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« Reply #2805 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 #2806 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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« Reply #2807 on: May 18, 2019, 05:15 AM »

Shocker: Trump and Barr refuse to defend ban on female genital mutilation

Bob Cesca, Salon
18 May 2019 at 08:24 ET                   

One of the many frustrating side effects of the Trump crisis is the way the firehose of news too often obscures our ability to digest or even notice stories that, in normal times, would’ve generated all-caps banner headlines and breaking news alerts. This isn’t to say the stories that do get such headlines aren’t important — they usually are. But even with the ability for 24-hour news networks and the internet to cover dozens of stories at once, there are still myriad events that get lost in the chaos.

One such story is so horrifying it’s kind of remarkable it hasn’t sparked more outrage. It should.

By now you’re probably aware of a barbaric ritual known as female genital mutilation, or FGM for short. Trigger warning: This is about to get graphic.

Generally speaking, FGM is the medieval practice of restraining young girls and removing their external female genitals, without anesthesia or antiseptics. Most often the clitoris of young girls is carved out, the “Type 1” iteration of the procedure, using everything from “knives, scissors, scalpels, pieces of glass or razor blades.” It can also include the suturing of labia (“Type 3”) or even the complete removal of all external genitalia and the deliberate narrowing of the vaginal opening. Girls are awake, lucid and held down during the terrifying and painful procedure as it’s carried out, often by family members or people they know. As you can imagine the post-traumatic stress and obvious complications with both sexuality and pregnancy are common and harrowing. To say nothing of the rape-adjacent element of an event in which girls’ genitals are violated by trusted relatives.

Simply put: it’s a horror show carried out for archaic community, familial, cultural or religious justifications (not exclusively one or the other).

In the United States, half a million girls are at risk for this form of torture, according to the CDC. Fortunately, female genital mutilation has been banned by federal law for the last 20 years. Would it surprise you to learn, however, that this ban is about to lapse? Or that it’s about to lapse because Donald Trump and Bill Barr are refusing to defend the ban in court? Qs though the cruel whimsy of the Trump administration hasn’t been disgusting enough, add this to your the list of the Mad King’s most gruesome decisions.

To repeat: The Trump administration is refusing to defend the national ban on torturing young girls in the most awful and breathtakingly indefensible way imaginable, depriving innocent victims from enjoying relatively normal lives, depriving them of sexual pleasure, and depriving them of the ability to become pregnant, while sentencing them to lives of pain, despair and psychological torment.

Last month, solicitor general Noel Francisco, third-ranking official at the Justice Department, sent a letter to Dianne Feinstein alerting the California senator that Trump’s DOJ would no longer defend the law in court. This follows a ruling by a federal judge named Bernard Friedman in the Eastern District of Michigan, who struck down the law as unconstitutional noting that the FGM ban didn’t “require interstate activity” to make FGM illegal. In other words, the judge believed there needs to be explicit interstate language to make the federal law valid, and that simply isn’t the case.

By way of additional background, the ban was struck down as part of a case in which a Michigan doctor arranged with the family of two seven-year-old girls from Minnesota to travel to Michigan, where their clitoral hoods were mutilated. The law was used to prosecute the doctor, Jumana Nagarwala, in federal court. But since the interstate aspect of the crime wasn’t explicit in the law, Judge Friedman dismissed the charges against the doctor.

So there we are: The torture of young girls is on the verge of legalization in America because a judge found a loophole for it, and as far as we can tell, the president and the attorney general agree. Anyone who says this presidency isn’t a national emergency isn’t paying attention.

The DOJ could have appealed the ruling, but Francisco told Feinstein there’s no legal basis to defend the 20-year-old ban, and therefore it’ll allow the law to disappear. It’s up to Congress, the Trump administration wrote, to amend the law or to pass a new one. If that sounds familiar, it’s because we’ve seen this tactic before. This is also how Trump dealt with DACA as well as his current strategy for repealing the Affordable Care Act. Kill it then use it as leverage. It wouldn’t shock me if we discovered Trump planned to use the FGM issue as a negotiation ploy, just like the ACA and DACA. We haven’t heard any rumors to that effect, but the precedent exists.

It’d be one thing if the DOJ continued to defend the law and lost the battle in the Supreme Court. But given the repugnance of this form of torture, it seems inconceivable that America would simply throw in the towel, allowing FGM to be legalized again — until we remember the soulless ghoul who’s occupying the Oval Office at the moment. Then it all makes total sense.

Taken in the same gulp as the Georgia abortion ban and the attempt by the Alabama Senate to make abortion punishable by up to 99 years in prison, it’s no wonder women are feeling abused by the current regime. The only way to look at this move is through the prism of morbid cruelty, to a degree that defies belief and confounds basic morality. We’re talking about brutality torn from the fictitious story of Ramsey Bolton, only this is real. Our president is apparently willing to allow up to half a million American girls to endure this brutality. Perhaps this legalization of FGM is temporary, but even that is mind-blowingly awful.

In a better world, Trump’s cult of Red Hats would be repulsed by their messiah’s decision along these lines, perhaps rising up to force the president to rethink the decision. But chances are they’ll conjure an excuse to help them sleep at night, as though any excuse for the ritualistic torture of young girls would render it morally permissible. Don’t forget: The cruelty is the point — in this case it’s cruel support for a cruel policy allowing a cruel ritual. There may even be some voices on both the right and the left who see the ban as an infringement on religious liberty, despite the reality that FGM is not an exclusively religious tradition, but more a cultural or familial one.

Likewise, the butchery of FGM bears no similarity to the lesser controversy surrounding male circumcision. Most circumcised boys obviously go on to have perfectly normal sex lives, and few if any can remember undergoing the procedure. FGM victims remember everything, often due to chronic pain and mental anguish.

Whatever the wafer-thin excuses might be, nothing can justify the legalization of FGM in the alleged land of the free. Trump has some explaining to do, and it’s about time his loyalists take a stand against him on this one. I doubt they will.


Trump ‘is capable of horrific, horrific deeds’: MSNBC anchor warns that ‘Democrats better get this one right’

Raw Story

President Donald Trump is a “sociopath” who is “capable of horrific deeds” MSNBC viewers were warned on Friday evening.

Anchor Donnie Deutsch, host of the new MSNBC show “Saturday Night Politics” was interviewed by Brian Williams on “The 11th Hour.”

“I don’t want to end dark, but I’m going to have to. That is to say that, when you are on deadline White House with Nicole Wallace at 4:00 in the afternoon, you are often one of the voices that reminds the table and reminds the viewers beyond exactly how bad things are in your view and exactly how dark we’ve gotten,” Williams explained. “But like the frog boiling experiment, it hasn’t felt like that. It would feel like that if we took a vacation on the moon and came back.”

“So the question, how dark are things right now to you?” Williams asked.

“Very, very dark,” Deutsch replied.

“And I want to say this with no exaggeration. If you look throughout history and you become a student of history, the worst of what humans have done throughout history, Trump is using that playbook in every way you possibly can,” he explained.

“You start with creating an ‘other,’ you get enough rich people to look the other way and that’s how you get power. And then what you do is obviously you destroy the credibility of a press,” he continued. “You get a judicial system that is no longer independent. You start to blur the separation of powers.”

“And we should be very frightened,” he warned.

“I believe this man is capable of horrific, horrific deeds. I’m not saying specifically what that is, but let your imagination go,” he suggested. “So the Democrats better get this one right.”

“It is no longer darkness on the edge of town, it’s come downtown and all around,” Williams replied.


Trump tax returns: Steven Mnuchin refuses to comply with subpoena

House Democrat demands six years of tax returns and expects to take matter to court as early as next week

Julia Carrie Wong and agencies
Sat 18 May 2019 03.00 BST

The US treasury secretary defied a House subpoena for Donald Trump’s tax returns on Friday, setting up another potential court battle between the executive and legislative branches of the federal government.

Steven Mnuchin said in a letter that the subpoena from the House ways and means committee chairman, Richard Neal, a Democrat, was “unprecedented” and “lacks a legitimate legislative purpose”.

When Neal issued the subpoena on 10 May, he noted in a letter that the Internal Revenue Service had an “unambiguous legal obligation” to comply with his committee’s requests for information, noting that such a request “never has been denied”.

Mnuchin’s rejection of the subpoena had been expected. Earlier on Friday, Neal had said: “We will likely proceed to court as quickly as next week.”

Asked if he might seek to hold Mnuchin in contempt of Congress for his refusal to supply the tax returns, Neal said: “I don’t see that right now as an option. I think that the better option for us is to proceed with a court case.”

Democrats are seeking Trump’s tax returns under a 1924 law that directs the IRS to furnish such information when requested to the chairs of Congress’ tax-writing committees.

“The law, by its terms, does not allow for discretion as to whether to comply with a request for tax returns and return information,” Neal said in a statement after Mnuchin’s decision was announced. “Given the Treasury Secretary’s failure to comply today, I am consulting with counsel on how best to enforce the subpoenas moving forward.”

With the exception of Trump, every president since Richard Nixon has made his tax returns public.
#ConstitutionalCrisis? Trump's battle with Congress comes to a head
Read more

In a tweet on 10 May, Trump said that he had won the presidency in 2016 “partially based on no Tax Returns while I am under audit (which I still am), and the voters didn’t care. Now the Radical Left Democrats want to again relitigate the matter. Make it part of the 2020 Election!”

When he issued the subpoena last week, Neal said he was seeking six years of Trump’s personal and business tax returns to aid a committee investigation into whether the IRS was doing its job properly to audit a sitting president and whether the law governing such audits needed to be strengthened.

In his letter Friday saying he would not comply with the subpoena, Mnuchin said he had consulted with the justice department and had been advised that he was not authorized to turn over the tax returns because Neal’s request did not represent a legitimate congressional purpose.

The fight with Congress over Trump’s tax returns is one of a number of battles House Democrats are having with the administration over the release of information. The House judiciary committee has voted to hold the attorney general, William Barr, in contempt and is fighting to obtain an unredacted report prepared by the special counsel Robert Mueller on Russian interference in the 2016 election.


CNN analyst lists off people who warned Trump about Michael Flynn as president attempts to run away from former appointee

Raw Story

On Friday, CNN reporter Kaitlan Collins busted President Donald Trump after he said he was not warned about former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Trump ranted on Twitter that nobody told him about Flynn’s shady relationship with Russia.

“It now seems the General Flynn was under investigation long before was common knowledge. It would have been impossible for me to know this but, if that was the case, and with me being one of two people who would become president, why was I not told so that I could make a change?” Trump tweeted.

    It now seems the General Flynn was under investigation long before was common knowledge. It would have been impossible for me to know this but, if that was the case, and with me being one of two people who would become president, why was I not told so that I could make a change?

    — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 17, 2019

However, Collins listed at all the people who told Trump about Flynn’s behavior.

“Clearly the president’s now trying to distance himself from Michael Flynn. He tweeted why didn’t people warn me about this guy,” CNN host Wolf Blitzer said.

“Which is wrong. People did try to warn him, and that included President Obama, Sally Yates, Chris Christie who played a big part in the president’s campaign,” Collins said.

She added, “There were several people who did try to warn the president. When the president found out about some of the things Michael Flynn had been doing, he took a long time before they pushed him out of the White House and that was after it was made public. It’s not like they just washed their hands of Mike Flynn when he left the West Wing.”


Flynn contacted GOP critic of Mueller while he was cooperating with request to ‘Keep the pressure on’: report

Raw Story

On Friday, CNN confirmed that former national security adviser Michael Flynn contacted Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) while he was cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

“While he was cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn contacted at least one member of Congress who was publicly criticizing the special counsel probe, according to messages obtained by CNN,” the report said.

Adding, “Flynn sent Twitter direct messages to Rep. Matt Gaetz, encouraging the Florida Republican to ‘keep the pressure on.’ It’s not clear if Flynn sent additional messages to other lawmakers.”

Gatez received the messages the night he appeared on Fox Business’ “Lou Dobbs Tonight,” where he securitized the Mueller probe.

“You stay on top of what you’re doing. Your leadership is so vital for our country now. Keep the pressure on,” Flynn wrote in the April 2018 message.

Flynn also sent GIFs to the lawmaker.

“Gaetz also received a message in February of this year. On the day that Attorney General William Barr was confirmed, Flynn sent Gaetz GIFs of a bald eagle and an American flag, without any accompanying text,” the report said.

Adding, “The messages raise fresh questions about Flynn’s contact with politically powerful people following his guilty plea in the Mueller probe. They add to a perception that has played out in Flynn’s courtroom proceedings that he has modulated between helping the special counsel and stoking Mueller’s critics in the Republican Party.”

Gaetz said that he did not respond to the messages and had no prior relationship with Flynn. Flynn’s attorney declined to comment on Friday according to CNN.


Bill Barr brutally slammed by MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace as being no different than Fox News’ Sean Hannity

Raw Story

Attorney General William Barr is “the most dangerous” person in President Donald Trump’s administration, MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace explained Friday on “Deadline: White House.”

“It would seem that Barr is dangerous, but he’s not dumb, he said in a committee and in the interview with Fox News that he has no evidence but he thinks something bad happened. That seems like the most dangerous — at least Donald Trump just makes it up, no one thinks he has any evidence,” Wallace explained.

“I think Barr is the most dangerous person that works for Donald Trump. He has Donald Trump’s world views, Sean Hannity’s world view, but he oversees the Justice Department,” she noted.

The Attorney General may also face legal exposure for his defense of Trump.

“If you think the president is committing obstruction of justice and you stay and help him, you too are legally exposed for committing — you’re part of a conspiracy to obstruct justice,” Wallace added.


MSNBC’s Ali Velshi and a former federal prosecutor shred Bill Barr for his Fox interview

Raw Story

On Friday, MSNBC’s Ali Velshi and Carol Lam, a former federal prosecutor, railed against Attorney General Bill Barr for his interview with Fox News.

Barr sat down with Fox News anchor Bill Hemmer to talk about his commitment to investigate the origins of the Trump-Russia probe. This was also his first interview since becoming the attorney general.

“The attorney general is claiming he is not getting sufficient answers to his questions about the origin of the Russia investigation,” Velshi said. “He is putting out there in the same way he put out there that the Mueller investigation exonerated President Trump which we found out not to be true.”

Lam said that Barr should at least try to defend the institution he leads and not the president.

“It’s difficult for me to say this about a sitting attorney general, but you would expect the president’s legal team to sort of giving the benefit of the doubt to the president. You expect the attorney general to defend a little bit the institution that he heads.”

“It really seems like he’s doing the opposite here as you point out. He’s dropping little bombs, using phrases like ‘spying’ and ‘abuse of power’ and ‘putting a thumb on the scale.’ What he should say is that we’re looking into this and that’s all I’m going to say about it at this time,” she said.


Secretive dark money group got $22 million to get Trump SCOTUS pick confirmed – and most came from one anonymous donor

David Badash, The New Civil Rights Movement
18 May 2019 at 15:51 ET                   

A just-published report by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics’ award-winning OpenSecrets.org reveals the Judicial Crisis Network, a conservative secretive dark money group received $22 million from anonymous donors in the year leading up to the Tump administration and conservatives’ push to place Brett Kavanaugh on the U.S. Supreme Court.

$17 million of that $22 million came from one anonymous donor.

“The Judicial Crisis Network (JCN), a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit, pledged to spendas much as $10 million to ensure Kavanaugh’s confirmation — the same amount that it spent to help confirm Justice Neil Gorsuch in 2017,” Anna Massoglia and Andrew Perez at OpenSecrets reveal in their report Friday.

“JCN has close ties to Trump’s judicial adviser Leonard Leo, a longtime executive at the Federalist Society, the influential conservative and libertarian lawyers network based in Washington, D.C.”

If you’re not familiar with the Judicial Crisis Network, here’s one of their ads you may have seen on TV in the run up to the Kavanaugh confirmation vote:



Fox News legal analyst slams Trump’s actions as ‘dangerous’ — and says he has exceeded his powers 3 times in the last week

Cody Fenwick, AlterNet
18 May 2019 at 19:22 ET                   

Fox News legal analyst Andrew Napolitano has been increasingly outspoken in opposing President Donald Trump on certain key issues. In a new video for Fox News on Friday, he continued his criticism of the president, arguing that he is violating the separation of powers.

Just in the last week, he said, Trump has exceeded the powers of the executive branch on at least three occasions.

“The president can’t write the laws, the Congress can’t put somebody on trial, and the courts can’t determine tax rates,” he said. “That is, at least, the theory of the Constitution.”

He noted that over the course of decades, presidents have been seizing more power and Congress has been letting them. Trump is continuing this “very dangerous trend,” he said.

“Earlier this week, the president of the United States directed Patrick Shanahan, the acting secretary of Defense, not to purchase a missile defense system that Congress has authorized and directed him to purchase — and at the time of that authorization, President Trump agreed with it— but to take that money from the missile defense system and use it to build a fence at the Texas-Mexico border,” he said.

Napolitano said you can question building a fence as policy, “but he asked the Congress for the money, and the Congress said no. And he took the money anyway. That violates the separation of powers.”

Trump’s order to Shanahan to direct troops to secure the border likewise violated the separation of powers, Napolitano argued, because U.S. law prohibits using the military in this way. And the legal analyst also noted that Trump unilaterally raised taxes with his new tariffs on China. Despite Trump’s claims to the contrary, the tariffs raise prices for American consumers, thus placing a tax on them.

    Fox News legal analyst Andrew Napolitano says Trump has violated the separation of powers three times in the last week alone.

    Napolitano says Trump has been “abandoning separation of powers Madison so carefully crafted,” calls it a “very dangerous trend.” https://t.co/GHv5HinkMA pic.twitter.com/90xoQEOWi4

    — Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) May 17, 2019


Trump inauguration fundraisers under investigation by New Jersey for possible fraud

Raw Story

New Jersey’s attorney general is investigating an effort to raise money for President Donald Trump’s inauguration involving two current U.S. ambassadors.

Republican donor Lewis Eisenberg and New York Jets owner Woody Johnson led efforts in the state to raise money for Trump’s inauguration that resulted in only a few hundred thousand dollars out of the record $107 million haul, reported The Daily Beast.

Trump nominated Eiseberg as ambassador to Italy, while Johnson was named British ambassador.

Attorney General Gurbir Grewal obtained documents last month from the Presidential Inaugural Committee as part of an investigation of possibly illegal actions by solicitors, donors and fundraisers.

A similar investigation is underway in New York, where Trump allies raised $19 million for the January 2017 inauguration, and Grewal issued subpoenas just weeks after federal prosecutors in Manhattan issued theirs.

The Office of Consumer Protection, which largely exists to enforce the Consumer Fraud Act, is running the state’s investigation.

One source said former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie urged Trump to nominate GOP financiers he had worked with, but Trump instead kept Eisenberg as co-chair, and he and Johnson identified potential large donors.

Donors received emails with solicitations to buy tickets from the inaugural committee, with the promise to have their picture taken with Trump, and many of the donors purchased multiple $50 tickets to share with family, friends and others.

Washington lobbyist Sam Patten admitted to special counsel Robert Mueller that he illegally funneled $50,000 through an intermediary to buy inauguration tickets for a Ukrainian oligarch, although two sources directly involved in New Jersey’s fundraiser said they did not believe foreign individuals bought tickets in the state.

“Not in New Jersey,” one source said. “New Jersey was small-time stuff.”

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« Reply #2808 on: May 20, 2019, 03:47 AM »

AI is now better at predicting mortality than human doctors

Mike Wehner

As scientists continue to toil away at creating machine learning algorithms that will one day enslave humanity save us all, artificial intelligence researchers have discovered that computers are outpacing human doctors in a number of important areas. We’ve already seen the ability of AI to spot things like cancer, and a new study reveals that a digital brain may also be better at predicting overall mortality and specific conditions such as heart attack with greater accuracy than a trained individual.

The research, which was presented at the International Conference on Nuclear Cardiology and Cardiac CT, suggests that we may be fast approaching a day when artificial intelligence works hand-in-hand with medical professionals to anticipate life-threatening problems before they occur.

The researchers, led by Dr. Luis Eduardo Juarez-Orozco of the Turku PET Centre in Finland, trained a machine learning algorithm on a data set of nearly 1,000 patients. The data, which spanned six years for each patient, included dozens of variables that the computer had to digest in order to draw correlations between instances of death and heart attack with data on various heart and blood flow readings.

“The algorithm progressively learns from the data and after numerous rounds of analyses, it figures out the high dimensional patterns that should be used to efficiently identify patients who have the event,” Dr. Juarez-Orozoc said in a statement. “The result is a score of individual risk.”

As each variable was taken into account the predictive accuracy of the AI to anticipate a heart-related event or a death increased dramatically. Once the system had crunched all of the available data it managed a predictive score of around 90 percent, which is significantly better than most doctors are able to score based on the typical amount of information they have on each patient.

“Doctors already collect a lot of information about patients – for example those with chest pain,” Dr. Juarez-Orozco said. “We found that machine learning can integrate these data and accurately predict individual risk. This should allow us to personalise treatment and ultimately lead to better outcomes for patients.”

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« Reply #2809 on: May 20, 2019, 03:55 AM »

05/20/2019 05:30 PM

Climate Stasis: German Failure on the Road to a Renewable Future

By Frank Dohmen, Alexander Jung, Stefan Schultz and Gerald Traufetter

In 2011, German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced the country was turning away from nuclear energy in favor of a renewable future. Since then, however, progress has been limited. Berlin has wasted billions of euros and resistance is mounting.

It's a fantastic idea. The energy landscape of tomorrow. There are 675 people in Germany working every day to make it a reality -- in federal ministries and their agencies, on boards and panels, in committees and subcommittees. They are working on creating a world that on one single day in April became glorious reality. Here in Germany. It was April 22. Easter Monday.

That day, it was sunny from morning to evening and there was plenty of wind to drive the turbines across the entire country. By the time the sun went down -- without the need of even a single puff of greenhouse gases -- 56 gigawatts of renewable energy had been produced, almost enough to cover the energy needs of the world's fourth-largest industrialized nation.

Unfortunately, it was only for that day.

The other days are dirty and gray: Most of the electricity that Germany needs is still produced by burning coal. Then there are the millions of oil and natural gas furnaces in German basements and the streets packed with the cars with diesel- and gasoline-powered motors.

The vision of the fantastic new world of the future was born eight years ago, on March 11, 2011, the day an earthquake-triggered tsunami damaged the nuclear power plant in Fukushima, Japan. The disaster led Chancellor Angela Merkel and her cabinet to resolve to phase out nuclear power in Germany. It was an historic event and an historic decision.

But the sweeping idea has become bogged down in the details of German reality. The so-called Energiewende, the shift away from nuclear in favor of renewables, the greatest political project undertaken here since Germany's reunification, is facing failure. In the eight years since Fukushima, none of Germany's leaders in Berlin have fully thrown themselves into the project, not least the chancellor. Lawmakers have introduced laws, decrees and guidelines, but there is nobody to coordinate the Energiewende, much less speed it up. And all of them are terrified of resistance from the voters, whenever a wind turbine needs to be erected or a new high-voltage transmission line needs to be laid out.

Analysts from McKinsey have been following the Energiewende since 2012, and their latest report is damning. Germany, it says, "is far from meeting the targets it set for itself."

Germany's Federal Court of Auditors is even more forthright about the failures. The shift to renewables, the federal auditors say, has cost at least 160 billion euros in the last five years. Meanwhile, the expenditures "are in extreme disproportion to the results," Federal Court of Auditors President Kay Scheller said last fall, although his assessment went largely unheard in the political arena. Scheller is even concerned that voters could soon lose all faith in the government because of this massive failure.

Surveys document the transformation of this grand idea into an even grander frustration. Despite being hugely accepting initially, Germans now see it as being too expensive, too chaotic and too unfair.

How Germans Will Live and Work

And yet, the future of the entire country depends on it: ecologically, economically and technologically. But also societally. In contrast to the new Berlin airport, whose opening has been delayed for years, the Energiewende cannot just be shrugged off as a regional blunder. It is a project that will determine how Germans will live and work in the future, how German industry will remain competitive and what societal cooperation will look like.

Politicians are quick to label projects as being in the national interest, but this one truly is -- especially given that environmental leadership has become a key element of German identity. A majority of Germans were once proud of the turn away from nuclear and toward renewables, a pride political leaders could have capitalized on.

But the grand transformation has lost its way. The expansion of wind parks and solar facilities isn't moving forward. There is a lack of grids and electricity storage -- but for the most part there is a lack of political will and effective management. The German government has dropped the ball.

In the Economics Ministry alone, 287 officials are working on the issue, divided into four divisions and 34 departments. There are at least 45 additional bodies at the federal and state levels, full of people who also want to move the project forward. They collect vast quantities of data and come up with complicated incentives -- a huge effort that has produced only modest results.

One example is STEP up!, an incentive program meant to help companies deal more efficiently with electricity. Its initial goal was to approve 1,000 applications in 2017, but only seven were authorized in the first three quarters of that year. Then there is the law providing tax incentives for electric vehicles. Six months elapsed between the drafting of the law and its publication, despite the legislation's status being "particularly urgent."

Experts are getting bogged down in details -- producing papers, but no strategies. For months, the vital position of state secretary for energy remained vacant. Nobody feels a sense of responsibility and there is nobody to decide what tasks have priority. Because Germany doesn't even have an Energy Ministry, the issue ends up falling through the cracks. And the chancellor has not stepped in to point the way.

In December 2015, Merkel signed the Paris Agreement on climate change, in which Germany pledged to do its part to slow global warming. More than three years have passed and almost nothing has been done. The migration debate and the rise of the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany have largely shunted the issue of climate change.

At the 2007 G-8 Summit in Heiligendamm, in northern Germany, Merkel indicated she was sympathetic to the idea that every person on earth should be allowed to emit the same amount of CO2. It was a revolutionary idea. But nothing came of it.

'Biggest Hurdle'

Even earlier, in 1997, back when she was the German environment minister, Merkel told DER SPIEGEL: "When it comes to reducing CO2 emissions, vehicle traffic is the biggest hurdle." She could say the same thing today.

With Merkel's tenure as German chancellor now coming to an end, her greatest failure would seem to be that she has done so little to advance climate policy, despite it having been a key issue for her early in her political career. Even though Germany introduced the term Energiewende to the global vocabulary, much like kindergarten or wanderlust, its successful implementation has been left to others.

Like the Netherlands, for example, which has long been the largest supplier of natural gas to the European Union. The country has decided to completely abandon the production of the fossil fuel within a decade and to use the pipeline infrastructure for gas produced from wind power with the help of power-to-gas, or P2G, technology. In six years, no more cars with internal combustion engines will be licensed.

In Sweden -- the Energiewende world champion, according to the International Energy Agency -- a high CO2 tax, of almost 120 euros per ton, is driving people and companies to pay more attention to how they heat, drive and do business. The tax was first introduced there in 1991. In Germany, the debate has only just begun.

Even the U.S. is making improvements. Americans are increasingly turning from coal to natural gas to generate electricity. It's only slightly less dirty, but the country's CO2 emissions are trending in the right direction.

Progress, in other words, is being made everywhere -- just not in the birthplace of the Energiewende. German CO2 emissions have only slightly decreased this decade. Eberhard Umbach is on the board of directors at a scientific initiative called Energy Systems of the Future (ESYS). He says that the view of the Energiewende has shifted. Just a few years ago, he says his foreign counterparts were skeptical but also full of admiration for the élan with which Germany had jumped into the project. And now? "It has completely reversed," the scientist said at a February conference. "Others are faster than we are."

The transformation that has already taken place -- the shift in electricity production, fueled by billions in expenditures -- was the easiest step in the process. Politicians have ignored other elements, like industrial production, building efficiency and, especially, vehicle traffic. Involving those areas and coming up with an overarching concept, that's the hard part that must now be addressed. And it will determine whether Germany will once again become a model of sustainable economic production or whether the entire experiment will end in failure.

So, how did this marvelous idea turn into such a monumental failure?

Why Germany's Energiewende Might Fail

The German government made a key mistake when it announced the end of the nuclear era in Germany eight years ago: It announced it was turning away from nuclear power, without simultaneously initiating the end of coal.

Wind turbines and solar panels were installed across the country -- but the coal-fired power plants kept operating. The government set up a clean energy system alongside the dirty one. But why? Because Berlin was afraid of do anything that might harm a single company or voter.

Germany has never come up with a clear strategy for the shift to renewables, fully thought out from the beginning to end. There have always been two competing concepts of the Energiewende, even before Merkel.

Politicians like former Environment Minister Jürgen Trittin, a Green Party politician who was part of the cabinet of the center-left Social Democratic (SPD) Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, were in favor of a radical shift, no matter what the cost. Others, like the SPD Economics Minister Sigmar Gabriel and his successor Peter Altmaier, from Merkel's center-right Christian Democrats (CDU), were more concerned about German industry and job numbers. Neither side trusted the other and a stalemate ensued. Progress halted.

This helps explain why the government never dared set up an Energy Ministry that might have had the ability to move things forward, and instead divided up the project among the Chancellery, the Environment Ministry and the Economics Ministry. It is an unholy trinity that has continually followed the same pattern: The Environment Ministry surges ahead, the Economics Ministry warns of dramatic job losses and the Chancellery avoids making a decision.

The expansion of Germany's electrical grid has suffered the most from this lack of political impetus. More than a decade ago, the German government passed a resolution to quickly build the necessary high-voltage transmission lines, with experts today saying there is a need for 7,700 kilometers (4,800 miles) of such lines. But only 950 have been built. And in 2017, only 30 kilometers of lines were built across the whole country.

In Berlin, one can hear the wry observation that 30 kilometers is roughly the distance that a snail can travel in a year.

Instead of explaining to voters why it is necessary to conduct such a grid to bring energy from the windy north to the industrially strong south, politicians have wilted in the face of NIMBY protests. Indeed, almost everywhere such a power line tower or wind turbine is to be erected, officials are met with protest. Politicians have thus decided to put most of it underground, which is vastly more expensive and will take years longer to build.

Nine years ago, Rainer Spies, the mayor of the municipality of Reinsfeld in southwestern Germany, began planning the construction of a wind park. Together with the power company EnBW, he wanted to erect 15 turbines in a small forest not far from the highway between Trier and Saarbrücken. "Everything seemed to be ready," Spies says. But then the permit process began.

A Red Kite

The mayor and EnBW submitted the requisite documentation -- several hundred pages and a number of environmental studies. But the authorities continually demanded more: species protection analyses, bird flight patterns, noise emissions, shadow patterns and, not least, potential dangers posed to the barbastelle bat, along with detailed information pertaining to its local population. Finally, after the fourth application, officials approved the wind park's construction last year.

The local municipality should have issued a construction permit soon thereafter. But then, someone discovered the nest of a red kite in a fir tree just a few hundred meters away from the planned wind park. It was the worst thing that could possibly happen.

The bird of prey, with its elegantly forked tail, enjoys strict protection in Germany. It eats mice and moles and its enemies include owls and pine martens -- and wind turbines. The birds like to hunt in the cleared areas beneath the turbines because it is easy to spot their prey.

Red kites are migratory, returning from the south in the spring, but they don't return reliably every year. The mayor would have been happy if the bird had shown up quickly so its flight patterns could be analyzed and plans for the wind park adjusted accordingly. It would have been expensive, but at least construction of the project could finally get underway.

But if the bird doesn't return, the project must be suspended. Spies has to wait a minimum of five years to see if the creature has plans for the nest after all. Which means the wind park could finally be build in 2024, fully 12 years after the project got underway.

The situation in Reinsfeld is, of course, an extreme example, but it provides an important explanation for why Germany has fallen behind in the transition to renewables. Plans for new wind parks regularly trigger conflict with officials and, especially, with neighbors. There is hardly a new project these days that doesn't find itself confronted with dissent, or even lawsuits.

It used to be that 40 months would pass between the signing of a land-use contract and a facility going into operation. Today it takes 60 months. At least.

Badly Needed Reforms

The degree to which this has depressed investment can be seen at the auctions held by the Federal Network Agency to sell licenses for wind park construction. These days, there are fewer people taking part in the auctions than there are commissions available -- which means there is no longer any competition. "The entire system is a bit out of kilter," says EnBW head Frank Mastiaux. "Reforms are badly needed."

The number of new construction projects has collapsed in Germany, with just 743 new wind turbines joining the grid last year, 1,000 fewer than in the previous year. In Bavaria, Germany's largest state, just eight went into operation. The wind power boom is over, and manufacturers are suffering. Enercon and Nordex are slashing hundreds of jobs while Senvion, known as Repower Systems until 2014, has filed for bankruptcy. The industry is concerned that it could be facing a debacle of the kind that has already befallen German solar.

Germany is also falling short of its initial targets when it comes to the expansion of offshore wind parks. In the North Sea and Baltic Sea combined last year, the extra capacity that went online didn't even add up to one gigawatt -- 23 percent lower than the previous year. In mid-April, Merkel inaugurated the Arkona wind park off the coast of the Baltic Sea island of Rügen. But not even the charming images of people blowing into their toy windmills at the ceremony can hide the fact that not even offshore wind parks are a growth market anymore.

It is a systemic problem: Wind park operation and grid connection are not in the same hands, in contrast to places like Britain, for example. Coordination can be difficult, costs are high and potential goes unused. It is hardly surprising that nobody wants to generate electricity on the high seas if it isn't guaranteed that it can get to where it needs to go because the grid to southern Germany doesn't exist.

Even connecting a normal solar park to the grid can test one's patience. In Spain, grid connection is guaranteed when the construction permit is issued. In Germany, though, it is "often an incalculable risk," says Dierk Paskert, head of Encavis, the largest independent operator of solar parks in Germany. Even if grid operators play along, it is often the case that the planning authority, municipalities or even individual citizens stand in the way. "It makes planning difficult," says Paskert.

How Germany's Energiewende Could Work After All
An additional factor exacerbating the renewables crisis is the fact that, two decades after the enactment of the Renewable Energy Sources Act (EEG), 20-year guaranteed feed-in tariffs will begin expiring next year for the first wind, solar and biomass facilities. Some of those who installed solar panels back then -- often farmers and homeowners -- are still receiving 50 cents for every kilowatt hour they feed into the grid. Today, larger facilities receive just 5 cents per kilowatt hour.

The state has redistributed gigantic sums of money, with the EEG directing more than 25 billion euros each year to the operators of renewable energy facilities. But without the subsidies, operating wind turbines and solar parks will hardly be worth it anymore. As is so often the case with such subsidies: They trigger an artificial boom that burns fast and leaves nothing but scorched earth in their wake.

Germany finds itself trapped in an energy dilemma, having grown used to maintaining two separate systems running in parallel. One of them, based on fossil fuels, has proven difficult to discard, while the other, powered by renewables, hasn't yet gained sufficient traction. But the longer it takes to shift from one system to the other, the more expensive and challenging it will become.

If all goes according to plan, the last nuclear power plant in Germany will be mothballed in just four years. The first coal-fired power plants are also set to go offline by then. At the same time, though, Germany's energy needs are likely to continue climbing.

That means that if renewable capacity isn't quickly expanded, a shortage could soon develop. All it would take is an overcast cold spell in 2023 with no sun and no wind. Should the so-called "dark doldrums" continue for several days, the system could quickly reach its limits. Mid-January 2017 was the last time Germany experienced such a situation.

Soon, the coal- and natural gas-fired power plants that have traditionally been used to maintain grid stability in such periods will no longer be there, and a solution must quickly be found to address the issue. The good news, though, is that Berlin seems to be finally paying attention. That, at least, is how it seemed at an April podium discussion held at a conference hosted at a church in the city. In their own way, each of the politicians on stage promised to reinject momentum into the Energiewende.

Making Up Lost Ground

Green Party parliamentarian Cem Özdemir, whose electoral district is in the homeland of Daimler and Porsche in Stuttgart, confirmed that the end of the internal combustion engine was nigh, saying: "Last rights for the automobile have been read." Christian Lindner, the leader of the business-friendly Free Democrats, insisted that construction be accelerated on high-voltage transmission lines.

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, head of the center-right Christian Democrats, admitted that climate protection used to be a higher priority for her party and then pledged: "We are working to make up lost ground." The climate, she said, would be a vital issue this year.

That could very well be, and one reason for that is the Fridays for Future student protests that are increasingly finding support among parents and grandparents as well. An additional motivation is the fact that falling short of climate protection goals will soon be penalized. Starting next year, Berlin will have to pay a fine for each additional ton of CO2 admitted in excess of the target Germany negotiated with its northern European neighbors. Because the country will almost certainly fall short, the Finance Ministry is planning on extra expenditures of 300 million euros next year to cover the fines.

In the face of such penalties, the government has concluded that it would be better to invest money in climate protection than to pay the levies. Still, even Berlin has begun to realize that the Energiewende no longer has the reputation it once did among the voters.

The man who is charged with injecting momentum and acceptance into the Energiewende is Andreas Feicht. Since February, he has been state secretary in the Economics Ministry. And on his very first day in his new office, he was given an indication as to just how difficult his task will be. His boss, Economics Minister Peter Altmaier, took him along on a trip to see firsthand how grid expansion was going.

Their journey took them to Niedernhausen, a municipality in the state of Hesse just east of Frankfurt. Luckily for Feicht, most of the cameras were pointed at Altmaier as he stepped out of the black bus with the tinted windows and walked through a gauntlet of furious citizens, many of them wearing yellow vests. One poster read: "No experiments over our heads."

'Give Us an E!'

The people of Niedernhausen are surrounded by infrastructure of all kinds, such as the highway that buzzes just past the town, along with several train lines, including the high-speed link between Frankfurt and Cologne. And the power lines, which run right over their homes. Grid operator Amprion would like to span high-voltage lines between the existing towers.

The line, 340 kilometers long, is called Ultranet, and it is part of the high-voltage link taking electricity from the coast to the industrial centers in central and southern Germany. Only around 15 percent of Germany's wind turbines are located south of the Main River, which runs like a belt through the middle of the country. Another line further to the east, known as Suedlink, is to be buried underground -- which is vastly more expensive.

"Peter, give us an E!" read one of the posters in Niedernhausen, with "E" representing the German word for an underground transmission line. The head of the local citizens initiative accosted Altmaier, saying the plan as it currently stands is nothing less than an experiment with the lives of humans and that the magnetic radiation of high-voltage lines had not been sufficiently researched. "I will take a close look at the route of the line," Altmaier promised. And then he and the state secretary climbed back onto the bus.

Feicht is a specialist and knows a lot about energy issues, but only at a regional level. He used to be head of WSW, the city-owned utility company in Wuppertal. His ambitions sound rather modest when he speaks of the Energiewende: "We have to make a bit of progress."

The reality is that Feicht has to succeed where his boss Altmaier has failed. He must create a new, stable system out of all of the component parts he has inherited. Because even if not much fits together at the moment, there are some areas where progress has been significant, and which can be used as pillars of a sensible energy policy.

The EEG subsidies have resulted in the installation in Germany of 1.7 million solar units. There are also around 30,000 wind turbines on land and an additional 1,305 offshore in the North Sea and Baltic Sea. In some cases, those facilities generate power at a cost below four cents per kilowatt hour, making it cheaper than coal or nuclear.

A Lack of Tax Breaks

Germany generates 35 percent of the electricity it needs from wind, sun, biomass and hydro and last year, renewables caught up with coal as Germany's most important source of electricity. And yet, none of this is much more than a good start. The advances in electricity production are impressive, but there are many more sectors that must be integrated into the Energiewende, including buildings, industry and traffic.

There are around 19 million residential structures in Germany, but only just over 4 million of them have been brought up to state-of-the-art energy efficiency standards. Many heating units are outdated and around a quarter of the buildings are still heated with oil. Owners have been slow to update, with only about 1 percent of the country's housing inventory being modernized each year. If the pace doesn't increase, only about half the residential structures will have been modernized by 2050. The coalition agreements of a succession of German governments have included the intention of providing tax breaks to promote building modernization, but a corresponding law has never been passed.

Energy remains a significant cost factor for industry, which has led manufacturers to make their factories as energy efficient as possible. But while they have been successful, industry has continued to grow, cancelling out the gains. The result has been a level of industrial energy consumption that has remained largely unchanged for two decades.

Of all the sectors in question, vehicle traffic has fallen the furthest behind, with mobility still almost entirely based on the burning of gas and diesel. Car and truck emissions remain at roughly the same level they were in 1990. The goal of sinking such emissions to 40 percent of their current levels by 2030 seems illusory, as a simple calculation shows: There are around 47 million passenger cars registered in Germany with an additional 3.4 million being sold each year. Even if half of these new vehicles were electric -- which is unrealistic -- there would only be around 15 million such vehicles in Germany by the end of the 2020s.

It's not enough, in other words, to simply produce more and more green electricity. It won't be enough to fulfill the dream of a low-carbon future. It is time for Energiewende 2.0, a much more all-encompassing version that integrates all sectors, technologies and markets. In the end, the system must be extremely interconnected and more than just a gigantic machine that produces and distributes electricity generated by wind, sun and water.

Hydrogen will be an important element of this new energy environment. Hydrogen is an energy source that does not produce any harmful emissions and which is available in infinite quantities. The potential this molecule carries is well-known. Indeed, the hydrogen revolution was announced many years ago. It was too early at the time, but now, the time may be ripe.

How the Energiewende Could Still Succeed

"Head of Hydrogen" is the rather spectacular title given to René Schoof at the energy supply company Uniper. The company produces green hydrogen in Pritzwalk, located halfway between Berlin and the Baltic Sea. Schoof walks past shiny silver cauldrons in which honeycombed compressors divide water into its component parts.

The facility, which opened in 2012, is one of the first and largest of its kind in the world. And it demonstrates that green electricity can easily be turned into synthetic fuel -- into hydrogen or methane, into gasoline, diesel or kerosene. The technology is ready. But Schoof isn't particularly pleased by the Pritzwalk project. It would be enough for him, he says, if it weren't just "sitting around unused in the middle of the landscape."

From a business perspective, it isn't worth it. Much of the energy is lost in the process of turning wind into electricity, electricity into hydrogen and then hydrogen into methane -- efficiency is below 40 percent. It isn't enough for a sustainable business model.

The process has its shortcomings, but there is one decisive argument in its favor: If the number of wind turbines continues to increase, mandated turbine shutdowns due to network oversupply will increase. The companies are compensated for their losses -- in 2017, to the tune of over half a billion euros. But instead of wasting so much money, suppliers could store the extra energy -- and use it to produce methane and hydrogen that could then be fed into the natural gas network, which has 500,000 kilometers of pipelines -- a kind of gigantic battery that could come in handy in times of low wind and low sunlight.

Another option would be to turn the wind power into methane or hydrogen and then turn them into so-called e-fuels. Here, too, existing infrastructure could be used: fuel-storage facilities, pipelines and gas stations of the petroleum industry.

A study by the German Economic Institute and Frontier Economics confirms the astonishing potential of e-fuels. By the middle of the century, global demand could be as large as half of the current market for crude oil. Manufacturers of electrolyzers could find it especially profitable -- and German companies are the world leaders in the field, having cornered almost one-fifth of the global market. This includes Siemens, ThyssenKrupp and MAN -- the old industrial elite.

Wind-Powered Vehicles

But there are also opportunities for younger companies. In northern Germany, not far from the Danish border, the founding duo of GP Joule, two agricultural engineers, are building a complete hydrogen-processing chain. The project is called EFarm. Wind turbines supply the region with electricity. They sit adjacent to electrolysis facilities that turn wind power into hydrogen and heat homes with their excess heat. The plan calls for the resulting hydrogen to be transported to gas stations in Husum and Niebüll and for two fuel-cell buses to be introduced for local use. Wind-powered vehicles.

The coastal project is intended to demonstrate that wind power can remain profitable even after the EEG subsidies disappear. It shows how flexible and interconnected the energy system of tomorrow must be and how much more complex it will be to make renewable energy available reliably.

Today, renewable energy is fed into the grid from all sides, with the amount heavily dependent on the weather. The danger of the system falling out of balance is a constant presence. The only antidote is controlling it as intelligently as possible.

In the western German town of Hagen -- on Impulse Square -- a white Nissan Leaf can frequently be found at a charging station there, located just out front of the headquarters of the energy supplier Enervie. What can't be seen from the outside, though, is that the car is also able to relinquish some of its energy as needed. It can charge itself, or it can feed energy into the grid. Few other electric cars in Germany can do that.

The car is essentially making a tiny contribution to stabilizing the system. When Enervie needs energy, the car can feed electricity into the system within the space of three seconds. And the car owner is paid for the emergency assistance. During one test week, the car owner received a total of 20 euros, but ideally, it would be around a thousand euros per year. A car that earns money for its owner.

Essentially, every driver could be a mini-energy supplier, just like those who operate wind turbines, solar cells, biogas facilities and other sources that feed energy into the grid. Taken together, it becomes a kind of virtual power plant. In such a world, utilities would have the task of orchestrating the supply.

The potential problems here are relatively obvious: What happens when a large number of people plug in their electric cars at roughly the same time -- when they come home from work, for example? Utilities could provide discounts to those who plug in later, for example. There is already software and algorithms in existence to make such a thing possible.

Frustration with Stasis in Berlin

In some municipalities, local utilities have already begun developing such intelligent supply concepts. They are, essentially, taking control of the Energiewende locally out of frustration with the stasis in Berlin.

In Bordesholm, a community of 7,500 near the port city of Kiel, the municipal utility company recently inaugurated a battery storage space -- a black, windowless building as big as two houses. Its shelves hold 48,048 modules and the ventilation system constantly hums, since the batteries work best at temperatures between 17 and 23 degrees Celsius (63-73 degrees Fahrenheit).

The local utility uses it to store the electricity produced in a neighboring biogas plant. The batteries provide locals with electricity, but if necessary, they can also feed in power to the national grid within just 0.2 seconds to provide stability -- just as the Nissan Leaf in Hagen does. And the utility receives compensation for doing so. "That's how we earn our money," says Frank Günther, director of the Bordesholm utility.

Intelligent systems are important. But incentives for individuals and companies to act in environmentally friendly ways are even more important. And that's where price matters. The more expensive the production of CO2, the more worthwhile it becomes to invest in climate-friendly technology.

The European emissions trading scheme, which was introduced in 2005, has thus far proved insufficient. The EU issued too many certificates and as a result, prices have remained low and their future trajectory is hard to predict. Furthermore, the trade in certificates only covers half of all emissions: transportation, buildings, trade and agriculture are not included.

A climate tax would be an elegant way of integrating all sectors and interlinking them into a larger system. Over 3,500 economists have called for a constantly rising, globally standardized tax and in the current governing coalition in Berlin, the idea of a CO2 tax is also gaining support. The question is simply how high it should be.

And once again, everyone is being cautious. German Environment Minister Svenja Schulze (SPD) has preferred to rely on a proposal by a leading government economic adviser, Christoph Schmidt, of 20 euros per ton. But at such a low level, its effect would hardly be noticeable -- it would only make a liter of gasoline a few cents more expensive.

The Fridays for Future activists argue for action on a different scale. They believe a price of 180 euros is appropriate. That would make a liter of gasoline about 43 cents more expensive and boost the cost of heating oil by 58 cents per liter. A flight from Germany to New Zealand and back would cost about 2,000 euros more.

Either way, it's clear that the higher the price, the more people will be negatively affected: commuters, people living in older buildings, frequent flyers. At the ESYS Conference in February, Thorsten Herdan, head of energy policy at the Economics Ministry, described the dilemma currently being faced by the government. He argued that although many are now pushing for higher CO2 prices, if you make them high enough to have an actual effect, people will suddenly say: "For God's sake, not that. Otherwise I'll put on a yellow vest."

He was referring to the country-wide protests in France triggered by plans for a higher fuel tax. The result has been that Berlin policymakers are currently leaning toward a model like the one used in Switzerland, in which a large portion of the CO2 tax revenues is sent back to citizens as compensation for the fact that climate-neutral behavior can be expensive and requires sacrifice. That's the core lesson of more than two decades of the Energiewende: Policymakers must ensure that people are on board. Voters must begin to understand what the transformation means for them and that it is vital that they change their behavior. Without sacrifice, it won't work. The second, more difficult, part of the Energiewende -- the intelligent interlinking of different sectors -- is bringing the Energiewende closer to ordinary people. It is influencing how and where people live, how they travel.

Technologically speaking, it's possible to make the energy system free of fossil fuels by 2050, especially in a high-tech country like Germany. Everything is ready: the studies, the strategies, the facilities. ESYS, the association of scientists, has formulated recommendations for how politicians, businesses and society can reach their goals.

According to ESYS, Germany needs to increase its solar- and wind-facility capacity by a factor of five to seven, make synthetic fuel a pillar of the energy system and introduce a CO2 tax in all sectors. According to ESYS predictions, the transformation would cost 2 percent of the country's annual GDP. Currently, that would be about 70 billion euros.

By 2050, the costs would add up to 2 to 3.4 trillion euros, depending on the scenario. Other forecasts fluctuate between 500 million and about 2 trillion euros. One way or the other, the second part of the Energiewende will be expensive and exhausting, a project as demanding as German reunification.

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« Reply #2810 on: May 20, 2019, 03:58 AM »

Deadly Germs, Lost Cures

Citrus Farmers Facing Deadly Bacteria Turn to Antibiotics, Alarming Health Officials

In its decision to approve two drugs for orange and grapefruit trees, the E.P.A. largely ignored objections from the C.D.C. and the F.D.A., which fear that expanding their use in cash crops could fuel antibiotic resistance in humans.

By Andrew Jacobs
NY Times
May 20, 2019

ZOLFO SPRINGS, Fla. — A pernicious disease is eating away at Roy Petteway’s orange trees. The bacterial infection, transmitted by a tiny winged insect from China, has evaded all efforts to contain it, decimating Florida’s citrus industry and forcing scores of growers out of business.

In a last-ditch attempt to slow the infection, Mr. Petteway revved up his industrial sprayer one recent afternoon and doused the trees with a novel pesticide: antibiotics used to treat syphilis, tuberculosis, urinary tract infections and a number of other illnesses in humans.

“These bactericides give us hope,” said Mr. Petteway’s son, R. Roy, 33, as he watched his father treat the family’s trees, some of them 50 years old. “Because right now, it’s like we’re doing the doggy paddle without a life preserver and swallowing water.”

Since 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency has allowed Florida citrus farmers to use the drugs, streptomycin and oxytetracycline, on an emergency basis, but the agency is now significantly expanding their permitted use across 764,000 acres in California, Texas and other citrus-producing states. The agency approved the expanded use  despite strenuous objections from the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which warn that the heavy use of antimicrobial drugs in agriculture could spur germs to mutate so they become resistant to the drugs, threatening the lives of millions of people.

The E.P.A. has proposed allowing as much as 650,000 pounds of streptomycin to be sprayed on citrus crops each year. By comparison, Americans annually use 14,000 pounds of aminoglycosides, the class of antibiotics that includes streptomycin.

The European Union has banned the agricultural use of both streptomycin and oxytetracycline. So, too, has Brazil, where orange growers are battling the same bacterial scourge, called huanglongbing, also commonly known as citrus greening disease.

“To allow such a massive increase of these drugs in agriculture is a recipe for disaster,” said Steven Roach, a senior analyst for the advocacy group Keep Antibiotics Working. “It’s putting the needs of the citrus industry ahead of human health.”

But for Florida’s struggling orange and grapefruit growers, the approvals could not come soon enough. The desperation is palpable across the state’s sandy midsection, a flat expanse once lushly blanketed with citrus trees, most of them the juice oranges that underpin a $7.2 billion industry employing 50,000 people, about 40,000 fewer than it did two decades ago. These days, the landscape is flecked with abandoned groves and scraggly trees whose elongated yellow leaves are a telltale sign of the disease.

Mr. Petteway says the antibiotics have helped bring many of his trees back to life.

“They used to have pneumonia, but now it’s like they have a cold,” he said, tugging on the waxy, bright green leaf of a tree thick with embryonic, gumball-size fruit.

A temporary approval of the drugs was issued under President Barack Obama, but in December, under President Trump, the E.P.A. gave final approval for a much broader use of oxytetracycline. The agency has also proposed the expanded use of streptomycin under similar terms.

The decision paves the way for the largest use of medically important antibiotics in cash crops, and it runs counter to other efforts by the federal government to reduce the use of lifesaving antimicrobial drugs. Since 2017, the F.D.A. has banned the use of antibiotics to promote growth in farm animals, a shift that has led to a 33 percent drop in sales of antibiotics for livestock.

The use of antibiotics on citrus adds a wrinkle to an intensifying debate about whether the heavy use of antimicrobials in agriculture endangers human health by neutering the drugs’ germ-slaying abilities. Much of that debate has focused on livestock farmers, who use 80 percent of antibiotics sold in the United States.

Although the research on antibiotic use in crops is not as extensive, scientists say the same dynamic is already playing out with the fungicides that are liberally sprayed on vegetables and flowers across the world. Researchers believe the surge in a drug-resistant lung infection called aspergillosis is associated with agricultural fungicides, and many suspect the drugs are behind the rise of Candida auris, a deadly fungal infection.

Drug-resistant infections kill 23,000 Americans each year and sicken two million, according to the C.D.C. As more germs mutate, the threat is growing. With few new medicines in the pipeline, the United Nations says resistant infections could claim 10 million lives globally by 2050, exceeding deaths from cancer.

Antibiotics sprayed on crops can affect farm workers or people who directly consume contaminated fruit, but scientists are especially worried that the drugs will cause pathogenic bacteria in the soil to become resistant to the compounds and then find their way to people through groundwater or contaminated food. The other fear is that these bacteria will share their drug-resistant mechanisms with other germs, making them, too, impervious to other kinds of antibiotics.

In its evaluation for the expanded use of streptomycin, the E.P.A., which largely relied on data from pesticide makers, said the drug quickly dissipated in the environment. Still, the agency noted that there was a “medium” risk from extending the use of such drugs to citrus crops, and it acknowledged the lack of research on whether a massive increase in spraying would affect the bacteria that infect humans.

“The science of resistance is evolving and there is a high level of uncertainty in how and when resistance occurs,” the agency wrote.

Since its arrival in Florida was first confirmed in 2005, citrus greening has infected more than 90 percent of the state’s grapefruit and orange trees. The pathogen is spread by a tiny insect, the Asian citrus psyllid, that infects trees as it feeds on young leaves and stems, but the evidence of disease can take months to emerge. Infected trees prematurely drop their fruit, most of it too bitter for commercial use.

Officials say it is too early to know how many farmers will embrace the spraying of antibiotics. Interviews with a dozen growers and industry officials suggest many farmers are waiting to see whether the regimen is effective.

From the team at NYT Parenting: Get the latest news and guidance for parents. We'll celebrate the little parenting moments that mean a lot — and share stories that matter to families.

The E.P.A. acknowledged that the volume of spraying could soar if the scourge reaches California’s commercial orange groves. More than 1,000 trees in the Los Angeles basin, most of them in residential backyards, have been infected so far this year, a doubling from the same period last year.

“It’s just a matter of time,” said James Cranney, president of the California Citrus Quality Council.

Jim Adaskaveg, a plant pathologist at the University of California, Riverside, who does consulting work for the California citrus council, supports using antibiotics in agriculture. He noted that the government has long approved use of smaller amounts of streptomycin and oxytetracycline to manage a destructive bacterial disease that infects apple and pear crops.

Because the E.P.A. prohibits their application 40 days before harvest, he said there was little chance consumers would ingest the drugs. “We’ve been safely using them for decades,” he said.

Taw Richardson, the chief executive of ArgoSource, which makes the antibiotics used by farmers, said the company has yet to see any resistance in the 14 years since it began selling bactericides. “We don’t take antibiotic resistance lightly,” he said. “The key is to target the things that contribute to resistance and not get distracted by things that don’t.”

Many scientists disagree with such assessments, noting the mounting resistance to both drugs in humans. They also cite studies suggesting that low concentrations of antibiotics that slowly seep into the environment over an extended period of time can significantly accelerate resistance.

Scientists at the C.D.C. were especially concerned about streptomycin, which can remain in the soil for weeks and is allowed to be sprayed several times a season. As part of its consultation with the F.D.A., the C.D.C. conducted experiments with the two drugs and found widespread resistance to them.

Although the Trump administration has been pressing the E.P.A. to loosen regulations, Nathan Donley, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity, said the agency’s pesticides office had a long track record of favoring the interests of chemical and pesticide companies. “What’s in the industry’s best interest will win out over public safety nine times out of 10,” he said.

A spokesman for the E.P.A. said the agency had sought to address the C.D.C.’s and F.D.A.’s concerns about antibiotic resistance by ordering additional monitoring and by limiting its approvals to seven years.

Still, it remains unclear whether the drugs even work on crops. Graciela Lorca, a molecular biologist at the University of Florida and an expert on citrus greening, said she is not convinced. In the absence of peer-reviewed studies, she and other researchers have largely relied on anecdotal evidence from growers who have reported some improvement after applying the drugs.

“Right now it’s a desperate measure for sure,” she said.

One recent afternoon, Kenny Sanders drove through his groves of Valencia and Hamin oranges and pointed out ailing trees adorned with the strips of pink tape that mark them for destruction.

“That’s the kiss of death,” Mr. Sanders, a former rodeo performer and cattle rustler, said in a jaunty twang. “Used to be if you had 40 acres, you’d drive a Cadillac and send your kids to college. Not anymore.”

He said he tried using antibiotics for one season, but gave up after seeing little improvement. Cost, he added, was the main reason he didn’t continue spraying.

In the meantime, he and many other growers have embraced a range of remedies: tearing out trees at the first sign of disease and planting new stock bred to better withstand the bacteria. He also regularly feeds his trees a precision blend of micronutrients, a coddling he says helps them withstand the disease.

Roy Petteway does all of the above, too, but he believes that the spraying is worth the expense. Soft-spoken and contemplative, he considers himself a environmentalist and though he worries about antibiotic resistance, he puts his faith in the E.P.A. and its determination that the risks of spraying are minimal. He sees it as a stopgap measure that can help his trees survive until researchers develop disease-resistant stock or more effective treatments.

As a fourth-generation grower, Mr. Petteway has more pressing concerns than the relatively abstract threat of antibiotic resistance.

“These trees are our livelihood and our future,” he said. “And I’ve got to make sure all of this is here for my children and grandchildren.”

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« Reply #2811 on: May 20, 2019, 04:01 AM »

Scientists are baffled by a giant spike in this greenhouse gas — and it’s not CO2

20 May 2019 at 13:00 ET                   

The unexpected culprit that could throw a wrench in the world’s efforts to stop climate change? Runaway methane levels. Researchers monitoring air samples have noticed an alarming observation: Methane levels are on the rise and no one’s quite sure why.

NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory scientists have been analyzing air samples since 1983. Once a week, metal flasks containing air from around the world at different elevations find their way to the Boulder, Colorado, lab. The scientists look at 55 greenhouse gases, including methane and its more-famous climate villain, CO2.

You might know methane as the stuff of cow farts, natural gas, and landfills. It’s also an incredibly potent greenhouse gas, absorbing heat 25 times more effectively than CO2. While the rise of carbon dioxide has been stealing the spotlight as of late, methane levels have also been on the incline.

Methane levels, not surprisingly, have been steadily rising since the Industrial Revolution. Things picked up in 1980 and soon after, the NOAA scientists began consistently measuring methane. Levels were high but flattened out by the turn of the millenium. So when levels began to increase at a rapid rate in 2007, and then even faster in 2014, scientists were baffled. No one’s best guesses came close to predicting current methane levels of around 1,867 parts per billion as of 2018. This means studies evaluating the effects of climate change and action plans to address them, like the Paris Climate Agreement, may be based on downplayed climate crisis forecasts.

So what’s the big deal? Carbon dioxide emissions are relatively well understood and can be tracked to various human activities like transportation and electricity, which means policies can be enacted to target and lower emissions. Pinning down the source of methane, on the other hand, is a little more complicated.

“The really fascinating thing about methane,” Lori Bruhwiler, a NOAA research scientist, told Undark, “is the fact that almost everything we humans do has an effect on the methane budget, from producing food to producing fuel to disposing of waste.”

As if things weren’t complicated enough, a study published in AGU100 distinguished microbe-produced methane from fossil fuel methane — historically the more abundant one — and found that “natural” methane had taken the lead. This unexpected result might explain the upticks in methane levels that do not seem correlated with human activity. Of course, it could also be any number of human-made causes, including warming temperatures freeing up the gas and more frequent floods amplifying the methane output of wetlands.

Natural methane or not, this finding doesn’t exonerate anyone. The study’s authorsmade that clear in their concluding remarks.

“If the increased methane burden is driven by increased emissions from natural sources,” they wrote, “and if this is a climate feedback—the warming feeding the warming—then there is urgency to reduce anthropogenic emissions, which we can control.”

Curbing methane could be a powerful tool in our upcoming climate fight. Since the greenhouse gas is relatively short lived, only around 12 years, versus the 20 to 200 years of CO2, and is more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide, addressing methane emissions could be effective as a short-term climate remediation tool. The first step? Bringing more attention to methane so we can figure out where it comes from and nip it in the bud.

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« Reply #2812 on: May 20, 2019, 04:05 AM »

Where women call the shots

The nation’s first majority-female legislature is currently meeting in Nevada. Carson City may never be the same.

By Emily Wax-Thibodeaux
WA Post
May 20, 2019

CARSON CITY, Nev. — She didn’t plan to say it. Yvanna Cancela, a newly elected Democrat in the Nevada Senate, didn’t want to “sound crass.” But when a Republican colleague defended a century-old law requiring doctors to ask women seeking abortions whether they’re married, Cancela couldn’t help firing back.

“A man is not asked his marital status before he gets a vasectomy,” she countered — and the packed hearing room fell silent.

Since Nevada seated the nation’s first majority-female state legislature in January, the male old guard has been shaken up by the perspectives of female lawmakers. Bills prioritizing women’s health and safety have soared to the top of the agenda. Mounting reports of sexual harassment have led one male lawmaker to resign. And policy debates long dominated by men, including prison reform and gun safety, are yielding to female voices.

Cancela, 32, is part of the wave of women elected by both parties in November, many of them younger than 40. Today, women hold the majority with 23 seats in the Assembly and 10 in the Senate, or a combined 52 percent.

No other legislature has achieved that milestone in U.S. history. Only Colorado comes close, with women constituting 47 percent of its legislators. In Congress, just one in four lawmakers is a woman. And in Alabama, which just enacted an almost complete ban on abortion, women make up just 15 percent of lawmakers.

The female majority is having a huge effect: More than 17 pending bills deal with sexual assault, sex trafficking and sexual misconduct, with some measures aimed at making it easier to prosecute offenders. Bills to ban child marriage and examine the causes of maternal mortality are also on the docket.

“I can say with 100 percent certainty that we wouldn’t have had these conversations" a few years ago, said Assembly Majority Leader Teresa Benitez-Thompson (D). "None of these bills would have seen the light of day.”

Nevada didn’t reach this landmark by accident. A loosely coordinated campaign of political action groups and women’s rights organizations recruited and trained women such as Cancela, who became political director of the 57,000-member Culinary Workers Union before she turned 30. One of those organizations, Emerge Nevada, said it trained twice as many female candidates ahead of the 2018 midterm election as it had in the preceding 12 years.

Meanwhile, the election of President Trump in 2016 mobilized Democratic women nationwide, including in Nevada, where women already held 40 percent of statehouse seats.

Along with the gender shift has come a steady increase in racial diversity: Of 63 lawmakers in Nevada, 11 are African American, nine are Hispanic, one is Native American and one, Rochelle Thuy Nguyen (D), 41, is the legislature’s first Democratic female Asian American Pacific Islander.

The result may seem surprising in a state more often defined by the hypersexuality and neon-lit debauchery of the Las Vegas Strip. Until 2017, the legislature included an assemblyman who had briefly appeared as an extra in a film about women being kidnapped and forced to live naked in kennels, according to PolitiFact.

But that lawmaker, Stephen Silberkraus (R), 38, was defeated by a woman, Lesley Cohen (D), 48, who highlighted the film during her campaign. (Silberkraus told reporters that he had been unaware of the film’s sexual nature.) As a member of the Assembly, Cohen is leading a study on conditions for female sex workers in Nevada’s rural brothels, the nation’s only legal bordellos.

“Outsiders ask why and how Nevada — of all places — became first,” Cohen said. “But I say, why not Nevada? Why not everywhere?”

A culture change

Carson City is a tiny frontier town, cradled among the snow-capped Sierra Nevada. For decades in the statehouse, charges of sexual harassment often were shrugged off or belittled, and bills sponsored by women were sometimes mocked.

In 2015, Sen. Patricia Ann Spearman (D), now 64, said legislative leaders refused to schedule a hearing on her bill to promote pay equity for women. “The boys club was like, ‘Why do we need that?’ ” she said. “It was a very misogynistic session."

As recently as 2017, when the legislature approved a public referendum to repeal the "pink tax” on necessities such as tampons and diapers, one assemblyman argued against it, saying it would create a slippery slope.

“Can I add my jockstrap purchases to your list? You might argue it’s not a necessity, but I might beg to differ,” Jim Marchant (R) said at the time. Last November, voters agreed to repeal the tax — and replaced Marchant with a woman, Shea Backus (D).

Even now, female lawmakers in both parties say they receive anonymous phone calls from men commenting on their looks or threatening sexual violence. GOP women “share a lot of common ground and lived experiences with Democratic women,” said Assemblywoman Jill Tolles (R), 45.

Still, Nevada also has long history of female leadership. The first woman was elected to the legislature in 1918, before the U.S. Constitution guaranteed women the right to vote. And although the state has never elected a female governor, it has had at least four female lieutenant governors, the first appointed in 1962.

These days, a giant banner strung across Main Street advertises a hotline for victims of sexual harassment and assault. Set up two years ago, after state Sen. Mark Manendo (D), now 52, resigned amid allegations of sexual harassment, witness tampering and other misconduct, the hotline has been buzzing during the current legislative session.

Many women called with allegations of harassment against Assemblyman Michael Sprinkle (D), 51, who stepped down in March. In a statement announcing his resignation, Sprinkle said that he was “taking full responsibility for my actions,” would “continue to seek therapy,” and asked his accusers and family for forgiveness.

“There’s change in this building that is just this amazing story of transformation,” said Assemblywoman Heidi Swank (D), 51, who helped bring the allegations against Sprinkle to light. “And it really highlights the importance of the female majority being not just here, but finally being heard.”

Some female lawmakers say the old guard is literally dying. In November, voters in rural Nevada elected Republican Dennis Hof — a 72-year-old reality TV star and owner of several legal brothels, including the Love Ranch and the Moonlite Bunny Ranch — to the state Assembly. At the time, Hof had been dead for three weeks.

While many female lawmakers say they have found strong male allies this session, a few older men seem to be finding life in the minority difficult.

Democratic Assemblywoman Shannon Bilbray-Axelrod, 45, who keeps a “No Bulls--t Allowed” sign on her desk, said one assemblyman frequently asks, “Have you been a good girl today?”

“It’s so inappropriate on so many levels, and it’s that old guard trying to hang on,” she said. “Calling this out is the way you change the world.”

The assemblyman, co-Deputy Minority Leader John Ellison (R), 66, said he has “great respect” for Bilbray-Axelrod. After being contacted by The Washington Post, Ellison sent her a handwritten card asking her to “please accept my apology if I ever said anything offensive to you."

Bilbray-Axelrod said the moment shows that “there is hope for everyone.”

Historically, state legislatures have been “stubborn, slow-to-change institutions, which were heavily male-dominated,” said Kelly Dittmar, a scholar at the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.

Although it’s notable that “one state has crossed into the 50-percent mark to represent women,” she said, “it’s probably a lot more significant that we have 49 legislatures left to go.”

A new generation, a new point of view

Assemblywoman Selena Torres (D) never expected to be here. The 23-year-old teacher who helps Hispanic students learn English said she was inspired to run when she heard Trump on TV saying “awful things about immigrants.”

“I think growing up, you have this idea that politicians aren’t us. They don’t look like me. They don’t have my type of hair. They don’t come from our background. They don’t have to send money back to El Salvador to make sure that their family can make ends meet,” Torres said. “But then you come to realize: That’s the problem.”

Torres signed up for workshops by Emerge Nevada, a national Democratic organization that recruits and trains female candidates. In the legislature, Torres said she has found a spirit of sisterhood.

Benitez-Thompson, 40, has mentored her and given her suits and blazers. She and some of the other women share apartments and joke that they could star in a fun but wonky reality show called “The Real World: Carson City.”

Meanwhile, the women are savoring their first legislative victories. Cancela, who has the logo of the culinary union tattooed across her rib cage, noted that the Senate recently passed her Trust Nevada Women’s Act, which would codify and update abortion rights. It’s now awaiting a vote in the assembly.

Cancela said she was nervous when she defended the measure with a reference to vasectomy that day in March. But she said she willed herself to summon the courage to disrupt the usual order.

“I wanted to be respectful,” she said. “But also make a point.”

Story by Emily Wax-Thibodeaux, photos by Melina Mara, design by Brianna Schroer, photo editing by Karly Domb Sadof, copy editing by Carrie Camillo.

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« Reply #2813 on: May 20, 2019, 04:21 AM »

Europe's centrists draw on Austrian scandal to issue far-right warning

Mainstream parties hope voters will shun populists in wake of ‘politicians for sale’ revelation

Jon Henley Europe correspondent
Mon 20 May 2019 10.37 BST

Politicians from mainstream parties across Europe have called on voters to shun the far right in this week’s European elections after Austria’s vice-chancellor resigned over a video sting that showed him offering public contracts in exchange for financial and campaign backing.

Heinz-Christian Strache stepped down on Saturday after the footage emerged. Hours later, Austria’s chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, announced snap elections, ending the 18-month ruling coalition between his centre-right Austrian People’s party (ÖVP) and Strache’s far-right Freedom party (FPÖ).

The video showed the vice-chancellor proposing to trade government contracts for party donations and favourable media coverage with a woman posing as the wealthy niece of a Russian energy billionaire. He acknowledged the video was “catastrophic” but denied doing anything illegal.

Centrist leaders across the continent made clear they hoped the repercussions of Strache’s downfall would make themselves felt beyond Austria in the European parliament elections, from 23-26 May, in which populist, nationalist and far-right parties are forecast to make gains.

The Freedom party is a key member of an alliance of European nationalist parties led by Matteo Salvini of Italy’s League, who held an inaugural mass rally in Milan on Saturday with the the French National Rally of Marine Le Pen and Germany’s Alternative für Deutschland (AfD).

“A few months ago, Marine Le Pen was singing the praises of Heinz-Christian Strache, saying how formidable he was,” France’s economy minister, Bruno Le Maire, said. “He has been forced to resign. We find out why: he was caught trying to sell his services to foreign forces. Behind this nationalist movement is a submission to foreign forces.”

The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, sharply criticised “politicians for sale”, saying the EU was facing “populist movements that in many areas are contemptuous of European values, who want to destroy the Europe of our values. We have to stand up to this decisively.”

The scandal appeared to mark the end of Kurz’s widely-criticised experiment at dealing with a successful far-right party by bringing it into the fold and building an alliance, rather than trying to ostracise it at the risk of alienating its voters.

“It’s long been known that rightwing populists destabilise our democracy,” Germany’s Socialist justice minister, Katarina Barley, tweeted. “Sebastian Kurz and the ÖVP brought them into government … The Strache case is a warning to all conservatives: do not work with far-right populists.”

It could also prove a setback for Europe’s resurgent far right. Strache’s obvious eagerness to embrace corruption stands in stark contrast to the “drain the swamp” rhetoric populists routinely deploy in their attempts to portray politics as a battle by decent ordinary people against a venal elite.

The Austrian vice-chancellor’s evident failings could make it more difficult for far-right leaders such as Salvini and Le Pen to present their parties as respectable – just slightly more rightwing – alternatives to the established centre-right.

Initially, the far-right populists sought to downplay the incident. The AfD leader, Jörg Meuthen, dismissed it as an “internal issue”, while the spokesman for the German party’s parliamentary group, Christian Lueth, described it in a now-deleted tweet as a “pseudo-scandal”.

But while neither Salvini nor Le Pen addressed the Austrian scandal directly, it has at the very least given their opponents some much-needed ammunition days before elections in which they face a significant challenge from the far right.

Strache’s behaviour, said Michael Schickhofer of Austria’s Social Democrats, “is symbolic … We can be sure this is just the tip of the iceberg.” Istvan Ujhelyi, a Hungarian Socialist MEP, said Strache would be was “the first domino” to fall. “Next up are Salvini, Le Pen, Orban and the rest of Moscow’s far-right puppets.”

A German TV commentator, Christian Nitsche, said the scandal could show the populists were not invincible. If Austria rejected the far right it would “probably not yet be a turning point on Europe’s wrong path – but a sign of hope that a first country has the strength to turn away from anti-democratic politicians and parties”, he said.

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« Reply #2814 on: May 20, 2019, 04:28 AM »

European elections: how the six biggest countries will vote

French parties are increasingly adopting the p-word while Italy is concerned about taxes

Europa correspondents
20 May 2019 15.26 BST

More than 370 million people will be eligible to vote in the European elections. But as they enter the polling booth they will have very different issues on their mind, as this survey of the six biggest countries conducted by the Europa group of newspapers reveals.

It used to be a dirty word in an open country that is part of the world’s biggest single market. But French parties are increasingly adopting the p-word in this campaign, even if they don’t always say it out loud.

On the far left, La France Insoumise supports “solidarity protectionism” and proposes the idea of a “kilometric carbon tax”: the further the product is shipped, the more it is taxed. The green fringe advocate something similar – a carbon tax at the border of the EU and restrictions on imports from countries that do not permit free union association.

Meanwhile, Marine Le Pen’s National Rally advocates an “intelligent protectionism” that would support the national economy through the restoration of customs duties. The socialists too are revising their position on protectionism, a result of years of social dumping and market disruption. “We assume a form of protectionism and put trade policy at the service of ecology and the fight against inequality,” says Raphaël Glucksmann, leader of the influential Place Publique movement, who heads a common list with the PS.

Even Emmanuel Macron’s movement seems to be converted. Admittedly, the term “protectionism” is not used in the program of the presidential party. But “protection” is, with those of “progress” and “freedom”, the key words of the head of list Nathalie Loiseau. And the campaign slogan is: “A Europe that protects.”

Like the Macronists, the Republican party (LR) is reluctant to use the word “protectionism”. But their draft program defends customs protection, and recommends putting in place, in the face of foreign products, “a double preference, European and French, on the model of the ‘Buy American Act’ by assuming to give priority to our companies and our jobs”. LR wants to reserve 50% of public contracts for local companies.

If this idea, initially borne by the opponents of free trade, eventually became practically consensual, it is because the European construction is perceived as the establishment of a large market that would ultimately promote social insecurity, economic and ecological.

“Protectionism has been constantly associated since the 19th century with the idea of ​​increasing customs duties to protect oneself,” says Olivier Dard, professor of contemporary history at the Sorbonne. “But is this really protectionism that we are looking at today, or a broader idea of protection that goes way beyond simply ideas of tariffs?” Alexandre Lemarié, of Le Monde

“We pay too many taxes,” laments Klodian Qoshja, manager of a leather processing company near the northern city of Vicenza. “Here you have to work 16 hours a day to get an entrepreneur salary.”

Tax is a dirty word in Italy’s industrial north, which far outperforms the south in the wealth it generates. Northern provinces are determined to secure greater fiscal autonomy, but even though their great champion, the (formerly Northern) League party is now in government in Rome, their appeals have had little effect.

“Autonomy will be achieved,” Salvini continues to repeat at his speeches, although his coalition partner, the Five Star Movement, are less enthusiastic. Thus far the League has not suffered for not delivering on one of its core objectives.

In this part of Italy, support for the League runs at more than 40%, dipping to about 30% nationwide – still ahead of the other European election hopefuls.

“The current picture plays in the League’s favour because the topic is much discussed in the regions where autonomy is demanded, while there is a cloak of silence over the other regions,” says Gianfranco Viesti, professor of applied economics at the University of Bari.

“Votes can be maintained by promising autonomy in one part of Italy, but you can avoid losing them in other parts of Italy by not talking about it,” he adds. “It is a party that speaks two different languages ​​in two areas of the country.”

The village where Qoshja has his factory, San Pietro Mussolino, witnessed the highest turnout at a referendum on regional autonomy in 2017, and almost all voters voted in favour.

“We have always had the speech of autonomy in our blood, even before they talked about it,” says Graziano Rancan, a bar owner. “We have paid so many contributions, now we continue to pay contributions but there is not enough money left to develop what we have lacked”.

Paolo Negro Marcigaglia, who runs an organic food company just one block from Qoshja’s leather factory, sees no other options: “We make an appeal to (League leader Matteo) Salvini to keep this promise that the League has been making for decades now.”

“I feel a bit like a worker in a company,” says Marcigaglia, making a metaphor about the state and taxes. “A company in which the owner every year takes away his dividends without investing anything.”

Once it became clear that Britons would have to vote in the 2019 elections, despite having voted to leave Europe almost three years ago, the campaign very quickly became a mirror of the 2016 referendum, a microcosm of the exhausting battle for Brexit.

As the party overseeing the debacle which has seen the UK stumble through almost three years without a departure plan anyone can agree on, Theresa May’s Conservatives are expected to receive a solid kicking, with even many party activists saying they will vote for other parties.

At the last elections in 2014, when the Eurosceptic mood was also strong, the Conservatives won only 24% of the vote. Polling for this month’s equivalent has them on as little a 13%. They could easily place fourth – or worse.

Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party is polling marginally better, but at little more than 20% – not the sort of level a would-be government should expect.

Labour go into the elections still trying to please both leave and remain supporters by promising only to back a second Brexit referendum as a possible option if no constructive deal can be reached. The party risks annoying voters on both sides of the divide.

Their campaign has so far been mainly marked by a bitter tussle over the wording on the second referendum pledge, which saw Corbyn emerge triumphant over his pro-People’s Vote deputy, Tom Watson, to the intense anguish of remain backers.

Amid this disquiet with the two main parties, who will benefit? The short answer is: the Brexit party. Nigel Farage’s brand new successor-to-Ukip has formally existed for only a few weeks, but is topping polls at about 30% or more, and has unveiled dozens of candidates ranging from former Conservatives to businesspeople and an ex-Marxist.

As ever, Farage is presenting a message to the public that is both coherent and vehement – Brexit is being betrayed – as well as being distinctly light on details.

Farage quit Ukip last year over the party’s hard right, anti-Islam stance under Gerard Batten, and his new venture seems to have well and truly stolen Ukip’s thunder – after intially strong poll results Ukip has slipped to below 5%, which if confirmed would usher in the party’s likely end as a mainstream force. And remember, under Farage Ukip topped the UK’s vote in 2014.

If, as some bill it, the European elections are seen as some sort of proxy second Brexit referendum, the coalescing of leave support around Farage’s group could be an advantage when contrasted with the splits among remainers.

Competing for this vote will be the Liberal Democrats and the Greens, as well as Change UK – the new party set up by 11 former Labour and Tory MPs. Each of them are polling at close to 10%.

What will it all mean come the results? No one really knows, beyond one thing – it’s very unlikely to heal any divisions.

The European elections are perceived in Germany mainly as a vote on national affairs, as a small Bundestag election, so to speak. This year, it is a litmus test of whether Angela Merkel’s grand coalition will be able to hang on through the full legislative period to 2021. Or whether it might collapse early.

For the first time in almost 20 years, Merkel will be absent from the campaign, airbrushed from posters and social media. The elections are the first big test for her successor as CDU leader, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, who must prove she can lead her party into battle. Poll numbers are weak; the party is nervous.

For the SPD, grudging junior coalition partner, the vote is all about whether to stick it out in government – a role that since 2013 has given it some executive power, at the expense of popularity. If the SPD clearly loses its support, it will be harder for them to stay in government. The left wing is pushing for the opposition role to sharpen the profile of the party there. The bar for the European elections is quite high. In the last election, the well-known leading candidate Martin Schulz, then president of the European parliament, gained more than six percentage points for his party – and presented a respectable result at 27.3%.

The SPD is launching Katarina Barley as national top candidate this year. According to surveys, Barley is the best-known among the top candidates in Germany, ahead of leading AFD candidate Jörg Meuthen and Manfred Weber of the CSU-CDU, who wants to become president of the European commission. Only one in four knows him. It is a heavy burden for Weber that the rightwing populist AfD leaves the Union man behind in terms of popularity.

For the Greens, it is important to convert good poll results into electoral success. The party has been on the up for months; a decent European result will boost the party as it fights regional elections that offer the promise of coalition power.

Big European issues are of little concern. Some voters tell campaigners they are concerned about dumping, about tax avoidance, copyright, security and the rise of rightwing populists. But most see this as just another national election, albeit one fought on a bigger stage.

Spain is well practised at heading to the polls. At the end of April, the country held its third general election in under four years, a landmark vote that saw the ruling socialist workers’ party (PSOE) win the most votes but fall short of a majority, the traditional People’s party (PP) humiliated and the breakthrough of the far-right Vox party.

Those results are likely to exert a significant influence on what happens on 26 May, when Spaniards vote in the European elections, but also in regional and municipal ones.

The PSOE will be hoping for a post-general election bounce that will see them win the vote and cement the party’s place as the resurgent party of the European centre-left.

Equally interesting will be what happens on the right. The advent of Vox, which won 24 seats in congress last month, pushed both the PP and the centre-right Citizens party further to the right as the three parties competed for voters.

But the move backfired – particularly for the PP. After his strategy of cosying up to Vox failed to pay off, the PP’s leader, Pablo Casado, is trying to reclaim the centre-ground and has begun denouncing the party as a far-right outfit.

Citizens, meanwhile, is doing its best to stake its claim to that centre-ground and to portray itself as the true party of opposition.

Vox is also recalibrating its approach. Although the party picked up 10.3% of the vote in April – wildly up on the 0.2% it took in the 2016 general election – it did not do as well as had been predicted.

The party, which has followed the populist tactic of favouring social media over traditional media, thinks the approach may have hurt its ability to reach older voters.

Mindful that the great majority of Spaniards are pro-European and still regard the country’s entry into the EU as a landmark moment in the country’s history, Vox is taking a different line to many of the continent’s far-right parties.

“We believe in Europe because we are Europe,” says its European election manifesto.

But it says the EU is in crisis because it is on hock to “certain ideologies and political commitments that have seen ‘the construction of a Europe’ outside the true Europe”. Sam Jones, the Guardian
Dr Jarosław Och is seen in Gdańsk, Poland on 9 May 2019 during the debate of the lead candidates in Pomeranian region.

“Hands off our children,” the leader of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, Jarosław Kaczyński, intoned in March as the campaign for European parliamentary elections started.

But the declaration is proving uncomfortable. Kaczyński’s intended target was the LGBT community. Awkwardly for Kaczyński, it is the Catholic church, a great ally to the PiS, which has been accused of being a far greater threat to children than the gay community.

Since it came to power in 2015, PiS has sought to rally its conservative base with sound and fury about attempts to introduce more liberal sexual education in Warsaw and other cities run by the opposition.

It seized on statements by the likes of Paweł Rabiej, vice-president of Warsaw, who does not hide the fact that he is gay, who has said he is in favour of the legalisation of gay marriage and gay adoption in Poland. One PiS politician running for election, Elżbieta Kruk, vowed that Poland should be an LGBT-free land.

In another episode, an activist was arrested for hanging posters with an image of the Virgin Mary with a rainbow halo in a church in Płock. She faces two years in prison for insulting religious feelings.

But the moral onslaught did not change the poll ratings. And a backlash was brewing. Last weekend, Tomasz Sekielski, broadcast a film with fresh revelations about paedophilia in the Polish Catholic church.

The film accused the church in Poland of covering up cases of child sexual abuse by priests, and transferring perpetrators to other parishes. Almost 8 million people have seen it.

The ruling party appear to be floundering, dismissing the paedophile-priests as isolated cases while at the same time raising penalties for paedophilia to up to 30 years in prison.

The opposition promised a new commission to investigate paedophilia in the Polish church.

All of this is a prelude to national elections in the autumn. Defeat for PiS in May will damage its chances of maintaining its hold on government later in the year. A sudden threat from a new constellation on the far right could erode its popularity further.

Poland waits with bated breath. Bartosz T. Wieliński of Gazeta Wyborcza

This article is part of a six-newspaper collaboration called Europa in which work is reported by one or more newspaper and shared for publication with all. The six papers are The Guardian, Le Monde, Sueddeutsche Zeitung, La Vanguardia, La Stampa and Gazeta Wyborcza

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« Reply #2815 on: May 20, 2019, 04:32 AM »

Venezuela’s Collapse Is the Worst Outside of War in Decades, Economists Say

Butchers have stopped selling meat cuts in favor of offal, fat shavings and cow hooves, the only animal protein many of their customers can afford.

By Anatoly Kurmanaev
NY Times
May 20, 2019

MARACAIBO, Venezuela — Zimbabwe’s collapse under Robert Mugabe. The fall of the Soviet Union. Cuba’s disastrous unraveling in the 1990s.

The crumbling of Venezuela’s economy has now outpaced them all.

Venezuela’s fall is the single largest economic collapse outside of war in at least 45 years, economists say.

“It’s really hard to think of a human tragedy of this scale outside civil war,” said Kenneth Rogoff, an economics professor at Harvard University and former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund. “This will be a touchstone of disastrous policies for decades to come.”

To find similar levels of economic devastation, economists at the I.M.F. pointed to countries that were ripped apart by war, like Libya earlier this decade or Lebanon in the 1970s.

But Venezuela, at one point Latin America’s wealthiest country, has not been shattered by armed conflict. Instead, economists say, the poor governance, corruption and misguided policies of President Nicolás Maduro and his predecessor, Hugo Chávez, have fueled runaway inflation, shuttered businesses and brought the country to its knees. And in recent months, the Trump administration has imposed stiff sanctions to try to cripple it further.

As the country’s economy plummeted, armed gangs took control of entire towns, public services collapsed and the purchasing power of most Venezuelans has been reduced to a couple of kilograms of flour a month.

In markets, butchers hit by regular blackouts jostle to sell decomposing stock by sunset. Former laborers scavenge through garbage piles for leftovers and recyclable plastic. Dejected retailers make dozens of trips to the bank in hopes of depositing several pounds’ worth of bills made worthless by hyperinflation.

Here in Maracaibo, a city of two million on the border with Colombia, nearly all of the butchers in the main market have stopped selling meat cuts in favor of offal and leftovers like fat shavings and cow hooves, the only animal protein many of their customers can still afford.

The crisis has been compounded by American sanctions intended to force Mr. Maduro to cede power to the nation’s opposition leader, Juan Guaidó. The Trump administration’s recent sanctions on Venezuela’s state oil company have made it difficult for the government to sell its main commodity, oil. Together with the American ban on trading Venezuelan bonds, the administration has made it harder for Venezuela to import any goods, including food and medication.

Mr. Maduro blames the widespread hunger and lack of medical supplies on the United States and its opposition allies — but most independent economists say the recession began years before the sanctions, which at most accelerated the collapse.

“We are fighting a savage battle against international sanctions that have made Venezuela lose at least $20 billion in 2018,” Mr. Maduro told supporters in a recent speech. “They are pursuing our bank accounts, our purchases abroad of any products. It’s more than a blockade, it’s persecution.”

Shortages have sunk much of the population in a deepening humanitarian crisis, though a core group of military top brass and high-level officials who remain loyal to Mr. Maduro are able to tap into the remaining resources to survive — or even enrich themselves through illicit means.

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

Venezuela has the world’s largest proven oil reserves. But its oil output, once Latin America’s largest, has fallen faster in the past year than Iraq’s after the American invasion in 2003, according to data from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.

Venezuela has lost a tenth of its population in the past two years as people fled, even trekking across mountains, setting off Latin America’s biggest ever refugee crisis.

Venezuela’s hyperinflation, expected to reach 10 million percent this year according to the I.M.F., is on track to become the longest period of runaway price rises since that in the Democratic Republic of Congo in the 1990s.

“This is essentially a total collapse in consumption,” said Sergi Lanau, deputy chief economist at the Institute of International Finance, a financial trade association.

The institute estimates that the drop in Venezuela’s economic output under Mr. Maduro has undergone the steepest decline by any country not at war since at least 1975.

By year’s end, Venezuela’s gross domestic product will have shrunk by 62 percent since the beginning of the recession in 2013, which coincided with Mr. Maduro coming to power, according to the finance institute’s estimates. (Venezuela’s government hasn’t released official macroeconomic statistics since 2014, forcing economists to rely on indicators like imports to estimate economic activity.)

By contrast, the median economic decline in the former Soviet republics was about 30 percent during the peak of the crisis in the mid-1990s, the institute calculates.

For now, the government is concentrating its scarce resources in the capital, Caracas. But the state’s presence is melting in the hinterlands, an absence that has been particularly glaring in Zulia, Venezuela’s most populous state.

Caribbean Sea










By The New York Times

Its capital, Maracaibo, was once Venezuela’s oil powerhouse. A blackout in March plunged the state into a week of darkness and chaos that left about 500 businesses ransacked.

Power has been sporadic ever since, exacerbating longstanding water and gasoline shortages and leaving towns without functional banking systems and cellphone coverage for days on end.

The flea market, a once-bustling maze of stalls from which vendors hawked food and household goods, has become the face of this crisis.

Juan Carlos Valles arrives at his tiny canteen in a corner of the market by 5 a.m. and begins making a broth out of beef bones and frying corn pastries in the darkness. He says his stall has been without power since March, his sales are down 80 percent since last year and each day is a struggle against soldiers who force him to accept nearly worthless low-denomination bills.

Whatever money he makes he immediately invests in more bones and corn flour, because prices go up daily.

“If you take a rest, you lose,” said Mr. Valles, who has run his canteen since 1998. “The money has become worthless. By the time you take it to the bank, you have already lost some of it.”

Real incomes in Venezuela have fallen to levels last seen in the country in 1979, according to the international finance institute, leaving many to survive by collecting firewood, gathering fruit and fetching water in streams.

“The government is talking about solutions in the long and medium term, but the hunger is now,” said Miguel González, the head of the community council at Maracaibo’s Arco Iris shantytown.

He said he lost his job at a hotel when looters ransacked it in March, ripping out even window frames and cable wiring. He now collects wild plums to sell for a few cents in the city’s parks. Most of his community’s diet now consists of wild fruits, fried corn pastries and bone broth, residents said.

Farther from the state capital, conditions are worse.

Toas Island, once a touristic idyll of about 12,000 residents spread over fishing hamlets, has been largely abandoned.

“There’s no local, regional or national government here,” said José Espina, a motorbike taxi driver there. “We’re on our own.”

Electricity and running water are available for only a few hours a day. The boat that provided regular service to the mainland broke down last month. An oil barge lent by the state oil company occasionally tugs a rusty ferry carrying meager supplies of subsidized food — a precarious lifeline for the island’s poorer residents.

Hyperinflation has reduced the island’s entire budget to the equivalent of $400 a month, or just 3 cents per estimated resident, according to the mayor, Hector Nava.

The hospital has no medication and no patients. The last person to be hospitalized died in agony a day later without treatment for her kidney disease, doctors at the hospital said.

As Toas hospital’s beds stand empty, 2-year-old Anailin Nava is wasting away in a nearby hut from malnutrition and treatable muscular paralysis. Her mother, Maibeli Nava, does not have money to take her to Colombia for treatment, she said.

The four stone quarries that are the island’s only industry have been idle since robbers stole all power cables connecting them to the grid last year. Local opposition activists estimate up to a third of the residents have emigrated from the island in the past two years.

“It used to be a paradise,” said Arturo Flores, the local municipality’s security coordinator, who sells a fermented corn drink from a bucket to local fishermen to round up his salary, which is equivalent to $4 a month. “Now, everyone is fleeing.”

On the other side of Zulia state, in the ranching town of Machiques, the economic collapse has decimated the meat and dairy industries that had supplied the country.

Power cuts have idled the local slaughterhouse, once one of the largest in Latin America. Armed gangs extort and rustle cattle from the surviving ranchers.

“You can’t produce if there’s no law,” said Rómulo Romero, a local rancher.

Local shopkeepers have pulled together to repair power lines and keep telecom towers running, to feed public workers, and to procure diesel for backup generators.

“We have practically taken on the functions of the state,” said Juan Carlos Perrota, a butcher who runs Machiques’ chamber of commerce. “We can’t just put a lock on the door and call it quits. We have hope that this will improve.”

Anatoly Kurmanaev and Nataly Angulo reported from Maracaibo. Johandry Montiel contributed reporting from Machiques.

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« Reply #2816 on: May 20, 2019, 04:50 AM »

‘Unfathomable evil’: Trump’s proposed plan to pardon war criminals provokes massive backlash

Common Dreams
20 May 2019 at 07:40 ET                  

Progressives, human rights advocates, and journalists responded with outrage on Saturday to a New York Times report that President Donald Trump “has requested the immediate preparation of paperwork needed to pardon several American military members accused or convicted of war crimes.”

Unnamed U.S. government officials told the Times that on or around Memorial Day, Trump may pardon multiple servicemembers involved with “high-profile cases of murder, attempted murder, and desecration of a corpse.”

As the newspaper reported:

    The requests are for Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher of the Navy SEALs, who is scheduled to stand trial in the coming weeks on charges of shooting unarmed civilians and killing an enemy captive with a knife while deployed in Iraq.

    They are also believed to include the case of a former Blackwater security contractor recently found guilty in the deadly 2007 shooting of dozens of unarmed Iraqis; the case of Maj. Mathew L. Golsteyn, the Army Green Beret accused of killing an unarmed Afghan in 2010; and the case of a group of Marine Corps snipers charged with urinating on the corpse of a dead Taliban fighter.

“These are all extremely complicated cases that have gone through a careful system of consideration,” Gary Solis, a retired military judge and armor officer who served in Vietnam, told the Times. “A freewheeling pardon undermines that whole system.”

Solis warned that pardoning servicemembers accused or convicted of war crimes “raises the prospect in the minds of the troops that says, ‘Whatever we do, if we can get the folks back home behind us, maybe we can get let off.'”

The news on Saturday came after Trump, earlier this month, pardoned former Army 1st Lt. Michael Behenna, who was convicted of murdering an Iraqi prisoner in 2008. As Common Dreams reported at the time, human rights advocates decried that decision as “a presidential endorsement of a murder that violated the military’s own code of justice.”

The Times report—on which the White House and Justice Department declined to comment—was met with similar condemnation.

The Atlantic‘s Adam Serwer, who spoke out against Trump’s pardon of Behenna, tweeted, “This incentivizes the commission of war crimes by our opponents and allies, and in doing so puts U.S. servicemembers at greater risk.”

    Gonna say this again—this incentivizes the commission of war crimes by our opponents and allies, and in doing so puts US servicemembers at greater risk. https://t.co/jsEmw7UHn8

    — Adam Serwer🍝 (@AdamSerwer) May 18, 2019

Human Rights Watch executive director Ken Roth said, “Think of the horrible message that sends to would-be war criminals around the world.”

    Trump is threatening to pardon US military members accused or convicted of killing civilians and other war crimes. Think of the horrible message that sends to would-be war criminals around the world. https://t.co/yEsDAfR8lX

    — Kenneth Roth (@KenRoth) May 18, 2019

Murtaza Mohammad Hussain, a reporter at The Intercept, denounced Trump’s expected move as “a huge injustice to those whose lives they destroyed and a message that America will tolerate war crimes.”

    Trump is getting ready to pardon some of America’s most horrifying recent war criminals. A huge injustice to those whose lives they destroyed and a message that America will tolerate war crimes: https://t.co/2uBwqa6sDy pic.twitter.com/5TloLVJgXH

    — Murtaza Mohammad Hussain (@MazMHussain) May 18, 2019

Their criticism was echoed by others, including journalist Ryan Devereaux, who suggested that “if you were to make a list of ‘top notorious U.S. war crimes of the post-9/11 era’ it would look a lot like the president’s pardoning plans.”

    If you were to make a list of “top notorious U.S. war crimes of the post-9/11 era” it would look a lot like the president’s pardoning plans — literal murderers’ row https://t.co/ykuftZh8EU

    — Ryan Devereaux (@rdevro) May 18, 2019

    Who pardons war criminals? DICTATORS. What is the signal you give by doing this? No amount of violence whether at home or abroad will be punished; no one will be held accountable. https://t.co/qU6kvQUZNZ

    — Jodi Jacobson (@jljacobson) May 18, 2019

    Fuck this. Unfathomable evil recognizing unfathomable evil. https://t.co/cwfryocl9t

    — Scott Tobias (@scott_tobias) May 18, 2019


No holds Barred: Trump and his troops push for imperial presidency

With his compliant attorney general, the man in the White House is taking aim at the constitutional balance of powers

David Smith in Washington
20 May 2019 06.00 BST

William Barr, the attorney general, came face to face this week with Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, at the Capitol in Washington. Shaking her hand, Barr was said to have joked: “Madam Speaker, did you bring your handcuffs?”

The remark, at a ceremony honouring fallen law enforcement officers, was a riposte to Pelosi’s quip a week earlier that if all members of the Trump administration were arrested, the jail in the Capitol basement would be overcrowded. (There is in fact no such jail.)

But it was also indicative of how Barr, and his paymaster in the White House, are perceived to be laughing in the face of congressional oversight and the rule of law. Indeed, following the sporting maxim that attack is the best form of defence, Trump had adopted the language of a tinpot dictator, denouncing the Russia investigation as a failed “coup”, branding his pursuers as traitors and threatening to lock them up.

“My Campaign for President was conclusively spied on,” he tweeted at 7.11am on Friday. “Nothing like this has ever happened in American Politics. A really bad situation. TREASON means long jail sentences, and this was TREASON!”

    He’s attempting to create a counter-narrative based on conspiracy theories in which the FBI is cast as the villain
    Sidney Blumenthal

The intention, critics argue, is to turn the tables and delegitimise the case laid out against him in special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian election interference, or at least crank up a giant fog machine that leaves the electorate weary and confused. But one side-effect could be a slide into an imperial presidency.

“Investigate the investigators!” has been the battle cry of Trump, Republicans and media allies ever since Barr produced a four-page summary of Mueller’s report that misleadingly implied Trump had been completely cleared of collusion and obstruction of justice. In fact the report documented numerous contacts between Trump’s campaign and Russian officials and identified 11 instances in which Trump or his campaign attempted to illegally impede the investigation.

On 25 March, the day after Barr’s letter was released, the Fox News host Sean Hannity bristled with self-righteous indignation and thirsted for vengeance.

“This must be a day of reckoning for the media, for the deep state, for people who abuse power, and they did it so blatantly in this country,” he told viewers in a furious 25-minute monologue. “If we do not get this right, if we do not hold these people accountable, I promise you, with all the love I can muster for this country and our future for our kids and grandkids, we will lose the greatest country God has ever given man. We will lose it.”

That set the template for Trump, a regular viewer. Having spent two years trying to discredit Mueller’s work as a witch-hunt and hoax, he stepped up demands for an investigation into its origins and pushed the claim that the FBI spied on his 2016 campaign.

Sidney Blumenthal, a former assistant and senior adviser to President Bill Clinton, said: “He’s attempting to create a counter-narrative based on conspiracy theories in which the FBI chiefly is cast as the villain of the deep state. It’s what is known as chaff. It’s to throw people off of the actual object itself and distract them from his well-documented crimes of obstruction of justice in the Mueller report.”

Trump is backed by Republicans, eager to grab ammunition that comes to hand. They have falsely claimed the investigation was triggered by a dossier from the former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele, which included reference to a so-called “pee tape” in Moscow, and cited anti-Trump text messages between FBI officials Peter Strzok and Lisa Page to allege inherent bias.

But it is Barr who has emerged as the president’s most indispensable ally, his improbable Darth Vader. Testifying on Capitol Hill earlier this month, the attorney general used the incendiary word “spying” to describe FBI surveillance of the Trump campaign, a term later rejected by the FBI director, Christopher Wray.

Barr has asked John Durham, the US attorney in Connecticut, to examine whether the FBI erred in seeking a special federal court warrant to conduct surveillance on the former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. An investigation into the legality of the warrant is already under way, led by the justice department inspector general, Michael Horowitz, who is due to release his findings in coming weeks.

Barr is also working with Wray, the CIA director, Gina Haspel, and the director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, to review intelligence-gathering techniques used to investigate the Trump campaign. In the meantime, ever loyal to Trump, Barr continues to defy Congress’s demands for the release of the unredacted Mueller report and underlying materials.

Democrats sense a crude ploy by Trump to deflect and distract, parry and prevaricate. Congressman Jared Huffman of California said: “It’s a smokescreen, obviously an attempt to change the subject like everything else he does. I almost don’t want to dignify it because it’s so preposterous that any time someone investigates Donald Trump or disagrees with Donald Trump they are being treasonous or they need to be locked up.

“This is a slippery slope to a banana republic if this is where we’re heading. And I think most Americans get that. You just don’t call for your political enemies to be investigated and jailed in the United States.”

Huffman called for an impeachment process and hearings.

“If Richard Nixon was the imperial presidency, this is the imperial presidency on steroids without any sideboards or adult supervision of any kind,” he said. “It’s a real crisis. I still believe we’re going to get through it because I think the institutions and the fabric of this country are still rooted in the rule of law and democracy and checks and balances, but we’re being tested like never before and I would be lying if I said I didn’t worry about it.”

‘Trumpification of the DoJ’

One of the rich ironies of Republican claims of bias in the FBI is that during the election the agency kept its Trump investigation secret but talked openly about its scrutiny of his opponent, Hillary Clinton. The then director, James Comey, held an extraordinary press conference in which he branded Clinton’s handling of emails as secretary of state as “extremely careless”. Eleven days before the election, Comey announced the FBI was reviewing more Clinton messages. Many Democrats have still not forgiven him.

    Barr says Trump’s campaign was ‘spied’ upon. Trump claims treason. Both are incendiary. Neither is true
    Adam Schiff

Adam Schiff, chairman of the House intelligence committee, tweeted on Friday: “Barr says Trump’s campaign was ‘spied’ upon. Trump claims treason. Both are incendiary. Neither is true. Barr suggests a finger was put on the scale to affect the election. But the Trump probe was kept secret; the Clinton one wasn’t. It’s the Trumpification of the DoJ.”

Matthew Miller, former director of the office of public affairs for the justice department, said: “There are a few galling things. First, it would have been crazy for the FBI not to investigate [Trump’s] campaign given what Mueller found. Second, it would have been very easy for the FBI to stop Trump becoming president if that was their intention by leaking what they found. Third, the FBI publicly criticised his opponent: the FBI did have an impact but it was to hurt Hillary Clinton, not Donald Trump!”

Miller, now a partner at Vianovo and justice and security analyst for MSNBC, added: “It’s a brazenly cynical strategy by the president and his allies. He hasn’t had a great explanation for what he did so what he’s done for two years is attack the investigation.

“The notion has existed since Watergate that there should be a separation between the White House and Department of Justice. It’s been erased. It’s just gone. It will probably come back when there’s a Democratic president, because they tend to be more sensitive to elite opinion, but the next Republican president will [not] see any reason to restore it.”

Just as the justice department is succumbing to Trump, so Congress is also struggling to maintain its status as a co-equal branch of government. The White House continues to stonewall House subpoenas for documents and hearings, not only regarding the Mueller report but Trump’s tax returns and other matters. The Democratic-led House judiciary committee has voted to hold Barr in contempt of Congress but the party is divided over whether to impeach his boss.

Max Bergmann, a former state department official, said: “We’re seeing an effort by the president to neutralise this as an issue for the 2020 election. He sees a gap because the Democrats have shown reticence in their willingness to prosecute the case against him. We have a situation where there is a vacuum and Trump sees an opportunity to attack the investigation, partly because Democrats aren’t using the results of it to attack him.

“The problem with not using the levers of congressional power is that it lends credence to the arguments Trump has been making. In the public’s mind, it might seem that because Trump is not being impeached, maybe he was exonerated. What is amazing about the Republican side is the ability to manufacture outrage over nothing; they eat, sleep and breathe scandal politics. Democrats are terrified of it and and run from it, even when it’s the biggest political scandal in American history. The inaction over the last four weeks has been unconscionable.”

‘We’ve crossed a Rubicon’

It was perhaps no coincidence that Trump hosted Viktor Orbán, strongman leader of Hungary, at the White House this week.

Bergmann, now a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress thinktank in Washington, and director of the Moscow Project, charting Trump’s involvement in Russian attacks on US democracy, said: “We’ve crossed a Rubicon. For the past two years, Trump has not been able to use the justice department to seek revenge against his opponents and as a political tool.

“Now he and his team have learned, and Trump has appointed someone in Barr who is a Washington insider, knows the justice department and is able to operate as the president’s hatchet man. For the past two years, we’ve said the institutions have held. Now we’re at a critical pivot where Trump has learned how to use the institutions to his advantage.

“It’s a dark turn. With the decline of our institutions, the decline of our moral authority, Trump is trying to turn the the moniker of an ‘imperial presidency’ into an autocratic presidency along the lines of Viktor Orbán or Vladimir Putin.

“The stakes couldn’t be higher for the future of American democracy in 2020.”


Trump lashes out at Justin Amash after Republican talks of impeachment

    Mitt Romney declines to join calls for Congress to act
    No holds Barred: Trump pushes for imperial presidency

Ed Pilkington in New York
20 May 2019 20.03 BST

As Donald Trump opened fire on Justin Amash, the Michigan representative who became the first Republican in Congress say he had engaged in “impeachable conduct”, Mitt Romney declined to join the fight.

The former presidential nominee and Republican senator from Utah accused Trump of lacking humility, honesty and integrity – but stopped short of calling for his removal from power.

Romney was scathing about the picture of the president that emerges from the Mueller report into Russian interference in the 2016 election, the redacted version of which he said he had spent two days reading in full. He said on Sunday its findings were “troubling, unfortunate and distressing”.

But he said he did not think it was time for Congress to call for impeachment.

“I don’t think there is the full element which you need to prove the obstruction of justice case,” he told CNN’s State of the Union.

Mueller did not find that Trump or his aides conspired with Russia but he did lay out 11 instances of possible obstruction of justice by Trump or his campaign and indicated Congress should decide how to proceed. Controversially, attorney general William Barr said in his own summary of the then unseen Mueller report that Trump had not obstructed justice.

    I don’t think there is the full element which you need to prove the obstruction of justice case
    Mitt Romney

Romney’s sharp but qualified criticism of Trump came a day after Amash became the first Republican to break ranks and call for impeachment. In a stream of tweets, Amash said the Mueller report showed “President Trump engaged in specific actions and a pattern of behavior that meet the threshold for impeachment”.

Amash and Romney are significant figures within their party, as they stand virtually alone in having the temerity to challenge Trump in public. But the fact that Romney would not join Amash on impeachment is an indication of the impenetrable wall of opposition the party is likely to erect should Democrats initiate proceedings.

Just why became clear later on Sunday, when Trump aimed his Twitter account at Amash.

Saying he was “never a fan”, he called Amash “a total lightweight who opposes me and some of our great Republican ideas and policies just for the sake of getting his name out there through controversy”.

Trump also accused Amash of not having read the Mueller report – the congressman made much of saying he had in fact read all 448 pages – and, while repeating familiar complaints about Mueller, wrote: “Justin is a loser who sadly plays right into our opponents [sic] hands!”

In fact, Amash’s sole call for impeachment on the Republican side may not do much to move the political dial. Democrats are edging closer to launching proceedings, but not for the reasons the congressman outlined.

Adam Schiff, the Democratic chair of the House intelligence committee, told CBS’s Face the Nation there were no signs of the Republican-controlled Senate moving towards impeachment. Nonetheless, Democrats were becoming more minded to take it on, he said, as a tool to increase pressure on the Trump administration to hand over key documents, including the unredacted Mueller report, that it is refusing to submit to congressional oversight.

“What may be pushing towards impeachment has less to do with Justin Amash and more to do with the administration engaging in a maximum obsctructionism campaign against Congress,” Schiff said.

Romney, who ran unsuccessfully against Barack Obama in 2012, said impeachment was not just a legal matter. It must also, he said, “consider the practicality of politics, and the American people are just not there”.

He added: “The Senate is not there either.”

Democratic leadership has also considered public opinion, and what impeachment might do to motivate Trump’s base, when weighing up whether to make the move.

Despite his reluctance to go all the way into impeachment, Romney has showed himself willing to take on Trump. In April he issued a statement saying: “I am sickened at the extent and pervasiveness of dishonesty and misdirection by individuals in the highest office of the land, including the president.”

He told CNN the Mueller report distressed him.

“The number of times there were items of dishonesty, misleading the American public and media – those are not things you would want to see from the highest office in the land.”

He said that in terms of three crucial features of a president – humility, honesty and integrity – Trump has “distanced himself from some of the best qualities of the human character”.

Such was his disgust with Trump as a presidential candidate in 2016, Romney wrote in his wife Ann on to the presidential election ballot, thereby voting for her instead. He told CNN he had not yet decided if he would do the same next year.


Democratic leaders put on the spot after GOP lawmaker makes powerful case for Trump impeachment

Cody Fenwick, AlterNet - COMMENTARY
20 May 2019 at 11:52 ET                  

Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan posted an incisive tirade against President Donald Trump and his administration on Saturday afternoon, becoming the first Republican lawmaker to call for impeaching the commander in chief as a result of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

And in the process, he displayed a more cogent, compelling and thoughtful grasp on the findings laid out in the Mueller report and the requirements for impeachment than most top Democrats have shown. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), who called for impeachment shortly after reading the report, has been one of the most influential and outspoken Democrats on the topic.

And to be sure, Amash is not a typical Republican. He has been strongly critical of Trump in the past, and if anyone were to make a list of GOP lawmakers who’d be most likely to support impeaching Trump, Amash would certainly be at the top of the list. His decisive turn against the president isn’t a sign that the rest of his party will soon come to the same conclusion. Still, it was notable how forcefully and emphatically he made his case.

He began by announcing his forceful “principal conclusions” from the report, echoing the language Attorney General Bill Barr used to shape public opinion about Mueller’s findings:

    1. Attorney General Barr has deliberately misrepresented Mueller’s report.

    2. President Trump has engaged in impeachable conduct.

    3. Partisanship has eroded our system of checks and balances.

    4. Few members of Congress have read the report.

“I offer these conclusions only after having read Mueller’s redacted report carefully and completely, having read or watched pertinent statements and testimony, and having discussed this matter with my staff, who thoroughly reviewed materials and provided me with further analysis,” he said.

It was interesting, but effective, that Amash focused first on Barr’s deceptions. It was important because of how the Mueller report has been so grossly misrepresented by Republicans, the media, and even some Democrats — all led by Barr’s initial spin.

“Barr’s misrepresentations are significant but often subtle, frequently taking the form of sleight-of-hand qualifications or logical fallacies, which he hopes people will not notice,” wrote Amash.

Impeachment, he said, is warranted when an official commits “high crimes and misdemeanors,” a phrase which he reads to imply “conduct that violates the public trust.” By this standard, the Mueller report shows Trump’s behavior was impeachable — despite Barr’s attempts to convince the public otherwise.

He noted, too, that he agrees with the hundreds of former federal prosecutors who have said that Trump’s actions outlined under the analysis of obstruction of justice in the report would have resulted in the indictment of any other person. And the standard of proof, he argued, is not even as high for impeachable offenses as it would be for a criminal showing. Congress only needs to conclude that the official carried out “careless, abusive, corrupt, or otherwise dishonorable conduct.”

In one of his most compelling and important points, Amash emphasized the dangers of not impeaching the president, something top Democrats like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerry Nadler seem to have ignored:

    Impeachment, which is a special form of indictment, does not even require probable cause that a crime (e.g., obstruction of justice) has been committed; it simply requires a finding that an official has engaged in careless, abusive, corrupt, or otherwise dishonorable conduct.

    — Justin Amash (@justinamash) May 18, 2019

He also included a mild critique of some Democrats calling for impeachment now, saying, “We’ve witnessed members of Congress from both parties shift their views 180 degrees—on the importance of character, on the principles of obstruction of justice—depending on whether they’re discussing Bill Clinton or Donald Trump.”

But the most scathing critique was his argument — which is practically undeniable — that on this matter, most lawmakers aren’t actually well informed.

“Few members of Congress even read Mueller’s report; their minds were made up based on partisan affiliation—and it showed, with representatives and senators from both parties issuing definitive statements on the 448-page report’s conclusions within just hours of its release,” he concluded. “America’s institutions depend on officials to uphold both the rules and spirit of our constitutional system even when to do so is personally inconvenient or yields a politically unfavorable outcome. Our Constitution is brilliant and awesome; it deserves a government to match it.”


Deutsche Bank staff saw suspicious Trump and Kushner activity – report

    New York Times releases explosive report on Russia-linked bank
    Employee says ‘nothing happened’ after she raised concerns

Ed Pilkington in New York
20 May 2019 19.59 BST

Several financial moves by legal entities controlled by Donald Trump and Jared Kushner between 2016 and 2017 triggered suspicious activity alerts inside Deutsche Bank, a major lender to the Trump family, according to a report in the New York Times.

The newspaper said it had been in touch with five existing or former Deutsche Bank employees, one of whom spoke on the record. They said they had been alerted to possible illicit activity when they were working in the team responsible for combating money laundering, and had recommended the federal government be notified.

Suspicious activity reports were prepared for filing with the US treasury for investigation as possible federal financial crimes. According to the Times, bank executives overruled the employees and did not alert the government.

The Times pointed out that the “red flags raised by employees do not necessarily mean the transactions were improper”.

Deutsche Bank has become a lightning rod for concerns about the financial propriety of real-estate deals pursued by Trump and his wider family, including his son-in-law Kushner, a key adviser, before and after the billionaire entered the White House. Trump is thought to have borrowed at least $2bn from the German bank – some $300m still outstanding.

In the House of Representatives, Democrats have been drilling into the link between the Trump Organization and Deutsche Bank. Last month two committees – financial services and intelligence – issued subpoenas for documents from the bank.

Trump counter-attacked by launching a lawsuit against Deutsche Bank in an attempt to stop it complying with the subpoenas. The lawsuit claimed the demand for documents amounted to harassment of the president and his family.

The former Deutsche Bank employee who spoke openly to the Times, Tammy McFadden, said she prepared suspicious activity reports and recommended they be sent to federal watchdogs.

“You present them with everything, and you give them a recommendation, and nothing happens,” she said.

McFadden told the Times she was fired after raising concerns about transactions, among them contacts between Kushner Companies and Russian individuals in the summer of 2016. Deutsche Bank has been fined for laundering billions of dollars for Russians.

Deutsche Bank told the Times “the suggestion that anyone was reassigned or fired in an effort to quash concerns relating to any client is categorically false”. The bank also told the Times it had increased its scrutiny of potential money laundering.

The Trump Organization said it had “no knowledge of any ‘flagged’ transactions with Deutsche Bank”.

Kushner Companies said any allegation involving its links with Deutsche and money laundering were “totally false”.

Among Trump's claims of a “fake news” conspiracy against him, the Times is a prominent target. In a statement to Reuters about the Deutsche Bank report, a Kushner Companies spokeswoman sounded a familiar note, saying the paper “tries to create scandalous stories which are totally false when they run out of things to write about”.


NYT Deutsche Bank money-laundering bombshell will make ‘serious problems’ for president: Trump biographer

Raw Story

The New York Times broke a story Sunday that revealed staff of Deutsche Bank were hired especially for their expertise of money-laundering.

The bank staff recommended that they contact federal investigators about possible criminal activity in the accounts of President Donald Trump and his senior aide and son-in-law Jared Kushner.

“The transactions, some of which involved Mr. Trump’s now-defunct foundation, set off alerts in a computer system designed to detect illicit activity, according to five current and former bank employees,” the Times reported. “Compliance staff members who then reviewed the transactions prepared so-called suspicious activity reports that they believed should be sent to a unit of the Treasury Department that polices financial crimes.”

The bank rejected the recommendation, and it appears now it might spark another investigation, according to Trump biographer David Cay Johnston.

“We know for a fact that Donald Trump has been involved in money laundering in the past, fined for it,” Johnston said. “We know that Deutsche Bank is fined over $600 million just for laundering money for Russian oligarchs and are nondenial denials. The Trump Organization said we never heard of this. Why would you? It was locked up in the bank. The bank said we didn’t stop anyone. The story makes it clear.”

He noted that former Deutsche Bank employee Tammy McFadden pushed it up the chain of command, but then the career began to go badly after that.

“So in addition, The Times has a pregnant line in it. It says that is there are other, ‘politically connected people’ who also were swept up,” Johnston said. “It’s clear that David Enrich, a very good reporter at The New York Times has seen these documents and other people whose money laundering suspicion of money laundering activities were also apparently quashed by the people at the private banking unit of Deutsche Bank in New York. This is for Donald Trump a really serious problem.”

Daily Beast reporter Betsy Woodruff also noted that this was quite a shock to those closely watching the Russia investigation. Most commentators found it strange that special counsel Robert Mueller didn’t know about this. She said that they “expected that Mueller would try to pull threads in terms of whether Trump had engaged in financial transactions or developed business relationships that could affect the way he thought about American foreign policy vis-a-vis Russia.”

That’s one reason why Reps. Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Maxine Waters (D-CA) plan to focus on that part of the investigation to pull “additional threads,” she explained.

“What this story suggests and indicates is that there is more to the story of Trump’s relationship with Deutsche Bank than we already know, even given all the investigating that’s already happened,” Woodruff said.


House Democrats could penalize those who won’t comply with subpoena by cutting their department’s funding

Raw Story

President Donald Trump has ordered his top aides and department chiefs to refuse to comply with any subpoenas from House members seeking to do additional investigations in wake of the special counsel’s report. The Democrats are thinking of issuing a penalty for Trump team members who defy the law.

An Axios report said that Democrats are thinking of withholding funding to departments of subpoenaed witnesses who refuse to cooperate.

Congress’ greatest power is using the budget to do the people’s business.

“Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee are writing the bills that will fund the federal government for the next fiscal year — including the ones that will fund the Justice Department and the Treasury Department, two of the departments that have been resisting subpoenas,” wrote Axios.

A different House committee could ask for the Appropriations Committee to include a clause that would exclude funding to departments that are refusing to comply with subpoenas.

Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA) blasted Democratic chairmen Jerry Nadler (D-NY) and Adam Schiff (D-CA) for refusing to impeach when it could “help him have access to all kinds of documents.” Indeed a Congressional subpoena is also supposed to give you access to all kinds of documents. It’s that Trump is refusing to comply with the subpoenas. If Trump were to be impeached, it can be assumed that he would continue to comply with subpoenas.

Discussions for the plot are preliminary according to officials and their staff, but it’s part of the conversation.

“We look at it as, ‘Okay, what’s our recourse?’ This is one of them. We also have contempt orders and fines,” one aide to a senior Democrat said.

Given how long it takes to approve appropriations bills, the budget plan might not work for a quick option, one House appropriations aide said.


‘Eric the Slack-jawed and Princess Ivanka’: Rick Wilson hilariously pummels the entire Trump family –and the GOPers who worship them

Raw Story

In a brutally funny and sarcastic column for the Daily Beast, GOP consultant Rick Wilson called upon Republicans to give up even trying to appear to be anything other than Trump yes-men and, while he was at it, Wilson also mocked the faux-royal family of the president.

Under a Game of Thrones-inspired headline “Trump Is on the Iron Throne, and American Democracy Is Dead,” Wilson wrote, “For Republicans eager for the next, inevitable step of Trumpism and tired of some musty 240-year-old Constitution getting in the way of rallies, rage-tweeting and lib-owning, I’ve got a modest proposal: Why not end this republic, and launch a glorious new era of royals and royalty, where a man who behaves like a king can actually be one and govern as he desires?”

“After all, he’s surrounded not by coequal members of a representative legislature and independent judiciary, but by lackeys and lickspittles groveling at his gouty feet. Inside this Trump kingdom, advisers rise and fall not based on merit, performance, or ideas but instead on fealty, servility, and an ability to abase themselves to the king’s many whims. Let’s just cut to the chase,” he acidly continued.

According to Wilson, the author of “Everything Trump Touches Dies,” among those deaths can be found the Republican Party.

“Be honest with yourselves; how far is the leap from President Trump to King Trump in your minds? How many Trump supporters have wondered unironically about a third term for the Donald, or of replacing one Trump with another when this girthy beast finally strokes out?” he wrote. “You weaponized the Republican caucus to support His Majesty in the House so egregiously you took an ass-beating from the politically incompetent Democrats, losing 40 seats in 2018. In the Senate, Mitch McConnell holds the line for Trump and former Tea Party super-constitutionalist stalwarts like Ted Cruz and Mike Lee have gone full royalist, along with Lindsey Graham.”

He then turned his eye on the “royal” House of Trump.

“Princess Ivanka and royal consort Jared of the House of Kushner hold government jobs of no discernible function but of enormous consequence. Why? The walls of Castle Trump keep that secret, thank the gods,” he wrote. “Nevertheless, the two have the ear of the King and are literally above the law when it comes to security clearance laws, ethics rules, and the use of federal offices to enrich themselves. Those things aren’t wrong in the new world. They’re just part of Trumpian droit du douchebag.”

“While Trump treats Princess Tiffany as if she were the daughter of a chambermaid and Eric the Slack-jawed as if he should be sent as a hostage to some other royal house, it’s Don Jr. who is the current heir apparent, already emulating the King in every tangible way,” he continued before noting the senior Trump history of multiple wives and multiple infidelities with, “He’s behind on wives and mistresses, but he’s got time.”

Wilson then finished with a bitter and damning flourish.

“And so, my Republican friends, it’s time to embrace monarchy. Let your id be your guide, your past be a memory, and Trump be your King. Bend the knee. You’ve gotten quite good at it.”


Conservative rains holy hell on ‘Republican grovelers and quivering sycophants’ who are fleeing Amash to defend Trump

Raw Story

Conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin — as big a “never-Trumper” as there is — was quick to call out the colleagues of Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) who turned on him or remained silent after the GOP lawmaker made the irrefutable case that special counsel Robert Mueller’s report showed Donald Trump committed impeachable crimes.

In a quickly put-together column for the Washington Post, Rubin ripped into representatives of the party she once belonged to, calling them both “grovelers” and “quivering sycophants” — neither a term of endearment.

According to Rubin, “Why are Republicans such quivering sycophants, willing to lie and debase themselves in support of an unpopular president who is repudiating many of the principles they have spent their lives advancing?”

There are, she notes, three types of Republicans populating Congress right now.

“First are the cynics who know Trump is unfit, if not dangerous; however, they’ll get what they can (e.g., judges, tax cuts) and bolster their resumes (e.g., working for the administration, getting fawning Fox News coverage). When Trump bottoms out, they’ll move on, probably insisting they were secretly against Trump all along,” she began.

“In the second category are Republicans convinced that they’ll never find work if they speak out against Trump,” she continued. ” They’ll lose their offices and/or offend Republican officialdom, including think tanks, right-wing media, donors, party activists, and elected officials. (They are part of a right-wing ecosystem; some might call it a racket.) No plum lobbying gigs or Fox contributorships for them. They fear ostracism would ruin them financially and personally, leaving them in a political wilderness from which they fear they’d never return.”

Lastly, “there are the cranks, the zealots, the racists and the haters — a group, it turns out, much larger than many ex-Republicans could ever fathom. This includes not just the overt white nationalists and the tea party crowd but also those who have been simmering with personal resentment against ‘liberal elites.'”

“Vice President Pence insists he and his fellow evangelical Christians are hapless victims; the children and grandchildren of Dixiecrats fume that everything went downhill in the 1960s. Some of these people will insist they are not racists nor misogynists — but yet they sure seem to have an extraordinarily high tolerance for those who are,” she added.

“I’d love to think Amash’s statements free and embolden many more Republicans in the House and Senate to step forward,” she lamented before conceding, “Is that likely? No.”

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« Reply #2817 on: May 20, 2019, 05:32 AM »

MSNBC’s Morning Joe busts GOP hypocrisy on impeachment: ‘They all trash Trump behind closed doors’

Travis Gettys
20 May 2019 at 07:13 ET                   

MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough busted House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy for “lying” about fellow Republican Rep. Justin Amash — who became the first GOP lawmaker to describe President Donald Trump’s behavior as impeachable.

Amash tweeted out his conclusions over the weekend after reading special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, and he believes Trump committed multiple impeachable offenses — but McCarthy dismissed those concerns as a cry for attention and accused the Michigan Republican of siding more with Democrats in his voting record.

“He’s just lying,” Scarborough said. “Hey, Republicans, your leader is lying about a fellow member who spoke his mind.”

Amash has voted with Trump more than 60 percent of the time, including 91.7 percent in this congressional term, and the “Morning Joe” host exposed McCarthy’s hypocrisy on the president — whom he privately worried was compromised by Russia.

“It’s very interesting, Kevin McCarthy behind closed doors — remember this?” Scarborough said. “What’s so interesting is that Kevin McCarthy … I think you’ll remember this, just like so many other republicans who trashed Donald Trump by the day behind closed doors, wasn’t it Kevin McCarthy that was talking about Donald Trump’s connection with Vladimir Putin and he was curious about Dana Rohrabacher.”

“He’s the hypocrite that goes on TV and says, ‘I don’t think (Amash) ever supported Donald Trump,'” he added. “(McCarthy) said Donald Trump might be guilty of treason.”

The “Morning Joe” host said Republicans privately agree with Amash, but refuse to say so publicly.

“They all trash Donald Trump behind closed doors, they all know that these offenses are impeachable,” Scarborough said. “They all say it behind closed doors but, turn on the cameras, and they become cowards. Justin isn’t, and he’s getting trashed by his leader.”

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

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« Reply #2818 on: May 21, 2019, 03:41 AM »

World’s first malaria vaccine launched in a pilot program


Malaria remains one of the world’s leading killers, claiming the life of one child every two minutes. Most of these deaths are in Africa, where more than 250,000 children die from the disease every year. Children under 5 are at greatest risk of its life-threatening complications. Worldwide, malaria kills 435,000 people a year, mostly kids.

This week, a pilot program to immunize babies in Malawi with the RTS,S vaccine was launched to evaluate it the vaccine can jump-start stalled progress in the battle against the disease.

Thirty years in the making, RTS,S is the first, and to date the only, vaccine that has demonstrated it can significantly reduce malaria in children. In clinical trials, the vaccine was found to prevent approximately 4 in 10 malaria cases, including 3 in 10 cases of life-threatening severe malaria. The vaccine also cut the level of severe anemia—the most common reason kids die from the disease—by 60%.

A 4-dose schedule is required, with the first dose given as soon as possible after five months of age, doses two and three given at monthly intervals after that, and the fourth dose given 15–18 months after the third dose. In the Phase 3 trial, the vaccine was generally well tolerated, with adverse reactions comparable to those of other childhood vaccines. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) carried out a scientific assessment of RTS,S and concluded that the vaccine has an acceptable safety profile in a scientific opinion issued in July 2015. The vaccine is a complementary malaria control tool – to be added to the core package of WHO-recommended measures for malaria prevention, including the routine use of insecticide-treated bed nets, indoor spraying with insecticides, and the timely use of malaria testing and treatment.

In a World Health Organization (WHO) statement, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, said tremendous gains against malaria have been made over the past 15 years with the use of bed nets and other measures, but progress has stalled or even reversed in some areas.

    “We need new solutions to get the malaria response back on track, and this vaccine gives us a promising tool to get there,” he said. “The malaria vaccine has the potential to save tens of thousands of children’s lives.”

Along with Malawi, pilot programs to make the RTS,S  available along with other routine childhood vaccine are also slated for selected areas of Ghana and Kenya. The WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE) has been working on vaccination recommendations, and its Malaria Policy Advisory Committee has been addressing issues related to public health use of the vaccine.

Aside from the WHO and the three countries’ health ministries, other groups collaborating on the pilot program include PATH, a nonprofit health group based in Seattle. And GSK is donating up to 10 million vaccine doses. Three global health groups are financing the program at a cost of nearly $50 million: Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance; the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria; and Unitaid.

    Today's the day! Historic start in Malawi to malaria vaccine use in routine childhood immunization programme #malariavaccine #EndMalaria #malaria pic.twitter.com/N37nOyjWAY

    — Kate OBrien (@Kate_L_OBrien) April 23, 2019

The pilot program’s goal is to reach 360,000 children each year in the three countries. Health ministries will guide where the vaccine will be given, focusing on areas with moderate-to-high transmission. The WHO will use the results from the pilot program to guide its policy recommendations on the wider use of the RTS,S vaccine. Specifically, it will be looking at its impact on child deaths, uptake in target populations, whether parents bring their children in for all four doses, and vaccine safety with routine use.

Kate O’Brien, MD, MPH, Director of WHO’s Department of Immunization, Vaccines, and Biologicals, said young infants are at the highest risk of severe outcomes, and so having a vaccine that can prevent disease in children and infants would be a groundbreaking new strategy.

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« Reply #2819 on: May 21, 2019, 03:45 AM »

How air pollution affects human health


Since the U.S. Congress passed the Clean Air Act in 1963, the issue of air pollution has remained embedded in American consciousness. Regardless of national and global awareness, most Americans haven’t realized how air pollution affects human health or the degree of its impact, even with seemingly marginal exposure. An estimated 92 percent of the global population live in areas with dangerously high levels of air pollution.

Environmental scientists worldwide are working toward long-term solutions to the problem of air pollution and human health effects. Countries and communities must understand the extent of the impact, where it’s most concentrated, and what must be accomplished at government and individual levels to reduce population exposure.


While most of the world’s population focuses their attention on global terrorism and economics, scientists are becoming increasingly alarmed at how air pollution affects human health. Research indicates that 5.5 million people around the globe die prematurely every year due to indoor and outdoor air pollution.

People suffer both short-term and long-term health effects from air pollution, causing diseases and complications in nearly every system of the body. Some of these include:

    Respiratory and cardiovascular diseases
    Neuropsychiatric complications (i.e., seizures, attention deficits, palsies, migraine headaches, and mood disorders)
    Eye irritation
    Skin diseases
    Birth defects
    Premature death

The EPA has narrowed air pollutants down to six major offenders found in varying degrees in cities around the world.

    Nitrogen Oxides: Highly reactive gas primarily affecting the respiratory system
    Sulfur Oxides: Reactive gas linked to industry and affecting the respiratory system
    Particulate Matter: Extremely small particles and liquid droplets in the air affecting the respiratory system and causing premature death
    Carbon Monoxide: Odorless, colorless gas produced through combustion processes, deadly at high levels
    Ground-Level Ozone: Gas that’s a primary component of smog, affects respiratory and cardiovascular systems, and causes premature death
    Lead: Highly toxic metal that impacts cognitive function, hypertension, fertility, the circulatory system, and the immune system


According to an article published in the Journal of Research in Medical Sciences, low-quality vehicle fuel, usually gasoline and oil, have been found to emit greater amounts of polluting gas. This is especially true when they are used in engines that don’t meet emissions standards. Because of this, initiatives have long been underway to replace diesel and gasoline with cleaner sources of energy, such as liquified natural gas and alcohol.

In many cities, the problem extends beyond personal transportation. Public transportation vehicles contain engines that violate environmental standards. While environmental scientists work toward replacing energy sources, cities are compelled to improve public transportation systems by building or extending their subways, trams, and electrical bus routes.

It’s not just vehicles that contribute to poor air quality, though. Air pollution rises proportionately to population and industry, and it’s also affected by weather patterns and natural disasters.

According to the American Lung Association’s 2018 State of the Air report, the top five most polluted cities by ozone air pollution are:

    Los Angeles-Long Beach, Calif.
    Bakersfield, Calif.
    Visalia-Porterville-Hanford, Calif.
    Fresno-Madera, Calif.
    Sacramento-Roseville, Calif.

The lists organized by year-round and short-term particle pollution include the same cities at different rankings, except for Sacramento. It is replaced by Fairbanks, Ala. as the No. 1 and No. 4 city, respectively.

Of the 5.5 million people around the world who die prematurely each year due to air pollution, more than half of them occur in China and India where rapidly growing economies outpace environmental efforts. Six of the top ten cities ranked for high levels of air pollution are in India, while China’s clean air efforts have kept their cities off the top ten list.

Other cities on the WHO’s top ten list:

    Al Jubail, Saudi Arabia
    Pasakha, Bhutan
    Novi Sad, Serbia
    Cairo, Egypt


As governments and scientists work together to find solutions, you can educate yourself about air pollution and human health in your area. According to the Journal of Thoracic Disease, these steps can be taken to reduce individual exposure to air pollutants.

    Stay indoors: Closely monitor your local air quality index reports and stay inside with doors and windows closed during peak pollution hours.
    Clean indoor air: Use portable or central air cleaning systems to filter the air in your home.
    Reduce exertion levels: The human body demands a greater supply of oxygen during times of increased physical activity. Consuming larger amounts of air and oxygen also increases the intake of air pollutants. Confine periods of exertion to hours with best air quality.
    Avoid polluted microenvironments (such as trafficked roads): Don’t walk or engage in outdoor activity near traffic, especially during rush hours. When commuting, set your vehicle’s ventilation system to the recirculate mode and turn on the air conditioner.
    Use respirators: For many people, respirators are uncomfortable and impractical. However, if you live in an area with higher air pollution levels, you’re advised to wear a properly sealed respirator when tolerable.
    Stay informed: Knowing the state of air pollution will help you stay safe and healthy. Researching the latest journal publications, monitoring the air quality in your area and adapting to the latest innovations in pollution reduction are all great ways to combat the issue.

If your passion for the environment extends beyond staying abreast of the latest developments, consider earning an Online Environmental Studies Degree from Virginia Wesleyan University. Our program is ideal for those who want to help make a lasting impact on the future and improve humans’ relationship with the environment. We’ll equip you with the interdisciplinary courses and real-world skills required to excel in the workplace. Earn your degree on a flexible timeline that fits your schedule, often in as little as 12 months.

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