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Author Topic: ENVIRONMENT, CLIMATE, GLOBAL WARMING, AND CULTURE  (Read 2266213 times)
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Darja
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« Reply #2700 on: Apr 16, 2019, 04:03 AM »


David Attenborough gave the natural world a voice. Now he’s talking about climate change like never before.

‘What we do in the next 20 years will determine the future for all life on Earth,’ the famed naturalist says
The natural world is under attack. Here's why David Attenborough is still hopeful.

By Brady Dennis
April 16 2019
WA Post

Sir David Attenborough has been documenting nature for more than six decades. His various television series — such as “Life on Earth,” “The Living Planet” and “Planet Earth” — have taken viewers to every corner of the globe, capturing the beauty and complexity of the natural world.

At 92, the renowned British naturalist is hardly finished.

In recent years, Attenborough increasingly has used his spellbinding whisper of a voice not only to describe the courtship rituals of birds of paradise or the mass migration of millions of Christmas Island red crabs, but also to repeatedly sound the alarm about climate change.

Last fall at a global climate conference in Poland, he told world leaders that “if we don’t take action, the collapse of our civilization and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon.” Earlier this year at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, Attenborough again pushed for action, warning, “The Garden of Eden is no more."

“The only conditions modern humans have ever known are changing and changing fast,” he said at the time, adding, “It is tempting and understandable to ignore the evidence and carry on as usual or to be filled with doom and gloom. … We need to move beyond guilt or blame and get on with the practical tasks at hand."

Attenborough’s latest project, an eight-part Netflix series produced in partnership with the World Wildlife Fund, is full of sobering reminders about how climate change is threatening significant parts of the natural world, coupled with the hope that humans might find the collective willpower to avert the most catastrophic consequences.

“Our Planet” was filmed over four years and across every continent, taking viewers to the remote Arctic wilderness, the vast plains of Africa and the depths of the world’s oceans to explore how much of nature is changing — and, in many ways, vanishing — in the age of climate change. Its central message is one of urgency.

“What we do in the next 20 years will determine the future for all life on Earth,” Attenborough intones in the first episode of “Our Planet.”

Before a screening this week at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Attenborough spoke with The Post about the project, his reasons for optimism and what keeps him motivated. What follows has been edited for length and clarity:

Washington Post: You’ve been documenting the natural world for six decades now. And often with this very distinctive sense of wonder. And while a lot of your series have talked about the concerns with the state of the environment, only in more recent years have you been more outspoken about climate change and about the threat that it poses. What changed for you?

David Attenborough, narrator of the Netflix series “Our Planet,” spoke about the impacts of climate change on the natural world. Watch: <iframe width='480' height='290' scrolling='no' src='https://www.washingtonpost.com/video/c/embed/028e9204-13a7-410e-b206-0d9fa24ab3ae' frameborder='0' webkitallowfullscreen mozallowfullscreen allowfullscreen></iframe>

Sir David Attenborough: Well, not quite true. For example, 20 years ago, I was on Easter Island explaining how Easter Island was an example of a culture that destroyed its own environment and eventually killed itself, as it were. And I ended that series by saying that unless [we avoid that], we’re going to do it for the whole planet. The funny thing is people took no notice. They said, “Oh, yeah, you’re wrong about that.” Well, that was over 20 years ago. But now, of course, we are absolutely explicit about it because the scientists worldwide are absolutely unanimous about this. There’s no question that the world is warming. No question about that. The degree to which we are responsible is argued about by some, but most are absolutely agreed that humanity — we are the prime cause of this latest rise.

WP: In the parts that I’ve seen in this latest series, “Our Planet,” there’s this inescapable sense of loss — whether it’s the loss of habitat, or the loss of forests in Borneo or coral reefs in Australia. As a viewer you’re kind of left to ponder all that’s disappearing from the natural world. I assume that’s on purpose. And my question is: What do you and the producers want people to take away from this? What do you want people to come away thinking about?

Attenborough: A number of things. One is that we are totally dependent upon the natural world for every mouthful of food we eat and every lungful of air that we breathe. If we damage the natural world, we reduce that, so we damage ourselves. That’s the first. The second thing is that they should see — because the United Nations tell us that most people these days are urbanized, out of touch with the natural world, to some degree — that they should see the complexity, the beauty and the wonder of the natural world on which we depend. And finally, they should see that we have got to do something to look after it because the way things are going, we are running into serious trouble.

WP: You mentioned the United Nations. I was there in Poland last fall when you came and addressed the climate conference there and said, “If we don’t take action on climate change, the collapse of our civilization and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon.” You called it one of the greatest threats in thousands of years. And you had a pretty simple message for the leaders there, which is, “You must lead.” So how’s the world doing? Who’s leading? Is there a lack of leadership?

Attenborough: Well, it’s a big problem. It’s not easy. It’s not easy to get all the nations in the world, of all kinds, [in agreement]. It’s hardly ever happened before. It happened when we saved whales. But that was just a section of humanity. Those maritime nations and people who fished — they could see the problem and they dealt with it. What we’re dealing with now is the entire globe, and that is a very big thing to do. People in Africa and Australia and China and Europe and South America and so on — we’ve all got to get together. And we all come from different backgrounds. So it’s not easy for people to understand why it’s damaging to cut down the Amazonian rain forest, for example. Lots of people will tell them no. But do the people who live there think so? Well, there are problems. And not just only in South America. In Australia at the moment, there are problems. And, of course, there are problems here in the United States.

WP: And since we are here in the United States, and especially in Washington, what do you make of the reversal of this country on climate action and what that means for the broader world?

Attenborough: Well, I mean, it’s a big blow. Can’t deny that. This country, the United States, consumes more and takes more from the natural world per capita than anybody in the entire globe. So to have people here denying it is a huge problem, and we have to do our best [despite that]. It doesn’t mean to say, “Well, in that case we’ll forget about it.” We can’t. It makes it more and more urgent that we keep going.

WP: This series certainly tries to highlight the problems facing the natural world and the dangers posed by climate change, and it carries this conservation message. Maybe less clear — to all of us — are what the solutions are. And I wonder what you see as some of the main solutions? And more important, how optimistic are you that we as a people can act?

Attenborough: I mean, the main problem, of course, is carbon. And a high proportion of our energy — the dominant source — has been from dealing with carbon, and we have to get out of that. We have the technology. There are problems — problems in storage, for example, storing electricity and power. It’s a difficult one to do. We haven’t done it properly ... Think if it cost almost nothing to take energy from the Sahara in the middle of Africa, for example, and feed it to, say, southern Europe for nothing? I mean [the sun] is up; we’ve got it all the time. Why aren’t we using it? And if you get the scientific brains of the world to turn themselves to that problem — if this country can send men to the moon, you know, I’m jolly sure that if it put its mind to it, it could solve that particular problem of electricity.

WP: On a personal note, do you have any intentions of winding down in any way? Is there always a next project? What gets you out of bed each day?

Attenborough: What’s getting me out of bed initially, of course, is that I can think of nothing nicer than spending my time looking at the natural world. But what gets me out of bed, too, is the knowledge that I have grandchildren — I don’t have great-grandchildren yet, but I hope I will have — I care about what’s going on with the next generation. And the great source of comfort I have is that younger people today are more activated than they have ever been. And if you want to take a section of the population and see where is the anxiety — it is them. It is their world. We have messed it up. My generation certainly have messed it up, and we’re giving it to them.

WP: When you see young people recently, just few weeks ago, marching basically all over the world — when you look at that, what do you see, as someone generations ahead of them?

Attenborough: I mean, strikes are a way of expressing a strong feeling that you have, but they don’t solve it. You don’t solve anything by striking. But you do change opinion, and you do change politicians’ opinions. And that’s why strikes are worthwhile.


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« Reply #2701 on: Apr 16, 2019, 04:05 AM »


Seychelles president issues underwater plea to protect oceans

Danny Faure gives speech from submersible 120 metres below surface of Indian Ocean

Associated Press in Desroches Island
16 Apr 2019 10.40 BST

The president of the Seychelles has made a plea for stronger protection of the “beating blue heart of our planet”, in a speech delivered from deep below the ocean’s surface.

Danny Faure’s call for action, billed as the first live speech from a submersible, came during a visit to an ambitious British-led science expedition exploring the Indian Ocean depths.

“Oceans cover over two-thirds of the world’s surface but remain, for the most part, uncharted. We have better maps of Mars than we do of the ocean floor,” Faure said. “This issue is bigger than all of us, and we cannot wait for the next generation to solve it. We are running out of excuses to not take action, and running out of time.”

The president was speaking from a manned submersible 120 metres (400ft) below the waves, on the seabed off the outer islands of the African nation.

Wearing a Seychelles T-shirt and shorts, Faure said after his speech that the experience was “so, so cool”. It had made him more determined than ever to speak out for marine protection, he said. “We just need to do what needs to be done. The scientists have spoken.”

The oceans’ role in regulating the climate and the threats they face are underestimated by many, even though, as Faure pointed out, they generate “half of the oxygen we breathe”. Scientific missions are crucial in taking stock of underwater ecosystems’ health.

Small island nations are among the most vulnerable to rising sea levels caused by climate change. Land erosion, dying coral reefs and the increased frequency of extreme weather events threaten their existence.

During the expedition, marine scientists from the University of Oxford have surveyed underwater life, mapped large areas of the sea floor and explored the depths with manned submersibles and underwater drones.

Little is known about the oceans below depths of 30 metres, the limit to which a normal scuba diver can go. Operating down to 500 metres, the scientists were the first to explore areas of great diversity where sunlight weakens and the deep ocean begins.

By the end of the mission, researchers expect to have conducted more than 300 deployments, collected about 1,400 samples and 16 terabytes of data and surveyed about 25,000 sq metres (269,100 sq ft) of seabed using high-resolution multi-beam sonar equipment.

The data will be used to help the Seychelles expand its policy of protecting almost a third of its national waters by 2020. The initiative is important for the country’s “blue economy”, an attempt to balance development needs with those of the environment.

“From this depth, I can see the incredible wildlife that needs our protection and the consequences of damaging this huge ecosystem that has existed for millennia,” Faure said in his speech. “Over the years we have created these problems. We can solve them.”

About 5% of the world’s oceans are protected. Countries have agreed to increase the area to 10% by 2020. But experts and environmental campaigners say between 30% and 50% of the oceans outside nations’ territorial waters should get protected status to ensure marine biodiversity.


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« Reply #2702 on: Apr 16, 2019, 04:11 AM »

Cloth, cow dung, cups: how the world's women manage their periods

For women living without access to basic sanitation, menstruation can be especially challenging. Their resourcefulness knows no bounds

by Kate Hodal
Guardian
16 Apr 2019 09.00 BST

From animal skins and old rags to cow patties and silicon cups, women around the world use all sorts of materials to manage their periods each month.

Basic necessities for dealing properly with menstruation, such as access to clean water or a decent toilet, are simply unavailable to millions of women and girls.

Without these services, menstruation can negatively affect women’s health as well as their involvement in social and economic activities, says Louisa Gosling of WaterAid, which has published a photo gallery detailing the various ways women around the world manage their periods.
Cow dung used for menstruation

    Clockwise from top left: some women cut cow dung to size for use during menstruation; others use powdered dung placed in a pouch; ; a tampon; a homemade sanitary pad.

“Women shouldn’t have to worry about where they might go, how they might manage their periods, or whether the appropriate facilities – including running water and adequate disposal – will be available,” says Gosling, who serves as quality programmes manager for the water, sanitation and hygiene charity.

Globally, one in three people lacks access to a decent toilet of their own, while one in nine is unable to obtain clean water near their home, according to WaterAid. A Unesco report found that one in 10 girls in sub-Saharan Africa misses school during their monthly periods, while some simply drop out of school altogether.

    Clockwise from top left: Nyanda, a small piece of cloth used as a sanitary pad in Malawi; cotton pads used in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso; an IUD; a reusable pad.

Whether it’s by taxing sanitary products, failing to build segregated toilets, or refusing to teach girls about their reproductive health and rights, governments not only fail to provide the infrastructure necessary for women and girls to manage their periods, they also ignore the associated links to women’s health and economic and social wellbeing, says Gosling, who insists far more needs to be done.

“WaterAid is calling on governments worldwide to prioritise appropriate sanitation, clean water, and good hygiene in schools, homes, and workplaces, and access to sanitary products to all, to ensure that women are not excluded from society once a month as a result of a natural process.”
Munyes, 44, Karamoja region, Uganda

    Munyes, 44, digs a hole in the ground in Uganda’s Karamoja region. During her period she sits on top of the hole to collect the blood.

Although both India and Tanzania recently repealed the “tampon tax”, which in some cases subjected hygiene products to a 12-14% levy, campaigners have long warned that the majority of women and girls do not use these products due to lack of access, information and affordability.

“While the decision of our government to abolish taxes on sanitary products was a bold step in the right direction, much more needs to be done,” says Ibrahim Kabole, WaterAid’s country director for Tanzania.

“Half the population lives without a clean water supply close to home and more than 75% do not have a decent toilet, which is crucial for women to manage their periods.”

In many countries, women most frequently use cloth during menstruation, according to the charity. Cloth is reusable and, for many women, is seen as a cheaper and more sustainable methodology than sanitary pads. In India alone, roughly 121 million women are of reproductive age, according to WaterAid: if all of them used just eight sanitary pads a month, that would amount to 12bn pads a year.

Sangita, 32, from Nepal, makes her own sanitary pads instead.

“Ready-made pads are costly and if you do not dispose [of] them properly it will pollute the environment,” she says.

“In a municipality like ours, where there is no plan for managing solid waste, these sorts of pads can contaminate our water source as well if not disposed of properly. So looking at the wider impact, homemade pads are safer.”

In Uganda, Lepera Joyce, 23, uses goatskin to trap the blood, which she then washes away privately with cow ghee because “no one is supposed to look at your blood”.

“I started menstruating when I was about 14 years old. Since that time my favourite material for managing my periods has always been a goatskin,” she says.

“Once, I bought a pack of sanitary pads from the shop, but I did not like them because if a woman has heavy blood flow she can use more than three pads in a day, and they are expensive. Also, they are small and do not absorb all the blood, yet the goatskin skirt works for the whole day.”

Limpo, 22, from Zambia, uses cow dung, which she collects from the plains. She dries out the patties and shapes them into small pieces. She cannot afford to use sanitary pads, she says.

“I do not put the cow patties directly on my skin, I wrap it in a cloth and place it nicely to capture the flow without staining other clothes,” she explains.

“I like this method because cow patties soak up a lot of blood before they are completely soaked. I go about doing all sorts of things without any trouble. Once soaked, I carefully dispose of it privately. I usually dig a small hole in the ground and bury it. In our culture, it is not allowed that men see such things.”

Claire, 40, from Manchester, uses pads, tampons and a Mooncup when she menstruates.

“The tampons and pads are made of 100% cotton and are perfume and chlorine free, as well as being biodegradable. The Mooncup is made out of silicon and is plastic-free. You insert the moon cup into your vagina and then the little head sticks out, so that you can pull it out again,” she says.

“My main consideration is that these products are better for the environment. I made a lifestyle choice to reduce waste. Before becoming more environmentally conscious, I used regular supermarket brands. With the Mooncup, a side benefit is that it saves me having to buy much of the normal products, as the cup is reusable. I like using it because I can leave it in longer than a tampon, it’s safer for the body.”


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« Reply #2703 on: Apr 16, 2019, 04:30 AM »


Strongman vies with 'people's president' to lead Indonesia

New Europe
4/16/2019

JAKARTA, Indonesia  — In the final moves of Indonesia's presidential campaign, one candidate dashed to Saudi Arabia to meet its king and perform a minor pilgrimage. The other attended a feline photography exhibition and giggled with delight at a giant photo of his own pet cat.

For the world's most populous Muslim-majority nation, the message intended by President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo's trip to the birthplace of Islam was obvious after a campaign in which conservative opponents tried to discredit him as insufficiently Islamic.

What his challenger for a second time, former special forces general Prabowo Subianto, meant was less apparent. But it presented a softer version of a candidate prone to explosions of anger who has flown around Indonesia in a private jet even as he said he was campaigning for the poor.

About 193 million Indonesians are eligible to vote in presidential and legislative elections Wednesday that will decide who leads a nation that's an outpost of democracy in a neighborhood of authoritarian governments and is forecast to be among the world's biggest economies by 2030.

Their choice is between five more years of the steady progress achieved under Indonesia's first president from outside the Jakarta elite or electing a volatile figure with a checkered human rights record from the era of the Suharto military dictatorship that ended two decades ago.

The 2014 election of Widodo, a furniture exporter whose political career started as a small city mayor, was a "manifestation of the new Indonesia, of the land of opportunity in which democratic opening has made it possible for anyone to come up to the top," said Dewi Fortuna Anwar, a politics expert at the Indonesian Institute of Sciences.

"If Jokowi wins again, clearly that is a continued reaffirmation of that as well as an endorsement of his track record for the past five years," she said. Surveys show Widodo with a lead of up to 20 percentage points over Subianto. But the pollsters and commentators are nervous, afraid they might be failing to capture facts on the ground in the same way opinion surveys misjudged the 2016 U.S. presidential election and U.K. referendum on European Union membership.

The enthusiasm that Widodo generated in the 2014 campaign was far less evident this year apart from a final major rally at a Jakarta stadium which attracted well over 100,000 fervent supporters — about the same as Subianto a week earlier at the same venue.

"He is the best leader that the Indonesian people have ever had, very simple, not arrogant and we know what he has done for our country," said Dwi Mustikarini, one of the tens of thousands who packed the stadium for Widodo's rally.

Akhirudin Konsi said at a rally Saturday for Subianto's running mate that he wants a "president who will fight for our rights and stand behind people, who will lower prices, especially education, fuel and basic needs."

Election day results that are tighter than Widodo's narrow 2014 victory over Subianto are quite possible because "the polls haven't been able to capture the grassroots dynamics," said Alexander Arifanto, a researcher at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.

"Subianto's campaign has had more zeal and spirit than Jokowi's side," he said. Hard-line Islamic groups that were behind massive 2016 street protests against Jakarta's Widodo-allied governor have campaigned effectively for Subianto for months, Arifanto said. And there is anecdotal evidence, he said, that some Subianto supporters are not declaring their true voting intentions in surveys.

Widodo has tried to neutralize the not-a-real-Muslim whispers with the selection of Ma'ruf Amin, the leading Islamic cleric in Indonesia, as his running mate, though he also risked alienating progressive and moderate supporters.

His weekend dash to Saudi Arabia appeared to be one last push to shore up the pious Muslim vote. Widodo and his office tweeted photos of him meeting with King Salman, a popular figure in Indonesia, and, dressed in white robes, performing the minor pilgrimage in Mecca.

Subianto's campaign released photos of him at an exhibition of cat photos by a Dutch photographer that featured the politician's own cat, "Bobby," which has a following on Instagram. "Wow is this the photo of Bobby? It's very nice," Subianto said Sunday, while giggling and pointing at the photo, a statement said.

A strident nationalist, Subianto has run a fear-based campaign, highlighting what he sees as Indonesia's weakness and the risk of exploitation by foreign powers or disintegration. His ultra-nationalist tactics preceded President Donald Trump's polarizing rhetoric by several years and the party he founded in 2008, Gerinda, is officially known as the Greater Indonesia Movement. He has long been dogged by his dismissal from the military in 1998 after soldiers under his command kidnapped student activists, 13 of whom were never seen again.

Anwar, the politics expert, said the former general's campaign is a re-run of 2014, "where he was basically stoking the emotion, the fear that Indonesia was being taken over by foreign interests, the country is basically a basket case, that things are going to get worse unless a firm handler is at the helm."

Widodo, meanwhile, has highlighted his progress in improving Indonesia's inadequate infrastructure with new ports, toll roads, airports, and mass rapid transit — which became a reality last month in Jakarta, the country's chronically congested capital.

Economic growth has been stable if unspectacular and inflation is low, maximizing the impact of poverty alleviation programs. The U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization and other international agencies said earlier this month that the percentage of Indonesian children suffering from stunting — malnutrition that can result in lifelong physical and cognitive impairment — fell to 30.8% from nearly 38% between 2013 and 2018.

Overcoming Widodo's advantage of incumbency is a tall order, said Djayadi Hanan, CEO of polling company Saiful Mujani. To have a chance of winning, Subianto needs to win most of the undecided voters and also claw back the gains Widodo has made in Subianto's stronghold provinces such as West Java, Banten and parts of Sumatra, he said.

"When we ask people in our surveys why do you vote for this candidate, the first reason is about the performance, the polices, the programs," he said. "Incumbency is important."


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« Reply #2704 on: Apr 16, 2019, 04:32 AM »


Did Slovakia just slow European populism’s momentum?

‘People tend to vote for these extremist parties out of frustration,’ says the incoming president.

By Lally Weymouth
WA Post
4/16/2019

BRATISLAVA, SLOVAKIA

Central Europe has been overtaken by populist, authoritarian governments. But the victory last month of Zuzana Caputova, the first woman to be elected president of Slovakia, gave hope to pro-Western liberals in the region. The 45-year-old lawyer who has fought corruption for years decided to run only last year, after the assassination of a young journalist, Jan Kuciak, who was investigating high-level government graft. On televised debates and social media, her campaign for change captured the hearts of a majority of Slovak voters. Caputova sat down with The Washington Post’s Lally Weymouth on Wednesday in her crowded office. Edited excerpts follow.

Q: People say your election is a victory for liberalism in this part of the world, where populism and nationalism have been rising — in Poland and in Hungary. Do you see it that way?

A: My campaign convinced me that you don’t need to use the language of populism — nor work with the emotion of fear or employ threats as a tool of ma­nipu­la­tion in order to emerge victorious.

Q: Your opponents insinuated that you’re a puppet of Jewish financiers and George Soros, or that you’re Jewish yourself. What did you do about that?

A: One of the ways to deal with this and all attacks was simply to ignore these lies. But . . . what we did was to post the attacks on our Facebook site, and then my team simply commented on them, setting the record straight.

Q: Did the 2018 assassination of journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancee prompt you to run for president?

A: Yes, the murder of Mr. Kuciak and the public reaction to that murder, the large public protests that went on, informed my decision. I had collaborated previously with Kuciak on several cases, he as an investigative journalist and myself as a lawyer — allegations of abuse of power. I [have] absolutely no doubt that he was killed because of his work. The investigation into his murder is producing more and more information about the links between crime and representatives of our justice system.

Q: Who in the justice system?

A: Prosecutors. The person who now stands accused of organizing the murder of Kuciak [businessman Marian Kocner] was on the opposite side in the 14-year legal battle I fought against the proposed landfill in my hometown of Pezinok.

Q: Are people in your country fed up with corruption?

A: The big challenge is to improve the citizens’ perceptions of politics so they can start trusting again, so that extremist and populist forces will not win.

Q: The extremists have a pretty strong opposition bloc in Slovakia. If you combined the opposition parties together, aren’t they around 25 percent?

A: Obviously it is a big figure. People tend to vote for these extremist parties out of frustration. I can empathize with them, and we can even agree on the diagnosis of the situation. But obviously, my solutions will be constructive, reasonable and different to the ones that extremist leaders are proposing.

Q: Do you believe in the European Union, and do you think Slovakia has an important role to play in it?

A: From my perspective, Slovakia belongs in and is an integral part of Europe and the West — politically, historically and culturally. It is absolutely vital that we are and will remain members of the European Union.

Q: How do you feel about the United States? Would you like to have a stronger relationship with the U.S.?

A: Obviously the United States is a key partner within NATO. The collective defense of NATO is indispensable to the security and defense of our country. I don’t agree with some of the decisions of the U.S. administration, such as the withdrawal from the Paris climate change accord.

Q: What is your view of President Trump?

A: I respect him as the president of a partner county. But I hope that the U.S. and the E.U. find a way to improve relations and that we’ll be able to avoid escalation of trade or other skirmishes.

Q: U.S. tariffs would affect Slovakia, right?

A: They would affect all of Europe but Slovakia as well.

Q: What are you hoping to accomplish in your presidency?

A: My three priorities are in the areas of rule of law and justice, social care, and protecting the environment. The president has strong powers when it comes to the appointment of judges. Next year there will be a pivotal vote on the appointment of the next prosecutor general. Apart from that, my mission is to come forward with real systemic changes and proposals in the way the prosecution and police work.

Q: The prime minister has most of the power in Slovakia. Are you hoping that in parliamentary elections, which will be held before next March, the liberal side can prevail?

A: I have huge expectations when it comes to next year’s parliamentary elections. It seems that new political forces are gaining support in opinion polls . . . There is a potential that the distribution of power after the elections could be different from what it is today.

Q: When you started your campaign, did you think you could win?

A: Obviously it was hard at the beginning. I didn’t have much funding, and I also had very low name recognition. So through the entire autumn, I was eighth in the opinion polls. . . . But my colleagues and friends urged me to stay in the game until the televised nationalized debates began. Those debates triggered a huge reaction from the public, which translated not only to increasing my public support but also to increasing my fundraising. Nearly half my campaign money came from small donors who donated 10 or 20 euros.

Q: Was corruption the biggest issue during the campaign?

A: Corruption, but also the lack of accountability. I put rule of law and reconstruction of the justice system at the core of my campaign — making institutions such as the police and the prosecutor independent of political influence.

Q: You voiced your support for LGBT rights in a very conservative country.

A: Precisely. It was a dangerous step to take. The feedback I got from people who are deeply conservative was that they disagreed with my ideas, but they would vote for me because they saw that I am honest. I got a lot of support from Christian leaders, even from members of the clergy. I am actually a believer. The support I got confirmed for me that conservative values are not necessarily in conflict with liberal ideas and opinions.

Q: How do you think you succeeded as a woman in such a male-oriented society?

A: We don’t have many women in positions of political power. I faced questions as to whether a woman belonged in politics at all, if I should give up my candidacy and support another candidate. But there were also those who saw the fact that I’m a woman as a symbol of change. I think once the public debates started, this factor receded.

Q: The United States wants Slovakia to sign a Defense Cooperation Agreement, giving your country $105 million to upgrade its military airports. But Slovakia’s Defense Ministry, which is reportedly sympathetic to Russia, is opposing it. Are you in favor of this agreement?

A: I am in complete agreement with our Foreign Ministry: The U.S. offer to help us upgrade the military airfields absolutely does not violate our sovereignty, as was alleged by the opponents and critics.

Q: Why is there such strong pro-Russian sentiment in Slovakia?

A: People equate Russia with conservative values. You have to respect that Russia is a power with which we want to have predictable and constructive relations. But . . . this does not preclude a strong, principled position when it comes to Russian actions.

Q: Do you have any comments on Russian actions in Ukraine?

A: I share the position of the European Union. Unless and until the Minsk Agreements are implemented, I consider sanctions on Russia to be a legitimate tool.

Q: On the night of your victory, you addressed your voters in many languages. Were you trying to show that different ethnicities can be a unifying factor, whereas so many people in your region, like Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban, have used them as a divisive factor?

A: Speaking in the languages of all the ethnic minorities was a symbol that I intend to be president of all the citizens of this country. Diversity does not make us weaker but enriches us.


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« Reply #2705 on: Apr 16, 2019, 04:34 AM »

Finland: from suicide hotspot to world’s happiest country

Agence France-Presse
16 Apr 2019 at 07:53 ET                   

When the UN crowned Finland the world’s happiest nation last month for the second year running, there were still quite a few eyebrows raised. How could this Nordic country, better known for its harsh weather and high suicide rate, be the world’s happiest?

Although international comparisons are imperfect due to holes in the data, in 1990 official statistics did indeed indicate that Finland’s suicide rate was the second highest in the world, behind Hungary.

But Professor Timo Partonen at Finland’s National Institute for Health and Welfare, warns against the temptation to blame the problem on Finland’s dark, cold climate, or its bleak, concrete, postwar towns.

“If you are depressed in any place in the world, you bear a similar risk of suicide,” Partonen told AFP.

“I think that the social connections and how willing you are to seek help and receive help are the most important things here.”

Suicides in Finland have now fallen to less than half of 1990 levels. That is thanks largely to a decade-long public health drive to improve treatment and support for those at risk, as well as to make media reporting of the issue more responsible.

These days it is also much more socially acceptable for Finns, especially men, to open up about their feelings, says Partonen.

“Now it’s easier to talk about it if you are depressed for example, and it’s easier to get treated and have adequate treatment as well.”

According to the World Health Organization, Finland’s suicide rate is now 22nd highest in the world, lower than the US and one spot higher than Australia.

Even today however, many Finns still describe themselves as taciturn and prone to melancholy — and admit to eyeing public displays of joyfulness with suspicion.

– Quietly satisfied –

Finland’s residents enjoy a high quality of life, security and public services, with rates of inequality and poverty among the lowest of all OECD countries.

But as the country votes in this weekend’s general election, the issue of how to continue funding Finland’s cherished welfare state in future appears to be on many voters’ minds.

In an EU survey last year, 86 percent of Finns said they were satisfied with their work-life balance, against an EU average of 78 percent.

That leaves more time for a favourite pursuit of many Finns — going outdoors to enjoy the country’s vast forests and thousands of lakes.

“You forget all your daily things that maybe are going on inside your head, and you can just breathe deeply and listen to nature,” said Petri Honkala, a physiotherapist of his daily walks and runs in the forest by his house.

Since Finland’s success in the UN’s world happiness rankings, which compared various social and economic measures in 156 countries, Honkala and seven other Finns have been employed by the country’s tourist board as “happiness guides” for foreign visitors.

Later this year he will host guests at his home to share the secrets to Nordic wellbeing — and a trip to his favourite nearby forest spots will be top of the agenda.

“I have been in my own little business all the time, I haven’t been employed, so I haven’t had any vacation for example, I don’t go to the Canary Islands,” Honkala said, as he barbecued sausages over a bonfire in a small forest clearing.

“But that’s not the important thing to me, I’d rather come over here.”

It is a grey, chilly day when AFP visits Honkala in his picturesque village of Mathildedal, an hour and a half from the capital. The piles of snow still haven’t melted away entirely, and green shoots are yet to appear from the frozen ground.

But the cold weather is not a bar to happiness or to enjoying the outdoors, Honkala insists.

“I have no complaints, the only thing is the winter could be a little bit shorter, and the (summer) a little bit longer,” he laughs.


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« Reply #2706 on: Apr 16, 2019, 04:54 AM »

Mueller's Trump-Russia report to be released on Thursday

William Barr will release a redacted version of the near 400-page report to Congress and the public, spokeswoman said

David Smith in Washington
Guardian
4/16/2019

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian election interference will be released on Thursday morning, promising the climactic moment in a two-year saga that has jeopardised Donald Trump’s presidency and held Washington spellbound.

William Barr, the attorney general, plans to release a redacted version of the near 400-page report on the 2016 election to both Congress and the public, a justice department spokeswoman, Kerri Kupec, said.

Opponents of Trump hope the report will answer longstanding questions about his ties to Russia, including what transpired at a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower in New York involving his son, Donald Trump Jr, and a Russian lawyer who promised “dirt” on rival Hillary Clinton.

Mueller is also expected to shed light on whether, once in the White House, Trump sought to obstruct justice, for example by firing James Comey as FBI director in May 2017, when the agency was heading the Russia investigation.

But the extent of Barr’s redactions could prove controversial and leave many dissatisfied.

Mueller turned over a copy of his report to the attorney general on 22 March. Two days later, Barr released a four-page letter summarising what he said were Mueller’s primary conclusions, notably that the investigation did not establish that members of Trump’s election campaign conspired with Russia.

That finding led to jubilation and some gloating by the president and his supporters. Analysts urged caution, however, suggesting that while the contacts with Russia might not have risen to the level of a crime, the full report may still detail behaviour and financial entanglements that raise questions about Trump’s curious pattern of deference to Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin.

Barr also wrote that Mueller presented evidence “on both sides” about whether Trump obstructed justice and did “not exonerate him” on that point, instead declining to draw a conclusion. Barr said he reviewed Mueller’s evidence and made his own determination that Trump did not commit the crime of obstruction of justice.

As a Trump appointee, Barr has been under pressure from Democrats to release the report without redactions. But he has said he must redact some sensitive information, including grand jury information and details about US intelligence gathering.

While the prospect of the Democratic-led House of Representatives attempting to impeach Trump appears to have dimmed, the House judiciary committee will be looking for any evidence relevant to ongoing investigations into obstruction of justice, corruption and abuse of power by the president or others in the administration.

Shortly after the announcement on Monday, Trump responded with a characteristic swerve, attempting to accuse Democrats of orchestrating a witch-hunt.

He tweeted: “The Mueller Report, which was written by 18 Angry Democrats who also happen to be Trump Haters (and Clinton Supporters), should have focused on the people who SPIED on my 2016 Campaign, and others who fabricated the whole Russia Hoax.

“That is, never forget, the crime... Since there was no Collusion, why was there an Investigation in the first place! Answer – Dirty Cops, Dems and Crooked Hillary!”

The White House appears relaxed about the prospect of the report’s publication, perhaps believing it has already won the battle of perceptions. Axios reported: “Two of the president’s top advisers who will be handling the response to Mueller’s report were watching the Masters [golf championship] when [asked] about it this weekend.

“By all accounts, the president himself is also taking a fairly blasé approach. The subject has barely come up, if at all, in recent senior staff meetings, according to two sources with direct knowledge. And in recent calls to aides and allies, Trump has barely mentioned it.”

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White House officials fear Trump’s ‘wrath’ once he figures out they told Mueller the truth about obstruction

Raw Story
4/16/2019

Current and former White House officials are worried about President Donald Trump’s reaction to the redacted special counsel report — and fearful that he’ll realize they told Robert Mueller the truth about his activity.

Some of those officials and their attorneys have asked the Justice Department whether the names of cooperating witnesses will be redacted or otherwise described in a way that makes their identity clear, especially regarding Trump’s actions related to the obstruction of justice probe, reported NBC News.

However, they said the Justice Department has refused to offer assurance or any other details, and that’s leaving those current and former administration officials in an awkward position.

“They got asked questions and told the truth and now they’re worried the wrath will follow,” said one former White House official.

One person close to the White House described “breakdown-level anxiety” among current and former staffers who spoke with Mueller’s team, as encouraged by Trump’s lawyers at the time, but they’re worried the president will realize they may have given up damaging information during their testimony.

Attorney General William Barr testified before Congress last week, but White House witnesses still aren’t clear about whether redactions will shield them from the president’s fury.

“Even if names are redacted or names aren’t in the report to begin with,” the former White House official told NBC News, “it could be situations people were asked about and they answered truthfully that at least for some people — specifically the president — would be identifiable because the situation applies to just one person. Nobody has any idea what this is going to look like on Thursday.”

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Revealed: Many key facts Mueller uncovered are still being investigated

Cody Fenwick, AlterNet
16 Apr 2019 at 05:08 ET                  

Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation is dead. But what it has uncovered is still very much a live matter.

While we wait for the release of a redacted version of Mueller’s report on Thursday, the office of the U.S. attorney in the District of Columbia filed a response Monday to the Washington Post’s request to unseal redacted documents in Paul Manafort’s case. Since Manafort was a key focus of Mueller’s team, and Mueller’s team has now concluded its work, it was reasonable to think much or all of the material that had been hidden in his case could now be revealed.

Not so, the government said. The reasons documents were redacted in Manafort’s case still apply, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Kravis argued. And the two main reasons information was redacted is that it relates to ongoing investigations or the privacy of uncharged individuals.

This is particularly intriguing in the case of the most vexing redaction of all — the discussion of Manafort’s 2016 meetings with Konstantin Kilimnik, a political operative with reported ties to Russian intelligence. One meeting featured president’s former campaign chair handing over polling data to Kilimnik related to the election — the closest thing we’ve seen to direct evidence of a formal Trump-Russia conspiracy.

In one partially redacted transcript discussing the matter, one of Mueller’s prosecutors said “what happened at that meeting is of significance to the special counsel.” He also said, “This goes, I think, very much to the heart of what the special counsel’s office is investigating.”

It’s possible that this information is redacted because it relates to the privacy of uncharged parties, but it seems more plausible that it is a part of an ongoing investigation.

However, this raises a more confusing question: If this piece of information goes “to the heart” of the special counsel’s investigation, and yet it is still being investigated, why did the special counsel close down?

It seems unlikely that Mueller would close up shop without feeling assured he got to the bottom of the issues that were central to his mandate. But it’s possible he sought to dissolve the special counsel’s office earlier than he otherwise would have because he realized he had a target on his back — and letting the other offices in the Justice Department handle whatever lines of inquiry are left over would be most prudent.

A related possibility is that, while Mueller concluded that there wasn’t enough evidence for a case of a conspiracy between Manafort and the Russian government in this instance, there are other angles and other investigations in which this information could play a role. At this point, it’s practically impossible to know what those other investigations could be.

And of course, there’s much more than this single piece of information that is redacted, and Kravis suggests that Mueller’s investigation has spurred many additional and ongoing probes.

“The Manafort case has been transferred from the Special Counsel’s Office to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and the attorneys who were principally responsible for that case are no longer representing the government in this matter,” the filing said. “The redactions are intended to protect ongoing investigations that are being handled by various attorneys in various offices. It is unknown how long some of these investigations may remain ongoing.”

Kravis argued against a request from the Post to “promptly notify” the newspaper whenever the reasons for the redactions were no longer operative. However, he proposed that the court could set a fixed period of time after which the government will review the case again and re-examine the justifications for the redactions.

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The Kremlin is shaping the Trump Putin narrative — not the White House: columnist

Raw Story
4/16/2019

On Monday, a column from The Atlantic detailed why the White House has lost control over the Trump-Putin narrative and details how it is being led by the Kremlin.

Attorney General Bill Barr is expected to release special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Thursday, according to a Justice Department spokeswoman. The highly anticipated report will reveal details surrounding Russia interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Trump has notably lashed out about the investigation calling it a witch hunt on multiple occasions.

“Why has the White House made it so easy for the Kremlin to shape the narrative around Trump and Putin’s encounters, often to Moscow’s advantage?” the report said.

“The curiosity over the two leaders’ relationship stems largely from Democratic allegations that Trump, who has reportedly gone to extraordinary lengths to conceal his private conversations with Putin, may be compromised—claims that have been exacerbated by the Kremlin’s consistent ability to characterize the narrative of their interactions,” the report said.

The report explained the White House aides have scrambled to explain the complex relationship.

“The Russian diplomat and Putin aide Yuri Ushakov later told journalists that during that call, Trump had actually invited Putin to the White House. (A Putin spokesman denied Ushakov’s account). Lavrov followed up, telling reporters that Trump ‘returned’ to the topic of Putin’s visit ‘a couple of times’ as they spoke, and even told Putin that he would visit Moscow in return. The disclosures left Trump’s aides scrambling to explain why they hadn’t included those details in their own readout of the call,” the report said.

Adding, “Steve Hall, the former head of Russian operations for the CIA in Moscow, says the one-on-one meetings put Putin, a former KGB spy, in a unique position to influence Trump.”

“There are no Americans in the room to act as a break if Trump is being pushed in the wrong direction. Putin is not only former KGB, but he’s also spent scores of years dealing with foreign leaders and knows how to manipulate them,” Hall said according to The Atlantic.

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Congressional investigators subpoena Deutsche Bank for documents on Trump’s finances

Raw Story
4/16/2019

On Monday, Congressional investigators issued subpoenas to Deutsche Bank in an effort to obtain President Donald Trump’s financial information.

“Congressional investigators on Monday issued subpoenas to Deutsche Bank and numerous other banks, seeking information about President Trump’s finances and the lenders’ business dealings with Russians, according to several people with knowledge of the investigation,” a report from The New York Times said.

Adding, “The subpoenas, from the House’s Intelligence and Financial Services committees, were the latest attempts by congressional Democrats to collect information about the finances of Mr. Trump and his family-owned company. Another House committee is separately seeking Mr. Trump’s personal and corporate tax returns.”

This story is still developing.

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‘Typical Trumpian nonsense’: Trump biographer blows up president’s latest lies about his tax returns

Raw Story
4/16/2019

President Donald Trump is still refusing to release his tax returns, despite having pledged to do so for years now.

Trump biographer David Cay Johnston, who has in the past written extensively on ways that the American tax code is rigged to benefit wealthy Americans, appeared on CNN Monday to knock down the president’s latest excuses for not showing the public his taxes.

After told of White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders claiming that members of Congress aren’t smart enough to properly review Trump’s taxes, Johnston wasted no time in shooting down this particular talking point.

“The Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation employs about 70 tax lawyers and tax accountants who are among the very best experts on this in the country,” Johnston said. “Furthermore, they can bring in, if necessary, consultants from the tax avoidance world to help them go over the returns. This is just typical Trumpian nonsense, it has no basis in fact.”

Johnston then said that the administration has no legal wiggle room to argue that Congress has no right to request the president’s taxes.

“The law simply says that — upon written request of the Chairman of Ways and Means, senate finance, or the congressional employee who is chief of staff at the Joint Committee on Taxation — the returns and related information shall be turned over,” he explained.

Watch the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S1FklG01-e0

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Mitch 'i have no soul, only a rancid abscess' McConnell is killing the Senate — and he doesn’t care

Robert Reich - COMMENTARY
16 Apr 2019 at 06:33 ET                  

Congress has recessed for two weeks without passing a desperately-needed disaster relief bill. Why not? Because Senate Majority Leader Mitch 'i have no soul, only a rancid abscess' McConnell didn’t want to anger Donald Trump by adding money for Puerto Rico that Democrats have sought but Trump doesn’t want.

America used to have a Senate. But under McConnell, what was once known as the worlds greatest deliberative body has become a partisan lap dog.

Recently McConnell used his Republican majority to cut the time for debating Trump’s court appointees from 30 hours to two – thereby enabling Republicans to ram through even more Trump judges.

In truth, McConnell doesn’t give a fig about the Senate, or about democracy. He cares only about partisan wins.

On the eve of the 2010 midterm elections he famously declared that his top priority was for Barack Obama “to be a one-term president.”

Between 2009 and 2013, McConnell’s Senate Republicans blocked 79 Obama nominees. In the entire history of the United States until that point, only 68 presidential nominees had been blocked.

This unprecedented use of the filibuster finally led Senate Democrats in 2013 to change the rules on some presidential nominees (but not the Supreme Court) to require simple majorities.

In response, McConnell fumed that “breaking the rules to change the rules is un-American.“ If so, McConnell is about as un-American as they come. Once back in control of the Senate he buried Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland for the Supreme Court by refusing even to hold hearings.

Then, in 2017, McConnell and his Republicans changed the rules again, ending the use of the filibuster even for Supreme Court nominees and clearing the way for Senate confirmation of Trump’s Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.

Step by step, McConnell has sacrificed the Senate as an institution to partisan political victories.

There is a vast difference between winning at politics by playing according to the norms of our democracy, and winning by subverting those norms.

To Abraham Lincoln, democracy was a covenant linking past and future. Political institutions, in his view, were “the legacy bequeathed to us.”

On the eve of the Senate’s final vote on repealing the Affordable Care Act in July 2017, the late John McCain returned to Washington from his home in Arizona, where he was being treated for brain cancer, to cast the deciding vote against repeal.

Knowing he would be criticized by other Republicans, McCain noted that over his career he had known senators who seriously disagreed with each other but nonetheless understood “they had an obligation to work collaboratively to ensure the Senate discharged its constitutional responsibilities effectively.”

In words that have even greater relevance today, McCain added that “it is our responsibility to preserve that, even when it requires us to do something less satisfying than ‘winning’.”

In politics, success should never be measured solely by partisan victories. It must also be judged by the institutional legacy passed onward. The purpose of political leadership is not merely to win. It is to serve.

In any social or political system it’s always possible to extract benefits by being among the first to break widely accepted norms. In a small town where people don’t lock their doors or windows, the first thief can effortlessly get into anyone’s house. But once broken, the system is never the same. Everyone has to buy locks. Trust deteriorates.

Those, like Mitch McConnell, who break institutional norms for selfish or partisan gains are bequeathing future generations a weakened democracy.

The difference between winning at politics by playing according to the norms and rules of our democracy, and winning by subverting them, could not be greater. Political victories that undermine the integrity of our system are net losses for society.

Great athletes play by the rules because the rules make the game. Unprincipled athletes cheat or change the rules in order to win. Their victories ultimately destroy the game.

In terms of shaping the federal courts, McConnell has played “the long game”, which, incidentally, is the title of his 2016 memoir. Decades from now, McConnell will still be shaping the nation through judges he rammed through the Senate.

But McConnell’s long game is destroying the Senate.

He is longest-serving leader of Senate Republicans in history but Mitch McConnell is no leader. He is the epitome of unprincipled power. History will not treat him kindly.

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Trump’s heartlessness is really a symptom of the ugly GOP disease that has infected America: journalist

Alex Henderson, AlterNet
16 Apr 2019 at 14:23 ET                  

Many articles have been written about President Donald Trump’s influence on the modern-day Republican Party and the reluctance of Republicans to openly criticize him. But journalist Michael Tomasky, in an April 15 opinion piece for the Daily Beast, asserts that Trumpism is merely a symptom of the GOP’s overall ugliness — not the sole cause.

Tomasky recalls that when President Bill Clinton lied under oath about his extramarital affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky in the late 1990s, he incurred the wrath of Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr. The author then compares Clinton’s activities to the Trump-era GOP, concluding that the latter is much worse.

“Clinton lied to his people for one reason: he knew that if he told the truth, they would abandon him,” Tomasky explains. “His support within his party would collapse, he knew, if he acknowledged having sullied the presidency in that way.”

Trump, according to Tomasky, has done much more to sully the presidency. But he stresses that Trump is hardly alone when it comes to Republicans who are harming the United States.

Tomasky has taken Trump to task for everything from immigration policy (which he describes as “heartless”) to tax policy to his actions surrounding special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation. But to pin the blame solely on Trump, he writes, is to overlook those who have been enabling him — and those enablers, according to Tomasky, presently range from Attorney General William Barr to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).

“Never forget: none of Trump’s actions would be possible without the full assent of the GOP,” Tomasky asserts, writing that GOP enablers like Barr and McConnell “are the real problem here.”

Tomasky, author of the book “If We Can Keep It: How the Republic Collapsed, and How It Might Be Saved,” has used the word “heartless” a great deal in connection with Trump, criticizing the president on everything from cutting social programs to separating families at the U.S./Mexico border. The journalist has noted that while the Donald Trump of 2016 promised he wouldn’t cut Social Security and Medicare, he is now “cutting them all.” But the Republican Party’s “mean” streak, he stresses, existed long before Trump’s presidency—and rather than the “economic policy of Trump’s administration taking over” the GOP, the GOP has “taken over” Trump on economics.

In his April 15 column, Tomasky revisits a theme he has embraced in previous 2019 articles: that Trump would not be empowered without the enthusiastic help of his party. Tomasky agrees that Trump has promoted policies that are “horrible to the environment” and “heartless to poor people,” but Trumpism does not exist in a vacuum, he stresses. And Barr, according to Tomasky, has become Trump’s “volunteer hatchet man.”

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Republican 2020 challenger warns he is ‘fearful’ for America if Trump wins again

Raw Story
3/16/2019

On Monday, Former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld (R) announced that he is running a primary campaign against President Donald Trump.

During an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper, Weld explained that he fears for the Republican Party because of the leadership of Trump.

“I really think if we have six more years of the same stuff we’ve had out of the White House, that would be a tragedy and I would fear for the republic. I would be ashamed of myself if I didn’t run,” he said.

“Do you really think you can defeat him in the primaries?” Tapper asked.

“I do. It’s one vote at a time and one voter at a time. What we have now is a president who mocks the rule of law. I spent seven years in the Justice Department trying to keep the politics out of law he’s trying to put it in,” he said.

Adding, “A president who says, ‘we don’t need a free press,’ who says, ‘climate change is a complete hoax.’ He’s not paying attention. I doubt very much he has [read] a study of any of those issues. He seems to have difficulty, in my opinion, and I was a prosecutor for quite a while, he has a difficulty conforming his conduct to the requirements of law. That’s a serious matter in the Oval Office.”

Watch via CNN: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3mjgHIJegzk

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GOP lawmakers have ‘serious concerns’ that House Democrats are investigating voter suppression in Republican states\

Raw Story
3/16/2019

On Monday, the Huffington Post reported that Republican lawmakers are increasingly upset about the attention Democrats on the House Oversight Committee are devoting to state-level voter suppression.

“We have serious concerns that your letters appear to be an attempt to insert the Committee into particular state election proceedings, for which we do not see a legitimate legislative purpose,” said ranking member Jim Jordan (R-OH) in a letter to Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-MD) and Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD). “By seeking voluminous records relating to election administration of sovereign states, your investigation offends state-federal comity. In fact, the respective states are already working to resolve any issues with their election administration.”

Jordan is referring to letters that Cummings and Raskin sent to officials in Republican-controlled states earlier this year, demanding information on election policy broadly considered to be deliberate voter suppression.

Specifically, the letters inquired about problems voters faced casting ballots in Georgia; the decision by Kansas officials to move a polling place in majority-Hispanic Dodge City to a place inaccessible to public transit; and a recent investigation of “noncitizens” on voter rolls in Texas that ensnared thousands of legal voters.

Voter suppression has kicked into high gear in recent years following the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down a major portion of the Voting Rights Act that kept some of the worst offender states under preclearance.


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« Reply #2707 on: Apr 17, 2019, 03:58 AM »

What Einstein meant by ‘God does not play dice’

Aeon
17 Apr 2019 at 01:33 ET                  

‘The theory produces a good deal but hardly brings us closer to the secret of the Old One,’ wrote Albert Einstein in December 1926. ‘I am at all events convinced that He does not play dice.’

Einstein was responding to a letter from the German physicist Max Born. The heart of the new theory of quantum mechanics, Born had argued, beats randomly and uncertainly, as though suffering from arrhythmia. Whereas physics before the quantum had always been about doing this and getting that, the new quantum mechanics appeared to say that when we do this, we get that only with a certain probability. And in some circumstances we might get the other.

Einstein was having none of it, and his insistence that God does not play dice with the Universe has echoed down the decades, as familiar and yet as elusive in its meaning as E = mc2. What did Einstein mean by it? And how did Einstein conceive of God?

Hermann and Pauline Einstein were nonobservant Ashkenazi Jews. Despite his parents’ secularism, the nine-year-old Albert discovered and embraced Judaism with some considerable passion, and for a time he was a dutiful, observant Jew. Following Jewish custom, his parents would invite a poor scholar to share a meal with them each week, and from the impoverished medical student Max Talmud (later Talmey) the young and impressionable Einstein learned about mathematics and science. He consumed all 21 volumes of Aaron Bernstein’s joyful Popular Books on Natural Science (1880). Talmud then steered him in the direction of Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason (1781), from which he migrated to the philosophy of David Hume. From Hume, it was a relatively short step to the Austrian physicist Ernst Mach, whose stridently empiricist, seeing-is-believing brand of philosophy demanded a complete rejection of metaphysics, including notions of absolute space and time, and the existence of atoms.

But this intellectual journey had mercilessly exposed the conflict between science and scripture. The now 12-year-old Einstein rebelled. He developed a deep aversion to the dogma of organised religion that would last for his lifetime, an aversion that extended to all forms of authoritarianism, including any kind of dogmatic atheism.

This youthful, heavy diet of empiricist philosophy would serve Einstein well some 14 years later. Mach’s rejection of absolute space and time helped to shape Einstein’s special theory of relativity (including the iconic equation E = mc2), which he formulated in 1905 while working as a ‘technical expert, third class’ at the Swiss Patent Office in Bern. Ten years later, Einstein would complete the transformation of our understanding of space and time with the formulation of his general theory of relativity, in which the force of gravity is replaced by curved spacetime. But as he grew older (and wiser), he came to reject Mach’s aggressive empiricism, and once declared that ‘Mach was as good at mechanics as he was wretched at philosophy.’

Over time, Einstein evolved a much more realist position. He preferred to accept the content of a scientific theory realistically, as a contingently ‘true’ representation of an objective physical reality. And, although he wanted no part of religion, the belief in God that he had carried with him from his brief flirtation with Judaism became the foundation on which he constructed his philosophy. When asked about the basis for his realist stance, he explained: ‘I have no better expression than the term “religious” for this trust in the rational character of reality and in its being accessible, at least to some extent, to human reason.’

But Einstein’s was a God of philosophy, not religion. When asked many years later whether he believed in God, he replied: ‘I believe in Spinoza’s God, who reveals himself in the lawful harmony of all that exists, but not in a God who concerns himself with the fate and the doings of mankind.’ Baruch Spinoza, a contemporary of Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz, had conceived of God as identical with nature. For this, he was considered a dangerous heretic, and was excommunicated from the Jewish community in Amsterdam.

Einstein’s God is infinitely superior but impersonal and intangible, subtle but not malicious. He is also firmly determinist. As far as Einstein was concerned, God’s ‘lawful harmony’ is established throughout the cosmos by strict adherence to the physical principles of cause and effect. Thus, there is no room in Einstein’s philosophy for free will: ‘Everything is determined, the beginning as well as the end, by forces over which we have no control … we all dance to a mysterious tune, intoned in the distance by an invisible player.’

The special and general theories of relativity provided a radical new way of conceiving of space and time and their active interactions with matter and energy. These theories are entirely consistent with the ‘lawful harmony’ established by Einstein’s God. But the new theory of quantum mechanics, which Einstein had also helped to found in 1905, was telling a different story. Quantum mechanics is about interactions involving matter and radiation, at the scale of atoms and molecules, set against a passive background of space and time.

Earlier in 1926, the Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger had radically transformed the theory by formulating it in terms of rather obscure ‘wavefunctions’. Schrödinger himself preferred to interpret these realistically, as descriptive of ‘matter waves’. But a consensus was growing, strongly promoted by the Danish physicist Niels Bohr and the German physicist Werner Heisenberg, that the new quantum representation shouldn’t be taken too literally.

In essence, Bohr and Heisenberg argued that science had finally caught up with the conceptual problems involved in the description of reality that philosophers had been warning of for centuries. Bohr is quoted as saying: ‘There is no quantum world. There is only an abstract quantum physical description. It is wrong to think that the task of physics is to find out how nature is. Physics concerns what we can say about nature.’ This vaguely positivist statement was echoed by Heisenberg: We have to remember that what we observe is not nature in itself but nature exposed to our method of questioning.’ Their broadly antirealist ‘Copenhagen interpretation’ – denying that the wavefunction represents the real physical state of a quantum system – quickly became the dominant way of thinking about quantum mechanics. More recent variations of such antirealist interpretations suggest that the wavefunction is simply a way of ‘coding’ our experience, or our subjective beliefs derived from our experience of the physics, allowing us to use what we’ve learned in the past to predict the future.

But this was utterly inconsistent with Einstein’s philosophy. Einstein could not accept an interpretation in which the principal object of the representation – the wavefunction – is not ‘real’. He could not accept that his God would allow the ‘lawful harmony’ to unravel so completely at the atomic scale, bringing lawless indeterminism and uncertainty, with effects that can’t be entirely and unambiguously predicted from their causes.

The stage was thus set for one of the most remarkable debates in the entire history of science, as Bohr and Einstein went head-to-head on the interpretation of quantum mechanics. It was a clash of two philosophies, two conflicting sets of metaphysical preconceptions about the nature of reality and what we might expect from a scientific representation of this. The debate began in 1927, and although the protagonists are no longer with us, the debate is still very much alive.

And unresolved.

I don’t think Einstein would have been particularly surprised by this. In February 1954, just 14 months before he died, he wrote in a letter to the American physicist David Bohm: ‘If God created the world, his primary concern was certainly not to make its understanding easy for us.’Aeon counter – do not remove


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« Reply #2708 on: Apr 17, 2019, 04:00 AM »

Nearly 300 people arrested at London climate protests

Agence France-Presse
17 Apr 2019 at 00:04 ET                   

More than 200 people have been arrested in ongoing climate change protests in London that brought parts of the British capital to a standstill, police said Tuesday.

Demonstrators began blocking off a bridge and major central road junctions on Monday at the start of a civil disobedience campaign that also saw action in other parts of Europe.

The protests were organised by the campaign group Extinction Rebellion, which was established last year in Britain by academics and has become one of the world’s fastest-growing environmental movements.

London’s Metropolitan Police said that by Tuesday evening, 209 arrests had been made.

“We expect demonstrations to continue throughout the coming weeks,” the police statement said.

The arrest figure includes three men and two women who were detained at the UK offices of energy giant Royal Dutch Shell on suspicion of criminal damage.

Campaigners daubed graffiti and smashed a window at the Shell Centre building.

The majority arrested were seized for breaching public order laws and obstructing a highway.

The protest saw more than a thousand people block off central London’s Waterloo Bridge and lay trees in pots along its length. Later, people set up camps in Hyde Park in preparation for further demonstrations throughout the week.

– Police restrictions –

The police have ordered the protesters to confine themselves to a zone within Marble Arch, a space at the junction of Hyde Park, the Oxford Street main shopping thoroughfare and the Park Lane street of plush hotels.

“We so far have 55 bus routes closed and 500,000 people affected as a result,” the police said.

Campaigners want governments to declare a climate and ecological emergency, reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2025, halt biodiversity loss and be led by new “citizens’ assemblies on climate and ecological justice”.

Extinction Rebellion spokesman James Fox said the group had attempted to maintain a blockade overnight at four sites in central London before the police came to impose the new restriction.

Protesters attached themselves to vehicles and to each other using bicycle locks, said the spokesman.

“We have no intention of leaving until the government listens to us,” he said.

“Many of us are willing to sacrifice our liberty for the cause.”


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« Reply #2709 on: Apr 17, 2019, 04:03 AM »

Two-thirds of new energy installed in 2019 was renewable

And a third of the world’s energy is being generated renewably!

ZME
4/17/2019

The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) has released a new report showing that renewable energy represented two-thirds of the added power throughout 2018. This has also pushed its share of the total world capacity up to around one-third.
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    “Through its compelling business case, renewable energy has established itself as the technology of choice for new power generation capacity,” the director of IRENA, Adnan Z. Amin explained.

Different areas of the world differed in the rate of new renewable energy capacity they installed. Asia installed 11% more renewable energy compared to previous years, while Africa rose about 8.5%. Oceania took the lead, with a 17.7% increase in the rate at which renewable energy capacity is being installed. Europe trailed last with a 4.6% increase. Overall, two-thirds of the power added last year came from renewable sources.

Wind and solar energy saw the sharpest increases among all renewable sources in 2018. In fact, they saw the two largest increases among all types of energy sources. Technological improvements are making them cheaper to install and more reliable, as well as easier to access. Wind energy rose by around 49 GW while solar energy saw an increase of 94 GW.

Bioenergy was expanded in China and the UK, while geothermal energy had success in Turkey, Indonesia, and the United States. Hydropower remains the single largest generator of renewable energy, although its growth has been in steady decline for several years.

This is excellent news. Renewable energy has seen a steady rise over the last four to five years and this report shows that trend is holding firm. Amin agrees that we’re on the right track, but thinks that we’re still moving too slowly to reach our climate goals.


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« Reply #2710 on: Apr 17, 2019, 04:08 AM »


Alarm as study shows how microplastics are blown across the world

Research finds even supposedly pristine region of the Pyrenees is polluted

Damian Carrington Environment editor
Guardian
17 Apr 2019 16.00 BST

Microplastic is raining down on even remote mountaintops, a new study has revealed, with winds having the capacity to carry the pollution “anywhere and everywhere”.

The scientists were astounded by the quantities of microplastic falling from the sky in a supposedly pristine place such as the French stretch of the Pyrenees mountains. Researchers are now finding microplastics everywhere they look; in rivers, the deepest oceans and soils around the world.

Other recent studies have found microplastics in farmland soils near Shanghai, China, in the Galápagos Islands, a Unesco world heritage site, and in rivers in the Czech Republic. Humans and other animals are known to consume the tiny plastic particles via food and water, but the potential health effects on people and ecosystems are as yet unknown.

However the ubiquity of the pollution means it needs to be taken very seriously, said Steve Allen, at the EcoLab research institute near Toulouse and who led the new work in the Pyrenees: “If it is going to be a problem, it is going to be a very big problem. I don’t think there is an organism on Earth that is immune to this.”

About 335m tonnes of plastic is produced each year – while it degrades extremely slowly, it can be broken into smaller and smaller pieces. Microplastic pollution in rivers and oceans is now well known but just two previous studies have looked at its presence in the air, one in Paris, France, and another in Dongguan, China. Both found a steady fall of particles.

The new study, published in Nature Communications, is the first to show microplastic is raining down just as hard in remote environments and that it can travel across significant distances through wind. The team collected samples from high altitudes in the Pyrenees that were far from sources of plastic waste – the nearest village was 6km away, the nearest town 25km, and the nearest city 120km.

They found an average of 365 plastic particles, fibres and films were deposited per square metre every day. “It’s astounding and worrying that so many particles were found,” said Allen.

“It is comparable to what was found in the centre of Paris and Dongguan, and those are megacities where a lot of pollution is expected,” said Deonie Allen, also at EcoLab and part of the team. “Because we were on the top of a remote mountain, and there is no close source, there is the potential for microplastic to be anywhere and everywhere.”

The level of plastic particle rain correlated with the strength of the winds and analysis of the available data showed the microplastics could be carried 100km in the air. However, modelling indicates they could be carried much further. Saharan desert dust is already known to be carried thousands of kilometres by wind.

The most common microplastics found were polystyrene and polyethylene, both widely used in single-use packaging and plastic bags. The samples were collected during winter and it is possible that even more microplastic may fall in summer, when drier weather means particles are more easily lifted from the ground by the wind.

Microplastics have been shown to harm marine life when mistaken for food and were found inside every marine mammal studied in a recent UK survey. They were revealed in 2017 to have contaminated tap water around the world and in October to have been consumed by people in Europe, Japan and Russia.

Many scientists are concerned about the potential health impacts of microplastics, which easily absorb toxic chemicals and can host harmful bacteria, with some even suggesting people are breathing the particles. The new research shows microplastics can remain airborne.

“When you get down to respiratory size particles, we don’t know what those do,” said Deonie Allen. “That is a really big unknown, and we don’t want it to end up something like asbestos.” Plastic fibres have been found in human lung tissue, with those researchers suggesting they are “candidate agents contributing to the risk of lung cancer”.

Professor Stefan Krause, at the University of Birmingham, UK, and not part of the team, said the new Pyrenees research was convincing: “These findings surely highlight the need for more detailed studies.”

“Frankly we are only at the start of understanding [microplastic pollution],” he said. Krause is leading a project called 100 Plastic Rivers which will produce the first systematic, global analysis of microplastics in freshwater ecosystems. He said the particles pose a range of potential dangers, from affecting soils and food production and carrying toxic chemicals and microbes far and wide.


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« Reply #2711 on: Apr 17, 2019, 04:21 AM »


Hearing postponed for 'private reasons' in trial of 11 Saudi women

Defendants, several of whom campaigned for right to drive, given no new date for hearing

Reuters
Wed 17 Apr 2019 09.45 BST

A court in Saudi Arabia has postponed a fourth hearing in the trial of several women’s rights activists, a case that has intensified western criticism of Riyadh following the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

A court official informed some of the women’s relatives that the session would not take place, citing the judge’s “private reasons”, and could not provide a new date. The public prosecutor said last May that some of the women had been arrested on suspicion of harming Saudi interests and offering support to hostile elements abroad.

Most of the 11 women on trial had campaigned for the right to drive and for an end to the kingdom’s male guardianship system. Accusations by some of the women that they were tortured in detention have fuelled criticism of the Saudi authorities, already under global scrutiny over Khashoggi’s murder, which some western countries believe was ordered by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The public prosecutor has denied the torture allegations, and Saudi officials say the crown prince had no role in or knowledge of Khashoggi’s murder.

The temporary release last month of three of the women and the case’s earlier transfer from a high-security terrorism court without explanation suggested they may be treated more leniently after months of lobbying by western governments.

But a fresh spate of arrests this month has cast doubt on this. Authorities detained at least 14 people seen as supportive of the women, including one of their sons, according to people close to them. Two of the new detainees are dual US citizens and one is pregnant.

Scores of other activists, intellectuals and clerics have been arrested separately in the past two years in an apparent effort to stamp out any opposition to the crown prince.


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« Reply #2712 on: Apr 17, 2019, 04:25 AM »


'For me, it was everything': the trailblazing school for trans people

At 15, bigotry drove Viviana Gonzalez from school. Decades on, a dedicated school in Buenos Aires is putting wrong to right

Natalie Alcoba in Buenos Aires
Guardian
Wed 17 Apr 2019 00.00 BST

Viviana Gonzalez vividly remembers her first day of high school.

She was 12, and imagined a future as a doctor, a teacher or an artist. But the school administrator in her home town in Argentina looked at her long hair, noticed the boy’s name on her ID and kicked her out “like a dog”, admonishing her for wearing “a costume”. She refused to cut her hair and wear a tie. “I was already Viviana. I didn’t want to dress up like a boy.”

When she was 15, Gonzalez, now 48, gave up on studying. She became a sex worker to survive, and also held other jobs, including one as a seamstress. Then, in 2016, a friend offered to help her get a housing subsidy; in reality, Gonzalez was being inveigled into a school for transgender people in Buenos Aires.

She recalls how a teacher helped her sign up: “He opened his arms and said: ‘OK, amiga, welcome to the Mocha Celis. You’re going to go to high school.’ I think I had been waiting for those words since I was 11 years old,” says Gonzalez, flicking away a tear.

“I know a lot of people would say: ‘Finishing high school, that’s nothing.’ For me, it was everything.”

Located in the neighbourhood of Chacarita, the Bachillerato Popular Trans Mocha Celis is the first school of its kind anywhere in the world. It is named after a trans woman who never went to school and was murdered (friends suspect a police officer). The three-year programme enables young people and adults to obtain their high school diploma, or finish elementary school.

Argentina’s bachilleratos populares are schools for people who did not complete high school. They are typically run by social or human rights organisations and are tailored for specific communities. La Mocha has classes you would find in any school – history, maths, biology – as well as more specialised subjects, such as gender and health education. It has trans and non-trans teachers, a mixed bathroom, and afternoon classes to accommodate sex work.

And it is inclusive. The school has drawn other members of the LGBTQ community, cisgender single mothers, married women over 50, and migrants. It started with 21 students; now, there are about 130.

“What we want is for people to be able to say who they are. That which isn’t named doesn’t exist, or is invisible in a system. That’s why we call ourselves the baccalaureate transvestite-trans,” says Francisco Quiñones Cuartas, the school’s director. The term transvestite is commonly used in Argentina.

Classes started in 2012, months before Argentina passed a historic law that allows a person to change their gender on official identification without having to undergo sex reassignment surgery or hormone therapy.

Silvana Alvarez, a Mocha graduate, says the school was “a second home”. Its curriculum, which includes projects such as creating a sex education toolkit to be used in public schools, was empowering, says Alvarez, 45, who is now studying communications at university. The decorated martial artist left sex work to teach self-defence, and a playwright has cast her as the lead in a theatre production about her life.

Some graduates work at the school, while others are in the civil service, helped by the introduction of a quota for trans workers in the province of Buenos Aires.

Access to education in the city has improved. In 2005, 20.8% of trans women and transvestites said they had finished high school, compared with 24.3% in 2016, according to research by the city and the Mocha Celis school. The same study showed that the percentage currently in school rose from 10.4% to 26%.

Tireless activism in Argentina has secured some of the most progressive policies in the world, yet trans people still confront a violent reality. Former laws that criminalised dressing as the opposite gender, or soliciting sex, drove much of the community into a precarious existence, denying them basic rights. Advocates say sex work remains the only option for most trans women. Their average life expectancy in Argentina is 35. Ten former Mocha students have died, including 31-year-old Ayelen Gomez, who was found beaten and asphyxiated in 2017.

“Things have advanced a little, but there’s still a long way to go. Their rights are not guaranteed at all,” says Quiñones Cuartas.

La Mocha struggles to make ends meet. The city government pays teacher salaries, but like other bachilleratos populares, it doesn’t cover rent or maintenance costs. Amid the ongoing recession, students have had to collect donations to pay the school’s electricity bill.

Critics have accused the Mocha of “self-discrimination” by creating a separate school, a suggestion Quiñones Cuartas rejects. “There is a self-determination to not participate in spaces that discriminate against us and inflict violence upon us.”

Lautaro Rosa, a trans man, said he was guarded when he arrived as a student in 2017. He always lived his gender, and paid the price in the schoolyard.

“This school helps me, because it’s no longer just me,” says Rosa, 38. “I, Lautaro, am in my place. But I will offer you my place so that you can learn, too.”


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« Reply #2713 on: Apr 17, 2019, 04:27 AM »


North Korea nuclear site shows signs of activity

Satellite pictures show railcars at Yongbyon site, raising concern radioactive material is being transported

Reuters
Wed 17 Apr 2019 00.21 BST

Week-old satellite images show movement at North Korea’s main nuclear site that could be associated with the reprocessing of radioactive material into bomb fuel, a US thinktank has reported.

Any new reprocessing activity would underscore the failure of a second summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un in Hanoi in late February to make progress toward North Korea’s denuclearisation.

Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies said satellite imagery of North Korea’s Yongbyon nuclear site from 12 April showed five specialised railcars near its uranium enrichment facility and radiochemistry laboratory.

It said their movement could indicate the transfer of radioactive material.

“In the past these specialised railcars appear to have been associated with the movement of radioactive material or reprocessing campaigns,” the report said. “The current activity, along with their configurations, does not rule out their possible involvement in such activity, either before or after a reprocessing campaign.“

Jenny Town, a North Korea expert at the Stimson Center thinktank, said that if reprocessing was taking place it would be a significant development given US-North Korean talks in the past year and the failure to reach an agreement on the future of Yongbyon in Hanoi.

“Because there wasn’t an agreement with North Korea on Yongbyon, it would be interesting timing if they were to have started something so quickly after Hanoi,” she said.

Trump has met Kim twice in the past year to try to persuade him to abandon a nuclear weapons programme that threatens the United States, but progress so far has been scant.

The Hanoi talks collapsed after Trump proposed a “big deal” in which sanctions on North Korea would be lifted if it handed over all its nuclear weapons and fissile material to the United States. He rejected partial denuclearisation steps offered by Kim, which included an offer to dismantle Yongbyon.

Although Kim has maintained a freeze on missile and nuclear tests since 2017, US officials say North Korea has continued to produce fissile material that can be processed for use in bombs.

In March a senior North Korean official warned that Kim might rethink the test freeze unless Washington made concessions.

Last week Kim said the Hanoi breakdown raised the risks of reviving tensions, adding that he was only interested in meeting Trump again if the United States came with the right attitude.

Kim said he would wait “till the end of this year” for the United States to decide to be more flexible. On Monday, Trump and his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, brushed aside this demand with Pompeo saying Kim should keep his promise to give up his nuclear weapons before then.

A study by Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation released ahead of the Hanoi summit said North Korea had continued to produce bomb fuel in 2018 and may have produced enough in the past year to add as many as seven nuclear weapons to its arsenal.

Experts have estimated the size of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal at anywhere between 20 and 60 warheads.


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« Reply #2714 on: Apr 17, 2019, 04:29 AM »


Anti-government protests prompt talk of 'Balkan Spring'

New Europe
4/17/2019

PODGORICA, Montenegro  — It all started with a video posted on social media: a secret recording from 2016 that appears to show a well-known local tycoon hand over an envelope containing bundles of cash to a party associate of Montenegro's long-standing leader.

The prominent businessman, a former close friend and confidant of Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic, released the video late last year in retaliation for charges filed against him for fraud and money laundering, which have prompted him to flee to London to avoid prosecution.

The tycoon, Dusko Knezevic, also gradually released a series of documents accusing the president and his ruling party of corruption, cronyism and abuse of office, claiming he has cashed in millions of dollars to Djukanovic and his ruling party so the authorities turn a blind eye to his shady business dealings.

The "Envelope Affair" has triggered weeks of anti-Djukanovic protests, demanding the resignation of one of Europe's longest-lasting leaders after his almost 30 years in power. The anti-government demonstrations came as similar protests were taking place in neighboring Serbia and Albania where demonstrators are also seeking the ousters of leaders whom they accuse of autocratic rule and corruption despite their proclaimed bids to take their countries into the European Union.

The almost simultaneous eruption of strong anti-government movements in the region has prompted talk of a "Balkan Spring," in reference to a wave of protests and revolutions across the Arab world in 2010.

While none of the protests so far have managed to unseat Balkan leaders, they have encouraged civic resistance and shaken their firm grip on power and the support they have been receiving in the West.

In Montenegro, Djukanovic has long faced accusations of corruption and links to organized crime. The recent video was seen as the most serious blow to his so-far unchallenged rule. In an interview with The Associated Press, Djukanovic denied the accusations, saying that pro-Russia opposition parties and "foreign factors" are behind the protests even though they are formally led by civic groups.

Djukanovic suggested the protests are aimed at unseating pro-EU leaders and turning the Balkans away from the West in favor of closer ties with Russia. "I think that (throughout the Balkans) this basically is not a 'spring' movement, but rather a bleak autumn movement," he said. "We are talking here about attempts to stop the Balkans" from joining the EU.

Montenegrin protest organizers insisted the demonstrations represent a genuine civic movement without any foreign or opposition party influence. Their weekly rallies have drawn thousands of people in the biggest such gatherings in years.

"The trigger was that envelope which was given by a businessman who belonged to the heart of the regime to the former Podgorica mayor, with the intention to bribe voters" in 2016 parliamentary election, said Dzemal Perovic, an organizer of protests in the Montenegrin capital.

"Our goal is the change of the regime," he said. "A peaceful transition from a corrupt regime that has been in power for 30 years and which has won elections through bribery and rigging." Since coming to power in late 1980s, "Milo the Czar" — as he's commonly called in Montenegro — has been calling the shots as president, prime minister or party leader thanks to his switching between posts. But he has also been a key Western ally in countering Russian influence in the region and previously for splitting from former Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic during the wars of the 1990s.

In Serbia, populist President Aleksandar Vucic has also portrayed himself as a pro-European leader while facing accusations of curbing democratic and media freedoms at home. Political tensions soared last month when protesters burst into the state TV building angry over the station's reporting that they view as biased.

The incidents were the first in months of peaceful marches throughout the country that started after thugs beat up an opposition politician in November. The demonstrators are demanding Vucic's resignation, free elections and media, and more democracy. They plan a major rally next week in Belgrade to press for their demands.

Vucic too has sought to downplay the protests as an attempt by the opposition to seize power by force while pro-government media have blasted opposition leaders as foreign stooges. Albanian opposition parties have returned to the streets since mid-February calling for the government's resignation and an early election. There, the center-right opposition accuses the leftist Socialist Party government of Prime Minister Edi Rama of corruption and links to organized crime, which the government denies.

Those protests have been violent, with Albanian opposition supporters repeatedly trying to enter the parliament or government buildings in Tirana and police using tear gas and water cannons to stave them off.

"The common characteristics of all those protests are that people are dissatisfied with the long-standing and corrupt regimes, the anger which has accumulated for years, if not decades," Montenegrin political analyst Stevo Muk said.

Jovana Gec in Belgrade, Serbia, Llazar Semini in Tirana, Albania and Predrag Milic in Podgorica, contributed to this report.


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