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« Reply #3240 on: May 17, 2019, 03:53 AM »

‘Extraordinary thinning’ of ice sheets revealed deep inside Antarctica

New research shows affected areas are losing ice five times faster than in the 1990s, with more than 100m of thickness gone in some places

Damian Carrington Environment editor
17 May 2019 09.00 BST

Ice losses are rapidly spreading deep into the interior of the Antarctic, new analysis of satellite data shows.

The warming of the Southern Ocean is resulting in glaciers sliding into the sea increasingly rapidly, with ice now being lost five times faster than in the 1990s. The West Antarctic ice sheet was stable in 1992 but up to a quarter of its expanse is now thinning. More than 100 metres of ice thickness has been lost in the worst-hit places.

A complete loss of the West Antarctic ice sheet would drive global sea levels up by about five metres, drowning coastal cities around the world. The current losses are doubling every decade, the scientists said, and sea level rise are now running at the extreme end of projections made just a few years ago.

The research, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, compared 800m satellite measurements of ice sheet height from 1992 to 2017 with weather information. This distinguished short-term changes owing to varying snowfall from long-term changes owing to climate.

“From a standing start in the 1990s, thinning has spread inland progressively over the past 25 years – that is rapid in glaciological terms,” said Prof Andy Shepherd, of Leeds University in the UK, who led the study. “The speed of drawing down ice from an ice sheet used to be spoken of in geological timescales, but that has now been replaced by people’s lifetimes.”

He said the thinning of some ice streams had extended 300 miles inland along their 600-mile length. “More than 50% of the Pine Island and Thwaites glacier basins have been affected by thinning in the past 25 years. We are past halfway and that is a worry.”

Researchers already knew that ice was being lost from West Antarctica, but the new work pinpoints where it is happening and how rapidly. This will enable more accurate projections to be made of sea level rises and may aid preparations for these rises.

In the recent past, snow falling on to Antarctica’s glaciers balanced the ice lost as icebergs calved off into the ocean. But now the glaciers are flowing faster than snow can replenish them.

“Along a 3,000km [1,850-mile] stretch of West Antarctica, the water in front of the glaciers is too hot,” he said. This causes melting of the underside of the glaciers where they grind against the seabed. The melting lessens the friction and allows the glaciers then to slide more quickly into the ocean and therefore become thinner.

“In parts of Antarctica, the ice sheet has thinned by extraordinary amounts,” Shepherd said.

Separate research published in January found that ice loss from the entire Antarctic continent had increased six-fold since the 1980s, with the biggest losses in the west. The new study indicates West Antarctica has caused 5mm of sea level rise since 1992, consistent with the January study’s findings.

The expansion of the oceans as they warm and the vast melting in Greenland are the main current causes of the rising oceans, but Antarctica is the biggest store of ice. The East Antarctic ice sheet contains enough ice to raise sea levels by about 60 metres. It had been considered stable, but research in December found even this stronghold was showing signs of melting.

Without rapid cuts in the carbon emissions driving global warming, the melting and rising sea level will continue for thousands of years.

“Before we had useful satellite measurements from space, most glaciologists thought the polar ice sheets were pretty isolated from climate change and didn’t change rapidly at all,” Shepherd said. “Now we know that is not true.”

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« Reply #3241 on: May 17, 2019, 03:57 AM »

414 million pieces of plastic found on remote island group in Indian Ocean

Debris on Cocos (Keeling) Islands was mostly bottles, cutlery, bags and straws, but also included 977,000 shoes, study says

Ben Smee
17 May 2019 14.23 BST

On the beaches of the tiny Cocos (Keeling) Islands, population 600, marine scientists found 977,000 shoes and 373,000 toothbrushes.

A comprehensive survey of debris on the islands – among the most remote places on Earth, in the Indian Ocean – has found a staggering amount of rubbish washed ashore. This included 414m pieces of plastic, weighing 238 tonnes.

The study, published in the journal Nature, concluded the volume of debris points to the exponential increase of global plastic polluting the world’s oceans and “highlights a worrying trend in the production and discharge of single-use products”.

The lead author, Jennifer Lavers from the University of Tasmania’s Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies, said remote islands without large populations were the most effective indicator of the amount of plastic debris floating in the oceans.

“Islands such as these are like canaries in a coal mine and it’s increasingly urgent that we act on the warnings they are giving us. Plastic pollution is now ubiquitous in our oceans, and remote islands are an ideal place to get an objective view of the volume of plastic debris now circling the globe,” Lavers said.

Click to watch: <iframe src="https://embed.theguardian.com/embed/video/environment/video/2017/may/16/38m-pieces-of-plastic-found-on-uninhabited-henderson-island-video-report" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

The study found the quantity of debris buried up to 10cm beneath the beach was 26 times greater than the amount visible; that previous surveys that only assessed surface garbage might have “drastically underestimated the scale of debris accumulation”.

Lavers led a previous study, published in 2017, that found the remote Henderson Island in the eastern South Pacific was among the places most affected by plastic pollution.

While most of the debris found on Henderson Island was fishing-related, on the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, the plastic was mostly single-use items such as bottles, plastic cutlery, bags and straws.

“Our excessive and unrelenting demand for plastics, coupled with ineffective policy and waste management, has resulted in myriad negative effects on marine, freshwater, and terrestrial environments, including entanglement and ingestion of debris, and subsequent exposure to plastic-associated chemicals,” the report said.

“The Cocos (Keeling) Islands [are] touted as ‘Australia’s last unspoilt paradise’, with tourism a primary source of income for the local community. However, the impact of debris on tourism and [their] beaches is increasingly difficult to avoid.

“Sadly, the situation on the Cocos (Keeling) Islands is not unique, with significant quantities of debris documented on islands and coastal areas from the Arctic to the Antarctic. Together, these islands and coastal areas reflect the acute symptoms of an otherwise rapidly increasing environmental hazard.”

Items such as shoes and toothbrushes were found in such large quantities, the researchers said it would take the local population about 4,000 years to generate the same amount of waste.

The local community has struggled to find an appropriate landfill site, or other ways to properly dispose of the garbage.

“In the absence of rapid and meaningful change, anthropogenic debris will accumulate on beaches, with impacts increasingly felt by biodiversity and marine plastic mitigation will remain a perpetual game of catch-up,” the report found.

“Mitigation initiatives, including policy, should be mindful of the challenges faced by remote islands, and the communities that reside there.”

A co-author of the report, Annett Finger from Victoria University, said global production of plastic continues to increase. The amount of plastic produced since 2006 is almost half that manufactured in the past 60 years.

“An estimated 12.7m tonnes of plastic entered our oceans in 2010 alone, with around 40% of plastics entering the waste stream in the same year they’re produced,” Finger said.

“As a result of the growth in single-use consumer plastics, it’s estimated there are now 5.25 trillion pieces of ocean plastic debris.

“The scale of the problem means cleaning up our oceans is currently not possible, and cleaning beaches once they are polluted with plastic is time consuming, costly, and needs to be regularly repeated as thousands of new pieces of plastic wash up each day.”

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« Reply #3242 on: May 17, 2019, 04:01 AM »

'Like any other job': Indian sex workers lobby for pensions and healthcare

Five million sex workers vow to vote en bloc in national elections in effort to have rights acknowledged

Amrit Dhillon in New Delhi
17 May 2019 05.00 BST

Sex workers across India are lobbying candidates in the country’s general election to support their demands for better health and welfare services in return for votes.

“We wanted to see which party accepts sex workers as part of the community,” said Kusum (who goes by only one name), president of the All India Network of Sex Workers (AINSW), which is coordinating efforts. “Some express support for us behind closed doors, but never in public.”

The network has 5 million members, who between them have 20 million dependents – yet sex workers have little influence. Indian society and politics are too conservative to discuss sex work openly, much less debate or acknowledge their rights as citizens, said Kusum.

“That is why we are making a special effort in this election to get some visibility and get our voices heard. Our vote is important because we all come to a consensus and collectively decide which party to vote for,” said Kusum, who is based in New Delhi.

In Kolkata, sex workers are taking their demands directly to candidates for the first time. Sex workers have lobbied two-thirds of the 150-plus candidates standing in West Bengal, where Kolkata is located, to sign declarations of support for their demands. Election results are expected on 23 May.

“About 50 candidates [have] signed a pledge to fulfil our demands. The day the results are out, we are going to be at their door, demanding they act,” said Dr Smarajit Jana, chief adviser for Durbar, a sex workers’ collective in Sonagachi, the biggest red light area in south Asia, and part of AINSW.

In the Indian capital, the New Delhi branch of AINSW released a charter of demands last month, calling for access to basic services, education, a pension for sex workers once they reach 45, and participation in policy-making.

The branch also demanded the official listing of sex work as a recognised occupation by the labour ministry, which would allow sex workers access to government benefits unavailable to them at present. These include a “ration card”that gives poor people subsidised foods, government health insurance, widowers’ and old-age pensions, and compensation in case of injury.

Although sex work is not illegal in India, certain laws make it difficult for sex workers to get the documentation required to access services.

“Sex work is a valid profession and must be recognised as such. This is their right, and giving it to them will make it more difficult for them to be exploited or discriminated against,” said Ashok Alexander, author of A Stranger Truth: Lessons in Love, Leadership and Courage from India’s Sex Workers.

With most sex work performed on streets or in rented rooms, the only concentrated areas for workers are the red light areas in Mumbai, Sonagachi in the north of Kolkata, and along the GB Road in Delhi.

Above the bustling electronic and hardware shops that line GB Road there is a large complex of brothels. Fanning out from squalid staircases are rows of tiny cubicles.

Outside, the May sun is scorching. At the top of the stairs of one brothel, the temperature dips as a cooler pumps cold air. In the entrance room, with its cheap marble flooring and mirror-lined walls, about 20 women sit around, some doing their makeup and others watching soaps or videos on their mobiles. It’s mid-afternoon and quiet.

Most of the women here, including the brothel’s “madam”, come from southern India. Many are Muslims. The “manager”, known as Dadu or grandad, is a corpulent, mild-mannered man who sits in a corner.

Dadu recently made a special visit to his village in Uttar Pradesh to cast his vote. Few of the women in the brothel voted because they are registered in their home villages. But many of the women in the adjoining brothels went out last Sunday, which was polling day in New Delhi, to cast their vote.

In Kolkata, voter turnout from Sonagachi during the last election was high. “Once we make a collective decision on which party to support, we urge them to vote. In the last general election, for example, 90% of Sonagachi sex workers voted,” said Jana.

At the GB Road brothel in New Delhi, the disenchantment with politicians was unanimous. “No party has ever done anything for us. No politician visits us, only the police,” said Preeti, who has worked here for eight years.

She supports the idea of a pension. “When we get old, many of us don’t have a husband or children to help us. A pension would help,” she said.

Several are opposed to prime minister Narendra Modi, calling him “anti-Muslim”. “Under Modi, Muslims feel persecuted and frightened, and we resent this. We don’t like this divisiveness,” said Neelam.

Modi’s demonetisation of high value banknotes in 2016, when more than 80% of the country’s currency was declared worthless, was a disaster.

“We are paid in cash. When our customers had no cash, they didn’t come,” said Preeti. “Our incomes slumped so badly it was difficult to feed ourselves. And it took a long time for things to recover. Some of us had to go back to our villages until things picked up.”

Jana, though not very optimistic that India will recognise sex work as a legitimate profession, takes some heart from the signed pledges of the candidates. He calls it a small step forward. “Sex work is like any other job. Until it is recognised by the labour ministry, sex workers have no legal status, and that leaves them without rights enshrined in the constitution. Yet they are citizens of this country.”

(Some names have been changed to protect identities).

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« Reply #3243 on: May 17, 2019, 04:12 AM »

Taiwan becomes first in Asia to legalise same-sex marriage

Supporters celebrate as legislation is passed giving gay couples right to marry

Lily Kuo in Beijing
Fri 17 May 2019 09.22 BST

Taiwan has legalised same-sex marriage, the first of any Asian state, with the passage of legislation giving gay couples the right to marry.

Lawmakers on Friday comfortably passed part of a bill that would allow gay couples to enter into “exclusive permanent unions” and apply for marriage registration with government agencies.

Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, who campaigned on a platform of marriage equality, tweeted after the vote: “We took a big step towards true equality, and made Taiwan a better country.”

Thousands of gay rights supporters gathered in heavy rain outside parliament in the capital, Taipei, to watch a live broadcast of the proceedings. Supporters shouted “First in Asia!” after the article was passed.

“What we have achieved is not easy,” said Victoria Hsu, the founder and executive director of the Taiwan Alliance to Promote Civil Partnership Rights. “The law will not be 100% perfect, but this is a good start and this is a major step to end discrimination based on sexual orientation. Now the law says everyone should be treated equally no matter who you are, who you love.”

Two years ago, Hsu’s team represented the LGBT activist Chi Chia-wei in a lawsuit that led Taiwan’s constitutional court to rule that the denial of marriage rights to same-sex couples was unconstitutional.

Judges had given the government until next Friday to pass legislation. As the deadline approached, three bills were introduced for voting on on Friday, the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia.

Two other versions backed by conservatives avoided the word marriage and described same-sex partnerships as a “same-sex familial relationship” or “same-sex union”.

The government’s bill, the most progressive of the three, is the only one to offer some adoption rights to same-sex couples, allowing spouses to adopt the biological children of their partner. Same-sex couples cannot co-adopt. Lawmakers were still debating adoption rights on Friday.

Cindy Su, one of thousands of gay marriage supporters gathered outside parliament, told the crowd: “We are just a group of people who want to live well on this land and who love each other.”

Hsu said she and her partner had made plans to register as a married couple as soon as the law went into effect on 24 May, at the same office that rejected their attempt to marry five years ago. The department of civil affairs said that, as of Thursday, 151 couples had made appointments to register on that day.

Taiwan, whose annual gay pride parade is the largest in the region, has long been a hub for LGBT activism. Advocates called for other Asian nations to follow its lead.

“We hope this landmark vote will generate waves across Asia and offer a much-needed boost in the struggle for equality for LGBTI people in the region,” said Annie Huang, the acting director of Amnesty International Taiwan. “This is a moment to cherish and celebrate, but it has been a long and arduous campaign for Taiwan.”

In a referendum last year, citizens overwhelmingly voted in favour of restricting the definition of marriage in Taiwan’s civil code to between a man and a woman.

Tsai said earlier that she recognised the issue had divided “families, generations and even inside religious groups”. She defended the government’s bill as the only one to respect both the court judgment and the referendum.

Tsai’s ruling Democratic Progressive party (DPP) has a majority in parliament, occupying 68 of 113 seats. Instead of amending the existing civil code, the bill creates a new law under which same-sex marriages will be regulated.

The Coalition for the Happiness of our Next Generation said on Friday that it “regrets and condemns” the parliament’s decision, describing it as a “malicious misinterpretation” of the referendum result.

Others warned of a backlash. “The cabinet’s bill ignores the referendum results and that is unacceptable,” said Lai Shyh-bao of the opposition Kuomintang party, who proposed one of the bills backed by conservatives.

Activists said they would continue to push for more rights, such as recognition of transnational same-sex marriages, where one partner is from a country that does not recognise gay marriage.

“We will just enjoy this victory for today, and continue our fight tomorrow,” Hsu said.

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« Reply #3244 on: May 17, 2019, 04:15 AM »

Poland raises jail terms for child abuse after church documentary

MPs change criminal code after film about abuse by priests caused outrage

Agence France-Presse in Warsaw
Fri 17 May 2019 10.41 BST

Poland has raised jail terms for convicted paedophiles to a maximum of 30 years after a groundbreaking documentary on child sexual abuse among Polish priests prompted public outrage.

MPs voted overwhelmingly in favour of changes to the criminal code that also introduce life sentences for the most dangerous paedophiles and remove a statute of limitations on prosecution of the most drastic cases of child sexual abuse.

The changes introduced by the rightwing Law and Justice (PiS) government, which is closely allied with Poland’s Roman Catholic church, come just 10 days before a tight race in elections to the European parliament.

Posted on YouTube on Saturday, the film, Tell No One, by the brothers Tomasz and Marek Sekielski has been viewed nearly 18m times. The revelations have rocked Poland’s powerful Roman Catholic church to the core.

The two-hour documentary includes hidden camera footage of victims who are now adults confronting elderly priests about the abuse they suffered decades earlier. Several of the priests admit to the abuse and apologise for it.

Click to watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BrUvQ3W3nV4

The film also details how priests accused, or even convicted of child sexual abuse, were transferred to other parishes and able to continue their duties and work with children.

Top Polish clerics refused to be interviewed for the documentary.

The Polish primate Wojciech Polak, who apologised “for every wound inflicted by the church’s people” after watching the film on Thursday, vowed to set up a “solidarity fund” to help provide victims with “concrete help” but insisted it was not a compensation fund.

“Where compensation is concerned, we should conform to the law in force in Poland, so if the court awards it, then the church is not above the law,” Polak told the TVN24 commercial news channel.

The Maltese archbishop Charles Scicluna, a Vatican expert on paedophilia among the priesthood, will visit Poland next month, the Polish episcopate said on Thursday.

The Polish church admitted in March that nearly 400 clergy had sexually abused children and minors over the last three decades, reflecting findings published a month earlier by a local charity.

The documentary concludes that the Polish-born pope and saint John Paul II turned a blind eye to sexual abuse when Warsaw’s communist regime was working to undermine the church, then Poland’s only independent institution.

Pope Francis last week passed a landmark new measure to oblige those who know about sexual abuse to report it to superiors, which could bring many new cases to light.

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« Reply #3245 on: May 17, 2019, 04:17 AM »

Europe's far-right divided over Russia as Salvini stages pre-election rally in Milan

Italy’s deputy leader gathers nationalists in Milan but pro-Russia stance leaves allies split

Shaun Walker Central and eastern Europe correspondent
Fri 17 May 2019 05.00 BST

On Saturday, Italy’s interior minister, Matteo Salvini, will gather nationalists from across Europe for a rally in Milan’s Piazza Duomo, in an attempt to show he can unite the continent’s far-right forces before next week’s European elections.

There has been an increase of nativist, populist parties in many parts of Europe in recent years. From the villages of Normandy to the Hungarian plains, they go into the elections with similar messages of national identities under threat, the dangers of migration and a reassertion of national sovereignty.

However, there remains one issue on which the continent’s rightwing populists are split: Russia.

For many nationalist and far-right parties, support for Russia is a natural side-effect of anti-Americanism and anti-EU sentiment. Many also like the Kremlin’s focus on traditional values and wrongly believe the president, Vladimir Putin, to be a nativist ethno-nationalist leader. There are also suggestions of covert Russian support or funding for far-right parties.

Salvini has praised Putin and even worn a Putin T-shirt during a session of the European parliament. Marine Le Pen, who has signed her National Rally party up to Salvini’s bloc, said Russia’s annexation of Crimea was legitimate. Her party has taken a loan from a Russian bank. Shortly before presidential elections in France in 2017, she met Putin in the Kremlin.

For other nationalists, especially those from Scandinavia and the Baltic states, Russia is a strategic threat that must be aggressively countered.

“We are very concerned about Russian aggression. A wounded bear is dangerous,” MEP Anders Vistisen, of the Danish People’s party said last month in Milan, on the sidelines of Salvini’s nationalist coalition launch. He travelled to Milan to join the bloc but made it clear he had little time for the pro-Russia policy of his new ally.

Perhaps the biggest segment of nationalist MEPs who are likely to stay out of a formal alliance, partly due to concerns over Russia, are those from Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party (PiS). Salvini travelled to Warsaw at the beginning of the year to woo the PiS chairman Jarosław Kaczyński but the Poles are unlikely to formally join his coalition.

Kaczynski has doubts about a close alliance with any pro-Russia politician, including Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, who has feted Salvini. Orbán may join the new bloc if his Fidesz party is kicked out of the centre-right European People’s party after the elections.

Radosław Fogiel, a policy adviser to Kaczyński, said in an interview with the Guardian in February: “They agree on many things when it comes to immigration policy or the way the EU should go in the future but we never hide that the Hungarian stance towards Russia and Putin is something we do not approve of.”

He also ruled out cooperation between PiS and Le Pen, partly due to the Russia links. “Not only is she funded by Russia, she’s way more far right when it comes to the social issues. She’s way too extreme for us to cooperate.”

Estonia’s EKRE, a far-right party that is part of the country’s government, has said it will join Salvini’s bloc but the party is staunchly anti-Russian. Jaak Madison, an EKRE MP and set to become an MEP if the party clears the threshold in European elections, said last week he planned to ask Le Pen about her loan from Russia when she travelled to Tallinn at the beginning of this week.

“I haven’t met her yet to ask this question. [When we meet] we have this possibility to ask, ‘If you got the loan, did you pay it back?’ If we will see proof she paid back the loan then it’s fine,” said Madison.

He said the best policy was to agree to disagree. “We understand their position. They don’t have 25% of Russians in their population and they don’t have 50 years of occupation,” he said. Nevertheless, politicians from other Estonian parties blasted EKRE for hosting Le Pen in the Estonian parliament. Getting too close to a politician considered to be pro-Russian could be electorally dangerous for a nationalist party in a country that is deeply suspicious of Russia.

When asked about Russian funding by an Estonian journalist at a press conference in Tallinn on Tuesday, Le Pen grew irate. “I find your question insulting. I find it hard to understand that you insist on asking about Russia,” she said.

Vistisen said there had been a concerted effort to make the manifesto of Salvini’s new bloc as vague as possible so as “not to exclude anyone who potentially wants to be with us”. He said, that in regards to Russia, it was best simply to avoid the topic. “We have agreed that it’s very important that member states decide their own sovereign foreign policy.”

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« Reply #3246 on: May 17, 2019, 04:35 AM »

Michael Flynn cooperated with Mueller investigation by turning over tape of Trump ally attempting to obstruct inquiry: report

Raw Story

Former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn was the target of an effort to interfere with his cooperation with special counsel Robert Mueller, new court filings reveal.

“Defendant informed the government of multiple instances, both before and after his guilty plea, where either he or his attorneys received communication from persons connected to the Administration or Congress that could have affected both his willingness to cooperate and the completeness of that cooperation,” the filing revealed.

“The defendant even provided a voicemail recording of one such communication,” the filing noted.


Federal judge orders DOJ to publish phone transcripts of Michael Flynn talking with Russians

Raw Story

Judge Emmet G Sullivan on Thursday ordered the Department of Justice to publicly release a transcript of a voicemail message Mike Flynn received that was seeking to influence his cooperation with special counsel Robert Mueller.

The order came only hours after the existence of the voicemail tape was revealed in an unredacted court filing.

“Defendant informed the government of multiple instances, both before and after his guilty plea, where either he or his attorneys received communication from persons connected to the Administration or Congress that could have affected both his willingness to cooperate and the completeness of that cooperation,” the court filing revealed. “The defendant even provided a voicemail recording of one such communication.”

    Now: DC judge orders USDOJ to post public transcript of Michael Flynn voicemail that purports to capture Trump/ Congress efforts "that could have affected both his willingness to cooperate and the completeness of that cooperation. Court order: pic.twitter.com/CMx9aMZKXI

    — Mike Scarcella (@MikeScarcella) May 16, 2019

    NEW TODAY: A federal judge ordered the Justice Department to file, "on the public docket," transcripts of Flynn's calls with the Russian ambassador, plus transcripts of "any other audio recordings" of Flynn. (This stuff is classified, so it's TBD how much actually goes public.)

    — Marshall Cohen (@MarshallCohen) May 16, 2019

    BREAKING / NBC News: A federal judge has ordered prosecutors to file transcripts with the court Ret. Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn's conversations with Russian officials by May 31st.

    The order follows newly un-redacted filings in the case today: https://t.co/Vn7xVoL2MT pic.twitter.com/zI966VS1sH

    — Tom Winter (@Tom_Winter) May 16, 2019

    Whether we'll see transcripts between Flynn & Russian officials soon, or ever, I don't know. But if we do, I think it's quite likely they'll include assurance by Flynn that he's speaking on behalf of Trump, to establish his authority. Pure speculation, but it would make sense.

    — Elizabeth de la Vega (@Delavegalaw) May 16, 2019


Flynn bombshell obstruction recording compared to Trump’s ‘Access Hollywood’ tape by ex-prosecutor: ‘It’ll be a big deal’

Raw Story

On Thursday, former federal prosecutor Jack Weiss told CNN’s Erin Burnett that the alleged taped recordings of President Donald Trump’s allies in the administration and Congress trying to get in contact with former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn during his cooperation with special counsel Robert Mueller could be a “big deal.”

“What’s really significant here is that there are multiple reachouts to Flynn from, according to this memo, both the administration and people connected to Congress,” said Weiss. “There are multiple individuals. And some are outreaches to Flynn, some to his lawyers. So I suspect Congress is going to subpoena Flynn. He is going to have to testify and tell us — and name names, for the very first time.”

“And it also means there, are at least — there are tapes,” added Burnett.

“Yeah, tapes is something the case has lacked,” said Weiss. “It’s always been words on a page. Remember the impact of ‘Access Hollywood’? Just the tactile — that impact of seeing someone, listening to someone. If we get a live tape, I think it’ll be a big deal.”


‘We might be living in the midst of a mob movie’: Brian Williams stunned by new revelations about Trump’s witness tampering

Raw Story

MSNBC anchor Brian Williams suggested that America may be living in a mafia movie after the latest revelations about the Trump administration.

“Tonight, there are new revelations about Michael Flynn, a legal filing from the Mueller team just this evening reveals he was approached by individuals allied with Trump who wanted to influence his dealings with Mueller and perhaps buy his silence,” Williams noted..

“Day 847 of this Trump Administration and just when we thought we knew all we could from the Mueller effort, we’ve learned something new tonight, and this confirms the feeling a lot of folks have had, that we might just be living in the midst of a mob movie,” Williams said.

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow had a similar reaction, calling the news a “mafia-esque” move “from the president’s goon squad.”

“This story has to do with Michael Flynn, who Trump hired as National Security adviser despite being warned about it. There are new revelations tonight coming from the Russia investigation. Flynn, you may recall, lasted 24 days on the job. He pleaded guilty back in December of ‘17, lying to the FBI about his contacts with the Russian Ambassador, and he’s been cooperating with the special counsel’s investigation ever since,” Williams reported.

“A newly unredacted court filing made public late today says Flynn told Mueller’s team that people connected to Congress as well as individuals tied to the Trump Administration tried to influence his cooperation with the Russia investigation,” Williams continued.


Rachel Maddow connects Trump’s personal ‘goon squad’ to Mike Flynn obstruction call

Raw Story

MSNBC anchor Rachel Maddow struggled to wrap her mind around why President Donald Trump is not being impeached after it was revealed his personal attorney attempted to influence Mike Flynn’s cooperation with special counsel Robert Mueller.

“Defendant informed the government of multiple instances, both before and after his guilty plea, where either he or his attorneys received communication from persons connected to the Administration or Congress that could have affected both his willingness to cooperate and the completeness of that cooperation,” the court filing said. “The defendant even provided a voicemail recording of one such communication.”

“So before and after Mike Flynn pled guilty people connected to the Trump Administration and also people connected to Congress, who’s that?” she wondered.

“They were reaching out to Mike Flynn to talk to him about what exactly he planned to tell prosecutors and whether he planned to cooperate with them and how much and on what topics. We know that one of those instances of outreach from persons connected to the Trump Administration was referenced as the voice mail here, which we think is probably the same reference from Mueller’s report about a lawyer for the president, ‘the president’s personal counsel’ leaving Mike Flynn a voice mail,” she explained.

“This is amazing,” she noted.

“And in the Mueller report, this is sort of a particularly mafia-esque episode in Mueller’s report. I mean this is literally the part where Flynn is about to cooperate, right? He pulls out of the joint defense agreement, it’s pretty clear he’s about to plead guilty. He’s about to start cooperating. And he in the dead of night gets the warning from the president’s goon squad letting Mike Flynn know if he’s thinking about cooperating you know what, Mike, here’s what you might want to keep in mind,” she reported.

“And I mean just a little personal aside here, how is the president not being impeached for obstruction of justice right now?” she asked. “I mean, that episode alone”

“I realize there’s a lot of equities involved in terms of whether or not the president is going to be impeached for stuff like this,” Maddow noted. “But this is the president’s personal counsel calling up Flynn and being like, ‘You know, it might be a national security issue if you said anything about the president. You know how much the president likes you, wouldn’t want me to tell him you turned hostile on him, would you? I’m going to go ahead and tell him. I’m going to tell him you’ve become hostile to him if you cooperate, you sure you want to cooperate?'”

“This is like the stuff that gets cut out of a B-movie because it’s a little too ham-handed in terms of explaining to the audience how this particular crime family does its business,” she added.


Of Course .. The Rancid Abscess

House committee chairmen demand investigation into Russian oligarch’s $200 million investment in McConnell’s Kentucky

Raw Story

Top Democrats on Thursday demanded a formal review of a major Kentucky investment by a company controlled by a Russian oligarch linked to Vladimir Putin.

“Democratic lawmakers called on the Trump administration on Thursday to review an investment in Kentucky by a Russian aluminum company that they say has raised concerns about Russian influence on the economy and national security of the United States,” The New York Times reports. “The Russian aluminum company, Rusal, announced on Thursday that its board had approved a $200 million investment in a planned aluminum plant in Ashland, Ky., in partnership with Braidy Industries, a private company based there.”

Kentucky is represented by Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch 'i have no soul, only a rancid abscess' McConnell. The investment announcement came only four months after the Trump administration lifted sanctions on Rusal and EN+, its parent company.

“The sanctions had been imposed last year because the companies were owned and controlled by the influential Russian oligarch Oleg V. Deripaska, a Kremlin ally who the Treasury Department accused of aiding Russia’s “malign activity” around the world,” The Times reminded.

Democrats sent a letter demanding a review, that was signed by Oversight Committee Chair Elijah Cummings, Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff and Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Eliot Engel.

“Given that EN+ is a company substantially owned by individuals and entities with close ties to the Russian government, we believe the proposed transaction warrants immediate review by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States,” the lawmakers wrote.

    NEW: Democrats ask @stevenmnuchin1 for a CFIUS review of $200M Kentucky investment by RUSAL, the Russian aluminum company that's fresh off the sanctions list, but still owned largely by the sanctioned Kremlin-allied oligarch OLEG DERIPASKA. https://t.co/0YuBchLwHk pic.twitter.com/0RjOpDOI7n

    — Kenneth P. Vogel (@kenvogel) May 16, 2019


‘He cooked the books’: Ex-White House official recounts how John Bolton lied us into war before

Raw Story

National Security Advisor John Bolton was slammed for his history of manipulating intelligence as the hawk attempts to lead America into war with Iran.

“This to me is the most striking part of this entire thing. John Bolton wanted this for a long time, it is on the record. But it is also the number one priority of the Saudi regime that appears to let Donald Trump and the American state around by the nose and does whatever they want and the Americans appear to be just willing to help,” MSNBC anchor Chris Hayes noted.

For analysis, Hayes interviewed former Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes.

“Chris, you and I have talked about this, but from the beginning of the Trump Administration, we’ve seen since Trump essentially outsourced foreign policy to [Saudi Crown Prince] Mohammad bin Salman and Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu,” Rhodes explained.

“Mohammad bin Salman is pushing for confrontation with Iran and so is Bibi Netanyahu. Donald Trump has gone along with this. He pulled out of the deal, that was at the top of the list of Saudi Arabia and Prime Minister Netanyahu. He especially poured gasoline all over a fire and handed the matches to John Bolton,” he continued.

“John Bolton set the conditions for the war. He framed it the same way he did Iraq,” he noted.

Indeed, Bolton’s role in the disastrous invasion of Iraq looms large over his latest push for war in the Middle East.

“First of all, John Bolton has a history of cooking the books on intelligence, we all know what happened before the war in Iraq,” Rhodes noted.

“He couldn’t be confirmed as UN ambassador because he tried to insist that they supply him and said Cuba had a biological weapons program,” he reminded. “He cooks the books.”

“The second thing I’d say, I got this intelligence every day for eight years. I was in the presidential daily briefing. There are always threats in the Middle East,” he noted.

Despite warnings that war with Iran could be worse than Iraq, Rhodes worried it may be coming soon.

“Drawing down the personnel in Baghdad and closing the consulate in Basra, Iraq, what they are doing is removing the targets that we know Iran would hit if we attacked Iran. To me, that’s a blinking red signal and setting the stage for the confrontation,” he explained.


The most dangerous man in the world is sitting at Trump’s right hand

Jefferson Morley, Independent Media Institute - COMMENTARY
17 May 2019 at 20:14 ET                  

When National Security Adviser John Bolton demanded military plans to oust the government of Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela, Trump demurred, reportedly saying his national security adviser was trying to pull him “into a war.”

When Bolton demanded “regime change” in Iran and the Pentagon produced a plan to put 120,000 troops into the region, Trump demurred again.

“He is not comfortable with all this ‘regime change’ talk,’ which to his ears echoes the discussion of removing Iraqi President Saddam Hussein before the 2003 U.S. invasion,” one unnamed official told the Washington Post.

When push comes to proverbial shove, Trump balks at shoving.

When U.S.-backed opposition leader Juan Guaido attempted to lead a popular uprising on April 30, Trump did not lend his voice to the call. As Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo cited the alleged danger of Russian involvement, the president rubbished his message saying Vladimir Putin was “not looking at all to get involved in Venezuela, other than he’d like to see something positive happen for Venezuela.”

The uprising failed, and Bolton moved on to Iran.

Last week, Bolton warned the Tehran government that “any attack on United States interests or on those of our allies will be met with unrelenting force.” On Wednesday, Trump spoke of negotiations, saying, “I’m sure that Iran will want to talk soon.”

The national security adviser wants war, but his boss doesn’t want to be a war president. Trump’s combination of bluster (“bomb the shit out of them”) and antiwar rhetoric (“Bush lied”) is a political asset he doesn’t want to squander. Bolton’s job isn’t in any danger, because to Trump, tough talk is good politics. Insults, threats, sanctions, and covert operations are fine—as long as they don’t lead to an actual shooting war.

Some hope it’s a “good cop/bad cop” routine, designed to get Trump to the global stage of negotiations. But that is not how Bolton thinks. He has never suggested that any negotiated settlement between the United States and any adversary is worth pursuing.

When Trump came to office, official Washington hoped generals like Defense Secretary James Mattis and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster would act as the “adults in the room.” In Washington-speak, the phrase expressed the bipartisan hope that Trump’s non-interventionist instincts, grounded in domestic politics, would be curbed.

Now, the dynamic has flipped. Now the generals are gone, replaced by Bolton and Boeing lobbyist Patrick Shanahan. As Bolton pursues regime change in Venezuela and Iran, the only restraining force is Trump himself.

It’s a thin orange line. Will it hold?

Trump’s Obama-like determination to stay out of wars shouldn’t be underestimated. Hillary Clinton, who advocated strongly for Timber Sycamore, would never have abruptly withdrawn 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria as Trump did in December.

While Obama refused direct U.S. involvement in Syria, he did acquiesce to the CIA’s $1 billion covert arms transfer program, code-named Timber Sycamore. The goal was to aid the “moderate” rebels, who, unfortunately, did not exist. The program flooded the country with weapons, many of which wound up in the hands of Al-Qaeda and its offshoots, funded by U.S. allies in the Persian Gulf.

Trump ended Timber Sycamore in the summer of 2017. His withdrawal order in December 2018 not only triggered Mattis’ resignation; it also deprived Bolton of real estate from which he planned to confront Iran. Bolton has been trying to walk back Trump’s order ever since, with some success. Approximately 400 U.S. troops remain in the country.

On Venezuela, it was Trump who started talk of “military option” in August 2017 before Bolton had even joined his administration. Bolton escalated confrontation, with the help of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, repeatedly saying “Maduro must go” and that his “time is up.” Trump, pondering the reality that U.S military intervention can only undermine the goal of ousting Maduro, now resists the option he put on the table.

The problem for the war-wary Trump is threefold.

First, Bolton is, objectively speaking, a warmonger. He has favored attacking Iran and North Korea, just as he favored attacking Iraq in 2003. The disastrous consequences of the invasion have had no effect on his impermeable thinking. He doesn’t want any advice on his schemes, and he doesn’t get any. If the policy doesn’t work, he changes the subject, not directions.

Second, because Bolton’s policies are developed in private, without the usual input from other sectors of the government, especially the military, they are underinformed and unsustainable. In Venezuela, Bolton failed to understand Venezuelan political realities leaving talk of military intervention as the only face-saving option.

Third, and most important, Trump’s regional allies, Israel and Saudi Arabia, are also seeking to goad the U.S. into taking action against Iran, their regional rival.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu sought authority to attack Iran in 2011, only to be thwarted by the opposition of President Obama and his own security Cabinet. Obama is gone and Trump has given Netanyahu everything he wanted: an embassy in Jerusalem and recognition of the Golan Heights. Why not a unilateral attack on Iran to degrade its infrastructure?

Saudi Arabia is openly calling for war. After four oil tankers last week suffered damage from some kind of attack, the United States and Saudi Arabia blamed Iran. Why? The New York Times reported that “Israeli intelligence had warned the United States in recent days of what it said was Iran’s intention to strike Saudi vessels.” The Times said the information came from a “senior Middle Eastern intelligence official.”

An Iranian parliamentary spokesman described the attacks as “Israeli mischief.” To date, there is no conclusive evidence about who was responsible.

Nonetheless, the Arab News, a Saudi outlet owned by the brother of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), is now calling for “surgical strikes” on Iran.

It is one thing for Trump to privately rebuke Bolton. If and when Netanyahu and MBS ask for war, Trump will have more difficulty saying no—which is what Bolton is counting on.

It is no exaggeration to say Bolton is the most dangerous man in the world. It is a title he will only lose if Trump wants it.

Jefferson Morley is a writing fellow and the editor and chief correspondent of the Deep State, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has been a reporter and editor in Washington, D.C., since 1980. He spent 15 years as an editor and reporter at the Washington Post. He was a staff writer at Arms Control Today and Washington editor of Salon. He is the editor and co-founder of JFK Facts, a blog about the assassination of JFK. His latest book is The Ghost: The Secret Life of CIA Spymaster, James Jesus Angleton.

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« Reply #3247 on: May 18, 2019, 04:24 AM »

Just one daily sugary drink is enough to dramatically increase your risk of premature death


Hopefully, most people are aware that sugary drinks such as soda or energy drinks aren’t exactly healthy — to put it lightly. However, a new study suggests that consuming even a single sugary drink a day can dramatically increase a person’s risk of premature death from heart disease. The risk was especially pronounced for women.

Researchers at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health analyzed two datasets of 80,647 women and 37,717 men working in the healthcare sector, running from 1980 to 2014. Every two years, each participant had to answer a series of questionnaires that evaluated their lifestyle and health.

After adjusting for diet and other lifestyle factors, the researchers found that the more sugary drinks a person consumes during a given time frame, the higher the risk of an early grave.

Compared to those who drank a sugary drink once per month, individuals who consumed one to four sugary drinks per month had a 1% increased risk of premature death. However, the risk jumped dramatically with just a few added drinks. Those who drank two to six sugary beverages per week had a 6% increase, one to two a day saw a 14% increase, while two or more drinks led to a 21% increase.

The risk was even worse for early death from cardiovascular disease (CVD). Those who drank two or more sugary drinks a day had a 31% higher risk of early death from cardiovascular disease. Each additional serving was linked with a 10% increased higher risk of CVD-related death.

    “Our results provide further support to limit intake of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) and to replace them with other beverages, preferably water, to improve overall health and longevity,” said Vasanti Malik, research scientist in the Department of Nutrition and lead author of the study.

Previously, studies showed that sugary drinks — such as soft drinks, fruit drinks, energy drinks, and sports drinks — are the single largest source of added sugar in Americans’ diet. Although doctors recommend consuming no more than 10% of daily calories from added sugars, many people overindulge. Sugary drink intake is especially growing in developing countries as more and more people move to cities and due to aggressive beverage marketing.

    “These findings are consistent with the known adverse effects of high sugar intake on metabolic risk factors and the strong evidence that drinking sugar-sweetened beverages increases the risk of type 2 diabetes, itself a major risk factor for premature death. The results also provide further support for policies to limit marketing of sugary beverages to children and adolescents and for implementing soda taxes because the current price of sugary beverages does not include the high costs of treating the consequences,” Walter Willett, a Harvard professor of epidemiology and nutrition, said in a statement.

The researchers also looked at the risks of consuming artificially sweetened beverages, finding that replacing soda with diet soda was linked to a lower risk of premature death. This may be due to the “reverse causation” effect — that is, the people may have switched to diet drinks because of their existing heart disease risks. But that’s not to say that artificially sweetened beverages are totally safe. Intaking more than 4 diet sodas a day was associated with a higher risk of mortality among women. Previously, researchers from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York found that women over the age of 50 who consumed two or more artificially sweetened diet beverages were 31% more likely to have a clot-based stroke and 29% more likely to have heart disease.

The findings appeared in the journal Circulation.

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« Reply #3248 on: May 18, 2019, 04:28 AM »

Man makes deepest-ever dive in Mariana Trench and discovers ... litter

A retired naval officer dove in a submarine nearly 36,000ft into the deepest place on Earth, only to find what appears to be plastic


On the deepest dive ever made by a human inside a submarine, a Texas investor found something he could have found in the gutter of nearly any street in the world: litter.

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=exB3EWsnJKg

Victor Vescovo, a retired naval officer, made the unsettling discovery as he descended nearly 35,853ft (10,927 meters) to a point in the Pacific Ocean’s Mariana Trench that is the deepest place on Earth, his expedition said in a statement on Monday. His dive went 52ft (16 meters) lower than the previous deepest descent in the trench in 1960.

Vescovo, the Dallas-based co-founder of Insight Equity Holdings, a private equity fund, found the manmade material on the ocean floor and is trying to confirm that it is plastic, said Stephanie Fitzherbert, a spokeswoman for Vescovo’s Five Deeps Expedition.

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« Reply #3249 on: May 18, 2019, 04:30 AM »

‘Super corals’ give glimmer of hope for world’s dying reefs

Aence France-Presse
18 May 2019 at 06:27 ET                   

Hawaiian “super corals” that have recovered despite living in warm and acidic water offer a glimmer of hope that dying reefs across the world could be saved, a new study says.

The research suggests that the gloomiest climate change picture of a world without the kaleidoscope underwater habitats could still be avoided, according to lead author Christopher Jury.

“It’s unfortunately but inevitably true that things are going to get worse for reefs over the next 20-30 years, but that doesn’t mean it’s unstoppable,” said Jury, a postdoctoral researcher at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology.

“We can still turn this thing around and end up getting back to better than what we have today within a reasonable timeframe,” he told AFP.

Coral reefs cover less than one percent of the ocean bed but support around 30 percent of all known marine life.

But they are suffering, with stressors including the warmer and more acidic oceans caused by climate change, as well as other human-made pressures including pollution and overfishing.

The UN’s intergovernmental panel on climate change warned last year that just 1.5 Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) of global warming could see 70-90 percent of Earth’s coral reefs vanish.

But Jury’s research shows that it is possible for coral to survive and even thrive in waters that are warmer and more acidic than where coral usually lives.

– Rapid recovery –

He studied coral reefs in Hawaii’s Kane’ohe Bay that were devastated between the 1930s and 1970s by urbanization, dredging, coastal development and the discharge of sewage.

By the early 1970s, shallow coral cover across the bay had decreased by more than 70 percent on average, and by more than 95 percent in the southern bay, nearest the sewage output.

But in the late 1970s, the sewage was diverted and the coral began to recover rapidly.

That happened despite the fact that Kane’ohe Bay has warmer and more acidic waters than are typically found in the area.

In fact, the conditions in the bay are what other parts of Hawaii could see in the decades ahead if climate change continues apace. And those conditions are not usually favorable for coral.

But in Kane’ohe Bay, simply removing the sewage output allowed the coral to recover to between 50-90 percent cover, “among the highest reported for any reefs in the Hawaiian Islands,” says the study published Wednesday in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences journal.

The key, said Jury, was that the coral populations in Kane’ohe Bay “naturally harbor a lot of ‘super corals’, which can thrive in moderately warmer, more acidic conditions.”

So once the sewage pollution was removed, those “super corals” swiftly “came in and drove the reefs to a rapid recovery.”

– ‘Glimpse into the future’ –

These corals appeared to be naturally able to survive in a climate that is usually hostile.

The recovery was a combination of both growth in remaining coral but also “recruitment”, where larval coral floating along like seeds in the wind find a suitable environment and “settle”.

Jury said it appeared that the larval coral came from both the bay but also other areas in Hawaii and that so-called “super corals” likely exist in many other places.

But elsewhere, under conditions that are cooler and less acidic, these corals don’t thrive.

“Our thinking is that this bay is giving us a glimpse into the future where the corals that are at a disadvantage today have the advantage tomorrow,” Jury said.

It is too early to say whether these “super corals” could recolonize devastated reefs elsewhere, and Jury stressed that the findings were not cause for complacency.

“Even the very tough corals from Kane’ohe Bay die under the temperatures they’ll see in a few decades if we don’t substantially reduce climate change,” he warned.

And the survival of “super corals” also depends on reducing other stressors, like pollution.

“If we take the necessary steps now then we will begin to see this reestablishment by corals during our lifetime, and our children and grandchildren will be able to witness the recovery of coral reefs during theirs because we make the decision that reefs are worth saving,” he said.

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« Reply #3250 on: May 18, 2019, 04:32 AM »

Heavy metals and harmful chemicals 'poison Europe's seas'

Three-quarters of areas tested show contamination, European Environment Agency says

Fiona Harvey Environment correspondent
18 May 2019 18.01 BST

Heavy metals and a cocktail of dangerous chemicals continue to poison Europe’s seas, with more than three-quarters of areas assessed showing contamination, according to a report.

The sea worst affected was the Baltic, where 96% of the assessed areas showed problematic levels of some harmful substances, according to the European Environment Agency. Similar problems were found in 91% of the Black Sea and 87% of the Mediterranean. In the north-east Atlantic, unsafe levels of chemicals or metals were found in 75% of assessed areas.

However, in most areas the situation was improving, as many of the toxic substances that have washed into the seas – such as the pesticide DDT and heavy metals such as cadmium and mercury – are now subject to bans or severe restrictions. The improvement in the breeding success of the white-tailed sea eagle in the Baltic, for instance, is attributed to the decline in DDT. A continuing problem is with flame-retardant chemicals, which are still used and still found in waterways, and DDT from Africa is still leaching into the Mediterranean.

Europe’s environmental watchdog called for greater controls on the way chemicals are used, and better monitoring of marine health. As well as the damage to human health, the toxins found in Europe’s seas are affecting marine animals.

Johnny Reker, lead author of the EEA report, told the Guardian it was important to be vigilant about potential new contaminants, as well as the existing ones. “Every two and a half minutes a new chemical is created, and we do not know the effects,” he said. “New pharmaceuticals are coming all the time, and getting into waste water. This is an emerging problem but we do not know what the effects will be.”

He cited the example of Germany, where young men have been found to produce only a third of the sperm that German men did 30 years ago. He said: “It remains difficult to prove a causal link between specific contaminants and the reduction of fertility. However, results from animal experiments and human health monitoring programmes indicate that the presence of endocrine disruptors in the environment, such as PCBs, may be partially responsible for this reduction in fertility.”

Mercury from coal-fired power stations continued to pollute Europe’s seas, despite the closure of many plants and technology to reduce mercury emissions, said Reker. “These things do not disappear when they get into the sea,” he said.

Dioxin has also been found in the waters of the Baltic, where it accumulates in the flesh of fatty fish such as salmon and herring. Pregnant women have been advised not to eat these as a result, or cut down their intake, as dioxin can restrict growth, cause cancer and adversely affect the immune system. Phthalates, used in plastics, which can act as endocrine disruptors, have been found in the Baltic and Atlantic.

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« Reply #3251 on: May 18, 2019, 04:35 AM »

‘We cannot afford to lose any more time’: Sweden reopens rape case against Julian Assange

The allegations date back to August 2010, when the WikiLeaks founder was accused of sexual misconduct and assault by two Swedish women

The Lily News
May 18 2018

Adapted from a story by The Washington Post’s Karla Adam.

LONDON — In 2017, Sweden discontinued an investigation of a rape allegation against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange because authorities said they were unable to advance the case while Assange was claiming asylum inside the Ecuadoran Embassy in London. But last month, he was expelled from the embassy, arrested by British police and sentenced to 50 weeks in a British prison for skipping bail.

On Monday, Swedish prosecutors said they are reopening the investigation into the rape allegation. Speaking at a news conference in Stockholm, Eva-Marie Persson, Sweden’s deputy director of public prosecutions, said there is “still a probable cause to suspect that Assange committed rape” in 2010 and that “a new questioning of Assange is required.”

The allegations date back to August 2010, when, after a trip to Stockholm, Assange was accused of sexual misconduct and assault by two Swedish women. Assange denied the claims, saying the sex was consensual. In 2015, Swedish prosecutors dropped their investigation of some of the allegations — sexual molestation and unlawful coercion — because the statute of limitations had expired, but they continued their investigation of a rape allegation.

Assange continues to deny the allegation.

The inquiry has been reopened at the accuser’s request.

Sweden could request to interview Assange in prison or seek extradition, in which case Britain would face two competing requests. The move could affect efforts to extradite the WikiLeaks founder to the United States.

Assange’s legal charges

This month, Assange told a British court that he would not consent to being extradited to the United States, where he is wanted on a charge of conspiring with former Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to hack a Defense Department computer. U.S. officials have been investigating Assange and Manning for their roles in the release of classified military and diplomatic documents in 2010.

The U.S. government is expected to begin to outline its case for extradition in a British court next month, a process that could take months or years. If convicted, Assange would face a maximum sentence of five years in a federal prison.

But before that could happen, it would be up to Britain’s home secretary to decide which extradition request, if either, to prioritize. Assange’s lawyers can challenge either or both in court.

Extradition experts said Britain’s decision probably would rest on factors such as the gravity of the allegations, the chronology of events and which request came first.

Rebecca Niblock, an extradition lawyer with the London-based firm Kingsley Napley, anticipated that the Swedish case would take precedence over the U.S. one. “It would be very difficult politically to say that a computer intrusion offense is more serious than an allegation of rape,” she said.

Daniel Sternberg, a barrister specializing in extradition law at Temple Garden Chambers in London, said Swedish investigators probably would be allowed to interview Assange in British prison if they wished. “But they cannot compel him to answer their questions,” he said.

Sternberg agreed that a rape allegation is serious, but he assumed the Americans would argue that the conspiracy charge involved national security.

‘We cannot afford to lose any more time’

If Assange were extradited to Sweden, the United States could still pursue an extradition request with Swedish authorities.

Persson, the Swedish prosecutor, said that according to information from British authorities, Assange will “serve 25 weeks of his sentence before he can be released.”

She added: “I am well aware of the fact that an extradition process is ongoing in the U.K. and that he could be extradited to the U.S. In the event of a conflict between a European arrest warrant and a request for extradition from the U.S., U.K. authorities will decide on the order of priority. The outcome of this process is impossible to predict.”

Swedish prosecutors argued Monday that their case is urgent, because the statute of limitations will expire in August 2020.

WikiLeaks Editor Kristinn Hrafnsson said reopening the Swedish case would give Assange “a chance to clear his name.”

Elisabeth Massi Fritz, the attorney for Assange’s accuser, said in a statement to The Washington Post that her client is “hopeful that she will be able to get restitution, and that justice will prevail. Her faith in the Swedish judicial system has been restored.”

She added: “This case now needs to be handled swiftly. We cannot afford to lose any more time.”

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« Reply #3252 on: May 18, 2019, 04:46 AM »

Austrian government in crisis over secret Strache footage

Vice-chancellor appears to offer public contracts in exchange for campaign help

Jon Henley Europe correspondent
Sat 18 May 2019 11.03 BST

Austria’s coalition government has been plunged into crisis after a video appeared to show the vice-chancellor and far-right leader, Heinz-Christian Strache, promising public contracts to a fake Russian backer in return for campaign help.

Government sources said the chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, was to meet Strache on Saturday morning but had ruled out any further cooperation with his deputy after the footage was published by Germany’s Der Spiegel Suddeutsche Zeitung on Friday.

The papers said the hidden-camera recordings took place in a luxury Ibiza villa in July 2017, months before the parliamentary elections that brought Kurz’s conservative Austrian People’s party and Strache’s Freedom party (FPO) to power.

The recordings show Strache, who took over as leader of the nationalist party in 2005, and its parliamentary group leader, Johann Gudenus, talking to a woman purporting to be the niece of a Russian oligarch about how she can invest in Austria.

The woman says she is interested in gaining control of the country’s largest-circulation tabloid, the Krone Zeitung, to which Strache replies that after staff changes at the paper it could help the FPO in its election campaign.

Strache is also filmed saying the woman would then be able to gain access to public contracts. Both newspapers said they had no clear and corroborated information about who had set up the elaborate sting operation.

The vice-chancellor admitted the meeting took place, but denied any wrongdoing, telling the Suddeutsche Zeitung that “a lot of alcohol was consumed as the evening progressed” and that there was a “high language barrier” during the conversation.

The FPO co-chair, Christian Hafenecker, said lawyers were considering the party’s response. Neither Strache nor the party received or were granted any benefits from the persons concerned, he said in a statement, adding that since the video was “obviously recorded illegally, we are also preparing appropriate legal steps”.

There were immediate calls from opposition parties for Strache to resign. The Socialist party said Gudenus should go too, describing the footage as Austria’s biggest post-war scandal, while the liberal NEOS party said fresh parliamentary elections were now unavoidable.

Austrian media said the coalition was unlikely to survive, although FPO party sources were reported to be likely to offer to replace Strache in an attempt to save it.

“The FPO is finished,” ran the headline in the Krone Zeitung. Die Presse said the coalition was on the brink. “This is huge. This has to be the end of Heinz-Christian Strache,” the political analyst Thomas Hofer said.

The FPO’s lead candidate in next week’s European parliament elections, Harald Vilimsky, cancelled a planned trip on Saturday to Milan where he was due to take part in a campaign event launching an alliance of European far-right parties led by the Italian interior minister, Matteo Salvini.

In the video, Strache, whose party’s first leader was a former SS officer, also ponders the part-privatisation of Austria’s public broadcaster, saying it should be more like the pro-government mouthpiece state media has become in neighbouring Hungary.

He also appeared to suggest political donations might be made through a foundation with links to the FPO rather than the party itself, apparently in order to escape legal scrutiny.

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« Reply #3253 on: May 18, 2019, 04:50 AM »

'There is less fear': restoration of Kabul repairs the ravages of war

Afghanistan rebuilds the old town and creates register of dwellings to promote peace and help residents feel safer

Stefanie Glinski in Kabul
18 May 2019 07.00 BST

Amir Gol first arrived in Kabul after fleeing his home – a Taliban stronghold – in Nangahar. He had no idea where to settle, so he rented a small mud house and started collecting and selling used plastic to make a living. Almost a decade later, little has changed for the 60-year old father of eleven. He sits cross-legged on a cushion outside the house he rents for 600 Afghani (£5) a month. Occasionally, he says, members of insurgent groups come to his neighbourhood, a settlement specked with poorly constructed mud houses and plastic tents in the city’s outskirts.

“They try to recruit us for money,” Gol says. He admitts that cash would help the family, but says he’s setting a positive example for his children. “Besides that, even during this war, Kabul is starting to change. It’s finally developing and becoming more organised. I want my family to be part of this change.”

Barely built for a million people, Kabul, now has close to five million residents with the majority – 80% – still living in informal, unplanned areas such as Gol’s. More than one million properties still need to be officially registered, according to City for All, a government urban planning initiative.

Since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, Afghanistan’s urban population has grown by 2.5 million. The country is on the move, with people fleeing conflict, poverty and drought.

But while decades of war have destroyed much of the capital, an urban revolution is growing, creating small pockets of peace.

Just north of the Kabul river, in between traffic-jammed roads and steep hills lined with colourful houses lies Murad Khani, the city’s old town, dating back to the 18th century. Years of war, neglect and soviet ambitions of modernisation turned the once prosperous neighbourhood into a garbage dump, with much of the hand carved wooden designs rotting away. Today, Murad Khani is slowly coming back to life.
In Murad Khani, Kabul’s old town, 150 houses have been restored and renovated in the original style with elaborate wood carvings.

It started as a community effort in 2006 and since then, 150 houses have been restored and renovated. “Every skilled person in the neighbourhood came to work, hoping to maintain as much of the old structures as possible,” explains conservation architect Boris Bogdanovic, who works for Turquoise Mountain, a foundation that has largely financed the project. “It’s easy to knock down and restore, but it’s harder to work with what’s there and rebuild,” he adds.

Murad Khani is home to about 550 people who once again live in a labyrinth of old brown mud houses with elaborate wood carvings and a vibrant bazaar with a mix of shopkeepers, jewellery makers, food stalls, and fresh popcorn vendors.

Abdul Baqi, a carpenter master who helped restore the neighbourhood’s buildings, now works in the midst of it all, teaching the younger generation about traditional carving. With simple tools, he chisels round patterns into pillars, furniture and wooden bowls.

“I don’t want our children to forget about our historical background. Both regime changes and war destroyed our country. As Kabul is growing, many modern buildings are put up carelessly,” he says. “We can’t forget about our architectural history and its beauty.”

While armed soldiers and police roam the area – like any other part of the city – a relaxed atmosphere prevails. “It’s a pocket of Kabul where you can have normalcy. People feel safe behind their walls and there’s a sense of communal reliance,” explains Bogdanovic.

Such restoring and registering of Kabul’s informal neighbourhoods has been both a challenge and a success. “Informal,” explains deputy mayor Shoaib Rahim, “means that those parts of the city were initially not planned properly. There aren’t enough hospitals, water sources, waste management arrangements, roads or even markets.” Many new arrivals built houses wherever they found empty land, but it’s something the municipality is now trying to tackle.

“We’ve had an unnatural population growth in those areas. This is wartime governance. We try our best and keep our fingers crossed,” Rahim adds, but also admits that land disputes have become a “national pastime” in Afghanistan.

“It’s often powerful warlords who steal land. That’s what happened to my family,” explains Negina Ali, a journalist who spoke on condition that her name would be changed. “It’s strategic. We legally purchased our property, but we can’t fight the warlords. For now we’re keeping silent about it, it’s too dangerous,” she says.

“It’s chaos and carnage,” explains Habiba Azimi, a government worker with City for All. “Warlords might show up with fake certificates and bribe authorities to get their way. Sometimes it results in the destruction and eviction of people. It’s unfair and we hope that registering and formalising neighbourhoods will help the issue.”

“The court system is still flooded with illegal land grab claims,” says Rahim. “New Kabul residents need to develop roots and by registering houses and starting to provide services, we hope to help them do just that.”

Allah Dad, who originally moved to Kabul from Herat to seek better employment opportunities in a down-spiralling economy, says that he has seen his neighbourhood change as soon as properties were officially registered this year.

I bought my house seven years ago, but we had no official ownership certificate. It’s made my family feel uneasy,” he says. “We were always scared that one day, someone would knock on our door, claiming the land was theirs.” A few weeks ago, the family’s house was measured and registered by the city’s municipality, adding it to a daily growing database of parts of Kabul that move from being informal to formal.

Dad’s neighbourhood is evolving. Over the past year, water pipes were installed and small, privately owned garbage trucks have started to clean the streets. “Our whole street is being registered and it has changed people’s attitudes. It’s positive. There is less fear and it feels safer and more peaceful.”

Kabul has seen a growth rate of 10% throughout the last decade, according to UN Habitat. “By 2050, one in two Afghans will live in cities,” explains the agency’s Head of Communications Koussay Boulaich.

“The most difficult part was that we previously didn’t have a vision for Kabul even though the city kept growing,” says deputy mayor Rahim. “We finally set urban planning goals. We might be diverse, but we all want peace. I hope Kabul can help change the perception of Afghanistan on a global stage. It’s not just a narrative of struggle – but of achievement and constant change.”

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« Reply #3254 on: May 18, 2019, 04:53 AM »

In India’s Elections, Female Candidates Still Need Men’s Blessings

By Mujib Mashal and Suhasini Raj
NY Times
May 18, 2019

GAINDAWAS, India — Swati Yadav had lost count of the number of village campaign stops she had made since her morning began — was it 27, or 28?

She was doggedly stumping for a parliamentary seat through 100-degree temperatures in the northern Indian state of Haryana this month. But the biggest struggle in many places for Ms. Yadav, 30, was to get the crowd to focus on her own campaign as much as on the political fortunes of the men at the top of her party, Jannayak Janta.

“I am not asking for your vote because I am young, or because I am a woman,” she would repeat to the crowds after explaining her stand on critical issues. “I have an engineering degree, I have been running a company of thousands of people.”

Still, no speech could begin without explaining that she had the blessing of the party patriarch — though he is in jail with four more years to serve — and his son. And more of the crowd chants of “long live!” featured their names than hers.

For most of the few hundred women running for Parliament — results are due on May 23 — the campaign is a repeated exercise in playing up the protection of male politicians and shouting their names in stop after stop.

Even then, female representation in Parliament, at just over 11 percent now, is unlikely to increase much this election, if at all. (India’s poorer neighbors fare better: Nepal’s Parliament is 33 percent female, Pakistan’s is 21 percent and Afghanistan’s is 28 percent.)

This year, among the candidates that India’s political parties have fielded, only 8.8 percent have been women — a rise of about 1 percent over the 2014 elections, according to the Trivedi Center for Political Data.

It is a perplexing reality, as women in India have made it into leadership positions much earlier than in many Western democracies. The country has women in some of the most prominent roles. Women are key drivers of social movements, thrive in local village governance and are expected to vote in record numbers this year.

Subscribe for original insights, commentary and discussions on the major news stories of the week, from columnists Max Fisher and Amanda Taub.

Yet they are still struggling to win representation in Parliament.

The imbalance is stirring discontent among women within political parties. Calls for finalizing legislation that would give women a minimum 33 percent quota of seats has picked up in recent weeks.

Shaina N.C., a spokeswoman for the governing Bharatiya Janata Party, recently told the local news media she was “upset and appalled” by how parties treat women, which she described as “lip service to our cause, manifesto after manifesto.”

“There is a male chauvinistic mind-set in political parties,” she said, “so whenever a woman’s name comes up as a candidate, there are questions about winnability, about funding, unless it is somebody’s daughter, somebody’s daughter-in-law.”

Amrita Basu, a professor of political science at Amherst College in Massachusetts, noted that in the 2009 parliamentary elections, 11 percent of all women who ran won as opposed to 6 percent of male candidates.

“When women are nominated to run for national elections, they actually do well,” Professor Basu said. “The question is why a larger number is not nominated. I think it is some combination of societal prejudice, but also the growing criminalization of politics. To contest parliamentary elections is to be often subject to slander and abuse. Election campaigns have just become more violent, more corrupt, more dangerous.”

If it were not for women from political dynasties, local or national, the number of women in India’s Parliament would be even worse. Nearly half the women contesting seats in the current election are dynastic candidates, according to initial data from the Trivedi center.

But not even a prominent family name grants women immunity from attacks.

Shruti Choudhry, one of Ms. Yadav’s main opponents in Haryana and the only other woman out of the 16 candidates contesting the seat, inherited her father’s political fortunes when he died. The party elders put a turban on her as the sign of transfer of power.

Ms. Choudhry said the patriarch of Ms. Yadav’s party, Ajay Singh Chautala, recently claimed at a rally that Ms. Choudhry was “tying a stole around her stomach” as some sort of ploy to look pregnant and get sympathy votes.

Mr. Chautala is serving a 10-year sentence on corruption charges that his party supporters, including Ms. Yadav, say were politically motivated. His sentence ends in 2023, but he was out of jail on a monthlong furlough and on the campaign trail for his son and scion, Dushyant Chautala, and other party candidates.

“He said all this only because I am a woman,” Ms. Choudhry said. “Talk about my work! Expose me if I am dishonest!”

“It sickened me,” she added.

Asked for comment, an aide to Mr. Chautala said the party leader could not respond because he was back in jail.

If they want to win, women like Ms. Yadav know they have to play the game. For her, the campaign is a mix of tapping into the family wealth (they run a chain of private schools), the backing of the Chautala political dynasty, and her own credentials. Her father is also a local leader of the party and has contested elections before.

Ms. Yadav spent 10 years in the United States, earning an engineering degree and a master’s in business administration before starting work as a management consultant. She decided to return home and become active in politics after a horrific 2012 gang rape in New Delhi.

“That case made feel that I needed to come back,” Ms. Yadav said.

Ms. Yadav said that the entry barriers into politics are such that many women outside political dynasties are virtually shut out. Her wealth and her family’s stature gives her an advantage over many others.

“Only few step into it, even fewer are taken seriously and even fewer actually make it,” she said. “If I do well, it will send such a good message everywhere — that if you are a nobody and you want to enter politics you can, and you can make a difference.”

Many of the hopefuls from the coalition of smaller parties that she belongs to are banking on what is a local wave of disappointment with the incumbent Bharatiya Janata Party, or B.J.P. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is still popular, but his party’s star has faded enough that others think they can regain seats the B.J.P. swept in 2014.

In Haryana, Amar Singh, 72, said he voted for a B.J.P. candidate in the last elections because he was fed up with what he described as the Congress Party’s corruption. Now he is campaigning for Ms. Yadav.

“Modi’s promises, they were all lies. He is now acting like a dictator,” Mr. Singh said. “She has the energy to work. She is young, she is well educated.”

At every village, Ms. Yadav’s routine was largely the same. As dozens, sometimes hundreds, of villagers gathered around her car, she pressed the button to open the sunroof and popped out, pressing her palms together in respect before being handed a microphone.

Every speech began with her declaring that she had the blessings of Mr. Chautala, the veteran politician, and his son Dushyant. She promised to address water shortages and improve education and pension delivery. She spoke about her degrees from the United States and her leading a company of thousands.

And she ended with a wish that the younger Mr. Chautala becomes the chief minister of Haryana. It seemed to matter little that the local elections deciding a chief minister are not until October.

Athar Singh, 63, was among the thousands gathered at Ms. Yadav largest rally of the day, in Bhiwani. The men, and some women, chanted slogans of “Long live brother Ajay Chautala!” Occasionally, they chanted “Long live sister Swati!”

Mr. Singh, a farmer, said he knew nothing about Ms. Yadav. When pressed, he said he had heard that she was a “good, educated girl.”

But his real motivation had less to do with Ms. Yadav herself. “I am voting for her because Dushyant Chautala is a good man,” he said.

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