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« Reply #2505 on: May 17, 2019, 04:17 AM »

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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« Reply #2506 on: May 17, 2019, 04:35 AM »

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

Raw Story

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

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

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


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

Raw Story

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

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

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

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

    — Mike Scarcella (@MikeScarcella) May 16, 2019

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

    — Marshall Cohen (@MarshallCohen) May 16, 2019

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

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

    — Tom Winter (@Tom_Winter) May 16, 2019

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

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


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

Raw Story

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

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

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

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


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

Raw Story

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Raw Story

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

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

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

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

“This is amazing,” she noted.

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

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

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

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


Of Course .. The Rancid Abscess

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

Raw Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Raw Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The uprising failed, and Bolton moved on to Iran.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The problem for the war-wary Trump is threefold.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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« Reply #2507 on: May 18, 2019, 04:24 AM »

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The findings appeared in the journal Circulation.

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« Reply #2508 on: May 18, 2019, 04:28 AM »

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

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


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

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

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

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

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« Reply #2509 on: May 18, 2019, 04:30 AM »

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Rapid recovery –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– ‘Glimpse into the future’ –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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« Reply #2510 on: May 18, 2019, 04:32 AM »

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

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

Fiona Harvey Environment correspondent
18 May 2019 18.01 BST

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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« Reply #2511 on: May 18, 2019, 04:35 AM »

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

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

The Lily News
May 18 2018

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

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

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

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

Assange continues to deny the allegation.

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

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

Assange’s legal charges

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘We cannot afford to lose any more time’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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« Reply #2512 on: May 18, 2019, 04:46 AM »

Austrian government in crisis over secret Strache footage

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

Jon Henley Europe correspondent
Sat 18 May 2019 11.03 BST

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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« Reply #2513 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 #2514 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 #2515 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 #2516 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 #2517 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 #2518 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 #2519 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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