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« Reply #30 on: Apr 08, 2021, 03:30 AM »

Myanmar celebrity model arrested as military targets public figures

Social media accounts of Paing Takhon, who has a huge online following, are taken down following anti-coup comments

Rebecca Ratcliffe South-east Asia correspondent, and Helen Davidson
Thu 8 Apr 2021 06.56 BST

One of Myanmar’s most popular celebrities, the model and actor Paing Takhon, has been arrested by a military that is increasingly targeting celebrities who have criticised the coup.

Paing Takhon, who has a huge online following, was detained at 5am on Thursday, and is the latest of thousands of people to be held since the February coup.

The 24-year-old was taken away after eight trucks carrying police and soldiers arrived at his mother’s home in Yangon, according to local media reports. He had been in poor health at the time.

The military has been publishing the names and photographs of popular figures in daily wanted lists on TV and in the state-run newspaper. More than 100 are being sought by the military, and many have gone into hiding. On Wednesday, the popular beauty blogger Win Min Than was reportedly taken by security forces who arrived at a hotel where she had been staying with her mother, according to the Irrawaddy news site.

Paing Takhon, who had participated in anti-coup protests, faces charges under section 505a of the penal code, which criminalises comments that “cause fear” or spread “false news” and can lead to up to three years in prison. His social media profiles have been taken down, though it is not clear who removed them.

According to the advocacy group, the Assistance Association of Political Prisoners in Burma, 2,750 people – from politicians to doctors, actors and social media influencers – are in detention. Most are held in unknown locations.

On Thursday, Jose Ramos Horta, a Nobel peace prize winner and former Timor-Leste president, urged the UN security council to ignore China and Russia and make a resolute statement on the military coup that included arms embargos and sanctions, even if it was vetoed.

Ramos Horta said it was better for China and Russia to “be exposed” than for the council to have unanimous support on an “empty and useless press release”.

The leading human rights figure made the comments during a conference of hundreds of south-east Asian civil society groups to decide a regional response to the crisis.

Dr Dino Patti Djalal, chair of the Foreign Policy Community of Indonesia, and co-organiser of the meeting dismissed claims that non government groups and civil society in south east Asia had little power to take action. “We have a voice, we are the voice of the conscience of the people, of the region. That’s a powerful thing. Let’s begin with that.”

On Thursday, protesters began what they called a “marching shoe strike”, placing flowers in pairs of shoes at protest locations, or in their homes. Organisers said the symbolic protest would honour the more than 580 people killed by the military, writing: “for every step, a flower blooms”.

Protesters, who have faced brutal violence by the security forces, have found new ways to show their defiance to the junta. On Monday, Easter eggs were decorated with anti-coup slogans, part of an “Easter egg strike”, while on Tuesday, the streets of Yangon were splashed with red paint in a “Blood strike” to highlight the killing of peaceful protesters.

Protesters have also made creative use of social media, using it to share footage of abuses by the military, as well as anti-coup art work and memes. Many have joined in solidarity with other pro-democracy movements in the region, adopting the #MilkTeaAlliance hashtag, which was first used by young people in Thailand, Taiwan and Hong Kong to voice opposition to authoritarianism. According to Twitter, which has now created an accompanying milk tea emoji, the hashtag has been featured in more than 11m tweets in the past year, with its use surging in February when the coup first occurred.

    🧵Today we are launching an emoji for the #MilkTeaAlliance, an online solidarity alliance first started in April 2020 as a Twitter meme which has grown into a global pro-democracy movement led by activists and concerned citizens in 🇭🇰🇹🇭🇹🇼🇲🇲 and around the world.
    — Twitter Public Policy (@Policy) April 8, 2021

The military has clamped down on such online activity, cutting mobile data for more than three weeks, and recently restricting broadband wireless internet services. Fixed-line internet still works, but even this is subject to shutdowns at night, when the military and police carry out house raids to round up protesters and critics.

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« Reply #31 on: Apr 08, 2021, 03:34 AM »

Ursula von der Leyen snubbed in chair gaffe at EU-Erdoğan talks

Awkward moment as EC chief consigned to sofa at meeting where women’s rights was on agenda
Ursula von der Leyen remains without a seat in the meeting with Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdoğan

Daniel Boffey in Brussels
8 Apr 2021 12.29 BST

Ursula von der Leyen, the European commission’s first female president, was “surprised” after being left without a chair during a meeting of the EU’s two presidents and Turkey’s leader, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and has demanded such a snub is never repeated.

The German head of the commission was left visibly irritated at the start of the talks in Ankara with her two male counterparts, Erdoğan and Charles Michel, the former Belgian prime minister who is president of the European council.

“Ehm,” she muttered, with a small gesticulation directed at the occupied seats, as Michel and Erdoğan settled themselves at the head of the gilded room in the presidential complex at the start of the talks.

    Yah not supposed to be like this
    — Bruno Maçães (@MacaesBruno) April 6, 2021

The awkward scene played out before a three-hour meeting with Erdoğan on Tuesday where one of the issues raised by the EU leaders was women’s rights in light of Turkey’s withdrawal from a convention on gender-based violence.

Michel, who appeared to make a beeline for the top spot next to Erdoğan as the party entered, offered little evidence of regret. Von der Leyen had to make do with a second-rank seat on a sofa opposite Turkey’s foreign minister.

On Wednesday, Von der Leyen’s spokesperson made clear the commission president’s feelings over the issue, noting that the incident had “sharpened her focus” on the issue of equal rights during the discussions that followed.

He said: “The president of the commission was clearly surprised and that is something you can see from the video … The protocol level of our president is exactly the same as that of the president of the European council.

“Our president is a member of the European council in her own right and normally when she goes to foreign countries she was treated in exactly the same way as the president of the European council.

“The president expects that the institution that she represents to be treated with the required protocol and she has therefore asked her team to take all appropriate contacts in order to ensure that such an incident does not occur in the future”.

The spokesperson suggested that the commission president took a calculated decision to carry on the meeting despite the affront.

“The president’s assertiveness was clearly on display in that she did not walk away from the meeting, she took part in the meeting, and played her full role,” the spokesperson added.

Iratxe García Pérez, the Spanish MEP who leads the Socialist and Democrats group in the European parliament, tweeted: “First they withdraw from the Istanbul convention and now they leave the president of European commission without a seat in an official visit. Shameful.”

“What a diplomatic fiasco,” tweeted Violeta Bulc, a former EU commissioner.

Neither Von der Leyen nor Michel made any mention of the diplomatic gaffe in a post-meeting press conference. “We have come to Turkey to give our relationship a new momentum and in this respect we had an interesting first meeting with President Erdoğan,” Von der Leyen said.

She added Turkey had sent a “wrong signal” by leaving the convention on preventing violence against women signed in 2011.

“I am deeply worried by the fact that Turkey withdraws from the Istanbul convention,” she said. “This is about protecting women and protecting children from the threat of violence”.

Erdoğan did not take part in the statement. The main result of the meeting was that the EU agreed to extend the five-year, €6bn (£5.2bn) under which Brussels had provided funding in return for stopping the movement of migrants to Greece.

In a statement late on Wednesday, Michel said he was “sorry” that he had appeared indifferent in the video to Von der Leyen’s “distressing situation”.

He said: “I am therefore sorry for two reasons. First, by the impression given that I would have been indifferent to the protocol awkwardness vis-à-vis Ursula.

Watch: https://youtu.be/zNqWvIX09YA

“All the more so since I am honored to participate in this European project, of which two major institutions out of four are headed by women, Ursula von der Leyen and Christine Lagarde. And also proud that a woman, the first in history, succeeded me as Prime Minister of Belgium.

“Finally, I am saddened, because this situation has overshadowed the major and beneficial geopolitical work that we carried out together in Ankara, and of which I hope that Europe will reap the fruits.

In his statement, however, Michel said the incident had occurred as a result of the Turkish government applying a strict interpretation of ‘protocol’, in a comment that appeared to clear both himself and Ankara of any blame.

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« Reply #32 on: Apr 08, 2021, 03:49 AM »

Biden’s Tax Plan Aims to Raise $2.5 Trillion and End Profit-Shifting

The plan detailed by the Treasury Department would make it harder for companies to avoid paying taxes on both U.S. income and profits stashed abroad.

By Jim Tankersley and Alan Rappeport
April 8, 2021
NY Times

WASHINGTON — Large companies like Apple and Bristol Myers Squibb have long employed complicated maneuvers to reduce or eliminate their tax bills by shifting income on paper between countries. The strategy has enriched accountants and shareholders, while driving down corporate tax receipts for the federal government.

President Biden sees ending that practice as central to his $2 trillion infrastructure package, pushing changes to the tax code that his administration says will ensure American companies are contributing tax dollars to help invest in the country’s roads, bridges, water pipes and in other parts of his economic agenda.

On Wednesday, the Treasury Department released the details of Mr. Biden’s tax plan, which aims to raise as much as $2.5 trillion over 15 years to help finance the infrastructure proposal. That includes bumping the corporate tax rate to 28 percent from 21 percent, imposing a strict new minimum tax on global profits and cracking down on companies that try to move profits offshore.

The plan also aims to stop big companies that are profitable but have no federal income tax liability from paying no taxes to the Treasury Department by imposing a 15 percent tax on the profits they report to investors. Such a change would affect about 45 corporations, according to the Biden administration’s estimates, because it would be limited to companies earning $2 billion or more per year.

“Companies aren’t going to be able to hide their income in places like the Cayman Islands and Bermuda in tax havens,” Mr. Biden said on Wednesday during remarks at the White House. He defended the tax increases as necessary to pay for infrastructure investments that America needs and to help reduce the federal deficit over the long term.   

Still, his 15 percent tax is a narrower version of the one he proposed in the 2020 campaign that would have applied to companies with $100 million or more in profits per year.

Mr. Biden’s proposals are a repudiation of Washington’s last big tax overhaul — President Donald J. Trump’s 2017 tax cuts. Biden administration officials say that law increased the incentives for companies to shift profits to lower-tax countries, while reducing corporate tax receipts in the United States to match their lowest levels as a share of the economy since World War II.

Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen, in rolling out the plan, said it would end a global “race to the bottom” of corporate taxation that has been destructive for the American economy and its workers.

“Our tax revenues are already at their lowest level in generations,” Ms. Yellen said. “If they continue to drop lower, we will have less money to invest in roads, bridges, broadband and R&D.”

The plan, while ambitious, will not be easy to enact.

Some of the proposals, like certain changes to how a global minimum tax is applied to corporate income, could possibly be put in place by the Treasury Department via regulation. But most will need the approval of Congress, including increasing the corporate tax rate. Given Democrats’ narrow majorities in the Senate and the House, that proposed rate could drop. Already, Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, a crucial swing vote, has said he would prefer a 25 percent corporate rate.

Mr. Biden indicated he was willing to negotiate, saying: “Debate is welcome. Compromise is inevitable. Changes are certain.” But he added that “inaction is not an option.”

At the core of the tax proposal is an attempt to rewrite decades of tax-code provisions that have encouraged and rewarded companies who stash profits overseas.

It would increase the rate of what is essentially a minimum tax on money American companies earn abroad, and it would apply that tax to a much broader selection of income. It would also eliminate lucrative tax deductions for foreign-owned companies that are based in low-tax countries — like Bermuda or Ireland — but have operations in the United States.

“We are being quite explicit: We don’t think profit-shifting is advantageous from a U.S. perspective,” David Kamin, the deputy director of the National Economic Council, said in an interview. “It is a major problem,” he said, adding that with the proposed changes, “We have the opportunity to lead the world.”
ImageTreasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen said that the plan would end a global “race to the bottom” of corporate taxation that has been destructive for the American economy and its workers.
Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen said that the plan would end a global “race to the bottom” of corporate taxation that has been destructive for the American economy and its workers.Credit...Al Drago for The New York Times

The corporate income tax rate in the United States is currently 21 percent, but many large American companies pay effective tax rates that are much lower than that. Corporations that have operations in multiple countries often shift assets or income — sometimes in physical form, but other times, simply in their accountants’ books — between countries in search of the lowest possible tax bill.

Companies also shift jobs and investments between countries, but often for different reasons. In many cases, they are following lower labor costs or seeking customers in new markets to expand their businesses. The Biden plan would create tax incentives for companies to invest in production and research in the United States.

Previous administrations have tried to curb the offshoring of jobs and profits. Mr. Trump’s tax cuts reduced the corporate rate to 21 percent from 35 percent in the hopes of encouraging more domestic investment. It established a global minimum tax for corporations based in the United States and a related effort meant to reduce profit-shifting by foreign companies with operations in the country, though both provisions were weakened by subsequent regulations issued by Mr. Trump’s Treasury Department.

Conservative tax experts, including several involved in writing the 2017 law, say they have seen no evidence of the law enticing companies to move jobs overseas. Mr. Biden has assembled a team of tax officials who contend the provisions have given companies new incentives to move investment and profits offshore.

Mr. Biden’s plan would raise the rate of Mr. Trump’s minimum tax and apply it more broadly to income that American companies earn overseas. Those efforts would try to make it less appealing for companies to book profits in lower-tax companies.

That includes discouraging American companies from moving their headquarters abroad for tax purposes, particularly through the practice known as “inversions,” where companies from different countries merge, creating a new foreign-located firm.

Under current law, companies with headquarters in low-tax countries can move some of their profits earned by subsidiaries in the United States and send them back to headquarters as payments for things like the use of intellectual property, then deduct those payments from their American income taxes. The Biden plan would disallow those deductions for companies based in low-tax countries.

Treasury Department officials estimate the proposed changes to offshore taxation would raise about $700 billion over 10 years.

Companies defend their decisions to locate profits and operations offshore, saying they do so for a variety of reasons, including so that they can compete globally.

Business groups blasted the proposal on Wednesday, saying that while they agreed that the United States needed to invest in infrastructure, the tax plan would put American firms at a significant competitive disadvantage.

Neil Bradley, an executive vice president and the chief policy officer of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement on Wednesday that the proposal would “hurt American businesses and cost American jobs” and that it would hinder their ability to compete in a global economy.

And members of the Business Roundtable, which represents corporate chief executives in Washington, said this week that Mr. Biden’s plan for a global minimum tax “threatens to subject the U.S. to a major competitive disadvantage.”

Republican lawmakers also denounced the plan as bad for business, with some on the House Ways and Means Committee saying that “their massive tax hikes will be shouldered by American workers and small businesses.”

Still, some companies expressed an openness to certain tax hikes.

John Zimmer, the president and a founder of Lyft, told CNN on Wednesday that he supported Mr. Biden’s proposed 28 percent corporate tax rate.

“I think it’s important to make investments again in the country and the economy,” Mr. Zimmer said. “And as the economy grows, so too does jobs and so too does people’s needs to get around.”

Mr. Biden’s team hopes the proposals will ultimately spur a worldwide change in how and where companies are taxed, which could resolve some of the global competitiveness concerns.

The administration is supporting an effort through the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development to broker an agreement on developing a new global minimum tax. Ms. Yellen threw her support behind that effort on Monday, and the Biden plan includes measures meant to force other countries to go along with that new tax. Global negotiators are aiming to come to an agreement by July.


Nearly two-thirds of US voters back corporate tax hike to fund Biden infrastructure plan

Brett Wilkins, Common Dreams
April 08, 2021

Roundly rejecting Republican and conservative Democratic lawmakers who oppose President Joe Biden's proposed corporate tax increase to fund the American Jobs Plan, a poll published Wednesday revealed nearly two-thirds of U.S. voters favor higher taxes on businesses to pay for the administration's $2.25 trillion infrastructure and employment legislative proposal.

"On a broad level, nearly three-quarters of voters agree that corporations should pay higher taxes, including 85% of Democrats and 59% of Republicans."
—Morning Consult

Morning Consult pollsters surveyed nearly 2,000 registered voters and found that 65% of respondents somewhat or strongly support funding the American Jobs Plan (AJP) through 15 years of higher corporate taxes, compared with just 21% who somewhat or strongly oppose the move.

Among Democratic voters, 85% support—62% of them strongly—the tax hike, with only 15% against the increase. Sixty percent of independents and 42% of Republicans favor funding the AJP through higher corporate taxes, with 47% GOP voters opposing the proposed policy.

"On a broad level, nearly three-quarters of voters agree that corporations should pay higher taxes, including 85% of Democrats and 59% of Republicans," said Morning Consult.

According to an analysis published Wednesday by the Penn Wharton Budget Model, Biden's proposal—under which the corporate tax rate would rise from 21% to 28%—would increase government revenue by $891.6 billion between 2022 and 2031, and by nearly $1.49 trillion between 2022 and 2036.

The Wharton analysts further forecast that overall, the AJP would generate $2.1 trillion in tax revenue, while spending $2.7 trillion, between 2021 and 2030. The higher corporate tax rate, combined with improved U.S. infrastructure, is expected to decrease the nation's debt by 6.4% and its GDP by 0.8% in 2050.

A separate poll published Tuesday by Invest in America and Data for Progress found that a bipartisan majority of U.S. voters—73% overall, 93% of Democrats, 67% of independents, and 57% of Republicans—support the AJP in general.

The Morning Consult poll found even higher overall support for the plan when the proposed corporate tax hike is withdrawn, with approval rising to 83% among all voters.

While support for the AJP's corporate tax increase is strongest among progressives—whose biggest complaint about the plan is that it doesn't do enough—prominent capitalists and financial institutions have also said they favor the measure.

On Wednesday, International Monetary Fund officials endorsed Biden's proposal, with Vitor Gaspar, the organization's fiscal affairs director, telling reporters that "the IMF has been calling for a minimum global corporate income tax rate as a way to interrupt the race to the bottom in corporate income taxation."

Jeff Bezos, the outgoing CEO of Amazon and the world's wealthiest person, said Tuesday that "we recognize this investment will require concessions from all sides—both on the specifics of what's included as well as how it gets paid for," adding, "we're supportive of a rise in the corporate tax rate."

On the other hand, Republicans in Congress and conservative Democrats—led by Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.)—strongly oppose the corporate tax increase component of the AJP.


Biden restores $200m in US aid to Palestinians slashed by Trump

Former US president had gradually cut virtually all US money to Palestinian aid projects

Oliver Holmes in Jerusalem
Thu 8 Apr 2021 08.36 BST

The US will restore more than $200m (£145m) in aid to Palestinians, reversing massive funding cuts under the Trump administration that left humanitarian groups scrambling to keep people from plunging into poverty.

“We plan to restart US economic, development, and humanitarian assistance for the Palestinian people,” the secretary of state, Antony Blinken, said in a statement.

The aid includes $75m in economic and development funds for the occupied West Bank and Gaza, which will provide food and clean water to Palestinians and help small businesses. A further $150m will be provided to the United Nations relief and works agency for Palestine refugees in the near east (UNRWA), a UN body that supports more than 5 million Palestinian refugees across the region.

After Donald Trump’s row with the Palestinian leadership, President Joe Biden has sought to restart Washington’s flailing efforts to push for a two-state resolution for the Israel-Palestinian crisis, and restoring the aid is part of that. In his statement, Blinken said US foreign assistance “serves important US interests and values”.

“The United States is committed to advancing prosperity, security, and freedom for both Israelis and Palestinians in tangible ways in the immediate term, which is important in its own right, but also as a means to advance towards a negotiated two-state solution,” he said.

Palestinian leaders and the UN welcomed the resumption of aid. Israel, however, criticised the decision to restore funds to UNRWA, a body it has long claimed is a bloated, flawed group.

“We believe that this UN agency for so-called refugees should not exist in its current format,” said Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Gilad Erdan. Pro-Israel US lawmakers joined the country in opposition to the aid and said they would scrutinise it in Congress.

From 2018, Trump gradually cut virtually all US money to Palestinian aid projects after the Palestinian leadership accused him of being biased towards Israel and refused to talk. The US president accused Palestinians of lacking “appreciation or respect”.

The former president cancelled more than $200m in economic aid, including $25m earmarked for underfunded East Jerusalem hospitals that have suffered during the Covid-19 crisis. Trump’s cuts to UNRWA, which also serves Palestinian refugees in war-stricken Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East, was described by the agency’s then head as “the biggest and most severe” funding crisis since the body was created in 1949. The US was previously UNRWA’s biggest donor.

To outcry from aid workers, leaked emails suggested the move may have partly been a political tactic to weaken the Palestinian leadership. Those emails alleged that Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner had argued that “ending the assistance outright could strengthen his negotiating hand” to push Palestinians to accept their blueprint for an Israeli-Palestinian deal.

The cuts were decried as catastrophic for Palestinians’ ability to provide basic healthcare, schooling and sanitation, including by prominent Israeli establishment figures.

Last April, as the coronavirus pandemic hit, Trump’s government announced it would send money to Palestinians. The $5m one-off donation was roughly 1% of the amount Washington provided a year before Trump began slashing aid.

... as you join us today from India, we have a small favour to ask. You’ve read

in the last year. And you’re not alone; through these turbulent and challenging times, millions rely on the Guardian for independent journalism that stands for truth and integrity. Readers chose to support us financially more than 1.5 million times in 2020, joining existing supporters in 180 countries.

With your help, we will continue to provide high-impact reporting that can counter misinformation and offer an authoritative, trustworthy source of news for everyone. With no shareholders or billionaire owner, we set our own agenda and provide truth-seeking journalism that’s free from commercial and political influence. When it’s never mattered more, we can investigate and challenge without fear or favour.

Unlike many others, we have maintained our choice: to keep Guardian journalism open for all readers, regardless of where they live or what they can afford to pay. We do this because we believe in information equality, where everyone deserves to read accurate news and thoughtful analysis. Greater numbers of people are staying well-informed on world events, and being inspired to take meaningful action.

We aim to offer readers a comprehensive, international perspective on critical events shaping our world – from the Black Lives Matter movement, to the new American administration, Brexit, and the world's slow emergence from a global pandemic. We are committed to upholding our reputation for urgent, powerful reporting on the climate emergency, and made the decision to reject advertising from fossil fuel companies, divest from the oil and gas industries, and set a course to achieve net zero emissions by 2030.


Biden to tackle gun violence with executive actions on ‘ghost guns’ and pistols

President will also nominate a gun control advocate to direct the ATF, and encourage Democrats in Congress to pass more reforms

Maanvi Singh
Thu 8 Apr 2021 01.01 BST

The Biden administration has unveiled several executive actions designed to curb gun violence, in the aftermath of the mass shootings in Atlanta and Boulder. The administration is also planning to nominate David Chipman, a former federal agent and gun control advocate, to direct the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

The actions include a directive that the justice department, within the next month, issue proposed regulations on “ghost guns” – unregistered firearms that can be assembled from parts.

Joe Biden will also direct the justice department to clarify regulations to ensure that pistols fitted with stabilizing braces, which essentially transform them into rifles, will be regulated under the National Firearms Act. Pistols are cheaper, and easier to carry across state lines, whereas rifles are more regulated. The suspect in the Boulder shooting used a pistol fitted with a brace that looks and operates like a rifle, and uses the same ammunition as the infamous AR-15, but isn’t regulated like a rifle under current laws.

And the president will ask various agencies to direct more resources to community violence prevention measures, and call on the justice department to develop model “red flag” laws – which allow family members to petition courts to take firearms away from people who are deemed a threat – for states to take up and adopt. Several states, including Colorado, already have red flag laws on the books.

Officials said that these new measures are only a start, and that the administration will encourage Democrats in Congress to pass more gun control reforms and consider other executive actions to reduce gun violence.

Biden, who as vice-president was in charge of steering the Obama administration’s gun violence prevention efforts, promised ambitious reforms while campaigning for the presidency. In the run-up to the 2020 elections, he vowed to enact legislation requiring background checks for all gun sales, ban online firearms sales and ban the manufacture and sale of assault weapons and high capacity magazines – and regulate or buy back those already in circulation. Gun control advocates were disappointed at the president’s lack of immediate, early action after taking office – but welcomed Wednesday’s announcement.

“President Biden promised to take action on gun violence in his first 100 days in office, and today he delivered,” said former representative Gabby Giffords, who became a prominent anti-gun violence advocate after surviving a mass shooting. “These executive actions help address a crisis that devastates communities across the country on a daily basis.”

Naming Chipman as ATF director could be another step toward more comprehensive gun control. The post has been vacant since 2015. But Chipman faces an uphill battle in the Senate. Although Democrats have a slim majority, even moderates may be weary of Chiman’s strong positions against all assault weapons and other restrictions.

As a special agent for the ATF, Chipman investigated gun-trafficking operations and the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. He later left the agency, and worked with Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun violence prevention advocacy group, and ShotSpotter, a company that specializes in gunshot detection technology used by police. He now works as a policy adviser at Giffords, the former congresswoman’s gun control non-profit.

Getting gun control legislation passed through the Senate will be even more difficult, with Republicans staunchly opposed to legislation. After the mass shooting at Sandy Hook elementary school in 2012, Biden failed to push through major gun control legislation. Although Democrats had a majority then, the bill failed to garner enough support to overcome a filibuster. Democrats have an even narrower lead in the Senate now.


 35 states are at risk for 'rigged' elections because of severe gerrymandering: report

Alex Henderson, AlterNet
April 08, 2021

In addition to voter suppression, one of the tools that Republicans will have in their effort to retake the U.S. House of Representatives in 2022 is gerrymandering. And according to a new report by the nonpartisan RepresentUs, severe gerrymandering could result in "rigged" election maps in 35 different states.

The report explains, "The redistricting laws in these states provide little protection against politicians manipulating district maps for partisan or personal gain. Unless these systems change in the next few months, more than 188 million people will live with the threat of gerrymandering and rigged maps for the next 10 years."

Redistricting is taking place in the U.S. in 2021 and 2022, and that redistricting will remain in place for ten years after that until the next U.S. Census is conducted.

In Truthout, journalist Sharon Zhang explains,

"In many places, the state legislature draws the maps which are approved by the governor. If one party controls the House, Senate and governor's office, they have enormous power to control whose votes count and which party gets an unfair advantage for the next decade. Currently, Republicans control 61 state legislative chambers, as opposed to Democrats' 37, and control the House, Senate and governorship in 23 states as opposed to Democrats' 15."

RepresentUs breaks down individual states based on how severe the threat of gerrymandering is. Seven states receive a "minimal" rating, including California, Arizona, Hawaii, Michigan and Colorado — while Texas, New Mexico and Nevada are among the many states that according to RepresentUs, have a "high" or "severe" risk of gerrymandering.

Zhang notes, "Gerrymandering disenfranchises voters by either using them for partisan advantage or sidelining them in order to gain an advantage in other places. The practice is often racist — Republicans tend to 'pack' non-White voters who lean Democratic into strangely-drawn districts and then draw other districts with a more balanced slate of voters, who are usually White. Racial gerrymandering is illegal, but gerrymandering is very difficult to prove in court."

Some of the most severe gerrymandering occurred during President Barack Obama's first term. According to Zhang, the redistricting of 2011 and 2012, "led to some of the most gerrymandered and racially discriminatory maps" in U.S. history.

In an official statement, RepresentUs co-founder Josh Silver warned, "This report makes it clear that gerrymandering is a national crisis that needs an urgent and bold solution. Politicians are already preparing to pick their voters during this year's redistricting. But with the For the People Act, Congress has a chance to stop them before they get started."

House Resolution 1, a.k.a. the For the People Act, is a voting rights bills that was recently passed by the U.S. House of Representatives but faces an uphill climb in the U.S. Senate — where Democrats have a narrow majority.

Other states that have an "extreme" risk of gerrymandering, according to RepresentUs, include Georgia, Minnesota, Louisiana, Kentucky, Delaware, Kansas Wisconsin and Tennessee. Meanwhile, RepresentUs cites Pennsylvania and Maine as states with a "moderate" gerrymandering risk.


Republican delusion — not disinformation — is the bigger danger to American democracy

Amanda Marcotte

Perhaps it was inevitable, but now it's certain: Three months out from the violent insurrection Donald Trump incited at the U.S. Capitol, the majority of Republican voters have settled on a story that they can use to justify supporting what Trump and the rioters did. According to a poll released this week by Reuters and Ipsos, belief in conspiracy theories about the insurrection is widespread among Republican voters, with 55% claiming to "agree" or "somewhat agree" that the rioters were really "antifa" in disguise. Another 51% of Republican respondents agree or somewhat agree that the rioters — who look to have killed one police officer, violently assaulted hundreds of others, and were chanting "hang Mike Pence" as they ransacked the Capitol — "were mostly peaceful, law-abiding Americans." And a full 60% agree or somewhat agree with Trump's utterly false claim that Joe Biden stole the 2020 election.

This article was originally published at Salon

These numbers are, needless to say, terrifying, precisely because they capture a level of delusion that is truly hard to imagine.

It's not clear how much overlap there is among adherents to the various conspiracy theories. It could be a situation where half of Republicans have thrown in with the "antifa hoax" lie and another half with the "not that violent" lie. Or it could be that a lot of Republicans believe both at the same time, even though the conspiracy theories contradict each other, as there's no point in screaming that "antifa did it" if you're also denying the well-documented violence of the insurrection. But research has long shown that conspiracy theorists don't care if their theories contradict each other. For instance, people who believe Princess Diana was murdered are also more likely to believe that she's still secretly alive. Conspiracy theories are rarely about a literal, sincere understanding of the facts, but closer to religious fables or myths — comforting narratives that a person tells themselves in order to justify an underlying belief system.

In this case, the underlying belief being rationalized is the Republican turn against democracy itself. Republican voters understand their ideology and party are both unpopular. They know that maintaining power means overruling the wishes of the majority of Americans. But rather than admit out loud — or possibly even to themselves — that they would rather end American democracy, they cling to these comforting conspiracy theories that let them tell a story where they're the heroes, not the villains trying to strip rights away from other Americans.

The reaction to the poll has largely been focused on the role right-wing disinformation campaigns run by major outlets like Fox News and Breitbart play in making Republican voters so delusional.

    It's truly frightening and frustrating that half of Republicans believe the January 6th riot was "peaceful," even as the families of dead officers are still mourning those they lost.
    Misinformation is deadly.
    — BrooklynDad_Defiant! (@mmpadellan) April 5, 2021

There is no doubt that the firehose of lies coming from Trump and his media supporters matter. Still, it's important to understand that Republican voters have autonomy here. They aren't mindless ciphers, helpless to resist the allure of Fox News propaganda. They actively choose to watch Fox News and to reject truthful information. Anyone who has tried to correct a Republican friend or relative who is sharing misinformation can attest to this grim reality. They almost never thank you for setting them straight or get angry at Tucker Carlson for lying to them. They get defensive and double down on the lies. They prefer lies over truth.

In a sense, then, it's questionable whether Republican voters really "believe" that Trump really won the election, or that antifa was behind the insurrection, or that the insurrection wasn't really violent. At least, they may not believe it in the usual sense that we use the word "believe" to mean a conviction that a thing is true, such as believing the sun will rise in the east or that Prince wrote "When Doves Cry" in one night. Many of them likely are asserting it more as a show of tribal loyalty and, of course, as cover for their more unspeakable but truer beliefs, like the belief that white people are the only people whose votes should really count. As David Graham argued in February at the Atlantic, "Republicans are backing Trump not in spite of the insurrection but because of it." But they know that saying out loud that they want to overthrow democracy is bad. Instead, they cling to conspiracy theories, many of which contradict each other, that are proxies for their real but unspeakable anti-democratic beliefs.

Evidence that tribal loyalty and emotional desires trump empirical evidence with Republican voters was neatly demonstrated by the reaction, in the early days of Trump's presidency, to Trump's insistence that his inauguration crowd was bigger than Barack Obama's. Anyone could see that it was only a fraction of the size, but when researchers asked Republican voters about this in the days after the inauguration, over 40% were willing to make fools of themselves to insist that Trump's crowd was bigger.

Since then, the defiance and defensiveness of Trump voters has only ratcheted up, to the point where many, if not most, will deny the sky is blue if Trump asked them to. It's not because they "believe" the lies, so much as they believe in their own hatred of liberals, and will say or do anything in order to perform a rejection of what liberals believe. That's how so many Trump voters talked themselves into treating the pandemic, which was obviously real, as a hoax. And why they can look at a howling mob of violent insurrectionists waving Trump flags, and deny the evidence of their own eyes.

Misinformation is absolutely one of the worst problems in our country. The steady stream of right-wing lies is tearing this country apart. But it's critical to understand why misinformation is so powerful. Most Republican voters believe that their rapidly shrinking tribe should hold all the power, and are willing to sacrifice democracy itself to hang onto power.

What misinformation from Fox News and other outlets does is give Republicans excuses and rationalizations for continuing to hold repulsive beliefs that they know full well can't be justified on the merits. Fox News shamelessly pumps out lies on a nightly basis, and it's a threat to our democracy. But what's even scarier is that they have an audience so hungry for the lies that they would turn on even Fox News if the network ever stopped lying.

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« Reply #33 on: Apr 08, 2021, 09:10 AM »

'This is the perfect question': Jennifer Granholm flips the script as Fox News grills her on infrastructure

David Edwards
Raw Story
April 08, 2021

Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm took on two Fox News host who attempted to grill her on the Biden administration's infrastructure plan.

Fox News host Bill Hemmer began Thursday's interview by suggesting that President Joe Biden is already retreating from his infrastructure goals.

"It's a great question, Bill," Granholm said happily. "Because Congress is not in session and he hasn't had a chance to sit down face-to-face with the members of Congress, which he will do and a number of us have been doing -- at least virtually."

Granholm went on to remind Hemmer that Biden's bill is "reminiscent of a bipartisan bill that was passed in December."

"Who doesn't want America to create the supply chains for our own energy security," she continued, "to have manufacturing in this country? Who doesn't want to have a safe electric grid? Who doesn't want to make sure that we are building the technologies of the future and not allowing our economic competitors to eat us for lunch?"

"That's a great entré to the question I wanted to ask you about," co-host Dana Perino chimed in. "You had said that 'There are many more jobs in this clean energy realm than there have been in the fossil fuel industry itself.' But in terms of that supply chain, when for example you ask people to go out and find a solar job or green energy job, a lot of those jobs are in China."

"So if we try to push too much, are we giving more jobs to China than we are to our own people?" Perino wondered.

"This is the perfect question!" Granholm exclaimed. "Because this is why we need to bring manufacturing here. Why are we allowing our economic competitors to take, for example, battery manufacturing for electric vehicles and we've got to rely on supply chains elsewhere?"

"Why are we standing by the side of the road and allowing China to come in and swoop up all of the manufacturing or solar panels?" she added.

"Are you saying all of the solar panels are going to made here?" Perino pressed.

"I think solar panels should be made here," Granholm insisted. "Why would we be buying solar panels from a country that has human rights violations? Why wouldn't we be making them here? Why wouldn't we be making the supply chain for those solar panels here? It's insane that we have allowed it. We've stood by and watched those jobs go away. This American Jobs Act has a huge investment in our manufacturing and our supply chain."

Watch the video from Fox News: https://youtu.be/md0fHO2tMXQ


Internet slams ‘idiot’ senator who tweeted graphics attacking infrastructure bill

David Badash, The New Civil Rights Movement
April 08, 2021

U.S. Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) is continuing her agenda of actively attacking everything Democrats do, to the point she is becoming like a more experienced Marjorie Taylor Greene or Lauren Boebert.

On Wednesday Blackburn posted a Twitter thread filled with graphics she appeared to see as attacking President Joe Biden's $2 trillion infrastructure bill. As the far-right Tennessee conservative may learn, the legislation is extraordinarily popular with the American people – Democratic and Republican voters alike.

Blackburn is among the most extreme GOP Senators, with just four (Ernst, Cruz, Cotton, and Inhofe) being even more far-right than she is. She is also rated below average in leadership, according to GovTrack, a non-partisan website that tracks Congress.
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Here's Blackburn's "attack":

    Biden's 'infrastructure' proposal is the latest attempt to push through a liberal agenda.
    Take a look at what Biden wants taxpayer dollars going towards: pic.twitter.com/bkDXSEWFow — Sen. Marsha Blackburn (@MarshaBlackburn) April 7, 2021

    President Biden's proposal is about anything but infrastructure. pic.twitter.com/fRtbPqg7QK
    — Sen. Marsha Blackburn (@MarshaBlackburn) April 7, 2021

The DNC liked it so much they "stole" it (her logo is still at the top):

    .@POTUS's jobs plan makes needed investments in caregiving—giving seniors and people with disabilities the care they need while giving care workers the raise they deserve. pic.twitter.com/WDpEgnniLg
    — The Democrats (@TheDemocrats) April 7, 2021

It didn't go well for her. Take a look:

    You're just further proof how utterly beyond salvaging today's GOP is. Each of you Republican Senators is just a soulless husk void of a heart, morals, or any ideas of value-- mere grifters and racists willing to say and do anything for money, the future be damned. What a legacy.
    — Mikko Alanne (@MikkoAlanne) April 7, 2021

    Hey, remember how Texas' infrastructure went down for a week or more because the electric grid wasn't equipped for climate change? Yeah. This is about infrastructure, lady.
    — Fiona Taylor (@fionaleslie) April 7, 2021

    Tennessee has been hit with countless storm, this would useful even for your state
    — Denise Wu (@denisewu) April 7, 2021

    Did the Biden administration pay Marsha for this tweet? https://t.co/0e2tS109xT
    — Justin Baragona (@justinbaragona) April 7, 2021

    Exactly. As Pete Buttigieg told Fox "News" commentators, the fact that Texans were having to gather up snow in their bathtubs to melt for water to be able to flush their toilets SHOULD NEVER BE HAPPENING IN THE U.S. Infrastructure is now QUITE POPULAR.
    — Susan Urban (@urbanswirl) April 7, 2021

    Here's a great thread with a bunch of shareable graphics to help promote the American Jobs Plan: https://t.co/Jj4IUeYuu9
    — Daniel Wessel (@da_wessel) April 7, 2021

    Are... Are these supposed to be bad things??? https://t.co/dbqn5oJZtD
    — Chris Giaquinto (@ChrisGiaquinto) April 7, 2021

    Weird that a majority of Republicans like it though pic.twitter.com/sXI3HAOCMN
    — José (@josecanyousee) April 7, 2021

    Sen. Marsha Blackburn wants to keep reminding us how good this Biden Infrastructure proposal is! Keep up the great work Sen. Blackburn! Really good thread! https://t.co/dgjNrZ8fsG
    — Eric Lee (@ericclee1) April 7, 2021

    Marsha seeing as how you don't know the definition of infrastructure and more than likely don't own a dictionary ill help you out. pic.twitter.com/lORCOpCJqt
    — Barely Gaming (@BarelyGamingYT) April 7, 2021

    The American Jobs Plan. Here is a breakdown of the proposed spending and how it surveys among 2,000 Americans. You might want to get onboard with this. pic.twitter.com/ek0UpJ8V5o
    — Sterling Rose 💉 (@SterlingRose62) April 7, 2021

    It would certainly be an improvement over a conservative agenda -- cut taxes, deplete the country, no investments in anything, no long term maintenance, just use everything up. Hope he is successful!
    — Fran Caron (@FCaron9) April 7, 2021

    I work in agriculture and climate change is the biggest issue that my business faces. I can't fund a legitimate study on my own. Thanks for showing how you don't care about my needs as a small business owner.
    — John Ashmore (@jsmashmore) April 7, 2021

    This woman is a fucking idiot. There is no way to sugarcoat it. She is an abject idiot. https://t.co/iXjuKliMAV
    — The Hoarse Whisperer (@TheRealHoarse) April 7, 2021

    You don't see the connection between climate change and infrastructure? Rising sea levels won't have any impact on roads and distribution in coastal areas? 🤦🏻♀️
    — Lenabenas (@lenabenas21) April 7, 2021

    2 Once again, Republicans are against what the majority of Americans want https://t.co/epXW83JGQ7
    — Maggie Jordan (@MaggieJordanACN) April 7, 2021

    Marsha Blackburn quite literally just gave the democrats free PR. pic.twitter.com/z4ZPea8MNt
    — ET Breaking News (@breaking_et) April 7, 2021

    You know what has to hold up against climate change? Infrastructure.
    — Michael Wearamask Ditto (@janus303) April 7, 2021

    Who's against eldercare? pic.twitter.com/KVouVS5yYi
    — Pink Iguana 🌊🇺🇸 (@PinkIguana11) April 7, 2021

    Exactly what I voted for along with 80 million of my friends.
    — Margaret (@Lastwaltz2) April 7, 2021

    How the hell are any of these things "liberal"??
    Seems more like middle-of-the-road items that have been neglected for too long and need help: pic.twitter.com/DxKuziPxBA — AvgJoe (@BVJoehnk) April 7, 2021

    is marsha blackburn trying to sell the infrastructure bill? pic.twitter.com/oIqO9M90Ch
    — Oliver Willis (@owillis) April 7, 2021

    🚨🚨 So proud to announce that @MarshaBlackburn has joined the DNC creative team and is banging out graphics touting the Biden-Harris jobs plan that will **also** help us care for our rapidly growing elderly population. Thanks, Marsha! https://t.co/M0fEfl4aTW
    — Sam Cornale (@samcornale) April 7, 2021

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« Reply #34 on: Apr 08, 2021, 09:14 AM »

 Morning Joe mocks Joe Manchin for wanting to work with Republicans: 'I want my cat to play Chopin!'

Brad Reed
Raw Story
April 08, 2021

MSNBC's Joe Scarborough on Thursday mocked Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) for saying that he wants to preserve the legislative filibuster because he wants to try to work with Republicans on passing legislation.

Scarborough argued that Manchin's desire for bipartisanship seems highly unlikely to generate results given how rigid the GOP has been at saying "no" to bills whenever a Democrat is in the White House.

"He wants to work with the Republicans," Scarborough said. "Well, I want my cat, Meatball, to play Chopin. I really do! It would be nice, as I was having an early dinner, to hear Meatball get on the piano and play Chopin. He's not going to do it."

Scarborough said that it would be wrong for Democrats to try to back Manchin "into a corner," but he expressed frustration with the way that Manchin seems oblivious to the nature of the contemporary GOP.

"By Joe Manchin saying, 'Let's just work with the Republicans,' Mitch McConnell's already said, 'We're standing shoulder to shoulder, we're going to all vote against the infrastructure plan,' just like they all voted against the COVID plan," Scarborough said. "They've got to do what's best for them."

Watch: https://youtu.be/PaCb-x2Khe4

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« Reply #35 on: Apr 09, 2021, 02:34 AM »

Our brain is hard-wired to make life more complicated rather than simple. Here’s a simple lifehack

Scientists found that people are biased against subtractive solutions.

Tibi Puiu   

How would you stabilize this structure? Most people chose to add Lego blocks to each corner of the roof rather than removing the existing block, allowing the roof to sit on the wide base. Credit: University of Virginia.

When faced with a problem, people tend to use solutions that involve adding new elements rather than considering subtracting existing components. In other words, people tend to choose complicated solutions even when removing things is ideal. For instance, removing stoplights and signs from intersections rather than adding more actually improved safety in some Dutch towns. There are many other such examples.

Engineers at the University of Virginia noticed this bias and decided to embark on a study that might reveal a psychological explanation for why people tend to prefer additive problem solving rather than subtraction. As it turns out, we really have a propensity for overcomplicating our lives. But in the process, the researchers also found some brain hacks to make life easier.

    “It happens in engineering design, which is my main interest,” said Leidy Klotz, associate professor of engineering at the University of Virginia and lead author of the new study. “But it also happens in writing, cooking, and everything else—just think about your own work and you will see it. The first thing that comes to our minds is, what can we add to make it better. Our paper shows we do this to our detriment, even when the only right answer is to subtract. Even with financial incentive, we still don’t think to take away.”

Watch: https://youtu.be/1y32OpI2_LM

Less really is more

Klotz and colleagues first recruited 91 volunteers who were asked to make a pattern symmetrical by either adding or removing colored boxes. The overwhelming majority (80%) used addition. In another study, the researchers analyzed over 650 proposals for improvement submitted to a university president, finding that only 11% involved eliminating an existing regulation or program. The same pattern emerged when researchers looked at tasks and proposals involving the modification of essays, itineraries, or structures. This part of the study showed that the vast majority of people tend to tackle problems by incorporating augmentation in their solutions rather than subtraction.

In the second part of the study, the researchers delved into the ‘why’. They conducted a series of eight experiments involving more than 1,500 people recruited from either the university’s company or from the crowdsourcing site Amazon Mechanical Turk.

During one such experiment, the volunteers had to stabilize the roof of a Lego structure that was kept erect by a single block sitting atop a cube-shaped base. Completing this task earned the participant $1, but adding blocks cost ten cents apiece while removing blocks were free. This is where things got interesting. The participants were split into two groups, whereby one was told “each piece that you add costs ten cents but removing pieces is free” while the other was just told, “each piece that you add costs ten cents”. Only about 40% of those who weren’t made aware that subtraction is free chose to eliminate blocks compared to almost two-thirds in the group that was cued in.

Other experiments showed that people were more likely to consider eliminating design elements if they received proper practice trials beforehand. However, simultaneously juggling another task — such as having to remember numbers popping up on a screen — made the participants much less likely to consider subtraction. This suggested that solutions involving cutting elements rather than adding new ones are more cognitively taxing.

    “Additive ideas come to mind quickly and easily, but subtractive ideas require more cognitive effort,” Benjamin Converse, associate professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, said in a statement. “Because people are often moving fast and working with the first ideas that come to mind, they end up accepting additive solutions without considering subtraction at all.”

    “The more often people rely on additive strategies, the more cognitively accessible they become,” Gabrielle Adams, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, said. “Over time, the habit of looking for additive ideas may get stronger and stronger, and in the long run, we end up missing out on many opportunities to improve the world by subtraction.”

It was never a secret that businesses tend to opt for complexity rather than simplification, but this study shows how painfully valid this bias can be in day-to-day life. On the bright side, the findings also show that being cognizant of subtractive solutions can put us on the right path.

    “It’s an incredibly interesting finding, and I think our research has tremendous implications across contexts, but especially in engineering to improve how we design technology to benefit humanity,” Klotz said.

The findings appeared in the journal Nature.

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« Reply #36 on: Apr 09, 2021, 02:38 AM »

Is this the year European cities start banning cars?

The pandemic has brought substantial changes in how we see transportation. Big changes may be a'coming.

Mihai Andrei   
April 9, 2021

As anyone who’s used the public transportation in Birmingham, UK, can tell you — it’s not great. There’s no subway, train stations are few and far between, and buses often find themselves delayed by traffic.

But Birmingham is confident in its ability to compensate for all that and reduce people’s reliance on personal cars. Under plans being considered by the council to reduce emissions, the city would ban private cars from the city center completely, allowing only lorries, buses, and taxis.

Birmingham is far from alone in this quest. Cities all over Europe are starting to ban cars. It’s usually a partial ban — only for some types of cars, for some days, or for some areas. But European cities (and a few outside of it) are starting to take this idea more and more seriously.

This year may be the year we finally see car bans becoming mainstream.

Different approaches, same goal

The city of Dubrovnik became famous as the filming site of some of the most iconic scenes in Game of Thrones. But travelers have known about it for years. Its medieval buildings, Mediterranean cuisine, and clear blue sea have drawn millions, and few did not enjoy it.

But in recent years, people have probably enjoyed it even more. In early 2016, the city banned private cars from its historic center. “We are doing it to reduce congestion”, said then Dubrovnik Mayor Andro Vlahušić .

The argument is simple and straightforward: Dubrovnik’s small, windy streets were not built to deal with high levels of traffic. There are too many cars on the streets, they cause traffic jams and inefficiency. In Dubrovnik, like in most other places, cars usually contain only one or two people, and cars needlessly fill up the streets (and often sidewalks). After the car ban, the city center became much more walkable and friendly, encouraging both locals and tourists to explore its beauty on foot or bikes.

Dubrovnik is no longer an exception.

As of  January 2020, the most polluting cars have been banned from Ghent, Belgium. This comes after several areas in the city were already car-free. ‘The streets are more alive’, one local was quoted as saying, and despite expected protests from some motorists, the ban was well-received overall. Local owners of high-emission cars can apply for grants to trade their vehicle for a lower-emission one.

There is another argument, and it’s surprising that Vlahušić did not emphasize it more given his medical background: health. Pollution is a well-known trigger of asthma and other respiratory diseases. Emissions from cars are known to cause a number of health issues.

‘The air tastes better’, said journalist Tine Hens, commenting on Ghent’s car ban.

Pandemic changes

The pandemic has, of course, also had an impact on plans to ban cars. In many parts of Europe, the pandemic has sparked interest in cycling and walking. The city of Milan, one of the first to be hard-hit by the virus, announced ambitious plans to reallocate street space from driving to cycling and walking. It’s not a new idea, but it has massive popular support for a change.

    “We tried to build bike lanes before, but car drivers protested,” says Pierfrancesco Maran, Milan’s deputy mayor for Urban Planning, Green Areas and Agriculture. “Someone said to me: ‘You needed coronavirus to [introduce them] here!'”

Milan is far from the only town to do so. From Bucharest to Brussels, and from Lisbon to Lyon, Europe’s appetite for cycling lanes has been fueled by the coronavirus pandemic, triggering unprecedented investment. It’s not just Europe: pop-up bike lanes have appeared in cities including Berlin, Budapest, Mexico City, New York, Dublin and Bogotá. The lockdowns drastically reduced the number of cars on the street, and some saw a possibility to keep it that way. This has contributed to a drop in carbon dioxide and pollutant emissions, and encouraged people to replace driving with other forms of transportation. In the Colombian capital of Bogotá, mayor Claudia López closed 117km (72.7 miles) of streets to cars to make cycling and walking easier during the lockdown. In Paris, mayor Anne Hidalgo’s had already promised to make every street cycle-friendly by 2024 and remove 72% of Paris’s on-street car parking spaces. But a post-lockdown plan was also announced, including the creation of temporary cycle lanes on metro line routes.

Though these are temporary measures for the most part, they may last in the long-term. London’s mayor Sadiq Khan has made it clear he wants these changes to last and not just return to a business-as-usual scenario, and in many cities, people seem to overwhelmingly support these measures. A recent survey in Toronto demonstrated overwhelming support for these initiatives. It found that 84 per cent of respondents supported the construction of protected bike lanes and 85 per cent wanted the city to do more to protect vulnerable road users.

Making cities unfriendlier to cars can also save lives, as was observed in Norway’s capital, Oslo. In the past year, Oslo has not had a single fatality on its streets, and this is largely owed to anti-car and pro-pedestrian measures.

Larger cities, such as Barcelona, Paris, and Berlin, are also launching similar schemes. In Paris‘ central areas, the first Sunday of every month is free of cars, and cars made before 1997 have been banned from the city center on weekdays. Berlin was less ambitious than other German cities and only banned some cars from select shopping streets. But Barcelona took a more decisive approach.

In Barcelona, the poor air quality is responsible for more than 350 premature deaths annually. This is not an unusual figure — most major cities have poor air quality, and this poor air quality translates into premature deaths. Barcelona designated an area of 95 km2 as a low-emission zone — essentially covering the entire metropolis — and all petrol cars registered before 2000 and diesel cars bought before 2006 are banned from entering it.

Spain’s capital Madrid also has a similar area. It’s much smaller but more restrictive. It’s still a step in the right direction, but it’s only a step.

A total ban?

These attempts are varied in their approach and scope, but they all have one thing in common: they’re incomplete.

Calling it a car ban is not exactly true. It is a partial car ban, but the “partial” part still refers to a minor part of all cars — the worst offenders, but still a minor part.

The next logical step is a total car ban.

In December 2016, Athens Mayor Giorgos Kaminis joined the mayors of Paris, Madrid, and Mexico City in a pledge that they would ban all diesel vehicles from the cities by 2025. Kaminis hoped to eventually ban cars altogether from city’s core. But here’s the thing about these pledges: they extend beyond the mayor’s mandate. It’s something common to all long-term pledges, particularly when it comes to things like climate change: sure, you can promise that you’ll do this or that in 20 years, but how can you guarantee it with electoral cycles of 4 years?

Similarly, the pledges to keep cities car-free ring somewhat hollow. In Madrid, the newly-elected mayor pledged to reverse the partial car ban, even as most of the population supported it. Madrid eventually kept its car ban, but it goes to show just how easily this type of project can be undone.

A definitive car ban would be more permanent and harder to overturn, but it would also need to be carefully planned. Roads still need to be maintained not only for lorries, but also for emergency access. Public transport would need to be improved — if you take cars away from people, you have to offer an easy transportation method to replace it. New cities could be carefully designed with this in mind, but older cities (especially European cities, many of which are based on medieval or ancient cities) cannot be easily retrofitted.

In addition, partial attempts to reduce congestion and the number of cars on the streets can often have unpredicted effects — as some cities are already noticing.

London’s woes

Perhaps no city has struggled as much with fighting car congestion as London. The British capital introduced a congestion tax all the way in 2003, adding another, additional tax for older diesel cars. This additional tax alone is £24 ($31) — a hefty sum for a day’s driving. But despite all these measures, and despite London’s reliable, world-class public transport, the city still struggles with congestion.

Why does this happen? A mixture of more vans and Ubers, sprinkled with reckless cycling.

Lorries and buses are realistically impossible to eliminate. You’d condemn all commercial activity in the area and make cities accessible. The goal behind car bans is to make cities just as (or even more) accessible.

But London’s problems show that simply taxing or banning private cars isn’t going to solve the problem.

For a brief while, there was a big change. Buses were dominant in the ecosystem, encouraging more people to travel by bus, which seemed to lead to a righteous cycle. But with fewer cars on the road, people have started taxi-ing in, and shops started using lorries more often to ship things in and out. Bike lanes (a positive idea on its own) slowed traffic down, and this affects buses the most. With buses running slower, people are discouraged from using them and take taxis instead — and we have a vicious cycle instead of a righteous cycle.

But the major problem, and one that wasn’t properly anticipated in London, is the taxis. I mean, taxis and Ubers. In 2013, there were 49,800 Uber drivers in London. In 2017, the number almost doubled to 87,400. Uber experienced a massive surge worldwide, and London is one of the hotspots of Uber development. London is an expensive city, so Uber’s low-cost approach fit like a glove. Uber might lose its license in London, but that’s due to safety issues and has nothing to do with congestion — even if Uber disappears, there are already a bunch of companies ready to take its place.

As a result, even though London’s measures effectively reduced the number of cars on the road, it did little to reduce congestion. This seems to be at least good pollution-wise — but as the traffic draws to a standstill, cars produce more emissions.

Despite all its struggles and well-intended measures, London has not managed to make a major dent in its car traffic outside of the pandemic. Mexico City, another city at the forefront of traffic bans, prohibited cars from driving on Saturday, but a study showed that air pollutants haven’t changed that much as a result of this measure.

This is another nod to the idea that partial car bans are not as effective as we’d hope. This could mean that more decisive measures are necessary, or that car bans just don’t work.

Are car bans even good?

In the end, are urban car bans even desirable? Sure, it would be great to have lower levels of pollution, congestion, and emissions (tackling the climate emergency is another argument in the favor of urban car bans) — but can that really work?

Venice is one of the very few truly car-free cities. This is owed, of course, to its unique geography. Venice is built on more than 100 islands, and apart from a few proper streets, it virtually has no cars.

Venice gets very crowded due to the overflowing stream of tourists, but if we put tourism aside, Venice is doing just fine. It’s one data point, and Venice has its fair share of problems, but the city is functional. It doesn’t collapse. It’s an example that even without cars, cities work.

Sure, excellent planning is required. Even so, there will likely be a set of unanticipated problems that will need to be required. But is there anything that innately prevents cities from banning private cars? Not likely.

The politic and social stars also seem to be aligned. Europe (and much of the developed world) seems to have has reached peak traffic. Driving seems to be on the decline, and Millennials aren’t nearly as fond of cars as previous generations. This suggests that future generations will be less likely to oppose traffic bans (making the push political more feasible), and are also less likely to be dependent on cars.

A set of legal decisions is also pushing in this direction. In September 2018, a federal court ordered Germany’s financial capital to ban 60,000 cars — all but the newest diesel vehicles and electric cars. Berlin has received a similar order. Germany is one of six countries taken to court by the European Union for exposing their own citizens to too much pollution. It’s ironic that the larger political body is pushing countries to do what’s right for its citizens, but this could all work for the best in the end.
Outside of Europe

Europe has a set of distinct peculiarities that push it to ban cars. A relatively small and affluent population (with a relatively high interest in the environment), generally good public transit, and old cities with perpetual congestion and parking issues — all these are stepping stones paving the way for potential traffic bans. But that doesn’t mean that this is a moot topic outside of Europe.

Bogotá, Colombia, has been running a car-free program called Ciclovía since 1974. Every Sunday, the program shuts down more than 75 miles of roads to cars. This attracts a whopping 1.7 million pedestrians — some 25% of the city’s population. Runners, skaters, and bicyclists take to the streets, as aerobics and yoga in parks are quite common. It’s become a tradition by now, and when a Colombian congressman tried to eliminate Ciclovía in 2007, his proposal was widely criticized.

New York City has also taken notable car-free initiatives. These initiatives, while still not as ambitious as those of some European cities, put it way above the pack in the US. Cars are banned from the streets of Central Park, as well as popular areas such as Times Square or Madison Square Park. Biking is popular in New York, in part thanks to an impressive number of bike lanes.

In addition to creating permanent, pedestrian-only zones in popular areas like Times Square, Herald Square, and Madison Square Park, the city has banned cars from the internal streets of Central Park, which receives around 42 million visitors each year.

How far this trend will go is hard to say, but 2020 and the pandemic brought some major changes in how we operate in cities. Whether or not these changes will be long-lasting remains to be seen but, for now at least, urban netizens seem to be more willing than ever to take cars away from cities.

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« Reply #37 on: Apr 09, 2021, 02:42 AM »

The rice of the sea: how a tiny grain could change the way humanity eats

Ángel León made his name serving innovative seafood. But then he discovered something in the seagrass that could transform our understanding of the sea itself – as a vast garden

Ashifa Kassam in Madrid
Fri 9 Apr 2021 06.00 BST

Growing up in southern Spain, Ángel León paid little attention to the meadows of seagrass that fringed the turquoise waters near his home, their slender blades grazing him as he swam in the Bay of Cádiz.

It was only decades later – as he was fast becoming known as one of the country’s most innovative chefs – that he noticed something he had missed in previous encounters with Zostera marina: a clutch of tiny green grains clinging to the base of the eelgrass.

His culinary instincts, honed over years in the kitchen of his restaurant Aponiente, kicked in. Could this marine grain be edible?

Lab tests hinted at its tremendous potential: gluten-free, high in omega-6 and -9 fatty acids, and contains 50% more protein than rice per grain, according to Aponiente’s research. And all of it growing without freshwater or fertiliser.

The find has set the chef, whose restaurant won its third Michelin star in 2017, on a mission to recast the common eelgrass as a potential superfood, albeit one whose singular lifecycle could have far-reaching consequences. “In a world that is three-quarters water, it could fundamentally transform how we see oceans,” says León. “This could be the beginning of a new concept of understanding the sea as a garden.”

It’s a sweeping statement that would raise eyebrows from anyone else. But León, known across Spain as el Chef del Mar(the chef of the sea), has long pushed the boundaries of seafood, fashioning chorizos out of discarded fish parts and serving sea-grown versions of tomatoes and pears at his restaurant near the Bay of Cádiz.

“When I started Aponiente 12 years ago, my goal was to open a restaurant that served everything that has no value in the sea,” he says. “The first years were awful because nobody understood why I was serving customers produce that nobody wanted.”

Still, he pushed forward with his “cuisine of the unknown seas”. His efforts to bring little-known marine species to the fore were recognised in 2010 with his first Michelin star. By the time the restaurant earned its third star, León had become a fixture on Spain’s gastronomy scene: a trailblazing chef determined to redefine how we treat the sea.

What León and his team refer to as “marine grain” expands on this, in one of his most ambitious projects to date. After stumbling across the grain in 2017, León began looking for any mention of Zostera marina being used as food. He finally found an article from 1973 in the journal Science on how it was an important part of the diet of the Seri, an Indigenous people living on the Gulf of California in Sonora, Mexico, and the only known case of a grain from the sea being used as a human food source.

Next came the question of whether the perennial plant could be cultivated. In the Bay of Cádiz, the once-abundant plant had been reduced to an area of just four sq metres, echoing a decline seen around the world as seagrass meadows reel from increased human activity along coastlines and steadily rising water temperatures.

Working with a team at the University of Cádiz and researchers from the regional government, a pilot project was launched to adapt three small areas across a third of a hectare (0.75 acres) of salt marshes into what León calls a “marine garden”.

It was not until 18 months later – after the plants had produced grains – that León steeled himself for the ultimate test, said Juan Martín, Aponiente’s environmental manager.

“Ángel came to me, his tone very serious, and said: ‘Juan, I would like to have some grains because I have no idea how it tastes. Imagine if it doesn’t taste good,’” says Martín. “It’s incredible. He threw himself into it blindly, invested his own money, and he had never even tried this marine grain.”

León put the grain through a battery of recipes, grinding it to make flour for bread and pasta and steeping it in flavours to mimic Spain’s classic rice dishes.

“It’s interesting. When you eat it with the husk, similar to brown rice, it has a hint of the sea at the end,” says León. “But without the husk, you don’t taste the sea.” He found that the grain absorbed flavour well, taking two minutes longer to cook than rice and softening if overcooked.

In the marine garden, León and his team were watching as the plant lived up to its reputation as an architect of ecosystems: transforming the abandoned salt marsh into a flourishing habitat teeming with life, from seahorses to scallops.

The plant’s impact could stretch much further. Capable of capturing carbon 35 times faster than tropical rainforests and described by the WWF as an “incredible tool” in fighting the climate crisis, seagrass absorbs 10% of the ocean’s carbon annually despite covering just 0.2% of the seabed.

News of what León and his team were up to soon began making waves around the world. “When I first heard of it, I was going ‘Wow, this is very interesting,’” says Robert Orth, a professor at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, who has spent more than six decades studying seagrass. “I don’t know of anyone that has attempted to do what this chef has done.”

    We’ve opened a window. It's a new way to feed ourselves

According to Orth, seagrass has been used as insulation for houses, roofing material and even for packing seafood, but never cultivated as food. It is an initiative riddled with challenges. Wild seagrass meadows have been dying off at an alarming rate in recent decades, while few researchers have managed to successfully transplant and grow seagrass, he says.

In southern Spain, however, the team’s first marine garden suggests potential average harvests could be about 3.5 tonnes a hectare. While the yield is about a third of what one could achieve with rice, León points to the potential for low-cost and environmentally friendly cultivation. “If nature gifts you with 3,500kg without doing anything – no antibiotics, no fertiliser, just seawater and movement – then we have a project that suggests one can cultivate marine grain.”

The push is now on to scale up the project, adapting as much as five hectares of salt marshes into areas for cultivating eelgrass. Every success is carefully tracked, in hopes of better understanding the conditions – from water temperature to salinity – that the plant needs to thrive.

While it is likely to be years before the grain becomes a staple at Aponiente, León’s voice rises with excitement as he considers the transformative possibility of Zostera marina’s minuscule, long-overlooked grain – and its reliance on only seawater for irrigation. “In the end, it’s like everything,” he says. “If you respect the areas in the sea where this grain is being grown, it would ensure humans take care of it. It means humans would defend it.”

He and his team envision a global reach for their project, paving the way for people to harness the plant’s potential to boost aquatic ecosystems, feed populations and fight the climate crisis. “We’ve opened a window,” says León. “I believe it’s a new way to feed ourselves.”

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« Reply #38 on: Apr 09, 2021, 02:43 AM »

Aviation shutdown shows we can clean up our air

A return to pre-Covid levels of travel will increase air and noise pollution for millions of people

Gary Fuller
Fri 9 Apr 2021 06.00 BST

In 2010, the eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano affected many Easter holidays. The closure of European airspace left many people stranded but millions enjoyed a break from aircraft noise and could look up at brilliant blue skies, free from contrails. Switching off airports allowed scientists to show that Heathrow and Gatwick were affecting local air pollution. Nitrogen dioxide decreased by nearly 30% around some parts of Heathrow and by more than 10% near Gatwick. At the time we thought it was a unique experiment that would never be repeated.

Roll forward a decade and Covid has also had major impacts on aviation. UK passenger numbers have been down by about 90%. This year, nitrogen dioxide near Heathrow and Gatwick has been half pre-pandemic levels, making them amongst the most improved locations in and around London.

A recent study has revealed more detail of air pollution beneath flight paths. Pre-Covid, researchers from Tufts University in Massachusetts, US, parked their mobile laboratory in the driveway of a house near Logan international airport in Boston. The colonial-style wood-frame house dated from the 1920s when the airport was a muddy military airfield. Located on a peninsular with no through roads, the area was quiet in traffic terms and air pollution was very low when the winds blew from the sea.

But pre-pandemic, the airport had more than 1,000 flights per day, many passing above the rooftop. When wind blew from the airport, 1.3km away, nitrogen dioxide was greater than that measured next to busy roads in the Boston area. As the planes passed overhead the amount of ultra-fine particles, smaller than the wavelength of visible light, increased by nearly five times. Being indoors offered little protection; it only reduced concentrations by about 20%. Ultra-fine particles inside the house still were greater than concentrations measured close to busy roads. Oddly, landing aircraft had a greater impact than those taking off. This may have been due to the low approach heights and vortices that form under aircraft wings swirling pollution to the ground.

The economic impacts of aviation shutdowns are being felt in many communities, but pre-Covid more than 1 million people in the UK were regularly affected by aircraft noise and air pollution from airports could be measured tens of kilometres away. A return to aviation as before will bring about serious deteriorations in noise and air pollution for many millions of people.

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« Reply #39 on: Apr 09, 2021, 02:47 AM »

Strauss-Kahn accuser Tristane Banon helps shape new French rape law

Ten years after the former IMF chief’s fall from political grace, Banon celebrates new legislation on ages of consent

Kim Willsher

Almost exactly 10 years ago Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the man set to be the next leader of France, was arrested in New York and accused of raping a hotel chambermaid.

It was a fall from grace many had anticipated but few believed would actually topple the veteran politician and Socialist president in waiting.

Back in France, the spotlight fell on a young journalist and writer: Tristane Banon, who had also accused DSK, as he was known, of attempted rape years before.

As the life of DSK’s American accuser, Guinean immigrant Nafissatou Diallo was picked over by US prosecutors, the French media meanwhile was busy deconstructing Banon. She was, according to various reports, a raging fantasist, a liar, a drinker, drug-taker and hysterical opportunist who “liked to party”, with all the loaded subtext inherent when the three words are aimed at a young woman.

Prosecutors dropped charges against Strauss-Kahn in the US, citing issues in the complainant’s credibility and inconclusive physical evidence. Charges were also dropped in France, where prosecutors stated there was a lack of evidence of attempted rape.

Banon, exhausted by the trashing of her reputation, could have crawled under a stone and disappeared. Instead, she came out fighting.

Last week, she was celebrating after helping to drive through new legislation to protect children and teenagers from sexual assault when French MPs unanimously passed a draft bill establishing 15 as an age of “non-consent” under which no minor can be presumed to have agreed to sex with someone five or more years older. In cases of incest, the age of non-consent will be set at 18.

Originally, MPs had set the age at 13, but a tribune organised by an outraged Banon – who posted a picture of herself as a 13-year-old – and signed by 162 well-known figures, prompted a swift rethink supported by the Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti.

    Sur cette photo j’ai 13 ans et deux mois...les vacances à la Baule. L’âge où, si on viole un enfant, le Sénat considère qu’on peut plaider que c’est qu’il en a envie. On pourrait donc dire que cette petite fille a une grande envie d’un petit coup de reins. #LaLoi #DeQuoiOnParle pic.twitter.com/dH6GOZ1wny
    — Tristane Banon (@BanonTristane) January 21, 2021

The legislation follows successive sexual scandals involving high profile figures in recent years. For Banon, the law marks a watershed in France whose ripples can be traced back to 2011.

She said that without Diallo she doubted there would have been a #MeToo movement in France, which she said had led to this change in the law.

“In France it would have made three lines in the newspaper and been swept away very quickly […] This was the first one to make headlines,” Banon told the Guardian last week.

A Netflix mini-series documentary released in January called “Room 2806” (the room at the NY Sofitel where Diallo claimed she was assaulted), revealed the apathy in France towards Strauss-Kahn’s alleged behaviour.

Banon was a 23-year-old journalism graduate who dreamed of becoming a writer and novelist when she went to interview Strauss-Kahn for a magazine in 2002. He was 53, and a leading member of the Socialist party. He was also the father of one of her close friends and the former husband of her godmother. She says he jumped on her, forced his hands into her pants, groped her breasts and attempted to rape her. (Strauss-Kahn denied the accusation, saying he just tried to kiss her). She says she was dissuaded from reporting the alleged attack to police by her mother and friends who said nobody would believe her and the accusation would define her life.

When Strauss-Kahn, then the head of the International Monetary Fund, was arrested in May 2011 in New York, where he also denied the rape accusations that were later dropped, claiming Diallo had consented to sex – he subsequently settled a civil claim with Diallo for an undisclosed sum – Banon acted.

Tristane Banon: 'I feel total relief at Dominique Strauss-Kahn ruling'..Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2011/oct/20/tristane-banon-dsk-total-relief

“I made a legal complaint for attempted rape, which was dropped, but the prosecutor recognised I had been sexually assaulted. Though this was past the statute of limitations, it was very very important to me that it was officially recognised that he had done something to me,” she said.

Banon says she did not recognise herself in the subsequent media portraits.

“It was so hard. The worst thing about 2011 was being treated as a liar, accused, it was unfair and violent. I could understand the journalists who said, we don’t know what happened we weren’t there, but I can’t forgive those who treated me as a liar. Every time I turned on the TV someone was talking about me, all the papers were talking about me, they were saying I was deranged, that I drank and took drugs, when I have never even smoked a cigarette. They interviewed people who had met me for three hours. It was easy for them. I was a small thin woman who looked fragile and they said disgusting things.”

Banon’s childhood had left her independent, but unprepared for such an onslaught. Hours after her birth in the wealthy Paris suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine, her father French-Moroccan businessman Gabriel Banon, an economic adviser to president Georges Pompidou and Yasser Arafat, left her mother, businesswoman turned socialist politician Anne Mansouret. Mansouret, who said she had admitted a fling with Strauss-Kahn (which he has never confirmed), mostly left her daughter with a nanny.

In 2011, Banon was living on benefits of €400 a month, barely sleeping and branded “the girl who had the problem with the politician”.

Her account of the DSK affair based on her diaries at the time, Le Bal des Hypocrites (The Hypocrites’ Ball) has just been republished in paperback, and she recently completed another novel, her tenth book. The red ink tattoo on her left wrist that read “Never think twice Never look back” and that on her right arm “Ne Jamis Fuir Poursuivre” (Don’t run, pursue) have been removed so only the barest trace remains.

Now 41, she lives in the same flat on the outskirts of Paris she did 10 years ago, but now with her husband Pierre and children aged five and one. Former first lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy was a witness at their wedding and is godmother to daughter Tanya.

“Today, I am happy,” she said. “Strauss-Kahn has money, he lives well. Then another part of me says he is no longer in the public space, he is nothing really.

“I am delighted to have got this new law through, I have written 10 books, I have a lovely husband and two children, and I’m proud of what I’ve done.”

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« Reply #40 on: Apr 09, 2021, 03:07 AM »

Countries worldwide hit new records for virus cases, deaths


Ambulances filled with breathless patients lined up in Brazil as nations around the world set new records Thursday for COVID-19 deaths and new coronavirus infections. The disease surged even in some countries that have kept the virus in check.

In the United States, Detroit leaders began making a plan to knock on every door to persuade people to get vaccine shots. Brazil this week became just the third country, after the U.S. and Peru, to report a 24-hour tally of COVID-19 deaths that exceeded 4,000. India hit a peak of almost 127,000 new cases in 24 hours, and Iran set a new coronavirus infection record for the third straight day, reporting nearly 22,600 new cases.

In the state of Rio de Janeiro, emergency services are under their biggest strain since the pandemic began, with ambulances carrying patients of all ages to overcrowded hospitals struggling to care for everyone. Authorities say over 90% of the state’s intensive-care unit beds are taken by COVID-19 patients, and many cities are reporting people dying at home due to lack of available medical treatment.

“We’re already living the third wave. We have three times more calls," in comparison with previous waves, said Adriano Pereira, director of the mobile emergency care service in Duque de Caxias, an impoverished city outside Rio.

Brazil’s death toll has risen past 340,000, the second-highest total in the world behind the U.S., where nearly 560,000 people have been confirmed killed. Rio state’s 14-day moving average of COVID-19 daily deaths climbed from 112 to 207 between March 1 and April 7, with some health analysts expecting even worse days in the next couple of weeks. Many hospitals warn about the risk of shortages of oxygen and sedatives for intubation.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged people to get vaccinated, writing in a tweet: “Vaccination is among the few ways we have to defeat the virus. If you are eligible for the vaccine, get your shot soon.”

The U.S. has now fully vaccinated nearly 20% of its adult population, and New Mexico became the first state to get shots in the arms of 25% of its residents — milestones that are still far off for many hard-hit countries.

In India, home to 1.4 billion people, only 11 million are fully vaccinated. In Brazil, less than 3% of the country's 210 million people have received both doses, according to Our World in Data, an online research site.

South Korea reported 700 more cases, the highest daily jump since Jan. 5. Health authorities were expected to announce measures to strengthen social distancing following a meeting Friday. In Thailand, which has reported only 95 deaths during the pandemic, health officials reported the country’s first local cases of the coronavirus variant first detected in Britain. The news comes at a time when only 1% of the population has been vaccinated and as Thais prepare to celebrate the traditional Songkran New Year’s holiday next week, typically a time of widespread travel.

That variant is more contagious, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said this week that it is now the most common variant in the United States, raising concerns it will drive infections and cause more people to get sick.

Michigan has averaged more than 7,000 new cases a day — a number that makes the state second in the nation behind New York. Michigan also has the highest number of new cases per capita, with 1 of every 203 state residents getting diagnosed with COVID-19 between March 31 and April 7, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

In Detroit, which is about 80% Black, officials said they plan to start visiting homes to talk about the importance of protecting themselves from the virus with vaccinations and how to sign up to receive the shots.

“We’re going to knock on every residential door in the city, making sure every Detroiter knows how to make an appointment,” Victoria Kovari, an executive assistant to Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, told The Detroit News.

Only 22% of Detroit residents have received at least one vaccine dose compared to 38% for all of Michigan, according to Michigan’s Department of Health and Human Services. Other Midwestern states have seen troubling signs in recent days, including a school district in Iowa where 127 students and five staff members tested positive for the coronavirus or are presumed positive.

In Massachusetts, where the seven-day rolling average of daily new cases has risen to over 2,100 new cases per day, the Massachusetts Public Health Association called on Republican Gov. Charlie Baker to reinstate public health measures. The group urged Baker to limit indoor dining capacity and other indoor activities, saying the rise in cases and hospitalizations followed Baker's decision to loosen those restrictions.

“We are currently in a race between the vaccines and the variants,” Carlene Pavlos, the group's executive director said Thursday. “Without these public health measures, even more innocent lives will be needlessly lost.”

Associated Press writers Felipe Dana in Rio de Janeiro, Mauricio Savarese in São Paulo and Corey Williams in Detroit contributed to this report.

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« Reply #41 on: Apr 09, 2021, 03:10 AM »

Italian PM calls Erdoğan ‘a dictator’ after Ursula von der Leyen chair snub

Diplomatic spat erupts as Mario Draghi accuses Turkish president of humiliating European commission president

9 Apr 2021 22.53 BST

A diplomatic spat has erupted between Turkey and Italy, after prime minister Mario Draghi accused president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of humiliating European commission president Ursula von der Leyen, and described him as a “dictator”.

Von der Leyen – the commission’s first female president – was left without a chair during a meeting on Tuesday with Erdoğan and the European council president Charles Michel met Erdoğan. The commission chief was clearly taken aback when the two men sat on the only two chairs prepared, relegating her to an adjacent sofa.

Ursula von der Leyen snubbed in chair gaffe at EU-Erdoğan talks
Read more

On Thursday Draghi told reporters: “I absolutely do not agree with Erdoğan’s behavior towards president Von der Leyen … I think it was not appropriate behavior and I was very sorry for the humiliation Von der Leyen had to suffer.”

He added: “With these, let’s call them what they are – dictators – with whom one nonetheless has to coordinate, one has to be frank when expressing different visions and opinions.”

Soon after, the Italian ambassador to Ankara was summoned to the foreign ministry, Turkey’s state-owned Anadolu news agency reported, and foreign minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu slammed the remarks.

“We strongly condemn the appointed Italian prime minister Draghi’s unacceptable, populist discourse and his ugly and unrestrained comments about our elected president,” Çavuşoğlu wrote on Twitter.

Earlier on Thursday, Çavuşoğlu said that the seating at the meeting was arranged in line with the bloc’s demands and international protocol and that Turkey was being subject to “unjust accusations“.

Turkey has insisted that the EU’s own protocol requests were applied but the EU Council head of protocol said his team did not have access, during their preparatory inspection, to the room where the incident happened.

“If the room for the tete-a-tete had been visited, we should have suggested to our hosts that, as a courtesy, they replace the sofa with two armchairs for the president of the commission,” Dominique Marro wrote in a note made public by the EU Council. He added that the incident might have been prompted by the order of protocol established by the EU treaty.

The incident came only weeks after Erdoğan pulled Turkey out of a key European convention aimed at combatting violence against women. The move was a blow to Turkey’s women’s rights movement, which says domestic violence and murders of women are on the rise.

During her visit to Ankara, Von der Leyen called for Erdoğan to reverse his decision to withdraw from the Istanbul convention – named after the Turkish city where it was signed in 2011.

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« Reply #42 on: Apr 09, 2021, 03:12 AM »

Kim Jong-un warns of historic economic crisis in North Korea

Leader uses the term ‘arduous march’ in party speech, a term used to refer to devastating 1990s famine in which hundreds of thousands died

Associated Press
Fri 9 Apr 2021 06.23 BST

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has called for another “arduous march” against severe economic difficulties, appearing to compare the situation to a 1990s famine during which hundreds of thousands of people died.

Kim had previously said his country faces the “worst-ever” situation due to factors including the coronavirus pandemic, US-led sanctions and natural disasters, but this is the first time he has publicly drawn a parallel with the deadly famine.

North Korea monitoring groups have not detected any signs of mass starvation or a humanitarian disaster. However, Kim’s comments suggest how seriously he views the current difficulties – which foreign observers say are the biggest test of his nine-year rule.

“There are many obstacles and difficulties ahead of us, and so our struggle for carrying out the decisions of the Eighth Party Congress would not be all plain sailing,” Kim told lower-level ruling party members on Thursday, according to the Korean Central News Agency.

“I made up my mind to ask the WPK (Workers’ Party of Korea) organisations at all levels, including its Central Committee and the cell secretaries of the entire party, to wage another more difficult ‘arduous march’ in order to relieve our people of the difficulty, even a little,” Kim said.

'“Arduous march” is a term North Korea officials used to refer to the 1990s famine that saw the country depend for years on international aid. It was precipitated by the loss of Soviet assistance, mismanagement and natural disasters. The exact death toll isn’t clear, varying from hundreds of thousands to 2 million to 3 million.

Kim made his speech at the closing ceremony of a party meeting with thousands of grassroots members of the ruling party, called cell secretaries. During his opening day speech, Tuesday, Kim said improving public livelihoods in the face of the “worst-ever situation” would depend on the party cells.

During a party congress in January, Kim ordered officials to build a stronger self-supporting economy, reduce reliance on imports and make more consumer goods. But North Korea’s problems are the result of decades of mismanagement, self-imposed isolation and sanctions over its nuclear program, analysts say.

Chinese data show North Korea’s trade with China, its biggest trading partner and aid benefactor, shrank by about 80% last year following North Korea’s border closure as part of stringent pandemic measures.

Experts say North Korea has no other option because a major coronavirus outbreak could have dire consequences on its broken health care system.

Cha Deok-cheol, deputy spokesman at South Korea’s Unification Ministry, said on Friday there were multiple signs that North Korea was taking steps to ease controls on its border with China, including the North’s own reports that it established new anti-virus facilities on the border and passed new laws on the disinfection of imported goods.

Some experts say North Korea’s ongoing difficulties will not lead to famine because China won’t let that happen. They say China worries about North Korean refugees flooding over the border or the establishment of a pro-US, unified Korea on its doorstep.

When Kim last month exchanged messages with Chinese President Xi Jinping, North Korea’s state media said Xi expressed a commitment to “provide the peoples of the two countries with better life”. Some analysts saw it as an indication that China would soon provide North Korea with badly needed food, fertiliser and other supplies that had been significantly reduced amid the pandemic border closures.

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« Reply #43 on: Apr 09, 2021, 03:14 AM »

Belfast: police use water cannon on rioters in seventh night of unrest

Gangs of youths gathered near the scene of Wednesday night’s violence and hurled stones and fireworks at police

Rory Carroll
Fri 9 Apr 2021 08.53 BST

Police in Northern Ireland have used water cannon and dogs to contain fresh rioting in Belfast.

Armoured Land Rovers and officers with helmets and shields were deployed on Thursday night after crowds clashed at the Lanark Way interface that separates the nationalist Springfield Road from the loyalist Shankill Road.

Police used water cannon for the first time in six years after dozens of young people on the Springfield Road side ignored a warning to disperse and continued to throw stones, bottles and fireworks.

The gathering on the Shankill Road was smaller and less violent, marking a relative lull in loyalist violence after seven nights of unrest in loyalist areas across Northern Ireland.

The justice minister, Naomi Long, pleaded for an end to the violence. “More attacks on police, this time from nationalist youths,” she tweeted. “Utterly reckless and depressing to see more violence at interface areas tonight. My heart goes out to those living in the area who are living with this fear and disturbance. This needs to stop now, before lives are lost.”

Brandon Lewis, the Northern Ireland secretary, was due to hold talks with political leaders and the chief constable, Simon Byrne, later on Friday.

He will attempt to build on political momentum from Thursday when the power-sharing executive and assembly at Stormont met to condemn the violence, which on the loyalist side has been fuelled by anger at the post-Brexit Irish Sea border and a decision to not prosecute Sinn Féin politicians who attended a large funeral for Bobby Storey, a former IRA commander, despite Covid lockdown restrictions.

Boris Johnson and his Irish counterpart, Micheál Martin, issued a joint appeal for calm on Thursday after speaking on the phone. A White House spokesperson added the Biden administration’s voice to appeals for calm.

Anonymous social media accounts professing to be from loyalist activists – they use the name of historic figures such as Edward Carson – have called for further gatherings this weekend. Many of the accounts have been set up in recent days and are believed to be fake, leaving the situation unclear.

Mainstream politicians have urged the Loyalist Communities Council, an umbrella group for paramilitary groups, to issue a statement condemning the violence and clarifying what if any role paramilitaries have played in the unrest.

Billy Hutchinson, a Belfast city councillor with the Progressive Unionist party (PUP), which is aligned with the Ulster Volunteer Force paramilitary group, expressed cautious optimism that the violence would ebb. “I’m hoping we’re over it and that people will see sense,” he told BBC Radio Ulster on Friday. “Violence doesn’t further the unionist cause.”

Simon Coveney, the Irish foreign minister, told the same programme that the Irish and British governments would work with the region’s political parties and power-sharing executive to stabilise the unrest.

“That leadership has got to come from political parties in Northern Ireland, with the executive as well, but certainly the governments need to be there to support them,” he said. “Whatever we can do as governments in Dublin and in London, we should be doing to support a calm and united message coming from politics on this island and across the UK.”

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« Reply #44 on: Apr 09, 2021, 03:17 AM »

Ukraine's Zelensky on frontline as Merkel urges Putin to pull back troops

Agence France-Presse
April 09, 2021

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky travelled to the country's eastern frontline on Thursday, as German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged Vladimir Putin to reduce Russia's troop buildup near Ukraine.

Zelensky's frontline visit came as fighting between the Ukrainian army and separatists has intensified in recent weeks and Russia has built up troops along the border, raising fears of a major escalation in the long-running conflict in Ukraine's mainly Russian-speaking east.

In a phone call with Putin on Thursday, Merkel urged him to reduce Moscow's "troop reinforcements" on the border "to de-escalate tensions".

Putin for his part "drew attention to the provocative actions of Kiev, which has recently been purposefully exacerbating the situation on the frontline," the Kremlin said.

The Ukrainian military on Thursday announced that another of its soldiers had been killed, bringing to 25 the number of troops killed since the start of the year, compared with 50 in all of 2020.

Zelensky, who has urged NATO to speed up his country's membership into the alliance to support Ukraine, said he had visited positions where "the largest number of violations" of a ceasefire had been recorded, the presidency said in a statement.

Images released by his office showed Zelensky in the trenches clad in a helmet and bulletproof vest, handing out awards to Ukrainian soldiers and shaking their hands.

"Thank you for keeping people calm and protecting our land. You are a real example of heroism and dedication," Zelensky said. "We remember every soldier who died defending our state."

- 'Shot in the leg' -

Fighting in the conflict, which erupted after Russia's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, subsided in 2020 as a new ceasefire agreement took hold last July.

But clashes, mainly involving artillery and mortar fire, have picked up again since the start of the year, with both sides blaming each other.

Ukrainian separatists are widely seen as having Russia's political and military backing, which Moscow denies.

Ukraine last week accused Russia of massing thousands of military personnel on its northern and eastern borders as well as on the Crimean peninsula.

Together with France and Germany, Ukraine and Russia are part of the Normandy format of countries that have sought to resolve the conflict since 2015 but have failed to end the fighting.

On Thursday, the Kremlin's pointman on relations with Ukraine and pro-Russia separatists, Dmitry Kozak, said that peace talks were set to resume on April 19.

He warned that an escalation in the conflict would be "the beginning of the end of Ukraine", describing that scenario for the ex-Soviet country as "not a shot in the leg, but in the face".

Kiev's Western allies have repeatedly warned Russia against taking further action and seeking explanations for its troop build-up on Ukraine's border.

The Kremlin has not denied the troop movements but insisted that Moscow was "not threatening anyone."

- Support from Western allies -

Zelensky this week urged NATO to speed up his country's request for membership in the alliance, saying this was the only way to end the conflict.

Alliance members responded with calls for Kiev to continue military and defense reforms.

In a statement on Thursday, Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said NATO's support of Ukraine "does not contribute to security" and "the settlement of the conflict".

She added that Moscow was concerned about "financial and logistical support of the Ukrainian armed forces by NATO countries", as well as the alliance supplying lethal weapons and Western instructors training Ukrainian military personnel.

Analysts have been split over Russia's true intentions amid the latest escalation in tensions with Kiev, and some observers say Moscow may be testing US President Joe Biden's commitment to defend Ukraine.

In his first call with Zelensky last week, Biden affirmed Washington's "unwavering support" for Kiev in the conflict, which has claimed more than 13,000 lives since 2014.

He met with Putin in Paris in December 2019 and several deals were reached on prisoner exchanges, but there has since been little progress and no new meetings are planned.

© 2021 AFP

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