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As one of the world’s biggest consumers of seafood, and with our love of buying live fish, Hongkongers are pushing many endangered reef species closer to extinction. We talk to conservationists about how to ensure sustainability

It’s 7.30am and the Aberdeen wholesale fish market is buzzing, the air a heady mix of fish and diesel fumes. Boats are “bumper-to-bumper” as fishermen negotiate prices before loading their catches into styrofoam boxes of oxygenated water and onto trucks for distribution to restaurants and markets (more than 70 per cent of the city’s live seafood is traded in Aberdeen).

Every day the market opens at 4am and about 60 to 110 fishing vessels unload about 50 to 80 tonnes of seafood. It might sound like a lot but Hongkongers are big consumers – the second-biggest in Asia (behind Japan), and eighth in the world. Hongkongers also like to see their fish alive, preferably swimming in a tank at a restaurant or wet market.

But environmentalist Doug Woodring, founder of charity Ocean Recovery Alliance, wants to remind people that the fish in those tanks aren’t sourced from local waters, or nearby in the South China Sea. They come from fish farms or are imported from Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and “other spots in that region popular with Hongkongers who love to snorkel with those very same fish while on holiday”.

“Our consumption is depleting these areas that we visit on holiday,” says Woodring, adding that fishing in local waters stopped in the 1980s as a result of over fishing.

Government figures show Hong Kong imports live reef food fish (LRFF) from more than 40 countries and territories worldwide, a reason why Hong Kong plays a vital role in driving the sustainable trade and consumption of seafood, says Allen To, manager, oceans sustainability, for the WWF.

“As much as 90 per cent of the seafood consumed in Hong Kong is from overseas, and we consume a lot, so our footprint is big because it’s sourced from more than 170 territories and countries worldwide,” he says.

Wandering through the Aberdeen market To spots a fish.
Exposed: the illegal Hong Kong trade in endangered coral reef fish

“That’s a squaretail coralgrouper and it’s listed as ‘vulnerable’ by the IUCN,” says To, referring to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, a conservation group seen as a critical indicator of the health of the world’s biodiversity. “It’s also a globally threatened species because of a serious decline in its wild population.”

To says many globally threatened species like the squaretail coralgrouper are traded and consumed in Hong Kong. Others include bluefin tuna, some eel species, and golden threadfin bream. But he says the sellers are not breaking any law as the IUCN is not legally binding. Species listed by Cites, (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) are, however, and under Cites, the humphead wrasse – also known as Napoleon fish and a species that is at times sold and eaten in Hong Kong – is the only one listed.

“More species need to be added to Cites, but it’s a long process,” says To, adding the government should value the IUCN Red List the same as it does any Cites list, considering Hong Kong is a key trader of some of these species.

Last week ChooseRightToday.org, a platform that educates consumers about sustainable seafood, released a LRFF wet market survey that found 17 species of live reef fish listed as Threatened, Endangered or Vulnerable under the IUCN, were being sold in Hong Kong.

The survey was conducted from January to June at two local wet markets – Tai Po Market and Yeung Uk Road Market. It found seven threatened species, five vulnerable species, and two endangered species, including groupers and a wrasse species and a shark.

“These results indicate a need for urgent and collective conservation action from the government and the general population,” said Choose Right Today.

The WWF is spreading the sustainable word by working with suppliers and restaurants so “they can source alternative, more responsible, more sustainable seafood”.

As an example, To cites the pompano. “If it’s locally farmed, attaining a certain kind of certification, we recognise it as more sustainable.”

Farmed fishing is not the answer either, with poor practices resulting in the pollution of local waters with chemicals and antibiotics. Many farmed fish are fed with other wild-caught fish.

Helping make decisions easier is a WWF “Guide for Hong Kong”, that covers more than 70 popular seafood species found in local wet markets, supermarkets, frozen food shops and restaurants. It’s divided into “Green-Recommended”, “Yellow-Think Twice” and “Red-Avoid” categories. Woodring says people should also refer to the website Choose Right Today.

But supermarkets and markets can’t always be trusted.

In 2016, a WWF study discovered the mislabelling of LRFF in many local supermarkets (one supermarket even misidentified a species as a more expensive one, effectively overcharging consumers).

The only think that is clear, it seems, is that making informed choices about sustainable seafood is complicated.

Woodring wants the government to get tough and tighten import regulations.

“The city’s free trading port and laissez-faire economy is the worst mix for the environment, leading to Hong Kong being one of the worst places in the world for wildlife trade and overfishing,” he says.

“It doesn’t regulate enough, or check what’s coming in or going out, because the feeling is hands-off, just the minimum of international regulations and that’s it. Even China has more regulations than Hong Kong.”
Diners not eating enough sustainable seafood, says WWF-Hong Kong

He says airlines can play a bigger role by implementing better labelling of its cargo.

“Airlines need to know their cargo, and know the source of this cargo, … with some due diligence, we can make sure we are not raping and pillaging the places these airlines take tourists to in the first place.”

A question mark also hovers over the method of fishing.

“Another problem in places such as Indonesia is that cyanide or dynamite are used to catch or stun fish. This is very bad for diving and tourism – and for the long-term health of the reef.

“But the ‘middlemen’ fishermen, they come to these local communities and deplete that reef of those species, then move to the next island and the next reef, leaving local people with nothing.

Chef David Lai of Fish School in Sai Ying Pun has a simple solution: eat less fish.

It’s midday on a Tuesday and Lai is making his daily rounds at the Ap Lei Chau fish market. His menu is free of threatened species, and he only serves fish caught locally. His sustainable secret is to know what is in season after “observing the market over time”.

“I look at what the older generations and housewives buy – they know what is in season. Another clue is when you see one type of fish at different stalls all over the market.”

Lai says seafood sustainability is a sensitive issue, one that needs to balance industry and sustainability. He says the responsibility lies with consumers who need “to educate themselves about what’s sustainable”.

Woodring says another barrier is cultural, a sensitive one that involves encouraging people, in particular the older generation, to move away from live reef fish.

“Once upon a time it was easy enough to catch a fish and know it would replenish. But that’s no longer the case, thanks to increases in pollution and population.

“The problem is psychological, especially among the older population who like to see a fish that is alive – they don’t want it processed or sliced or frozen fillets without bones or heads. Processed seafood may not look as nice, but it may be managed in a better way for the ocean.

“People still want to walk into a restaurant, see a fish in a tank and think that because it’s breathing then it must be healthy, when often it’s not.”

At September’s Kin Hong Seafood Festival, an annual event encouraging restaurants and caterers to choose responsibly sourced seafood, live reef fish were left off the agenda. “Reef fish [in the F&B industry] are just not sustainable,” says Woodring. The festival was organised by Ocean Recovery Alliance.

The ecological clock is ticking, with some scientists predicting all commercially fished seafood species will collapse by 2048 if practices don’t change.

Some steps have been made in the right direction, including Hong Kong’s 2012 ban on trawling and China’s move this year to extend its annual moratorium on fishing. But environmentalists say more needs to be done.

“China put a 4½-month ban on coastal fishing on Chinese waters, which they’ve never done before. It’s usually two months. That put about three to four million people out of work during the summer, and that’s not something they usually like to do. That extended moratorium means that there is an issue,” Woodring says.

http://www.scmp.com/lifestyle/food-drink/article/2124166/eating-fish-sustainably-how-hong-kong-decimating-fish-stocks
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California Health Officials Release Guidelines To Avoid Cellphone Radiation
« Reply #9751 on: December 15, 2017, 03:13:37 PM »
California health officials have a new message for cellphone users.

For the first time ever, the California Department of Public Health has released guidelines about harmful cellphone radiation and how you can avoid it.

Dr. Karen Smith with the California Department Of Public Health said, “We recognize that there are a lot of people in the general public that have some concerns about their cellphones and whether using a cellphone is safe.”

Smith said, “When you sleep, you keep the cellphone at least arm’s length away from your body. And also, not carrying your cellphone in your pocket, having it either in your purse or not carrying it with you.”

The research suggests cellphones could increase our risk for brain cancer and tumors, low sperm count, headaches, as well as impaired memory, hearing, and sleep.

Dr. Joel Moskowitz at UC Berkeley said, “Currently we’re not doing a good job in regulating radiation from these devices. In fact, we’re doing an abysmal job.”

Moskowitz says this is a long-time coming.

He’s partially responsible for bringing this information to light. He sued the Department of Public Health for refusing to release information about the dangers of cellphone radiation back in 2009.

This spring he won that case.

“People are being injured and harmed by the delay in having this information accessible to them,” Moskowitz said.

So does the release mean that the state believes cellphones are dangerous?

“Not at all,” said Dr. Karen Smith. “Our position is that the science is evolving.”

The state said one of the main reasons they’ve decided to release these guidelines now, is that there are new numbers out showing that cellphone use is higher than ever, with 95 percent of Americans using them on a regular basis.

http://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/2017/12/14/california-cellphone-radiation-guidelines/
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2017 in review: ‘Disruption, despair and dumpster fires’
« Reply #9752 on: December 15, 2017, 03:16:35 PM »


The news alerts gushed in: An attack on a concert, a church, an ice cream parlor ; an assailant wielding a gun or hammer or acid . There’s an earthquake in Mexico, a monsoon in India, a volcanic eruption in Bali, hurricane after hurricane after hurricane. Keep up as your phone vibrates with word of your favorite actor accused of misconduct. Make that anchorman. Or politician. Or radio star.

The volatile year 2017 shook us so much and so often it felt like whiplash or worse, and that’s without even considering Donald Trump, at the center of so much of the turmoil.

“It’s almost like one of those horror rides at the amusement park where every time it heads into the next segment it gets worse,” said noted trendspotter Marian Salzman. “Every time I turn off a device, I feel like I have anxiety because I’m not tracking the news.”

The year, she said, boiled down to “disruption, despair and dumpster fires.”

In retrospect, 2017′s destiny seemed sealed in its opening moments.

Just after the new year dawned in Istanbul, a gunman killed 39 people at a nightclub and wounded scores more. The joy of the holiday dissolved into a scene of heartbreak outside the city morgue, where some cried and fell to the ground as they learned of a loved one’s fate.

Around the world this year, vehicles were made into weapons, with trucks, cars and vans plowing down people on the Westminster and London bridges in Britain; in Times Square and on a Manhattan bike path; on a major shopping street in the Swedish capital of Stockholm; on the historic La Rambla in Barcelona.

Terrorism and other violence struck so regularly that many accepted it as a fact of life.

“It can happen anywhere as long as there is one man willing to die,” said Luis Antonio Bone, 66, of Barcelona, who is retired from a cement factory job. Bone is at once realistic and defiant, saying crowded places may make him think about his safety but won’t deter him from outings.

“We have to live with it,” he said, “but keep living as we always have.”

That kind of resilience was mustered again and again, even by some of those marked by some of the year’s biggest tragedies.

In Texas, Pastor Frank Pomeroy vowed that good would persevere over evil. Pomeroy leads the rural church where a gunman killed 25 parishioners, his own 14-year-old daughter among them. “Rather than choose darkness as that young man did that day, we choose life,” he said in an emotional service only a week after the rampage.

In Las Vegas, too, where 58 people were fatally shot at a music festival, some searched for optimism in the face of savagery. Jay Pleggenkuhle, a 52-year-old landscaper, helped create a memorial garden with a tree for each of the victims. Some 1,000 people volunteered to help with his project, putting aside personal or political differences to work hand in hand.

“People have really been bound together following this tragedy,” he said.

A deadly chemical attack in Syria stirred people around the globe. Missile launches by North Korea brought angst that nuclear war was nearing. Rallies by white supremacists, wearing white hoods and clasping torches, roused uncomfortable memories of the United States’ past. All of it broke with such ferocity, it seemed impossible to focus on any one incident too long.

“Even something like a mass shooting that killed 50 people, the story moves on in just a couple weeks,” said Lauren Wright, a lecturer on politics and public affairs at Princeton University.

In Egypt, twin Palm Sunday attacks ambushed Coptic Christians and a November assault on a crowded mosque killed more than 300. In Britain, 22 people died when a suicide bomber detonated a backpack full of explosives after an Ariana Grande show.

Three major storms — Harvey, Irma and Maria — battered Puerto Rico and much of the Caribbean, as well as Texas and Florida, as 2017 went down as one of the most active hurricane seasons in recorded history. Fires tore through California and Portugal; earthquakes rocked Mexico, Iran and Iraq; flooding and an avalanche covered parts of Italy; mudslides leveled homes in Sierra Leone; and a deadly monsoon pummeled India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.

In hotspots around the world, people sought escape. Amnesty International estimated 73,000 refugees took to the Mediterranean in the first half of the year alone, with about 2,000 dying along the way. In Myanmar, the military has been conducting a brutal ethnic cleansing of Rohingya people, killing untold numbers and forcing more than 626,000 to flee into neighboring Bangladesh.

Amid the barrage, other big stories struggled for a spotlight. A grinding civil war in Yemen pushed millions in the impoverished country to famine. A political crisis in Venezuela brought intensifying clashes. In Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe was ousted from control after a 37-year reign. In Spain, a push for Catalonian independence degenerated at times into ugly scenes of mayhem.

In the U.S., Trump opened his presidency with a dark inaugural address beseeching an end to “American carnage” but saw much of his agenda rejected, with members of his own party providing key votes against him. Divides deepened, with agreement elusive even on core national values. Americans were sadder, a “happiness” report found. Sales of the dystopic novel “1984” surged and a chilling stage adaptation came to Broadway.

Mass protests formed around the country, including droves of women who proudly deemed themselves “nasty,” a label placed on Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential race. When U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren was silenced through arcane legislative rules, the words of her colleague, Mitch McConnell, became an unlikely rallying cry of feminists: “Nevertheless, she persisted.”

That phrase echoed as a dizzying number of sexual harassment or assault allegations emerged against high-profile men and as thousands of victims of lesser-known men chimed in with two words that made clear the scope of the problem: “Me too.”

There were, in this arguably awful year, moments to hail, too, stories of heroism and bravery that restore faith and give the heart a little hope. More than 80 schoolgirls, abducted by Boko Haram extremists more than three years ago in Nigeria, were released. In South Sudan, a boy abducted and forced into the army — mourned in a funeral two years ago after word of his gunshot death reached his mother — was alive after all, and returned home.

The Islamic State lost power as it was driven from Mosul, Iraq, and Raqqa, Syria. In the U.S., a total solar eclipse gave a break from the unending cacophony, with droves of sky-gazers standing shoulder to shoulder across a swath of the country.

A new calendar page brings with it the chance to start fresh. Jordi Casares, a 71-year-old retired bank employee in Barcelona, lamented the terrorism and radicalism that marred 2017 but said he, for one, is optimistic for a better 2018.

“It can’t be any worse than this year,” he said.

https://apnews.com/ed59d05a417a471a98f38c715dd2db0b/2017-in-review:-'Disruption,-despair-and-dumpster-fires'
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Dalai Lama turns to iPhone to spread app-iness
« Reply #9753 on: December 15, 2017, 03:20:35 PM »

The 14th Dalai Lama announced a new iPhone app which will allow devotees to watch live video of his teachings to his 16.6 million Twitter followers on Thursday

He already has millions of Twitter followers and has spoken of the wonders of new technology. Now the Dalai Lama has launched a new iPhone app so devotees can keep track of his travels and teachings.

The 82-year-old Buddhist monk announced the new app, which will allow users to watch live video of his teachings, to his 16.6 million Twitter followers on Thursday.

It promises official news, videos and photos from the office of the Tibetan spiritual leader.

However it does not appear on Apple's China app store, meaning most Tibetans will not be able to access it.

The technology giant has previously blocked iPhone applications related to the Dalai Lama and other exiles from its China store.

The Buddhist leader has embraced modern technologies in the past, although it is not known whether he himself uses a smartphone.

In 2014 he said new technologies had made a lot of things easier, but warned against allowing phones and computers to dictate how we live.

"Without technology, humanity has no future, but we have to be careful that we don't become so mechanised that we lose our human feelings," he said.

https://www.yahoo.com/news/dalai-lama-turns-iphone-spread-app-iness-071423329.html
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Samsung, Honda sign up for IBM's quantum computing
« Reply #9754 on: December 15, 2017, 03:27:36 PM »
Some big brands are exploring Big Blue's radically different computer technology. Also on board: JP Morgan Chase, Honda and Barclays.

IBM's quantum computers have taken a step out of the lab and into the real world as Samsung, Daimler, Honda, JP Morgan Chase, Barclays and others have signed up to use the exotic machines for research.

Big Blue has ridden many waves of technology -- the mainframe, the PC, cloud computing, blockchain, among others. Now IBM is betting quantum computing will be one of the next big businesses. The partnerships with big-name global corporations, announced Thursday, show some powerful customers are willing to pay to come along for the ride.

If successful, quantum computing could help solve new types of computing problems, breathing new life into an industry that today is struggling against hard physical limits to making computer chips faster, cheaper and smaller. For decades, that miniaturization trend, called Moore's Law, kept the computing industry's economic engine humming, but the hunt is on for longer-term technologies that will keep the progress coming to us all.

The new customers plan several types of quantum computing work, IBM said:

    Samsung will investigate new materials for microelectronics and new processes to improve manufacturing.
    Daimler, maker of Mercedes-Benz cars, will perform quantum chemistry calculations for new battery technology and research on the best way to route a fleet of vehicles.
    JP Morgan Chase will apply quantum computing methods to financial tasks involving trading, asset pricing and risk analysis.

Radically different

Quantum computers employ radically different designs compared to the conventional designs that evolved during World War II and now power everything from our phones to massive mainframes. Instead of storing data in bits that can record either a 1 or a 0, quantum computers use qubits that can record both 0 and 1 through a wacky quantum-physics phenomenon called superposition.

A quantum computer with multiple qubits can be used to evaluate many possible solutions to a computing problem at the same time. With another quantum weirdness called entanglement involved, multiple qubits can be ganged together with exponential data storage and processing abilities.

A single qubit can store two states of information -- 0 and 1 at the same time -- while two qubits can store four states, three can store eight states, four can store sixteen, and so on. The answer to a computing problem can be tucked away in one particular combination of 1s and 0s.
It's complicated

But wait, because there's a complication: The act of reading data from qubits "collapses" all the overlapping qubit states into a single collection of 1s and 0s -- and not necessarily the right one that holds the answer.

If this sounds more complicated than building your own PC, you're right.

Samsung and the other partners are part of what's called the IBM Q Network, which offers online access to a 20-qubit IBM Q system this year. IBM has built a 50-qubit prototype that it expects to make available to the network's companies later.

IBM also makes its quantum computing systems available over the internet to general researchers through a program called the IBM Q Experience. That work has yielded 35 research papers so far.

But it's still early days for the quantum computing industry. Even today's commercial relationships are mostly about research. IBM expects the real business breakthroughs to come when quantum computers with at least 1,000 qubits are up and running.

The Smartest Stuff: Innovators are thinking up new ways to make you, and the things around you, smarter.

https://www.cnet.com/news/samsung-honda-sign-up-for-ibms-quantum-computing/
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Israeli troops kill four Palestinians, wound 160 in protests over Jerusalem
« Reply #9755 on: December 15, 2017, 03:32:23 PM »
Israeli troops shot dead four Palestinians and wounded 150 others with live fire on Friday, medical officials said, as protests over U.S. President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital entered a second week.

Most of the casualties were on the Gaza Strip border, where thousands of Palestinians gathered to hurl rocks at Israeli soldiers beyond the fortified fence. Medics said two protesters, one of them wheelchair-bound, were killed and 150 wounded.

In the occupied West Bank, another area where Palestinians are seeking statehood along with adjacent East Jerusalem, medics said two protesters were killed and 10 wounded by Israeli gunfire.

One of the dead was a man who Israeli police troopers said was shot after he stabbed a member of their unit. Reuters witnesses said the Palestinian held a knife and wore what looked like a bomb belt. A Palestinian medic who helped evacuate the man for treatment said the belt was fake.

Palestinians -- and the wider Arab and Muslim world -- were incensed at Trump’s Dec. 6 announcement, which reversed decades of U.S. policy reticence on Jerusalem, a city where both Israel and the Palestinians want sovereignty.

There have been almost nightly Gazan rocket launches into Israel, so far without casualties. Israel has responded with air strikes on Hamas facilities, one of which killed two gunmen.

The Israeli military said that, on Friday, about 3,500 Palestinians demonstrated near the Gaza border fence.

“During the violent riots IDF (Israel Defence Force) soldiers fired selectively towards main instigators,” the military said in a statement.

A military spokeswoman had no immediate comment on the wheelchair-bound protestor, Ibrahim Abu Thuraya. Abu Thuraya, 29, was a regular at such demonstrations. In media interviews, he said he had lost both his legs in a 2008 Israeli missile strike in Gaza.

In the West Bank, the Israeli military said that about 2,500 Palestinians took part in riots, rolling flaming tires and throwing fire bombs and rocks at soldiers and border police.

Israel captured East Jerusalem, an area laden with Jewish, Muslim and Christian shrines, from Jordan in the 1967 war and later annexed it in a move not recognized internationally.

Palestinians hope that part of the city will be the capital of a future independent state and Palestinian leaders say Trump’s move is a serious blow to a moribund peace process.

Israel has welcomed Trump’s announcement as recognizing political reality and biblical Jewish roots in Jerusalem. U.S. Vice President Mike Pence is scheduled to visit Israel, as well as Egypt, next week.

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-israel-palestinians/israeli-troops-kill-four-palestinians-wound-160-in-protests-over-jerusalem-idUSKBN1E91T3

Washington’s European allies and Russia have also voiced worries about Trump’s decision.

Gaza’s dominant Hamas Islamists, which reject coexistence with Israel, called last week for a new Palestinian uprising, but any such mass-mobilisation has yet to be seen in the West Bank or East Jerusalem.
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Earthquake hits Indonesia's Java island, 1 death confirmed
« Reply #9756 on: December 15, 2017, 03:36:00 PM »

Patients are evacuated outside a hospital following an earthquake in Banyumas, Central Java, Indonesia, Saturday, Dec. 16, 2017. A strong earthquake shook the island of Java just before midnight Friday triggering a tsunami warning for parts of the main island's coastline.

 A strong earthquake shook Indonesia's most populous island of Java on Friday night, collapsing buildings and killing at least 1 person.

The quake struck at 11:47 p.m. and triggered a tsunami warning for parts of Java's coastline that was lifted about two hours later.

Panicking people ran out of buildings in many areas and Indonesian television showed heavy traffic on roads as people fled coastal areas.

A 62-year-old man was confirmed dead in the Ciamis region of western Java and there were reports of more deaths and of injuries in the same region, said National Disaster Mitigation Agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho.

He said buildings had collapsed and were damaged in several cities and towns of central and western Java.

"Houses and other buildings are damaged in many areas," he said in a statement.

The earthquake had a magnitude of 6.5 and was about 91 kilometers (56 miles) deep and located just inland, the U.S. Geological Survey said.

Strong tremors were felt for about 20 seconds in the capital Jakarta and in other cities and towns, Nugroho said.

A hospital in the central Java town of Banyumas was damaged and patients were evacuated, Indonesia's MetroTV reported.

The country sits on the "Pacific Ring of Fire" and has frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/earthquake-hits-java-indonesia-tsunami-warning-issued-51817284
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Escalating the chorus of global condemnation of President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the Turkish government announced Friday it would open an embassy in East Jerusalem — in support of Palestinians.

At the end of a special session of the Organization for Islamic Cooperation, or OIC, held in Istanbul, Turkey, to address the Jerusalem dispute, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu announced the plan to establish a new Turkish embassy in East Jerusalem in support of Palestinians. Turkey would maintain its existing embassy in Tel Aviv for Israelis. Palestinians have long hoped East Jerusalem would be the capital of a future Palestinian state.

Dozens of Arab states refer to the disputed territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip as “Palestine,” though the West and many other countries do not recognize its existence.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan invited “all countries supporting international law to recognize Jerusalem as the occupied capital of Palestine.”

All it would take from Turkey is changing the sign outside the Jerusalem Consulate that has stood since Istanbul was known as Constantinople, the Ottoman capital that ruled this region of the Levant for half a millennium.

“Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital came as a windfall for Erdogan,” said Mahir Zeynalov, Turkey analyst and chief editor at the Globe Post, in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. Erdogan, who is battling corruption allegations related to a high-profile Iran sanctions case in New York, now can “attempt to act as the leader of Muslims,” Zeynalov said. “And he immediately gathered leaders of Muslim nations in Istanbul and delivered pompous speeches.”

In a remarks widely perceived as a rebuke to the United States, a NATO ally, Cavusoglu said Turkey expects to sign a $2-billion deal for the purchase of Russian S-400 air defense systems this week. Additionally, he said, technical work on Russia's most advanced long-range antiaircraft missile system will begin in Russia, where Turkish engineers will be trained.

Israel, whose ministries, Supreme Court and parliament are in Jerusalem, has long demanded international recognition of its sovereignty over a unified Jerusalem. That recognition has been withheld since 1967 when Israel captured East Jerusalem, held by Jordan since 1948, in a battle against Arab armies.

Regional powerhouse Turkey was the first Muslim-majority nation to forge diplomatic ties with Israel, in 1949, a year after the Jewish state was established.

Suat Kiniklioglu, executive director of the Ankara-based Center for Strategic Communication, said that absent the impossible — agreement from Israel — the Turkish announcement “seems more like a public diplomacy thing.”

“Once we succeed, embassies will open in the independent Palestinian state’s capital, East Jerusalem,” Cavusoglu predicted.

Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil followed Turkey’s lead and informed Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas of Beirut’s willingness to establish a Lebanese embassy in East Jerusalem.

Lebanon has never had diplomatic ties with Israel. On Twitter, Bassil announced he “promised” Abbas that Lebanon would “act quickly to secure property for Lebanon in East Jerusalem.”

The Israeli government declined to comment.

Speaking to The Times, Palestinian Authority spokesman Xavier Abu Eid said that “East Jerusalem is an integral part of the occupied territory of Palestine, and has been recognized by the international community. So it is entirely normal that a state that recognizes Palestine would want to establish its embassy in the occupied capital of East Jerusalem.”

http://www.latimes.com/world/middleeast/la-fg-israel-turkey-palestinians-20171214-story,amp.html?__twitter_impression=true
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A top conservative leader is calling on Congress to investigate President Trump for sexual misconduct.

Bob Vander Plaats, the president and CEO of conservative group The Family Leader, said the multiple women who accused Trump of sexual misconduct “need to be heard.”

"A lot of these ladies came forth in the election, and for whatever reason, the American people said 'we're going to give the presidency to Donald Trump,’ ” Vander Plaats said in an interview on Iowa Public Radio. “That doesn't mean their issue went away because he became president."

"I think if these ladies need to be heard on this — and I think they probably should be heard, then let's let the facts play out,” he continued. “I don't think it should be really dismissed.”

Vander Plaats also told IPR that he supports a Congressional investigation into the accusations against Trump.

The conservative leader endorsed Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) in the 2016 presidential race.

Vander Plaats’s comments come after three women who accused Trump of sexual misconduct united for a joint news conference Monday, calling on Congress to investigate the allegations against him.

"If they were willing to investigate Sen. [Al] Franken [D-Minn.], it’s only fair that they do the same for Trump,” Rachel Crooks, one of the president’s accusers, said at the press conference. Crooks alleged Trump forcibly kissed her 12 years ago at Trump Tower, where she worked as a receptionist.

On Tuesday, the day after the press conference, Trump took to Twitter to claim he didn’t know the women and blast their “false accusations.”

“Despite thousands of hours wasted and many millions of dollars spent, the Democrats have been unable to show any collusion with Russia - so now they are moving on to the false accusations and fabricated stories of women who I don’t know and/or have never met,” Trump tweeted. “FAKE NEWS!”

At least 16 women during the 2016 presidential campaign accused Trump of sexually harassing or assaulting them.

Trump has denied all of the allegations, and the White House has said its official position on the accusations is that all the women are lying.

http://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/365092-top-conservative-activist-calls-for-congress-to-investigate
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Trump turning US into 'world champion of extreme inequality', UN envoy warns
« Reply #9759 on: December 15, 2017, 03:51:13 PM »
Special rapporteur Philip Alston, fresh from fact-finding tour, issues devastating critique of US society and condemns ‘private wealth and public squalor’


 Philip Alston visits a homeless camp in Downtown LA. Alston said: ‘The persistence of extreme poverty is a political choice made by those in power. With political will, it could readily be eliminated

The United Nations monitor on poverty and human rights has issued a devastating report on the condition of America, accusing Donald Trump and the Republican leadership in Congress of attempting to turn the country into the “world champion of extreme inequality”.

Philip Alston, the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, has completed a two-week official tour of the US by releasing an excoriating attack on the direction of the nation. Not only does he warn that the tax bill currently being rushed through Congress will hugely increase already large disparities between rich and poor, he accuses Trump and his party of consciously distorting the shape of American society in a “bid to become the most unequal society in the world”.

“American exceptionalism was a constant theme in my conversations,” he writes. “But instead of realizing its founders’ admirable commitments, today’s United States has proved itself to be exceptional in far more problematic ways that are shockingly at odds with its immense wealth and its founding commitment to human rights. As a result, contrasts between private wealth and public squalor abound.”

In his most stark message, Alston warns that the Republicans’ declared intent to slash crucial welfare programs next year in order to pay for some of the $1.5tn tax cuts could cost American lives. “The consequences for an already overstretched and inadequate system of social protection are likely to be fatal for many programs, and possibly also for those who rely upon them,” he writes.

Alston’s piercing findings present the Trump administration with a challenge. The charge that the US president is actively seeking to harm millions of Americans may be difficult to ignore, given that the report carries the imprimatur of the UN human rights council in Geneva.

Trump has frequently been dismissive of the world body, complaining during the 2016 presidential campaign that “we get nothing out of the United Nations other than good real-estate prices”. But he has also shown himself to have a thin skin when it comes to criticism of him or his administration. At a press conference launching his preliminary report in Washington, Alston quipped about possible Trump reaction: “I’m hoping for a tweet”.

Bernie Sanders, the US senator who has led the debate on inequality, has waded into the fray. He met the UN monitor on Friday and sounded his own alarm about the future of the country.

Sanders said that as the “wealthiest country in the history of the world” the US should be providing a model in how to treat all of its citizens with dignity. “Sadly that is not the case. We are moving into 2018 – we should not be living in a country with 41 million people living in poverty and so many more in extreme poverty, and nobody even talks about it.”

Alston invited Paul Ryan to meet him but was told the Republican speaker of the House was too busy.

In his 15-day fact-finding mission, Alston, an Australian academic and law professor at New York University, visited Los Angeles and San Francisco, Alabama, Georgia, Puerto Rico and West Virginia, talking to low-income families as well as governmental officials. He will produce a final report next May and that in turn will go before the UN human rights council.

Alston takes a strip out of the US for what he suggests are its double standards over human rights. The Trump administration, in line with previous US governments, preaches about human rights to other countries while refusing to be bound itself by international rules.

“The US is alone among developed countries in insisting that while human rights are of fundamental importance, they do not include rights that guard against dying of hunger, dying from a lack of access to affordable healthcare, or growing up in a context of total deprivation. But denial does not eliminate responsibility or negate obligations.”

Alston is also scathing about the attitudes of some of the politicians and officials he met on his tour, who subscribe to what he calls the caricature of rich people as industrious and entrepreneurial and poor people as “wasters, losers and scammers”.

He writes: “Some politicians and political appointees with whom I spoke were completely sold on the narrative of such scammers sitting on comfortable sofas, watching color TVs, while surfing on their smartphones, all paid for by welfare. I wonder how many of these politicians have ever visited poor areas, let alone spoken to those who dwell there.”

At the press conference, Alston said that current US trends were undermining democracy. “Democracy is the foundation stone upon which this country is built, the contribution of which it has been most proud internationally. And yet what we see is the lowest voter turnouts in any developed country.”

He pointed to the disenfranchisement of former prisoners, as well as covert voter suppression efforts such as the imposition of voter ID requirements as examples of the way the political rights of low-income people were being eroded.

Latest figures put the number of Americans living in poverty at 41 million – almost 13% of the population. Of those, almost half (19 million) are living in deep poverty, defined as having a total family income that is below one-half of the poverty threshold.

In a report packed with depressing evidence, the UN rapporteur tries to give a positive spin to his findings, saying that with the wealth that abounds in the US the country is in a position to solve its poverty and inequality crisis. “The persistence of extreme poverty is a political choice made by those in power. With political will, it could readily be eliminated.”

In a phrase that might reverberate around Capitol Hill and the White House, Alston concludes: “The American Dream is rapidly becoming the American Illusion since the US now has the lowest rate of social mobility of any of the rich countries.”

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/dec/15/america-un-extreme-poverty-trump-republicans
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David Attenborough Warns: Sixth Mass Extinction Is Imminent
« Reply #9760 on: December 15, 2017, 03:54:35 PM »
The beloved Planet Earth narrator isn't optimistic.

Fitting perfectly with the perpetual dumpster fire that has been 2017, certified nature daddy Sir David Attenborough says we are in the midst of a mass extinction. Attenborough, the man whose soothing voice narrates the Planet Earth series, a show that has helped inform many people’s understanding of nature and the interconnected web of life, said in an interview on Thursday that he thinks we’re right in the thick of the planet’s sixth mass extinction.

“The damage we are inflicting on species and ecosystems is so extensive and profound that scientists now believe we are witnessing Earth’s sixth mass extinction event – the last one marked the end of the dinosaurs,” Attenborough told City A.M..

Attenborough isn’t alone with this alarming conclusion. A small but growing consensus within the science community agrees we are currently in the middle of the Earth’s sixth mass extinction, made even worse by the accelerating rate of climate change.

As Inverse previously reported, each of the prior mass extinctions on Earth, the most recent of which was the Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction that killed most of the dinosaurs 65.5 million years ago, killed more than 75 percent of marine animal species on Earth.

Some argue that calling this time period and its loss of biodiversity an extinction fails to capture the true extent of the problems we’re facing.

“Biological annihilation” is a more appropriate term, argues Gerardo Ceballos, a biology professor at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. Inverse previously reported on Ceballos’s research:

    His argument isn’t just about semantics. Ceballos’ study showed that a third of vertebrate animal species have seen their ranges shrunk and populations diminished over the last century. When his team took a detailed look at the 117 mammal species for which good data exists, every single one had lost at least 30 percent of its range since 1900. Forty percent had lost at least 80 percent of their range. Hence, his justification for using the term “annihilation.”

All is not lost, though. If humans can slow the acceleration of climate change, perhaps through innovations like clean energy technology, we could buy ourselves enough time to find some solutions. Whatever our fate, Attenborough is confident that, even though we can’t proceed without nature, nature will find a way to proceed — with or without us.

“Yet the history of our world shows even in the face of cataclysmic events, nature somehow finds a way,” he told City A.M. “Our planet can get along perfectly well without humans but we cannot survive at all without all the services that nature provides. So I suppose we have to ask: will self-interest kick in before it is too late for our species?”

https://www.inverse.com/article/39394-david-attenborough-sixth-mass-extinction
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MSU scholars find $21 trillion in unauthorized government spending
« Reply #9761 on: December 16, 2017, 04:01:17 AM »
Defense Department to conduct first-ever audit

Earlier this year, a Michigan State University economist, working with graduate students and a former government official, found $21 trillion in unauthorized spending in the departments of Defense and Housing and Urban Development for the years 1998-2015.

The work of Mark Skidmore and his team, which included digging into government websites and repeated queries to U.S. agencies that went unanswered, coincided with the Office of Inspector General, at one point, disabling the links to all key documents showing the unsupported spending. (Luckily, the researchers downloaded and stored the documents.)

Now, the Department of Defense has announced it will conduct the first department-wide, independent financial audit in its history (read the Dec. 7 announcement here).

The Defense Department did not say specifically what led to the audit. But the announcement came four days after Skidmore discussed his team’s findings on USAWatchdog, a news outlet run by former CNN and ABC News correspondent Greg Hunter.

“While we can’t know for sure what role our efforts to compile original government documents and share them with the public has played, we believe it may have made a difference,” said Skidmore, the Morris Chair in State and Local Government Finance and Policy at MSU.

Skidmore got involved last spring when he heard Catherine Austin Fitts, former assistant secretary of Housing and Urban Development, refer to a report which indicated the Army had $6.5 trillion in unsupported adjustments, or spending, in fiscal 2015. Given the Army’s $122 billion budget, that meant unsupported adjustments were 54 times spending authorized by Congress. Typically, such adjustments in public budgets are only a small fraction of authorized spending.

Skidmore thought Fitts had made a mistake. “Maybe she meant $6.5 billion and not $6.5 trillion,” he said. “So I found the report myself and sure enough it was $6.5 trillion.”

Skidmore and Fitts agreed to work together to investigate the issue further. Over the summer, two MSU graduate students searched government websites, especially the website of the Office of Inspector General, looking for similar documents dating to 1998. They found documents indicating a total $21 trillion in undocumented adjustments over the 1998-2015 period. (The original government documents and a report describing the issue can be found here.)

In a Dec. 8 Forbes column he co-authored with Laurence Kotlikoff, Skidmore said the “gargantuan nature” of the undocumented federal spending “should be a great concern to all taxpayers.”

“Taken together these reports point to a failure to comply with basic constitutional and legislative requirements for spending and disclosure,” the column concludes. “We urge the House and Senate Budget Committee to initiate immediate investigations of unaccounted federal expenditures as well as the source of their payment.”

http://msutoday.msu.edu/news/2017/msu-scholars-find-21-trillion-in-unauthorized-government-spending-defense-department-to-conduct/
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Japan pledges $2.9 billion to support countries pursuing universal health coverage
« Reply #9762 on: December 16, 2017, 04:03:37 AM »
Japan will contribute about $2.9 billion to programs combating infectious disease and treating young children in developing countries that are pursuing universal health coverage, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Thursday at an international forum on the topic in Tokyo.

Universal health coverage — ensuring that every person can obtain the health care services they need without suffering financial hardship — is part of the sustainable development goals U.N. members aim to achieve by 2030.

Abe made the announcement alongside U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and world leaders attending the Universal Health Coverage Forum, which was organized by the Japanese government and international organizations including the World Bank and World Health Organization.

“We will give our all to building a global framework to promote UHC, together with Secretary-General Guterres and other world leaders,” Abe said.

Abe also proposed a new interim universal health coverage target — that 1 billion more people will be able to receive basic health services by 2023.

At present the WHO aims to ensure by 2030 that 80 percent of the population of developing countries have access to basic health services, and that no one falls into poverty due to out-of-pocket expenses on health care.

Guterres praised Japan’s funding commitment and called for further integration, suited to each country’s needs, between the public and private sectors, to combat the “gross inequity” that persists in health care.

“Out-of-pocket spending on health causes an estimated 100 million people to fall below the poverty line every year, and in an increasingly interconnected world, an evolving global health landscape gives rise to new threats,” Guterres said.

The U.N. General Assembly will hold a high-level meeting on universal health coverage next year, and has declared Dec. 12 Universal Health Coverage Day.

Senegalese President Macky Sall, Myanmar President Htin Kyaw and WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus were among participants in the forum, each underscoring the importance of countries making a commitment to health systems that reach underserved people.

“It takes unwavering political commitment because it is a political choice, but the price is a healthier, safer and fairer world for all people,” Tedros said.

Abe said Japan can contribute to other countries its particular experience with health coverage for aging populations.

He also announced that Tokyo will host a nutrition forum in 2020 on ensuring a stable food supply.

https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2017/12/14/national/science-health/japan-pledges-2-9-billion-support-countries-pursuing-universal-health-coverage#.WjULOHlG11s
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Man dies after bursting into flames in unexplained circumstances in London stree
« Reply #9763 on: December 16, 2017, 04:07:52 AM »
Horrified members of the public tried to put out the blaze but John Nolan died of his injuries


Police are appealing for information on the blaze that killed 70-year-old John Nolan

A pensioner has died of his injuries after bursting into flames in unexplained circumstances in a London street.

Police are appealing for information on the blaze that killed 70-year-old John Nolan, a retired construction worker originally from Ireland.

Emergency services were called to reports of a “man ablaze” near his home in Haringey on 17 September.

Horrified members of the public tried to put the fire out and alerted police but the flames were not extinguished until firefighters arrived on the scene.

Mr Nolan was taken to a specialist hospital by air ambulance but died of severe burns, with an inquest due to open in March.

The London Fire Brigade investigated the cause of the fire but found no evidence of an “accelerant” that would have spread the flames.

Police have now taken charge of the investigation but have made no arrests, with Mr Nolan’s death being treated as unexplained.

The investigating officer, PC Damien Ait-Amer, said: “We have spoken with a number of witnesses who saw Mr Nolan ablaze, but we have yet to establish how the fire started.

“Mr Nolan was a well-liked member of the community and none of our enquiries so far have indicated that he had been involved in a dispute of any sort.

“Nor does any account given by witnesses suggest that he had been in contact with another person at the time of the fire.”

Anyone who witnessed the incident but has yet to speak with police is urged to contact investigators by calling 101 or tweeting @MetCC.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/man-catches-fire-dies-london-street-haringey-john-nolan-70-age-police-appeal-metropolitan-a8111901.html
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US prosecutors move to cash in on $8.5M in seized bitcoin
« Reply #9764 on: December 16, 2017, 04:10:51 AM »
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — U.S. attorneys in Utah prosecuting a multimillion-dollar opioid drug-ring are moving quickly to sell seized bitcoin that's exploded in value to about $8.5 million since the alleged ringleader's arrest a year ago.

The U.S. Attorney's Office for Utah cites the digital currency's volatility in court documents pressing for the sale. The bitcoin cache was worth less than $500,000 when Aaron Shamo was arrested on drug charges, but the value of the digital currency has skyrocketed since then.

Bitcoin was created as a digital alternative to the traditional banking system, and is prone to swings in value based on what people believe its worth.

For federal prosecutors in Utah, sales of seized assets like cars are routine, but bitcoin is new territory, spokeswoman Melodie Rydalch said Thursday.

Shamo is accused of selling pills containing the powerful opioid fentanyl on the dark web — an area of the internet often used for illegal activity — to thousands of people all over the U.S., at one point raking in $2.8 million in less than a year.

The 500,000-pill bust ranked among the largest of its kind in the country, and authorities also found $1 million of cash stuffed into trash bags.

Shamo has pleaded not guilty to a dozen charges.

The proceeds of the bitcoin sale will be held until the case is resolved, and then decisions will be made about where the money goes, Rydalch said. Seized asset sale proceeds usually goes to the agency that investigated, like the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Defense attorney Greg Skordas is not contesting the sale of his client's bitcoins.

Although there's no global consensus over the status of bitcoin — debate rages whether the virtual money is an asset or a currency — that hasn't stopped officials in the U.S. and elsewhere from cashing in on the digital hauls seized from cybercriminals.

In 2014 the U.S. Marshals Service announced the auction of nearly 30,000 bitcoins seized from notorious dark web drug marketplace Silk Road. Other seizures have since netted the American government millions of dollars in a series of sales.

Other governments — from Australia to South Korea — have set up similar auctions over the years.

https://www.ksl.com/?sid=46217703&nid=148&title=us-prosecutors-move-to-cash-in-on-85m-in-seized-bitcoin
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