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Author Topic: ENVIRONMENT, GLOBAL WARMING, AND CULTURE  (Read 207113 times)
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Darja
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« Reply #15 on: May 04, 2021, 02:41 AM »


Inactive oil wells are a big source of methane emissions

Uncapped oil wells could be leaking millions of kilograms of methane into the atmosphere and surface water each year.

Mihai Andrei   
May 4, 2021
ZME

Even when you’re done with an oil well, you’re not really done with it. Idle wells could still be leaking methane, a potent greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere, according to a new study carried out on oil wells in Texas.

Amy Townsend-Small, an associate professor of geology and geography in UC’s College of Arts and Sciences, has been studying leaky oil wells for a few years, finding that some of them are still leaking methane years after the activity has been shut down. But this is the first time she was granted access to study wells on private land.

    “Nobody has ever gotten access to these wells in Texas,” Townsend-Small said. “In my previous studies, the wells were all on public land,” Townsend-Small says.

There were reasons to suspect that things were not alright in Texas. A 2016 study by Townsend-Small found a similar issue in inactive wells she tested in Colorado, Wyoming, Ohio and, Utah, which leak methane equivalent to burning more than 16 million barrels of oil — and that’s according to conservative government estimates.

In Texas, things were just as bad, if not worse.

    “Some of them were leaking a lot. Most of them were leaking a little or not at all, which is a pattern that we have seen across the oil and gas supply chain,” Townsend-Small said. “A few sources are responsible for most of the leaks.”

The average leaking rate was 6.2 grams per hour, although seven had methane emissions of as much as 132 grams per hour. If the same rate were to be consistent across all wells in Texas, it would be the equivalent of releasing 5.5 million kilograms of methane per year, the equivalent of burning 150 million pounds of coal.

In addition to the methane, Townsend-Small discovered another problem: five wells were leaking a brine solution onto the ground, in some cases creating large ponds, wreaking havoc on the nearby environment.

    “I was horrified by that. I’ve never seen anything like that here in Ohio,” Townsend-Small said. “One was gushing out so much water that people who lived there called it a lake, but it’s toxic. It has dead trees all around it and smells like hydrogen sulfide.”

This isn’t the first time the problem was highlighted by researchers. Time and time again, studies have revealed that oil wells are leaking methane, and authorities are underestimating the problem. Across the US and Canada alone, there are millions of inactive oil wells, hundreds of thousands of which are undocumented. Many of these are improperly sealed and are continuously leaking methane into the atmosphere.

According to conservative estimates, these uncapped wells are responsible for 4% of the US total methane emissions, but the situation could be much worse, and those responsible for the wells are reluctant to offer external access to monitor the leaks. Even this study, wouldn’t have been possible without media organizations that wanted to explore the environmental impact of oil wells and arranged with property owners to allow Townsend-Small to carry out measurements. But there’s also some good news hidden in this study. The good news is that since a few of these wells are responsible for a majority of emissions, they could be prioritized and capped.

President Joe Biden’s stimulus plan includes $16 billion for capping abandoned oil and gas wells and mitigating abandoned mines. Inactive oil wells produce less methane than active ones, but it’s one way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. With studies like this one, the more problematic ones could be prioritized. In addition, infrared camera inspections could help identify leaks and monitor wells.


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« Reply #16 on: May 04, 2021, 02:43 AM »

 At Tehran garage, Iranian woman polishes cars and her dreams

AP
5/4/2021

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — It’s a men's-only club in the tangle of auto repair shops on the traffic-clogged streets of Iran’s capital, Tehran. Among them, workers toil in dim garages, welding and wrenching, fabricating and painting.

That’s until Maryam Roohani, 34, pops up from under a car’s hood at a maintenance shop in northeastern Tehran, her dirt- and grease-stained uniform pulled over black jeans and long hair tucked into a baseball cap — which in her work, replaces Iran’s compulsory Islamic headscarf for women, or hijab.

Buffing a blue BMW sedan in the shop until it shines, she couldn’t be farther from the farms of her childhood. In the rural, tribal village of Agh Mazar near Iran’s northeastern border with Turkmenistan, girls get married after hitting puberty and devote their lives to raising children.

“I have sort of broken taboos,” Roohani said at the garage, where she carefully coats cars with attention-getting gleams and scrapes sludge from their engines. “I faced opposition when I chose this path.”

The auto industry remains male-dominated around the world, let alone in the tradition-bound Islamic Republic. Still Iranian women, especially in the cities, have made inroads over the years. They now make up over half of all college graduates and a sizable part of the workforce.

A farmer’s daughter, Roohani grew up laboring on the land like most other children in Agh Mazar. But unlike her five siblings, she had her eyes on her father’s tractor, and developed an uncanny knack for driving it at an early age.

Even as she worked as a hairdresser and studied to become a makeup artist in Bojnurd, the provincial capital, a greater passion pulled her in: applying finishes to cars. To the scorn of villagers and some family members, she traded used cars for extra cash and dreamed of working as a car polisher and detailer. Although relatives turned against her and cut off contact, her father had a more liberal attitude, supporting her despite the pushback and letting her postpone marriage to pursue her love of polishing.

There were no international car polish training programs she could find in the rolling wheat and barley fields of North Khorasan province, nor elsewhere in the country at the time. So she flew to Turkey, where she battled male skeptics to earn her car polishing certificate.

Armed with credentials, she set up shop in a small, rented space at a Tehran garage. Customers flocked to marvel at the area’s first female car detailer, snapping photos and sharing footage on social media. Her Instagram account and online persona as Iran's “Miss Detailer” grew.

But her initial successes drew resentment from male colleagues — and at times, even sabotage. Some tainted her polishing pads with acid to burn the paint of her customers' cars, she recounted. Others tampered with her machines and tore up the costly pads that she purchased with her life’s savings, she said. Complaints to the garage's owner went nowhere and without hard evidence, the police couldn't help either.

Roohani wanted to cut and run after that. But her reputation had grabbed the attention of a prominent Tehran auto shop, which suddenly offered her a job. For the past few years, she has lived out her dream as a professional car polisher, detailer and washer.

Roohani even now trains and inspires other women to do the same despite the obstacles. Her online videos include her hard at work polishing a vintage Chevrolet Chevelle or smiling over the hood of a freshly detailed jet-black BMW, so smooth that a plastic cup slides down it.

“I got excited the first time I saw (Roohani) because in Iran, with its limitations for women, we are not usually trusted to do such jobs,” said Farahnaz Deravi, one of Roohani’s trainees. Interest in auto repair work has exploded in Iran since former President Donald Trump withdrew from Tehran’s landmark nuclear deal with world powers and imposed biting sanctions. To preserve its foreign currency, Iran banned the import of Asian and European-made cars, causing prices of the vehicles to quadruple. Iranians with the means to own expensive cars cherish them more than ever and pay hefty sums to maintain the status symbol.

Although Roohani's business is brisk, Iran’s economy is struggling with a series of mounting crises, including international isolation and a raging pandemic. Roohani now imagines her future as a professional detailer abroad, and hopes to start her own business somewhere in Europe one day.

“The Iranian ‘Miss Detailer’ must shine out there,” she said, smiling.


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« Reply #17 on: May 04, 2021, 03:05 AM »

Covid vaccine rollout rapidly gathering pace across Europe

EU now confident that supply – the biggest problem in early months of year – should not be an obstacle to further acceleration
 
Daniel Boffey in Sluis, the Netherlands
Guardian
4 May 2021 15.55 BST

The restaurant and cafe terraces spilling out into the streets of the pretty Dutch medieval town of Sluis were teeming over the weekend with smiling people clinking glasses under the spring sun.

The Netherlands reopened alfresco hospitality last Wednesday and Belgians, ignoring official advice, had driven a short distance across the border in huge numbers to enjoy their neighbour’s freedom over the long Labour day weekend. “We could have filled 400 tables,” said an apologetic waiter at the Resto de Eetboetiek, as he turned away the latest family arriving without a reservation.

Despite concerns within the Dutch government over the country’s infection rate, the rapid speed of the country’s vaccination rollout in recent weeks and the jab’s clear impact on transmission has been the key to emboldening the prime minister, Mark Rutte, to drive forward reopening the economy.

According to the latest official data, a jab is being administered in the Netherlands, population 17.2 million, every half a second, a huge boon compared with the very early months when a lack of organisation in administering the jabs appeared to be behind a glacial start.

The Belgian government, while a little more cautious given some of the particularly dark months the country has faced during the pandemic, has said it also plans to reopen outdoor hospitality on 8 May, again fortified by its own vaccine take-off.

Like the Netherlands, although for different reasons, Belgium’s rollout was not quick in the early months of this year. Faced with some of the worst death statistics in Europe, the government focused on getting jabs to its most vulnerable: 86.8% of over 80s are fully vaccinated and 84.18% of 65- to 84-year-olds. But it is now firing through the younger, more easily accessed age groups, reducing the time between delivery of doses and administration from 18 days in March to around four in the last week.

This evolution is being witnessed elsewhere in the EU. Apart from the stragglers of Bulgaria, Latvia, Croatia and Romania, solidly over 20% of the population in each of the other EU member states has now received a vaccine jab, with the tiny island state of Malta leading the way with 52.43%, and as the difficult-to-get-to priority groups are being ticked off the pace of jabs is increasing.

Among the 23 EU member states who have reported to the European centre for disease control and prevention, the median uptake among the over-80s is 73.1%. With that accomplished, Germany celebrated the milestone of administering 1m doses in a day last Thursday and France broke its record at the end of last week of giving 545,000 shots on Thursday and 549,000 on Friday.

“We really see that within the EU the vaccination is increasing dramatically,” said a European Commission official as plans were announced on Monday to reopen the borders to non-EU holidaymakers potentially including from the UK by June.

Crucially, internal commission estimates shared with the Guardian offers significant reassurance that supply, the biggest problem in the early months of the year, should not be an obstacle to further acceleration.

While just 14m doses were delivered to member states in January, 28m in February and 60m in March, officials said that 105m had arrived into the hands of healthcare workers in April.

The commission expects around 125m doses this month and 200m in June putting the bloc on track to have an annual capacity of 4bn doses a year.

It is a far cry from the scenario facing the EU just a few months ago when AstraZeneca had twice downsized the deliveries it expected to make to the EU, and there was a faint whiff of panic in Brussels.

On 31 January, Thierry Breton, an industrialist and former French finance minister who is the European commissioner for the internal market, was asked by Ursula von der Leyen, the commission president, to come back early to Brussels from his family home in Paris.

She was meeting the chief executives of BioNTech/Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Curevac and Sanofi, and it was not quite clear from where the EU was going to find the jabs it needed.

A meeting with the French president, Emannuel Macron, followed on the Monday and a second with the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, on Tuesday. The following day Breton, a former head of multinationals including France Telecom and Atos, was made head of a new EU vaccine task force.

“At that point the challenges were quite fundamental: getting transparency about what kind of capacity was operational,” said an EU official of the task facing Breton. “Where are these factories and where they are going and what the bottlenecks were. A lot of work to do in a short space of time. It was primarily mapping.”

Since then, EU diplomats representing the member states have spoken admiringly of a hands-on approach that has produced results. “Breton has been to factories where even the CEOs of companies have not visited,” said one diplomat.

During a visit to a “fill and finish” site in Barcelona that is serving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, Breton was told that a lack of filters risked delaying the final stages of production by four weeks. He used his direct contact with the chief executive of the German supplier Merck to find a fix.

On 14 April, Von der Leyen announced that 50m of Pfizer doses due in the fourth quarter of this year would be brought forward to the second quarter. Breton had been key. “The commissioner is a numbers guy: the one to scribble on a piece of paper quite a complicated calculation and say: ‘Look, according to my calculation you have capacity here that can benefit European citizens, can we see if we can bring something forward?’”, said an official. “He challenges people. That played a role … Sometimes it isn’t very much in the nature of the European commission in being very hands on and directly liaising with the companies but Breton brought that into the game.”

Jacob Funk Kirkegaard, a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund thinktank in Brussels, said there was also an argument for telling the parallel story of ever-increasing numbers of vaccine exports around the world rather than engaging in a PR battle with London over rights to AstraZeneca doses made around Europe or the role or not of Brexit in Britain’s speedy vaccination programme.

Given the Covid whirlwind being experienced in India and elsewhere, it is argued that there are also compelling grounds to further shift the focus from domestic rollout to aiding the poorest. The latest EU contract for 1.8bn Pfizer doses over two years explicitly provides for the right to donate some of those to countries outside the bloc.

“When Joe Biden is using the rhetoric of the US being the arsenal of vaccines, you can see how the US is building up the rhetoric of them riding to the world’s rescue but the EU has already exported 160m doses and by the time the US will really begin to export, the EU will be exporting 250m to 300m doses,” Kirkegaard said. “There is a great story to tell.”

But perhaps for those in Sluis and elsewhere in a relieved Europe, a drink in the sun will do for now.


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« Reply #18 on: May 04, 2021, 03:07 AM »

Polls put German Green party in lead five months before election

Six out of 10 polls published in past two weeks put Greens ahead of Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union

Philip Oltermann in Berlin
Guardian
4 May 2021 11.54 BST

A green wind of change is blowing through Germany’s political landscape as a poll-of-polls on Monday puts the Green party above Angela Merkel’s ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU) only five months before national elections.

The aggregate poll, published by Pollytix Strategic Research, puts the Greens in the lead for the first time since June 2019.

Germany’s party landscape has long proven more resistant to sudden upheavals than its European neighbours, with the CDU holding on to its status as the country’s supreme political power while sister parties in France or Italy slipped into oblivion.

But latest polls suggest the conservatives, who have governed Germany for the last 16 years, could be ousted as the strongest party in the Bundestag on 26 September.

Six out of 10 polls published over the last two weeks instead show an advantage for the Greens, who scraped into sixth place when Germany last went to the polls in 2017. A survey published by pollster Kantar and Bild am Sonntag newspaper on Sunday gave the Greens in a three-point lead, on 27%.

It suggests the ecological party’s candidate, Annalena Baerbock, could even find herself in the comfortable position of being able to pick and choose from a variety of potential coalition partners, with possible power-sharing deals with the CDU, the Social Democratic party (SPD) and the Free Democrats, or the SPD and leftwing Die Linke.

Stefan Merz, the director of pollster Infratest Dimap, said the currently expressed voting intentions would need to remain in place for two to three weeks to prove reliable indicators.

“But after years of very little movement in the hierarchy of Germany’s political parties, there is now a sense that the deck is being reshuffled and we could be on the threshold of a historic moment,” Merz told the Guardian.

Volatility is showing in the polls as the German public has increasingly turned against the government over a lengthy but ineffective semi-lockdown and a vaccination rollout that exposed the poor state of the country’s digital services and bureaucracy.

Armin Laschet, the 60-year-old CDU leader and Merkel continuity candidate, was presented as the party’s man for the top job just as the outgoing chancellor has looked more powerless and short of ideas than at any point in her 16-year leadership at the top of Europe’s largest economy.

LSE graduate Baerbock, 40, who has been the Green’s co-leader for three years but lacks experience in higher office, has launched her campaign on a message of reform, proposing, for example, a term limit for the chancellor under her leadership.

“Experience can act as drag, tying you to the past,” Der Spiegel wrote of Baerbock’s candidacy. “New, visionary ideas often come from young minds.”

The underlying theme of her campaign so far is that Germany is more innovative than its political class – a claim that got a boost last week when the country’s constitutional court ruled that the government’s climate targets do not go far enough.

But there is still uncertainty about the Green party’s chances because German voters have shown again and again how much they value continuity.

Polls in the run-up to the federal vote in 2005 indicated a towering 15-point lead over the governing Social Democrats for the CDU, then entering its first election with Merkel as candidate. In the end, her party only won the election by a thin margin.

In 2017, too, the announcement of Social Democrat Martin Schulz’s candidacy pushed his centre-left party’s ratings above those of the governing CDU. But by the start of the summer, the hype around Schulz had evaporated.

“The question is whether the Greens can keep up their momentum once the majority of the country has been vaccinated, the shops reopen and people can go on holiday again,” said pollster Merz. “If the national debate shifts to the economy at that point, the CDU could regain some lost ground.”

Whether Laschet, a politician who has struggled to rally his own party behind his candidacy, can convince the German public that he is the right man to keep the country on an even keel, will be one of the key questions of the coming months.

One key factor distinguishes the vote in September from those that came before. For the first time since 1949, Germans will head to the voting booth in an election where the incumbent chancellor will not be standing for reelection. All of Merkel’s predecessors either lost their last election or resigned before completing their last term in office.

“When voters go to the polling booth, they tend to focus on their prospects in the future rather than the achievements of the past,” said Matthias Jung, a pollster for research institute Forschungsgruppe Wahlen.

“At best, the high points of the last 16 years will be remembered as a badge of basic competency,” Jung told the Guardian. “Merkel’s successes are only inheritable to a very limited degree.”


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« Reply #19 on: May 04, 2021, 03:11 AM »

Colombia braces for further unrest after police react violently to mass protests

At least 16 demonstrators and one officer dead after police fired at protesters and rammed crowds with motorcycles

Guardian
4 May 2021 21.06 BST

Colombia is bracing for further unrest after a weekend in which largely peaceful nationwide demonstrations were met with a violent police reaction which left at least 16 demonstrators and one police officer dead and hundreds injured.

Videos shared on social media over the weekend showed police firing at protesters sometimes from close range, ramming crowds with motorcycles, and bashing demonstrators with their shields.

The drama of the weekend was encapsulated in a shocking TV news clip in which a live shot of the central city of Ibagué captured the moment in which a woman learnt that her 19-year-old son had died after being shot by police. “Kill me too, they also killed me,” she cried. “He was my only son!”

The demonstrations began with a general strike last Wednesday over an unpopular tax reform but quickly escalated when protesters were met by riot police armed with teargas, bean-bag rounds and billy clubs.

“They may have guns but they can’t kill us all,” said Gabriela Gutierrez, one of a group of students who set up a roadblock in downtown Bogotá, on Monday. “Colombia needs change and we’ll be on the streets until we get it.”

Alongside the unpopular tax proposal, protesters also marched against a deeply polarizing government, in defense of threatened human rights leaders, for an increase of the social safety net during the pandemic, and for police reform.

Although the vast majority of demonstrations were peaceful, incidents of looting and vandalism were reported in Cali, Bogotá and other cities. The road between Cali and Buenaventura, Colombia’s largest seaport on the Pacific coast, was also blocked by protesters.

Tension was ratcheted up on Saturday night when the president, Iván Duque, ordered troops on to the streets. But less than 24 hours later he was forced to scrap the proposed tax reform which would have hiked taxes on individuals and business during a coronavirus pandemic that continues to ravage public health and the economy.

“The reform is not a whim, it is a necessity,” Duque said in a televised address on Sunday afternoon while announcing the U-turn.

Duque’s concession has done little to quell protesters’ anger, with strike leaders saying that demonstrations will continue this week and that another national strike will be held on Wednesday.
Demonstrators take cover behind makeshift shields in Cali, Colombia, on 30 April.
Demonstrators take cover behind makeshift shields in Cali, Colombia, on 30 April. Photograph: Luis Robayo/AFP/Getty Images

“The people in the streets are demanding much more than the axing of the reforms,” Francisco Maltés, the president of Colombia’s central workers’ union, said at a press conference on Monday morning, adding that the brutal police response had “curtailed democratic guarantees for social protest”.

Scenes of police brutality have become wearyingly familiar in Colombia. Last September, anti-police demonstrations broke out after Javier Ordóñez, a lawyer, was Tasered to death by officers. At least 10 people were killed in the ensuing unrest, and dozens of police kiosks were torched.

The confirmed death toll from the present violence is expected to rise over the coming days.

On Monday morning, following a night of cacerolazos – a noisy spectacle where people bang pots and pans from their windows – truckers blocked roads around the country. In Bogotá, as Duque held an emergency meeting with his finance minister, drivers honked in approval as students waved them slowly through the blockade.

“Every time we protest, the police draw their weapons,” said Alejandro Rodríguez, another student protester in Bogotá. “We won’t be cowed by their violence.”


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« Reply #20 on: May 04, 2021, 03:14 AM »

‘Gamechanger’: Uganda launches drone delivering HIV drugs to remote islands

Technology could ensure critical medicines reach Lake Victoria communities with country’s highest prevalence of HIV/Aids

Samuel Okiror in Kampala
Guardian
Tue 4 May 2021 07.15 BST

As the bottles of medication are carefully loaded into the body of the drone, a small crowd gathers to watch on the other side of the yellow tape marking out the grassy landing strip.

With a gentle buzz the drone rises, a little uncertainly, into the sky, on its 1.5-metre wings. The precious cargo leaving Bufumira health centre III, in Uganda’s Kalangala district, is critical drugs for people living in some of the most far-flung communities in the region. Kalangala is made up of 84 islands in Lake Victoria, the world’s largest tropical lake, which Uganda shares with Tanzania and Kenya.

The drone taking off last week was a pilot for a new project which will now see 20 scheduled flights a month, carrying mostly HIV medicines out to 78 community groups and health facilities across the widely scattered Ssese islands, which have the highest HIV prevalence in Uganda.

Located about 60 miles from the capital, Kampala, and home to more than 67,000 people, Kalangala district has an HIV prevalence rate of 18%, far higher than the national rate of 5.6%. The government’s HIV strategy estimates prevalence of the virus to be up to 40% in some fishing communities.

The delivery of antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) and healthcare is difficult, weather-dependent and risky for healthcare workers, as travel into the region is possible only by boat. The drones, it’s hoped, which cost about £4,000 each, carry loads of up to 1kg and fly for 150km, will “close that last mile”, said Andrew Kambugu, executive director at Makerere University Infectious Disease Institute (IDI).

“Closing the last mile of delivery and ensuring that people living in remote communities have equitable access to modern treatments for HIV is one of the most significant challenges in global health and in Uganda,” he said.

“Medical drones can help solve this challenge by safely and reliably delivering lifesaving medications, thereby empowering frontline healthcare workers to allocate more time and resources to performing other essential services, resulting in healthier and more resilient communities.”

Uganda’s ministry of health, the Academy for Health Innovation, Uganda, and IDI collaborated on the medical drones pilot at Bufumira, which carried ARVs to more than 1,000 people living with HIV.

The “overcoming geographical barriers with technology” initiative will ease challenges, said Henry Mwebesa, Uganda’s director general of health services, who watched the launch.

“Using medical drones is a huge step for us as a health sector in improving service delivery especially in hard to reach areas,” he said.

“It’s very useful. Once it’s successful we can adopt it for other facilities and replicate it in other places.”

The drones are controlled by locally trained experts who monitor the flight and landing.

“This is exciting. It will ease the transportation of vaccines to our health facilities in those landing sites,” said Jude Matovu, in charge of the Bufumira health centre. “So we expect our outpatient department coverage to increase.”

The Uganda Medical Association has welcomed the drones, but expressed concern over drug shortages due to inadequate funding. Its secretary general Mukuzi Muhereza said: “We are welcoming it. It’s very important and it could be a gamechanger. It would be nice to see whether it really works with our bad network and connectivity.

“While the distribution and delivery is welcome, the other biggest problem I see is that even other public health facilities get stock-outs even when they can be reached by road. So the stock-outs I don’t think would be because of the transportation or connectivity. The biggest stock-outs are because of the funds,” he said.

“Realistically I think we are not giving enough money to national medical stores to purchase drugs and supplies for every Ugandan that needs it. The biggest change would be if we can enhance the budget and make sure we have what [we need] to send.”

Other African countries, including Rwanda and Ghana, are also using drones to deliver blood and medical supplies, with the technology estimated to be serving more than 22 million people.

Rosalind Parkes-Ratanshi, director at the Academy for Health Innovation, said the programme will also be an important research opportunity to assess and quantify how effective drones are at delivering medications, data that will help scale drone technology and respond to emergencies.

“Thanks to the support and coordination of our partners, including Johnson & Johnson, this programme will help gather the information and data needed to help make this future a reality, while also helping to deliver lifesaving care to people in need,” said Parkes-Ratanshi.


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« Reply #21 on: May 04, 2021, 03:30 AM »

Biden says he will raise refugee cap from 15,000 to 62,500, after widespread criticism for extending
Trump-era levels


By Sean Sullivan
May 4, 2021 at 5:40 a.m. GMT+3
WA Post

President Biden on Monday lifted the annual limit on the number of refugees who can be admitted into the United States through September to 62,500 but said admissions would fall short of that mark — capping months of wavering and reversals from his administration and fierce blowback from human rights advocates and fellow Democrats.

Biden said in a statement that he was raising the record-low cap of 15,000 set by the Trump administration, “which did not reflect America’s values as a nation that welcomes and supports refugees.”

But he added that “the sad truth” is the United States will not fill all 62,500 slots — the figure his administration set in February before he backed away from it over concerns about how the government handled a migration surge at the southern border. He also reinforced his goal of 125,000 for the fiscal year that starts in October but cautioned that number “will still be hard to hit.” Biden attributed these conclusions to challenges rebuilding a system President Donald Trump had dismantled.

“It is important to take this action today to remove any lingering doubt in the minds of refugees around the world who have suffered so much, and who are anxiously waiting for their new lives to begin,” Biden said. “The United States Refugee Admissions Program embodies America’s commitment to protect the most vulnerable, and to stand as a beacon of liberty and refuge to the world.”

How the refugee cap has evolved, and who it has allowed in

Biden’s decision bookended an extraordinary chapter of the U.S. refugee program that started in February, when he first promised to turn the page on the Trump administration's anti-immigrant policies. After his administration set new targets, Biden and his aides went quiet in public for two months as he refused to officially sign-off on a new policy, an unusual development that alarmed refugee advocates.

The inaction underlined the political and policy concerns about immigration that Biden and some of his top advisers have been feeling in the early days of his presidency. The border surge has prompted strong criticism from both Democratic and Republican elected officials, and polls show the public is also worried about his handling of the situation.

In his formal directive Monday, Biden explained his shift by stating that it resulted in part from “additional briefing and a more comprehensive presentation” on the government’s capacity to increase the cap while addressing other tasks. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for more details on the new information he cited. Refugee advocates in recent weeks have largely been unconvinced by the White House’s public explanations.

Biden’s hesitancy had real-world consequences, refugee advocates said. They noted in recent weeks that it meant canceled flights for refugees ready to travel. Democratic lawmakers on Capitol Hill urged Biden to fulfill his promise, but for a time, they were unsuccessful. Biden’s announcement was hailed Monday by some refugee advocates who had previously criticized his vacillations and spoke out about the negative effect they said it had on people fleeing oppression, persecution and other dire circumstances.

“Today we took a critical step in reversing the terrible imprint of the Trump administration on our global humanitarian leadership,” said Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, the president and chief executive of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, a resettlement agency working with the government.

She added, “We breathe a sigh of relief for our refugee brothers and sisters still in harm’s way, and for the thousands of families who have been forced to delay their reunification for years. We feel hopeful and blessed to be a part of reviving this lifesaving work.”

Echoing a sentiment other refugee advocates have voiced about the value of a new cap, even if it is not reached, she added, “The revised presidential determination is not just a number. It’s a symbolic message that the White House is committed to resurrecting a lifesaving program and returning America to its global humanitarian leadership position.”

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), who lived in a refugee camp in Kenya as a child after her family fled a civil war in Somalia, wrote on Twitter, “We are now one step closer to welcoming Refugees, but not there yet. Complacency is not how we get anything done, let’s keep pushing and demanding more. The capacity is there and we must continue to create the will.”

But Republicans pounced on the move, accusing Biden of caving to the demands of liberal activists. “Biden capitulates 2left on raising refugee numbers,” tweeted Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa).

On April 16, amid mounting pressure from allies to explain the president’s delay in signing a new directive, the White House said it was keeping the cap where Trump had set it, even as it loosened restrictions the former president had placed on refugees from African and Muslim countries.

The news spurred furious Democrats to sharply criticize the White House. Hours later, the White House backtracked again, with press secretary Jen Psaki saying Biden would raise the cap after all but signaling that his original target was no longer realistic.

The president’s own misgivings drove the unusual sequence of events. With his refusal to more swiftly raise the cap as he had promised, Biden overruled his top foreign policy and national security aides, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Many refugee advocates felt left in the dark.

Their anger was evident even after Psaki’s efforts to assure them that the cap would ultimately be raised. Among other places, it showed up on a recent private video conference White House staffers held with the heads of resettlement agencies. During that conversation, one White House staffer acknowledged that administration officials needed to do a better job of keeping the refugee resettlement groups informed.

With anger still swirling, the White House weighed raising the cap to the original target of 62,500. Last week, one of the people familiar with the deliberations attributed the moving target in part to a review the White House was conducting of policy developments, progress and legal considerations.

Biden’s frustration with the government’s struggle to deal with unaccompanied minors at the southern border centered on the Office of Refugee Resettlement’s response to the crisis, the person said. The unit, which is part of the Department of Health and Human Services, has responsibilities for both refugees and children at the border.

The administration’s efforts to point to the Office of Refugee Resettlement did not convince refugee advocates, with some noting that processing refugees depends on a separate funding stream. They accused Biden of playing politics more than anything else.

In a sign of the White House’s desire to repair frayed relations with refugee advocates, administration officials held a call with them after Monday’s announcement, on which they reinforced the themes Biden underscored in his statement, according to two people with knowledge of the conversation. They said the government would probably fall short of admitting 62,500 people but would try its best to aim for that number, the two people said. Like others interviewed in this report, they spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private talks.

A senior administration official said Monday that Biden ultimately wanted to send a message to Americans and the world that the United States welcomes refugees and is committed to protecting the most vulnerable.

*************

Joe Biden Is Electrifying America Like F.D.R.

By Nicholas Kristof
Opinion Columnist
NY Times
5/4/2021

YAMHILL, Ore. — The best argument for President Biden’s three-part proposal to invest heavily in America and its people is an echo of Franklin Roosevelt’s explanation for the New Deal.

“In 1932 there was an awfully sick patient called the United States of America,” Roosevelt said in 1943. “He was suffering from a grave internal disorder … and they sent for a doctor.”

Paging Dr. Joe Biden.

We should be cleareyed about both the enormous strengths of the United States — its technologies, its universities, its entrepreneurial spirit — and its central weakness: For half a century, compared with other countries, we have underinvested in our people.

In 1970, the United States was a world leader in high school and college attendance, enjoyed high life expectancy and had a solid middle class. This was achieved in part because of Roosevelt.

The New Deal was imperfect and left out too many African-Americans and Native Americans, but it was still transformative.

Here in my hometown, Yamhill, the New Deal was an engine of opportunity. A few farmers had rigged generators on streams, but Roosevelt’s rural electrification brought almost everyone onto the grid and output soared. Jobs programs preserved the social fabric and built trails that I hike on every year. The G.I. Bill of Rights gave local families a shot at education and homeownership.

Roosevelt’s Public Works Administration provided $27,415 in 1935 (the equivalent of $530,000 today) to help build a high school in Yamhill. That provided jobs for 90 people on the relief rolls, and it created the school that I attended and that remains in use today.

In short, the New Deal invested in the potential and productivity of my little town — and of much of the nation. The returns were extraordinary.

These kinds of investments in physical infrastructure (interstate highways) and human capital (state universities and community colleges) continued under Democratic and Republican presidents alike. They made America a stronger nation and a better one.

Yet beginning in the 1970s, America took a wrong turn. We slowed new investments in health and education and embraced a harsh narrative that people just need to lift themselves up by their bootstraps. We gutted labor unions, embraced inequality and shrugged as working-class America disintegrated. Average weekly wages for America’s production workers were actually lower in December 2020 ($860) than they had been, after adjusting for inflation, in December 1972 ($902 in today’s money).

What does that mean in human terms? I’ve written about how one-quarter of the people on my old No. 6 school bus died of drugs, alcohol or suicide — “deaths of despair.” That number needs to be updated: The toll has risen to about one-third.

We allocated large sums of taxpayer dollars to incarcerate my friends and their children. Biden proposes something more humane and effective — investing in children, families and infrastructure in ways that echo Roosevelt’s initiatives.

The most important thread of Biden’s program is his plan to use child allowances to cut America’s child poverty in half. Biden’s main misstep is that he would end the program in 2025 instead of making it permanent; Congress should fix that.

The highest return on investment in America today isn’t in private equity but in early childhood initiatives for disadvantaged kids of all races. That includes home visitations, lead reduction, pre-K and child care.

Roosevelt started a day care program during World War II to make it easier for parents to participate in the war economy. It was a huge success, looking after perhaps half a million children, but it was allowed to lapse after the war ended.

Biden’s proposal for day care would be a lifeline for young children who might be neglected. Aside from the wartime model, we have another in the U.S.: The military operates a high-quality on-base day care system, because that supports service members in performing their jobs.

Then there are Biden’s proposed investments in broadband; that’s today’s version of rural electrification. Likewise, free community college would enable young people to gain technical skills and earn more money, strengthening working-class families.

Some Americans worry about the cost of Biden’s program. That’s a fair concern. Yet this is not an expense but an investment: Our ability to compete with China will depend less on our military budget, our spy satellites or our intellectual property protections than on our high school and college graduation rates. A country cannot succeed when so many of its people are failing.

As many Americans have criminal records as college degrees. A baby born in Washington, D.C., has a shorter life expectancy (78 years) than a baby born in Beijing (82 years). Newborns in 10 counties in Mississippi have a shorter life expectancy than newborns in Bangladesh. Rather than continue with Herbert Hoover-style complacency, let’s acknowledge our “grave internal disorder” and summon a doctor.

The question today, as in the 1930s, is not whether we can afford to make ambitious investments in our people. It’s whether we can afford not to.

**************

Why Biden’s Plan to Raise Taxes for Rich Investors Isn’t Hurting Stocks

Investors care more about economic data and corporate profits than an increase in the capital gains tax. It has usually been this way.

By Matt Phillips
NY Times
May 4 , 2021

Investors have largely shrugged off President Biden’s proposal to raise taxes on investment income for wealthy Americans, as the stock market hovers near record highs after news of a strong economic rebound and blockbuster earnings reports from technology giants such as Apple and Amazon.

The indifference is well founded, analysts say.

Mr. Biden wants to raise taxes on the income that the country’s richest households make from investments — called capital gains — to fund his plans for economic-recovery and infrastructure projects. The increase would apply to people with annual income of a million dollars or more.

In theory, higher taxes on investments like stocks should make them less appealing. But the outlook for economic growth and corporate profits is often a much bigger factor in the decision to buy, sell or hold on to a stock. And in a resilient market — when politicians typically propose them — higher taxes are even less of a deterrent.

“Markets can grow, and grow above trend, even if you’re taking the capital gains tax rate up,” said Lori Calvasina, head of U.S. equity strategy at RBC Capital Markets in New York. “That’s not the silver bullet that will kill the bull market.”

Ms. Calvasina’s team looked at what happens to the stock market when the capital gains tax rises. When the rate increased in past years, the team found, the S&P 500 index rose roughly 11 percent.  

Proposed increases to the capital gains tax can cause momentary wobbles as investors try to lock in the appreciation on current investments, but the market usually regains its footing and shares climb higher.

“Any potential equity selling will be short lived and reversed in subsequent quarters,” Goldman Sachs analysts wrote late last year about the prospect of a capital-gains tax increase under Democratic control in Washington.

That seems to be how the market is behaving. The news on April 22 that the Biden administration was considering lifting the tax sent stocks into the red, but the selling was limited. Stocks dropped just 0.9 percent for the day and bounced back a day later.

Even after Friday’s 0.7 percent decline, the market sat on a comfortable gain of more than 11 percent this year. The S&P 500 was up 5.2 percent in April, its best month in 2021.

Investor stoicism may also reflect the fact that Mr. Biden’s plan requires congressional approval, a tall order given the slim Democratic control of both chambers. That reduces the likelihood that the proposed increase — which would tax ordinary income and capital gains income in the richest households at the same 39.6 percent rate — is enacted in its entirety.

“Most Democrats seem to be on board with narrowing the differential between the tax rate on capital gains and ordinary income, but there’s opposition for treating the rates as the same,” wrote analysts with Beacon Policy Advisors, a political consultancy. “This means there’s probably a middle ground for raising the capital gains rate on top earners to, say, 28 percent.”

If stocks continued their climb, it would largely be in keeping with previous periods when capital gains taxes were raised.

In 2013, when the tax rose to the current 23.8 percent, from 15 percent, on Americans with the highest incomes, the S&P 500 climbed nearly 30 percent. It was the best year for stocks in the last two decades. And after the top rate rose to 28 percent, from 20 percent, at the end of 1986, the market continued to roar higher, by nearly 40 percent through most of 1987.

Stocks eventually suffered their worst single-day collapse ever on Black Monday in October 1987, but that crash had little to do with tax policy, and the markets ended the year slightly higher. In 1991, a small increase to 28.9 percent in the capital gains rate for those with the largest incomes coincided with a 26 percent rise in the S&P 500. The major driver for that gain had nothing to do with taxes; it was the emergence from a recession.

Similarly, investors appear to be focusing on evidence that the economy is on the brink of breakneck growth. That surge is being fueled by a river of federal government spending, rock-bottom interest rates and more Covid-19 vaccinations. In the first three months of the year, the economy grew at an annualized clip of 6.4 percent. At that pace, 2021 would be the best year for growth since 1984.

Economic growth and corporate profits tend to rise together. And signs of additional oomph in the economy are already showing up in earnings reports from publicly traded companies.

Tech giants such as Tesla, Microsoft, Amazon, Apple and Google’s parent company, Alphabet, all reported first-quarter profits that trounced analyst expectations.

Now Wall Street analysts are ratcheting those profit forecasts even higher, expecting earnings for companies in the S&P 500 to jump more than 30 percent this year. At the start of the year, the forecast was a bit more than 20 percent. If the expected corporate profits appear, it will be their biggest bounce in over a decade.

Such growing optimism for profits — traditionally viewed as the key driver of stock prices — should far outweigh any impact of a tax increase, investors said.

Tax increases are “not the main event,” said Saira Malik, chief investment officer at the global equity division of Nuveen, a large asset manager. “The main event, for us, is earnings growth. Earnings growth, if you look, that’s what drives bull markets.”

**************

Biden’s world: how key countries have reacted to the president’s first 100 days

The new administration has signalled a sharp break in foreign policy from the Trump era – but how is that playing globally?

Vincent Ni, Martin Chulov and Jason Burke in Johannesburg
Guardian
5/4/2021

The European Union

At the opening of Joe Biden’s online climate summit last week, Europe’s relief was was palpable: “It is so good,” gushed the European commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, “to have the US back on our side.”

World leaders hail 'new dawn' under Biden as Chinese media says 'good riddance'
Read more

But while improved relations will certainly help after four years of what one analyst called Hurricane Donald, they will not be enough – because if the US and EU do now agree on the climate crisis, there are plenty of areas where they don’t.

Biden’s early Trump rewinds (rejoining the Paris accord, dropping US opposition to a digital tax, seeking a return to the Iran nuclear deal, removing many tariffs on EU goods) have been greeted effusively in Europe as signs of normalisation.

But analysts warn the US will need more than charm to secure concrete policy change in Europe on trade, energy or defence spending – and that the EU should not consider that American re-engagement means US priorities are aligned with Europe’s.

Washington’s major foreign policy goals in Europe – ensuring the EU is closer to the US than to China, pays more of the bill for its own defence and stops discriminating against US companies – need the EU to take steps it is not yet willing to contemplate.

On the EU side, observers say the bloc has to realise the pre-2016 US has gone for good. Longer-term trends in US policy, combined with plummeting European public confidence in the US as a useful and reliable partner, amount to a new normal in transatlantic relations. Jon Henley in Paris

Russia

Joe Biden came in to the White House with little interest in talking to Vladimir Putin, beyond extending the New Start arms treaty. “The Biden administration has a clear set of things they want to achieve in the world … Russia isn’t part of the solution to any of them,” said Sam Greene, the director of the King’s University Russia Institute.

But Russia has clawed its way back on to the agenda, not least because of the largest buildup near Ukraine since the 2014 annexation of Crimea.

The US response, which has included both sanctions and summit talk, is “a bit like whiplash” Greene said. “One day Biden calls Putin a murderer and two weeks later he invites him over for tea and the day after that he slaps him with sanctions on sovereign debt.”

Those sanctions are “deceptively the strongest sanctions package we’ve yet seen”, said Yuval Weber, a Russia expert, saying that the Biden team was seeking to “create some aspect of deterrence” without going all-in on a new conflict. Moscow has responded by targeting the US embassy and has pressured the ambassador to leave the country.

The White House’s carrot-and-stick strategy has confused some Russian commentators and created a debate in the Kremlin about whether to write off the Biden presidency or seek to engage with him.

“It seems to me that the second line has won and the Kremlin is actively working to get ready for this meeting [between Biden and Putin],” said Tatiana Stanovaya, a political analyst and founder of R.Politik. “Putin seems set on not missing a chance to speak with the US president about mutual interests, even though his retinue seems to be far more hawkish. Because the anti-American rhetoric seems to be fuelling itself at this point.” Andrew Roth in Moscow

Iran

Days after Biden’s nomination, Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, made Joe Biden a potentially significant offer of talks not just on Iran’s nuclear activities, but on oil and the region. He tempered the offer with a warning: “Iran and the United States are two different entities. We represent a civilization, but the United States wants to convert us into something else. America does not represent a civilization but believes in American Exceptionalism.”

Now, with talks on the two countries returning to nuclear deal well under way, Biden may no longer be trying to convert Iran into something else, but instead offering it a way out of its isolation.

The reset did not start so well. Tehran was frustrated at the slowness with which Biden acted on his campaign promise to re-enter the nuclear deal which Donald Trump quit in 2018. Hardliners, convinced America is irredeemable – and positioning themselves for the June Iranian presidential elections – accused Biden of continuing a policy of maximum economic sanctions, largely indistinguishable from Trump’s. Iran responded by reducing nuclear inspections, ramping up nuclear enrichment and striking a 25-year strategic partnership with China.

Now, with the help of Russia and Europe, America and Iran are deep in indirect talks in Vienna. Working parties have been formed to look into the sanctions the US will lift, the steps Iran must take to come back into compliance and the means by which it can verify sanctions have been lifted.

Both sides, staffed by negotiators involved in the 2014 talks, now know that the other side is not playing a game, but since Iran demands all US sanctions are lifted, the chances of failure remain. Patrick Wintour

Brazil

Joe Biden’s victory was a body blow for the Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro, a rightwing populist who basked in his ties to Donald Trump.

Already Biden’s presence in the White House has forced some change on Brazilian foreign policy, with Bolsonaro jettisoning his pro-Trump foreign minister Ernesto Araújo in the hope of avoiding further international isolation. Bolsonaro, under whom Amazon destruction has soared, has also been forced to moderate his rhetoric on the environment, pledging to end illegal deforestation by 2030 in a conciliatory letter to Biden ahead of last week’s climate summit.

Guilherme Casarões, a foreign affairs expert from Brazil’s Getúlio Vargas Foundation, said the rhetorical shift was clearly driven by a desire to avoid further alienating Brazil’s second-largest trading partner. “Under no circumstances would clashing with the US be desirable,” he said.

But given Bolsonaro’s long history of Trumpism, Casarões thought the best that could be hoped for was a “cordial” relationship with the new US president. Senior Biden officials recently visited Colombia, Argentina and Uruguay during their first visit to South America – but skipped Brazil, the region’s biggest economy.

“Biden is someone who knows Latin America pretty well so this wasn’t by chance,” Casarões said. “My impression is that a deliberate decision was taken to signal to Brazil that it is not recognized by the current US government as a priority interlocutor.”

Casarões suspected Biden’s administration would be privately rooting for Bolsonaro’s defeat in the 2022 election so the US could re-engage with a less radical successor, “whatever their ideological stripes”. Tom Phillips in Rio de Janeiro

China

The presidency of Joe Biden may mark a drastic departure from that of his predecessor Donald Trump, but to leaders in Beijing the difference seems more one of style than of substance.

In China, the Trump presidency prompted a fundamental re-evaluation of the bilateral relationship. The former president’s erratic behaviour convinced Chinese elites of the superiority of their own style of leadership, which prizes stability and competence over democracy and institutions.

“Biden has yet to walk out of the Trump quagmire,” argued a prominent international relations expert, Zhu Feng, last month in the Global Times. “The Biden administration has not only performed mediocrely, but also continued to risk escalation and confrontation with China.”

The sense of growing confidence in Beijing has been building pace for a while. The financial crisis in 2008 and China’s role in global recovery was taken as proof by Beijing that the American way is no longer the only way. The Covid-19 pandemic has further emboldened China; some now talk of the irreversible decline of the United States – “the east rising, the west declining”.

In the year of the Communist party’s centenary and the 120th anniversary of the humiliation of the signing of an unequal treaty with western powers in 1901, leaders in Beijing are keen to tell their people that the United States is no longer superior to China – whoever occupies the White House. Vincent Ni

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia and the US were friends, partners and mutual enablers during the Trump years, but their relationship could hardly be more different under the new president. Just a month after Biden took office, his administration blamed the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, for ordering the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi, setting a course for a relationship that has proven far more at arm’s length, and more at odds.

Citing protocol, Biden has refused to even deal with Prince Mohammed, opting instead for his father, King Salman. The young heir views Biden as offhand, and misguided, and sees his readiness to re-engage Iran as a strategic pivot at the Kingdom’s expense.

Saudi Arabia pushed back strongly against Biden’s attempts to punish Prince Mohammed for Khashoggi’s murder, effectively putting strategic ties on the line if he did. Biden blinked, but the ensuing trust deficit has left both sides semi-estranged. As Washington tries to convince Tehran to surrender its nuclear ambitions in return for sanctions relief, Riyadh has been courting Israel directly, and also speaking with Iran. The difference this time is the absence of the US, with whom relations seem unlikely to improve as long as Biden remains president. Martin Chulov

United Kingdom

Under Donald Trump the US ran two foreign policies: one chaotic, values-free and personally led by Trump, and another more traditional version implemented by his administration. Similarly, the UK ran two US policies, one publicly pandering to Trump, and another privately appalled.

So Biden represents both a relief and chance for the UK government’s public and private postures to cohere. Biden’s national security team presents alliances as the unique US asset – and for alliances to work, predictability, consultation and discipline are required.

Trump’s refusal to follow British advice on Iran led to deep soul-searching inside the Foreign Office, and there is still anxiety about where the UK sits in the pantheon of Biden alliances. But the G7 and chairmanship of the Cop26 in Glasgow have gifted the UK a unique chance to show it can be midwife to many American objectives on climate change, strategy towards China and pandemic preparedness.

That does not mean no tensions exist. The US-UK trade deal has for now slipped away. The withdrawal from Afghanistan is not popular in the British army and the UK prizes its relations with Turkey more than does Biden. The UK is more invested than the US Congress in the Saudi war in Yemen. In search of friends outside the EU, the UK will be less picky about human rights and democracy, but Biden’s appointments at the state department suggest he plans to align moralistic language closer to policy.

If fighting international corruption does become a Biden calling card, a spotlight on the UK’s role as enabler of illicit finance may be awkward. Corruption is not a subject No 10 currently wants to be put on the daily media grid. Patrick Wintour

South Africa

Joe Biden benefited from considerable goodwill in South Africa when he took power: his outspoken criticism of the apartheid regime, and the visit he made to South Africa in 1986 when he refused to be separated from black members of the delegation, was noted, if not widely remembered.

Biden’s predecessor had been reviled in South Africa, where the former president’s comments about murders of white farmers had caused much anger and a diplomatic incident. The Nelson Mandela Foundation, an NGO, described relief at the defeat of Trump and said it looked forward to “seeing the White House occupied by a leadership team which understands the central importance of human dignity”.

South African officials and analysts are aware that the “Rainbow Nation” and its concerns will struggle to get US presidential attention. One newspaper recently argued this was its policymakers’ own fault.

“In our relations with the world’s most powerful nation and biggest economy, SA hasn’t done itself any favours. Our government has amassed a long record of siding with unsavoury governments and an instinct to thumb its nose at the traditional powers, despite them still being SA’s biggest source of investment,” said an editorial in Business Day.

Mired in its own economic and political troubles, and a Covid outbreak that has killed tens of thousands, most South Africans have paid little attention to decisions in Washington. Jason Burke in Johannesburg

************

Cheney slams Trump’s attempt to brand 2020 election ‘the Big Lie,’ sparking new calls for her to leave GOP leadership

Liz Cheney slams Trump's 'big lie' claim

By Marianna Sotomayor, Colby Itkowitz and Mike DeBonis
WA Post
May 4, 2021 at 6:25 a.m. GMT+3

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified Kevin McCarthy as the House majority leader. He is the minority leader. Also, an earlier version said Rep. John Rutherford (R-Fla.) issued his tweet on Monday. He posted it on Friday. This article has been corrected.

Rep. Liz Cheney made clear Monday that she will continue to publicly denounce former president Donald Trump over his false claims that the 2020 election was stolen, imperiling her position in House Republican leadership as GOP members continue to rally around Trump.

House Republican leaders as well as some rank-and-file members have said that Cheney’s statements in recent weeks about Trump are a distraction and that she should focus on issues that unite the party.

But Cheney (R-Wyo.) brushed aside those warnings Monday after Trump issued a statement attempting to commandeer the term “Big Lie,” commonly used to refer to the false claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him, by asserting that the term should now refer to President Biden’s election victory.

Cheney quickly condemned Trump’s comment as well as anyone who supports his statements about the election.

“The 2020 presidential election was not stolen,” Cheney tweeted. “Anyone who claims it was is spreading THE BIG LIE, turning their back on the rule of law, and poisoning our democratic system.”

Hours later, Trump released another statement, this time attacking Cheney by calling her a “big-shot warmonger” and claiming that people in Wyoming “never liked her much.”

For Republicans, fealty to Trump’s election falsehood becomes defining loyalty test
McCarthy and Cheney at odds over Trump's future role in the Party
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif) and Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) disagreed Feb. 24 on former president Donald Trump's role in the Republican Party. (The Washington Post)

Cheney has said challenging Trump’s false statements about the election is an issue of principle, but she has increasingly angered her GOP colleagues and faced renewed calls to step down from the No. 3 leadership post in the conference.

“Liz Cheney does not understand the responsibilities of leadership. She claims that I, and 146 other Republicans, violated the U.S. Constitution with our January 6th vote to challenge electors. She’s wrong,” Rep. John Rutherford (R-Fla.) said in a tweet Friday, referring to the 147 Republicans who contested the 2020 presidential election results. “She has now become an obstruction to leadership unity and should step down from her leadership duties as Republican Conference Chair.”

Cheney was one of 10 House Republicans to vote to impeach Trump in January on charges that he incited the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol with false claims of a stolen election. Some Republicans demanded she be stripped of her leadership post over that vote, but she beat back an initial challenge overwhelmingly, with 145 members of the conference supporting keeping her in the position. Only 61 voted to remove her during the closed-ballot vote.

But her hold on that position and standing inside the party that her father once helped lead as vice president is now less firm.

Cheney’s detractors argue she should focus on promoting a united GOP front on policy and against the Biden administration as the party seeks to win back the House majority in 2022, instead of taking on Trump and his false election claims. The former president has never offered any evidence to support his claims of widespread voter fraud, and several courts dismissed legal challenges to the election results last year.

Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.), who chairs the Republican Study Committee made up of 154 members, said that Cheney’s “focus on the past” makes her ineffective as conference chair, a position tasked with keeping the caucus united on messaging and legislative priorities.

Banks, who voted to contest the election results, said a majority of his colleagues believe the way to winning the election is by embracing what they view as Trump’s appealing message to working-class voters.

“Unfortunately, Liz appears to be an anomaly when it comes to that focus, and I think that’s what’s frustrating so many of our members, is that while the rest of us are focused on winning back the majority, she’s focused on proving her point and is focused on the past,” he said in an interview Friday, reflecting on comments Cheney made in recent weeks.

When pressed on whether Cheney’s argument that embracing Trump’s policies also includes spreading misinformation about election fraud, Banks said the goal of winning back the majority “has nothing to do with the insurrection.”

The fading GOP establishment moves to support Cheney as Trump attacks and McCarthy keeps his distance

Cheney, who declined to be interviewed for this article, has previously said that Republicans must focus on policy prescriptions rather than embracing Trump in full to win back voters and must condemn the misinformation that fueled the attack on the Capitol. She has argued that while Trump did appeal strongly to the party’s base, he also hurt it with suburban women, independents and educated voters.

On Monday, Cheney told a closed-door conference hosted by the conservative American Enterprise Institute at Sea Island, Ga., that the party cannot accept the “poison” that the election was stolen, according to CNN.

“We can’t whitewash what happened on January 6 or perpetuate Trump’s big lie,” she said while being interviewed at the conference by former House speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.), according to the network. “It is a threat to democracy. What he did on January 6 is a line that cannot be crossed.”

Cheney’s few remaining allies were quick to defend her. Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (R-Ohio), who also voted to impeach Trump, told the Hill newspaper that she “is not the best fit” for the conference if the “prerequisite” to lead House Republicans “is lying to our voters.”

“Rep. Gonzalez’s quote sums things up well,” said Jeremy Adler, Cheney’s communications director.

Cheney is increasingly isolated from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who defended her when her leadership post was challenged earlier this year but is not expected to do so again.

One Republican leadership aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe internal party thinking, said they “wouldn’t be surprised” if a move against Cheney materializes, but there is no active plan to censure her or introduce a conference resolution to remove her from her leadership post.

Other than Cheney, the handful of GOP leaders who earlier this year also criticized Trump over his role in the Jan. 6 attack and for spreading falsehoods about the election have since backpedaled from those remarks or, like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), declined to address the issue again, saying they are focused on the future.

McCarthy, who was one of the congressional Republicans who voted to contest the election results, said in January that Trump “bears responsibility” for the attack, but he defended Trump’s response in a recent “Fox News Sunday” interview. At the House Republicans’ annual policy retreat last month, he also pointedly declined to say whether Cheney was still a “good fit” for the party’s leadership team.

“That’s a question for the conference,” McCarthy said, while also saying that anyone criticizing Trump over the Capitol riot, as Cheney had done, was “not being productive.”

The Republican caucus is keeping a watchful eye for any signals from McCarthy about how to approach Cheney. Members and aides who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal conversations said that the rank and file would fall in line and vote Cheney out of her leadership position if McCarthy were the one who decides such a vote is necessary.

McCarthy’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Cheney’s vote to impeach Trump prompts a voter rebellion in her home state

Ever since McCarthy and Cheney publicly disagreed on whether Trump should make an appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference in late February, the two have not appeared together at any in-person leadership news conferences.

The chilled relationship was visible ahead of Biden’s late-April address to a joint session of Congress, when members were huddling on the House floor but neither Cheney nor McCarthy approached each other.

Cheney’s fist bump with Biden that night angered some Republicans who pointed at the moment as a signal that Cheney sides more with Democrats than Trump even though she has been a reliable conservative on policy issues.

“Her first fist bump to Joe Biden was when she voted to impeach President Trump. That pictured first bump is just the one that made it public,” Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) said in a statement. The full House voted to strip Greene of her committee assignments earlier this year after a series of extremist comments.

In response to Republican attacks, Cheney tweeted a clarification that while she disagrees “strongly” with Biden’s policies, she does not regret reaching out to the president of the United States “in a civil, respectful & dignified way.”

“We’re different political parties. We’re not sworn enemies. We’re Americans,” she said.


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One of the greatest sins for Christians, according to the Bible, is to 'bear false witness' and to 'lie' ... If you do these things you can be a Repiglican and if you don't, if your honest, your will be expelled ...

Opinion: Elected Republicans are lying with open eyes. Their excuses are disgraceful

Opinion by Michael Gerson
Columnist
WA Post
May 4, 2021 at 11:35 p.m. GMT+3

“Lord, Lord, how this world is given to lying!”

— “Henry IV,” Part 1, Act 5

For the activist base of the Republican Party, affirming that Donald Trump won the 2020 presidential contest has become a qualification for membership in good standing. For the party’s elected leaders, accepting the clear result of a fair election is to be a rogue Republican like the indomitable Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.) — a target for Trump’s anger, public censure and primary threats.

Nothing about this is normal. The GOP is increasingly defined not by its shared beliefs, but by its shared delusions. To be a loyal Republican, one must be either a sucker or a liar. And because this defining falsehood is so obviously and laughably false, we can safely assume that most Republican leaders who embrace it fall into the second category. Knowingly repeating a lie — an act of immorality — is now the evidence of Republican fidelity.

This kind of determined mendacity requires rolling out the big guns. Said the prophet Isaiah: “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil.”

Moral clarity against lying is sometimes made harder by our loose application of the term. When public figures disagree with you in their analyses of tax policy, or welfare spending or Social Security reform, they’re generally not lying. They’re disagreeing. When it’s revealed that someone was previously wrong about an issue — even on a grave matter of national security — it doesn’t mean he or she was lying all along. It means that person was wrong.

“To preserve the meaning of words,” said Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.), “is the first responsibility of liberalism.” Precisely because principled disagreement is essential in a democracy, we can’t attribute every difference to deception. This form of false witness is a tool of polarization and a method of dehumanization.

It’s important to keep perspective about the stakes of any given lie. There is reason the English language has so many words to describe the shades of culpability in a deception. You can equivocate, or dissemble, or palter, or mislead, or prevaricate, or fib, or perjure. There are mortal lies and venial lies, cruel lies and merciful lies. Context matters.

Speaking of perjury, almost any GOP response to charges of deception will eventually include the words “Bill Clinton.” In a time of rampant whataboutism, Republicans often point out that Clinton was a spectacular liar defended by his party. What they fail to acknowledge is that many elected Democrats criticized his lying under oath, even as they opposed his impeachment. Clinton was not insisting his supporters share in his immorality to show their loyalty (though that might have had some appeal when it came to other human failures).

The context for Trump’s lies has been particularly damning. When Trump falsely asserted that Barack Obama was born in Africa and thus illegitimate as president, it was permission for racism. When he claimed he saw Muslims in New Jersey celebrating on Sept. 11, 2001, it was a vicious lie to feed a prejudice.

But the lie of a stolen election is the foundational falsehood of a political worldview. Believing it requires Trump’s followers to affirm the existence of a nationwide plot against him and his supporters — a plot led by ruthless Democrats and traitorous Republicans, and ignored or endorsed by useless courts and a complicit media. The claim’s plausibility is not the point. Does it really make sense that Attorney General William P. Barr, who found no evidence of election fraud that could have changed the result, was in on the plot? Were the conservative judges Trump appointed who dismissed his rubbish lawsuits really out to get him?

Such considerations don’t seem to matter. In the 1930s and ’40s, was it plausible that the democratic leaders of Weimar Germany had stabbed their own country in the back and betrayed its people? Or that an international conspiracy of powerful Jews was controlling world events?

Trump’s lie is not the moral equivalent of fascist propaganda. But it serves the same political function. A founding lie is intended to remove followers from the messy world of facts and evidence. It is designed to replace critical judgment with personal loyalty. It is supposed to encourage distrust of every source of social authority opposed to the leader’s shifting will.

The people who accepted this political mythology and stormed the Capitol were not lying about their views. They seemed quite sincere. And who knows what Trump really thinks? When a congenital liar surrounds himself with sycophantic liars, he can easily lose radio contact with reality.

No, it is the elected Republicans who are lying with open eyes, out of fear or cynicism, who have the most to atone for. With the health of U.S. democracy at stake, their excuses are disgraceful.

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Opinion: The only thing Republicans are debating is their degree of loyalty to Trump

Opinion by  Paul Waldman
Columnist
WA Post
May 4, 2021 at 7:55 p.m. GMT+3

Today’s Republican Party believes many things. Taxes should be lower, particularly for rich people; health and safety regulations are presumptively bad; we have too many immigrants; abortion should be outlawed; we shouldn’t do much about climate change; America is simultaneously the most perfect nation that has ever existed and a cesspool of depravity and cultural decline.

But to understand a political party, you have to know not just what they agree on but also what they fight about, and what moves from the realm of conflict to the realm of consensus.

As The Post reports, in states and counties and cities across the country, the Big Lie of the 2020 election — that Donald Trump won reelection handily but his victory was stolen from him — is being pushed by some who would like it to be moved from conflict to consensus. State and local party officials who admit Joe Biden is the legitimate president are being censured, harassed and driven from their jobs.

“He said the election was not rigged,” said one party activist in Michigan explaining the drive to remove the state GOP’s executive director. Obviously, that guy has got to go.

Within the party, that conflict is playing out everywhere. Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), the third-ranking House GOP leader, continues to face calls to step down after she voted to impeach Trump over the Jan. 6 insurrection; her support among her Republican colleagues seems to be waning.

In Utah, Sen. Mitt Romney was loudly booed and called a “traitor” and a “communist” at a state party convention on Saturday.

And Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) defended Cheney and Romney by urging Republicans to accept “differences,” adding: “We don’t want to become like too much of the Democratic Party, which has been taken over by the progressive left.” Who knows what would happen if extremists became influential in the Republican Party!

But Collins misunderstands what’s happening. The arguments among Republicans have nothing to do with policy or substance. There isn’t even any discernible difference between the alleged “moderates” who accept the reality of the 2020 election and the most conspiracy-minded Trumpites on the issue of voting rights: They all want to see ruthless voter-suppression laws passed and they all oppose Democrats’ efforts to reinforce voting rights.

Every Republican in Congress voted against the most recent covid-19 relief bill, and the same will probably be true of every other meaningful legislation of the next two years. In fact, it’s almost impossible to find a policy issue generating meaningful internal debate within the Republican Party.

You could try blaming that on the fact that the GOP is out of power. But that’s not the problem — when Democrats lose power, they have vigorous arguments about what their policy agenda should be when they get it back.

You can find the seeds of the GOP’s declining concern with policy in the presidencies of George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan, but it really accelerated with the generation of tea-party candidates who were elected beginning in 2010 in reaction to Barack Obama becoming president. Many had no prior government or elected experience and won on a promise to tear government down. And if all you want to do is destroy government, there’s only so much interest you’ll muster in how it works, let alone how it might be made to work better.

Then came the election of Trump, who may have cared less about policy than any one of his 44 predecessors. He stocked the federal government with grifters and extremists, while many of the GOP’s real wonks sat his administration out. Now the GOP is left without anything substantive to argue about. So they argue mainly about the degree of their loyalty to Trump.

Look at the emerging 2024 presidential candidates. They’re not competing or being defined by their visions for the future of the party and the country; there neither is nor will be any Bernie-Biden kind of ideological conflict in their primary campaign.

The key question is whose lib-owning credentials shine most brightly. Which governor signs the most draconian voter suppression bill and targets transgender kids with the maximum cruelty? Which senator flogs the latest inane culture war pseudo-controversy with the greatest gusto?

Democrats, meanwhile, continue to argue about policy — though process and strategy often swallow those arguments. They agree that the minimum wage should be raised, for instance, but differ on whether it should go to $11 or $15 an hour — and every policy question is quickly pulled into the argument over the status of the filibuster and whether bipartisanship is achievable.

If you were watching Fox News, you might think Democrats are tearing themselves apart over “wokeness,” defunding the police and Mr. Potato Head. But the truth is that those conflicts are largely ignored by the party and its elected representatives.

They play out in social media and in breathless reports on Fox and Newsmax. But they have barely anything to do with what the party is actually concerned about right now. That’s why Biden has near-total support from Democrats: So far he’s making progress on their substantive priorities, and the internally contentious issues like health care haven’t been tackled yet.

There’s little reason to believe any of this will change between now and 2024. Democrats will try to move forward on their agenda, debating policy and legislative strategy. At times those arguments could become intense. Republicans will argue about culture-war idiocy and compete to be the true inheritor of Trump’s toxic legacy. And the next election could look a lot like the last one.

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 Devastating CNN supercut shows Repiglicans crawling back to Trump after blasting him for inciting MAGA mob

Brad Reed
Raw Story
May 04, 2021

US President Donald Trump, just two weeks before leaving office, rallied his supporters in Washington on January 6, 2021, the day a mob of his supporters laid siege to the US Capitol, triggering a historic second impeachment and trial

The January 6th mob attack on the United States Capitol building briefly pushed Republican lawmakers to publicly criticize former President Donald Trump for his role in inciting the riot.

However, as a CNN supercut video that aired on Tuesday showed, Republicans have since come crawling back to the former president even though he put their personal safety at risk by unleashing a violent mob against them.

The video starts off with former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who said that Trump deserved to be impeached in the immediate aftermath of the riots, but who recently said that Trump deserved an "A" for his tenure in the Oval Office.

House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), meanwhile, accused Trump of not doing enough to stop the riots back in January, but last week claimed that Trump had immediately done everything he could have done to tell the rioters to go home.

Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), meanwhile, said that Trump had disqualified himself from federal office by inciting the mob, but then later said he would support Trump in 2024 if he were the nominee.

The most jarring of all, however, was former UN ambassador Nikki Haley, who initially excoriated Trump for his role in inciting the attack.

"He's fallen so far," she said at the time. "We need to acknowledge he let us down. He went down a path he shouldn't have and we shouldn't have followed him, and we shouldn't have listened to him, and we cannot let that happen again."

Weeks later, however, Haley revealed that she wouldn't run for president if Trump ran in 2024 out of deference to her former boss.

Watch: https://youtu.be/AetJ4-pFmsg


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« Reply #23 on: May 04, 2021, 06:04 AM »

 Hypocrite-in-chief McConnell reaches new heights with claim Biden commission will 'politicize' the Supreme Court

AlterNet
May 04, 2021

William Hazlitt: "The only vice which cannot be forgiven is hypocrisy. The repentance of a hypocrite is itself hypocrisy" That's why hypocrisy cavorts with notorious cousins: fraud and knavery. Rank stupidity (like Trump's) doesn't quite compete because world-class hypocrites thrive only when inventing plausible scenarios – and Trump's fraudulence quickly exposes itself: he is manifestly the same scurrilous person inside and out. No wonder Trump and Mitch 'i have no soul, only a rancid abscess' McConnell can't stand each other: they honor different devils.

Thus emerges the reigning Hypocrite-in-chief: Senator Mitch McConnell. In April the most visible GOP leader -- and icon of special big business interests -- provided this farce: he was shocked, shocked to discover that wary corporations could not abide wholesale, Republican voter suppression in Georgia. Without missing a beat a week later he coughed up that Biden's modest, 36 member (!) Supreme Court Commission "fits squarely within liberals' years-long campaign to politicize the Court." Squarely? Liberals'? Years-long campaign? Politicize? Is this a new form of self-satire?

Judicial Snub for the Ages

With mastery in politicizing the federal judiciary, McConnell wedged through more rightwing judges in the last four years than anyone in modern history. Two ignoble Supreme justices owe elevation to McConnell. Nothing is sacred for this double-dealer who degraded court justice as just another power play in which the end justifies criminal means. No other American politician dared refuse for eight months even a hearing for Obama's mandated Merrick Garland nomination, thus blocking the most important Constitutional privilege awarded every president: to pick high court judges.

Is there any doubt such manipulation stands among the most corrupt Senate moves in history, a sabotage of procedural justice? Not only did McConnell block Obama's nomination but ended up installing Neil Gorsuch, an unsavory, regressive choice installed for decades. Staining both the country and the Supreme Court, McConnell fabricated a stolen payoff for rightwing ideologues. Prior attempts to "pack the Court" (though legal) pale compared to this outlandish maneuver, all the worse because it succeeded. If "gerrymandering" the high court is not a high crime that invites indictment, what is?

As the Wash Post summarized, "Garland will be remembered as the Supreme Court nominee who dangled in the wind for eight months in 2016, waiting for a Senate hearing that never came. To Democrats, it was an outrage and a raw display of political power. To Republicans, it was an election-year gamble that paid off." Almost as bad is what McConnell had to do to deliver, per NPR, "Senate Pulls 'Nuclear' Trigger To Ease Gorsuch Confirmation.

On top of the atrocious Garland postponement, McConnell sidetracked the 60 vote filibuster rule on top court picks with a "nuclear" Senate change: a simple majority to approve Supreme Court justices. That's a big deal as far short of 60 senators supported Gorsuch, as a judge and a slippery character. McConnell's filibuster ploy is all the more outrageous considering today's ardent GOP defenses of the hallowed 60 vote filibuster. Thus was the Constitution and the Senate degraded, Garland robbed and Gorsuch awarded a lifetime appointment. And now the Great Court Manipulator has the infinite gall to posit that Biden is the culprit politicizing the Supreme Court.

Next chapter verifying McConnell hypocrisy involved the 11th hour (of the Trump presidency) assault on justice and fairness, if not grade-school consistency. That's when McConnell pushed through Amy Coney Barrett after Justice Ginsberg died only weeks before the upcoming 2020 election. So much for the gist of McConnell's earlier hypocrisy with Garland: "eleven months is too close to the next election to pick a new justice. Let the people decide. Why rush?" McConnell pretense was on full display when he saw a tiny opening to anoint Barrett, squeezed through with a rush to fill Ginsberg's empty chair.

Even if he did nothing else for the next three years, Biden could not approach the iniquity of the McConnell rampage against justice, tradition, and democratic interests of a vast majority. McConnell didn't just politicize the selection of justices – he corrupted the entire process, thus empowering suspect, undeserving Supreme Court justices until they die or resign, long after Mitch is gone, even in his grave.

P.S. Biden's proposed Supreme Court commission "may be a dud," or more about appearance than highly justified Supreme Court reform. Per Ian Millhiser in Vox and Jonathan Turley in The Hill, no strong proponents of Supreme Court reform populates this commission. Clearly, the White House "prioritized bipartisanship and star power within the legal academy over choosing people who have actually spent a meaningful amount of time advocating for Supreme Court reforms," Millhiser writes. Notably, members of the rightwing Federalist Society approved commission choices, signaling its paper tiger status.


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« Reply #24 on: May 04, 2021, 01:24 PM »

The GOP is a 'diseased' and 'dangerous' party that is becoming even worse in the wake of Trump's defeat: longtime Republican operative

Eric W. Dolan
Raw Story
May 04, 2021

The Republican Party is now a threat to American democracy, according to evangelical conservative and former George W. Bush administration official Peter Wehner.

Wehner told CNN on Tuesday that he was not surprised at the reception that Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) received when he was booed at a recent Utah GOP convention.

"Mitt Romney has been another profile in courage," he said. "There are not many in the Republican Party. Adam Kinzinger is one, Romney, another, Liz is a third. I'm glad they're speaking out because it's important to be faithful to what you know to be true."

"But, look, this caucus, this truth caucus could fit in a phone booth these days for the Republican Party," Wehner continued. "And oddly, you know, it is almost as if Donald Trump and in last year or so, we might look back and say that he was a restraining force on the madness in the Republican Party. And that once he left, those poisons that had been unleashed just spread further and further."

"So… it's a diseased party and it's a dangerous party, and I am thankful for Liz Cheney and for Mitt Romney for speaking out," Wehner said. "I wish more would join them. But the Republican Party having essentially accepted Donald Trump's corruptions for the last five years became complicit in those corruptions and he became them. "

"There was all this talk during the Trump presidency that there would be restraining forces on Trump and that he would become more like them. In fact, it was the other way around. They have become like him, and it's a very, very sad thing to see."

Watch: https://youtu.be/CoIzxWB6b2g

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 GOP's embrace of election lies is the 'most dangerous development' in US politics 'since 1860': Ex-GOP strategist

Brad Reed
Raw Story
May 04, 2021

House Republicans might remove Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) from her leadership position over her refusal to stop criticizing former President Donald Trump, and one former Republican strategist thinks this would be yet another ominous development for the country.

Reacting to comments made by Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) about Cheney losing the confidence of her fellow Republicans during a Fox News interview, former Republican Stuart Stevens wrote on Twitter that the entire party seems to be making a belief in Trump's lies about the "stolen" 2020 election into a litmus test for their members.

"It's a requirement now of [the] Republican Party to assert we do not have a legally elected president and don't live in a democracy," Stevens wrote. "This is the most profound and dangerous development in American politics since 1860. We cannot look the other way. This is a clear and present threat."
On the Raw Story Podcast: Marcus Flowers
Marjorie Taylor Green's worst nightmare

Cheney this week has refused to back down from her criticisms of Trump and reportedly told her fellow Republicans that embracing Trump's false "stolen election" narrative is "a poison in the bloodstream of our democracy."


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« Reply #25 on: May 05, 2021, 02:10 AM »

What is creatine: the most studied sports supplement

In an industry filled with fakes and scams, creatine monohydrate is like a breath of fresh air.

Tibi Puiu   
ZME
May 5, 2021

There’s no shortage of fitness and dietary supplements on the market, many of which are spiked with drug ingredients not advertised on their labels, misleading claims, and other risks. Roughly three in four Americans now use some form of supplementation on a regular basis, from multivitamins and probiotics to botanicals and protein powders.

But out of the thousands of products now on the market, creatine monohydrate is arguably the most legitimate supplement. It is widely used by athletes and bodybuilders to enhance strength, improve performance, and gain muscle mass.

According to a 2007 statement by the International Society of Sports Nutrition, experts consider creatine to be the most effective nutritional supplement for boosting athletic performance in terms of increasing high-intensity exercise capacity and lead body mass.

Creatine is one of the most widely studied supplements in sports medicine, with hundreds of studies thus far showing that its short- and long-term use is safe with no detrimental effects in otherwise healthy individuals.

What is creatine anyway?

Creatine is an amino acid found in the body’s muscles, as well as the brain, that helps to supply energy. Creatine is naturally found in red meat (i.e. beef and pork) and fish, although the levels obtained from these sources are generally far below those found in synthetic creatine supplements. The liver, pancreas, and kidneys also naturally produce creatine from protein in food, at a rate of about one gram per day.

More than 95% of the creatine found in your body is stored in muscles in the form of phosphocreatine, while the rest is found in the brain, kidneys, and liver.

When required, phosphocreatine is broken down to help the body produce more adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the primary carrier of energy in cells. The more ATP is readily available, the better equipped the body is to withstand intense exercise.

What are the effects of creatine on the body?

Creatine helps fuel our muscles, which is why people use it as a supplement to boost their athletic performance in the gym. Since creatine helps you clock in more reps and lift more, it promotes more muscle fiber tears, which the body can then repair and rebuild bigger and stronger as long the rest of your nutrition is on point. In other words, creatine makes you stronger, which means more muscle mass over time.

Besides more workload, the increased levels of phosphocreatine stored in your muscles can improve cell signaling, which aids muscle repair and growth. There is also evidence that creatine boosts muscle growth by reducing muscle breakdown and reducing myostatin levels.

A 2003 review of the scientific literature involving more than 500 studies on creatine found that short-term creatine supplementation improves maximal power/strength by 5% to 15%, work performed during sets of maximal effort muscle contractions by 5% to 15%, single-effort sprint performance by 1%-5%, and work performed during repetitive sprint performance by 5%-15%.

    “Moreover, creatine supplementation during training has been reported to promote significantly greater gains in strength, fat-free mass, and performance primarily of high-intensity exercise tasks. Although not all studies report significant results, the preponderance of scientific evidence indicates that creatine supplementation appears to be a generally effective nutritional ergogenic aid for a variety of exercise tasks in a number of athletic and clinical populations,” the authors of the review added.

While loading up on creatine, people will also experience some weight gain — but not fat. Most people will gain between two and four pounds due to water retention in their first four weeks, making your muscles look bigger and fuller. Creatine contains zero calories so it can’t have any impact on your fat metabolism.

Aside from athletic performance, studies have linked creatine intake with improvements in age-related decline in skeletal muscle and bone mineral density, performance in cognitive tasks, and skin aging (when using a cream containing creatine) in terms of reducing skin sag and wrinkles in men.
Is creatine good for gaining muscle mass?

Many bodybuilders supplement with creatine monohydrate. A 2018 study that assessed the effect of a 4-week creatine supplementation in subjects who followed a complex training program three days per week concluded “that creatine supplementation combined with complex training improved maximal muscular strength and reduced muscle damage during training.”

Creatine supplements do not lead to an increase in muscle mass on their own — they’re not anabolic steroids. Instead, the phosphocreatine stored in the muscles releases extra ATP during high-intensity exercise, which allows athletes to perform more work, ultimately leading to more muscle mass when torn fibers repair. In some instances, creatine supplementation can lead to up to three times as much change in muscle fiber size as working out without supplementation.

Creatine also has other benefits for the body’s muscles. It may increase levels of IGF-1, considered a key hormone for muscle growth.

Is creatine safe?

Creatine has an outstanding safety profile. Although there have been anecdotal claims that creatine can cause dehydration, cramping, liver and kidney damage, and gastrointestinal distress, studies have shown that athletes who take creatine monohydrate have no greater, and a possibly lower, risk of these side effects than those who do not use the supplement.

Widespread use of creatine started in the 1990s, and so far no long-term side effects have been observed in athletes or the general population.

In certain situations, such as in patients with creatine synthesis deficiency, muscular dystrophy, diabetes, or those suffering orthopedic injury, creatine supplementation has medical uses.

In conjunction with short- and long-term studies in healthy populations, the evidence suggests that creatine supplementation appears to be safe when taken within recommended usage guidelines.

Creatine supplementation is not currently banned by any athletic organization. The International Olympic Committee has ruled that there was no need to ban creatine supplements since creatine is readily found in meat and fish and there is no valid test to determine whether athletes are taking it.

    “It is the position of the International Society of Sports Nutrition that the use of creatine as a nutritional supplement within established guidelines is safe, effective, and ethical. Despite lingering myths concerning creatine supplementation in conjunction with exercise, CM remains one of the most extensively studied, as well as effective, nutritional aids available to athletes. Hundreds of studies have shown the effectiveness of CM supplementation in improving anaerobic capacity, strength, and lean body mass in conjunction with training. In addition, CM has repeatedly been reported to be safe, as well as possibly beneficial in preventing injury. Finally, the future of creatine research looks bright in regard to the areas of transport mechanisms, improved muscle retention, as well as treatment of numerous clinical maladies via supplementation,” said the International Society of Sports Nutrition in a joint statement.

What form of creatine should you take?

Not all creatine supplements are the same. The most widely studied and endorsed supplement is creatine monohydrate, which is available in powder, liquid, and pill form.

However, the powdered form may be the most effective. Previous studies have shown that liquid creatine and creatine ethyl ester can break down in the blood system.

Some companies add other ingredients besides creatine, such as electrolytes, fruit juice, and other substances. There is little evidence these extra ingredients help, and most research that found evidence of improved athletic performance from creatine intake did so for the 100% pure creatine powder form. As such, this is the most advisable form of creatine.
How much creatine should you take?

It takes a while before creatine stores in the muscles reach optimal levels for enhanced performance. According to a review by the International Society of Sports Nutrition, the fastest way to increase muscle creatine is to consume approximately 0.3 grams of creatine monohydrate per kg per day. Per these guidelines, an average adult weighing 70kg would have to load up on 20 grams of creatine for three days. Afterwards, elevated stores can be maintained with 3 to 5 grams of creatine per day.

Even less creatine supplementation can have a dramatic effect on your muscle stores. A 1996 study found that a 6-day creatine load at 20 grams per day increases muscle total creatine concentration by 20%. This elevated concentration was maintained when supplementation was continued at a rate of 2 g/day for a further 30 days.

The bottom line: creatine monohydrate is the most studied supplement meant for enhancing athletic performance. Evidence suggests creatine supplementation improves strength, endurance, and muscle mass growth. It is safe to consume by healthy individuals, but as with any other supplement, it is best to opt for moderation.


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« Reply #26 on: May 05, 2021, 02:13 AM »

Vital soil organisms being harmed by pesticides, study shows

The tiny creatures are the ‘unsung heroes’ that keep soils healthy and underpin all life on land

Damian Carrington Environment editor
Guardian
5 May 2021 05.00 BST

Pesticides are causing widespread damage to the tiny creatures that keep soils healthy and underpin all life on land, according to the first comprehensive review of the issue.

The researchers found the measured impacts of farm chemicals on earthworms, beetles, springtails and other organisms were overwhelmingly negative. Other scientists said the findings were alarming, given the importance of these “unsung heroes”.

The analysis warned that soil organisms are rarely considered when assessing the environmental impact of pesticides. The US, for example, only tests chemicals on honey bees, which may never come into contact with soil, an approach described as “crazy”.

A UN report published in December found that the future looked “bleak” for soils without urgent action to halt degradation, given that it takes thousands of years for new soils to form. Soils are thought to contain nearly a quarter of all the planet’s biodiversity.

Nathan Donley, at the Center for Biological Diversity in the US and an author of the new review, said: “The level of harm we’re seeing is much greater than I thought it would be. Soils are incredibly important. But how pesticides can harm soil invertebrates gets a lot less coverage than pollinators, mammals and birds – it’s incredibly important that changes.”

“Beetles and springtails have enormous impacts on the porosity of soil and are really getting hammered, and earthworms are definitely getting hit as well,” he said. “A lot of people don’t know that most bees nest in the soil, so that’s a major pathway of exposure for them.”

Prof Dave Goulson, at the University of Sussex, UK, and not part of the study team, said: “The findings of harmful effects on soil organisms from the large majority of pesticides tested is alarming, given the vital importance of these ‘unsung heroes’ in keeping the soil healthy.”

The analysis, published in the journal Frontiers in Environmental Science, systematically reviewed nearly 400 studies of the effects of pesticides on non-target invertebrates that live at least part of their lives in the soil. It covered more than 275 species and 284 pesticides, but excluded any chemicals currently banned in the US.

The studies provided more than 2,800 “tested parameters”, where a specific pesticide had been tested on a specific organism for a particular feature, such as mortality, abundance, behaviour, reproduction, and biochemical and morphological changes.

The scientists found 71% of the tested parameters showed negative effects from pesticide exposure, while 28% showed no significant effects and 1% showed positive effects. For example, 84% of the tested parameters in earthworms were negatively affected by the most-common classes of insecticides. Some herbicides and fungicides also harmed earthworms.

Donley said: “It’s not just one or two pesticides that are causing harm, the results are really very consistent across the whole class of chemical poisons.” A 2012 review showed that pesticides can also harm microbial life in soils.

Review studies may be affected by so-called publication bias, if researchers have tended to publish only those experiments that show a striking result. But Matt Shardlow, at the charity Buglife in the UK, said: “The answer is clear here – the distribution of outcomes in published studies is massively weighted on the negative side.”

“The high level of negative effects on reproduction across the board is one of the most concerning results they highlight,” he said. “It also transpires that fungicides are almost as bad as insecticides for soil animals. This is not surprising as earthworms, woodlice, millipedes and springtails feed largely on fungi on decaying vegetable matter.”

“We all want fertile agricultural soils, but this shows that the pesticides we are applying are assaulting the fertility of the animals that live in the soil,” Shardlow said. “If we want to protect healthy soils we do need to take soil organisms into consideration when deciding if a pesticide is safe to use.”

In the US, the only organism pesticides are tested on are honey bees, said Donley: “It’s crazy to have a single species that may never come into contact with soil in its entire life as a proxy for every terrestrial invertebrate out there. You might as well use a fish.” Pesticide regulation is generally even less strict in less developed nations, despite agriculture making up a bigger part of their economies.

Europe Union pesticide regulations do include tests on one species of mite, springtail and earthworm, and on microbial activity. Further tests on a woodlouse and symbiotic fungi are also being considered. “That’s good, but I’d still like to see more,” said Donley.

CropLife America, which represents pesticide companies, did not respond to a request for comment.


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« Reply #27 on: May 05, 2021, 02:14 AM »


Genetically modified grass saves soils destroyed by military target practice

GMOs to the rescue!

Alexandru Micu   
ZME
4/5/2021

A common species of prairie grass can help clean soils of dangerous chemicals released by military-grade compounds, a new paper reports. The only catch (at least, in the eyes of some), is that we need to genetically modify it for the task.

Genetically modified (GM) switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) can be used to purge soils of RDX residues, according to new research. RDX belongs to the nitramide chemical family, is flavorless, odorless, and extremely explosive. Pound for pound, it’s more powerful than dynamite. Given its high stability and ability to explode hard, RDX was in use in military-grade munitions during (and since) WW2. You’ve probably heard of C-4; RDX is its main component, alongside some plasticizing agents.

One downside of using RDX on a wide scale (that, admittedly, wouldn’t factor in very much during an active conflict) is that it can be quite damaging to the environment. In particular, compounds produced by RDX after it detonates (in combat or in firing ranges) spread around the point of impact and accumulate in groundwater, where they can pose a very real threat to any humans or wildlife they come into contact with. RDX stored in munition dumps, buried in minefields, or in rounds discarded improperly will also leech such compounds into their environment.

Genetically modified help

However, one species that’s traditionally employed against soil erosion can be modified to remove these compounds from the soil. The study, led by members at the University of York, has shown that this approach has promise at least when talking about the land on live-fire training ranges, munitions dumps, and minefields. Theoretically, however, it should be applicable wherever switchgrass can grow.

    “The removal of the toxic RDX from training ranges is logistically challenging and there is currently a lack of cost-effective and sustainable solutions,” explains Dr. Liz Rylott from the Department of Biology and Director of the Centre for Novel Agricultural Products (CNAP), co-author of the study.

    “Our research demonstrates how the expression, in switchgrass, of two bacterial genes that have evolved specifically to degrade RDX gives the plants the ability to remove and metabolize RDX in the field at concentrations relevant to live-fire military ranges. We demonstrated that by inserting these genes into switchgrass, the plant then had the ability to degrade RDX to non-detectable levels in the plant tissue.”

RDX-bearing ammo is still commonly used at firing ranges for training purposes, and has been for several decades already. This has led to high and widespread levels of groundwater contamination around such sites, which is never good news.

The authors explain that their approach involved grafting two genes from bacteria that are known to break down RDX into switchgrass. These plants — essentially GMOs at this point — were then grown on contaminated soil at one US military site. The plants grew well and had degraded the targeted compounds below detectable in their own tissues levels by the end of the experiment.

All in all, the grass degraded RDX at a rate of 27 kgs per hectare, which isn’t bad at all. According to the team, this is the most successful attempt to use plants to clean organic pollutants in the field to date. Processes that use plants for this purpose are collectively known as phytoremediation, and they’re a subset of the greater field of bioremediation, which involves the use of any type of organism or biological process for this task.

The findings here are of particular interest as organic pollutants, in general, tend to interact heavily with their environment (meaning they cause quite a lot of damage) while also being resistant to natural degradation processes (meaning they last for a long time in the wild). RDX in particular is of growing concern in the US. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has it designated as a priority pollutant, with more than 10 million hectares of military land in the US being contaminated with weapons-associated compounds, RDX making up a sizable chunk of that contamination.

    “The recalcitrance of RDX to degradation in the environment, combined with its high mobility through soil and groundwater, mean that plumes of toxic RDX continue to spread below these military sites, threatening drinking water supplies,” explains Professor Neil Bruce, also from CNAP, the study’s corresponding author.

One example the paper cites is that plumes of RDX pollution were found in groundwater and aquifers beneath the Massachusetts Military Reservation training range in Cape Cod back in 1997. This aquifer was, in effect, the only source of drinking water for half a million people, and the discovery prompted the EPA to ban the use of all live ammo during training at this site.

The paper “Field trial demonstrating phytoremediation of the military explosive RDX by XplA/XplB-expressing switchgrass” has been published in the journal Nature Biotechnology.


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« Reply #28 on: May 05, 2021, 02:18 AM »

Rich nations’ climate targets will mean global heating of 2.4C – study

Rise is a 0.2C improvement on previous forecast but still substantially above goal of Paris climate agreement

Fiona Harvey Environment correspondent
Guardian
5 May 2021 10.30 BST

New climate targets announced by the US and other rich nations in recent weeks have put the world on track for global heating of about 2.4C by – the end of the century, research has found.

That is a 0.2C improvement on the previous forecast of 2.6C, but still substantially above the Paris goal of holding temperature rises to no more than 2C above pre-industrial levels, with an aspiration to limit heating to 1.5C.

Analysts have said the goals will still be within reach if key countries step up with better plans and if all countries bring forward new policies to meet their commitments.

The forecasts from the Climate Action Tracker are necessarily uncertain, but the figures give an idea both of the importance of the contribution by the US – the world’s second biggest emitter – and other rich nations in setting fresh emissions targets, and of how much more remains to be done to meet the Paris goals.

Tougher targets from China, the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitter, and other countries will be needed to keep the Paris goals within reach, the analysis found.

While countries responsible for nearly three-quarters of global emissions have set or are considering goals to reduce carbon to net zero, Climate Action Tracker found that for most countries, policies are lagging well behind targets.

Many countries’ policies do not yet match their pledges. The analysis found that based on current policies, the world would be expected to warm by 2.9C.

Bill Hare, the chief executive of Climate Analytics, one of the two organisations behind the tracker, said: “It is clear the Paris agreement is driving change, spurring governments to adopt stronger targets, but there is still some way to go, especially given that most governments don’t yet have policies in place to meet their pledges. Governments must urgently step up their action.”

At the White House summit, the US pledged to halve its emissions by 2030, compared with 2005 levels. Canada also submitted a tougher emissions target and Japan, South Africa and Argentina promised to increase their ambition. China, the world’s biggest emitter, restated a promise on curbing future coal use.

Ahead of the Cop26 UN climate talks to be held in Glasgow this November, countries are expected to come up with fresh plans to cut their carbon between now and 2030.

This decade is regarded as crucial for climate action, because if emissions continue to rise for the next 10 years, as they have in previous decades, there will be little chance of holding temperature rises within the Paris limits, which represent the threshold of safety beyond which climate breakdown is likely to become catastrophic and irreversible.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has found that emissions should be roughly halved in the next 10 years, to avoid temperature rises above 1.5C.

China is the biggest emitter yet to produce a national plan for the next 10 years, called a nationally determined contribution (NDC). India, South Korea, New Zealand, Turkey and Saudi Arabia are also among the scores of countries still to submit plans.

Countries responsible for about half of global emissions have submitted NDCs so far, but many are under pressure to toughen them as some are regarded as too weak, including Australia, Russia, Mexico and Brazil.

Niklas Höhne of NewClimate Institute, also a partner in the Climate Action Tracker, said governments were still moving too slowly and needed to emulate the swift response to Covid-19, by treating the climate as a crisis. “Only if all governments flip into emergency mode and propose and implement more short-term action [can] global emissions still be halved in the next 10 years,” he said.

This week, countries will meet again for the Petersberg dialogue, a climate meeting held by the German government at which some EU countries may come forward with strengthened offers of climate finance to the developing world. Climate finance is regarded as essential to put poor countries on track to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and to cope with the impacts of climate breakdown, but so far offers from rich countries have fallen short of what experts say is needed.


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« Reply #29 on: May 05, 2021, 02:23 AM »

Taliban tribunal gives woman 40 lashes for talking to a man on the phone

Agence France-Presse
5/5/2021

It only took 80 seconds for two men to rain down 40 lashes on the woman huddled on her knees as a large crowd looked on. The video of the brutal sentence carried out on an Afghan woman was filmed near Herat and posted on Facebook on April 13. It is a painful reminder of the continued operation of Taliban "courts", even though they have been banned. For our Observer, it also symbolizes the failure of the Afghan government.

According to our Observers, this footage is from late 2020, though it hasn't been possible to determine the precise date the incident occured. This date range was confirmed by the governor of Herat on April 15. The video was first posted online on April 13, sparking widespread shock and outrage. The incident took place in Haftgola located near Herat in the Obe district.

A man with a white beard leads the woman, who is covered by a burqa, into the centre of a circle formed by local men who are there to witness the punishment being carried out. One of the Taliban "judges" led the victim into the centre of a group of men.

This video, showing the brutal sentence being carried out on an Afghan woman, was filmed near Herat and posted on Facebook on April 13.This video, showing the brutal sentence being carried out on an Afghan woman, was filmed near Herat and posted on Facebook on April 13. © The Observers

After leading the victim into the centre of the circle of spectators, the man with the white beard joins three other men in the circle. They are the "elders", the self-proclaimed judges who delivered the woman's sentence.

The victim is forced to kneel and a man starts to whip her. After a while, another man takes over. In between the victim's cries of pain, you can hear her saying, "I repent … it's my fault … I messed up."

This video, showing the brutal sentence being carried out on an Afghan woman, was filmed near Herat and posted on Facebook on April 13.This video, showing the brutal sentence being carried out on an Afghan woman, was filmed near Herat and posted on Facebook on April 13. © Observers

According to our Observers, this young woman was accused of "immoral relations" because she spoke on the phone with a young man. The man was also arrested and is being held in a Taliban prison.

The Taliban court meets three times a week in the district of Obe, on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. They deal with complaints filed by locals. Our Observers say that this system exists nearly everywhere in Afghanistan. Sometimes videos of the punishments inflicted by these courts emerge on social media or local media outlets.

These self-proclaimed judges carried out the sentence.These self-proclaimed judges carried out the sentence. © The Observers

Back in 2015, a video emerged on social media showing a woman referred to only as "Rokshana" being stoned, a punishment handed down to her by a Taliban tribunal. The video got international attention.

Other cases also have been reported in Afghan media. In September 2015, a Taliban tribunal in Sarpol province called for the stoning of a man and woman accused of adultery. Around the same time, another man and woman were shot to death over similar accusations in Ghor. In September 2020, a woman was killed in Sarpol.
"We are afraid to return to the dark days of the Taliban government"

Atefa Ghafouri is a women's rights activist in Herat.

Two members of the Taliban deliver 40 lashes to their victim, a woman who is kneeling, as a crowd looks on.Two members of the Taliban deliver 40 lashes to their victim, a woman who is kneeling, as a crowd looks on. © Observers

    All of the men who attended the whipping were ordinary citizens, just people who live in the area. Lots of Afghans, especially those in rural regions, support these tribunals. In many parts of Afghanistan, the government has zero presence. There is no court where you can go and file a complaint. And even when there is some kind of court, the judicial proceedings are long and expensive, because you have to pay bribes so that someone actually works on your file.
    So, unfortunately, the only alternative is a Taliban court, which also happens to be rapid and free. People turn to these tribunals and find solutions for their conflicts and that builds legitimacy. The Taliban then impose their rules. The first victims of this system are women.
    Moreover, the Afghan government's inaction makes these tribunals even more powerful. The men who officiate over these so-called trials feel untouchable. And they are. The authorities have never arrested or even questioned anyone in connection to these tribunals. It's as if it is totally accepted. As if the government divided the country in two. One part that the government controls and another where the Taliban are in charge, with their own rules.
    I asked the government why they aren't going after these people. Even in the cases that get the most media attention, like the killing of a woman named Farkhonda, none of the people who murdered her went to prison. [Editor's note: Farkhonda was wrongly accused of burning a copy of the Koran and was killed, then her body was burned].

"With a government that includes members of the Taliban, what will happen to us?"

    After 20 years of foreign intervention in Afghanistan and billions of dollars spent, the situation has only gotten worse for women. Especially when we look at these so-called negotiations between the United States, the Afghan government and the Taliban [Editor's note: The first discussions took place in September 2019. The next session is scheduled to start in Turkey in mid-May.
    We women are afraid that the Afghan government is going to sell our rights to the Taliban in order to sign a peace agreement. With a government that includes members of the Taliban, what will happen to us? We are afraid of returning to the dark days of the 1990s under the Taliban government. The extremists are constantly gaining ground. For example, they put posters in the street that instruct women to wear hijabs.
    The Taliban claim to have changed their position on women's rights. But how can we believe them when we see them organise these tribunals with these kinds of punishments literally every day, all over the country? When they continue to assassinate women police officers, journalists and activists?

    The US army has spent nearly 20 years in Afghanistan and has poured almost one trillion of dollars into the conflict.There are no statistics about the number of women subject to rulings by these tribunals. Afghanistan is considered one of the worst countries in the world for women's rights.


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