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« Reply #2235 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!


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 #2236 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
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 #2237 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

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 #2238 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
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 #2239 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

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 #2240 on: Apr 17, 2019, 04:29 AM »

Anti-government protests prompt talk of 'Balkan Spring'

New Europe

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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« Reply #2241 on: Apr 17, 2019, 04:34 AM »

$1 billion raised to rebuild Paris' Notre Dame after fire

New Europe

PARIS  — Nearly $1 billion has already poured in from ordinary worshippers and high-powered magnates around the world to restore the fire-ravaged Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, after the French president set a controversial five-year deadline to get the work done.

Construction teams brought in a huge crane and a delivery of planks of wood to the site Wednesday morning. Firefighters are still examining damage and shoring up the structure after Monday's fire collapsed the cathedral's spire and destroyed the roof.

French President Emmanuel Macron ratcheted up the pressure by setting a five-year deadline to restore the 12th-century landmark. Macron is holding a special Cabinet meeting Wednesday dedicated to the Notre Dame disaster, which investigators believe was an accident possibly linked to renovation work.

Bells will toll at cathedrals around France on Wednesday evening in honor of the monument. Remarkably, no one was killed in the fire, after firefighters and church officials speedily evacuated the site during a mass.

Presidential cultural heritage envoy Stephane Bern told broadcaster France-Info on Wednesday that 880 million euros ($995 million) has been raised in just a day and a half since the fire. Contributions came from near and far, rich and poor — from Apple and magnates who own L'Oreal, Chanel and Dior, to Catholic parishioners and others from small towns and cities around France and the world.

The French government is gathering donations and setting up a special office to deal with big-ticket offers. Some criticism has already surfaced among those in France who say the money could be better spent elsewhere, on smaller struggling churches or workers.

Meanwhile Macron's 5-year deadline — which happens to coincide with the 2024 Paris Olympics, which the government wants to make a major showcase — struck many as unrealistic. Pierluigi Pericolo, in charge of restoration and security at the St. Donatian basilica in Nantes, said it could take two to five years just to secure Notre Dame, given its size.

"It's a fundamental step, and very complex, because it's difficult to send workers into a monument whose vaulted ceilings are swollen with water," he said on France-Info. "The end of the fire doesn't mean the edifice is totally saved. The stone can deteriorate when it is exposed to high temperatures and change its mineral composition and fracture inside."

Some 30 people have already been questioned in the investigation, which the Paris prosecutor warned would be "long and complex." Among those questioned are workers at the five construction companies involved in work renovating the church spire and roof that had been under way when the fire broke out.

A plan to safeguard the masterpieces and relics was quickly put into action after the fire broke out. The Crown of Thorns, regarded as Notre Dame's most sacred relic, was among the treasures quickly transported after the fire broke out, authorities said. Brought to Paris by King Louis IX in the 13th century, it is purported to have been pressed onto Christ's head during the crucifixion.

The cathedral's famous 18th-century organ that boasts more than 8,000 pipes also survived. Some of the paintings and other art works are being dehumidified, protected and eventually restored at the Louvre.


Notre Dame fire: Macron promises to rebuild cathedral within five years

French president vows to make devastated cathedral ‘more beautiful than before’ but experts warn work could take decades

Kate Lyons and agencies
Wed 17 Apr 2019 09.32 BST

Emmanuel Macron has announced he wants to see Notre Dame cathedral rebuilt “more beautiful than before” within five years, but there are warnings that the repairs could take decades and will involve substantial challenges.

The main problems include the sourcing of materials and painstaking work to preserve elements of the church that have survived the fire but might have been badly damaged by it, experts have warned.

Eric Fischer, who heads a foundation restoring the 1,000-year-old Strasbourg Cathedral that recently underwent a three-year facelift, said he thought rebuilding Notre Dame would probably take several decades.

“The damage will be significant,” Fischer said.

Audrey Azoulay, director-general of Unesco, the UN’ cultural organisation, said restoring Notre Dame “will last a long time and cost a lot of money”.

Donations have poured in from around the world for the restoration efforts, with more than €800m (£692m) pledged as French tycoons and global corporations announced they would donate.

“The fire at Notre Dame reminds us that our history never stops and we will always have challenges to overcome,” Macron said on Tuesday night. “We will rebuild Notre Dame, more beautiful than before – and I want it done in the next five years. We can do it. After the time of testing comes a time of reflection and then of action.”

French authorities revealed on Tuesday that the cathedral was within “15 to 30 minutes” of complete destruction as firefighters battled to stop flames reaching its gothic bell towers.

A greater disaster was averted by members of the Paris fire brigade, who risked their lives to remain inside the burning monument to create a wall of water between the raging fire and two towers on the west facade.

The revelation of how close France came to losing its most famous cathedral emerged as police investigators questioned workers involved in the restoration of the monument to try to establish the cause of the devastating blaze.

Paris prosecutor Remy Heitz said that an initial fire alert was sounded at 6:20pm on Monday evening but no fire was found. The second alert was sounded at 6:43pm, and the blaze was discovered on the roof.

Despite fears at the height of the inferno that the whole cathedral would be lost, the structure appears mainly intact.

Tom Nickson, a senior lecturer in medieval art and architecture at London’s Courtauld Institute, said the stone vault “acted as a kind of fire door between the highly flammable roof and the highly flammable interior” just as the cathedral’s medieval builders intended.

There are fears that the stones of the ceiling and beloved stained glass windows, which survived the blaze, may still have been badly damaged by it. If the stones of the vaulted ceiling have been weakened and cracked by the heat, the whole vault may need to be torn down and re-erected.

The cathedral’s exquisite stained-glass rose windows are probably suffering “thermal shock” from intense heat followed by cold water, said Jenny Alexander, an expert on medieval art and architecture at the University of Warwick. That means the glass, set in lead, could have sagged or been weakened and will need minute examination.

The first challenge for repairers will be to secure the building without disturbing the debris.

“Some of that material may be reusable, and that’s a painstaking exercise. It’s like an archaeological excavation,” said Duncan Wilson, chief executive of the conservation organisation Historic England.

Once the building has been stabilised and the damage assessed, restoration work can begin. It is likely to be an international effort.

“Structural engineers, stained-glass experts, stone experts are all going to be packing their bags and heading for Paris in the next few weeks,” Alexander said.

Financial and political considerations, as well as aesthetic ones, are likely to play a part in the decision about whether to preserve the cathedral as it was before the fire, or adapt it.

Getting materials may also be a challenge. The cathedral roof was made from oak beams cut from centuries-old trees, which were difficult to source even in the 13th century. Nickson said there is probably no country in Europe with big enough trees today.

Then there is the question of conforming to modern-day health and safety standards.

The roof of Strasbourg’s Notre Dame was set ablaze during the 1870 Franco-Prussian War. Nowadays the roof is split into three fire-resistant sections to make sure one blaze can’t destroy it all, with smoke detectors installed are at regular intervals.

“Cathedrals are stone phoenixes reminders that out of adversity we may be reborn,” said Emma Wells, a buildings archaeologist at the University of York.

“The silver lining, if we can call it that, is this allows for historians and archaeologists to come in and uncover more of its history than we ever knew before. It is a palimpsest of layers of history, and we can come in and understand the craft of our medieval forebears.”

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« Reply #2242 on: Apr 17, 2019, 04:57 AM »

Trump has a new target for his cruelty: People who are going hungry

Terry H. Schwadron, DCReport - COMMENTARY
17 Apr 2019 at 15:11 ET                   

The federal Department of Agriculture program pushed by the White House to require food stamp recipients to work likely will affect nearly 50,000 New York City residents—and more than 750,000 nationwide, according to a new study by the Mayor’s office in New York.

What passed last year as part of the big farm bill package included a provision that food stamp recipients—a program administered by the Agriculture Department—must be working, in a job training program or actively looking for work if able-bodied individuals without dependent children.

It’s worth looking at the distance between what looks good in Washington and what looks not-so-good on the ground.

Those Able-Bodied Adults Without Dependents or “ABAWDs” aged 18 to 49, are limited to three months of food stamp benefits over three years unless they work, volunteer or get job training at least 80 hours a month. As it stands, states can grant individual exemptions or waive time limits in areas of high unemployment or lack of sufficient job openings.

Trump defines those waivers as possible in areas where unemployment tops 7% over a 24-month period. New York City’s unemployment rate is 4.2%. New York State waivers include the Bronx, parts of Queens and Upper Manhattan.

All in, the rules could cost New York City almost $100 million a year in lost benefits, resulting in more than $150 million annually in lost business, say city officials.  In formal comments opposing the plan, the Office of the Mayor told federal officials nearly 50,000 city residents would lose a monthly average of $151 in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.

Those food stamps normally are spent at 9,400 New York City supermarkets, bodegas, farmers markets and other retailers which could lose revenue and, therefore, jobs.

Outside the City, 33 New York counties, five cities and a town, also have waivers. New York State would lose 89% of its current waivers, newly subjecting 107,000 SNAP beneficiaries to time limits, according to Hunger Solutions New York.

The City Limits newsletter quotes Nicholas Freudenberg, director of the City University of New York’s Urban Food Policy Institute as saying, “We may be saving a few bucks by not paying them SNAP, but we’re generating costs that will eventually end up as public costs for taking care of people.”

The USDA estimates it will save the federal government a projected $15 billion over a decade.

The proposal shows “blatant disregard for the socio-economic realities facing ABAWD individuals,” according to the city’s formal comment on the proposed rule, which said the change will worsen hunger, while increasing administrative and fiscal burdens. It also sidesteps the effects of employment discrimination, the city contends.

Some 40% of the city’s ABAWD population is black and 28% is Latino, according to the mayor’s office. While the city’s overall ABAWD unemployment rate was 6.4 % in 2017, it was 10.8% for Blacks and 7.9% for Latinos. In January, 28.6% had no permanent address, and 4.4% were living in shelters.

City Hall hasn’t always advocated expanding SNAP benefits. Mayors Rudy Giuliani and Mike Bloomberg did not allow waivers.

A Mathematica Policy Research study of the 1.2 million ABAWDs who would be newly subject to time-limits, found 97% live in poverty compared to 80% of others on SNAP. Eleven percent were working, although less than an average of 20 hours a week.

The reactions offer an interesting depiction of translating policy to people:

    “If this was really about the dignity of work and efficiency of the program, we would wait to see the final results from the 2014 Farm Bill, which provided $200 million for 10 employment and training pilot projects,” said Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio).
    “Limiting ABAWD waivers—especially without adding a penny for job creation or wage hikes—would increase hunger and fail to increase employment,” says Joel Berg, CEO of the NYC-based Hunger Free America. Instead, the proposal should include a “serious job program, with serious job training, with work subsidies to help small employers hire more people, [and] expansion of the earned income tax credit.”
    The administration’s proposal does not address “the problem of people going hungry or needing assistance. It’s just going to shift that burden downstream, whether to the state, to the city, to the charities in the New York region and to hungry people themselves,” says FRAC’s Ellen Vollinger.

Clearly, this is how we make America Great Again. Imagine how this group could improve health care.


Trump expected White House staff to lie to Mueller about obstruction — now he’s angry they told the truth: Ex-DOJ official

Raw Story

Former Justice Department spokesman Matt Miller told MSNBC on Tuesday that White House staff was authorized to speak with special counsel Robert Mueller — and that if President Donald Trump is angry about that, he must have expected them to “lie on his behalf.”

“The obstruction piece is where I think you would see the least amount of redactions,” Miller said. “A number of White House staffers went in and gave voluntary interviews, they turned over documents voluntarily. The grand jury wasn’t used to gather any of that information, meaning there shouldn’t be any redactions.”

“The strange thing about this report, that people in the White House are worried that the president will be angry or retaliate against White House staffers that went and did these interview — the White House authorized the staff to do that,” Miller went on.

“If the president is mad now, it raises the alternative that what he expected staff to go in and do is lie for him,” he continued. “Because otherwise if they went in and told the truth, you can’t be angry about the information that they shared now.”

“It raises the question that what the president really expected them to do was go in, do this interview and lie on his behalf,” he repeated. “Obviously that’s an untenable position for a White House staffer that wants to have a career and wants to not go to jail at the end of this investigation.”


William Barr misled Congress the last time he summarized a controversial legal report

Raw Story

As Congress continues to wait for the full Mueller report, more information is coming out about Attorney General William Barr, whose brief summary of the report drew condemnation for allowing the President to claim he was fully exonerated.

Just Security reports, Barr has a history of misleading Congress.

“On Friday the thirteenth October 1989, by happenstance the same day as the “Black Friday” market crash, news leaked of a legal memo authored by William Barr,” writes Ryan Goodman.

“He was then serving as head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC). It is highly uncommon for any OLC memo to make headlines. This one did because it was issued in ‘unusual secrecy’ and concluded that the FBI could forcibly abduct people in other countries without the consent of the foreign state. The headline also noted the implication of the legal opinion at that moment in time. It appeared to pave the way for abducting Panama’s leader, Gen. Manuel Noriega,” he writes.

When members of Congress asked to see the full legal document, Barr pledged to give an account that ‘summarizes the principal conclusions.’

Goodman points out that the situation has parallels to today’s news.

“Sound familiar? In March 2019, when Attorney General Barr was handed Robert Mueller’s final report, he wrote that he would “summarize the principal conclusions” of the special counsel’s report for the public,” he writes.


Federal judge lays waste to Trump and his GOP allies for trying to overturn civil rights for black people

Raw Story

A federal judge compared President Donald Trump’s language to the Ku Klux Klan and segregationists in a fiery rebuke.

U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves delivered a speech Thursday strongly criticizing the Trump administration’s “great assault on our judiciary,” reported by BuzzFeed News.

The judge, who is black and sits on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, quoted Trump’s tweets and public comments about judges and the courts to lay out his case the president in a speech University of Virginia School of Law, his alma mater.

“When politicians attack courts as ‘dangerous,’ ‘political’ and guilty of ‘egregious overreach,’ you can hear the Klan’s lawyers, assailing officers of the court across the South,” Reeves said. “When leaders chastise people for merely ‘using the courts,’ you can hear the Citizens Council, hammering up the names of black petitioners in Yazoo City, [Mississippi].”

“When the powerful accuse courts of ‘open[ing] up our country to potential terrorists,’ he continued, repeatedly quoting the president, “you can hear the Southern Manifesto’s authors, smearing the judiciary for simply upholding the rights of black folk. When lawmakers say ‘we should get rid of judges,’ you can hear segregationist senators, writing bills to strip courts of their power.”

Reeves also blasted Trump for virtually excluding minorities from his court nominations, in an acceptance speech for the Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal in Law from his alma mater.

The judge cited examples of three Trump nominees who had made bigoted comments in the past, although none of those were confirmed to the bench — and he cast blame on Republicans who let him get away with racist abuse.

“This administration and a bare majority of the Senate, walking arm-and-arm, are not stumbling unaware towards a homogeneous judiciary,” Reeves said.

“Judges, politicians, and citizens alike must denounce attacks that undermine our ability to do justice,” he added. “It is not enough for judges, seeing race-based attacks on their brethren, to say they are merely ‘disheartened,’ or to simply affirm their non-partisan status.”

Reeves called out the president’s criticism of U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, whose ancestry he questioned, and compared his statements to claims made by segregationists in his state.

“I heard those words and I did not know if it was 1967 or 2017,” Reeves said.

The judge then quoted from hate mail he had received since he was confirmed to the court in 2010, saying the racist abuse was intended to remove “the black experience from our nation’s courts.”

“But the slander and falsehoods thrown at courts today are not those of a critic, seeking to improve the judiciary’s search for truth,” Reeves said. “They are words of an attacker, seeking to distort and twist that search toward falsehood.”


Trump and Republicans ‘weaponized’ the tax code to ‘punish blue states’: CNN analyst

Raw Story

On Monday’s edition of CNN’s “New Day,” political analyst John Avlon laid bare the way that President Donald Trump and the GOP have politicized the federal tax code.

“Whether you see your taxes go up or down will depend on whether you live in a red state or blue state, and that’s by design,” said Avlon. “First, a little history. December 22nd, 2017, that’s when President Trump’s tax plan was signed into law. Kind of a Christmas gift to corporations and red state residents. Passed entirely along party lines … it slashed the amount of state and local taxes you could deduct to $10,000, it limited the mortgage interest deduction and that’s where the representation of the tax code became evident.”

“According to data from H&R block, among states where refunds went up this year the top ten are all red states,” said Avlon. “Among states where tax refunds went down, you guessed it, the top ten are all blue states. Notice a pattern?”

“It’s no surprise in areas where most Americans live, it costs more to buy a house, and guess who is more likely to need a mortgage, again, red states deduct while new states are stuck,” Avlon continued. “This has become known as the blue state triple whammy because Trump’s tax code has made it more expensive to buy a home, more expensive to own a home and harder to sell your home.”

“But guess who does even better under Trump’s tax code, Trump’s own commercial real estate industry, the same industry which Jared Kushner’s company bought a white elephant of a building at a record price right before the market crashed and is still worth around $3 million and paid little or no federal income taxes or at least seven years,” Avlon added.

“President Nixon said never make taxation popular, but we can make it fair,” said Avlon. “With the politically weaponized tax code that punishes blue states, President Trump seems to have failed at both and that’s your reality check.”


Texas GOP holds public hearing on putting women to death for obtaining abortions

Common Dreams
17 Apr 2019 at 14:44 ET                   

A Texas state House committee on Monday night devoted several hours to discussing potentially subjecting women to the death penalty if they obtain abortions.

Apparently seeking to capitalize on a political moment in which states have passed some of the most restrictive anti-choice laws in the country since Roe vs. Wade passed in 1973, the state House Judiciary Committee held a public hearing that stretched into the early morning hours on House Bill 896. The proposed legislation would criminalize abortion in the state without exception and would classify the medical procedure as a homicide—making it possible for women who get abortion care to be executed by the state.

Republican state Rep. Tony Tinderholt introduced the bill, saying it would make women more “personally responsible.”

The proposal includes a specific attack on Roe vs. Wade, noting that state officials would be required to treat abortion as a crime “regardless of any contrary federal law, executive order, or court decision.”

With opposition even from the anti-choice group Texans for Life and with the committee reportedly reluctant to send the bill to the full House, H.B. 896 is currently unlikely to become law in Texas. But women’s rights advocates expressed shock and outrage that the bill was given the state’s first-ever public hearing on a proposal to classify women as criminals for obtaining abortions.

Supporters of the bill appear to be riding a wave of anti-choice momentum. The hearing was held days after Georgia legislators passed a bill banning abortions after a fetal “heartbeat” can be detected, which can be as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, when many women don’t know yet that they are pregnant.

That legislation is now one of the nation’s most restrictive abortion laws, with a number of GOP-controlled states intent on passing their own “fetal heartbeat” laws—defying the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe vs. Wade decision, which affirmed that American women have the constitutional right to obtain abortion care.

A number of critics pointed out the obvious hypocrisy within H.B. 896, given that Republicans aim to hold women accountable for supposedly commiting “homicide” while also advocating for those same women to be put to death.

“I’m trying to reconcile in my head the arguments that I heard tonight about how essentially one is okay with subjecting a woman to the death penalty for the exact—to do to her the exact same thing that one is alleging she is doing to a child,” said Democratic state Rep. Victoria Neave at the hearing.


Krugman flips GOP’s propaganda machine on its head with devastating critique of the party’s extremism

Raw Story

As the GOP directs its “propaganda machine” to smear progressive Democrats as “extremists,” New York Times columnist Paul Krugman mused that Republicans may be the real radicals.

“While today’s G.O.P. can’t do policy, it commands a powerful propaganda machine,” Krugman wrote. “And this machine is now dedicated to a strategy of portraying Democrats as extremists. It might work — but it shouldn’t, because Democrats aren’t extremists, but Republicans are.”

The latest smear campaign has centered primarily on two freshman Democratic congresswomen, both of whom are people of color — Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Ilhan Omar (D-MN).

“It’s surely not an accident that these two principal targets are both women of color; there’s a sense in which supposed concerns about extremism are just a cover for sexism and white nationalism,” the columnist wrote. “But it’s still worth pointing out that while both Omar and AOC are on the left of the Democratic Party, neither is staking out policy positions that are extreme compared with either expert views or public opinion.”

Ocasio-Cortez’s “famous advocacy of a 70 percent tax rate on very high incomes” is, Krugman noted, in line with public opinion polls that show people both support her proposal and also think the rich pay too little in taxes.

“Republicans, on the other hand, really are extremists,” he mused. “As Thomas E. Mann and Norman Ornstein put it in 2012 — long before the rise of Trump — the modern G.O.P. is ‘ideologically extreme’ and uninterested in ‘facts, evidence, and science.'”

Krugman used Stephen Moore, the pro-Trump pundit tapped by the president to sit on the Federal Reserve Board, as an example of just how “extreme” the GOP has become.

Moore is “very much a part of the right-wing establishment,” has written for the Wall Street Journal and served as a chief economist for the conservative Heritage Foundation.

“What’s coming out only now, however, is the extent of Moore’s political extremism,” Krugman mused. “Many of his past statements — like his assertion that ‘capitalism is a lot more important than democracy‘ — sound like a liberal caricature of conservatism. But it’s not a caricature; Moore shows us what the right actually thinks.”

Whereas most Americans think the rich don’t pay enough taxes, Trump’s Fed pick “wants to eliminate income taxes and replace them with sales taxes, which would dramatically shift the tax burden away from the rich and onto the middle class.” He also, the writer noted, “called the 16th Amendment, which created the federal income tax, ‘the most evil act that has passed in 100 years.'”

“Even if you cherry-pick left-leaning Democrats, a look at their actual positions shows them to be not at all extreme,” Krugman concluded. “At the same time, pillars of the right-wing establishment hold views that are utterly at odds with both evidence and public opinion. Republicans are the real extremists.”

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« Reply #2243 on: Apr 17, 2019, 06:07 AM »

‘He exposed hate with love’: MSNBC’s Mika says Pete Buttigieg proved GOP has ‘no idea how to handle’ a gay opponent

Raw Story

Anti-LGBT protesters interrupted a Pete Buttigieg speech in Iowa with homophobic chants, but panelists on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” said the Democratic presidential candidate’s reaction — and the ensuing coverage — marked an important turning point.

Hecklers interrupted the openly gay South Bend mayor by shouting “Sodom and Gomorrah!” at one event in Des Moines, and Buttigieg deftly brushed the demonstrator aside.

“The good news is,” he said, “the condition of my soul is in the hands of God, but the Iowa Caucuses are up to you.”

Co-host Mika Brzezinski said Buttigieg would be an awfully formidable opponent to Republicans, who she predicted would flail in their attacks.

“He exposed hate with love,” Brzezinski said. “He did it beautifully, pastorally, he did it in a way that made you want to be there with him. I’m going to tell you, as much as the Republicans completely misunderstood Barack Obama, and had no idea how to handle an African-American Democratic nominee, they will not be able to handle this guy, because he is truly working from a good center and has the words and education and the articulation and the grounding to express it to people who even don’t understand him.”

“It’s called depth,” she added. “It’s called moral compass, it’s called faith, it’s called love for America. He is going to be very hard to handle, if they try to take him on for something he is absolutely not embarrassed about. In fact, he embraces who he is, and he embraces his god. this is the bottom line, the fact that that protester and Republicans might have been watching, thinking, this is the moment he goes down, because everyone will expose his — no.”

Co-host Willie Geist said the episode showed just how far the U.S. had come in recent years on LGBT civil rights, and he said the protesters felt like relics from the past.

“The chant we heard, about Sodom and Gomorrah, is like a chant from a different time,” Geist said.

Geist said a recent poll showed 70 percent of all Americans — not just Democrats — said they were comfortable with a gay presidential candidate, and other panelists agreed the hecklers were unlikely to dent his growing support.

“It’s not a story, it’s a side note to who he is,” said MSNBC contributor Elise Jordan.

Jordan, who served in the White House under George W. Bush, said the episode showed just how much the political debate had changed about LGBT rights in a matter of years.

“That moment makes me proud of our country because you do realize how far we’ve come,” she said. “Just from the early 2000s until now, when it comes to equal rights for all Americans. I think that the fact that we have a strong contender for the Democratic candidacy for president who is openly gay and proud of it, and wants everyone to accept it as a non-issue, as it should be, it should not be an issue, and is so easily deflecting that kind of hate, it is just an impressive moment, I think, for our country.”


Why Pete Buttigieg may be reviving progressive ideals of the Social Gospel Movement

The Conversation
17 Apr 2019 at 07:26 ET 

In recent weeks, Democratic presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg has captured wide media attention.

One reason is that Buttigieg is the first openly gay presidential candidate. Another is that he has been unguarded in speaking about his religious beliefs, arguing that his faith shapes his politics.

In a recent interview, Buttigieg said that “Christian faith” can lead one “in a progressive direction.” He has also argued that Christianity teaches “skepticism of the wealthy and the powerful and the established” while elsewhere expressing concern that in the U.S. “concentrated wealth has begun to turn into concentrated power.”

These arguments are all the more striking since Buttigieg is from Indiana. According to a 2014 Pew survey, twice as many of the state’s voters identify as conservative than as liberal. Moreover, self-identified conservatives significantly outnumber liberals among Indiana Christians. It might seem that Buttigieg’s convictions are at odds with the beliefs of many people in his state.

A century ago, however, views such as Buttigieg’s flourished in the Midwest.

A progressive religious movement

As a historian of U.S. religion, I have studied the vibrant period for religious liberalism in the early 1900s. Indiana and nearby Midwestern states were at the center of a movement – the Social Gospel movement – that linked Christianity with progressive politics.

The movement gained wide popularity in American Protestantism at the beginning of the 20th century. Its proponents proclaimed the need to improve the world rather than focusing on being saved in the next life, which was the common message espoused in most U.S. churches.

One exemplar of the Midwestern roots of the Social Gospel was the Methodist clergyman Francis J. McConnell, who became known as an advocate for progressive policies.

McConnell grew up in a small-town in Ohio before attending Ohio Wesleyan University. From 1909 to 1912, he served as president of DePauw University in central Indiana.

While there, he published a book that made arguments similar to Buttigieg’s belief that faith should inspire social action. McConnell insisted, “The moral impulse calls for the betterment of all the conditions of human living.”

Historian Susan Curtis writes that McConnell “participated in the promotion of an evolving welfare state.”

There were other prominent Social Gospel proponents who lived and worked across the Midwest at the time. From his Columbus, Ohio, church, Washington Gladden became famous for urging greater protection for workers and the poor. Further west, in Kansas, the minister Charles Sheldon published the book, “In His Steps,” in 1896. It urged Christians to improve the lives of those around them.

A religious challenge to big business

It wasn’t just the presence of these leaders in the region – more important was the resonance of the message of the Social Gospel there. Small cities and towns in the Midwest were the heartland of the Social Gospel.

The Social Gospel’s critique of big business resonated in communities throughout the Midwest.

The movement emerged in response to the development of massive national corporations in the late 19th century. These companies consolidated wealth and power in large cities, often quite distant from Midwestern communities.

Demands for a social safety net for workers were rising in places like Columbus and Indianapolis as much as in larger metropolises like New York or Philadelphia.

These leaders urged the creation of a social safety net to provide a “living wage” for all workers. They also advocated increased government oversight of corporations, which they believed had grown too large. At a time when many churches supported big business, this was a counter-cultural position.

Lecturing back in his home state of Ohio in 1912, McConnell likened modern “corporate kings” to the absolute monarchs of previous centuries. Similar to rulers of earlier times, corporate titans exerted great power at a distance and could inflict harm.

McConnell believed organized Christianity could inspire people to challenge big business. “Corporations thrive best morally when they enjoy the full light of publicity,” he wrote.

Like Buttigieg, who argues that his Christian belief makes him skeptical of the effects of concentrated wealth, these Midwesterners saw Christianity as the antidote to distant corporate power.

New life for an old message

Over the last few years, observers have noted the resurgence of a religious left inspired by the ideals of the Social Gospel.

With Pete Buttigieg, the religious left has its most prominent political leader to date – and from the part of the country that was historically important for its emergence.The Conversation

David Mislin, Assistant Professor of Intellectual Heritage, Temple University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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« Reply #2244 on: Apr 18, 2019, 03:54 AM »

Indicators of despair on the rise for Gen X-ers entering middle age, paper reports


New research reports that depression, suicidal ideation, drug use, and alcohol use — all ‘indicators of despair’ — are rising among Americans in their late 30s to early 40s.

The increase in “deaths of despair” seen among low-educated, middle-aged white Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964) may be heavily mirrored among the youngest members of Generation X (born 1974-1983) in the years to come, the authors state. They hope the findings will be used to inform “efforts to reduce these indicators of despair”.

On a mid-age, dark and dreary

    “What we wanted to do in this paper was to examine whether the factors that may be predictive of those causes of death — substance use, suicidal ideation and depression — are isolated to [the white non-Hispanic] population subgroup, or whether it’s a more generalized phenomenon,” says lead author Lauren Gaydosh, an assistant professor of Medicine, Health and Society and Public Policy Studies at Vanderbilt University.

In 2016, the U.S. saw its first decline in life expectancy in almost three decades. The prevailing theory at the time was that this decline was the product of a marked increase in deaths due to drug overdose, alcoholic cirrhosis, and suicide among middle-aged whites with low education or in rural areas. This group was struggling in the throes of “deaths of despair”, pushed to the brink by worsening employment prospects, a declining perception of socioeconomic status, and an erosion of social supports, the theory went.

However, studies aiming to understand those mortality trends did not definitively show that low-income rural whites were actually experiencing more despair than other groups. In order to get to the bottom of things, the team of this present study turned to the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (or ‘Add Health’), directed by Kathleen Mullan Harris at the University of North Carolina. Harris is also a co-author of this study. Add Health tracked the physical and mental health of thousands of Americans born between 1974-1983 from adolescence through their late 30s and early 40s (in 2016-18).

    “We found that despair has increased in this cohort, but that increases are not restricted to non-Hispanic whites with low education,” Gaydosh said. “Instead, the increase in despair that occurs across the 30s is generalized to the entire cohort, regardless of race, ethnicity, education, and geography.”

The exact patterns of drinking, drug use, and mental health symptoms varied across races and education levels, the team reports: whites were more likely to binge-drink in adolescence; Hispanics and African Americans of all ages were more likely to report depressive symptoms.

However, the overall trends were roughly the same across cohorts, the authors add. Adolescence was a rocky time for everyone, followed by a period of improvement in their twenties. By the time those monitored under Add Health reached their late 30s, however, indicators of despair were trending back up across the board. In some cases, these indicators were higher for minority populations than they were for low-educated whites or rural adults.

The team says these results should concern us, as they suggest that midlife mortality may begin to increase across a wide range of demographic groups.

    “Public health efforts to reduce these indicators of despair should not be targeted toward just rural whites, for example,” Gaydosh said, “because we’re finding that these patterns are generalized across the population.”

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« Reply #2245 on: Apr 18, 2019, 03:59 AM »

New research says traffic exhaust is giving millions of kids asthma all around the world


The team looked at 125 cities around the world, keeping track of the nitrogen oxide (NO2) levels in their air, and how it related to new pediatric cases of asthma. The study, based on data from 2010 to 2015, estimates that 4 million children worldwide develop asthma each year due to NO2, with 64% of these new cases occurring in urban areas.

The gas accounted for anywhere between 6% (Orlu, Nigeria) to 48% (Shanghai, China) of these cases, the authors report. Overall, NO2’s contribution to new cases of pediatric asthma exceeded 20% in 92 cities, they add, in both developed and emerging economies.

Bad air

    “Our findings suggest that millions of new cases of pediatric asthma could be prevented in cities around the world by reducing air pollution,” said Susan C. Anenberg, PhD, an associate professor of environmental and occupational health at Milken Institute SPH, and the study’s senior author.

    “Improving access to cleaner forms of transportation, like electrified public transport and active commuting by cycling and walking, would not only bring down NO2 levels, but would also reduce asthma, enhance physical fitness, and cut greenhouse gas emissions.”

Asthma is a chronic disease that involves inflammation of the lung’s airways, making it hard (sometimes impossible) to breathe. It is estimated that 235 million people worldwide currently have asthma, varying in intensity from wheezing to life-threatening attacks. This study is the first to take a look at how traffic-related nitrogen dioxide fits into the asthma picture. The work relied on a method that takes into account high exposures to NO2  that occur near busy roads, Anenberg explains.

For the study, the team linked together global datasets of NO2 concentrations,  population distributions, and asthma incidence rates with epidemiological evidence relating traffic-derived NO2 pollution with asthma development in kids. This wealth of data allowed the team to estimate how many new cases of pediatric asthma are attributable to NO2 pollution in the 194 countries and 125 major cities they studied.

Here are some key takeaways:

    Roughly 4 million children developed asthma, each year, from 2010 to 2015 due to NO2 pollution (primarily from motor vehicle exhaust).
    NO2 accounted for between 6% to 48% of pediatric asthma incidence. Its contribution exceeded 20% in 92 cities located in developed and emerging economies.
    The ten highest NO2 contributions were estimated for eight cities in China (37 to 48% of pediatric asthma incidence) followed by Moscow, Russia and Seoul, South Korea, both at 40%.
    In the US, the top-five most affected cities (as judged by percentage of pediatric asthma cases linked to polluted air) are Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Las Vegas, and Milwaukee
    China had the largest national health burden associated with air pollution at 760,000 cases of asthma per year, followed by India at 350,000, and the United States at 240,000.
    In general, cities with high NO2 concentrations also had high levels of greenhouse gas emissions.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has set Air Quality Guidelines for NO2 and other air pollutants. For NO2, that guideline pins about 21 parts per billion for annual average levels as being safe. The researchers estimate that most children live in areas that conform to this guideline, but say that 92% of new pediatric asthma cases attributable to NO2 sprung up in areas that met the WHO guidelines.

    “That finding suggests that the WHO guideline for NO2 may need to be re-evaluated to make sure it is sufficiently protective of children’s health,” said Pattanun Achakulwisut, PhD, lead author of the paper and a postdoctoral scientist at Milken Institute SPH.

The team, however, is confident that we can do better. Many of the solutions aimed at scrubbing cities of the greenhouse gases in their air would also reduce NO2 levels, thus helping prevent new cases of asthma.

The paper “Global, national, and urban burdens of paediatric asthma incidence attributable to ambient NO2 pollution: estimates from global datasets” has been published in The Lancet Planetary Health journal.

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« Reply #2246 on: Apr 18, 2019, 04:02 AM »

Trump administration sabotages major conservation effort, defying Congress

Revealed: federal support to research centers cut off as scientists fear years of successful work will go ‘down the drain’

Mallory Pickett
18 Apr 2019 11.00 BST

Scientists and officials around the US have told the Guardian that the Trump administration has withdrawn funding for a large, successful conservation program – in direct contradiction of instructions from Congress.

Unique in scale and ambition, the program comprises 22 research centers that tackle big-picture issues affecting huge swaths of the US, such as climate change, flooding and species extinction. They are known as Landscape Conservation Cooperatives – or were, because 16 of them are now on indefinite hiatus or have dissolved.

“I just haven’t seen anything like this in my almost 30 years of working with the federal government,” said a scientist at the Fish and Wildlife Service who worked for one of the LCCs and wished to remain anonymous, because federal employees were instructed not to speak with the Guardian for this story. “There is this lack of accountability.”

“Congress approved $12.5m for the existing 22 landscape conservation cooperatives,” said Betty McCollum, chair of the House interior-environment appropriations subcommittee, at a recent hearing with an interior department official. “But we are hearing disturbing reports from outside groups and concerned citizens that the LCC program is being altered and may not receive any federal funding.”

McCollum requested a full accounting of the situation so her committee could investigate.

The LCCs were established under the Obama administration in 2010 and staffed by the Fish and Wildlife Service, and appeared to be achieving their goals. In Hawaii, a center found that many native Hawaiian forest birds would not have any suitable habitat remaining by the end of the century, which helped get one of the birds listed as “threatened” under the federal Endangered Species Act. In flood-prone areas of the Gulf coast, work by an LCC has resulted in more residents getting access to flood-insurance discounts. Another created the “California Climate Commons”, a website that aggregates studies, data visualizations and maps on how climate change will affect the state.

“No other federal program is designed to address landscape conservation needs at a national scale” in this way, according to a 2016 review by the National Academy of Sciences.
Flood water inundates a town along Florida’s Gulf coast during a tropical storm. Work by LCCs helped more residents access flood-insurance discounts.

Donald Trump made it clear from the beginning that the LCCs – and science funding in general – were not a priority for his administration. His first budget proposal as president eliminated funds for the LCCs, and for other applied research programs run through the interior department. Ensuing budget requests followed the same pattern.

But Congress decides the federal budget, and it can disregard a president’s proposals. It has consistently rejected these cuts. In 2017, a consortium of NGOs, state fish and wildlife agencies, and tribal groups came together to convince Congress that LCCs were crucial. The Congress for American Indians passed a resolution in support of the LCC network, stating that “they have played an important role in advancing western science and traditional knowledge with our local communities that are continually struggling to adapt to increasingly unpredictable and dangerous environments due to climate change”.

These petitions were successful and since then Congress has continued to fund LCCs at the same level – about $12m.

Even so, in 2017 LCCs across the country began to receive the news that they would no longer receive federal support.

“With this administration, very few things come out on email or on paper. There’s very little paper trail. It’s just, this is the way it’s going to be,” said another Fish and Wildlife Service scientist who worked for one of the LCCs.

The scientist said that federal support for the LCC program appeared to dry up after the start of an unprecedented political review of scientific research at the interior department, of which the Fish and Wildlife Service is a part. It was led by Steve Howke, a high school friend of the former interior secretary Ryan Zinke. When this review began, said the Fish and Wildlife Service scientist, “it was known that nothing associated with LCCs, would be funded” and they “basically had to kind of wind everything down”.

There was also resistance to the centers within the interior department, several scientists associated with the LCCs said, because some officials did not like the loss of control that came with their collaborative approach.

“For most of us in the program, it was pretty disappointing. We put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into getting to where we were,” says Greg Wathen, the former coordinator for the Gulf Coastal Plains and Ozark LCC. “I always felt like we were right on the cusp of making some real good progress.”

Gary Tabor, a member of the LCC Network Council, a group that provided leadership for all 22 centers, said the LCCs had created a framework for the nation to address existential challenges, like natural disasters.

“That kind of architecture is now lost, and takes time to build up and it takes training the people and positioning the resources,” he said. “We’ve lost time, we’ve lost money, and we’ve lost momentum.”

According to information compiled by the FWS and shared confidentially with the Guardian, six LCCs are on hiatus, and 10 have officially dissolved. Another six continue to operate thanks to support from other sources. The California LCC is now hosted and funded by the state, for instance, and the Aleutian and Bering Sea Islands LCC in Alaska is now run by the Alaska Conservation Foundation.

A Fish and Wildlife Service representative conceded that it “no longer provides dedicated staff, administrative functions and funding for the Landscape Conservation Cooperatives (LCCs)”.

The first anonymous scientist is in despair. “I’d say there could be five to six years [of work] down the drain.”

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« Reply #2247 on: Apr 18, 2019, 04:08 AM »

'Decades of denial': major report finds New Zealand's environment is in serious trouble

Nation known for its natural beauty is under pressure with extinctions, polluted rivers and blighted lakes

Eleanor Ainge Roy in Dunedin
Thu 18 Apr 2019 03.17 BST

A report on the state of New Zealand’s environment has painted a bleak picture of catastrophic biodiversity loss, polluted waterways and the destructive rise of the dairy industry and urban sprawl.

Environment Aotearoa is the first major environmental report in four years, and was compiled using data from Statistics New Zealand and the environment ministry.

It presents a sobering summary of a country that is starkly different from the pristine landscape promoted in the “Pure New Zealand” marketing campaign that lures millions of tourists every year.

It found New Zealand is now considered one of the most invaded countries in the world, with 75 animal and plant species having gone extinct since human settlement. The once-vibrant bird life has fared particularly badly, with 90% of seabirds and 80% of shorebirds threatened with or at risk of extinction.

Almost two-thirds of New Zealand’s rare ecosystems are under threat of collapse, and over the last 15 years the extinction risk worsened for 86 species, compared with the conservation status of just 26 species improving in the past 10 years.

The scale of what is being lost is impossible to accurately gauge, as only about 20% of New Zealand’s species have been identified and recorded.

Kevin Hague from the conservation group Forest and Bird said the report was chilling reading and captured the devastating affects of “decades of procrastination and denial”.

“New Zealand is losing species and ecosystems faster than nearly any other country,” he said. “Four thousand of our native species are in trouble … from rampant dairy conversions to destructive seabed trawling – [we] are irreversibly harming our natural world.”

The minister for the environment, David Parker, said the report offered “no big surprises” but reinforced the importance of cleaning up the waterways and becoming carbon neutral by 2050.

“If, with all our advantages, New Zealand can’t overcome its environmental problems, then the world won’t,” Parker said.

A massive rise in the country’s dairy herd over the last 20 years has had a devastating impact on the country’s freshwater quality, a key area being targeted by the government for improvement. During her election campaign, the prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, pledged to make the country’s rivers and lakes swimmable again for the next generation.

That could prove challenging, with the report finding that groundwater failed standards at 59% of wells owing to the presence of E coli, and at 13% of the wells owing to nitrates. Some 57% of monitored lakes registered poor water quality, and 76% of native freshwater fish are at risk of or threatened with extinction. A third of freshwater insects are also in danger of extinction.

Forest and Bird said the main culprits for worsening freshwater quality were the intensive use of fertilisers, irrigation and cows.

The Green party co-leader James Shaw, who is also the minister for climate change, said the environment was taking a further hammering with the effects of global warming starting to be felt, including sea-level rise, increasing land temperatures and warming ocean temperatures.

“All the issues in this report are made worse by climate change and that is why this government is so determined to take strong action,” Shaw said.

“The introduction of climate change legislation, establishing an independent climate change commission to guide emissions reductions, and the just transition to a low emissions economy are vital.”

Hague said while the findings were sobering, the reality was far worse as the report missed “dangerous marine heatwaves” and the inadequacy of marine protections, with less than half a per cent of New Zealand’s sea area protected by marine reserves.

“We must not waste any more time in fundamentally changing the way we interact with nature,” he said. “We need an economy that nurtures and restores our environment, not one that trashes it.”

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« Reply #2248 on: Apr 18, 2019, 04:11 AM »

The female boxers fighting back in the Congo

The Democratic Republic of the Congo has been branded the rape capital of the world. Now photographer Alessandro Grassani is documenting the women there who have taken up boxing for self-defence

Killian Fox

An 18-year-old woman stands at the intersection of two featureless grey brick walls in Goma, in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. We can’t see her face, which is concealed by her left hand, but her right arm and neck are exposed and the burns on her skin are clearly visible. One night several years ago, the woman, whose name is Blandini and who lives on the streets of Goma with her two young children, was attacked by four men, who raped her in turn. Afterwards, they doused her with petrol and set her alight – “like a candle,” she recalls.

In the portrait of Blandini, taken by the Italian documentary photographer Alessandro Grassani, she sports a pair of cushioned red gloves. After the attack, in a bid to prevent anything like it from happening again, Blandini took up boxing. She joined an unregistered club, run by a former boxing champion of DRC who goes by the nickname Kibomango, and threw herself into training.

“In a patriarchal society like Congo, it’s really difficult for women to box,” says Grassani. “It’s seen as a sport for men.” But Blandini is one of a growing group of women in Goma for whom boxing has become a lifeline, not just a form of self-defence in a country where sexual violence is rife, but also a source of companionship, purpose and hope for the future.

Grassani, who lives in Milan, learned about the Friendship boxing club prior to his trip to DRC last May. He had been commissioned to take photographs for a Goma-based NGO that runs hospitals in the region, but Grassani was on the lookout for other stories to explore during his visit. Getting in touch with Kibomango, who trained former child soldiers and homeless people for free, he asked if there were any women in his club. “He told me, ‘Yes, there are also women here.’”

It’s not surprising that women in Goma want to learn how to box. In 2010, Margot Wallström, the United Nations special representative on sexual violence in conflict, branded DRC “the rape capital of the world”, following a decade and a half of civil unrest during which sexual violence was routinely used as a weapon of war.

Exact figures are impossible to come by, but the UN estimates that more than 200,000 Congolese women are rape survivors. The problem is particularly acute in the east of the country.

“Some of the women I met in Goma had suffered extreme violence,” says Grassani. “Living on the streets, they have to change where they sleep every night, so as not to be found by violent gangs that will rape them.” In this drastic situation, boxing provided a measure of security. “Now that they are training, they are fit, they can run faster, they are not afraid,” says Grassani. “For sure they will fight back.”

The Friendship boxing club meets every weekday morning from 6-8am at the Volcans football stadium in Goma, close to where its coach works as a mechanic. A former child soldier who lost an eye in a bomb blast, Kibomango (born Balezi Bagunda) has a formidable appearance – Grassani describes him as “the Rocky Balboa of Congo” – that belies his gentle manner.

“He’s very sweet with the kids and the women he’s training,” says Grassani. “He would tell them, ‘Everyone here is friends, it doesn’t matter if you were a child soldier, if you lived on the streets, if you’ve been raped… we’re all friends.’”

For the women training at Friendship, the main motivation was self-defence. At another club in the city that Grassani visited, the exclusively female Radi Star girls club, its members’ ambitions went beyond mere survival: they wanted to compete and win. “I don’t know much about boxing,” says Grassani, “but when you see someone run, fight and punch like they were doing – wow. They’re very strong, very aggressive.”

One woman who had been abandoned by her family told the photographer that she wanted to go to the US and become a champion like Muhammad Ali, then come back to DRC to open an orphanage for other abandoned children who needed help.

Grassani left Goma deeply impressed by the resilience of the female boxers and the generosity of their ambitions. His admiration was shared by the judges of the Sony world photography awards, who have shortlisted the Boxing Against Violence series in this year’s sport category. The winners will be announced on 17 April.

Grassani, who is currently working on a long-running project about environmental migration and border walls, says he’s delighted by the nomination and the extra attention it will bring to his subjects.

“The most important thing for me was not to portray these women as victims of something, but as the boss of their destiny,” Grassani says. “They are able to do everything. The courage and the strength of these women in the face of very serious violence was just incredible.”

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« Reply #2249 on: Apr 18, 2019, 04:21 AM »

Ukraine elections: actor and comedian poised to win crushing victory

Volodymyr Zelenskiy is hot favourite to triumph in Sunday’s presidential election

Shaun Walker in Kyiv
Thu 18 Apr 2019 10.14 BST

Latest polling in Ukraine suggests that the actor and comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who has eschewed traditional political campaigning and given little insight into his policy positions, is set to win a crushing victory in Sunday’s presidential election.

Zelenskiy is known for his television series Servant of the People in which he plays a history teacher who wins a shock victory in presidential elections. He is now odds-on to pull off the feat in real life, after capitalising on widespread disappointment with the incumbent, Petro Poroshenko, who won elections in 2014 after the Maidan revolution kicked out the previous government.

A poll released earlier this week gave Zelenskiy 72% of votes from those who said they were certain to vote, against 25% for Poroshenko. Other polls have also given Zelenskiy an overwhelming lead.

In the first round of voting, Zelenskiy was the clear winner, taking 30% of the votes in a crowded field, with Poroshenko coming in a distant second on 16%.

Until recent weeks, many western diplomats had assumed Poroshenko would be able to overturn his rival’s lead, but as victory for Zelenskiy looks ever more likely, the international community has started to take notice.

The French president, Emmanuel Macron, received both Poroshenko and Zelenskiy in Paris last week, while this week Zelenskiy’s chief of staff, Ivan Bakanov, travelled to Washington.

In meetings set up by a US lobbying firm, Bakanov assured policymakers and analysts that Zelenskiy would pursue a pro-western course in office, according to a source briefed on the contents of the discussions. However, he also said Zelenskiy would want to make more efforts to find a peaceful resolution to the conflict in eastern Ukraine, including potential negotiations with Russia-backed separatists, and bringing the UK and US into the so-called Normandy peace format, which involves the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France.

Poroshenko has sought to portray Zelenskiy as a stooge of the Kremlin, but his nationalist rhetoric around the Ukrainian church and language appears to have backfired with the electorate. Zelenskiy has faced questions about his ties to the oligarch Ihor Kolomoiskyi, and has irritated Ukrainian journalists by not giving interviews.

An open letter to Zelenskiy by 20 Ukrainian media outlets this week said: “Over the past few weeks, you have avoided direct and fully fledged communication with domestic journalists.”

“A million people will see your interview. Now imagine if I gave them every day,” Zelenskiy told RBK Ukraine, in an interview released on Thursday, explaining his desire to speak rarely as part of a strategy to create maximum interest.

Many voters are likely to back Zelenskiy on an “anyone but Poroshenko” basis, angry that after the promises of the Maidan revolution, cronyism and corruption have continued to flourish under Poroshenko, while the Ukrainian economy remains weak.

Poroshenko’s final chance to tip the balance back in his favour will be a debate with Zelenskiy on Friday night, which is shaping up to be the final set-piece in a bizarre and eventful election campaign.

The two campaign teams have been wrangling over the format and style of the debate.

Zelenskiy, who won the first round by avoiding traditional debates and presenting himself as outside politics, presented a series of extraordinary conditions to Poroshenko for any debate, including a stipulation that both candidates should take drug tests, and that the debate should take place at Kyiv’s Olympic Stadium.

Poroshenko, feeling he had nothing to lose, called Zelenskiy’s bluff, inviting journalists to watch him give blood, urine and hair samples at a Kyiv clinic last week.

Zelenskiy has invited his fans to acquire free tickets to the debate, while Poroshenko has called for his supporters across the country to mobilise and descend on Kyiv to watch the spectacle, raising the possibility that tens of thousands of supporters of the two politicians could create an atmosphere inside the stadium more akin to a football match than a presidential debate.

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