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« Reply #15 on: Sep 21, 2020, 02:43 AM »

World's richest 1% cause double CO2 emissions of poorest 50%, says Oxfam

Fiona Harvey Environment correspondent
Mon 21 Sep 2020 00.01 BST

The wealthiest 1% of the world’s population were responsible for the emission of more than twice as much carbon dioxide as the poorer half of the world from 1990 to 2015, according to new research.

Carbon dioxide emissions rose by 60% over the 25-year period, but the increase in emissions from the richest 1% was three times greater than the increase in emissions from the poorest half.

The report, compiled by Oxfam and the Stockholm Environment Institute, warned that rampant overconsumption and the rich world’s addiction to high-carbon transport are exhausting the world’s “carbon budget”.

Such a concentration of carbon emissions in the hands of the rich means that despite taking the world to the brink of climate catastrophe, through burning fossil fuels, we have still failed to improve the lives of billions, said Tim Gore, head of policy, advocacy and research at Oxfam International.

“The global carbon budget has been squandered to expand the consumption of the already rich, rather than to improve humanity,” he told the Guardian. “A finite amount of carbon can be added to the atmosphere if we want to avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis. We need to ensure that carbon is used for the best.”

The richest 10% of the global population, comprising about 630 million people, were responsible for about 52% of global emissions over the 25-year period, the study showed.

Globally, the richest 10% are those with incomes above about $35,000 (£27,000) a year, and the richest 1% are people earning more than about $100,000.
Quick Guide

Carbon dioxide emissions accumulate in the atmosphere, causing heating, and temperature rises of more than 1.5C above pre-industrial levels would cause widespread harm to natural systems. That accumulation gives the world a finite carbon budget of how much carbon dioxide it is safe to produce, which scientists warn will be exhausted within a decade at current rates.

If left unchecked, in the next decade the carbon emissions of the world’s richest 10% would be enough to raise levels above the point likely to increase temperatures by 1.5C, even if the whole of the rest of the world cut their emissions to zero immediately, according to Monday’s report.

Oxfam argues that continuing to allow the rich world to emit vastly more than those in poverty is unfair. While the world moves towards renewable energy and phases out fossil fuels, any emissions that continue to be necessary during the transition would be better used in trying to improve poor people’s access to basic amenities.

“The best possible, morally defensible purpose is for all humanity to live a decent life, but [the carbon budget] has been used up by the already rich, in getting richer,” said Gore.

He pointed to transport as one of the key drivers of growth in emissions, with people in rich countries showing an increasing tendency to drive high-emitting cars, such as SUVs, and take more flights. Oxfam wants more taxes on high-carbon luxuries, such as a frequent-flyer levy, to funnel investment into low-carbon alternatives and improving the lot of the poor.

“This isn’t about people who have one family holiday a year, but people who are taking long-haul flights every month – it’s a fairly small group of people,” said Gore.

While the coronavirus crisis caused a temporary dip in emissions, the overall impact on the carbon budget is likely to be negligible, according to Gore, as emissions have rebounded after lockdowns around the world. However, the experience of dealing with the pandemic should make people more aware of the need to try to avert future catastrophe, he said.

Caroline Lucas, the Green party MP, said: “This is a stark illustration of the deep injustice at the heart of the climate crisis. Those who are so much more exposed and vulnerable to its impacts have done least to contribute to the greenhouse gas emissions that are causing it. The UK has a moral responsibility here, not only because of its disproportionately high historic emissions, but as hosts of next year’s critical UN climate summit. We need to go further and faster in reaching net zero.”

World governments are meeting virtually for the 75th UN general assembly this week, with the climate crisis high on the agenda. Boris Johnson, the UK prime minister, is expected to set out his vision for the next UN climate summit, called Cop26 and to be convened in Glasgow in November 2021, after the coronavirus crisis forced a year’s delay to the event.

As host nation, the UK government is being urged to set out its plans for reaching net-zero emissions by 2050, a target enshrined in law last year, but for which there are still few national policies.

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« Reply #16 on: Sep 21, 2020, 02:46 AM »

The tipping points at the heart of the climate crisis

Many parts of the Earth’s climate system have been destabilised by warming, from ice sheets and ocean currents to the Amazon rainforest – and scientists believe that if one collapses others could follow

Michael Marshall
21 Sep 2020 17.00 BST

The warning signs are flashing red. The California wildfires were surely made worse by the impacts of global heating. A study published in July warned that the Arctic is undergoing “an abrupt climate change event” that will probably lead to dramatic changes. As if to underline the point, on 14 September it was reported that a huge ice shelf in northeast Greenland had torn itself apart, worn away by warm waters lapping in from beneath.

That same day, a study of satellite data revealed growing cracks and crevasses in the ice shelves protecting two of Antarctica’s largest glaciers – indicating that those shelves could also break apart, leaving the glaciers exposed and liable to melt, contributing to sea-level rise. The ice losses are already following our worst-case scenarios.

These developments show that the harmful impacts of global heating are mounting, and should be a prompt to urgent action to cut greenhouse gas emissions. But the case for emissions cuts is actually even stronger. That is because scientists are increasingly concerned that the global climate might lurch from its current state into something wholly new – which humans have no experience dealing with. Many parts of the Earth system are unstable. Once one falls, it could trigger a cascade like falling dominoes.

Tipping points

We have known for years that many parts of the climate have so-called tipping points. That means a gentle push, like a slow and steady warming, can cause them to change in a big way that is wholly disproportionate to the trigger. If we hit one of these tipping points, we may not have any practical way to stop the unfolding consequences.

The Greenland ice sheet is one example of a tipping point. It contains enough ice to raise global sea levels by seven metres, if it were all to melt. And it is prone to runaway melting.

This is because the top surface of the ice sheet is gradually getting lower as more of the ice melts, says Ricarda Winkelmann of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany. The result is familiar to anyone who has walked in mountains. “If we climb down the mountain, the temperature around us warms up,” she says. As the ice sheet gets lower, the temperatures at the surface get higher, leading to even more melting. “That’s one of these self-reinforcing or accelerating feedbacks.”

We don’t know exactly how much warming would cause Greenland to pass its tipping point and begin melting unstoppably. One study estimated that it would take just 1.6C of warming – and we have already warmed the planet 1.1C since the late 19th century.

The collapse would take centuries, which is some comfort, but such collapses are difficult to turn off. Perhaps we could swiftly cool the planet to below the 1.6C threshold, but that would not suffice, as Greenland would be melting uncontrollably. Instead, says Winkelmann, we would have to cool things down much more – it’s not clear by how much. Tipping points that behave like this are sometimes described as “irreversible”, which is confusing; in reality they can be reversed, but it takes a much bigger push than the one that set them off in the first place.

In 2008, researchers led by Timothy Lenton, now at the University of Exeter, catalogued the climate’s main “tipping elements”. As well as the Greenland ice sheet, the Antarctic ice sheet is also prone to unstoppable collapse – as is the Amazon rainforest, which could die back and be replaced with grasslands.

A particularly important tipping element is the vast ocean current known as the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC), which carries warm equatorial water north to the Arctic, and cool Arctic water south to the equator. The AMOC has collapsed in the past and many scientists fear it is close to collapsing again – an event that was depicted (in ridiculously exaggerated and accelerated form) in the 2004 film The Day After Tomorrow. If the AMOC collapses, it will transform weather patterns around the globe – leading to cooler climates in Europe, or at least less warming, and changing where and when monsoon rains fall in the tropics. For the UK, this could mean the end of most arable farming, according to a paper Lenton and others published in January.

Tumbling dominoes

In 2009, a second study took the idea further. What if the tipping elements are interconnected? That would mean that setting off one might set off another – or even unleash a cascade of dramatic changes, spreading around the globe and reshaping the world we live in.

For instance, the melting of the Greenland ice sheet is releasing huge volumes of cold, fresh water into the north Atlantic. This weakens the AMOC – so it is distinctly possible that if Greenland passes its tipping point, the resulting melt will push the AMOC past its own threshold.

“It’s the same exact principles that we know happen at smaller scales,” says Katharine Suding of the University of Colorado, Boulder, who has studied similar shifts in ecosystems. The key point is that processes exist that can amplify a small initial change. This can be true on the scale of a single meadow or the whole planet.

However, the tipping point cascade is very difficult to simulate. In many cases the feedbacks go both ways – and sometimes one tipping point can make it less likely that another will be triggered, not more. For example, the AMOC brings warm water from equator up into the north Atlantic, contributing to the melting of Greenland. So if the AMOC were to collapse, that northward flow of warm water would cease – and Greenland’s ice would be less likely to start collapsing. Depending whether Greenland or the AMOC hit its tipping point first, the resulting cascade would be very different.

What’s more, dozens of such linkages are now known, and some of them span huge distances. “Melting the ice sheet on one pole raises sea level,” says Lenton, and the rise is greatest at the opposite pole. “Say you’re melting Greenland and you raise the sea level under the ice shelves of Antarctica,” he says. That would send ever more warm water lapping around Antarctica. “You’re going to weaken those ice shelves.”

“Even if the distance is quite far, a larger domino might still be able to cause the next one to tip over,” says Winkelmann.

In 2018, Juan Rocha of the Stockholm Resilience Centre in Sweden and his colleagues mapped out all the known links between tipping points. However, Rocha says the strengths of the interconnections are still largely unknown. This, combined with the sheer number of them, and the interactions between the climate and the biosphere, means predicting the Earth’s overall response to our greenhouse gas emissions is very tricky.

Into the hothouse

The most worrying possibility is that setting off one tipping point could unleash several of the others, pushing Earth’s climate into a new state that it has not experienced for millions of years.

Since before humans existed, Earth has had an “icehouse” climate, meaning there is permanent ice at both poles. But millions of years ago, the climate was in a “hothouse” state: there was no permanent polar ice, and the planet was many degrees warmer.

If it has happened before, could it happen again? In 2018, researchers including Lenton and Winkelmann explored the question in a much-discussed study. “The Earth System may be approaching a planetary threshold that could lock in a continuing rapid pathway toward much hotter conditions – Hothouse Earth,” they wrote. The danger threshold might be only decades away at current rates of warming.

Lenton says the jury is still out on whether this global threshold exists, let alone how close it is, but that it is not something that should be dismissed out of hand.

“For me, the strongest evidence base at the moment is for the idea that we could be committing to a ‘wethouse’, rather than a hothouse,” says Lenton. “We could see a cascade of ice sheet collapses.” This would lead to “a world that has no substantive ice in the northern hemisphere and a lot less over Antarctica, and the sea level is 10 to 20 metres higher”. Such a rise would be enough to swamp many coastal megacities, unless they were protected. The destruction of both the polar ice sheets would be mediated by the weakening or collapse of the AMOC, which would also weaken the Indian monsoon and disrupt the west African one.

Winkelmann’s team studied a similar scenario in a study published online in April, which has not yet been peer-reviewed. They simulated the interactions between the Greenland and west Antarctic ice sheets, the AMOC, the Amazon rainforest and another major weather system called the El Niño southern oscillation. They found that the two ice sheets were the most likely to trigger cascades, and the AMOC then transmitted their effects around the globe.
What to do?

Everyone who studies tipping point cascades agrees on two key points. The first is that it is crucial not to become disheartened by the magnitude of the risks; it is still possible to avoid knocking over the dominoes. Second, we should not wait for precise knowledge of exactly where the tipping points lie – which has proved difficult to determine, and might not come until it’s too late.

Rocha compares it to smoking. “Smoking causes cancer,” he says, “but it’s very difficult for a doctor to nail down how many cigarettes you need to smoke to get cancer.” Some people are more susceptible than others, based on a range of factors from genetics to the level of air pollution where they live. But this does not mean it is a good idea to play chicken with your lungs by continuing to smoke. “Don’t smoke long-term, because you might be committing to something you don’t want to,” says Rocha. The same logic applies to the climate dominoes. “If it happens, it’s going to be really costly and hard to recover, therefore we should not disturb those thresholds.”

“I think a precautionary principle probably is the best step forward for us, especially when we’re dealing with a system that we know has a lot of feedbacks and interconnections,” agrees Suding.

“These are huge risks we’re playing with, in their potential impacts,” says Lenton. “This is yet another compulsion to get ourselves weaned off fossil fuels as fast as possible and on to clean energy, and sort out some other sources of greenhouse gases like diets and land use,” says Lenton. He emphasises that the tipping points for the two great ice sheets may well lie between 1C and 2C of warming.

“We actually do need the Paris climate accord,” says Winkelmann. The 2016 agreement committed most countries to limit warming to 1.5 to 2C, although the US president, Donald Trump, has since chosen to pull the US out of it. Winkelmann argues that 1.5C is the right target, because it takes into account the existence of the tipping points and gives the best chance of avoiding them. “For some of these tipping elements,” she says, “we’re already in that danger zone.”

Cutting greenhouse gas emissions is not a surprising or original solution. But it is our best chance to stop the warning signs flashing red.

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« Reply #17 on: Sep 21, 2020, 02:49 AM »

'Shocking': wilderness the size of Mexico lost worldwide in just 13 years, study finds

Researchers say loss of 1.9m square kilometres of intact ecosystems will have ‘profound implications’ for biodiversity

Graham Readfearn
21 Sep 2020 16.00 BST

Wilderness across the planet is disappearing on a huge scale, according to a new study that found human activities had converted an area the size of Mexico from virtually intact natural landscapes to heavily modified ones in just 13 years.

The loss of 1.9m square kilometres (735,000 sq miles) of intact ecosystems would have “profound implications” for the planet’s biodiversity, the study’s authors said.

Using mostly satellite imagery, 17 scientists across six countries examined the human footprint across the globe and how it had changed between 2000 and 2013.

Almost 20% of the earth’s surface had deteriorated, the study found, while human pressure had eased on only six per cent of the planet.

Russia, Canada, Brazil, and Australia held the largest intact areas, together responsible for 60% of the world’s most untouched places.

Some 1.1m sq km (425,000 sq miles) of wilderness identified from imagery in 2000 had some human impact 13 years later.

Tropical savannahs and grasslands lost the most area to human pressure, the study, published in the journal One Earth, found.

Lead researcher Brooke Williams, of the University of Queensland, told the Guardian: “We were expecting there to be high levels of intact ecosystem and wilderness loss, but the results were shocking.

“We found substantial area of intact ecosystems had been lost in just 13 years – nearly two million square kilometres – which is terrifying to think about. Our findings show that human pressure is extending ever further into the last ecologically intact and wilderness areas.”

Rainforests in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea that were both rich with species had lost large areas to human activities. Conversion of habitats to cash crops, including palm oil, was a big contributor to the losses.

The study did not try to identify the cause of the losses, but Williams said the direct clearing of landscapes for farming was a known major driver.

Co-author Prof James Watson, also of the University of Queensland and the global conservation group the Wildlife Conservation Society, said: ‘The data does not lie. Humanity keeps on shrinking the amount of land that other species need to survive.”

“In a time of rapid climate change, we need to proactively secure the last intact ecosystems on the planet, as these are critical in the fight to stop extinction and halt climate change,” Watson said.

Looking across 221 nation states, only 26 had at least half of their land intact, the study found. In 2013, 41% of the world’s surface was either wilderness or was mostly intact.

Williams, who is also a conservationist at the Wildlife Conservation Society, said the losses undermined efforts to mitigate climate change because intact lands acted as storage spaces for carbon dioxide.

She said: “Proactively protecting Earth’s intact ecosystems is humanity’s best mechanism for protecting against climate change, ensuring large-scale ecological and evolutionary processes persist, and safeguarding biological diversity into the future.”

The paper’s authors write: “Halting the loss of intact ecosystems cannot be achieved alongside current trajectories of development, population growth, and resource consumption.”

Prof Bill Laurance, the director of James Cook University’s centre for tropical environmental and sustainability science in Queensland, who was not involved in the study, said its findings were scary.

“Humans are trashing much of the planet – no doubt about that,” he said. “The tropics are under particular pressure, and it’s not just forest destruction but also the loss of other habitat types, such as tropical savannahs and native grasslands, that are occurring apace.”

He said it was notable that tropical grasslands were heavily impacted because these were more easily converted to pasture or farmland. Declines in rainforests in south-east Asia were also “among the biologically richest ecosystems on Earth”.

One example, he said, was the rainforests of Sumatra that were home to critically endangered species of orangutan, as well as tigers, elephants and rhinos. That country’s forests were either gone or being devastated.

He said: “If we don’t halt such changes, we’re going to see the continued rapid disruption and loss of Earth’s ecosystems, including the biologically richest habitats on the planet. And along with that will be continued declines in the quality of life for people.”

The study comes after research earlier this week found that protected areas around the world, such as national parks and world heritage areas, were becoming isolated.

Only about 10% of the world’s protected areas were connected to similar habitats outside their borders.

The research, in the journal Nature Climate Change, warned that as the globe warmed, species would look to move. But if protected areas were isolated, those species would have nowhere to go.

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« Reply #18 on: Sep 21, 2020, 02:52 AM »

A Danish Children’s TV Show Has This Message: ‘Normal Bodies Look Like This’

The program aims to counter social media that bombards young people with images of perfect bodies.

By Thomas Erdbrink and Martin Selsoe Sorensen
NY Times
Sept. 21, 2020

COPENHAGEN — “OK, children, does anyone have a question?” the TV show’s host, Jannik Schow, asked. Only a few in the audience of 11- to 13-year-olds raised their hands. “Remember, you can’t do anything wrong,” he said. “There are no bad questions.”

You can’t blame the children if their thoughts were elsewhere. On a stage before them in a heated studio in Copenhagen stood five adults in bathrobes. There was a brief moment of silence, as faces turned serious. Having discussed it for days before in school, the children knew what was coming next. Mr. Schow gave a little nod, and the adults cast off their robes.

Facing the children, and the cameras, they stood completely naked, like statues, with their hands and arms folded behind their backs.

And so began a recording of the latest episode of an award-winning Danish children’s program, “Ultra Strips Down,” which is shown on Ultra, the on-demand children’s channel of the national broadcaster, DR. The topic today: skin and hair.

The show’s producers say the program is meant as an educational tool to fight body shaming and encourage body positivity. And so first reluctantly, later enthusiastically, the children from the Orestad School in Copenhagen asked the adults questions like: “At what age did you grow hair on the lower part of your body?” “Do you consider removing your tattoos?” “Are you pleased with your private parts?”

One of the adults, Martin, answered that he had never had “negative thoughts” about his private parts. Another adult, also named Martin, admitted that when he was young he had worried about size. “But the relationship with myself has changed over time,” he said.

With serious looks on their faces, the children nodded.

The program is now in its second season, and while perhaps a shock to non-Danes, it is highly popular in Denmark. Recently, however, a leading member of the right-wing Danish People’s Party, Peter Skaarup, said he found “Ultra Strips Down” to be “depraving our children.”

“It is far too early for children” to start with male and female genitalia, he told B.T., a Danish tabloid. At that age, he said, they “already have many things running around in their heads.”

“They have to learn it at the right time,” he added, saying this information should be presented by parents or schools “so that it is not delivered in this vulgar way, as the children’s channel does.”

For the most part, though, Danes have long been comfortable with nudity, at public beaches, for instance.

Mr. Schow, 29, who helped develop the concept of the show after a producer came up with the idea, said the point was also to counter the daily bombardment of young people with images of perfect — unrealistic — bodies. The adults are not actors, but volunteers.

“Perhaps some people are like, ‘Oh, my God, they are combining nakedness and kids,’” Mr. Schow said. “But this has nothing to do with sex, it’s about seeing the body as natural, the way kids do.”
ImageThe host of “Ultra Strips Down” is Jannik Schow, left.
The host of “Ultra Strips Down” is Jannik Schow, left.Credit...Betina Garcia for The New York Times

Many Danes believe children should not be shielded from the realities of life, giving them a lot of unsupervised time to play and explore, even if they might hurt themselves.

“We recognize the significance of a bruise,” said Sofie Münster, a nationally recognized expert in “Nordic Parenting.” “Danish parenting generally favors exposing children rather than shielding them.”

One famous example of how far the Danes take this philosophy was the euthanization and dissection of a giraffe at the Copenhagen Zoo in 2014, where children observed from the front row.

Abroad it was seen by many as a nightmarish spectacle, topped off by the feeding of the carcass to the lions, but in Denmark people shrugged their shoulders. The children in the audience that day had asked “very good questions,” one zoo official told CNN.

“While some may prefer to be overcareful, we may prefer to be under-careful,” Ms. Münster said. “It’s about being free and finding yourself.” If a child falls from a tree and breaks an arm, that might not be “ideal,” she added, but it can serve a larger purpose.

A children’s program featuring naked adults might be taking the Danish approach to the extreme, she admitted. But the Danish way of dealing with easing children’s anxieties over body issues is “to expose them” to naked bodies.

“This is how we educate our children,” she said. “We show them reality as it is.”

Asked during the program on skin and hair why she decided to take part, one of the adults, Ule, 76, said she wanted to show the children that perfect bodies are rare and that what they see on social media is often misleading.

“On Facebook or Instagram, many people are fashion models,” she said. “Us here, we have ordinary bodies. I hope you will understand that normal bodies look like this,” she told the audience, pointing at her naked self.

During the recording, when one of the Martins told the children that when he was their age, boys and girls used to share the same locker room and showers, Mr. Schow intervened, asking them if they would find that awkward.

“Yessss,” they all responded. “It feels more safe to shower with others of the same gender,” a boy explained on camera.

Shame of being imperfect comes from social media, Mr. Schow said.

“Ninety percent of the bodies you see on social media are perfect, but that is not how 90 percent of the world looks,” he said. “We have extra fat, or hair, or pimples. We want to show children from an early age that this is fine.”

In its first season, in 2019, “Ultra Strips Down” won an award for the best children’s program of 2019 at the Danish TV Festival. In the 2020 season, the show, which is produced by the Danish branch of Warner Bros. International Television Production, will offer five new episodes on a variety of topics, each to an audience from mostly different schools.

The children’s safety comes first, the show’s producers said. Parents must consent for children to be on the program; the producers do not show the children and the adults in a single shot; and the children are asked frequently if they feel comfortable.

If a child does become uncomfortable, she or he can join their teacher in the studio. “But we have had over 250 children in our audience,” Mr. Schow said, “and this has never happened.”

Rasmus Engelhardt Gundersen, a graphic designer who is the father of one of the children participating, said, “We had no reservations.”

“The notion that people are different and have different bodies is something we’d like children to experience,” he added.

The recorded episodes, now available in censored clips of the program on YouTube, feature adults with different body types — white, Black, fat, thin, short, tall, old and young. There was John, a person with dwarfism, and Muffe, a man who had small horns implanted under the skin of his bald head.

Complete inclusiveness is one of the show’s key objectives, which is why the children were also introduced to Rei, who is transgender, had a vasectomy and testosterone treatment, and who identifies as they/them.

“I’m not a boy, not a girl, I’m a bit of everything,” said Rei, showing a tattoo-covered chest and a shaved head. “I have seven hairs of beard now,” Rei said.

The children wanted to know if Rei had “felt different in school,” what bathroom they use and what swimwear they chose for the beach.

After the show, three children sat cross-legged in the grass outside the TV studio to discuss the experience. At first, they said, they had giggled at the idea of the show. But they had learned something useful, they said.

“It was funny,” said Theodore Knightley, 11. “I liked the advice they gave us.”

Ida Engelhardt Gundersen, 13, said she had been nervous at the start. “I’m not used to seeing volunteers butt naked and asking them questions,” she said. “But we learned about the body and about how other people feel about their bodies.”

Sonya Chakrabarthy Geckler, 11, said that she hadn’t been sure what to expect. But, she said, she “felt more confident about her own body now.”

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« Reply #19 on: Sep 21, 2020, 03:08 AM »

Global report: US Covid deaths near 200,000 as UK 'heads in wrong direction'

Israeli protesters return despite lockdown; Australian state of Victoria reports fewest infections in three months; New Zealand eases restrictions

Helen Sullivan
Mon 21 Sep 2020 06.17 BST

The US is nearing the stark milestone of 200,000 deaths, nine months after the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, as cases in the UK rose to a four-month high and Europe continued to see rising infections.

The number of deaths in the US, the highest in the world, stood at 199,509 on the Johns Hopkins University tracker on Monday morning, roughly a fifth of the global total. Nearly 6.8m of the world’s 30.1m infections are in the US.

US president Donald Trump has been accused of intentionally downplaying the dangers posed by Covid-19. He drew widespread criticism for his handling of the pandemic, but also of his response to the loss of life, saying in an interview in early August, when around 1,000 Americans a day were dying: “It is what it is.” Sunday’s US death toll was 689.

The virus has killed people of colour and immigrants (regardless of race) in the US at higher rates than their white and US-born counterparts. Among the dead are more than 1,000 healthcare workers.

The UK’s most senior government scientists will make a direct appeal to the public on Monday, warning that the coronavirus trend is “heading in the wrong direction” and “a critical point has been reached”. The warning comes after the UK reported 3,899 new cases on Sunday after four-month high of 4,422 on Saturday.

France again reported more than 10,000 cases in 24 hours, and in Spain, Madrid’s rate of transmission is more than double the national average, which already leads European contagion charts.

In Israel, which on Friday became the first country globally to return to a strict nationwide lockdown, thousands of protesters gathered on Sunday in Jerusalem to demand the resignation of the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, the first such demonstrations since the start of a new nationwide lockdown.

While the government was praised for its initial handling of the pandemic, implementing a strict lockdown in March, many Israelis have accused the government of bungling its crisis response since.

Australia’s coronavirus hotspot of Victoria reported its lowest daily rise in infections in three months on Monday, although state premier Daniel Andrews said there were no plans yet to ease restrictions sooner than expected.

Victoria, Australia’s second-most populous state and home to a quarter of the country’s 25 million people, reported 11 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, the smallest one-day jump since 16 June. It also reported two deaths due to the virus.

The premier said his government would not accelerate a timetable for easing restrictions, which were imposed after daily case numbers topped 700 in early August.

Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s prime minister, further eased restrictions on the country’s largest city, Auckland, and completely removed domestic restrictions on the rest of the nation, after zero new cases were reported.

The country has recorded a total of 1,464 coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic, with 25 deaths.

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« Reply #20 on: Sep 21, 2020, 03:12 AM »

'Quite frankly terrifying': How the QAnon conspiracy theory is taking root in the UK

It began in the US with lurid claims and a hatred of the ‘deep state’. Now it’s growing in the UK, spilling over into anti-vaccine and 5G protests, fuelled by online misinformation. Jamie Doward examines the rise of a rightwing cult movement

by Jamie Doward

He was desperate and scared and pleading for advice. “It’s integrating itself into soft rightwing timelines and I believe it’s starting to radicalise many. Seeing my mum and nan fall for it unaware is so troubling. I’ve seen it all over Facebook and these people genuinely believe they’re revealing the truth.”

It is QAnon, the unfounded conspiracy theory that has gone through countless, bewildering versions since it emerged in the US in 2017 and is now spreading like California’s wildfires across the internet.

At its core are lurid claims that an elite cabal of child-trafficking paedophiles, comprising, among others, Hollywood A-listers, leading philanthropists, Jewish financiers and Democrat politicians, covertly rule the world. Only President Trump can bring them to justice with his secret plan that will deliver what QAnon’s disciples refer to as “The Storm” or “The Great Awakening”.

Heavy on millennialism and the idea that a reckoning awaits the world, the theory has found fertile ground in the American “alt-right”.

But, unlike many contributors to the QAnoncasualties forum on Reddit, the man concerned about his mother and grandmother was from Britain and he was in despair at how the movement’s ideas were taking hold here. “My mum and grandma have shown me some, quite frankly, terrifying hard-right Facebook posts, calling Black Lives Matter Marxist paedophiles, typical QAnon stuff, however not even advertised as Q,” he explained.

What was once dismissed as an underground US conspiracy theory is becoming something more disturbing, more mainstream, more international, more mystical. And the effects of this are now being felt in Britain.

This weekend rallies were held in several cities around the country attended by disparate, discrete groups protesting against lockdowns, vaccinations, 5G mobile phone technology and child abuse.

Few of those who turned up at these events would describe themselves as QAnon supporters. Indeed, many have legitimate concerns about the government’s response to the pandemic. But where they overlap with QAnon is in a shared deep distrust of government, an enmity that encourages the cross-pollination of anti-authoritarian ideas in a Britain becoming more fragmented, more angry.

“Belief in one conspiracy theory can open the door to many more, and the line between anti-lockdown, anti-5G narratives and QAnon is, to some extent, blurring, for example with some alleging that an evil, child-trafficking cabal is behind the current crisis,” said David Lawrence, a researcher with the antifascist organisation Hope not Hate, which has been monitoring the rise of QAnon in the UK.

In London on Saturday, Resist and Act for Freedom, which described itself as “a medic-focused” anti-vaccination rally, was addressed by Kate Shemirani, a nurse suspended from practising by the Nursing and Midwifery Council for being accused of promoting baseless theories about Covid-19, vaccines and 5G.

Shemirani has espoused some of the QAnon theories and has described the Covid-19 crisis as a “plandemic scamdemic”. She has described the NHS as “the new Auschwitz” and her online media postings make references to Hitler and the Nazis, an investigation by the Jewish Chronicle has found.

A handful of QAnon-inspired banners, such as “We Are Q”, were being held aloft. Others held flags bearing slogans – for example, “Save Our Children” and “Where We Go One We Go All” – that are affiliated to QAnon.

Shemirani told the crowd: “Our government has declared war on the people of the UK.”

The police, including some on horseback, made several unsuccessful attempts to break up the rally, pushed back by scores of protesters. As they did, the crowd chanted to them: “Choose your side.”
Kate Shemirani speaking to a crowd, one of which is holding up a sign saying 'This is now tyranny'
Covid-19 sceptic Kate Shemirani, a nurse suspended from practising, speaks at the rally in London yesterday. Photograph: Guy Bell/REX/Shutterstock

One woman in her 20s, who was wearing a hoodie with a QAnon logo, told the Observer that she had come to the rally because she had read about the child abuse taking place across the US and the UK, a chief QAnon trope.

Another protester, Emma, 25, said she had a young daughter. She was holding a placard suggesting hundreds of thousands of children had been abducted around the world. “I’ve done years of research,” she said. “QAnon are right. There’s a global elite out there going for our children. Trump is taking down the elite and draining the swamp.”

She was dismissive of the government’s response to Covid. “The government is trying to take away our constitutional rights. You don’t need vaccination, you need to live well, eat well.”

She also believed that Black Lives Matter was funded by George Soros, the Jewish financier who funds a number of major civil society initiatives. “He’s a Zionist,” she said without further explanation.

Gregory Stanton, founding president of Genocide Watch, said: “QAnon’s conspiracy theory is copied from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the conspiracy theory promoted by Hitler and the Nazi party in Germany.

“Its potential for the promotion of genocidal hatred is a deadly historical fact. The Protocols’ theory that Jews plan to take over the world, and are well on their way to doing so, has been an ideology and motivator for pogroms since the middle ages, and under the Nazis for the Holocaust. It is a conspiracy theory that has literally cost millions of lives. QAnon has revived the Protocols, complete with the Blood Libel, that the secret cabal kidnaps children, drains their blood and cannibalises them to gain mystical power.”

There is evidence that far-right groups in Europe are turning their attention to the QAnon movement. A “freedom rally”, held last month in Trafalgar Square and where QAnon supporters were clearly present, was also attended by a group flying a flag of the now defunct British Union of Fascists.

In Germany, a major QAnon rally was attended by followers of the Reichsbürger far-right movement, which rejects the legitimacy of the modern German state. Similar flirtations have been reported among groups in Finland and Scandinavia.

But QAnon is also creeping into UK street protest movements that have no affiliation with the far right.

Earlier this year a “justice for all” rally in Nottingham attracted hundreds who came out in support of military veterans and tougher action on child-grooming gangs.

QAnon iconography was visible at the event, while one of the rally’s organisers claimed to have had contact with “ a general from Q” and a “group from Q”.

Another group, Freedom for the Children UK, which aims to raise awareness about child exploitation and human trafficking, holds marches in cities around the UK.

Many involved are well-intentioned but Hope not Hate has found that inside the private group’s online forums, members frequently post QAnon misinformation and references to “Pizzagate”, an unsubstantiated QAnon precursor that claimed several high-ranking Democrat officials, including Hillary Clinton, were involved in a child sex abuse ring based at a Washington pizza restaurant.

“QAnon has gathered pockets of support in the UK, and is likely to continue to build momentum as the US election approaches,” Lawrence explained. “But, while the spread of a dangerous conspiracy theory is always concerning, especially when it is animating people on to the street in protest, it is important to underline that the QAnon scene as a whole is still dominated by the US.”

Indeed, over in the US QAnon is now marching on Washington. Several Republican congressional candidates, including Marjorie Taylor Greene, who looks likely to win her seat in Georgia, have openly expressed support for the movement.

A man holding a Q sign before the start of a Trump rally in 2018. Photograph: Bloomberg/Getty Images

Last week, Lauren Witzke, who has posed in a QAnon-branded T-shirt and tweeted the QAnon motto, WWG1WGA – where we go one we go all – won the Republican primary for a US Senate seat in Delaware. Witzke has since distanced herself from QAnon.

By contrast, QAnon has been confined to the fringes of the UK political scene. But this is not to say it will remain there. “Support for conspiracy theories and the far right tends to rise in volatile, uncertain times,” Lawrence explained. “Public trust in UK institutions has been increasingly challenged in recent years, and exacerbated by the pandemic and the government’s inconsistent responses.”

That QAnon is gaining traction in the UK now, three years after it first emerged in the US, is no surprise to those who have encountered it.

An analyst who monitors online extremism in Britain, and spoke to the Observer on condition of anonymity, said it had the ability to appeal to anyone. It hardly mattered that the movement was US-focused.

“It offers wish fulfilment – the idea that at some moment Donald Trump is going to liberate people from debt and slavery. Someone might hate banks, well Donald Trump is going to liberate them from banks. Someone might despise immigrants, well Donald Trump is fighting a conspiracy against him inspired by George Soros. The content is not as important as the communities in which it embeds itself.”

    One contributer to the QAnoncasualties forum said that his father had become 'so invested in QAnon that it feels like someone just hypnotised him'

Stanton said QAnon was “an opportunistic ideology”.

“QAnon even briefly stole the Twitter hashtag for Save the Children, the genuine charity that protects children,” Stanton said. “QAnon attracts some women who think it is about saving kidnapped children. By relaying ‘secret messages’ from inside the ‘Deep State’ QAnon lurks in the shadows, where its leaders cannot be exposed for promoting racist, anti-Jewish Nazi terrorism. Extremist ideologies are often dismissed until they take power, as the Nazis did, as communism did, as Isis did. We ignore them at our peril.”

Many of those drawn to QAnon from within the UK are followers of the new religious movements that emerged out of the 60s and 70s, or the new-age traveller communities of the 90s. Others have a fascination with UFOs.

But to believe that their views have no relevance to the UK’s political ecosystem would be dangerous, experts claim. “QAnon feeds on widespread conspiracy theories, new age, and occult belief systems,”said Chamila Liyanage of the Centre for the Analysis of the Radical Right. “QAnon will not be able to influence UK politics right away, but it will first gain a foothold among the enthusiasts of fringe belief systems and conspiracy theories. This is metapolitics, changing minds, then cultures can be changed in the long run. If more and more people distrust liberal democracies and believe that liberals are satanists planning to implement the New World Order, it’s not possible to uphold democratic accountability. Such a situation will surely bring political consequences in the long run.”

Earlier this year, the Observer reported that John Mappin, a Scientologist and supporter of Nigel Farage and Donald Trump, was flying the QAnon flag over his castle in Cornwall. Mappin is a central figure behind Turning Point UK, the British arm of the pro-Trump American student organisation Turning Point USA, whose founder, Charlie Kirk, has been accused of pushing pro-QAnon narratives based on debunked statistics produced by the movement’s supporters.

Turning Point UK has been endorsed by several leading Conservatives, including the home secretary, Priti Patel, and Jacob Rees-Mogg. Mappin, who has declared that “Q is 100% valid”, has used YouTube to promote QAnon.

One person in the US who has seen friends and family turn to QAnon told the Observer: “People who fall into QAnon or adjacent modern conspiracy thinking, including my family member and friends, are people who have unresolved trauma, such as from childhood, that has left them with deep insecurities about their place in the world and the state of society.”

He said that these people often had “a lack of understanding for sciences, math, history and politics, a lack of critical thinking, a vulnerability to magical thinking – Evangelical Christian or deep new-age spirituality” – and were dealing with the “trauma of Covid, the loss of physical connections, the loss of work” while confronted by “unfettered internet access and dangerous social media algorithms”.

Robert Johnson, who helps moderate the Qanoncasualties site after watching a relative fall victim to the movement, warned anyone can fall down the QAnon rabbit hole.

“How fast someone can be sucked in? If they are susceptible, I’d say five days to start believing. If they have an underlying condition, they can reach mania in a week.”

One contributer to the QAnoncasualties forum said that his father had become “so invested in QAnon that it feels like someone just hypnotised him”.

Stanton has argued powerfully that QAnon is simply the Nazi cult rebranded. “Two definitions of a cult are: a relatively small group of people having religious beliefs or practices regarded by others as strange or sinister; and a misplaced or excessive admiration for a particular person or thing: a cult of personality surrounding the leaders. QAnon’s strange and sinister beliefs qualify it as a cult, as does QAnon’s misplaced admiration for Donald Trump.”

As with any cults, financial gain is not far away. QAnon merchandise has mushroomed. Websites hosting the theory are making money out of traffic. Covid quackery is doing brisk business on QAnon sites.

The world today is ripe for the cult’s promotion, Stanton argues, as it shares many similarities with the world in which Hitler emerged.

“I think it comes at a similar time to the 1920s and 1930s. We have mass unemployment. We face a plague that is like the Spanish Flu that killed millions. Nazis and QAnon both seek a ‘saviour’ leader who will deliver society from disorder and the cabal of conspirators that is secretly taking over their nations.”

The difference now, though, is that technology has unified the world. A movement emanating from the US can quickly spread beyond its borders.

One contributor to the Qanoncasualties forum told the Observer that QAnon appears to mimic the spread of the pandemic.

“It struck me that the way QAnon has taken off in a really big way this year, despite being three years old, is like the spread of the virus, in terms of the exponential growth curve. The more people that are connected to QAnon, the steeper the curve will be in terms of them spreading the BS on social media and in real-life interactions.”

The appeal seems almost physical. As one German contributor to Qanoncasualties, who was not a QAnon follower but had been a believer in Pizzagate, explained: “It all started on Reddit. It began with stumbling on a few ‘alternative’ subreddits, those with prefixes ‘real’, ‘anarchy’, ‘true’, etc. To this day, I’m still not sure what triggered the hate spiral in me.

“I think one of the possibilities is that any unresolved conflicts are channelled in anger and negative energy. A lot of people describe their relatives watching QAnon videos all day – they know that they’re essentially on an IV drip of some stuff they crave. I have no idea how it works inside the body, but I’m willing to bet there’s a physical response to this behaviour.”

Research by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) has found that QAnon and the online world have enjoyed a powerful symbiosis after lockdown started in many countries, including the UK.

A report the ISD published in June showed that membership of QAnon groups on Facebook increased by 120% in March, while engagement rates increased by 91%. From 27 October 2017 to 17 June 2020, the ISD recorded 69,475,451 million tweets, 487,310 Facebook posts and 281,554 Instagram posts mentioning QAnon-related hashtags and phrases.

The ISD said that “across all three platforms, a clear trend exists showing a notable increase in conversation volumes coinciding with periods when lockdowns were issued”.

It found that the top four countries driving discussion of QAnon on Twitter were the US, the UK, Canada and Australia. Much of the online discussion is driven by the actions of Trump, who has retweeted QAnon-promoting accounts.

One Reddit contributor said that QAnon was spreading for “one reason only”. “The failure of the government, in the US at least, to deny and denounce it. These conspiracies and cult-like behaviours have arrived thousands of times over the years and usually die out.

“However, when you have a president who says he didn’t know much about QAnon, except ‘they like me very much’ and ‘I heard... that these are people who love our country’, then immediately this is essentially permission and acknowledgement of their movement.”

Facebook and Twitter have recently taken steps to restrict QAnon. The movement now largely operates on the 8kun message board site, whose earlier incarnation, 8chan, has been criticised for hosting images of child abuse and promoting white supremacy groups.

“QAnon hardcore followers are still gaining but there is more awareness and active scepticism recently,” Johnson said. “They had a recent setback with the shutdown of qmap.pub (a website endorsed by Q). But they are a great hype machine and Covid has been a godsend. Globally it is gaining ground and numbers. I think it surpassed 72 countries this week. We recently had a user report dealing with a family member in Switzerland.”

But can a cult survive the demise of its leader?

Few believe that if Trump loses in November, QAnon will disappear.

“When Obama won that’s what kickstarted half of the angry movements that fed into this,” the online extremism analyst explained. “It didn’t calm the Republican right, it made them much more aggravated.”

Nor would Trump’s defeat sound the death knell for an incipient QAnon movement in the UK.

“There is a high possibility that the spirited belief system which surrounds QAnon can slowly become a political movement in the UK,” Liyanage said. “It will be successful because no one can fight it through reason. It’s not a rational belief system but mostly a supernatural belief system.”
The mysterious rise of QAnon

• QAnon publicly emerged on 28 October 2017 when a user calling themselves Q, who claimed to have high-level security clearance, posted a series of cryptic messages on the website 4chan (which later became 8chan and then 8kun).

• Q claimed that they would work to covertly inform the public about President Trump’s ongoing battle against the “deep state”, a blanket term used to describe those in power working against the president. Since then, users claiming to be Q have made over 4,000 posts, known in the community as “Qdrops”, fuelling the growth of a lurid meta-conspiracy connecting a range of harmful narratives.

• The QAnon theory now connects antivaccine, anti-5G conspiracies, antisemitic and antimigrant tropes, and several bizarre theories that the world is in the thrall of a group of paedophile elites set on global domination in part aided by ritualistic child sacrifice. It morphed out of an earlier conspiracy, “Pizzagate”, which suggested that a paedophile ring involving senior officials in the Democratic Party was being run out of a pizza restaurant in Washington.

• In 2019, the FBI labelled QAnon a domestic terror threat, observing that conspiracy theories have the potential to encourage “both groups and individual extremists to carry out criminal or violent acts”.

• In the 2020 US elections there are 14 congressional candidates on the ballot for November who express support for the theory.

• Who is behind QAnon remains opaque. But NBC has reported that it took off when two 4chan moderators, who went by the usernames Pamphlet Anon and BaruchtheScribe, reached out to Tracy Diaz, a small-time YouTube star who helped popularise the earlier ‘Pizzagate’ conspiracy who then helped bring QAnon to a wider online audience.

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« Reply #21 on: Sep 21, 2020, 03:14 AM »

Hungary's students are making a last stand against Viktor Orbán’s power grab

George Szirtes

The University of Theatre and Film Arts in Budapest is the latest public institution in the authoritarian leader’s sights

21 Sep 2020 12.00 BST

As I write, the University of Theatre and Film Arts in Budapest (SZFE) is being occupied by its students and staff. It is the latest battle, and possibly last stand, against the Hungarian government’s attempt to seize power in independent institutions of all sorts, including cultural ones.

Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party has been in office since its landslide victory in the 2010 elections and there seems little prospect of change. That is because it has already seized control of most other institutions in areas including media, the law, finance, health, research and education. Pretty well everything – and it is still expanding.

Like most institutions of higher education everywhere, especially those with an emphasis on the arts and humanities, SZFE is identified with the “left-liberal” ethos the increasingly authoritarian government is committed to defeating. That is reason enough for Fidesz to muscle in.

In this respect Hungary is just one part of a widespread international conflict between systems of value and governance, one that has caused fierce divisions in many places, sweeping away whatever centre ground there was.

The campaign against the arts was initiated by Fidesz in 2006 when it gained control of the municipalities and declared that it had had enough of the old liberal order. It was, the party stated, their time now. The directors and boards of provincial theatres were sacked and replaced by local Fidesz-appointed figures.

It’s not just theatres, of course. Having assumed office in 2010, the Fidesz government, led by Orbán, immediately looked to seize control of any and all public institutions by much the same method of appointing governing bodies that could grant or withhold funds according to the willingness of organisations to toe the party line. The system has worked with dramatic efficiency. Hungarian society has no modern tradition of organised resistance. With individuals scared of retribution in the form of loss of income, effective solidarity is impossible.

In 2008, a new organisation for the supervision of theatres was established, the Magyar Teátrumi Társaság or Hungarian Theatre Society. It was generously funded and entrusted with the responsibility of carrying forward Fidesz’s programme. At its head was Attila Vidnyánszky, a brilliant provincial director. Vidnyánszky embodied the government’s enthusiasm for patriotism and a nominal Christianity. He more or less runs Hungarian theatre now.

Until recently, universities were independent, state-funded entities from which it was difficult to withhold financial support. Fidesz’s strategic aim became to privatise the universities and, as had proved so successful with other enterprises, impose a board of government-appointed trustees to determine policy, not just in spending, but appointments, the curriculum and all other matters, on an ideological basis.

This is the process currently in train at SZFE. It looked reasonable enough at first, privatisation being seen as a route to greater independence. Universities would become self-governing institutions with proper representation on the board of trustees. But SZFE was required to complete the process in a matter of months, by January 2021.

When it applied for an extension in July of this year, its completion date was actually brought forward to September. There was no consultation at all. A board of trustees was appointed over the heads of the university with Vidnyánszky leading it.

Suddenly, Vidnyánszky was not only running the National Theatre Society, but SZFE too. Despite his spectacular rise to power he regards himself as an avenging outsider and maintains a fierce animus towards many other members of the theatrical profession, particularly those teaching at SZFE, which has produced the greatest Hungarian actors and directors of the last century.

In the meantime, a campaign of abuse is being directed at the university by the government-supporting press.

The student body organised an occupation in support of the university’s senate and staff, and in defence of their own education. The senate has resigned and the staff are considering a strike. The students formed a human chain through the streets of Budapest extending from the university to the parliament building. The chain has received wide popular support. The atmosphere of the demonstration was joyful and calm, but firm.

It is an important moment. It coincides with yet another move to shut down Hungary’s one independent radio station, Klubrádió. Shows of solidarity are rare and may set an example. This one should not be swept under the government’s ever extending carpet.

• George Szirtes is a Hungarian poet and translator

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« Reply #22 on: Sep 21, 2020, 03:33 AM »

Supreme court: Joe Biden accuses Trump and Republicans of abuse of power

    Death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg rocks presidential race
    Trump will pick woman; McConnell promises vote
    ‘I will fight!’: mourners’ vow at supreme court vigil
David Smith in Washington
Mon 21 Sep 2020 08.56 BST

Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee, made an urgent plea on Sunday to the conscience of Senate Republicans, asking them to defy Donald Trump and refuse to ram through his nominee to the supreme court before the November election.

Trump has said he plans to nominate a woman in the coming days, to fill the seat of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the liberal justice who died on Friday at age 87.

Speaking in Philadelphia, Biden demanded that the people be heard. He accused Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, of hypocrisy after he stonewalled Merrick Garland, Barack Obama’s pick for the court in 2016, also an election year.

“Look, I’m not being naive,” the former vice-president said. “I’m not speaking to President Trump, who’ll do whatever he wants. I’m not speaking to Mitch McConnell, who’ll do what he wants, and he does.

“I’m speaking to those Republicans out there, Senate Republicans, who know deep down what is right for the country and consistent with the constitution.”

People have already begun voting in an election that is just six weeks away, Biden added. “The people of this nation are choosing their future right now, as they vote. To jam this nomination through the Senate is just an exercise in raw political power and I don’t believe the people of this nation will stand for it.”

    Let the people speak, cool the flames that have been engulfing our country
    Joe Biden

It would represent an “abuse of power”, he said. “This is constitutional abuse.”

Biden said he spoke to Ginsburg’s family on Saturday night and noted that the justice dictated a statement to her granddaughter Clara Spera: “My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.”

Biden said: “As a nation, we should heed her final call.”

The right to healthcare, clean air, clean water, equal pay for equal work and the rights of voters are all at stake, Biden insisted. “Healthcare in this country hangs in the balance before the court.”

Biden, who often reached across the aisle in a decades-long career as a US senator from Delaware, added: “We need to de-escalate, not escalate, so I appeal to those few Senate Republicans, the handful who really will decide what happens: please follow your conscience. Don’t vote to confirm anyone nominated under the circumstances President Trump and Senator McConnell have created.

“Don’t go there. Uphold your constitutional duty, your conscience, let the people speak, cool the flames that have been engulfing our country. We can’t keep rewriting history, scrambling norms, ignoring our cherished system of checks and balances.”

On Saturday night, Trump told a rally in Fayetteville, North Carolina, he would select a female justice. “I actually like women much more than I like men, I have to say,” said a man who has denied accusations of sexual misconduct from more than 20 women, eliciting laughter from a crowd that chanted: “Fill that seat!”

On Sunday, Trump’s campaign sent out a fundraising email that said “the People want to FILL THAT SEAT!”

Whether enough Republican senators will consent to ram through Trump’s nomination remains on a knife edge. On Sunday, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska joined fellow moderate Susan Collins of Maine in arguing that the Senate should wait.

“For weeks, I have stated that I would not support taking up a potential supreme court vacancy this close to the election,” Murkowski said. “Sadly, what was then a hypothetical is now our reality, but my position has not changed.”

The nine-member court has the power to hold presidents to account and rule on issues including abortion rights, gay rights and voting rights. A week after the election it is set to rule on a healthcare law that protects millions with pre-existing conditions.

    We have arrows in our quiver that I’m not about to discuss, but the fact is we have a big challenge in our country
    Nancy Pelosi

Trump has already appointed two justices but both were conservatives succeeding conservatives. A pick to replace Ginsburg could tilt the court right for decades, imperiling precedents such as Roe v Wade, the 1973 ruling that effectively legalised abortion.

The current frontrunner for the vacancy is Amy Coney Barrett of Chicago, a federal appeals judge and the ideological opposite of Ginsburg. A Catholic and outspoken opponent of reproductive rights, Barrett was described by the New York Times as having “a rock-star reputation in conservative circles”.

Another leading contender is Barbara Lagoa, an appeals judge in Atlanta. She is Cuban American and the first Hispanic woman appointed to the Florida supreme court. Either choice might rally conservatives wavering over Trump because of his behaviour and pandemic response.

The struggle threatens to be among the most explosive Washington has seen for decades, stress-testing a system many see as broken and rattling a country already reeling from the coronavirus, economic collapse and a racial reckoning.

McConnell has vowed to grant Trump’s pick a hearing. On Sunday he received backing from some prominent colleagues.

Ted Cruz, senator for Texas, told ABC’s This Week “the right thing to do is for the Senate to take up this nomination and to confirm the nominee before election day”. Lindsey Graham, who chairs the Senate judiciary committee and previously said he would oppose filling a vacancy in an election year, pledged to support Trump in “any effort to move forward”.

But if McConnell does hold a vote before the election, he will need to hold together at least 50 of his 53-strong caucus, aware Vice-President Mike Pence would break any tie. Having lost both Collins and Murkowski, the margin of error is wafer thin with Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Cory Gardner of Colorado and Mitt Romney of Utah seen as potential obstacles.

Democrats have limited options but could strike back quickly. If they win the White House and a Senate majority, they could expand the supreme court to from nine to 11 justices.

Jerry Nadler, chairman of the House judiciary committee, tweeted: “If McConnell and Senate Republicans were to force through a nominee during the lame duck session – before a new Senate and president can take office – then the incoming Senate should immediately move to expand the supreme court.”

Asked if Democrats might even move to impeach Trump or attorney general Bill Barr during a lame duck session, in a bid to stall the process, Nancy Pelosi, the House Speaker, told ABC: “Well, we have our options.

“We have arrows in our quiver that I’m not about to discuss right now, but the fact is we have a big challenge in our country. This president has threatened to not even accept the results of the election with statements that he and his henchmen have made.”

A new Reuters/Ipsos poll on Sunday found that 62% of respondents thought Ginsburg’s replacement should be chosen by winner of the election. But the issue will fire up both party bases.

Democrats took in a record $91.4m in fundraising in just over 24 hours after Ginsburg’s death. Republicans hope this late plot twist could yet rescue Trump in an election where an NBC News/ Wall Street Journal poll on Sunday showed Biden leading by nine points, 51% to 42%.


In the battle over the US supreme court, Democrats can still have the last laugh

Lawrence Douglas

If Biden wins, he could pack the courts. That would be a justified gesture of constitutional restoration, not usurpation


“My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.” Such was the dying hope of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a wish the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, is determined to deny the late, great justice.

Recall: this is the same Mitch McConnell who, in the wake of Antonin Scalia’s death nine months before the 2016 election, solemnly announced: “The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next supreme court justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.”

Never mind that the “McConnell rule” lacked grounding in constitutional materials and historical practice. The constitution empowers the president to nominate justices and tasks the US Senate with confirming or rejecting them. In a 150-year span – from 1866 to 2016 – the Senate never once prevented a president from filling a US supreme court vacancy. But armed with a rule of his own invention and a Republican majority in the Senate, McConnell brazenly refused to so much as grant a hearing to Merrick Garland, Barack Obama’s eminently qualified nominee to fill the supreme court vacancy left by Scalia.

But no sooner had news of Ginsburg’s death broke than McConnell promised a Senate vote on Donald Trump’s replacement nominee – notwithstanding the fact that we are but six weeks removed from a presidential election and early voting has already started in some places. It turns out that the McConnell rule had a serious catch – it only applies when different parties control the Senate and the White House. And so the McConnell non-rule can be stated crisply: Republican incumbents in election years get to fill supreme court vacancies, but not Democrats.

To accuse McConnell of breathtaking hypocrisy is to waste our breath. The charge sticks only if the hypocrite feels a tug of conscience for failing to follow their pronounced principles. In McConnell’s case, one senses nothing but a cynical, chuckling pride in applying and abandoning made-up rules to justify whatever result he wants.

And chuckle he should. McConnell’s cynical distortion of the Senate’s role in judicial confirmations has served his party well. In 2017, McConnell used the so-called “nuclear option” to end debate on Neil Gorsuch’s nomination to the supreme court. (Gorsuch was Trump’s pick to fill the vacancy that Obama had chosen Garland to fill.) McConnell insisted this was simply payback for Harry Reid’s use of the same option, in 2013, to remove obstacles to Obama’s lower federal court appointments.

But McConnell’s tit-for-tat argument obscured how he and his fellow Senate Republicans had weaponized the use of the filibuster during Obama’s presidency. From the time that cloture rules were introduced into the Senate in 1917 until the end of Ronald Reagan’s presidency, the filibuster was deployed 385 times. During Obama’s presidency, Senate Republicans launched more than 500 filibusters, many of them to block Obama’s appointments to the federal bench. Reid’s use of the nuclear option was something of a desperate response to Republican obstructionism – or, more precisely, nullification. When it came to shutting down a Democratic filibuster of Gorsuch’s confirmation, McConnell then used the very poisoned conditions that he had helped create to justify a yet more extreme act of partisanship.

    Adding two additional justices to court’s ranks would simply counterbalance the abuse of constitutional rules

True, it isn’t a foregone conclusion that McConnell will be successful in his rush to replace Ginsburg. The vetting and confirmation process can take weeks, even months. At present, McConnell presides over 53 Republican seats, and certain defections are possible, if not likely. Senator Susan Collins, a Maine Republican trailing in her re-election bid, has expressed reservations about a rushed, last-minute confirmation. Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska has already gone on record as opposing the confirmation of a new justice before the election.

Yet the deeper question is not whether McConnell will be successful. It is how Democrats should respond if he is. The answer, of course, will turn on the results of the coming election. But should Democrats capture the White House and the Senate, they need to bear in mind that it is Congress and not the constitution that sets the size of the supreme court. In 1937, Franklin Roosevelt, frustrated by a hidebound supreme court that had struck down New Deal laws, proposed expanding the number of justices to 15. That court-packing plan was rightly rejected by Congress as a heavy-handed attempt to manipulate the court’s composition to generate specific political outcomes.

A new Democratic court-packing plan in 2021 would be prompted by a very different logic. Adding two additional justices to court’s ranks would simply counterbalance the abuse of constitutional rules that enabled the confirmation of Gorsuch and RBG’s replacement. Such an act would be a justified gesture of constitutional restoration, not usurpation. So much for Mitch McConnell’s chuckling.

    Lawrence Douglas is the James J Grosfeld professor of law, jurisprudence and social thought at Amherst College, Massachusetts. He is the author of Will He Go? Trump and the Looming Election Meltdown in 2020. He is also a contributing opinion writer for the Guardian US


All of the Republican hypocrites who said they opposed a new Supreme Court Justice in 2016

By Sarah K. Burris
Raw Story

Republicans have been criticized for their hypocrisy over the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her replacement compared to the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in 2016.

PBS News gathered what all Republicans have said about whether the president in 2016 should have the right to appoint a justice at that time. Now that the shoe is on the other foot, these Republicans are having their own words brought back and questioning why the rules are different for Democrats.

A Reuters poll shows that 62 percent of Americans want to see the next president appoint the Supreme Court Justice and not President Donald Trump.

While there are some Republicans who are employing a “wait and see” approach, here is the list of hypocrites who seem fine letting Trump do whatever he wants:

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL): “President Obama is attempting to solidify his liberal agenda by drastically changing the direction of the Court for decades to come. This critical decision should be made after the upcoming presidential election so that the American people have a voice.”

John Boozman (R-AR): “Our country is very split and we are in the midst of a highly contested presidential election. My colleagues and I are committed to giving the American people a voice in the direction the court will take for generations to come.”

Tom Cotton (R-AR) who is on the short-list to be nominated: “In a few short months, we will have a new president and new senators who can consider the next justice with the full faith of the people. Why would we cut off the national debate on the next justice? Why would we squelch the voice of the populace? Why would we deny the voters a chance to weigh in on the make-up of the Supreme Court?”

Corey Gardner (R-CO): “… the next president of the United States should have the opportunity to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court.”

Marco Rubio (R-FL): “I don’t think we should be moving forward on a nominee in the last year of this president’s term. I would say that if this was a Republican president.”

Dave Perdue (R-GA): “What’s at stake here is the balance of our nation’s highest court and the direction of our country for decades. I remain firm in my decision to exercise my Constitutional authority and withhold consent on any nominee to the Supreme Court submitted by President Obama.”

Mike Crapo (R-ID): “As part of its role in this process, the Senate may, at its discretion, withhold consent. The next Supreme Court justice will make decisions that affect every American and shape our nation’s legal landscape for decades. Therefore, the current Supreme Court vacancy should be filled by an individual nominated by the next president of the United States.”

Joni Ernst (R-IA): “In the midst of a critical election, the American people deserve to have a say in this important decision that will impact the course of our country for years to come.”

Pat Roberts (R-KS): “The next justice will have an effect on the courts for decades to come and should not be rushed through by a lame-duck president during an election year. This is not about the nominee, it is about giving the American people and the next president a role in selecting the next Supreme Court justice.”

Mitch McConnell (R-KY): “The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.”

Roger Wicker (R-MS): “The American people should have the opportunity to make their voices heard before filling a lifetime appointment to the nation’s highest court. In November, the country will get that chance by choosing a new president – a process that is well underway. Until then, our time should be spent addressing the many other legislative matters before us to strengthen our economy, create jobs, and secure our nation.”

Roy Blunt (R-MO): “The Senate should not confirm a new Supreme Court justice until we have a new president.”

Steve Daines (R-MT): “The replacement of Justice Scalia will have far-reaching impacts on our country for a generation. The American people have already begun voting on who the next president will be and their voice should continue to be reflected in a process that will have lasting implications on our nation. The U.S. Senate should exercise its constitutional powers by not confirming a new Supreme Court justice until the American people elect a new president and have their voices heard.”

Deb Fischer (R-NE): “It is crucial for Nebraskans and all Americans to have a voice in the selection of the next person to serve a lifetime appointment on the Supreme Court, and there is precedent to do so. Therefore, I believe this position should not be filled until the election of a new president.”

Richard Burr (R-NC): “The American people deserve a voice in the nomination of the next Supreme Court Justice. This appointment could easily tip the balance of the court in a direction not supported by the American people as evidenced by 2014’s election results giving Republicans both the Senate and House.”

Thom Tillis (R-NC): “While President Obama is entitled to nominate an individual to the Supreme Court, the Senate has made it clear it will be exercising its Constitutional authority to withhold consent of the nomination. We are in the middle of a presidential election, and the Senate majority is giving the American people a voice to determine the direction of the Supreme Court.”

John Hoven (R-ND): “There is 80 years of precedent for not nominating and confirming a new justice of the Supreme Court in the final year of a president’s term so that people can have a say in this very important decision.”

Rob Portman (R-OH): “During a very partisan year and a presidential election year … both for the sake of the court and the integrity of the court and the legitimacy of the candidate, it’s better to have this occur after we’re past this presidential election.”

Jim Inhofe (R-OK): “While I will evaluate the nomination of Judge Merrick Garland, the next president should be the one to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court. … I will oppose this nomination as I firmly believe we must let the people decide the Supreme Court’s future.”

James Lankford (R-OK): “Based on previous historical precedent, I support Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley’s intent to give the American people a say in Justice Scalia’s replacement this year at the ballot box.”

Pat Toomey (R-PA): “With the U.S. Supreme Court’s balance at stake, and with the presidential election fewer than eight months away, it is wise to give the American people a more direct voice in the selection and confirmation of the next justice.”

Lindsey Graham (R-SC): “I strongly support giving the American people a voice in choosing the next Supreme Court nominee by electing a new president. I hope all Americans understand how important their vote is when it comes to picking a new Supreme Court justice. The American people should choose wisely this November.”

Tom Scott (R-SC): “The next president should fill the open seat on the Supreme Court, not a lame duck. Our nation is in the middle of an election that will replace this president and it has brought people out in every corner of our country in record numbers to have their voice heard. As elected officials, we need to protect the American people’s chance to have their voices heard in the decision on who will be appointed to a lifetime seat on the nation’s high court.”

John Thune (R-SD): “The Senate Republican majority was elected to be a check and balance to President Obama. The American people deserve to have their voices heard on the nomination of the next Supreme Court justice, who could fundamentally alter the direction of the Supreme Court for a generation. Since the next presidential election is already underway, the next president should make this lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court.”

Lamar Alexander (R-TN): “I believe it is reasonable to give the American people a voice by allowing the next president to fill this lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court. Under our Constitution, the president has the right to nominate, but the Senate has the right to decide whether to consent at this point in a presidential election year. Sen. McConnell is only doing what the Senate majority has the right to do and what Senate Democrat leaders have said they would do in similar circumstances.”

John Cornyn (R-TX): “At this critical juncture in our nation’s history, Texans and the American people deserve to have a say in the selection of the next lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court. The only way to empower the American people and ensure they have a voice is for the next president to make the nomination to fill this vacancy.”

Ted Cruz (R-TX): “This should be a decision for the people. Let the election decide. If the Democrats want to replace this nominee, they need to win the election.”

Mike Lee (R-UT): “In light of the contentious presidential election already well underway, my colleagues and I on the Judiciary Committee have already given our advice and consent on this issue: We will not have any hearings or votes on President Obama’s pick.”

Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV): “Before a Supreme Court justice is confirmed to a lifetime position on the bench, West Virginians and the American people should have the ability to weigh in at the ballot box this November. My position does not change with the naming of a nominee today.”

Ron Johnson (R-WI): “Let the American people have a voice in the composition of the Supreme Court. Instead of a lame duck president and Senate nominating and confirming, a new president and Senate – elected by the people only a few months from now – should make that important decision. I can’t think of a fairer or more democratic process.”

Mike Enzi (R-WY): “The Constitution gives the Senate the right to make decisions on a Supreme Court nominee. The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee has announced the committee’s intention to exercise its constitutional authority to withhold consent on a nominee submitted by this president. I believe the American people should decide the direction of the Supreme Court.”

John Barasso (R-WY): “A president on his way out of the White House should not make a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court. The American people will soon decide our next president. That person should get to choose the next Supreme Court nominee. Give the people a voice, and let them chart the course for the court and the country.”


Fraud’ Lindsey Graham blasted after claim Dems are the hypocrites on the courts — not him: ‘Everything you say is a lie’

Raw Story
By Sarah K. Burris

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) was blasted after claiming that Democrats were the real hypocrites for “starting” the battle for the courts buy eliminating the filibuster on judges after Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) held up dozens of judicial appointments. It was the worst ever seen in 60 years.

“Being lectured by Democrats about how to handle judicial nominations is like an arsonist advising the Fire Department,” Graham tweeted Sunday. “Democrats chose to set in motion rules changes to stack the court at the Circuit level and they chose to try to destroy Brett Kavanaugh’s life to keep the Supreme Court seat open. You reap what you sow.”

Graham is mischaracterizing the situation and rewriting history to try and give himself a pass. At the same time, Brett Kavanaugh, an accused rapist, was the judge that Trump nominated well into his presidency. Niel Gorsuch was the illegitimate nomination by Trump when Republicans refused to hold a hearing on former President Barack Obama’s nominee.

Read the attacks on Graham below:

    I’m not a Democrat, and I’m not lecturing you. I’m just pointing out what a coward & a liar you are. And I’m reminding you that if John McCain we’re alive right now, he’d be disgusted with you. You’ve become a fucking joke. https://t.co/tpJ7otlJbo

    — Joe Walsh (@WalshFreedom) September 20, 2020

    Reading tweets from you is like reading tweets from a fucking asshole. https://t.co/2696FEdTtZ

    — (((Josh Malina))) (@JoshMalina) September 20, 2020

    I used to be disgusted but now I’m just…no, I’m still disgusted.

    — Charles P. Pierce (@CharlesPPierce) September 20, 2020

    Everything you say is a god damn lie. pic.twitter.com/fTNRRhAvbw

    — 🏝Kim Sherrell (@kim) September 20, 2020

    In 2016 #LeningradLindsey Graham told CNN that Russians had hacked his campaign e-mail account. In the same year, his campaign manager was Christian Ferry, who had ties to Oleg Deripaska.

    — Sunny Armer (@wowwgran) September 20, 2020

    Maybe you need to review the video. You’re in this one twice saying that in an election year, the incoming potus should nominate a SCOTUS Judge. Your either senile or a friggin hypocrite. Which do you prefer? https://t.co/EbNwsXHUhs

    — Justice Seeker ☮️ (@tizzywoman) September 20, 2020

    “Use my words against me.” pic.twitter.com/x66abJfLjR

    — Rex Chapman🏇🏼 (@RexChapman) September 20, 2020

    You shameless little fraud.

    — Dennis Perkins (@DennisPerkins5) September 20, 2020

    He's getting voted out. His state is as sick of the Karen routine as we are.

    — Thomas Thompson (@iwantarealr2d2) September 20, 2020

    Couldn’t have said it better myself.

    — William Wassersug (@scifisportsguy) September 20, 2020

    Agreed, because the fire department serve the community and care about preserving human life. This senator only cares about himself.

    — WeDeserveBetter (@Grattanburger) September 20, 2020

    Not merely ashamed, not rolling but spinning in his grave.

    — R.T.Surbaugh (@r_surbaugh) September 20, 2020

    Lecture him with his own words https://t.co/o5h3DB12oC

    — Slap Dash Two (@SlapTwo) September 20, 2020

    You lost him at honour.

    — Emma Zacharin (@EZacharin) September 20, 2020


    — Melissa Gill (@MelissaGill999) September 20, 2020

    Which, to be fair, is like an arsonist advising a fire department.

    — Frank Stuart (@fstuart2) September 20, 2020

    How do you feel about being lectured by yourself?
    There will be no more lectures.
    You've bought your ticket, so I really hope you enjoy the ride, because it is going to be quite a bumpy one for the next 40+ days, sweetheart.

    — Schrödinger's Litter Box (@Brewjew308) September 20, 2020

    I hate it when the democrats point out what a hypocrite I am. 😔

    — wash those hands (@robatmo) September 20, 2020

    I hate it when the democrats point out what a hypocrite I am. 😔

    — wash those hands (@robatmo) September 20, 2020

    And have his $200,000 debt mysteriosly paid off.

    — Patricia (@Principalaz) September 20, 2020

    I live in SC and I voted for @LindseyGrahamSC 6 years ago, because I thought he was a man of integrity. Never again. I’ll be voting for @harrisonjaime. Lindsey thinks there aren’t swing voters in our red state. He fucked around, and now he’s about to find out.

    — The Rebel Flag is Treason 🇺🇸 (@pattiennis) September 20, 2020

    Kavanaugh’s life was destroyed? He has a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court of the United States. Having a hysterectomy without your permission? Being killed by a racist police officer? That’s having a life destroyed, Lindsey.

    — FreshHotCoffee (@FreshHotCoffee2) September 20, 2020

    Damn right you do. That's why you will be defeated in November.

    — Chris D. Jackson (@ChrisDJackson) September 20, 2020

    The endless "I did it and it's your fault" just like an abusive spouse.

    — Kurt Eichenwald (@kurteichenwald) September 20, 2020


Republicans’ rush to replace Ginsburg is why they all need to be driven from office: columnist

Raw Story
By Tom Boggioni

In a column for the Washington Post, Karen Tumulty pointed out that Senate Republicans’ insistence on snapping up the seat of the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg before the election — after blocking Merrick Garland in 2016 — is one more reason why they GOP must lose control of the Senate.

With Republican lawmakers fanning out on Sunday defending their hypocrisy on presidential election-year votes on high court nominees, Tumulty wasn’t having it and called some of them out by name.

Addressing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) who is “vowing to fast-track whomever President Trump names with only six weeks to go until the 2020 election,” the columnist wrote, “In fact, McConnell’s actions are totally in keeping with the opportunism with which he has led the Senate. Given a chance, he will always abuse his power. Branding McConnell a hypocrite misses the point. Hypocrisy — coupled with an utter lack of shame — is not a character fault in his eyes. It is a management style, a means to an end.”

As for Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) who will chair the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings for Donald Trump’s replacement nominee, Tumulty wrote, “Back in the days when he pretended to care about something more than sucking up to power, Graham used to say Republicans would have to live with what they had done to Obama’s 2016 nominee, Merrick Garland,” before adding the South Carolina Republican has tried to justify going back on his word because he feels Democrats “… did things that offended him. So it’s payback time.”

“Oh, and let’s consider the sanctimonious and pseudointellectual Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX.),” she continued by pointing out that Cruz has been lying about ” … instances of presidential nominees being confirmed during election years.”

As Tumulty points out, 23 Republican senators — including Graham and McConnell — will be on the ballot in November giving voters their chance to voice their displeasure.

“A net loss of just four of them — or three if Democrats win back the White House, and a Vice President Kamala D. Harris gains the tie-breaking vote in the Senate chamber — would send the Republicans back into the minority,” she explained. “It would be a corrective they richly deserve, and even more important, a lesson for future senators that principles mean nothing if they can be bargained away for power.”


‘He truly despises Black women’: Cohen walks through Trump’s outright ‘hatred’ for women of color

Raw Story

It has become clear to anyone paying attention that President Donald Trump has serious problems with people of color. But his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, revealed that it goes much deeper.

“Trump is a racist white supremacist” is a story that may as well be “water is wet,” but Cohen explained Sunday in an interview with MSNBC’s Al Sharpton that Trump has a particular issue with women of color.

“The fact is, as much as he has a disdain for Black people, he truly despises Black women because he doesn’t know how to handle them,” Cohen said. “He doesn’t know what to do.”
Defend democracy. Click to invest in courageous progressive journalism today.

At a rally on Friday in Minnesota, Sharpton noted the “mostly white” crowd was one that Trump heralded for having “good genes,” meaning white genes.

“Not mostly white,” Cohen told Sharpton. “It’s almost 100 percent white.”

“Minnesota’s a state that’s more than 80 percent white,” Sharpton cited. “And we know the president’s supporters are overwhelmingly white. Is there any other way to interpret this than full-throated white supremacy?”

“Well, no,” Cohen replied.

Cohen also went on to rail against Attorney General Bill Barr, who he said has become the new “fixer” for Trump. He cited Barr’s attempt to stifle his free speech with a ban on any media appearances and the release of a book as a violation of his Constitutional rights.

“Judge [Alvin] Hellerstein issued an opinion from the bench where he called it retaliatory,” said Cohen. “The case was Michael Cohen v. Attorney General Bill Barr, the Department of Corrections, the Bureau of Prisons, and several other named individuals. You can go online, and you can read it. He called it retaliatory because that’s exactly what it was. And here is another thing I can tell you emphatically, that Bill Barr doesn’t do anything, and I mean nothing unless Donald Trump preapproves it. That’s the way it was at the Trump Organization, and it’s the way it goes in the White House. There’s no way in the world that Bill Barr did not have this planned with the president.”

Watch: https://youtu.be/h29mx3kG-0I


Bill Barr goes full-on right-wing nutjob

Terry H. Schwadron
Raw Story

Are you kidding me? Sedition? From 1798?

Just in case someone is not persuaded that this Trump Administration is falling off its rocker, the advice from Atty. Gen. William P. Barr to federal prosecutors to use a two-century-old law to stop people – no, specifically “violent” leftist protests outside federal courthouses – from seeking to overthrow the government should make us stop and scratch our collective heads.

For openers, protesting disproportionate police brutality against Black citizens is not calling for the overthrow of the government.

Secondly, there is actual evidence that groups other than Black Lives Matter or the oft-cited, if unorganized “antifa” are not the only ones in street. You heard nothing from Barr about using sedition laws against actual, organized, gun-toting, right-wing, white supremacist nationals who seem actually to want to overthrow the government – as well as to mix it up with lefties in the streets.

Thirdly, sedition laws have not been used over two centuries for good reason: Their Constitutionality runs very close to the edge of First Amendment rights to free speech and assembly that have protected leftists, neo-Nazis, right-wingers, flag-burners and vocal bayers-at-the-moon.

Looking for a definitive reason to deny the Trump team four more years? How about using the law to declare a virtual shutdown of civil liberties and free speech. Barr’s remarks this week were so outrageous that comparing state orders mandating masks and shutdowns for public health to slavery were not even the top line head-slap.

Aggressive Tactics

This has nothing to do with people who break rules about trespass or fire-setting or bottle-throwing,

No, this is the baring of raw power to shut down dissent. And it is a blatant attempt to use the Justice Department to underscore a Donald Trump campaign promise for Law & Order prompted by several localized protests that turn violent only in the middle of the night – a continuation of absolute reinterpretations of law and procedure to promote Trump’s politics.

The wording of the federal sedition statute says it is a crime for two or more people to conspire to use force to oppose federal authority, hinder the government’s ability to enforce any federal law or unlawfully seize any federal property — elements that might conceivably be made to fit a plot to, say, break into and set fire to a federal courthouse, despite evidence that more than 93% of nearly 8,000 Black Lives Matter protests between May and August this year have been peaceful.

Maybe Barr should be looking at those organized Western ranchers, right-wingers all,  when they held off enforcement of federal water law enforcement at gunpoint. Or at organized, armed Trump supporters who entered statehouses to threaten the lives of legislators considering laws to require coronavirus masks.

Or he could be looking at Trump administration officials and Republican supporters calling on people to arm themselves for insurrection in the event that Joe Biden wins the election. Or maybe even at the continued use of federal law enforcement and the Justice Department itself as political instruments to advance the partisan cause of a single sitting president seeking reelection, clearly throwing out any separations of power as constitutionally required to get his way in a wide variety of cases ranging from the misuse of U.S. intelligence to the matters of impeachment.

Just who here is seeking the overthrow of government as we have known it for 200 years? FBI Director Christopher Wray told a House committee it is right-wing white militias. Where’s Barr?

I get that Barr wants prosecutors to be aggressive in the case of Portland’s protests, which have involved the setting of small fires at the federal courthouse. Pursue shooters who have emerged aggressively, please. But moving to sedition and its 20-year sentences in the name of liberty and Law & Order? Are we Belarus or Hong Kong?


Actually, coincidental to the disclosures about using sedition laws, came news that federal officials had been stockpiling ammunition and devices that could emit deafening sounds or singe anyone within range feel like their skin is on fire to clear Lafayette Square in Washington for that Donald Trump Bible photo op. The disclosures came in The Washington Post from D.C. National Guard Maj. Adam D. DeMarco, who led the brigade there, and filed them as a whistleblower.

Are we nuts all of a sudden as a nation or can we see this as the excess of a bad political campaign? Does Barr think we are idiots? He actually compared his own prosecutors to pre-schoolers and asserted that he and Trump are in charge, not those career prosecutors who make daily decisions in individual cases.

Barr was wrong in citing “a dozen cases” each year in which Black citizens are mistreated; there are 250 deaths at the hands of police this last year. He and Trump are wrong to deny that there are systemic elements to racism in this country and to our policing practices.

The federal sedition law is rarely invoked, and something that does not seem to fit the circumstances of the unrest in places like Portland in response to police killings of Black men. So, too, would be ordering the arrest of the Seattle mayor for allowing a protest to cool itself in that city.

Promoting sedition laws to stop protests is an extremist Justice Department policy. Barr has no business being attorney general.

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« Reply #23 on: Sep 22, 2020, 02:42 AM »

Lack of Covid help for poor countries will haunt west, says UN aid chief

Sir Mark Lowcock fears impact will fuel grievances, conflict, instability and refugee flows

Larry Elliott
Tue 22 Sep 2020 08.23 BST

The west will be haunted for decades to come by its failure to do more to help poor countries cope with the economic and social impact of the Covid-19 crisis, the United Nations humanitarian chief has warned.

Writing for the Guardian, Sir Mark Lowcock, the former top civil servant at the UK’s Department for International Development, said rich nations had acted decisively to deal with their own problems but failed to show the same vigour in response to the growing international crisis.

Lowcock, the UN under-secretary for humanitarian affairs, said that in the world’s most fragile countries starvation was set to double, life expectancy would fall and girls removed from school would never go back.

“All this will fuel grievances, and in their wake conflict, instability and refugee flows, all giving succour to extremist groups and terrorists. The consequences will reach far and last long.”

Lowcock said it was hard to find a single policymaker who contested his analysis. “All the more curious, then, the tepid response,” he added.

The former UK civil servant said the UN had appealed for $10bn (£7.8bn) to mitigate the damage caused by the pandemic but had so far received only 25% of what it was seeking.

He called on developed countries to use their voting power at the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to beef up the multilateral response to the crisis by:

    Giving the go-ahead for the IMF to create and distribute the reserve assets known as special drawing rights.

    Putting in place a more comprehensive plan for debt relief.

    Pressurising the World Bank to exploit the strength of its balance sheet to lend more to struggling countries.

“Seeking to preserve the balance sheet during the current crisis is the wrong policy goal: the point of a strong balance sheet is to be able to use it in extreme circumstances. What worse problem are we waiting for? Increase lending now,” Lowcock said in his article.

Speaking to the Guardian, Lowcock said it had been extraordinary how weak the response by the leading shareholders of the IMF and the World Bank had been, especially when comparedwith the much stronger action taken during the financial crisis of 2008-09.

The economic distress caused by Covid-19 in poor countries was leading to a collapse in routine immunisation and acting as a “recruiting sergeant for extremists”, Lowcock said.

Amounts required to deal with humanitarian needs paled in comparison with the sums mobilised by rich countries, but political will was lacking, he said.

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« Reply #24 on: Sep 22, 2020, 02:44 AM »

Israel fish deaths linked to rapid warming of seas

Bacterial infection alongside speed of temperature rise may have triggered mortality, suggests study

Natalie Grover

High temperatures and the persistent warming of oceans have triggered profound changes in marine ecosystems, but a new study suggests that the rate of onset of warming – rather than the peak – could also play a key role in the damage fuelled by climate change.

In early July 2017, researchers were drawn to the coast of Eilat, Israel, following sightings of fish carcasses, a rare occurrence in the region’s coral reefs.

“The fish were absolutely fresh … their gills were still red,” said the lead author, Amatzia Genin of the Interuniversity Institute of Marine Sciences in Eilat.

Soon after, a citizen-science campaign was initiated and by early September, 427 carcasses belonging to at least 42 species were collected. Necropsies were performed on 14 freshly dead and moribund fish from eight different species. In 13 cases, severe infection directly caused by a pathogenic bacterium, Streptococcus iniae, was observed.

Although this pathogen is ubiquitous in fish in warm waters, a healthy immune system usually prevents debilitating infections. So, what caused the mass casualties?

Typically, mass fish mortality events in the aftermath of marine heat waves are chalked up to factors such as toxic algal bloom or oxygen deprivation (hypoxia).

“It was not marine heat waves because the water temperature was not exceptionally high,” Genin said.

But further examination revealed that the rate of warming – a rise of 4.2C over 2.5 days in early July – was the steepest recorded since daily measurements were registered 32 years ago. In August, the water warmed by 3.4C in 2.5 days.

The same pattern emerged in two earlier documented mass coral reef fish deaths in Kuwait Bay in 2001 and western Australia in 2011. Both were immediately preceded by rapid warming spikes, suggesting that the rapid onset of warming, regardless of the final temperature, might trigger widespread mortality, the researchers wrote in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“This study isn’t quite the loud canary in a coal mine, but it’s part of the canary chorus, announcing that that the ocean has changed, and ecosystems are degrading … declining in both robustness and ability for organisms to survive,” said Dr Brad de Young from the Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada, who was not involved in the study.

“Ocean systems are being stressed out in many different ways – and like the background stress of Covid-19 on people, it makes everything else in life just that much more difficult,” he said.

When you add events such as sudden warming to overfishing, pollutants, changes in ocean acidity and oxygen levels – the abruptness of it can be devastating because fish are already metabolically and physiologically stressed, he suggested.

It is unlikely coral reef fish will swim to cooler water to escape, given their shallow habitat, he added. “There’s no food there, no grocery stores for them in deep water.”

A key question is whether the rapid warming weakened the fish immune system or provided an environment for the offending bacteria to proliferate.

“What you have here is one biotic (bacterial infection) and one abiotic (increase in temperature) challenge that occurred at the same time. It is possible that the infection lowered the thermal tolerance of the fish, and this resulted in the number of mortalities … but it certainly is very unlikely that it was temperature alone,” said Dr Kurt Gamperl from the Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada, who was not involved in the study.

The authors did not make any direct connection between the mortality and the rapid warming, he cautioned. “The evidence is all circumstantial.”

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« Reply #25 on: Sep 22, 2020, 02:46 AM »

Children urged to strike against lack of action on climate emergency

Schoolchildren to protest on Friday in first such action since coronavirus pandemic struck

Fiona Harvey Environment correspondent

Schoolchildren around the world are being urged to go on strike to protest against a lack of action on the climate crisis.

Children and their supporters are invited to take to the streets on Friday, if it is safe to do so, or to go online with their protests “in whatever way suits you best”, according to the organisers.

This will be the first such action since the coronavirus pandemic struck. Greta Thunberg, the Swedish school strike pioneer and activist, said: “Extreme weather driven by the climate crisis is accelerating around the world, and yet we still don’t treat it as a crisis. We are in a global emergency that affects all of us. However, not everyone is suffering its consequences equally.”

The protests will focus on Mapa, a new term for “most affected people and areas”, which the organisers prefer to older phrases such as “the global south”. Protesters are asked to make the Mapa signal, which is two closed fists pressed together with thumbs up, symbolising strength, solidarity and hope.

As extreme weather rips across swathes of the globe, including wildfires along the west coast of the US and the most active hurricane season in decades forecast for the Caribbean, the protesters want to contrast the plight of the most vulnerable with the lack of political commitment on the climate, and the rebound in greenhouse gas emissions as many developed economies return to high growth of CO2 emissions.

“We live in the midst of a pandemic, but climate change is just as much of a crisis as it was before,” said Fridays for Future, the youth movement sparked by Thunberg’s school strikes, in a statement. “As society is starting to open up in many places in the world, global emissions and resource use is rapidly increasing and we are running out of time … This is not a time to be silent.”

Friday’s day of action will come a year on from a global week of protest last September in which it is estimated that more than 6 million people took part. It also comes as schools around the world reopen after the disruptions of lockdown, at the start of the new academic year in the northern hemisphere.

The strikes will take place as the UN marks its 75th anniversary with a muted general assembly, which will be mostly online for the first time. António Guterres, the UN secretary general, will make climate breakdown a key focus and call for a green economic recovery from the coronavirus crisis.

Boris Johnson, the UK prime minister, will use his speech to set out the UK’s plans to host the next UN climate summit, called Cop26, in Glasgow next year. The talks were scheduled for this November but have been postponed for a year because of the coronavirus crisis.

At Cop26, world leaders will be expected to put forward strengthened national plans on cutting CO2 emissions, as current commitments under the Paris agreement are too weak to hold global heating to well below 2C (a rise of 3.6F) as the treaty demands. Despite the plunge in emissions as lockdowns were imposed around the world this spring, the rebound now taking place will cancel out any beneficial impact, and stronger policies are needed to make the structural changes necessary to effect permanently lower emissions. Cop26 is seen as one of the last chances to put the world on track to fulfil the Paris accord.

The UK has said little publicly on the Cop26 talks, apart from to postpone them, since the launch of Britain’s presidency in February. Green campaigners have grown increasingly concerned at the lack of public engagement, though insiders are keen to point out that meetings of Cop26 officials are continuing behind the scenes.

Prince Charles will call on Monday, before the start of the high-level segment of the general assembly on Tuesday, for a greater sense of urgency among world political and business leaders. He wants the lessons of the coronavirus crisis to be used to “reset” the global economy, shifting from a high to a low CO2 footing.

The prince will say: “Without swift and immediate action, at an unprecedented pace and scale, we will miss the window of opportunity to reset for … a more sustainable and inclusive future.

“In other words, the global pandemic is a wake-up call we cannot ignore. [The environmental crisis] has been with us for far too many years – decried, denigrated and denied. It is now rapidly becoming a comprehensive catastrophe that will dwarf the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.”

Johnson is expected to say that the UK will stop funding the development of fossil fuels abroad, as his government’s continued funding for overseas oil and gas exploration has become a source of increasing conflict with campaigners. Campaigners are concerned, however, that loopholes and exemptions will diminish the impact.

The prime minister is also likely to refer to a new green infrastructure bank for the UK, to take up from the Green Investment Bank sold off by the Conservative government in 2017.

Johnson is also under pressure to bring forward the phase-out of diesel and petrol vehicles by five years from 2035 to 2030, a target now supported by Labour and green groups. His announcement of the 2035 target, itself an improvement on Theresa May’s phase-out year of 2040, was intended as the centrepiece of the government’s launch of Cop26 in February, but was overshadowed by the last-minute sacking of his top Cop26 official.

Alok Sharma, the UK’s business secretary and Cop26 president, will announce on Monday that Facebook, the car manufacturer Ford and the world’s biggest cement company, LafargeHolcim, are joining more than 1,100 businesses and more than 450 cities in the Race to Zero campaign for a world with no CO2 emissions. He will also inaugurate a new Cop26 energy transition council, bringing together politicians, investors and technical experts to foster the growth of clean energy around the world, and £50m funding for clean energy innovation in developing countries.

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« Reply #26 on: Sep 22, 2020, 02:49 AM »

How coral transplants could rescue Turkey's threatened reefs

Scientists are carefully moving the sea animals to new locations to save them from construction schemes
The age of extinction is supported by

Asya Robins
22 Sep 2020 07.15 BST

Transplanting coral is difficult work. “You only have 20 minutes to dive down 30 metres and transplant the coral to the correct part of the rock, where hopefully it will live for hundreds of years,” explains Serço Ekşiyan, one of a small group of volunteers who have taken on the huge task of saving the corals around the Princes’ Islands (Adalar), a picturesque archipelago in the Marmara Sea about a 40-minute boat ride from Istanbul.

The Marmara Sea, made up of water from the Black Sea and the Mediterranean, is home to 24 Alcyonacea coral species whose existence is threatened by the onslaught of nearby property development. Among those disappearing are sea whips, sea pens, sea fans and some types of red and yellow soft corals.

“Most of these corals you would never find outside of the Mediterranean basin. The further east you go, the more they move into deeper waters. It’s miraculous that we are able to see them on the shores of the Princes’ Islands,” says Dr Eda Topçu, a marine biologist at Istanbul University and leader of the transplantation project. These corals, she says, are crucial for the survival of marine ecosystems as they provide safe spawning and nursing environments for aquatic life.

    It’s a bit like the Noah’s ark legend – if you preserve a small number of each species, they will multiply and thrive again
    Dr Cem Dalyan, hydrobiologist

Since 2015, the Adalar Marine Life and Sports Club (Adysk), of which Ekşiyan is a member, has been working closely with scientists to revive and protect the marine ecosystems of the northern Marmara Sea, primarily clearing the seabed of ghost nets abandoned by industrial (and sometimes illegal) fishing boats.

When tons of building debris dumped off the coast of Yassıada Island killed a large coral community in late 2015, however, its work increased overnight. Yassıada is a tiny island, less than 1km long, but is now home to a hotel, mosque, conference building and museum. Ekşiyan gets out his phone to show images of the before and after of Yassıada’s underwater habitat: traceries of golden coral reduced to what look like wires covered in thick dust.

In 2017, plans were made to start yet more land development work on another of the Princes’ Islands, Sivri Island, which sits in the centre of a large coral reef. Determined that what happened on Yassıada would not be repeated, the team began the painstaking process of transplanting the corals to a safer location, working closely with marine biologists and Turkey’s Scientific Research Council, Tübitak.

In two years, they transplanted 280 corals to the shores of uninhabited Tavşan Island, eight miles (13km) away. This was the first coral transplant undertaken in Turkey.

“It was a process of trial and error,” Ekşiyan says. “None of us had ever transplanted corals before.” He demonstrates on a nearby wall how the team affixed the coral in a grid at the bottom of a deep sea cliff between existing reefs, using a solvent that had to be prepared in situ, because it turns rock solid almost immediately. Getting his phone out again, he shows pictures of three corals that didn’t make it, stuck in lumps of adhesive before they could be placed on the grid.

Despite the challenges, they achieved an impressive 90% success rate in 2017 when transplanting the first 90 corals, and 60% in 2019 for the remaining 190. Volkan Narcı, the founding member of the group, says the corals are adapting well to the new reef substrate. Now, they just need to be protected.

Every day, new marine species enter the Marmara Sea, migrating from the south. “Many animals, such as octopuses, tortoises, groupers and swordfish are coming from the Mediterranean to the Marmara Sea due to coral bleaching and loss of habitat there – which means the Marmara is turning into a haven for certain ecosystems that we must protect,” says hydrobiologist Dr Cem Dalyan.

“It’s a bit like the Noah’s ark legend – if you preserve a small number of each species, they will multiply and thrive again once the calamity is over. The Marmara Sea is the ark, and could save the entire Mediterranean.”

    This is the only way we can make sure the corals are given a chance to develop into a healthy colony
    Volkan Narcı, Adysk

The Adysk team are currently negotiating with the government to designate the area around Tavşan Island a marine protected area, which would mean no more fishing and a prohibition on boats dropping anchor. The zone would also protect the sea from construction work.

“This is the only way we can make sure the corals are given a chance to develop into a healthy colony,” says Narcı. But their attempts to convince a remote and often unsympathetic Ankara bureaucracy have so far been unsuccessful. They recently launched a petition to get 1,000 signatures in support of the protection zone, which they will then take to the government.

But the future is uncertain. Ekşiyan and Narcı talk about similar European initiatives working to protect marine life, such as Healthy Seas and Ghost Diving, that have access to funding and support from sponsors and government, while Adysk has neither. It is supporting itself independently, through scuba diving classes and freelance jobs, but says it is in dire need of permanent funds and government support.

Narcı emphasises the importance of educating local people, especially young people, about the Marmara Sea and the ecosystems within it. The team are working with local civil society groups on the Princes’ Islands to raise awareness of the science around these specialised habitats and to introduce people to marine life, especially corals.

Narcı says: “So much of our oxygen is produced by plankton photosynthesis, and these plankton live in the shelter of coral colonies. We have to tell everyone about this, or we will all suffocate.”

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« Reply #27 on: Sep 22, 2020, 02:52 AM »

US warns Afghan women of increased risk of extremist attack

Message from the US embassy comes during long-postponed direct talks between the government and the Taliban

Stefanie Glinski in Kabul
22 Sep 2020 15.26 BST

The United States has warned women in Afghanistan that they are at increased risk of attack by extremist groups.

The US embassy in Kabul warned on Thursday that “extremist organisations continue to plan attacks against a variety of targets […], including a heightened risk of attacks targeting female government and civilian workers, including teachers, human rights activists, office workers, and government employees.”

The message comes as the Taliban and the Afghan government meet in Doha for the first round of long-postponed direct negotiations about the future of the war-torn country.

The Taliban and Islamic State operate in Afghanistan, with militants of the former saying they do not intend to target women. But attacks on women have been increasing. On Friday, a video apparently showing two young women being attacked on Kabul’s streets as police officers watch, was widely shared on social media.

Last month, Fawzia Koofi, one of the women on the government’s peace negotiation team, survived an assassination attempt. That followed a car bomb attack on Fatima Khalil, a 24-year-old member of Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission. She and her driver were killed.

Afghan hospital attack: 'I thought my baby had died and I would be next'..Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/may/19/afghan-kabul-hospital-attack-i-thought-my-baby-had-died-and-i-would-be-next

In May, 16 mothers – most of whom had just given birth – were murdered in a west Kabul maternity ward, alongside eight other people.

Commenting on the video, Koofi said: “We are [a] war generation; certain misdeeds are normalised in our society due to war.”

Almost 1,300 men, women and children have been killed in Afghanistan in the first six months of the year, according to the UN. An additional 2,176 people have been injured.

“It’s never safe for us to go outside,” said Shukria Akbari, a 40-year-old mother who lost her 18-year-old daughter in a suicide attack two years ago.

“So many women are full of ambitions and drive, but in Afghanistan, it’s ripped away from them. The country needs a new generation of strong women with a vision, but there are so many stumbling stones,” she said.

Afghanistan continues to be one of the world’s toughest countries to be a women. The literacy rate of girls and women over 15 remains about 30%, and only on Thursday did Afghanistan’s president, Ashraf Ghani, sign an amendment that allowed a mother’s name to be included on a child’s birth certificate.

Many Afghans fear the potential return of the Taliban era, where women were denied education and work outside their homes.

“If the Taliban comes back, there is little hope for us,” Akbari said. “We can try to fight, we might be locked away, or we can flee our country.”

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« Reply #28 on: Sep 22, 2020, 03:05 AM »

Global report: Trump wrongly claims Covid affects 'virtually' no young people

US death toll nears 200,000; England to introduce curfews for pubs, bars, restaurants; Czech PM admits mistake in easing restrictions
Helen Sullivan

As the United States’ coronavirus death toll edged closer to 200,000, US president Donald Trump claimed falsely at a rally in Ohio that the country’s fatality rate was “among the lowest in the world” and that the virus has “virtually” no effect on young people.

Speaking in the town of Swanton, Trump said: “It affects elderly people. Elderly people with heart problems and other problems. If they have other problems that’s what it really affects, that’s it,” he claimed. “You know in some states, thousands of people – nobody young.”

“Take your hat off to the young, because they have a hell of an immune system. But it affects virtually nobody. It’s an amazing thing. By the way, open your schools.”

Trump also claimed that the United States had “among the lowest case-fatality rates of any country in the world.” The US ranks 53rd highest out of 195 countries in the world with a case-fatality rate of 2.9%, according to Johns Hopkins University. It is the 11th worst on deaths per 100,000 people, at 60.98.

At least 199,815 Americans are known to have died since the start of the pandemic, according to Johns Hopkins, which relies on official government data. With the worst death toll in the world, the US accounts for one in five coronavirus-related fatalities worldwide. Just under one in every 1,600 Americans has died in the pandemic.

In August, the World Health Organization warned that young people were becoming the primary drivers of the spread of coronavirus in many countries.

Meanwhile, in Europe, stocks posted their worst fall in three months on Monday as fears of a second wave hit travel and leisure shares, while banks tumbled on reports of about $2tn-worth of potentially suspect transfers by leading lenders.

Pubs, bars and restaurants in England will have to shut by 10pm from Thursday under new nationwide restrictions to halt an “exponential” rise in coronavirus cases.

Boris Johnson is expected to make an address to the nation on Tuesday setting out the new measures. With cases doubling every week across the UK and a second wave expected to last up to six months, health officials are said to have advised the government over the weekend to “move hard and fast”. There could be up to 50,000 new coronavirus cases a day in Britain by the middle of October if the pandemic continues at its current pace, the country’s chief scientific adviser warned.

Scotland is also expected to announce new restrictions on Tuesday.

The Czech Republic prime minister, Andrej Babis, admitted on Monday that his government had made a mistake when it eased restrictions over the summer. “Even I got carried away by the coming summer and the general mood. That was a mistake I don’t want to make again,” the billionaire populist said in a televised speech.

After fending off much of the pandemic earlier in the year with timely steps, including mandatory face masks outdoors, the government lifted most measures before the summer holidays.

The Czech Republic registered a record high of 3,130 coronavirus cases on Thursday last week, almost matching the total for the whole of March, although testing capacity was low at the start of the pandemic.

In other developments:

    There are 31.2m coronavirus cases worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins, and 963,068 people have died over the course of the pandemic so far.

    New Zealand recorded no new cases of Covid-19 on Tuesday, as restrictions on much of the country were entirely removed, and measures imposed on Auckland, the largest city, were due to ease further. There was no recorded community spread of the virus in the rest of New Zealand, where the government has now lifted all physical distancing restrictions and limits on gatherings.

    Mexico surpassed 700,000 confirmed cases on Monday after the health ministry reported 2,917 new confirmed cases in the Latin American country, bringing the total to 700,580 as well as a cumulative death toll of 73,697.

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« Reply #29 on: Sep 22, 2020, 03:08 AM »

Far-right Brothers of Italy close to snatching Marche region from left

Party set to end 25 years of leftist rule and take second presidency in regional elections

Angela Giuffrida in Rome
Tue 22 Sep 2020 03.24 BST

A candidate for the far-right Brothers of Italy has ended 25 years of leftwing rule in the eastern Marche region, giving the party its second regional presidency, according to incomplete results.

However, the centre-left managed to retain its stronghold of Tuscany, in what the region’s centre-left candidate Eugenio Giani called “an extraordinary victory”.

As the results came in on Monday night in key Italian regional elections, far-right former interior minister Matteo Salvini admitted: “We knew it would be an extremely difficult fight.”

Polling suggested the race would be extremely tight in Tuscany, a leftwing bastion for over 50 years. “Salvini has been stopped in his tracks. The Tuscans did not fall for his propaganda,” Simona Bonafe, the Democratic party (PD) leader in Tuscany, was quoted as saying by Florence-based newspaper La Nazione.

Brothers of Italy, led by the increasingly popular Giorgia Meloni and part of a coalition led by Salvini’s League and including Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, also ran a close race in Puglia but was maintained by the PD.

Brothers of Italy’s candidate for the regional presidency of Marche, Francesco Acquaroli, was forecast to capture 51.2% of the vote, compared with 35.7% for the centre-left candidate. A win there gives Brothers of Italy, a descendant of a post-fascist party, its second regional seat after Abruzzo.

“Marche is an important win for Meloni,” said Mattia Diletti, a politics professor at Rome’s Sapienza university. “Her goal is to lead the coalition and she has understood that it’s more of a marathon than a sprint.”

There was strong voter turnout across the seven regions hosting elections on Sunday and Monday, as well as in a referendum on reducing the number of parliamentarians, which an overwhelming 69% of Italians are projected to have supported. The referendum was backed by the Five Star Movement, the party ruling nationally with the Democratic party.

Salvini’s coalition retained Veneto, with the incumbent leader, Luca Zaia, set for a landslide victory, as well as the Liguria region. The centre-left easily kept Campania, where the popularity of Vincenzo De Luca, the incumbent president, has surged thanks to his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

The League was also ahead in the small Aosta Valley region, which has its own party system. If the coalition’s wins are confirmed in the final results it would give the group more than half of Italy’s 20 regions, with nine captured from the left within the last few years.

The group is the biggest political force in Italy but its latest successes are unlikely to have too much of an impact on the shaky national coalition led by the prime minister, Giuseppe Conte.

With the PD maintaining Tuscany, Campania and Puglia and the M5S succeeding with the referendum, the outcome of the regional elections could, in fact, help reinforce the coalition, which is currently drafting a spending programme for its €290bn (£266m) share of the European Recovery Fund.

“I think the government will be stable but with some tremors,” added Diletti. “It’s too important for them to be stable in order to have a good relationship with Europe.”

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