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« Reply #60 on: Sep 25, 2020, 02:58 AM »

Chad halts lake's world heritage status request over oil exploration

Exclusive: African state says it has agreements with oil companies in Lake Chad area

Mélanie Gouby
25 Sep 2020 10.14 BST

Chad has asked to suspend an application for world heritage site status for Lake Chad to explore oil and mining opportunities in the region, it can be revealed.

In a letter leaked to the Guardian, Chad’s tourism and culture minister wrote to Unesco, the body which awards the world heritage designation, asking to “postpone the process of registering Lake Chad on the world heritage list”.

The letter says the government “has signed production-sharing agreements with certain oil companies whose allocated blocks affect the area of the nominated property”.

The nature of the agreements and the identity of the companies have not been made public.

The letter asks Unesco to “postpone the process” in order to “allow [us] to redefine and redesign the map to avoid any interference in the future”.

The request follows a multiyear process involving the governments of Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria to jointly nominate the Lake Chad cultural landscape to the Unesco world heritage list. It has been nominated as both a natural and a cultural site.

It comes as a blow to the other countries’ delegations, who had not been informed of Chad’s oil ambitions in the Lake Chad basin.

“We worked two years to put together the application and we had never heard about this before,” says Alice Biada of Cameroon’s arts and culture ministry. “It would be a huge waste of time and resources if the process doesn’t go ahead.”

Today, the lake itself spans the border of Chad and Cameroon, while the Lake Chad basin straddles all four countries. Chad’s ministry of tourism and culture did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

“It is important to recall that the goal of the inscription of a site on the world heritage list is to ensure conservation of its outstanding universal value for future generations,” a spokesperson for the Unesco world heritage site centre said. “A suspension of the inscription process is not contemplated among the possibilities offered by the provisions of the world heritage nomination process”.

If Chad decides to go ahead with oil exploitation, the process would have to be cancelled all together, Unesco said.

Lake Chad, is the setting for one of the world’s most complex humanitarian crises, triggered by factors including the climate crisis, religious extremism, population displacement and military operations. Boko Haram has used the lake as a hideout.

About 45 million people live off the lake’s resources and call its 942 islands and its shores home. “It’s a vibrant cultural environment, with unique diversity and political, social and economic systems that are not well known,” says Sébastien Moriset from the International Centre for Earth Construction in Grenoble, who worked on putting together the nomination proposal documents.

“For example, tens of thousands of people live with no jail, no police … there is so much we can learn. Yet it is also very fragile. They have no one to represent them,” he said.

Lake Chad has been physically under threat since the 1970s, when it began receding owning to a drought. Rivers feeding into the lake were drying up, and by the end of the 1990s, it had shrunk to roughly 2,000 sq km, a 95% decline from its peak. As the water retreated, famine came.

But the application process has led to the confirmation that the size of the lake has in fact been increasing again in recent years, dispelling the myth of a disappearing lake.

“There’s no doubt about its size now, we used GPS data and Google Earth to confirm it, and the surface has come back to 17,000 sq km,” said Moriset.

Before the threat of oil, local communities’ only experience with mining had been digging for natron, a mineral akin to salt and used in camel feed. Experts say drilling for oil in such an unstable environment could lead to the lake becoming the new Niger Delta, where insurgents have attacked pipelines and oil spills have polluted waters beyond repair.

A world heritage listing is seen by many states as a prestigious international status symbol, and a label to attract international cooperation, as well as economic benefits such as tourism. Sites may also receive financial assistance for heritage conservation projects from international donors.

At this stage, whether the site merits inscription on the world heritage list has not yet been determined. The answer to that question would only come after a series of assessments by two advisory bodies before a final decision by the world heritage committee at its annual conference.

“We cannot give up on this process, we owe it to future generations,” said Hamissou Halilou Malam Garba, Niger’s deputy director of wildlife, hunting, parks and reserves. “The lake is a shared resource, no country can do it alone. It would be profoundly unfair”.

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« Reply #61 on: Sep 25, 2020, 03:02 AM »

'Tiny wind turbine' can collect energy from a walker's swinging arm

Researchers say device can generate sustainable power from gentle breeze

Natalie Grover
25 Sep 2020 16.00 BST

0:54..Scientists develop 'tiny wind turbine' to scavenge energy from gentle breeze – video report: https://youtu.be/PUKGKLD-qd4

Scientists have developed a “tiny wind turbine” that can scavenge energy from the breeze made while walking.

Imagine rubbing a balloon on your hair for a few seconds – can you hear the crackle of static electricity, see your hair stand on end? That energy, powered by the contact and separation of two materials, can be bottled up and stored for use, according to researchers working on the device.

Scientists in China hope the device can generate sustainable power in a low-cost, efficient manner. Once placed on a person’s swinging arm, the airflow is enough to generate power, the researchers said.

“Our goal is to solve the issues that the traditional wind turbines can’t solve,” said lead author, Dr Ya Yang, of Beijing Institute of Nanoenergy and Nanosystems, in a statement. “Unlike wind turbines that use coils and magnets, where the costs are fixed, we can pick and choose low-cost materials for our device.”

The device comprises two plastic strips in a tube that flutter or clap together in the presence of airflow. A gentle breeze of 1.6 metres a second is enough to power the device, but it performs best at a speed that ensures the two plastic strips flutter in sync, when wind velocity is between 4 and 8 m/s, the researchers said.

The device appears to be a simple, reliable method of generating a small amount of energy that could then be deployed in a variety of ways such as powering remote sensors, security cameras or even a weather station on top of a hill that is otherwise difficult to reach, said Richard Cochrane, associate professor of renewable energy from the University of Exeter, who was not involved in the study.

“We won’t see this innovation replacing the big turbines, but we are seeing increasing numbers of these sort of technologies being used for energy harvesting …providing power in places that are otherwise quite hard to get electricity to.”

So far, the device has been able to power up 100 LED lights and temperature sensors, its makers said. It also has a wind-to-energy conversion efficiency of 3.23%, which they claim exceeds previously-reported performances on wind energy scavenging.

0:21..Video shows how triboelectric nanogenerator is applicable in outdoor environment: https://youtu.be/xNHhlu3c3Vc

In their paper, published in Cell Reports Physical Science, the researchers show the frequency of the oscillation varies with the wind speed exerted on the device, noted Cochrane.

“But what will be interesting is to see how sensitive the energy output is related to that frequency or the wind speed. Do they need a certain frequency to get any energy out of it? If it’s oscillating below 24 hertz, can it still generate energy?”

Additionally, when something flops back and forward, you get fatigue in the materials – so how long these devices last would be interesting to see, he said.

“And then how does the technology cope with ice, rain, dust and salty wind blown in from the sea? That would be nice to see proven – because that can be a challenge with conventional turbines.”

Meanwhile, its makers are dreaming big. They hope to combine it with small electronic devices such as phones, to provide sustainable electric power, and eventually to make the device competitive with traditional wind turbines, where output is heavily dependent on high wind speeds.

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« Reply #62 on: Sep 25, 2020, 03:05 AM »

'Money is worth nothing now': how Lebanon is finding a future in farming

With food in short supply and prices rocketing, a wave of new farmers are growing produce on roofs, balconies and beyond   

Jenny Gustafsson in Beirut
Fri 25 Sep 2020 07.15 BST

On the side of the Baanoub valley in southern Lebanon, half an hour’s drive from the coast, Yasmina Zaher stands surrounded by olive trees with thick, sturdy trunks. Planted in Roman times, once tended by monks, they are now cared for by Zaher and her husband, Jean-Pierre, who also grow vegetables, fruit and flowers.

“It’s beautiful to see the result of what you produce, to hold it in your hands and taste it,” she says.

“It took us 10 years to become farmers. That’s when we started to understand what the trees need and when to plan for next year,” Jean-Pierre says.

The architect and former TV producer are among a new wave of, mostly young, Lebanese farmers. Part of the ancient Fertile Crescent, Lebanon is a place abundant with crops, from figs and cherries to wheat.

But food is no longer taken for granted in the country.

Long before the Covid-19 pandemic and the devastating explosion in Beirut on 4 August, Lebanon was already deep in economic crisis. Its currency has now lost more than 60% in value and purchasing power has dwindled. Food prices increased as much as 367% in the past year, and the UN recently said that more than half of Lebanon’s population is now trapped in poverty, double last year’s rate of 28%.

In April, the social affairs and tourism minister, Ramzi Musharrafieh, said that 75% of the population needs some kind of aid; Save the Children recently said that half a million children in Beirut don’t get sufficient food.

    Planting pots with herbs is not going to make any difference in nutrition. We need to change the nature of the system
    Prof Rami Zurayk, American University of Beirut

For many, farming is emerging as a solution. “Suddenly I meet a lot of people who are growing on their balconies and in their backyards. I feel very hopeful about this,” Corinne Jabbour, a permaculture designer, says.

Initiatives promoting farming have multiplied. Food banks offer seedlings, volunteers teach sustainable farming and social media groups share advice. Groups of friends or neighbours have taken to farming. All across Lebanon, municipalities hand out seeds and encourage people to plant abandoned land.

“They gave us seeds and seedlings, even brought people to teach us how to plant. My mum was surprised how fast the lettuce grows and how much it tastes,” says Ghadir Hamadi from southern Lebanon.

Hamadi spent the lockdown period in her family’s house in the countryside. But close to 90% of Lebanon’s population live in cities, without access to land or gardens. In Beirut’s Palestinian refugee camp Burj el Barajneh, among the densest areas in the city, a group now plants vegetables on roofs.

In another part of Beirut, also surrounded by high buildings, Souad Abdallah walks around among the plants on her rooftop. There are varieties of salad, tomatoes and edible flowers. In one corner, Hadi Deaibes and Dahna Abou Rahme, who together with Abdallah form the agriculture collective Kon, construct a wooden bed for planting.

“It all started during the revolution. I felt the need to do something constructive. I wanted to work with the community and invest in something sustainable.

“We follow permaculture philosophy and take into consideration the surroundings. We use compost soil and grow what can be grown in the city,” Abdallah says.

The group were lucky – their roof garden was not damaged in the explosion.

“We are contributing from the small donations we get to help with things like medication and doctors’ consultations.”

Rami Zurayk, a professor of ecosystem management at the American University of Beirut, says developing a relationship with soil has positive effects on people’s wellbeing. “We are waking up now to see that what we thought we had is no longer here. People have money in the bank that they cannot use. Going back to the primordial – land, seeds, food – is cathartic.”

But small initiatives will do little to solve food security, he says.

    There was never any support to farmers. And now they are saying go and grow your own food
    Michel Maasri, permaculture farmer

“Someone planting pots with herbs is not going to make any difference in nutrition. We need to change the nature of the system, to treat food as a human right, not a commodity.”

Lebanon is not alone in facing a food crisis. The World Food Programme warned that Covid-19 could almost double the number of people facing hunger, from 130 million to 265 million. Agriculture has been disrupted all over the world, seasonal workers stuck behind closed borders. Lebanon, home to more refugees per capita than any other country, does not face that issue – the main agricultural workforce here is Syrian refugees.

“We can’t go back to Syria because of the war, but we are working as usual,” says Hudoud el-Wakaa, an agricultural worker.

Migrant workers, who depend on sending income home to their families, are among those hit hardest. Kamal Mia, from Barisal in Bangladesh, sells vegetables used in many Asian cuisines: spiky bitter gourd, pink lychee fruits and heavy bottle gourd. All grown near Beirut.

“We bring seeds from Bangladesh and plant them here. Each weekend I sell 30–40 kilos of okra and 50–60 kilos of bitter gourd,” he says.

During his three years in Lebanon, he has been sending $400–500 (£310–390) to his wife and daughters every month.

“But the last five months I haven’t been able to send anything. The money is worth nothing now, zero.”

Lebanon imports 60–80% of the calories it consumes (compared with the UK’s 50%) and is only self-sufficient in fruit. Wheat, the basic staple, is imported from countries including Russia and Ukraine. Lebanon is one of the world’s most densely populated countries and does not have the space to grow everything it needs.

Government support for agriculture is low, too. The cultivation of medicinal and industrial marijuana was recently legalised, in an attempt to generate more exports. A number of food products are currently subsidised, but these state subsidies might end in November.

“There was never any support to farmers. And now they are saying ‘go and grow your own food’. What we need is campaigns to support the farms that already exist,” says Michel Maasri from Shams, a permaculture farm in the mountains north of Beirut.

In Baanoub, the Zahers spent more time than ever this year in the fields. Yasmina carries seedlings to plant near the olives. The trees are not straight, she says, but planted in irregular lines.

“Our generation doesn’t operate along straight lines either. Not like previous generations. For us it is natural to shift focus and start farming in the middle of life.”

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« Reply #63 on: Sep 25, 2020, 03:12 AM »

Cynthia Nixon: 'Will Donald Trump leave quietly? I don't know'

The actor who once ran to be governor of New York is political to her bones, passionate about trans rights, Black Lives Matter and the future of the left. She discusses the rise of Trump – and why she’s still optimistic

by Zoe Williams

Cynthia Nixon Zooms on to my screen from some decking in Long Island. The blue-grey sky is dramatically ominous, a sea breeze blows her hair into photogenic chaos and she is, of course, pretty damn famous – especially to those of us of the Sex and the City generation. So the overall effect is of watching a film, but one that is talking straight to you. Yet, within what feels like barely five seconds, we are discussing the end of democracy, with only the briefest detour to cover the impact wrought on her New York home by coronavirus.

“When you’re in New York City, what it reminds me of is the time right after September 11th. It was, in a way, less terrifying than it looked to people watching from the outside, just as it’s strangely less scary to have cancer than to watch someone you love have cancer.”

She packs a lot into a sentence – history, terrorism, love, cancer – and is clearly political to her bones: not at all interested in things that simply happen (pandemics and their attendant disruptions) but instead in systems, choices and worldviews. “In terms of the overall political scene across the country, it’s just terrifying. People keep writing these articles about the end of democracy, and it does feel like a real possibility when you have a president who’s trying to sink the Post Office.”

At 54, Nixon is a relatively recent discovery as a prominent advocate of the Democratic party’s furthest left: she stood against Andrew Cuomo in the 2018 election for the governor of New York, a race in which she now considers she was doomed from the start. “I was triply burdened,” she says. “I was a woman. I was a gay woman. I was a person who had been an activist for a long time, but had never held political office, and obviously the governor is a really big place to start. And I am an actress, which is a barely coded word for ‘bimbo’ or ‘ditz’. I don’t, in my personal life, ever call myself an actress – I call myself an actor. But Cuomo tried to use that word as often as he could, in a very derogatory way.”

But, as she points out, her political work pre-dated the gubernatorial challenge by many years. She has long been a fierce defender of public education, which is how she met her wife, the education activist Christine Marinoni, having separated from her previous partner, Danny Mozes, a teacher with whom she has two children, in 2003 (she has a third with Marinoni).

Her political stance was, originally, to defend public institutions from privatisation – a critique that will be very familiar on this side of the Atlantic. “We’ve been aware for decades how much politicians want to underfund the schools, partly because they don’t care, because they send their own children to private schools.” But through the intersection with her personal life, the tendrils of this progressive agenda reached into LGBTQ rights, women’s rights, trans rights – her oldest child is transgender – and Black Lives Matter (BLM). Six months ago, she made a video that went viral for Girls Girls Girls, the American feminist magazine. Be a Lady, They Said is a short, impassioned and caustic polemic, written by Camille Rainville, about the double (triple, infinite) standards applied to femininity (my favourite line: “Be a size zero. Be a double zero. Be nothing. You look emaciated!”).

    America has never reckoned with its slave past, with its Jim Crow past, with its white supremacist past

She speaks powerfully about the BLM movement and the hope that it has brought in such dark times. “How many Americans of every ethnicity and race and age have come out in support of the BLM marches? The last estimate I heard was 20 million people, in every part of the country. Hope is hard. Every person who’s killed [by police] is really heart-wrenching for me, so I can’t imagine, if you’re a black person or you’re the mother of a black son, what it’s like. So it’s weird to say ‘hopeful’. But America has never reckoned with its slave past, with its Jim Crow past, with its white supremacist past. And now it is. The dichotomy is MAGA [Make America Great Again] versus BLM.” You could never mistake Nixon for a celebrity adding her voice to various movements out of disinterested goodwill: activism is her driving force; her fame when she talks about it – if she talks of it at all – seems more like an accident.

Perhaps that sounds counterintuitive, given how long she has spent in showbiz. Born in Manhattan to a journalist father and actor mother in 1966, she had her first role at the age of 12 in ABC’s children’s special The Seven Wishes of a Rich Kid in 1978, and appeared on Broadway in a revival of The Philadelphia Story at 14. When she took the role of Miranda Hobbes in Sex and the City in 1998, it was on the back of an already very well-established career on stage.

Viewers were obsessed with SATC, to the extent that the tiniest details of the casts’ assorted lives were considered newsworthy (did they bicker off set? Did they hang out together? How like their characters were they really?) And much was made of the fact that Nixon was nothing like Miranda – she had a very happy family life, a man, kids, the works, while her character was a commitment-phobe, and she had had quite a seamless journey to success, while her character’s career arc was frantic and thwarted.

Looking back on that performance, though, there was something about it that was true to the actor’s own sensibility. She was the one who made it watchable for people who didn’t care about shoes or think that marriage was a goal in itself; she was the element of female friendship that didn’t correspond, or have much to say to, the heightened, camp versions of femininity that the show otherwise embodied.

Even though Nixon has a pretty staunch critique of her industry as a whole – “We have a long history in the entertainment business of putting marginalised people in front of a camera, but the people who are writing their lines have no idea about their experiences” – she talks warmly of her time as part of it. As well as many other things, acting is, for her, the place where the personal can have political impact, where the warmth that is generated by the creative process burns through to the audience. “That camaraderie that you have, not only with other actors but with the crew, it’s hard to describe,” she says, “but it creates a feeling that is transmitted on to the screen.” And, in turn, that changes the way people see one another.

    There are so many of us gay people on TV now, we are so popular, it's hard for people to believe we are evil and twisted

This is a point she makes specifically about homophobia and its gradual extinction: “I was involved in the fight for marriage equality,” she explains. “And it was really interesting how finally, in the end game, the anti-LGBT forces had painted themselves into a corner. Their message was: ‘We are under attack, this is an anti-straight person movement. If this happens, your kindergarteners are going to have to watch pornographic films of same-sex couples going at it, your church is going to have to have disgusting weddings in their sanctuaries.’ And – I watched it happen – the vilification of gay people stopped working. In a way in which the vilification of black people never stopped working, and the presentation of abortion as murder never stopped working. Even if you live in such a conservative neighbourhood that no one has come out to you, television is full of us. Maybe you love Elton John, maybe you love Ellen DeGeneres. There are so many of us, and we are so popular, that it’s hard for people to believe that we are evil and twisted.”

She notes, however, that all that hostility didn’t just disappear: it has now been focused on trans people, and the fight has taken on the same contours. “There are many things that the right uses against trans people, and a lot of them have to do with a threat. ‘There’s going to be a man in your women’s bathroom.’ It’s the most preposterous thing in the world. ‘They’re going to rape you and they’re going to molest you and they’re going to make you use pronouns.’” If it is ever implied that she feels especially strongly about trans issues because her son is transgender, I feel moved to point out that she feels this strongly about everything.

Nixon was a very vocal supporter of Bernie Sanders in the 2016 democratic leadership race, and still maintains that he had a better chance against Donald Trump than Hillary Clinton ever did. “We had this weird swing voter who voted Obama but also voted for Trump. But maybe it wasn’t weird. These people are desperate for change, they didn’t want Hillary Clinton. They didn’t want continuity.”

She is no great fan of Clinton, nor the factions of the party that got her the leadership: “They did everything they could to make sure Sanders was not the candidate, they just jumped on him and killed him.” But she deplores the misogyny directed at Clinton as much as she would have had she shared her politics. “So much of the hatred of her was wrapped up in her femaleness. Insert adjective here – ‘coldness’, ‘aloofness’, ‘smugness’.”

You could similarly imagine Nixon being less than 100% behind Joe Biden – whichever way you cut it, he is not a left-wing firebrand – but, in the moment, she sounds as though she is very much sticking to the progressive hymn sheet on this: “He’s our candidate,” she says, trenchantly.

Looking back at the words themselves, though, she has a much more complicated stance, and I was struck by a skill that is more politician’s than actor’s: the ability to leave an impression of having said a thing that isn’t quite what you said. “There is a real war going on in the Democratic party,” she says. “And those of us who are, you know, supporters of Bernie and AOC [Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez] are very sure that we are the future of the party. But there are so many retrograde forces trying to hold back the tidal wave.”

However, for anyone in the US who is not on the right, there are bigger problems than fighting one another: the prospect of Trump winning a second term, or even if he doesn’t, the peaceful transfer of power. “I do feel frightened about his malevolent high jinks,” she says. “I feel concerned about interference from other countries; I think everyone feels concerned about postal votes. Will he leave quietly? I don’t know.”

She also shares an anxiety that even quite optimistic Democrats are voicing; that Trump’s absurd positioning as the law-and-order candidate might actually work. “Trump’s only path to re-election is to position himself as defender of white people and white lives and white supremacy. To say; that’s one alternative, and the only other alternative is chaos, and looting and an end to the suburbs. The fact of the matter is, big cities almost always vote Democrat, particularly in national elections, because we’re very diverse and we have so many more poor people. But Trump is spinning this narrative that all our major cities are failing, because they’re run by Democrats.

“The Republicans have run out of solutions to big cities. They just say: ‘You’re Sodom and Gomorrah, may you all go up in flames.’” That doesn’t, however, amount to her repudiating protests – a lot of the violence is driven by rightwing provocateurs, she says – and still less has she given in to despair. “I do feel relatively optimistic. I do feel very encouraged by the polls.” It’s sometimes hard, as it is for so many of us, to distinguish between optimism and self-soothing.

Watch the trailer: https://youtu.be/ZU9ZtlkSnnE

Aside from politics, Nixon has a forthcoming role in Ratched, a Netflix drama series that conjures the backstory of the terrifying nurse in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Nixon plays Nurse Ratched’s nervy lover, in what might be her most on-brand casting ever: a feminist retelling of “this great movie, which has aged unbelievably well, but is also unbelievably misogynist – boys being boys and this humourless, castrating mother figure, abusing them. Nurse Ratched is always on the list of top 10 movie villainesses, so this series asks the question, is she a monster? And if she’s a monster, what happened to her? How did she become that monster?”

Ryan Murphy and Evan Romansky’s show is set in the late 40s and early 50s, and it is, says Nixon, their “way of commenting on this period in American history that’s supposed to be our apex, our moment of tremendous prosperity and optimism and opportunity. When Trump says ‘make America great again’, this is the moment he wants to return to.

“But for so many Americans, it was deeply malevolent and sadistic. There was a complete betrayal of African Americans coming back from the war, the dressing down of women who had their power retaken from them, the lavender purge of gay and lesbian workers … And that’s before you consider mental illness, and who gets to define what is and isn’t mentally ill. As queer people, we’re very aware of the essence of us being defined as an illness for so long.”

This is, paradoxically, where the source of her optimism shines through, more than any talk about which way the polls are going – where her actorly and activist personalities meet, in creative curiosity.

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« Reply #64 on: Sep 25, 2020, 03:27 AM »

Global Covid report: Rio cancels Carnival for first time in a century as global deaths near 1m

Landmark event scrapped as Brazil suffers; EU warns pandemic worse now than in March peak for some; Israel further toughens restrictions

Helen Sullivan and agencies
Fri 25 Sep 2020 05.49 BST

As the number of coronavirus deaths worldwide looked set to pass a million within days, Rio de Janeiro delayed its annual Carnival parade for the first time in a century because of Brazil’s continued vulnerability in the pandemic.

The global death toll passed 980,000 on Friday, according to the Johns Hopkins University tracker. With the number of deaths confirmed daily averaging more than 5,000, it looks likely the toll will pass 1 million within days. There are 32m cases worldwide.

Earlier in the week, death toll in the United States, which has suffered more coronavirus-related deaths than any other country, passed 200,000. The number of cases is nearing 7m.

Brazil, which has the second-worst death toll worldwide with 139,000, and the third-most cases, with 4.6m, cancelled its carnival parade, which usually takes place in February, for the first time in 100 years. Rio’s League of Samba Schools, LIESA, announced that the spread of the coronavirus had made it impossible to safely hold the traditional event.

Rio’s authorities are yet to announce a decision about the carnival street parties that also take place across the city. But its tourism promotion agency said in a statement to the Associated Press on 17 September that without a coronavirus vaccine, it was uncertain when large public events could resume.

Brazil’s first case was confirmed on 26 February, one day after this year’s carnival ended. As the number of infections grew, the samba schools that participate in the glitzy annual parade halted preparations for the 2021 event. Thursday’s announcement removed the cloud of uncertainty that has hung over the city, one of worst hit in Brazil.

In Europe, the pandemic is worse now than at the March peak in several member countries, the European Union warned, as governments reimpose drastic measures.

New infections are soaring once again, prompting the bloc’s disease control agency to flag seven countries of “high concern”. The EU’s health commissioner, Stella Kyriakides, said in “some member states, the situation is now even worse than during the peak in March”.

Israel, which a week ago became the first country to re-enter a strict national lockdown, further toughened its measures on Thursday after existing restrictions failed to bring down the infection rate. The country has 212,115 cases out of a population of just under 9 million: roughly equivalent to one case per 23 people.

The new rules will close the vast majority of workplaces, shutter markets and further limit prayers and demonstrations.

Other key developments include:

    France set a new record for daily new cases. Health authorities reported 16,096 new confirmed cases on Thursday, a significant increase on the previous record of 13,498 and setting a fourth all-time high of daily additional infections in eight days.

    The virus is continuing to mutate throughout the course of the pandemic, according to new research, with experts believing it is probably becoming more contagious. The study did not find that mutations of the virus had made it more lethal or changed its effects.

    Victoria, Australia’s coronavirus hot spot, on Friday reported eight deaths in the past 24 hours and 14 new infections as the state looks set to ease restrictions over the weekend. The two-week average of new infections in Melbourne dropped below 26, well below the 30-50 level which the state has set as a precondition to relax its strict curbs.

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« Reply #65 on: Sep 25, 2020, 03:32 AM »

Swiss to vote on whether to end free movement deal with EU

Sunday’s referendum with echoes of Brexit proposes limits on number of foreign workers

Jon Henley
Fri 25 Sep 2020 05.00 BST

Switzerland will vote on Sunday whether to end its agreement with the EU on the free movement of people, in a referendum with echoes of the pro-Brexit campaign that led to Britain’s decision to leave the bloc.

The largest party in the Swiss parliament, the rightwing, anti-immigration Swiss People’s party (SVP), has called for the vote, arguing that the country must be allowed to set its own limit on the number of foreigners coming in to work.

However, polls forecast the SVP will not be successful, with one this week finding 63% of respondents opposed the party’s proposal – suggesting voters want stability at a time of economic uncertainty amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Non-nationals account for roughly a quarter of Switzerland’s 8.6 million inhabitants and continuing immigration is forecast to swell the population to about 10 million over the next 30 years.

“Migrants change our culture,” the SVP’s referendum campaign website says. “Public squares, trains and streets become less safe. In addition, practically half of all welfare recipients are foreigners.”

The party says unemployment among Swiss nationals will inevitably rise as young foreigners are recruited to replace older Swiss workers, housing costs will increase, and schools, transport and public services will be overwhelmed.

Opponents say tearing up its free movement accord with the EU would rob the country of skilled workers and above all endanger the complex network of more than 120 bilateral treaties that Switzerland – a non-member – has with the bloc.

Besides allowing EU nationals to work in Switzerland, the treaties include agreements considered vital by Swiss businesses on free trade, data exchange, agriculture, research, police cooperation, civil aviation, road transport, tourism, education and pensions.

The government has said that if voters reject free movement, another six agreements that remove key barriers between Switzerland and the EU in trade, transport and other areas would also cease to apply under a so-called “guillotine clause”.

Citizens of the EU plus Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein made up 68% of Switzerland’s 2.1 million resident foreigners last year. The largest communities were from Italy, Germany and Portugal. More than 450,000 Swiss live in the EU.

The SVP has tried before to limit free movement, narrowly winning a 2014 referendum demanding immigration quotas. To the party’s fury, the initiative was subsequently watered down, promoting a degree of local preference in some economic sectors but crucially imposing no fixed limits.

The EU has not shifted on free movement since that referendum and remains categorical that any rejection of the principle by Switzerland would result in the country being excluded from the single market.

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« Reply #66 on: Sep 25, 2020, 03:35 AM »

Battle of billboards rages between Jair Bolsonaro’s foes and followers

The arm-wrestle underscores Brazil’s bitter political rupture over a leader critics consider an abomination and supporters a corruption-busting champion

Caio Barretto Briso in Rio de Janeiro
25 Sep 2020 10.30 BST

A giant image of Jair Bolsonaro stared down from billboards in the Brazilian town of Ourinhos. “We believe in God and we value the family,” its slogan proclaimed.

But within days of being erected, local dissidents had taken spray cans to the hoardings, dousing Brazil’s nationalist leader with black paint and using their graffiti to declare him a fascist.

Soon after, another billboard appeared, insisting Ourinhos “was not down with Bolsonaro” and denouncing his Covid-19 response by adapting one of the president’s most notorious phrases.

“More than 100,000 dead? So what? I’m not a gravedigger,” it said, alongside a cartoon of Brazil’s science-denying president with a face mask over his eyes.

Up and down Brazil, a battle of the billboards is raging between foes and followers of perhaps the most divisive president in the country’s history.

In the northern city of Tocantins a bright orange advert was erected to demand Bolsonaro’s immediate impeachment. “Lazy sod. He’s not worth a half-eaten piece of fruit,” it read.

In Aracaju, objectors from a teachers’ union put up purple billboards depicting Bolsonaro as the grim reaper and declaring: “Death cannot be allowed to govern Brazil”

In Maceió, one billboard showed Bolsonaro’s head partially replaced with the coronavirus and bore the phrase: “If you can, stay at home. Bolsonaro’s the only thing we want out.”

In the capital, Brasília, renegade artists tampered with pro-Bolsonaro propaganda praising the president for “18 months without corruption”. The updated version thanked him sarcastically for “18 months without investigations” into his family’s allegedly corrupt affairs.

Some cities, such as Sete Lagoas in the eastern state of Minas Gerais, have seen face-offs between pro- and anti-Bolsonaro factions.

In early July, Bolsonarista shopkeepers decked the streets with billboards declaring “Sete Lagoas supports Bolsonaro” and featuring Bolsonaro’s motto: “Brazil above everything. God above everyone”.

But within weeks a rival group had responded with a hoarding of its own. “Sete Lagoas supports the Rhea that bit Bolsonaro,” it read, in reference to the recent avian attack on Bolsonaro as he tried to feed the bird in the presidential garden.

“We’re planning on putting more up [and] we’re thinking about even more creative messages for the next ones,” said one of the organizers, who asked not to be named. “If these Bolsonaristas think our protest has finished, they’re in for a surprise.”

The group fulfilled that promise with a billboard that asked Bolsonaro to explain a series of mysterious payments into his wife’s account.

The arm-wrestle underscores Brazil’s bitter political rupture over a leader critics consider a historic abomination and supporters a corruption-busting champion of conservative values.

Polls show 41% of Brazilians want Bolsonaro out of the presidency but 52% think he should stay. Despite Brazil’s Covid-19 disaster, the world’s second worst after the US, support for Bolsonaro has increased in recent weeks – apparently because of emergency payments being doled out to help Brazilians through the crisis.

Eduardo Ferraro, a union leader behind the pro-Bolsonaro adverts in Ourinhos, claimed his president was doing a “sterling job”.

“I was so disillusioned with Brazilian politics when I came across Bolsonaro,” he gushed.

“He comes out with lots of nonsense because he’s so sincere but he’s made me proud of being Brazilian again … he’s the one keeping this country going,” Ferraro added, before reeling off a series of conspiracy theories about Covid-19 and a globalist plot to sabotage Bolsonaro’s rule.

Fernando Bizzarro, a Harvard University political scientist, said the propaganda dogfight underlined how profoundly divided and politicized Bolsonaro’s Brazil now was.

“These billboards are an expression of how politics has invaded people’s daily life to such an extent that they are using their own money to express their political opinions to their cities and their neighbours,” he said.

“The political polarization we are seeing in Brazil has permeated society in such an intense fashion that people are expressing themselves politically even when it’s not election time … Politics is now everywhere.”

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« Reply #67 on: Sep 25, 2020, 03:39 AM »

Powerful Vatican cardinal Angelo Becciu resigns amid financial scandal

Head of the Vatican’s saint-making office renounces his rights and will not be able to vote for a new pope

Fri 25 Sep 2020 01.42 BST

A powerful Vatican cardinal caught up in a real estate scandal resigned suddenly on Thursday and gave up his right to take part in an eventual conclave to elect a pope, in one of the most mysterious episodes to hit the Holy See in years.

A brief statement, issued unusually in the evening, said that Pope Francis had accepted the resignation of Cardinal Giovanni Angelo Becciu, head of the department that decides who will be the saints of the Roman Catholic Church.

But perhaps more significantly, the statement said the Becciu, 72, had “given up the rights associated with being a cardinal”.

Pope Francis says gossip is 'a plague worse than Covid'..Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/sep/06/pope-francis-says-gossip-is-a-plague-worse-than-covid

The one-line statement gave no details and no reason for the move, but the most important right of Roman Catholic cardinals under 80 is to take part in a conclave to elect a new pope after the current pope dies or resigns.

The relinquishing of that right indicated that the reason for Becciu’s resignation was particularly serious. The last cardinal to give up that right was Cardinal Keith O’Brien of Scotland, who resigned over a sex scandal in 2013.

Becciu was until 2018 deputy secretary of state, one of the most powerful positions in the Vatican. During his tenure in that office the Vatican became embroiled in a controversial deal in which the Secretariat of State used Church money to purchase a luxury building in London as an investment.

Pope appoints six women to top roles on Vatican council in progressive step..Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/aug/06/pope-appoints-six-women-to-top-roles-on-vatican-council-in-progressive-step

That investigation led to the suspension last year of five Vatican employees, the resignation of the Vatican’s police chief and the departure of the former head of the Vatican’s Financial Information Authority (AIF). Becciu has denied all wrongdoing in the London property deal and defended the purchase, saying the property has increased in value.

In June, Vatican police arrested Gianluigi Torzi, an Italian middleman who was part of a controversial deal, and charged him with extortion, embezzlement, aggravated fraud and money laundering, the Vatican press office said in a statement.

He was later released but the investigation is continuing. Vatican sources said they expected Vatican magistrates to hand down indictments soon.

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« Reply #68 on: Sep 25, 2020, 03:59 AM »

Election officials bracing for ‘constitutional crisis’ as Trump threatens to reject vote results: report

Raw Story

On Thursday, The Washington Post reported that as President Donald Trump escalates his preemptive threats to challenge or defy the result of the election if he loses, law enforcement and election officials are bracing for a constitutional crisis.

“Trump’s running commentary about an illegitimate vote reverberated from coast to coast,” reported Philip Rucker, Amy Gardner, and Annie Linskey. “Many of Trump’s Republican allies in Congress, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), issued perfunctory statements declaring that the winner of the Nov. 3 election would be inaugurated on Jan. 20 — an orderly transition as there traditionally has been in the United States. Democratic state attorneys general strategized among themselves on what to do if the president refuses to accept the result and said they were most concerned that his drumbeat of unfounded accusations about fraud could undermine public confidence in the election.”

Trump has suggested that he will try to get mail-in ballots — which are expected to skew more Democratic than usual this year due to the president’s partisan messaging — thrown out. He has also suggested that his urgency in filling the Supreme Court vacancy stems from his desire to ensure the judiciary will take his side.

“Categorically and emphatically, when you have public officials casting doubt on the process, it’s incredibly corrosive,” said Democratic Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap. “It’s nearly a criminal or treasonous act. We hold a sacred trust, and it is our job to make people feel like they’re protected in their decision-making, as the authors of our future.”

Meanwhile, some secretaries of state are exploring how to prevent Trump-inspired voter intimidation, like Katie Hobbs in Arizona. “One of the conversations we are having is what that response should look like,” she said. “A uniformed officer with a weapon can look intimidating, and we want to be very careful about that.”


Top Republicans dismiss Trump's refusal to commit to peaceful transfer

Mitch McConnell insists ‘there will be an orderly transition’ while Trump ally Lindsey Graham says ‘I assure you it will be peaceful’

David Smith in Washington
25 Sep 2020 17.31 BST

Leading Republicans have sought to quell fears that Donald Trump could stoke violence in an attempt to cling to power if he loses the US presidential election – though they stopped short of rebuking Trump directly.

The president sparked fresh anger and disbelief on Thursday after he refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power. “Well, we’re going to have to see what happens,” Trump told reporters at the White House on Wednesday evening, before renewing a baseless complaint about mail-in ballots.

“Get rid of the ballots and we’ll have a very peaceful … there won’t be a transfer, frankly – there’ll be a continuation,” he said, referring to voting by mail instead of in person during the pandemic, and his chances of re-election.

It was one of Trump’s most stark and chilling warnings yet that he has no intention of conceding defeat to Democratic rival Joe Biden in November, raising fears of weeks of chaos and even an inauguration day in January 2021 that could see both men expecting to be sworn in.

Hillary Clinton, beaten by Trump in 2016, tweeted: “Trump’s refusal to commit to the peaceful transfer of power is the behavior of a desperate would-be dictator who’d cling to office even if it meant destroying our democracy. It’s pathetic. But because he is the president, we should take his threat seriously.”

Some Republicans, long criticised for allowing and enabling Trump to trample on political norms, did seek on Thursday to reassure the public that, in the event of a Biden victory, the transfer of power will go ahead.

Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, tweeted: “The winner of the November 3rd election will be inaugurated on January 20th. There will be an orderly transition just as there has been every four years since 1792.”

Senate judiciary committee chairman Lindsey Graham, a close Trump ally and golf partner, told Fox News: “I can assure you it will be peaceful. Now we may have litigation about who won the election, but the supreme court will decide and if the Republicans lose, we will accept that result. But we need a full court.”

Graham is a key figure in the congressional confirmation process for Trump’s supreme court nominee, to be announced on Saturday, to replace the late justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, the sole Republican to vote to remove Trump from office at his impeachment trial earlier this year, drew comparisons with a crisis in Europe, tweeting: “Fundamental to democracy is the peaceful transition of power; without that, there is Belarus. Any suggestion that a president might not respect this Constitutional guarantee is both unthinkable and unacceptable.”

They were joined by Senator Marco Rubio of Florida and Congresswoman Liz Cheney, chair of the Republican conference in the House of Representatives and daughter of former Republican vice president Dick Cheney.

“The peaceful transfer of power is enshrined in our Constitution and fundamental to the survival of our Republic,” Cheney posted on Twitter. “America’s leaders swear an oath to the Constitution. We will uphold that oath.”

But there were alarming signs of dissent on the Republican side. Thomas Massie, a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, tweeted ominously: “In the spring, stores sold out of hand sanitizer and toilet paper. This fall, they sold out of ammo.”

Trump, who trails Biden in national opinion polls, has long sought to cast doubt on the integrity of the election, claiming that mail-in voting would be rife with fraud. This has been debunked by numerous studies.

A record number of Americans are expected to vote by mail this year to avoid spreading or catching Covid-19. Polls suggest, however, that Democrats are more likely to use this method than Republicans.

Trump recently floated the idea of postponing the election because of the pandemic, which he has no constitutional power to do. Similarly, on that occasion, McConnell and other Republicans were swift to dismiss the idea.

His latest attempt to stoke fear and instability led to an incredulous Biden asking reporters: “What country are we in? I’m being facetious. I said, what country are we in? Look, he says the most irrational things. I don’t know what to say.”

Chuck Schumer, the Senate minority leader, told CNN of the president: “This man has no honesty, honor, values or faith in the American system.”

The American Civil Liberties Union also registered its concern. David Cole, national legal director, said: “The peaceful transfer of power is essential to a functioning democracy. This statement from the president of the United States should trouble every American.”


Conservative blasts Trump’s resistance to a peaceful transfer of power as ‘dictator talk’ as we ‘backslide into autocracy’

Raw Story

Conservative Washington Post columnist Max Boot argued that elections aren’t the only measure of a democracy and President Donald Trump is intentionally trying to undermine every piece and part of it possible.

Writing Thursday, Boot explained that many dictatorships pretend to have elections. The true test of democracy he said is if leaders in that democracy respect the will of the voters. In the case of Trump, it became clear on Wednesday that he’s not prepared to acknowledge he lost, even if it is clear he did.

“Well, we’re going to have to see what happens,” Trump said when asked about a peaceful transition of power. “You know that I’ve been complaining very strongly about the ballots, and the ballots are a disaster.”

Trump went on to say we should “get rid of the ballots” and then he’d conceded to a peaceful transfer of power. Boot called it outright dictator talk.

“The real test of a nation’s political system is whether politicians respect the will of the voters — and in particular whether the most powerful leader, the one in control of the armed forces, willingly gives up power after losing an election,” he wrote. “This is a test that countries such as Belarus and Zimbabwe have failed, and that the United States has passed, in good times and bad, for more than two centuries. Indeed, few presidents are even asked about their willingness to give up power because the answer is so obvious.”

It’s never been a question before 2020. In the 244 years of America’s democratic experiment, no president has said anything like what Trump said. Boot noted that even if Trump was the best president in history it is something that should be disqualifying. It’ll never happen, he noted, because for the past four years Americans have been forced to deal as “Trump erases one red line after another.”

He cited the recent piece in The Atlantic that explained Trump’s rub with mail-in-ballots is that they’re more likely to be cast by Democrats and there will likely be a substantial advantage for Biden over Trump.

“This year the ‘blue shift’ is certain to be even bigger, with more people voting by mail than ever before — and more Democrats than Republicans expressing a desire to do so,” wrote Boot. “By calling the mail-in ballots a ‘hoax,’ Trump is laying the foundation for throwing them out and demanding that he be declared the winner based on ballots counted on election night.”

Trump’s strive to get his Supreme Court Justice installed before the election is about his assumption that the election will be like 2000 and he’ll turn to the courts to adjudicate it.

“I think this will end up in the Supreme Court. And I think it’s very important that we have nine justices,” Trump said Wednesday.

Boot explained that Trump is clearly trying to hold onto his power at all costs, and it’s the “the stuff of nightmares.”

“Already social scientists warn that we may be backsliding into autocracy,” Boot wrote. “Now we may be facing the worst threat to our democracy since the 1930s — the period that is the setting of the dystopian novels It Can’t Happen Here and The Plot Against America. It can happen here, and the plot against America has already been set in motion by a real-life analog to Berzelius ‘Buzz’ Windrip or Charles Lindbergh.”

The only way to ensure Trump doesn’t steal the vote, Boot closed, is for Joe Biden to win so overwhelming that Trump has no choice but to concede.


Trump just can’t keep a secret — especially when it comes to his plans to stage a coup

Raw Story
By Amanda Marcotte
- Commentary

Sioux City, Iowa, USA, 6th November, 2016 Presidential Republican candidate Donald Trump addresses an overflow crowd of 5000 supporters on the next to the last day of the campaign

Donald Trump is escalating. Wednesday afternoon, under questioning by Brian Karem of Playboy, Trump offered what the mainstream news outlets are calling a “failure to commit” to a “peaceful transfer of power.” One might also call it “threatening a coup”.

The first time Karem asked Trump whether he would commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he loses the election, Trump pulled his usual move, pretending that the fate of our democracy is like a reality-show cliffhanger: “Well, we’re going to have to see what happens.”

But Karem was dogged and asked him again: “Do you commit to making sure that there’s a peaceful transferral of power?”

That’s when Trump let the cat out of the bag: “Get rid of the ballots, and you’ll have a very — we’ll have a very peaceful, there won’t be a transfer, frankly. There’ll be a continuation.”

“The ballots are out of control,” Trump continued, making crystal clear that he resents those gosh-darn ballots and the way they allow American citizens the (theoretical) right to choose their own leaders.

All this moaning over “ballots” is an extension of the conspiracy theory Trump has been hyping for a long time. With assistance from other Republicans — most notably Attorney General Bill Barr — Trump has been falsely claiming for months that mail-in ballots are fraudulent.

The purposes of this false claim are crystal-clear. First, it creates a pretext to prevent people from voting in the first place, through legal challenges against efforts to make mail-in voting more accessible during the pandemic. Second, it’s the excuse Trump and Barr intend to rely on when they try to get those votes thrown out before they can be counted.

It’s no secret that Trump plans to do whatever he can to steal the election. But by openly demanding that ballots be thrown out, Trump confirmed publicly what many activists, historians and legal experts have been warning may be coming: An actual attempted coup against democracy.

Trump has created a heads-I-win, tails-you-lose proposition: Either he wins the election, or the election was fraudulent. He refuses to accept the third (and likeliest) option, which is that his Democratic rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, wins outright, which is the outcome the polls are currently pointing toward.

Trump is going to attempt to stage a coup if he loses. (And right now, FiveThirtyEight gives him a 77% chance of losing a fair election.) There is no use dancing around this or using euphemisms.

Trump has lined up his legal team to fight this in the courts. He’s indicated that he expects his nominee to fill the Supreme Court seat left by the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg to join a conservative majority to rule in his favor. He’s also been stoking the paranoia of well-armed angry white men, encouraging them to join up with militias that can be leveraged in the upcoming fight over whether all the ballots will be counted.

This is all very scary, but it’s no time to give into despair and hopelessness. Those of us determined to resist Trump’s coup have one big advantage that resistance movements around the world often don’t have against authoritarian leaders: Trump just keeps giving the game away.

“Typically power grabs are organized in secret and launched suddenly,” explains the website Choose Democracy. “It’s rare for any country leader to publicly admit they might not respect the results of an election.”

“People who stop coups rarely have the chance to get training, warning, or preparation,” they continue.

Trump’s motormouth, however, means that the upcoming coup is being advertised and his strategy is being outlined, bit by bit, in the public eye. He’s given up the advantage of surprise.

As anyone who has ever played a war game can tell you, that’s an enormous advantage to give up. And no, Trump didn’t do this for strategic reasons. He did it because he’s a narcissist and an idiot who can’t help running his mouth.

Because Trump keeps talking, he’s making it very hard for anyone to ignore the fact that an attempted coup is nearly inevitable — and is already underway, through the Postal Service slowdown and the efforts to keep people from getting mail-in ballots. Despite that, the New York Times initially reverted to its ingrained instinct to minimize Trump’s behavior by burying the story about his comments towards the bottom of their front page. (Times editors eventually moved it up to the No. 2 position, below stories about the protests in Louisville over a grand jury’s failure to indict police in the killing of Breonna Taylor, after social media shaming.)

Trump’s big mouth has made it possible for typically cautious but prestigious publications to run articles about the attempted election theft. The Atlantic recently published a piece by Barton Gellman that details concrete and terrifying evidence that Trump is amassing an army of lawyers and activists who plan to pull every political and legal lever available to them to vacate the results of the election and install Trump for a second term. (Ahem: Salon got there first.) Slate also published a piece on Wednesday by political scientist Richard L. Hasen that didn’t pull punches in alerting leaders that an attempted coup is coming.

Still, it’s hard to dislodge the instinct among much of the punditry to tell fairy tales about how our institutions will protect us and that a coup is un-possible in America.

One example is Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight, who sneered on Twitter Thursday afternoon, “It seems like the mood among some of the blue-checkmarks here has drifted a bit too liberally from ‘there’s a plausible chance of some very bad outcomes’ (true) to ‘Trump is fersure going to steal the election and you’re all sheeple for thinking otherwise’.”

This was, of course, a straw man. People are scared, but talking about Trump’s inevitable and ongoing attempts to steal the election is not defeatist at all. By highlighting Trump’s likely tactics and strategies, journalists and activists are trying to stir the public to the actions that will be required to stop him.

It isn’t surprising that this makes Nate Silver uneasy. Silver’s space in the punditry is about the statistical modeling of election outcomes. But as in sports, statistical models only really work within the rules of the system. Whether we’re talking about a basketball game or a presidential election, if one side is flagrantly cheating, the predictive value of the models falls apart. Silver doesn’t want to look too hard outside the neat little word of rules and statistics he has built.

But Trump’s loquaciousness got in the way of Silver’s valiant attempts to sound savvy and not like those “hysterical” #Resistance people. Trump’s comments about getting rid of ballots occurred just a few hours after Silver’s efforts to shame people who take the attempted coup seriously, and he was forced to tweet, “OK this is real bad tho” in response.

Getting over the wishful thinking that holds that such things can’t happen in the United States is the first step in preventing them from happening. In this, we have a major advantage, since Trump won’t shut up about it. He doesn’t just talk in the abstract about rejecting the election results — he goes ahead and outlines the steps he and his minions will take to try to pull this off. Trump his handed his opponents the blueprint for his intended coup, with the leverage points that might be most effective at stopping him helpfully highlighted. The only question is whether people have the clarity to take him at his word, and the will to do what it takes to save democracy.


‘He decides what’s free and fair’: Legal scholars call BS on Kayleigh McEnany’s claim Trump will accept the election

Raw Story

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany was asked about President Donald Trump’s reluctance to say that he would accept the results of the election if he loses.

“Well, we’re going to have to see what happens,” Trump said when asked about a peaceful transition of power. “You know that I’ve been complaining very strongly about the ballots, and the ballots are a disaster.”

“We want to have — get rid of the ballots and you’ll have a very — we’ll have a very peaceful — there won’t be a transfer, frankly,” Trump added when pressed. “There’ll be a continuation. The ballots are out of control.”

McEnany tried to clean up the remarks in the press briefing Thursday, saying that he would accept the results of a “free and fair election.”

    “The president will accept the results of a free and fair election. But I think that your question is more fitting to be asked of Democrats,” Kayleigh McEnany tells @jonkarl when asked about Trump declining to commit to a peaceful transfer of power. https://t.co/mRWa6yO6vC pic.twitter.com/TV7CwdBqdn

    — ABC News (@ABC) September 24, 2020

The problem, however, according to legal scholars on Twitter, is that Trump is the one deciding what is “free and fair.”

McEnany went on to blame Democrats saying that they’re the ones refusing to accept election results.

See their comments in the tweets below:

    The problem is Trump himself will unilaterally decide what’s “free and fair.” https://t.co/OwVC42A89E

    — Elie Honig (@eliehonig) September 24, 2020

    Meaningless statement since Trump will be say he is the one who decides whether the election is "free and fair" … https://t.co/9vX3ygJXn8

    — Shanlon Wu (@shanlonwu) September 24, 2020

    I cannot believe we've sunk so low that it is considered newsworthy & honorable to pay lip-service to "a peaceful transition of power"…

    …while steamrolling a nominee the president explicitly says is a necessary 5th vote for the decisive election cases in a few weeks. https://t.co/cMlD8JauOT

    — Jed Shugerman (@jedshug) September 24, 2020

    One of the more alarming statements — lies, gaslighting and damaging to American democratic institutions rolled into one.

    Also shows the level of desperation in the White House and Trump campaign. https://t.co/zKEQy7872t

    — Ryan Goodman (@rgoodlaw) September 24, 2020

    💯This is what we're talking about right here https://t.co/lnIVXMUean

    — Jennifer Taub (@jentaub) September 24, 2020

    He’ll think it’s free and fair only if he wins. https://t.co/dO9rFHSlYj

    — George Conway (@gtconway3d) September 24, 2020

    Here's the rub guys – Trump isn't the person who is charged with determining whether elections are free and fair.

    He's not the arbiter of that and don't think he won't try to pretend he is. https://t.co/xCU5kd72au

    — Sam Vinograd (@sam_vinograd) September 24, 2020

    In the debate next week, @JoeBiden should pledge unequivocally that he will recognize the result of a free and fair election and then challenge @realDonaldTrump
    to do the same. Ten of millions of Americans deserve to hear Trump's answer.

    — Michael McFaul (@McFaul) September 24, 2020


WATCH: Trump’s chief of staff starts shouting when grilled about president’s refusal to accept election results

Raw Story

On Thursday, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer pressed White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows about President Donald Trump’s refusal to commit to a peaceful transition of power after the election, and became visibly agitated and raised his voice under questioning.

“He said he’s not sure the election could be honest here in the United States,” said Blitzer. “Is he saying if he wins, he’ll accept the results, if he loses, he won’t commit to a peaceful transition?”

“I haven’t heard him say that,” said Meadows. “I can tell you what I have heard him say, Wolf, is really overwhelming concern about mail-in ballots … we’re seeing some activist judges across the country interpret the law that really is not on the books. They’re actually making the law. I think that’s what most of this is about, making sure that as long as it’s free and fair. If it’s free and fair, we’ll accept the will of the American people. We believe that will be the re-election of Donald Trump.”

“You say we’ll have a peaceful transfer of power here in the United States if it’s a free and fair election,” said Blitzer. “But President Trump previously said the only way he would lose the election is if the election is rigged. That’s his word. The only way he loses is if the election is rigged. Who decides if it’s free and fair?”

“I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to see a free and fair election on November 3rd, and the results will be what they are, and with that we’re planning for a second term,” said Meadows. “Perhaps we ought to get Hillary Clinton on, because she was the first one to tell Joe Biden, no matter what the results are, you shouldn’t concede.”

“But, as you know, mark, with all due respect, Hillary Clinton isn’t running against President Trump,” said Meadows. “She tried do that and lost four years ago.”

“But it was advice to Joe Biden,” shot back Meadows. “I didn’t hear him push back at all. Did you hear him push back?”

“Joe Biden and his campaign said publicly they are committed to a peaceful transfer of power,” said Blitzer. “The U.S. Senate today would actually convene. They passed a commitment for a peaceful transfer of power. In the House, the number three Republican, Liz Cheney, a woman you know well, she said this: ‘The peaceful transfer of power is enshrined in our Constitution and fundamental to the survival of our republic. America’s leaders swear to uphold the Constitution. We will uphold that oath.’ Here’s the question. Will you commit here, right now, to upholding that same oath, what we heard from Liz Cheney?”

“Without a doubt,” said Meadows. “I’ve raised my right hand to uphold the Constitution, and there’s not as much difference between what Liz Cheney said about upholding a Constitution and supporting a free and fair election. You have to have both of those because if you don’t have one without the other, you don’t have a democracy, and I would agree with that.”

Watch: https://youtu.be/f9h7XiLrODo


Donald Trump turns to extortion as he struggles in the polls

Raw Story
By John Stoehr, The Editorial Board
- Commentary

In conversations about Donald Trump’s contempt for the rule of law, civic-republican institutions and democratic norms, you have probably run into the following. The president’s term ends January 20, 2021. If by then the election has no clear winner, and that could be the case, the constitutional order of succession goes to US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Don’t you worry. Similarly, in conversations about the role of the US Supreme Court, if it ends up deciding the election, you have probably heard the following. Whoever the new justice is, he or she won’t be involved in the court’s ruling, because professional legal ethics require recusing himself or herself. Don’t you worry.

This article was originally published at The Editorial Board

I say worry. I say there’s no reason for such uncritical faith. Indeed, insisting otherwise is making the problem worse. The president has melded his reelection campaign to the United States government. They are no longer, in effect, separate entities. Trump has demonstrated in miniature (think: Portland and the district’s Lafayette Square) what his secret police force is capable of. He and Republican campaign operatives are negotiating with swing state Republicans to appoint loyal electors ready to ignore the popular will in his favor. As for the Supreme Court, he could not be clearer about his expectation that loyal jurists hand down victory. I haven’t even mentioned his putting conditions on something that cannot be conditional in a free, fair and open society.

“Well, we’re going to have to see what happens,” the president said Wednesday when asked if he’d commit to the tradition of a peaceful transfer of power. “You know that I’ve been complaining very strongly about the ballots and the ballots are a disaster. … I understand that, but people are rioting. … Get rid of the ballots, and you’ll have a very—we’ll have a very peaceful, there won’t be a transfer, frankly. There’ll be a continuation. The ballots are out of control. You know it. And you know who knows it better than anybody else? The Democrats know it better than anybody else” (italics mine).

What should be happening is not. Respectable white people in the Washington press corps (“white normies,” as Liberal Currents’ Paul Crider called them) and the GOP (people out of power, like George W. Bush) should be taking to the air to explain to fence-sitting white voters that Trump is planning to rig the election via electors, via justices, or via extortion. When a sitting president says maybe he’ll sorta kinda promise a peaceful transfer of power, what he’s really saying is I win or something really bad happens. It’s important to remember two things at this point. One, the number of white-wing vigilantes prepped to strike. Two, the degree the US government is Trumpified. The adults are purged. Much that remains are opportunists, degenerates and loyalists. There’s no good reason to think he’ll leave on his own. There’s no good reason to believe a new Supreme Court justice will recuse himself or herself.

What should be happening is not. The press and pundit corps continue covering this election as if the president’s authoritarian behavior were a bug, not a feature of his dangerous politics. Even Jonathan Bernstein could not help writing a column this morning arguing that polls point in the direction of unified government under Joe Biden, except for this colossal asterisk: “(All this assumes that Trump’s attempts to overturn the election results if he loses—which he mused about again on Wednesday—are unsuccessful. Yes, we’ve reached the point where such disclaimers are necessary. No, that isn’t good news for US democracy.)” Putting conditions of the peaceful transfer of power (indeed, threatening voters with extortion) is not a moment for polite disclaimers. It’s the body of the story itself. Everything else should be secondary. (In fairness to Bernstein, he did warn of democracy crashing under this president.)

An overwhelming blue wave might be enough to defeat him (presuming the results of the vote are clear, and that the impact will be felt by Republican leaders fearing for their political lives, not the president himself). But the only way to mitigate, though, alas, not prevent, a bloody transfer of power is a collective effort to discredit Trump. His source of strength is respectable white people continuing to believe him. These voters must be made to see that they are being threatened, that they are being lied to, and that a vote for a Democrat is a vote for individual liberty. A free, fair and open society cannot stop murderous lone wolves—America knows this better than any country—but murderous lone wolves tend to take respectable white opinion seriously enough that it can dampen rages for extra-legal means of getting what they want politically.

What’s preventing this from happening, I now believe, isn’t cynicism, greed or even cowardice so much as the uncritical and categorical faith that everything’s going to be all right. Faith in everything being all right is blinding good people from seeing the reality they must first see in order to take difficult, responsible and patriotic action.

John Stoehr is the editor and publisher of the Editorial Board, a newsletter about politics in plain English for normal people and the common good. He’s a visiting assistant professor of public policy at Wesleyan University, a fellow at the Yale Journalism Initiative, a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly, and a contributing editor for Religion Dispatches.


Trump announces he’s mailing 33 million seniors $200 cash cards — before 2020 election

Raw Story

On Thursday, at his health care address in Charlotte, North Carolina, President Donald Trump announced that he would send out a $200 cash card to 33 million Medicare recipients ahead of the election.

“The America First Healthcare Plan includes another historic provision to benefit our great seniors,” said Trump. “Under my plan, 33 million Medicare beneficiaries will soon receive a card in the mail containing $200 that they can use to help pay for prescription drugs. Nobody’s seen this before. The cards will be mailed out in the coming weeks. I will always take care of our wonderful senior citizens. Joe Biden won’t be doing this.”

It is unclear what authority Trump is invoking to enact this giveaway.
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The president has trailed Biden with voters over 65 in a number of recent polls, struggling with a voting bloc that in the past couple of elections has backed Republicans.

Watch below:

    Trump now claims a $200 cash card will be sent out to 33 million people on Medicare pic.twitter.com/tEazRLvTNR

    — NowThis (@nowthisnews) September 24, 2020

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« Reply #69 on: Sep 25, 2020, 04:57 AM »

‘Fanatic’ Bill Barr believes he’s saving America by giving Trump unlimited powers: Republican DOJ vet

on September 25, 2020
Raw Story
By Brad Reed

A Republican veteran of the United States Department of Justice is warning that Attorney General Bill Barr is a “fanatic” who believes he’s on a holy crusade to save the country from secularist forces of darkness.

Donald Ayer, the former deputy attorney general under President George H.W. Bush, writes in The Atlantic that Barr believes that America has been led astray from its founding vision ever since the cultural upheaval in the 1960s, and he’s made it his personal mission to restore it to its proper path no matter the cost to American institutions.

“The Founders, according to Barr, believed that national success depended on America remaining a pious Christian nation, in which the worst inclinations of the citizenry would be constrained by obedience to God-given eternal values,” he writes. “That reality, he tells us, also substantially persisted until the late 20th century, when a combination of forces conspired to severely undermine it.”

Ayer says that Barr’s worldview in this regard is even more alarming when coupled with his view that American presidents should have untrammeled powers.

Specifically, he cites a 2018 memo written by Barr that argues the president “alone is the Executive Branch” who possesses “all Federal law enforcement power, and hence prosecutorial discretion,” which includes decisions about whether to prosecute his personal friends and foes.

Ayer completely rejects these assertions as ahistorical — and urges Americans to realize that “Barr’s devious campaign to restore his twisted vision of our history poses a grave threat to America as we know it.”

Read the whole analysis here: https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/09/bill-barr-founders/616445/

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« Reply #70 on: Sep 25, 2020, 04:59 AM »

WATCH: Late-night hosts go off on Trump for ‘chilling’ plan ‘to steal the election’

on September 25, 2020
By Bob Brigham
Raw Story

Late-night television hosts harshly criticized President Donald Trump for refusing to say there would be a peaceful transition of power if he loses the November election.

“In one of the more chilling moments of his presidency — and they’ve been a few — Donald Trump refused to commit to a peaceful transition of power as Republicans formulated the plan to steal the election through the courts,” Seth Meyers explained.

“We’re as close as we’ve ever been to losing our democracy and watching our government transform into an autocratic regime,” he continued. “It’s happen right in front our eyes right now, you don’t need to wait for Trump to roll down Pennsylvania Avenue on a tank in green fatigues with a long chin-beard — especially since if he did try to grow one he’d probably just look like a very sick chihuahua.”

Meyers noted Trump was “effectively threatening violence unless ballots are thrown out and he’s allowed to stay in power.”

“If this were happening in any other country, you’d expect to see pro-regime militants driving through the streets in pickup trucks, attacking people and waving flags — awwwwww,” he said, as images of just that appeared on screen.

Over on Comedy Central, “The Daily Show” also took Trump to task.

Host Trevor Noah said, “the world’s oldest democracy is about to become its newest dictatorship.”

Watch: https://youtu.be/m3Wf2GN2Pus

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« Reply #71 on: Sep 25, 2020, 05:21 AM »

‘This is going to be a blowout’: Morning Joe throws devastating new Fox News polls in Trump’s face

on September 25, 2020
Raw Story
By Tom Boggioni

MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough kicked off Friday morning by listing off a collection of new polls that shows Donald Trump is headed to defeat in November, adding that the presidential election is looking like it will be a blowout favoring Democratic challenger Joe Biden.

Speaking with “Morning Joe” co-host Willy Geist, Scarborough appeared almost giddy as he read off the latest numbers showing the president still has not turned his floundering campaign around.

“Joe Biden has pulled ahead in Wisconsin in some polls 7, 8 points,” Scarborough began. “So the states everybody has been talking about, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and really Ohio wasn’t a part of this. Ohio and Iowa comfortably fell in Donald Trump’s campaign, but all five of those states across the upper Midwest have obviously been part of the heartland battle.”

“But you look at these polls,” he continued. “Let’s start in Pennsylvania, Biden up 48 to 42 in one poll — six points. The Fox News poll: Biden up 7 points there. Then you go to Ohio — this is a real surprise — Ohio and Iowa firmly for Donald Trump [in 2016] and there you have Biden up, again statistically tied, 48, 47. And the Fox News poll, Biden up 5, 50 to 45. Obviously, if Ohio is close on election night, this is going to be a blow-out and Joe Biden is going to likely win by a landslide if Ohio is close.”

So as you’re looking through these numbers and you look for good news for Donald Trump, man if the I were running his campaign I wouldn’t know where to go,” he continued. “Iowa slipping out of sight, Georgia, Texas still tied. You’re not going to pick up Nevada, stop pretending you’re going to pick up Nevada. it’s not going to happen. Then Ohio. Obviously Pennsylvania looks like Biden is starting to make some space in Pennsylvania. but I think of all the numbers that stand out to me, it’s the Fox News poll number in Ohio that has Joe Biden up five points in Ohio. again — it’s almost like the craziness of the past week hasn’t helped him.”

Watch: https://youtu.be/-PLs_CfE0uw


MSNBC’s Morning Joe busts Republicans for blaming Hillary Clinton for Trump’s threats to election results

on September 25, 2020
By Travis Gettys

MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough blasted Republicans for changing the subject from President Donald Trump’s attacks on the election to Hillary Clinton.

The president has repeatedly suggested he won’t accept an election loss to Joe Biden, and the “Morning Joe” host thumped Republicans for suggesting Clinton — the 2016 nominee who is not currently running for office — had done the same thing.

“She never said never concede,” Scarborough said. “She said, don’t concede on Election Night, don’t concede until we count all the votes, is that correct?”

MSNBC reporter Kasie Hunt agreed, saying that Clinton had urged Biden to hold out until all the legal challenges were settled and all the ballots were counted, and Scarborough said those comments were not comparable to Trump’s threats — and were also irrelevant.

“The question does not go to Hillary Clinton any more than it goes to Mookie Betts,” Scarborough said, referring to the Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder. “Because neither Hillary Clinton nor Mookie Betts are president of the United States. The question, which our constitutional republic rests on, is whether the sitting president of the United States, like George Washington and the other 43 presidents that followed him before Donald Trump, whether Donald Trump will peacefully allow there to be a peaceful transition of power, and what he said yesterday was that he wasn’t going to answer that question.”

“He said it’ll be peaceful if we get rid of the ballots,” Scarborough added. “All he said was, it’ll be peaceful if I win by rigging the vote. So that’s what this president said that no other president has said, and that’s why it’s so dangerous.”

Watch: https://youtu.be/nH9vOA5Btz4

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« Reply #72 on: Today at 03:17 AM »

Coronavirus continuing to mutate, study finds, as US cases rise

Experts believe virus is probably becoming more contagious but US study did not find mutations made it more lethal

Lauren Aratani in New York

The Covid-19 virus is continuing to mutate throughout the course of the pandemic, with experts believing it is probably becoming more contagious, as coronavirus cases in the US have started to rise once again, according to new research.

The new US study analyzed 5,000 genetic sequences of the virus, which has continued to mutate as it has spread through the population. The study did not find that mutations of the virus have made it more lethal or changed its effects, even as it may be becoming easier to catch, according to a report in the Washington Post, which noted that public health experts acknowledge all viruses have mutations, most of which are insignificant.

David Morens, a virologist at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said that the new study should not be over-interpreted, but added that the virus could be responding to public health interventions such as social distancing.

“All those things are barriers to transmissibility, or contagion, but as the virus becomes more contagious it statistically is better at getting around those barriers,” he said.

Morens noted that this could mean that the virus might continue to mutate even after a vaccine is available, meaning the vaccine will have to be tinkered with – just as the flu vaccine is altered each year.

Twenty states have experienced over 5% increase in their Covid-19 cases over the last two weeks, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

The US saw 38,204 new cases on Wednesday, bringing the country’s total number of cases seen to nearly 6.9m. The country surpassed 200,000 coronavirus deaths on Tuesday, seeing between 300 to 1,000 deaths a day.

The US continues to lead as the country with the highest number of coronavirus cases and deaths.

The latest rise in cases has mostly been concentrated in the west and midwest, where states like Colorado, Wyoming, Wisconsin and Montana are seeing a surge. Texas, which saw a large surge in cases over the summer, has seen a noted rise in cases over the last few days, reporting more than 11,000 new cases on Monday.

Public health experts say it is too early to tell whether the rise in cases is a brief uptick as a consequence of Labor Day holiday gatherings in early September or whether it is the start of an uptrend as the weather starts to cool in many regions and people head indoors. Experts have warned that both events, in addition to K-12 schools and college campuses reopening, could lead to a rise in cases.

At a hearing before Congress on Wedensday, Dr Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), emphasized data that shows that young Americans have been driving the rise in cases. According to Redfield, people aged 18 to 25 have made up 26% of new coronavirus cases – the largest of any age group.

Redfield also said more than 90% of the American population remains susceptible to Covid-19, crushing any belief about widespread immunity developing.

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« Reply #73 on: Today at 03:21 AM »

Blasts from the past: how ice age ponds are coming back to life

Once watering holes for mammoth and elk, Herefordshire’s neglected ancient ponds are being restored
The age of extinction is supported by

Phoebe Weston
26 Sep 2020 15.00 BST

Ecologist Will Watson is hunting for Britain’s largest blood-sucking leech in a 14,000-year-old pond in Herefordshire. The elusive medicinal leech (Hirudo medicinalis), grows up to 20cm long and has only officially been recorded three times in the county in the past two decades. In the ice age pond in Moccas Park national nature reserve it was last found in 2000.

Watson shakes his net in the water. Most creatures shy away from such disturbance but this leech – the only one in Britain that sucks human blood – is attracted to the vibrations as they suggest the movements of large mammals trampling around the edge of the pond, which could signal a potential meal.

Unfortunately, the leech is not fooled this time, but we do find several water beetles, descendants of creatures alive when what is known as the Lawn Pool pond was formed. Thousands of years ago, these insects would have shared the water with woolly mammoths, aurochs and elk coming in to drink, wallow and nibble new shoots. Beavers also would have helped keep the pond open by felling trees, until about 500 years ago.

Now, with megafauna gone and farmers no longer coppicing the trees surrounding it, the pond, like many in Britain, has become overgrown. About 80% of it is shaded by willow and scrub, which reduces overall biodiversity because most pond species like light.

There are an estimated 1,500 ice age ponds in Herefordshire. With £252,000 from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, a project is being launched to cut away the vegetation that hides them and raise awareness about the biodiversity of these rich relics. The project is being run by three organisations – Herefordshire Wildlife Trust, Herefordshire Amphibian and Reptile Team and Herefordshire and Worcestershire Earth Heritage Trust.

“If you leave a pond it will naturally, in most cases, silt up and turn into a bog or a woodland,” says Dave Hutton, ice age ponds project officer at Herefordshire Wildlife Trust. “Without those natural processes, like aurochs and large mammals traipsing around and keeping them open, ponds and their wildlife tend to disappear. We’re acting like beavers and other large herbivores and keeping them open.”

In 2003, Watson was doing a survey of Herefordshire’s ponds when he realised something extraordinary: out of 260 ponds, nearly half were home to the great crested newt. This is probably the highest occurrence rate for the species anywhere in Britain and there was a theme – the most biologically rich ponds were all of ice age origin. Nationally, 1% of ponds were created during the ice age but in this pocket of north-west Herefordshire this figure rises to 25%.

This is because, 25,000 years ago, a thick lobe of ice came from the Welsh mountains and reached what is now the A49, running between Hereford and Leominster. A few thousand years later, as the frozen mass retreated, it dumped moraine and blocks of ice in north-west Herefordshire, carving out a unique undulating landscape peppered with hollows, which then filled with water.

An unknown number of ponds – sometimes referred to as kettle hole ponds – have already disappeared, with many flattened out by farmers to extend land under cultivation.

The Lawn Pool, which is on private land owned by the Chester-Master family, looks like an ordinary pond to the untrained eye. It has a grassy edge, open water (which sometimes disappears in dry years), swamp and a little woodland. But when Watson empties out the contents of his net it becomes clear this body of water is packed with strange creatures. Last year, researchers counted 53 species of aquatic invertebrates in a single session (an average pond would yield about 20), including 32 species of water beetle.

One of the most exciting finds was a 14–15mm long diving beetle (Graphoderus cinereus), which has only been found at a handful of other sites in south-east England. Another was a water scavenger beetle (Helochares obscurus), which in Hereford has only been recorded in ice age ponds. Watson says: “Inside these ponds there are glacial species that have hung on but they’re not really suited to today’s climate. There are assemblages of beetles that are more similar to beetles of 15,000 years ago.”

The Lawn Pool is also home to a carnivorous plant called bladderwort that devours water fleas and other invertebrates – the only one found in Herefordshire – and a rare aquatic plant called tubular water dropwort. Green sandpipers, little egrets and little ringed plovers are just a few bird species found feeding on the pond’s margins.

Because these ponds are so old, many species have been able to colonise them. “It’s a continuum going right back to the last ice age,” says Hutton. “What we’ve got in these ponds is that habitat continuity – there is a direct link with the past that has led to that diversity compared with the surrounding terrain which has been much more affected by man’s activities.”

Ice age ponds tend to form in clusters. In some parts of Herefordshire, there is a pond in each field. This makes it easier for species to move between them, meaning populations are more resilient to local climatic changes. Some ponds are large and deep, while smaller ones dry out each summer. Local differences mean each habitat supports slightly different species, increasing overall biodiversity.

Ice age ponds are often saucer-shape (unlike man-made ponds, which usually have steep sides) and the warm, sunny, shallow areas are the most important for wildlife, supporting the majority of plants and aquatic invertebrates. Conservationists aim to clear around a third of total shading for each pond. “It’s a big opportunity because ponds haven’t been managed in the past and there’s a lot to be gained,” says Watson.

The approach has an established track record: in an ice age pond at Mere Pool at nearby Blakemere, 18 trees were removed in 2013, leading to a 30% increase in aquatic plant species and a doubling of invertebrate populations.

Agricultural run-off is also a huge problem and often causes a thin layer of duckweed to cover the surface of ponds, which blocks sunlight. The project is using Environment Agency Lidar (light detection and ranging) data to look at the contours of the land, which will help to identify the shape of river catchments and the source of potential contamination.

By knowing which farms are likely to be contaminating specific ponds, conservationists can prioritise getting those farmers into agri-environment schemes – incentivising them to farm in a more environmentally friendly ways.

The large majority of UK ponds lack protection. This matters because habitats that don’t receive proper protection deteriorate. Watson wants ice age ponds to be listed as priority habitats on the Countryside Stewardship scheme so that money can be put towards their conservation and management.

Moccas Park is a site of special scientific interest but, unlike its old oak trees, the pond is not a notified habitat within that. “In the 1980s and 90s, woodland and meadows got better protection, but ponds didn’t. We want to change that,” Watson says.

These ponds are also valuable geological time capsules, giving insight into how Herefordshire has changed over thousands of years. Pollen collected in core samples from deep pond sediment shows that after the ice retreated about 14,000 years ago, Herefordshire quickly warmed up and became covered in birch and juniper woodland. It then cooled again for a few thousand years before warming even more, as shown by the abundance of species such as oak, hazel and elm.

“Kettle hole ponds are very good because they start off quite deep – they can be 20 metres deep to begin with – so there is a lot of space for sediment to accumulate,” says Prof Ian Fairchild, who is chair of the Herefordshire and Worcestershire Earth Heritage Trust. “They’re a good setting in which to get records which span that period between the late glacial towards the present day.”

Herefordshire’s ancient history still is not well studied and experts involved in the restoration project hope that it will be the start of more research into the area, including the history of early humans who probably would have congregated around these ancient water holes.

The team have created an exhibition at Hereford Museum until the end of October, showing their findings. “If we make people more aware of these ponds they may be less likely to disturb sites which may be looked at in the future … it will be of lasting value as we seek to improve our environments for our descendants,” says Fairchild.

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« Reply #74 on: Today at 03:24 AM »

Pollutionwatch: red sky spells warning when the cause is fire and wood burning

Smoke absorbs purple and blue light, raising alert for air pollution and climate emergency

Gary Fuller
26 Sep 2020 21.30 BST

Red sky at dawn and dusk is part of weather lore and apparently a cause for delight or warning among shepherds and sailors. But, as huge areas of forest burn, the crimson colour of skies over the western US is a red alert for our air pollution and climate emergency. Even in New York and Washington DC the sun turned orange. This is because smoke from wood burning strongly absorbs purple and blue light. Longer wavelengths pass through and the sky takes on shades of red.

This curiosity can be useful. In 2005 Swiss scientists noticed that the particle pollution from wood stoves that filled Alpine villages in winter strongly absorbed ultraviolet light, opening a way to routinely measure wood smoke in our air.

Smoke from other solid fuels can strongly absorb purple and blue light too. This may explain the colours in the pea-souper smogs that enveloped London up to the 1960s. In 1855, the Times described the November sky as having the changing colours of a bad bruise. Even in 1947, Arnold Marsh wrote of red and yellow smog-filled skies. It is these tricks of the light that inspired Claude Monet’s iconic paintings of the UK Houses of Parliament.

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