nepal

A checkpoint along the Nepal-India border has become has one of the world’s busiest human trafficking routes. Now it is being policed by survivors who try to spot other potential victims

Ofelia de Pablo and Javier Zurita
Guardian
11 Feb 2019 09.00 GMT

It is midday in Bhairchawa, one of the 23 official border checkpoints between Nepal and India. Each day, up to 100,000 people cross under the stone arch separating the two countries. Some are on foot, others in trucks or on bikes, mopeds and rickshaws. Amid the chaos – the people, the dust, the noise of traffic and honking of horns – are the guardians: women who, having survived the horrors of human trafficking, now spend every day trying to spot potential victims and their exploiters among the crowds.

One of the women on duty today is Pema. While we talk, her eyes remain fixed on the crowds, scanning the throngs of people moving slowly across the checkpoint.

She is right to be vigilant. The 1,750km open and porous border between the two countries is a dream for traffickers and a nightmare for those trying to stop them. It has helped this crossing become one of the busiest human trafficking routes in the world.

More than 23,000 women and girls were victims of trafficking in 2016 according to the annual report published by the National Human Rights Commission of Nepal. However, numbers could rise to 40,000 Nepalese victims a year, according to NGOs in the field. Last year, a study conducted by Sashastra Seema Bal, the Indian armed border force, said detected cases of trafficking from Nepal to India had risen by 500% since 2013.

Pema says she knows how to spot potential victims because she was herself trafficked across this border when she was 11 years old. Born in a remote village in the north of Nepal, she was taken by a friend of her parents, drugged and sold into a brothel in India. Years of rape and torture followed until she was rescued by Maiti Nepal, an anti-trafficking charity, following a raid on the brothel.

Pema lived at a Maiti Nepal shelter and has since trained to become one of 39 trafficking survivors working for the organisation as border guardians. The group work at nine checkpoints between the two countries, in collaboration with border police.

Pema spots a man trying to cross the border, holding the arm of a girl wearing a red leather jacket. She is wearing high heels, and is stumbling, unable to walk properly. “She is dressed too elegantly … One of the things traffickers do is buy women new clothes, to gain their trust,” says Pema as she approaches them and asks for their IDs. The girl does not have any, and the man says he is a businessman working in India and that she is his girlfriend. They are taken aside; Pema and the border police start to question the man.

It turns out their fears are well-founded. The man is a classic “lover boy” fraudster, a man who has seduced a young girl on Facebook and convinced her to leave her family and run away together.

“He has a record,” says Pema. “He was trying to get her out of the country to sell her to a brothel. This happens every single day.”

When the girl learns the truth, she collapses in tears. She is taken to one of Maiti Nepal’s transit homes, where she will receive help and emergency accommodation until she can be taken back to her family.

    My boyfriend sold one of my kidneys and then he sold me
    Sirta, trafficking victim

“It is hard for them to take in the fact that their boyfriend is a trafficker who just wants to sell them,” says Sirta, another of the guardians. “The same thing happened to me. My boyfriend sold one of my kidneys and then he sold me. I am only alive today because I was rescued.”

Later we travel to the transit home and find another woman, Purnima, who is weeping after being stopped and rescued at the border by one of the guardians.

“I became a widow when my daughter was six days old. My parents-in-law mistreated me and I had to leave,” she says. “A female friend offered me a job in India. She said I would make a lot of money if I went with her. I believed her but was stopped at the border and now I know these women saved me.”

Anuradha Koirala, the founder of Maiti Nepal, says that they have seen a huge increase in the numbers of women and girls being duped into thinking they are going to a better life in India after the 2015 earthquake that ravaged large parts of Nepal.

“The earthquake hit many places where trafficking was already a huge problem,” she says. In the year after the earthquake, 4,000 women and girls were intercepted by the guardians at the border between Nepal and India.

“These are poor regions with high illiteracy rates. If a relative or friend turns up offering someone a job, it is often the girls’ parents themselves who encourage them to go, without realising what is really happening. It is the perfect breeding ground for traffickers.”

Outside, Pema chats and laughs with the other guardians. She says that she is happy to be spending her life trying to stop other women and girls falling into a life of misery and slavery. Yet, inside the shelter, Koirala says all the women working for them at this border are deeply traumatised by what they experienced in India.

“Their smiles are just a mask,” she says. “Pema has lost everything; she can laugh with you, but her heart is full of pain. The scars these young women bear will never disappear. We cannot just watch this happen to others. We must act, and act urgently.”


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« Reply #1939 on: Feb 11, 2019, 05:21 AM »


Thailand disqualifies king's sister from running for election

Princess Ubolratana should be ‘above politics’ says panel after she became PM candidate

Reuters in Bangkok
Mon 11 Feb 2019 10.51 GMT

Thailand’s election panel has disqualified the sister of the king from running for prime minister, putting an end to a stunning yet short-lived candidacy by echoing King Maha Vajiralongkorn’s words that royalty should be “above politics”.

The election commission released the official list of parties’ candidates for prime minister without the name of Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya Sirivadhana Barnavadi, 67, the king’s elder sister.

The list left out Ubolratana “because every member of the royal family comes within the application of the same rule requiring the monarch to be above politics and to be politically neutral”, the panel said in a statement after a meeting.

The princess had accepted the nomination of the Thai Raksa Chart party, a populist movement drawn from supporters of ousted ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who has been at the centre of nearly 15 years of turmoil in Thai politics.

The 24 March elections are the first since a 2014 military coup toppled a pro-Thaksin government. Among the candidates for prime minister is the current junta leader, Prayuth Chan-ocha, who as army chief led the coup.

Thailand has been a constitutional monarchy since 1932, but the royal family wields great influence and commands the devotion of millions of Thais, with the king considered to be semi-divine.

Ubolratana’s surprise nomination broke with a tradition for members of the royal family to stay out of politics.

However, in a statement broadcast on all Thai television stations within hours of her announcement as a candidate, King Vajiralongkorn said it was “inappropriate” and unconstitutional for members of the royal family to enter politics.

The commission is also considering a complaint seeking to ban the Thai Raksa Chart party but did not mention the petition on Monday.


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« Reply #1940 on: Feb 11, 2019, 05:24 AM »

‘The fighting was intense’: witness tells of two-day attempt to kill Isis leader

Foreign fighters reportedly executed after launching attack against Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

by Martin Chulov in Baghouz, eastern Syria
Guardian
11 Feb 2019 20.41 GMT

Fresh details have emerged of the coup attempt against Isis leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, with witnesses claiming foreign members of the terror group lost a two-day battle with his bodyguards before being rounded up and executed.

A witness who spoke to the Guardian after being smuggled from the last hamlet in eastern Syria held by Isis, said the clash took place in al Keshma, a village next to Baghouz in September, three months earlier than regional intelligence officials believed it had taken place.

“I saw him with my own eyes,” said Jumah Hamdi Hamdan, 53. “He was in Keshma and in September the Khawarij (infidels) tried to capture him.

“The fighting was very intense, they had tunnels between houses. They were mainly Tunisians and there were many people killed.”

Hamdan said Baghdadi then moved to Baghouz, from where he fled to the desert in early January. This account was supported by senior regional officials, who say he probably remains there, as the remnants of the so-called caliphate he built disintegrates nearby.

A senior military official from the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the Kurdish-led force battling Isis, said other members of Isis’ foreign legion had joined the fight, including Algerians and Moroccans. “It was a really tough clash and they excommunicated the losers,” said an SDF commander at the Baghouz frontline, who uses the nom de guerre Adnan Afrini. “It started in mid-September and it was a very serious attempt to kill or capture him. We don’t think he is in the town now.”

Hamdan said Baghdadi and his guard force had been in the area for almost six months before fleeing. “He tried to keep a low profile and didn’t travel through town with them but we all knew where they were. He used an old red Opal car.”

Isis has placed a bounty on the head of the main plotter, Abu Muath al-Jazairi, who is believed to be a veteran foreign fighter.

Nemsha, along with much of Baghouz, stands in ruin as Kurdish forces and special forces from Britain, France and the US tighten the net on the last pocket the group holds – a small strip of land along the Euphrates river.

Kurdish forces on the Baghouz frontline estimate the area is defended by about 400 hardcore Isis members, who do not intend to surrender. The SDF said it had captured 41 positions held by Isis.

Isis leaders are believed to be holding western hostages who were captured by the organisation over the past five years and whom they intend to use as bargaining chips. British journalist John Cantlie is believed to be among them and Baghouz residents who have fled the town suggested caves on the outskirts were being used to hide him and other captives.

Mortars fired by western special forces rained down on the holdouts through much of Sunday. Fighter jets soared above, leaving circular white streams that marked their orbits. The planes occasionally droped powerful bombs that created huge plumes of smoke. Surveillance drones moved slowly beneath the jets. Aram Kochar, a Kurdish military official said Isis fighters were wary of the drones and were rarely seen on the streets, apart from at dusk or under cloud cover.

“They’re very committed and they don’t plan on leaving,” the official said from the rooftop of a forward base, about 700 metres from the nearest Isis position. “We took two houses yesterday and they took them back from us at night.”

On Saturday night, Kurdish forces launched the final phase of the operation to take Baghouz – a move that will allow them to lay claim to ousting Isis from all the Syrian lands it had held since capturing a swathe of the country in early 2013. During the peak of its powers, Isis had made the nearby border with Iraq redundant and controlled an area of land from eastern Aleppo to Mosul – roughly the size of Wales.
Members of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) seen on the rooftop of a building on the outskirts of Baghouz.

As its losses pile up, the group faces a return to the ways of its forerunners, a low-level insurgency that terrorised Iraqi towns and cities, in particular. On Friday night, up to 10 Isis fighters on motorbikes attempted to storm a US military base near the al-Omar oilfield, 60km (37 miles) from the frontline. The attack was heralded earlier on Friday when a motorbike detonated on a bridge near the base.

Afrini said Isis knew guerrilla warfare well and that combatting the group when its members slipped back into their communities would pose a significant challenge. “That will require an intelligence war at the local level,” he said. “It’s not going to be easy.”

Groups of people, believed to be the last to leave Baghouz, sat on a grass ridge just outside the town on Sunday, where new arrivals have been processed every day over the past three weeks. Bombs thudded into the nearby town as a chill wind buffeted black-clad women and children milling slowly near military trucks that had staged for the fight.

Abandoned motorbikes, tattered clothes and razors littered an approach road. Inside Baghouz, bombed-out oil tankers lay scattered among rows of shattered houses. “This might take a week or so,” said Kochar. “Maybe more.”

Additional reporting: Mohammed Rasool


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« Reply #1941 on: Feb 11, 2019, 05:28 AM »


German ruling parties grapple with labor reforms, migration

New Europe
2/11/2019

BERLIN  — Germany's governing parties sought Monday to put behind them long-running internal divisions on labor reforms and migration policy, but the results could deepen tensions in Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition.

Merkel's center-right Christian Democratic Union leads an uneasy "grand coalition" of what were traditionally Germany's biggest parties with the center-left Social Democrats, who are trying to reverse a slump in poll ratings ahead of this year's European Parliament election.

The Social Democrats' leadership Sunday endorsed a package of proposals aimed at revamping divisive labor market reforms the party launched 16 years ago, as well as calling for a hefty rise in Germany's minimum wage and a right to work at home. The reforms and benefit cuts introduced under former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder have been credited with strengthening the economy but alienated many of the party's voters.

Party leader Andrea Nahles declared that the Social Democrats "are leaving behind us" an unpopular system of limited and conditional long-term unemployment benefits introduced under Schroeder. There is little chance of making the proposals reality in the coalition that the Social Democrats reluctantly entered last year. A deputy CDU leader, Volker Bouffier, charged that they "plan the burial of the social market economy."

The Social Democrats appear to hope that a flurry of left-leaning proposals that also has included a call for boosting low earners' pensions could help them avoid a disastrous showing in the European election in May. There has been widespread speculation that a poor performance, or an already-agreed midterm review of the coalition agreement this fall, could prompt the party to leave the government.

"We want to govern, but we want to govern with ideas that are in tune with the times," the Social Democrats' general secretary, Lars Klingbeil, said on ZDF television. Separately, the CDU was holding a "workshop" Monday to address migration policy, a hot-button issue inside the party since Merkel allowed in large numbers of migrants in 2015 — annoying conservatives and helping boost the far-right Alternative for Germany party.

New party leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer convened the meeting after succeeding Merkel in December, in an effort to prevent the issue becoming the kind of running sore that labor and benefits have been for the Social Democrats. Merkel herself was not participating.


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« Reply #1942 on: Feb 11, 2019, 05:30 AM »


Spain's courts put to test by trial of Catalan separatist

New Europe
2/11/2019

MADRID  — Spain is bracing for the nation's most sensitive trial in four decades of democracy this week, with a dozen Catalan separatists facing charges including rebellion over a failed secession bid in 2017.

The proceedings, which begin Tuesday, will be broadcast live on television and all eyes will be focused on the impartiality of the Spanish Supreme Court. Catalonia's separatists have attacked the court's credibility in the run-up to the trial, saying it is a puppet of the Spanish government and any ruling will be a political one that has been decided in advance.

"This is not about delivering justice, it's about teaching a lesson through punishment," Jordi Turull, one of the accused, told The Associated Press during an interview in jail. "What they are doing is decorating with rulings the political decisions that have been taken beforehand."

But Supreme Court president Carlos Lesmes dismisses that notion, saying the trial is the most important since Spain's transition to democracy in 1977 after the death of dictator Gen. Francisco Franco.

"This is a trial following the highest standards set by the European Union," Lesmes recently told a group of journalists. Lesmes says the outcome of the trial will reverberate beyond the political crisis in Catalonia, while recognizing that the Supreme Court's integrity is at stake.

"I certainly believe that there is a huge campaign to discredit the Spanish judiciary, which forms part of a defense strategy," he said. Spanish authorities say that the separatists are guaranteed a fair trial by the very democracy founded on the rule of law that they allegedly violated.

Lesmes rejected the idea that Spanish courts operate at the whim of the government, pointing to recent guilty verdicts for prominent members of the political and economic elite, including last year's graft conviction of former members of Rajoy's then-ruling party and the imprisonment, also on graft, of the king's brother-in-law.

Turull, the ex-spokesman of the Catalan regional government's Cabinet, and 11 others are being tried for their roles in holding an independence referendum on Oct. 1, 2017, after ignoring a ban by the country's Constitutional Court, and for the subsequent declaration of independence 26 days later despite more warnings from authorities.

The conflict with Catalonia has been festering ever since, with a regional election on Dec. 21, 2017, showing that the 7.5 million residents of Catalonia remain divided by the secession question. Former Catalan vice president Oriol Junqueras faces the largest possible sentence of 25 years for rebellion. Junqueras, Turull and seven other defendants have spent over a year in pre-trial custody because they were considered to be flight risks.

Junqueras' boss, former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont, and seven associates fled Spain to other European countries and have succeeded in avoiding extradition. Proceedings are likely to last for at least three months. The verdicts, and any sentences, would be delivered months later.

More than 500 witnesses have been called to testify in court, including former Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, Catalan and central government officials, police officers and ordinary citizens. The charge of rebellion will hinge on whether the prosecution can establish that the separatists employed violence during the breakaway attempt. They also face charges of sedition, which doesn't imply violence, disobedience, and the misuse of public funds.

"Here they are accusing our clients of a crime of rebellion when they didn't go out on the streets with tanks, or in uniforms or with weapons," Jordi Pina, the defense attorney for Turull and two other defendants, told the AP. "The only thing they did was to allow ordinary citizens who wanted to take a ballot and put it in a ballot box to do so."

Politically, the stakes are high. A harsh sentence would further alienate many Catalans, possibly even some who haven't been seduced by the idea of independence. The start of the trial coincides with Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez needing the support of Catalan separatist parties to pass his national budget.

Given that Europe will be closely observing the case, Sanchez paid a visit last week to the European Council and the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France. The case could eventually end up at that European court on appeal.

Without directly mentioning Catalonia, Sanchez told the European Council that Spain protects "the differences and peculiarities of every one of its regions" as opposed to "those who sustain political projects based on false fictions that incite hate and division."

Joseph Wilson reported from Barcelona.


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« Reply #1943 on: Feb 11, 2019, 05:32 AM »


Lessons for Brexit from Norway's hard border with Sweden

ORJE, Norway  — With fresh snow crunching under their boots and a handful of papers to be checked and stamped, truck drivers from Latvia, Sweden and Poland make their way across Norway's Orje customs station to a small office where their goods will be cleared out of the European Union and into Norway.

While many border posts in Europe have vanished,, Norway's hard border with the European Union is clearly visible, with cameras, license-plate recognition systems and barriers directing traffic to customs officers.

Norway's membership in the European Economic Area (EEA) grants it access to the EU's vast common market and most goods are exempt from paying duties. Still, everything entering the country must be declared and cleared through customs.

Technological solutions being tested in Norway to digitalize customs procedures for cargo have been seized on by some in Britain as a way to overcome border-related problems that threaten to scuttle a divorce deal with the EU. But the realities of this northern border also show the difficulties that persist.

A divorce deal between Britain and the EU has stumbled over how to guarantee an open border between the United Kingdom's Northern Ireland and EU member state Ireland after Britain leaves the bloc on March 29.

The Irish border area was a flashpoint during decades of conflict in Northern Ireland that cost 3,700 lives. The free flow of people and goods across the near-invisible Irish border now underpins both the local economy and Northern Ireland's peace process.

The EU's proposed solution is for Britain to remain in a customs union with the bloc, eliminating the need for checks until another solution is found. But pro-Brexit British politicians say that would stop the U.K. from forging new trade deals around the world.

Technology may or may not be the answer, depending on who you talk to. "Everyone agrees that we have to avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland, and ... technology will play a big part in doing so," said Northern Ireland Minister John Penrose.

But EU deputy Brexit negotiator Sabine Weyand said on Twitter: "Can technology solve the Irish border problem? Short answer: not in the next few years." The Customs office at Orje, on the road connecting the capitals of Oslo and Stockholm, has been testing a new digital clearance system to speed goods through customs by enabling exporters to submit information online up to two hours before a truck reaches the border.

At her desk in Orje, Chief Customs officer Nina Bullock was handling traditional paper border clearance forms when her computer informed her of an incoming truck that used the Express Clearance system.

"We know the truck number, we know the driver, we know what kinds of goods, we know everything," she told The Associated Press. "It will pass by the two cameras and go on. It's doesn't need to come into the office."

That allows Customs officers to conduct risk assessments before the vehicle even reaches the border. So far, only 10 Swedish companies are in the pilot project, representing just a handful of the 400-450 trucks that cross at this border post each day. But if it's successful, the plan will be expanded.

In the six months since the trial began, Customs section chief Hakon Krogh says some problems have brought the system to a standstill, from snow blocking the camera, to Wi-Fi issues preventing the border barrier from lifting, to truck drivers who misunderstand which customs lane to use.

"It's a pilot program, so it takes time to make things work smoothly before it can be expanded," said Krogh, who still felt the program could have a long-term benefit. The program also limits flexibility for exporters. If a driver calls in sick and is replaced by another, or extra cargo is added to a shipment, then all the paperwork must be resubmitted online.

Yet a greater barrier to digitalizing the border is the complexity of international trade. The Svinesund customs office, 90 kilometers (56 miles) south of Orje, is Norway's major road border, with 1,300 trucks each day carrying goods into the country from all over Europe. Customs section chief Kristen Hoiberget has been following the Orje pilot program with interest but warns of systematic challenges to its expansion.

"It's very easy to deal with a digital system when the goods are uniform," said Hoiberget. "If you have one kind of goods in a lorry, it's less complicated. But if you have a lorry that picks up goods at ten different places abroad, the complexity arises rapidly."

He said most of the export information needed is available digitally but Customs, clearance houses and exporters all use different computer systems. "There are a lot of prerequisites to a digital border," he said. "A frictionless border would need development and lots of legislation."

Back in Orje, vehicles entering Norway are randomly checked, with officers mainly looking for alcohol and cigarettes, which are cheaper in Sweden. Border changes are coming, but certainly not in the tight two-month timeframe that any Brexit border changes would need.

"If you look 15 years ahead, I guess this office won't be here. I won't be sitting here stamping papers," said Bullock. "But customs officers will still be on duty, to prevent goods coming into Norway that are not supposed to."

As an AP journalist waited in the snow to watch a truck at Orje use the Express Clearance lane, a truck driver made his way across a large parking lot to the customs office. "You must be doing a Brexit story," he joked. "They'll be in the same boat soon."

Lawless contributed from London.

David Keyton can be followed on Twitter at @DavidKeyton and Jill Lawless can be followed at@JillLawless.


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« Reply #1944 on: Feb 11, 2019, 05:44 AM »

The richest 0.00025 percent owns more wealth than bottom 150 million Americans: study

Jake Johnson, Common Dreams
11 Feb 2019 at 15:10 ET                   

As survey data continues to show that raising taxes on the wealthy is extremely popular among the U.S. public, new research by inequality expert and University of California, Berkeley economist Gabriel Zucman found that the richest 0.00025 percent of the American population now owns more wealth than the 150 million adults in the bottom 60 percent.

Zucman, who helped Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) develop her “Ultra-Millionaire Tax” proposal, observed in a working paper (pdf) that “U.S. wealth concentration seems to have returned to levels last seen during the Roaring Twenties.”

According to Zucman’s research, the richest 0.00025 percent—just 400 Americans—have seen their share of America’s national wealth triple since the 1980s, while the wealth of much of the U.S. population has stagnated or declined.

    The 400 richest Americans have tripled their share of the nation’s wealth since the early 1980s and now own more of the country’s riches than the 150 million adults in the bottom 60% of the wealth distribution. https://t.co/wVFzJzPW3C pic.twitter.com/5lFYfZgZvu

    — Steven Greenhouse (@greenhousenyt) February 9, 2019

    “The 400 richest Americans — the top 0.00025 percent of the population — have tripled their share of the nation’s wealth since the early 1980s, according to a new working paper on wealth inequality by Berkeley economist Gabriel Zucman.” https://t.co/TtkVcHnmJM

    — Alec MacGillis (@AlecMacGillis) February 9, 2019

As the Washington Post‘s Christopher Ingraham noted in a breakdown of Zucman’s research, adults in the bottom 60 percent of the wealth distribution “saw their share of the nation’s wealth fall from 5.7 percent in 1987 to 2.1 percent in 2014.”

Consolidation of wealth at the very top, Ingraham observes, “is eroding security from families in the lower and middle classes, who rely on their small stores of wealth to finance their retirement and to smooth over economic shocks like the loss of a job. And it’s consolidating power in the hands of the nation’s billionaires, who are increasingly using their riches to purchase political influence.”

Zucman’s research comes as members of Congress and 2020 presidential candidates are pushing a variety of plans to begin reducing America’s staggering wealth and income inequality by raising taxes on those at the very top.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who officially launched her 2020 presidential campaign on Saturday, has proposed an annual tax of two percent on assets over $50 million.

Last month, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)—who is reportedly close to announcing his 2020 candidacy—introduced the the For the 99.8% Act, which would establish a 77 percent tax on all estates over $1 billion.

And Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) has suggested imposing a top marginal tax rate of 70 percent on those who make over $10 million.

Pointing to polling data showing that 76 percent of Americans believe the rich should pay more in taxes, Indivisible’s Chad Bolt concluded: “Raising taxes on the wealthy isn’t just good policy. It’s also good politics.”

*********

How the GOP’s giant tax reform con was designed to trick American voters — and is now backfiring spectacularly

Cody Fenwick, AlterNet - COMMENTARY
11 Feb 2019 at 16:14 ET                   

Even as the Republican Party pushed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act through Congress in December 2017, critics were pointing out that it was filled with tricks and gimmicks meant to obscure the fact that it was a massive giveaway to corporations and the wealthy.

Now that the act has been law for more than and a year, the extent of its deception is coming into focus.

Writing for Vox, Matt Yglesias explained that the online furor from many supporters of President Donald Trump now filing their taxes appears to be a direct result of some accounting chicanery from the IRS designed to make the law more popular.

While the law did generally lower tax rates for most Americans — and then set them to spike after the 10-year mark — it didn’t lower most workers’ obligation by all that much. So instead of leveling with the American people and explaining that the purpose of the tax bill was never to provided much relief for typical people, the administration appears to have tried to tweak the IRS’s withholding guidelines to make it look like taxpayers got a bigger cut than they actually did.

They could do this because the IRS collects taxes throughout the year from most workers through their employers. For most people, it collects more money than taxpayers will ultimately owe — which is why so many Americans get refunds from the IRS during tax season, rather than having to pay the government money. In what seems to be an attempt to bolster the tax law in the eyes of voters, the IRS reduced the amount of taxes withheld from workers’ weekly paychecks throughout 2018, with an unfortunate result. Now that people are paying their taxes, they’re getting smaller refunds than they expected or owing the government more money than they had anticipated.

“If this was intended to give Republicans a boost in the midterms it obviously didn’t work, in part because the once-a-year tax filing process is a lot more salient than the biweekly process of automatic withholding,” wrote Yglesias. “In fact, they are now facing a backlash from an angry public that includes millions of people who were expecting tax refunds that they are now not going to get.”

And Brad Setser, a former deputy assistant secretary in the Treasury Department, explained in the New York Times Wednesday that while American workers are getting less than they had hoped for from tax reform, corporations are running away with even more than they were promised.

He pointed out that the tax bill’s corporate rate cuts were promoted as a tool to reduce the incentive for companies to move operations offshore. In fact, it has done the opposite, he argued:

    The White House argued they wanted a system that “encourages companies to stay in America, grow in America, spend in America, and hire in America.” Yet the bill [Trump] signed into law includes a sweetheart deal that allows companies that shift their profits abroad to pay tax at a rate well below the already-reduced corporate income tax — an incentive shift that completely contradicts his stated goal.

    Why would any multinational corporation pay America’s 21 percent tax rate when it could pay the new “global minimum” rate of 10.5 percent on profits shifted to tax havens, particularly when there are few restrictions on how money can be moved around a company and its foreign subsidiaries?

He added: “Overall, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act amounted to a technocratic sleight of hand — a scheme set to shift an even greater share of the federal tax burden onto the shoulders of American families.”

It’s not clear how much Trump knew about this — despite his claims to the contrary, he seems to have a thin grasp on tax policy. But, Setser argued, his advisers and those working on Capitol Hill must have known what the result of the plan would be. They left open gaping loopholes that allow corporations to get away with exactly the kind of behavior Trump pledged to end.

On top of the deception about the effect on personal tax rates, this trickery will also leave many Americans let down by the administration. Trump promised to bring a flood of business investment from overseas, but it’s not happening. The overhyped Foxconn factory plan in Wisconsin is turning out to be a bust. The president promised the end to all the corporate practices Americans hate, but if anything, these behaviors have accelerated. While some will believe Trump when he says the sky is green, eventually, economic reality catches up with the voting public.

**********

How Trump’s radical Republican tax cut broke the economy

David Cay Johnston, DC Report - COMMENTARY
11 Feb 2019 at 06:29 ET                   

Donald Trump’s tax cut for the rich and the corporations they control is turning out to be a bust for the American economy.

It will burden taxpayers with at least $1.5 trillion more federal debt because, instead of boosting tax revenues through increased economic activity as promised; it has caused a sharp drop in revenue.

In addition, millions of residents of blue states are about to get hit with big federal income tax increases while many American expatriates who own businesses overseas are also facing unexpected new tax bills, especially if they prudently saved for old age under the systems of the countries where they now reside.

A host of economic indicators shows the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act failed to achieve its key promise, a major increase in investments by business that would create more jobs. This is exactly the result that many, including those of us at DCReport, predicted.

    The economy is slowing down despite the promise that the Trump-Radical Republican tax cut would spur massive new investment.

We call the 2017 tax law the Trump-Radical Republican tax law because not one Democrat voted for the bill in the House or Senate. It was also passed without a single public hearing. It is a terrible law that benefits the richest among us at the expense of the many—and it needs to be fixed.

The Trump-Radical Republican tax law not only cut the corporate tax rate from 35% of profits to 21%. It also allowed corporations to immediately deduct 100% of capital expenditures instead of writing them off on their tax returns over periods from three years to decades.

This kind of corporate tax timing trick has been employed several times since the John F. Kennedy administration in 1962. The effect each time was to create a brief surge in corporate investment, called capital expenditures, followed by a slump.

Looked at over a period of several years, total capital investment was unchanged.

The evidence today shows the economy is slowing down after expanding since early in former President Barack Obama’s first term despite the promise that the Trump-Radical Republican tax cut would spur massive new investment.

The National Association for Business Economics found this month that the Trump-Radical Republican tax law has failed to increase business investment and activity.

NABE president, Kevin Swift, who is chief economist for then American Chemistry Council, said that 84% of business economists it surveyed agreed that “one year after its passage the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act has not caused their firms to change hiring or investment plans.”

There’s no reason to expect an increase going forward. Rather, economic growth appears to be slowing.

The association said that a majority of those it surveyed in January don’t expect a recession this year. However, fewer members expect robust economic growth in 2019.

It also noted a slowdown in the growth of profit margins as well as rising costs for materials, both signs of an economic expansion that is running out of fuel to keep going.

Manufacturing activity has grown for 116 consecutive months, the last 23 of them under Trump, the Institute for Supply Management’s latest report showed.

But institute reports also showed a sharp slowdown as 2018 ended despite the Trump-Radical Republican tax cut favors for business. In December, the institute’s Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) stood at 54.1, down sharply from 59.3 in November.

Much more worrisome was an 11-point decline in the index for future orders, which fell in December from 62.1 to 51.1. That suggests economic growth will slow, perhaps even stall, later this year.

Expect some contraction in consumer spending in the first half of this year as many prosperous Americans get hit with much bigger than expected income tax bills.

Thanks to the Trump-Radical Republican tax cut, millions of families in California, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Virginia and other high-tax states will owe thousands to tens of thousands of dollars more in federal income tax for 2018 even if their income was unchanged from 2017.

That is because individuals can deduct no more than $10,000 in state and local taxes, known as SALT, on the tax returns due this spring, and most homeowners will no longer be able to deduct mortgage interest.

The number of taxpayers who will be eligible to itemize deductions is expected to fall from about one in three to just one in 20.

The taxpayers most affected live in Democratic-leaning blue states, which also happen to be those with better paying jobs. Had the Trump-Radical Republican tax cut bill been examined in public hearings, the public would have known about its partisan provisions, something the framers of our Constitution warned against and which they tried to prevent with the uniformity clause in Article I, Section 8, Clause 1 of our Constitution, which says taxes should be uniform across the country.

In addition, many American expatriates are being hit hard by Trump and Congress because their tax-deferred retirement savings plans in some countries are now treated as immediately taxable by the United States. That’s because the law did not distinguish between profits siphoned out of the United States by companies like Apple and the normal course of business for many expatriates complying with the laws where they now live.

Congress taxes Americans and American-based corporations on their worldwide income. Other major countries tax people only on income earned within their boundaries.

Similarly, the equity built up in enterprises such as medical practices is treated as immediately taxable under the Trump-Radical Republican tax law. These consequences illustrate a key reason that tax law should not be drafted in secret and voted on without public hearings.

Had Congress held public hearings the tax problems created for American expatriate professionals and business owner differences in the tax rules of other countries could have been spotted and then prevented or minimized.

Now that the Democrats control the House, which our Constitution requires be the origination point for all tax laws, hearings could be held to ameliorate or even eliminate these problems.

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

‘Wonderful to watch Trump voters learn’: MSNBC panel laughs at conservatives angry over small tax returns

Raw Story
2/11/2019

Americans have begun to learn the impact of the Republican tax cut that was rolled into effect after they failed to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act. Not only did the trickle-down tax cut have no impact on businesses, economist Paul Krugman said it has made Americans worse off.

Many are discovering this as they begin to do their taxes and learn that their typical refunds are shrinking. “I trusted you,” said one voter of President Donald Trump, who saw his refund cut in half.

In an MSNBC panel Sunday, it was revealed the IRS estimates tax cuts to decrease considerably. The average cut in 2018 was $2,033 and this year it will average $1,865. Refunds had an 8.4 percent decrease thanks to the Republican tax cut.

Panelists simply shrugged, avoiding saying “I told you so.” The host noted that Trump voters are saying that they feel “cheated.”

“Which is amazing because we’ve been telling them they’ve been cheated in this entire time,” said SiriusXM radio host Danielle Modie-Mills. The “tax bill was only going to help the 1 percent. And everybody else you may see a few bucks back but not even seeing that. So, yes, these people have been cheated, and we’ve known that for a long time. I’m so glad they’re waking up to that in reality.”

“Donald Trump would never lie about anyone’s taxes. How dare you,” joked Republican strategist Rick Tyler. “Look, people can defend the actual tax cut that got passed, and I can defend elements of it but don’t sell it as a middle-class tax cut when it wasn’t. now people are finding out.

Above The Law editor, Elie Mystal noted that watching those Trump supporters learn the facts about what Democrats have been telling them is like “schadenfreude,” a German word meaning “happiness at the misfortune of others.”

“It’s wonderful to watch the Trump voters learn,” he said. “Now we get to test a theory I’ve had. My theory has been, they voted for Trump because they’re racist and sexist. Their theory: ‘No. we had economic grievances.’ Now we get to see who was right. If they had economic grievances, it’s a great time not to vote for Trump again. Other grievances, then they’ll be part of the 37 percent once again.”


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« Reply #1945 on: Feb 11, 2019, 07:25 AM »

‘Absolute joke’: MSNBC’s Morning Joe shreds Trump for ‘staring at TV sets like an old man in a retirement home’

Travis Gettys
11 Feb 2019 at 08:08 ET                   

MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough ridiculed President Donald Trump for spending most of his time watching TV and griping like a retiree.

Another set of presidential schedules leaked over the weekend, showing Trump spent half his time in unstructured “executive time,” watching news coverage and gossiping with friends.

“What a joke, what an absolute joke,” Scarborough said. “We’ve seen one person after another working for Trump saying he often just hunkers down upstairs in the personal quarters, he spends the majority of his time watching cable news, tweeting, yelling, staring at TV sets like an old man that is in a retirement home instead of a president of the United States who is supposed to be working 24 hours a day.”

The president insisted in a tweet after the schedules leaked that he probably worked more than any previous president, and the “Morning Joe” host mocked his claim as ridiculous.

“I’m sure most older men in retirement homes live far more active lives than does Donald Trump,” he added. “But for these people to come out and suggest and for Donald Trump to suggest he’s worked harder than most any president before him is just an absolute joke.”

Scarborough pointed out that Trump promised that he would rarely take time off from working, but instead spent half of his time watching TV and golfing nearly every weekend.

“Historians will record when this presidency is over that Donald Trump was the laziest president ever to occupy the Oval Office,” he said, “and did less work than any other president to ever to occupy the Oval Office — full stop.”

Less than five minutes later, the president tweeted out an apparent response to Scarborough — whom he insists he never watches.

    No president ever worked harder than me (cleaning up the mess I inherited)!

    — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 11, 2019

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kYl-TwGXSSQ


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« Reply #1946 on: Feb 12, 2019, 04:54 AM »


Top 12 Health Benefits of Sea Buckthorn Oil

Ecowatch
2/12/2019

Sea buckthorn oil has been used for thousands of years as a natural remedy against various ailments.

It is extracted from the berries, leaves and seeds of the sea buckthorn plant (Hippophae rhamnoides), which is a small shrub that grows at high altitudes in the northwest Himalayan region (1).

Sometimes referred to as the holy fruit of the Himalayas, sea buckthorn can be applied to the skin or ingested.

A popular remedy in Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicines, it may provide health benefits ranging from supporting your heart to protecting against diabetes, stomach ulcers and skin damage.

Here are 12 science-backed benefits of sea buckthorn oil.


1. Rich in Many Nutrients

Sea buckthorn oil is rich in various vitamins, minerals and beneficial plant compounds (2, 3).

For instance, it is naturally full of antioxidants, which help protect your body against aging and illnesses like cancer and heart disease (4).

The seeds and leaves are also particularly rich in quercetin, a flavonoid linked to lower blood pressure and a reduced risk of heart disease (5, 6, 7, Cool.

What's more, its berries boast potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron and phosphorus. They also contain good amounts of folate, biotin and vitamins B1, B2, B6, C and E (9, 10, 11).

More than half of the fat found in sea buckthorn oil is mono- and polyunsaturated fat, which are two types of healthy fats (12).

Interestingly, sea buckthorn oil may also be one of the only plant foods known to provide all four omega fatty acids—omega-3, omega-6, omega-7 and omega-9 (13).

Summary

Sea buckthorn oil is rich in various vitamins and minerals, as well as antioxidants and other plant compounds potentially beneficial to your health.

2. Promotes Heart Health

Sea buckthorn oil may benefit heart health in several different ways.

For starters, its antioxidants may help reduce risk factors of heart disease, including blood clots, blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels.

In one small study, 12 healthy men were given either 5 grams of sea buckthorn oil or coconut oil per day. After four weeks, the men in the sea buckthorn group had significantly lower markers of blood clots (14).

In another study, taking 0.75 ml of sea buckthorn oil daily for 30 days helped reduce blood pressure levels in people with high blood pressure. Levels of triglycerides, as well as total and "bad" LDL cholesterol, also dropped in those who had high cholesterol.

However, the effects on people with normal blood pressure and cholesterol levels were less pronounced (15).

A recent review also determined that sea buckthorn extracts may reduce cholesterol levels in people with poor heart health—but not in healthy participants (16).

Summary

Sea buckthorn oil may aid your heart by reducing blood pressure, improving blood cholesterol levels and protecting against blood clots. That said, effects may be strongest in people with poor heart health.

3. May Protect Against Diabetes

Sea buckthorn oil may also help prevent diabetes.

Animal studies show that it may help reduce blood sugar levels by increasing insulin secretion and insulin sensitivity (17, 18).

One small human study notes that sea buckthorn oil may help minimize blood sugar spikes after a carb-rich meal (19).

Because frequent, long-term blood sugar spikes can increase your risk of type 2 diabetes, preventing them is expected to reduce your risk.

However, more studies are needed before strong conclusions can be made.

Summary

Sea buckthorn may help improve insulin secretion and insulin sensitivity, both of which could protect against type 2 diabetes—though more research is needed.

4. Protects Your Skin

Compounds in sea buckthorn oil may boost your skin health when applied directly.

For instance, test-tube and animal studies show that the oil may help stimulate skin regeneration, helping wounds heal more quickly (20, 21).

Similarly, animal studies reveal that sea buckthorn oil may also help reduce inflammation following UV exposure, protecting skin against sun damage (22).

Researchers believe that both of these effects may stem from sea buckthorn's omega-7 and omega-3 fat content (23).

In a seven-week study in 11 young men, a mix of sea buckthorn oil and water applied directly to the skin promoted skin elasticity better than a placebo (24).

There's also some evidence that sea buckthorn oil may prevent skin dryness and help your skin heal from burns, frostbite and bedsores (23, 25, 26).

Keep in mind that more human studies are needed.

Summary

Sea buckthorn oil may help your skin heal from wounds, sunburns, frostbite and bedsores. It may also promote elasticity and protect against dryness.

5. May Boost Your Immune System

Sea buckthorn oil may help protect your body against infections.

Experts attribute this effect, in large part, to the high flavonoid content of the oil.

Flavonoids are beneficial plant compounds which may strengthen your immune system by increasing resistance to illnesses (4, 27).

In one test-tube study, sea buckthorn oil prevented the growth of bacteria such as E. coli (12).

In others, sea buckthorn oil offered protection against influenza, herpes and HIV viruses (4).

Sea buckthorn oil contains a good amount of antioxidants, beneficial plant compounds that may also help defend your body against microbes (28).

That said, research in humans is lacking.

Summary

Sea buckthorn oil is rich in beneficial plant compounds such as flavonoids and antioxidants, which may help your body fight infections.

6. May Support a Healthy Liver

Sea buckthorn oil may also contribute to a healthy liver.

That's because it contains healthy fats, vitamin E and carotenoids, all of which may safeguard liver cells from damage (29).

In one study, sea buckthorn oil significantly improved markers of liver function in rats with liver damage (30).

In another study, people with cirrhosis—an advanced form of liver disease—were given 15 grams of sea buckthorn extract or a placebo three times per day for six months.

Those in the sea buckthorn group increased their blood markers of liver function significantly more than those given a placebo (31).

In two other studies, people with non-alcoholic liver disease given either 0.5 or 1.5 grams of sea buckthorn 1–3 times daily saw blood cholesterol, triglyceride and liver enzyme levels improve significantly more than those given a placebo (32, 33).

Although these effects seem promising, more studies are necessary to make firm conclusions.

Summary

Compounds in sea buckthorn may aid liver function, though more studies are needed.

7. May Help Fight Cancer Cells

Compounds present in sea buckthorn oil may help fight cancer. These protective effects may be caused by the flavonoids and antioxidants in the oil.

For instance, sea buckthorn is rich in quercetin, a flavonoid which appears to help kill cancer cells (Cool.

Sea buckthorn's various antioxidants, including carotenoids and vitamin E, may also protect against this notorious disease (34, 35).

A few test-tube and animal studies suggest that sea buckthorn extracts may be effective at preventing the spread of cancer cells (36, 37).

However, the reported cancer-fighting effects of sea buckthorn oil are much milder than those of chemotherapy drugs (38).

Keep in mind that these effects have not yet been tested in humans, so more studies are needed.

Summary

Sea buckthorn oil provides certain beneficial plant compounds which may offer some protection against cancer. However, its effects are likely mild—and human research is lacking.

8–12. Other Potential Benefits

Sea buckthorn oil is said to give additional health benefits. However, not all claims are supported by sound science. Those with the most evidence include:

8. May improve digestion: Animal studies indicate that sea buckthorn oil may help prevent and treat stomach ulcers (39, 40).

9. May reduce symptoms of menopause: Sea buckthorn may reduce vaginal drying and act as an effective alternative treatment for postmenopausal women who cannot take estrogen (41).

10. May treat dry eyes: In one study, daily sea buckthorn intake was linked to reduced eye redness and burning (42).

11. May lower inflammation: Research in animals indicates that sea buckthorn leaf extracts helped reduce joint inflammation (43).

12. May reduce symptoms of depression: Animal studies report that sea buckthorn may have antidepressant effects. However, this hasn't been studied in humans (44).

It's important to note that most of these studies are small and very few involve humans. Therefore, more research is needed before strong conclusions can be made.

Summary

Sea buckthorn may offer an array of additional health benefits, ranging from reduced inflammation to menopause treatment. However, more studies—especially in humans—are needed.

The Bottom Line

Sea buckthorn oil is a popular alternative remedy for a variety of ailments.

It is rich in many nutrients and may improve the health of your skin, liver and heart. It may also help protect against diabetes and aid your immune system.

As this plant product has been used in traditional medicine for thousands of years, it may be worth trying to give your body a boost.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Healthline.


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« Reply #1947 on: Feb 12, 2019, 04:56 AM »

About 500,000 Cattle Feared Dead After Historic Queensland Floods

Ecowatch
2/12/2019

An estimated 500,000 are feared dead after historic floods inundated Queensland, Australia, according to News.com.au, citing the state's cattle industry.

Financial losses are estimated at $300 million Australian dollars (about $212 million U.S.).

Days of "unprecedented" rainfall earlier this month led to widespread flooding across the state, causing power outages, damaging roads and buildings and prompting evacuations, according to AccuWeather. Some areas, the Guardian noted, received three years' worth of rain in about a week.

Tragically, farmers in northwest Queensland initially welcomed the rains, as the region had suffered years of back-to-back drought, according to Michael Guerin, the CEO of Queenlands agricultural body AgForce.

"The loss of hundreds of thousands of cattle after five, six, seven years of drought, is a debilitating blow not just to individual farmers, many of whom have lost literally everything, but to rural communities," he said in a press release.

Guerin said the cattle industry could take decades to recover after the entire herds of cattle were wiped out from the extreme weather.

"There is no doubt that this is a disaster of unprecedented proportion," he said. He urged governments of all levels and other agencies to help the farmers with recovery efforts.

Local farmers expressed heartbreak at the sheer scale of destruction caused by the floods, not just for cattle but to other native wildlife and to infrastructure.

"As we begin to access our paddocks we are being confronted with death and devastation at every turn," Kate Hunter, who works at the Gipsy Plains Brahmans farm, wrote in a widely shared Facebook post. "There are kangaroos dead in trees and fences, birds drowned in drifts of silt and debris and our beloved bovine family lay perished in piles where they have been huddling for protection and warmth. This scene is mirrored across the entire region, it is absolutely soul destroying to think our animals suffered like this."

"The true scale of destruction this disaster has left in its wake we are only just beginning to discover," she continued. "The sheer amount of water that engulfed the region has demolished fences, exposed pipelines, destroyed water infrastructure, created huge gullies that were once only small seasonal streams, turned roads into rivers and completely washed dam banks away."

Hunter wrote wrote that graziers around the district are "working tirelessly" to save all the animals they can and also to humanely euthanize the ones that are "sadly beyond saving."

"This is an absolutely gut wrenching time for all of us out here, these cattle are not just our source of income, firstly they are our family and for many of us our life's passion," she continued.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Monday that the federal government will provide an immediate non-gratia payment of $1 million to each of the affected Queensland shires.

"This payment will be for them to use on priorities they deem most urgent—whether that be rate relief for impacted properties, infrastructure, or the disposal of cattle which have perished," he said, as quoted by the Australian Associated Press.


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« Reply #1948 on: Feb 12, 2019, 04:58 AM »


Climate Change Seen as Top Threat in Global Survey

Ecowatch
2/12/2019

Climate change is seen as the biggest international threat facing many nations, according to a 26-country survey released by the Pew Research Center on Sunday.

Thirteen of the countries surveyed listed global warming as their top security concern. Other major concerns were the Islamic State or ISIS, listed as the top threat by eight countries, cyberattacks, picked by four including the U.S. and Russia's power and influence, which was chosen as the top threat by Poland.

"Overall we've seen that general climate concerns and specifically global climate change had been at the top of the list or near the top of the list along with terrorism in the five years in which we've been doing these questions," Pew Research Center Associate Director Jacob Poushter told U.S. News & World Report.

However, the number of respondents worried about climate change has risen substantially over the past five years. In 2013, a median of 56 percent of respondents across all 23 countries surveyed that year rated it as a top concern. That number rose to 63 percent in 2017 and 67 percent in 2018. Overall, climate change is seen as the top threat by a median of respondents across all 26 countries surveyed in 2018, closely followed by ISIS.

The biggest change in opinion over the past five years was the rise in respondents who listed U.S. power and influence as a major threat. A quarter of 22 nations saw the U.S. as a threat in 2013, but that number rose to 38 percent after President Donald Trump was elected in 2017 and climbed to 45 percent in 2018, two years into his presidency. In 17 countries surveyed, those who have little confidence in the current U.S. president are more likely to list U.S. influence as a threat. The survey did not assess whether Trump's hostility to climate science and decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris agreement contributed to respondents' view of the the U.S. as a global threat.

While climate change is a top concern across many nations, the survey did agree with many other recent polls in recording a partisan divide on the issue within individual countries. In the U.S. and Europe, those on the ideological left are more likely to see climate change as a threat than ISIS, while on the right, this is flipped. For example, Republicans in the U.S. are 56 percent less likely to list climate change as a threat than Democrats. Those who support Germany's right wing Alternative for Germany and the UKIP in Great Britain are 28 percent and 22 percent less likely to see climate change as a threat, respectively, compared to those who don't.

On a country-by-country basis, climate change was seen as a major threat by 90 percent of respondents in Greece, 83 percent in France and 80 percent in Mexico. However, ISIS actually beat climate change as France's top threat, with 87 percent of respondents listing it. All three Latin American countries surveyed listed climate change as their top concern, whereas six out of 10 European countries surveyed picked it as the number one threat.


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« Reply #1949 on: Feb 12, 2019, 05:01 AM »

Greenpeace Ships Set Sail to Tackle the Global Plastic Pollution Crisis

Ecowatch
2/12/2019

Corporations have created a plastic monster. More than 90 percent of the plastics ever produced have not been recycled, yet corporations have plans to dramatically increase their production of plastic packaging. With plastic production set to quadruple by 2050, recycling can never be enough to solve this problem.

But the global movement to hold these corporations accountable is growing. More than 3 million of you have joined us in urging companies to stop polluting our planet with throwaway plastic. And together with over 1,400 allies in the global Break Free From Plastic movement, we conducted 239 cleanups in 42 countries to identify the biggest corporate polluters.

In October, Greenpeace International released the Crisis of Convenience report, based on a survey to 11 of the biggest fast-moving consumer goods companies globally. Despite some of these companies publicly signing a voluntary, non-binding commitment to tackle the crisis, the report revealed that none of the companies surveyed currently have comprehensive plans to move away from single-use packaging; on the contrary, most of them have plans to increase the overall amount of plastic packaging they produce.

So now we are deploying the Greenpeace ships; the Rainbow Warrior and the Beluga, to tell the global story of where plastic pollution really starts and ends. We are rallying supporters worldwide to help hold these companies accountable and to make sure they follow up on their words with bold action. Because we don't need more talk—we need concrete, urgent action to stop plastic pollution at the source!

Greenpeace's flagship, the Rainbow Warrior, has been surrounded by giant single-use plastic items in Mediterranean waters. The action seeks to make visible the invisible, and to denounce the problem of plastic pollution in the oceans, especially in the Mediterranean Sea.

It's time for Nestlé, Unilever, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo., Colgate, Danone, Johnson & Johnson and Mars to be transparent about exactly how much plastic packaging they are producing, and make concrete plans to reduce. It's time for these corporations to invest in alternative ways to deliver their products to us and phase out single-use plastic.

These companies have created a monster, and we are not willing to allow the plastic monster to grow anymore. We need concrete plans for reduction, and we need them now. We need corporations to slay the plastic monster.

Stay tuned for more details about Greenpeace's ships' whereabouts in the coming weeks and months and to see how you can get involved!


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