AuthorTopic: Knarf's Knewz Channel  (Read 1309398 times)

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Earthquake kills more than 200 in central Mexico
« Reply #8190 on: September 20, 2017, 04:49:42 AM »
Rescue workers race to find survivors after deadliest tremor in 32 years kills 217 in central Mexico.

Mexico City, Mexico - Fabiola Luna Rios was in her house in the southern part of this city when Tuesday's earthquake struck.

"This was a horrible experience," the 47-year-old told Al Jazeera as she sat with her husband, Jesus Alberto, on Obregon Avenue on Tuesday night.

"I really felt panic," she said. "I went out to the street, but when I saw my house, I saw it moving left to right."

Alberto, who was in Mexico state at the time, added that he thought "the ground was opening up".

"I felt houses were falling and for two seconds, I thought we would die," he told Al Jazeera.

The 7.1 magnitude earthquake, which struck shortly after 1:00pm local time 18:00 GMT, caused dozens of buildings to collapse and sent residents fleeing to the streets.

By midnight, at least 200 people had been killed across central Mexico, including 21 children who died after their school building collapsed.

Officials said the the death toll was expected to rise.

Luis Felipe Puente, the director of the government's civil protection service, tweeted that the death toll was at 248 just after midnight on Wednesday.

Later on however, he lowered the number to 217, giving no explanation for the lower toll.

At least 86 deaths were reported in Mexico City and its surrounding areas. In the state of Morelos, directly south of the capital, 71 people were killed.

Another 43 people were reported dead in the state of Puebla, about 122km from Mexico City and the location of the earthquake's epicentre.

In Mexico state, he said 12 people were killed, while four died in the state of Guerrero. One person was killed in Oaxaca state.

Dozens of buildings collapsed across central Mexico during the earthquake

Scenes of chaos and destruction were seen across Mexico City, as rescue workers and others raced to find and help survivors still trapped under collapsed buildings.

It was the second earthquake to strike Mexico in less than two weeks. The first tremor - a powerful 8.1-magnitude earthquake - hit southern Mexico on September 7, killing at least 98 people and destroying and damaging thousands of homes.
'This was way stronger'

For those who were alive in 1985, Tuesday's quake brought back familiar feelings experienced during the devastating earthquake that killed some 10,000 people exactly 32 years ago.

"This is not the first time I've felt something like this," Luis Alvarado, 39, told Al Jazeera from the neighbourhood of La Condesa in Mexico City.

"I witnessed the one in 1985 and the feeling wasn't very different," he said.

Maria Irene Pies, who lives in the La Roma neighbourhood, agreed, but said she felt Tuesday's quake was much stronger.

"I was here during the 1985 earthquake, but I felt this was way stronger," the 73-year-old told Al Jazeera.

"I was in my house when the earthquake started and it was really strong," she said.

"Mirrors started falling, the furniture started moving."

Pies, who lives near a medical laboratory, has been told to stay away due to fears that chemicals may have spilled during the tremor.

Like many others in Mexico City, she has moved to the streets over worries of aftershocks.

Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, who said on Twitter that had been flying to Oaxaca went the tremor struck, returned to Mexico City on Tuesday afternoon where he called an emergency meeting.

In a tweet, he warned Mexicans to "review the damage, disconnect the lights and turn off gas" before returning to their homes.

He also visted the site of the collapsed school where at least 22 pupils were killed. Thirty-eight remained missing.

Officials gave out the numbers of shelters and hostels for those needing a place to stay.
'We are united'

Fernando Irando, who also lives in Mexico City, said that while he is used to earthquakes, "this [one] went above and beyond" any he has felt before.

"I think the city resisted it and I think there will be aftershocks and I hope we will be able to resist it," the 61-year-old told Al Jazeera.

Just after nightfall, rescue workers and residents continued to search for those who were trapped under rubble.

In the neighbourhood of La Roma, residents desperately called for help, asking friends and family to bring medicine, food, water, lamps and batteries to help rescue workers and those still trapped under collapsed buildings.

"There are people trapped among the rubble and we are trying to give all the support," Ana Marina Orenday Porras told Al Jazeera.

"Colonia Roma [Street] is devastated," she said, referring to one of the main avenues of Mexico City.

"As we walked around, we realised that many buildings have fallen and many are about to fall, and we are trying to give all the support we can, as citizens, because authorities can't cope with the size of the disaster."

Back on Obregon Avenue, Rios and Alberto, said that unlike in 1985, they felt people were better equipped to react to a tremor this size.

"This time, I feel that people were more helpful [than in 1985]," Rios said.

Alberto agreed, adding "after all, we are all Mexicans and we are always united".
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There are 40 million slaves worldwide, most are women and girls
« Reply #8191 on: September 20, 2017, 04:55:51 AM »
A United Nations agency warns 40.3 million people across the globe were subject to some form of modern slavery in 2016. Among them, about 28.7 million — or 71% — were women or girls forced into sex, marriage or labor.

The 2017 Global Estimates of Modern Slavery report released Tuesday found modern slavery in every region of the world. The report didn't specify how many of those victims were in the United States during 2016, but a Walk Free Foundation index estimated that number to be about 57,700.

The report was compiled by the UN's International Labour Organization (ILO), the Walk Free Foundation and the International Organization for Migration. Modern slavery has no legal definition but includes human trafficking, forced labor, debt bondage and forced marriage. Put simply, the report said modern slavery is "exploitation that a person cannot refuse or leave because of threats, violence, coercion, deception, and/or abuse of power."

The majority of the world's modern slavery in 2016 took the form of forced labor, which accounts for about 24.9 million of modern slavery victims. These are people being forced to work in factories, farms and elsewhere under threat or coercion. It also includes the sex industry. The rest, about 15.4 million people, were living in an unconsented forced marriage, which often included labor.

Andrew Forrest, chairman of the Walk Free Foundation, said the number "shames us all."

"This speaks to the deep-seated discrimination and inequities in our world today, coupled with a shocking tolerance of exploitation," he said.

The regions most prone to modern slavery were Africa, Asia and the Pacific. And Europe and Central Asia.

About a quarter of modern slavery victims were children, including those forced to marry as children and those in sexual exploitation. About 1 million children were victims of commercial sexual exploitation in 2016 and 3.8 million adults were in forced sexual exploitation. Women and girls accounted for 99% of sexual exploitation victims and 88% of forced marriage victims.

The ILO also released its Global Estimates of Child Labour report, which estimates about 152 million children worldwide subject to labor.

The modern slavery report said ridding the world of slavery will require interventions on the economic, cultural, legal and social forces assisting slavery.

"This has to stop," Forrest said. "We all have a role to play in changing this reality — business, government, civil society, every one of us."
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Thanks To Lobbying, It's Illegal To Power Your Home With Solar Panels In Florida
« Reply #8192 on: September 20, 2017, 05:12:02 AM »
It may have ravaged much of the Caribbean, but Hurricane Irma weakened mercifully quickly as it passed over Florida. That’s not to say that it didn’t cause significant infrastructural damage, of course, and soon after the storm had passed, 40 percent of Florida lacked electricity, something that ended up killing several people who relied on it.

At the time of writing, 1.5 million Floridians are still without power, and the issue of solar power has come up. This is the Sunshine State we’re talking about – so why is it so difficult to get a solar panel for your house there?

As pointed out by the Miami New Times, Florida Power and Light (FPL) – a major supplier of electricity to the state – has invested heavily in lobbying state lawmakers to disallow residents from powering their own homes with rooftop solar power panels. In fact, thanks to the current laws, it is essentially illegal to do so; you have to connect any solar panels to your local electric grid, provided by a state utility. Seriously. We aren't kidding. You cannot get off-grid solar panels from a third party.

This is nothing short of draconian. Roof-mounted solar panels are an increasing cheap source of renewable energy. In fact, if they became widespread, they would save $3.5 trillion and reduce 24.6 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide by 2050. They also happen to be an excellent source of self-sustaining electricity if the main electrical grid burns out – say, during a hurricane.

Homes that power themselves, even to a small degree, aren’t much good to companies like FPL. They’ve been cut out of the loop, which means they make less money from their consumers. They’d never openly admit this though, and instead, they’ve conjured up a rather curious explanation.

“Operating your renewable system without the bi-directional meter can result in an inaccurate meter reading causing your bill to increase,” they write, which in effect means you’ll be charged more for an apparent glitch they can’t fix because you happen to be proactive.

They also suggest that if you live in a FPL-powered home, your solar panels must also be connected through the same electrical wiring, and “the [renewable] system must shut down when FPL's grid shuts down in order to prevent dangerous back feed on FPL's grid. This is required to protect FPL employees who may be working on the grid.”

Essentially, the company is saying that your relatively low-power solar panels may electrocute workers probing the grid during a routine or inadvertent shut down. Although backfeed is indeed a hazard, thanks to modern safety measures this type of incident should be highly unlikely. Really, the problem here is that the panels have to be connected to the grid. If residents were allowed to connect them off-grid to their own battery or equipment, this wouldn't be a problem at all.

It’s policies like this that leave Florida, a clear option when it comes to the proliferation of solar power, lagging behind other states like California or New York. Short-sighted profits win, time and time again – even when a hurricane threatens the lives of those that dare to disagree.
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Exotic pet owners of Beijing – in pictures
« Reply #8193 on: September 20, 2017, 05:42:27 AM »
A dramatic rise in owning exotic pets in China is fuelling global demand for threatened species. The growing trade in alligators, snakes, monkeys, crocodiles and spiders is directly linked to species loss in some of the world’s most threatened ecosystems

Shao Jian Feng, 26, with a saltwater crocodile ( Crocodylus porosus) in his home in Beijing. When fully grown this juvenile can reach up to six metres, making it the largest reptile in the world. He owns five crocodilians and two large snakes. “There are 23 crocodilian species in the world. We hope to collect all of them,” he says. Saltwater crocodiles can retail for up to 9,000 RMB ($1,500). In the wild, they are found mainly in south-east Asia and northern Australia.

Wei Zheng, 31, with his princely spiny-tailed lizard ( Uromastyx princeps), a species typically found on the Horn of Africa. Numerous species in the Uromastyx genus are listed as threatened and vulnerable on the IUCN red list.

Liu Feng, 53, with one of his son’s pet Cranwell’s horned frogs ( Ceratophrys cranwelli), native to Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia and Paraguay. The frog is a popular species among collectors due to its resemblance to the computer game character Pac-Man. It is one of 30 different frogs that he and his son keep in their small apartment in central Beijing.

Wu Jia Rui, 25, with a short-tailed chinchilla ( Chinchilla chinchilla) in the Guanyuan pet market in Beijing. Native to the Andes in South America, chinchillas have become a popular pet in China. Numerous species of chinchilla are listed as endangered in the wild due to poaching.

Liu Zhaobei, 25, in his bedroom with an alligator snapping turtle ( Macrochelys temminckii). Listed by the IUCN as vulnerable in the wild, the species is typically found in the south-eastern US states. Liu began collecting animals as a child and now has more than 30 different frogs, three alligator snapping turtles and numerous snakes and turtles. “[collecting exotic pets] is becoming more popular. Even at my university there are courses about breeding exotic pets.”

Ms Yang, 27, places a hat on her pet eclectus parrot. She left her day job in the media and started a company making and selling costumes for parrots. She sells the outfits online to a growing market of pet owners. The eclectus parrot is originally found in countries including Australia, the Solomon Islands and New Guinea. Recent new laws in China have made it increasingly difficult for people to own birds as pets. It is now illegal to own many bird species, including parrots

A veterinarian holds a rhesus macaque ( Macaca mulatta) in a store in central Beijing. It has become increasingly difficult for people to own monkeys as pets in China, with laws making it illegal for most species. However many young people see monkeys as unique exotic pets that give them status among their peers. The rhesus macaque is mainly found in south-east Asia.

Lu Tingting, 32, owns and runs a pet store in central Beijing where she keeps her three-month old pet raccoon ( Procyon lotor), an animal native to North America. Lu’s shop caters to a growing number of young Chinese who look for pet grooming services for their traditional and non-traditional pets.

A fennec fox ( Vulpes zerda) is groomed in a pet store in central Beijing. Native to the Sahara in North Africa, the species became a popular pet after being depicted as a character in Disney’s 2016 animated movie Zootopia. Individuals can cost between $2,000-$3,000.

Mao Yueying, 27, with her pet ‘sugar glider’ at home in Beijing. The nocturnal gliding possum ( Petaurus breviceps) is typically found in the forests of Australia, Indonesia and New Guinea but has become a popular pet in China due to its small size and unique appearance. She keeps three sugar gliders at home with the most expensive white glider costing 4,000 RMB (about $600).

Wang Ke, 30, in his breeding farm with a red striped gargoyle gecko ( Rhacodactylus auriculatus), a pinstripe crested gecko, and a mossy New Caledonian gecko ( Mniarogekko chahoua). These geckos are only found in the forests of New Caledonia in the South Pacific with many listed as vulnerable due to pressures from human activities including logging, wildfires and forest clearance, and wildlife trafficking.

Huang Jiachen, 20, a snake collector and exotic species breeder, with his pet python at home in Beijing. Huang set up a breeding farm for exotic species after collecting animals as a hobby and now sells animals to China’s pet markets. He also collects snakes from across the world, with a particular interest in vipers and pythons.

Li Huajun, 29, with an Atlas beetle ( Chalcosoma atlas) in a store at Beijing’s Guanyuan pet market. The species is found in southern Asia, notably in Malaysia and Indonesia. Li is particularly interested in collecting spiders and has more than 2,000 in his home.

Jian Wei, 38, in front of a large tank containing blacktip reef sharks ( Carcharhinus melanopterus) in his shop at the Shilihe pet market in Beijing. Jian sells three to five individuals each month for approximately 4,000RMB ($600). The species is native to the coastal waters of the Indo-Pacific region and is listed as ‘near threatened’ by the IUCN red list due to overfishing. Jian orders his online from the Philippines and Indonesia with most being sent to China by air freight.

Zhang Bo, 36, with a Mexican blood tarantula ( Aphonopelma chalcodes) in Beijing’s Guanyuan pet market. The species is typically found in the deserts of Arizona in the US and parts of Mexico. Zhang began collecting spiders in 2007 and started selling them in 2014 through his shop in Beijing.

Shao Jian Feng, 26, with a Yangtze alligator ( Alligator sinensis) in his home on the outskirts of Beijing. Listed by the Chinese government as a ‘first-class protected animal’ in 1972, this species is all but extinct in the wild and is listed as critically endangered by the IUCN red list. It is estimated that there are only about 100 individuals left in eastern China, mainly due to poaching and wetland reclamation.
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A 6.1-magnitude earthquake has struck Japan 175 miles from the Fukushima
« Reply #8194 on: September 20, 2017, 12:58:46 PM »

Less than 24 hours after a 7.1-magnitude earthquake pummeled Mexico City, another tremor has occurred off the east coast of Japan.

The 6.1-magnitude quake struck roughly 175 miles east of the shuttered Fukushima nuclear plant at roughly 2:30 a.m. local time, according to the US Geological Survey. Its hypocenter — the underwater locus of the quake — happened at a depth of about 6 miles.

A map of the tectonic plate forces that subject Japan to earthquakes.USGS

Like Mexico, Japan is located in what is considered an active earthquake region.

The country is influenced by the slipping and sliding of several of Earth's tectonic plates, including the North America plate, Pacific plate, Philippine Sea plate, and Eurasia plate. Whenever these pieces of crust grind or butt up against one another, earthquakes happen.

Over the past century, Japan has been struck by nine severe earthquakes, each of which killed more than 1,000 people.

Part of the problem is the country's high population density, which can make even shallow temblors a serious risk.

In 1995, an earthquake along the Japan Median Tectonic Line near Kobe lead to more than 5,000 deaths.

More recently, the magnitude 9 Tohoku earthquake in 2011 killed more than 20,000 people after it triggered a tsunami that generated powerful waves up to 133 feet tall. That earthquake occurred just 43 miles east of inhabited land and its underwater hypocenter was close to three times as deep.
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Which country has conducted the most nuclear tests?
« Reply #8195 on: September 21, 2017, 04:55:17 AM »
Despite disarmament efforts, more than 2,000 nuclear tests have been conducted since 1945.

The world saw its first nuclear weapon test on July 16, 1945, when the United States detonated a nuclear bomb at a test site in New Mexico. Since then, a total of 2,056 nuclear tests have taken place, most of them conducted by the US and USSR (now Russia) during the Cold War era.

North Korea is the only country that has detonated nuclear weapons since 1998, when both India and Pakistan tested their nuclear technology in an arms race.

North Korea's recent showcase of ballistic missiles and nuclear tests has hightened tensions in the international community, with UN Security Council imposing new sanctions on Pyongyang and the US vowing to "totally destroy North Korea" if needed.

Amidst rising tensions between North Korea and US and allies, the international community has vowed to eliminate nuclear weapons technology from the earth. On September 20, at a UN meeting in New York, more than 50 countries signed a treaty banning nuclear weapons. None of the eight countries known to carry nuclear arms signed the treaty.

The pact is one of the several international agreements aimed towards nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament. Two other major treaties are the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, introduced in 1970 and 1996 respectively.
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How Israel is disabling Palestinian teenagers
« Reply #8196 on: September 21, 2017, 05:02:19 AM »
Survivors of Israeli live fire speak about Israel's 'kneecapping' practice of shooting youth in their lower limbs.

Mustafa Elayan, 17, was shot in his leg by Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank

Bethlehem, occupied West Bank - In the Dheisheh refugee camp, it is common to see Palestinian teenagers with deep scars dotting the length of their legs, while posters and murals of Palestinians killed by Israeli forces adorn the concrete walls - testaments to a disturbing reality of routine Israeli violence in the camp.

International law prohibits the use of live ammunition on civilians, except as a last resort during an imminent threat of life. However, Israeli soldiers freely fire live bullets at Palestinians during confrontations or military raids.

Both Palestinian and Israeli rights groups have noted that Israel's excessive use of force on Palestinians has caused scores of permanent and temporary disabilities in the occupied Palestinian territory.

Several residents in the Dheisheh camp have also recently been killed, the latest of whom was 21-year-old Raed al-Salhi, who was shot multiple times during an Israeli army raid last month. He succumbed to his wounds on September 3 at the Hadassah hospital in Jerusalem almost a month later.

The Bethlehem-based Palestinian NGO Badil reported a significant increase in Palestinian injuries in the refugee camps last year, the majority of which were caused by live ammunition. Most of the gunshot wounds were directed at the lower limbs of the youth in the camps, now commonly referred to as "kneecapping".

Residents of the Dheisheh camp say that an Israeli army commander, who the youth in Dheisheh refer to as "Captain Nidal", has been threatening to intentionally disable Palestinians in the camp. "I will make half of you disabled and let the other half push the wheelchairs," he has been reported as saying.

Badil underscored that the threats indicate that incidents of "kneecapping" are "not accidental or isolated". But instead "result from a systematic Israeli military policy aimed at suppressing resistance, terrorising Palestinian youth, and permanently injuring them and/or causing significant damage to their physical and mental well-being".

Issa al-Mu'ti, 15: "I could not feel my legs - all I saw was blood"

I was 12. It was 2015. Clashes erupted with Israeli soldiers at the northern entrance of Bethlehem. I was at home with my family when I was notified that my younger brother had gone to participate in the clashes.

I was scared for him. He shouldn't have gone. I decided to go and find him and drag him back to the camp.

When I arrived, the clashes were ongoing. The Israelis were shooting tear gas and rubber-coated steel bullets. But still, I continued searching for my brother. Suddenly, the soldiers opened up with live ammunition. I fell to the ground. I couldn't get up or move my legs. I looked around for help and saw the soldiers shooting at Palestinians who were running away.

An Israeli police dog began to attack me, biting my leg. I tried to fight it off, but then the soldiers came. They dragged me across the pavement and beat me, even kicked my legs. They didn't realise I was injured. When they saw my wounds, their faces twisted into shock, and they ran away from me.

I immediately looked down. My legs looked so scary. I couldn't feel anything - all I saw was blood. I found out later that I had been hit with two expanding bullets in each leg. The use of these bullets is illegal under international law.

The soldiers spent some time staring at me from afar. I could tell they were stunned and didn't know what to do. Eventually, I was brought to the Hadassah hospital in Jerusalem. I spent three months there, almost a month of which I was handcuffed to the hospital bed.

Issa holding up a camera photo of him when he was at the hospital. It shows his leg after developing gangrene and his arm handcuffed to the hospital bed at the Hadassah hospital in Jerusalem

Armed Israeli soldiers were stationed in my room the whole time and sometimes Israeli intelligence would come to the hospital and interrogate me about throwing stones and Molotov cocktails at soldiers.

The pain was excruciating. I had one surgery on my left leg and 20 surgeries on my right leg. My right leg had the worst injuries. The doctors told me that my veins had been destroyed by the bullets, so blood was not able to reach my leg.

I developed gangrene in the hospital and the doctors said they would need to amputate my leg.

At first, I refused. What could I do in my life with only one leg? I felt like my life would be ruined. But the pain from the gangrene worsened. My leg turned black and dried out. It got to the point that cutting it off felt like a relief.

The injuries changed everything in my life. I can't walk long distances. Before my injuries, I was working to help my family. We aren't a rich family, so it was important for me to contribute to the household. But now I can't do anything.

My family raised a criminal case against the soldiers in Israeli court.

Soon after, Israeli soldiers would come to our home and harass my father. He works at a bakery in Gush Etzion [one of Israel's illegal settlement blocs]. The soldiers are always threatening him, telling him that they will revoke his Israeli permit so he can't work any more - which would destroy our family - or that they will detain me if my family doesn't drop the case.

I know that the soldiers will probably not be punished. They're Israelis who will face an Israeli court. But they permanently disabled me and shot me with internationally banned bullets. How could they not be held accountable?

Ramzi Ajamiah, 15: "We are affected psychologically"

Israeli soldiers shot me in both legs. The bullet that went through my left leg struck my kneecap. It also hit a nerve, so the doctors were not able to take the bullet out. The bullet fragments remain in my left leg.

I'm not able to walk for long periods of time. Sometimes my legs will just give out. Especially during the winter months, the cold makes the pain worse. At times, the pain becomes so severe that I'm not able to go to school. I've missed more than a year of school because of my injuries.

The incident happened at 6am in 2016 when Israeli soldiers raided the camp. I was on my way to school. The soldiers routinely enter the camp in civilian buses, not military vehicles, so they aren't noticed as easily.

One of these buses was parked outside the school. When the soldiers exited the bus, clashes immediately erupted.

The soldiers shot me with a live bullet in my left leg. I was in shock and my body collapsed to the ground. My friend saw it happen, ran over to me and attempted to carry me away from the clashes. At this time, one of the soldiers shot my friend in his leg. But he kept going. Then they shot him again in the other leg and we both fell.

That's when the soldiers shot me again in my right leg.

I spent almost a month in the hospital. The doctors had to remove flesh from other parts of my body and implant it into my leg, because the bullet had blown away huge chunks of flesh from my leg. They inserted nails that held the flesh together as it was healing, and they wrapped my legs in casts.

About two weeks after I was released from the hospital, Israeli soldiers came to my house in the middle of the night to arrest me. I thought the soldiers would leave me alone after shooting me. But they dragged me out of my bed, handcuffed and blindfolded me, and threw me into an Israeli army jeep. They said I had thrown stones at the soldiers in the camp.

I spent two weeks in Israel's Ofer detention centre near Ramallah. I received negligent medical care from the prison doctor there. It was like he was focused on making my injuries worse.

The first thing he did was remove my casts. Without the casts, the nails in my leg would get caught on the bed sheets at night. There was so much blood all the time. Instead of replacing the cast, the doctor began removing all of the nails. My injuries worsened after that.

However, the pain is not just physical. All of us who have been injured by the Israelis are affected psychologically from the trauma.

I developed an addiction to the painkillers I needed to cope with my injuries. My dad began hiding the medicine from me. I felt angry when I was unable to get it. I went through severe withdrawals; I even suffered from hallucinations and started speaking to myself.

Every single one of my friends has been injured or detained by Israeli soldiers. Our community is still heartbroken over Raed's death [Raed al-Salhi]. He was Israel's latest victim and everyone loved him in the camp. Any of us could have met the same fate.

Issa and I are best friends. We are now the only ones out of our friends not imprisoned or dead because of Israel.

Mustafa Elayan, 17: "They want to make us powerless"

I was heading to the entrance of the camp during the morning hours in 2015, where clashes had erupted with Israeli soldiers. When I arrived, I was suddenly shot in my right leg. I did not know it at the time, but there was an Israeli sniper stationed on the roof of one of the surrounding buildings who had targeted me.

I fell to the ground. I screamed for help, but no one was around. Everyone had scattered away from the area, so I started dragging myself back into the camp. Some guys in the camp eventually found me and carried me away.

Israeli soldiers were stationed at all camp entrances and they prevented [Palestinian] ambulances from entering. A private car drove us to the hospital, but it took us at least 40 minutes to find a way out of the camp. I was bleeding everywhere. All I could think about was the pain. I was scared that I would not make it to the hospital alive or that I would be detained by the soldiers.

I ended up at the Beit Jala Rehabilitation hospital, where the doctors told me I had sustained a rare injury. The bullet had cut right through my leg and destroyed a cluster of nerves. At times, an electric shock would travel through my body due to the damaged nerves.

The doctors tried everything to assuage the pain. I consumed painkiller after painkiller. The doctors even injected an anaesthetic into my spine. But nothing worked.

For about five months, all I felt, saw, or thought about was the pain. The hospital then started running out of the pain medication. It was clear I needed to be transferred to another hospital.

The residents in Dheisheh were following my case. For weeks, they protested and blocked traffic on the main street outside the camp and demanded that the Palestinian Authority (PA) do something to help me. Finally, the PA coordinated with the Israelis, and my mother and I got permission to enter Israel in order to be treated at the Tel HaShomer military hospital in Tel Aviv.

The ambulance dropped me off at the "300" checkpoint in Bethlehem where I was supposed to be transferred to an Israeli ambulance. But the soldiers kept me on a stretcher in the street for four hours. They made fun of me, punching me in the shoulder, saying, "Congratulations, you're a hero now," and told me that I was going to prison.

When we finally arrived, my mother and I could not communicate with anyone. There was no one who would speak to us in Arabic. I was screaming so loud from the pain that the nurses transferred me to a separate room, where an Israeli guard was stationed outside.

They locked the door and sealed all the windows, and would not even allow my mother to leave the room. My mom had to sleep on the cold, hard floor because the Israelis refused to provide her with a mattress.

I spent 19 days at that hospital. I did not receive any treatment. They just gave me Panadol every few hours. Sometimes, a nurse would enter the room and scream at me in Arabic, accusing me of throwing stones and calling me her enemy. When we attempted to get information from her about my treatment, she would pretend not to know any Arabic.

We didn't know what to do. I regretted coming to the hospital. The way I was treated, it felt like I was being injured for the second time.

Our friends and family back in Dheisheh reached out to 1948 Palestinians [Palestinian citizens of Israel] on Facebook to see if they could help us. A few of them came to the hospital and tried to find out what was happening. The doctors told them that they were going to amputate my leg.

We became very scared. One day, the 1948 Palestinians got access to my room in between guard shifts.

They wrapped me in a blanket, put me in a wheelchair, and smuggled me out of the hospital. They carried me to a yellow-plated Israeli car and drove me back to the Beit Jala hospital.

Four months later, a group of Italian activists came to the hospital to see me after hearing about my case. They brought me to Italy to undergo surgery, almost a year after I had first been injured.

The Italian doctors tell me that, one day, I will be able to run again. I do not feel the pain any more, but I can't feel anything from the knee down. I still can't even move my foot, so I am not hopeful I will heal completely.

The injuries destroyed my life. I can't walk normally. I haven't been to school since I was shot. I don't do much now except stay at home or sometimes wander around the camp.

But my situation isn't unique. Israeli policies are centred on disabling us. They don't even want to kill us. They want to keep us alive, but make us powerless to do anything against them.
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Google is paying $1 billion for HTC's smartphone brains
« Reply #8197 on: September 21, 2017, 05:06:06 AM »
Google is doubling down on hardware.

The U.S. search giant said Thursday it will pay $1.1 billion to get its hands on smartphone expertise from struggling Taiwanese manufacturer HTC.

Under the deal, Google (GOOGL, Tech30) will bring on board about 2,000 HTC engineers and technical staff. It will also license some of the Taiwanese firm's intellectual property in a separate agreement, the companies said in a statement.

Google said the move shows its commitment to venturing further into the market for smartphones and other devices.

 "It's still early days for Google's hardware business," Rick Osterloh, Google's senior vice president of hardware wrote in a blog post. "We're focused on building our core capabilities, while creating a portfolio of products."

Those products so far include the company's Pixel smartphones, which are designed to compete with the iPhone; Google Home, a voice-controlled speaker that allows users to look things up on its extensive search database and perform other tasks; and Google Daydream View, a headset intended for the casual virtual reality user.

The hardware department has also suffered some embarrassing flops. Many, for instance, still remember Google Glass, which failed to take off with mainstream consumers. (The company has since come out with the Glass Enterprise Edition, another version of the device designed for workers.)

Thursday's announcement was framed as the culmination of Google and HTC's decade-long partnership, including their work on the first smartphone to use the Android operating system.

 HTC is also manufacturing Pixel devices. And many of the HTC employees joining Google under the new deal are already working on Pixel phones.

HTC, which has lost hundreds of millions of dollars in recent years, said the Google agreement won't hurt its own smartphone business, suggesting it will allow it to streamline its range of products.

The Taiwanese company also said it will continue to pursue other technologies, including VIVE, its well-known VR unit, and artificial intelligence.
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Quit smoking campaign Stoptober backs e-cigs for first time
« Reply #8198 on: September 21, 2017, 05:11:00 AM »
The annual Stoptober campaign in England is embracing e-cigarettes for the first time - in a sign vaping is being seen as the key to getting people to quit.

Health experts have tended to shy away from explicitly promoting e-cigarettes.

But the government campaign during October will feature vaping in its TV adverts for the first time.

It comes after e-cigarettes proved the most popular tool for quitting during last year's campaign.

Some 53% of people used them, helping push the numbers of people taking part in Stoptober since its launch in 2012 to over 1.5 million.

E-cigarettes are not yet officially prescribed on the NHS.

However, doctors and other health professionals are encouraged to advise smokers who want to use them that they are a better alternative to smoking.

New draft guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) does not list e-cigarettes as a recommendation to help people quit, but says patients should be told some smokers have found them helpful when they want to give up.

NICE advises that patients should be told that there "is currently little evidence on the long-term benefits or harms of these products".

But government experts behind the Stoptober campaign have been encouraged by newly released research suggesting record numbers of attempts to give up are proving successful.

University College London researchers found 20% of attempts were successful in the first six months of 2017, compared with an average of 16% over the previous 10 years.

A successful attempt was judged to be one where the person had tried to stop smoking in the past year and was still abstaining at the time of the survey.

The biggest rise in successful attempts to quit was among people from poorer backgrounds, who have traditionally been the least likely to give up.

The Stoptober TV advert features a man in an allotment using an e-cigarette

The government's deputy chief medical officer Prof Gina Radford said e-cigarettes were playing an important role and, as they had "95% less harmful products" in them than normal cigarettes, it was only right that they were promoted during Stoptober.

But she also said there were a number of other factors that were proving effective in reducing smoking rates, including restrictions that have been brought in such as standardised packaging and bans on displays in shops.

Of the new draft guidance for health professionals, Prof Radford told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "What for the first time NICE is saying is we recognise that e-cigarettes are being used by people to help them quit.

"Therefore, engage people in a discussion about how they are using them, encourage them to be using them only as part of a quit attempt… tell them clearly whilst they are much less harmful than tobacco cigarettes, they are not without all harm."

Latest figures suggest just over 15% of people were smoking in 2016, down from 21% in 2007, when the smoking ban was introduced, and over 26% at the turn of the century.

As smoking has decreased, vaping has increased. About one in 20 people over 16 regularly uses e-cigarettes currently - a quarter of them are smokers or ex-smokers.

But Prof Radford said: "The battle against smoking is far from over - it is still the country's biggest killer, causing 79,000 deaths a year.

"And for every death, another 20 smokers are suffering smoking-related disease."

Meanwhile, NHS Health Scotland has stated for the first time that e-cigarettes are "definitely" less harmful than smoking tobacco.
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New book warns climate change is making us sick
« Reply #8199 on: September 21, 2017, 05:14:45 AM »
In 2008, Jay Lemery, MD, an emergency physician in Colorado, read a commentary about the effects of global climate change on human health. The author was Paul Auerbach, MD, professor of emergency medicine at Stanford and one of the world's leading authorities on wilderness medicine.

Published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the article caught Lemery's attention.

"What I immediately thought was we need to have a physician movement around this," said Lemery, associate professor of emergency medicine at the University of Colorado and section chief of wilderness and environmental medicine.

Now, a decade later, Lemery has co-authored a book with Auerbach that delves into the growing health issues touched upon in that 2008 article—the countless, frightening ways that climate change is increasing allergens, creating toxic algal blooms, inducing heat stress, causing air degradation, and creating water and food insecurity. The book, Enviromedics: The Impact of Climate Change on Human Health, not only calls on physicians, but everyone on the planet, to take note. The book is scheduled to be published in October.

Trying to hasten a 'reasonable response'

"We don't see the world moving fast enough to protect the planet, so perhaps by moving the discussion to human health we can hasten some sort of reasonable response," Auerbach said. "Hurricanes Harvey and Irma are already causing a considerable health impact, such as floodwaters contaminated with bacteria and toxins, drowning deaths, disruption of essential medical care and even floating fire ant colonies."

Lemery said, "On the hottest day of the year, patients come to the ER with heart attacks, COPD [chronic obstructive pulmonary disease] exacerbations and diabetes complications. If you do what we do, it's not that hard to see the link between global warming and human illness."

The book lays out in disturbing detail how human afflictions are proliferating due to manmade environmental change, and it's likely to only get worse. More intense heat waves are killing the sick and the elderly; increasing air degradation sends asthma sufferers into serious and sometimes deadly attacks; hotter temperatures are spreading mosquito-borne diseases. The authors warn that if nothing is done to curtail climate change, it will do much more than cause the extinction of polar bears: It may threaten humanity. By bringing together the many risks to human health in one book, the authors hope to propel people into action.

"People may have heard scattered comments about global climate change, but I don't think they've looked at the issue as an aggregate whole," Auerbach said. "It's time for everyone to realize that it could conceivably become now or never on this issue because there soon may be much more environmental chaos and human suffering."

No one is immune

The book is grounded in the overwhelming scientific evidence of global warming. To write it, the authors conducted extensive research, as well as called upon their firsthand experiences with cases linked to climate change. The following are a few examples from the book that illustrate how no one is immune from the health effects of the phenomenon:

    A warmer world with greater weather extremes and increased atmospheric turbulence that degrades air quality will affect more people and increase the severity and number of asthma attacks. The book uses the fictional story of Sandra, a young woman with asthma in the South Bronx, who almost dies during a heat wave as temperatures soar toward 110 degrees.
    Extreme weather causes more severe storms and flooding, magnifying the ubiquitous problem of sewage overflow. The lack of access to clean water has been linked to outbreaks of such illnesses as cholera, hepatitis A, ringworm and scabies. The book introduces us to Andrew, a fictional character who starts itching violently after wading in a polluted river near his home. The doctor diagnoses what is now a common household disorder contracted from dirty water: scabies. The minuscule human scabies mite completes its entire life cycle on the skin of humans and, untreated, might live there for years.
    The book enumerates the ways in which drought can force people to abandon safe practices and use whatever resources are available. In Tanzania and Mozambique, drought conditions were associated with outbreaks of konzo, a devastating neurological disease that causes irreversible paralysis. A report from Brazil in 1996 cited more than 50 deaths from liver failure when local cyanotoxin-contaminated water was unknowingly used for kidney dialysis.

The two physicians have treated patients with most of the illnesses and conditions described in the book. Global warming, as far as they know, is not causing new disorders, but rather spreading them and making them worse. "This is an inventory of what happens when our environment goes haywire, and all the checks and balances of an ecosystem are gone," Lemery said. "We should all pause. We should all worry."
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Life depends on voting out climate change deniers
« Reply #8200 on: September 21, 2017, 05:22:31 AM »

Missoulians endured their seventh week of smoky, particulate-laden skies from western forest fires. Houston, Texas, will be decades recovering from an epic storm and biblical flooding. Both states are led mostly by wealthy, white, aging, male Republicans. I call them WWAMRs. Tragically, these men are climate change deniers.

Brian Fadie (of the Montana Environmental Information Center) wrote recently (guest column, July 20), “Ever since the Montana Public Service Commission pulled the rug out from under commercial solar projects in late June, the opinion pages have been on fire with outrage ... so it was disappointing to see that when NorthWestern Energy responded to the criticism ... it sought to muddy the water rather than clarify the situation. Every wind and solar contract signed by NorthWestern Energy since 2013 only happened because the law forced the company to do so... The company ‘s long-term planning document... calls for absolutely no new wind or solar projects. None. Instead the plan calls for 13 new expensive and risky gas-fired plants ($1.3 billion worth to be precise).”

U.S. Sen. Steve Daines also writes guest columns (July 26): “Historic drought conditions in eastern Montana warrant relief from regulations that limit producers’ ability to utilize our lands in the best possible way... As we continue to pray for rain in Montana, we must do all we can to loosen the regulatory burdens that tie farmers’ and ranchers’ hands."

It’s not regulations that will tie our neighbors’ hands, it’s denial. You can change or ignore regulations but there won’t be a thing anyone can do when Montana rivers and streams run dry. The drought in eastern Montana this summer is indeed historic, but it will be routine for these agrarian citizens if they continue to vote Republican.

Following is a Montana denier short list; Daines, U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, State Auditor Matt Rosendale, Roger Koopman and Bob Lake (Montana Public Service Commissioner) and many executives at NorthWestern Energy. According to the final sentence of a recently written article in the Missoulian, ("Talen changes Colstrip exit plans," Aug. 10), “NorthWestern has said it expects Colstrip Units 3 and 4 to be viable through 2046.”

Republican Rosendale is running for U.S. Sen. Jon Tester’s seat next year. Here’s the article headline after his announcement: “Rosendale focusing on fossil fuels in campaign” (Aug. 5). His ideas are described thusly: “Rosendale is of the opinion that state and federal regulations have harmed development of coal, oil and gas, including the non-development of major mining projects.”

High Country News reported on Zinke (Aug. 21): "21—number of Interior Department political hires known to come from the resource extraction industry... So far, just three hires come from a conservation, recreation, hunting or fishing background.”

Bill McKibben, co-founder of, knows that fossil fuels must stay in the ground. In a timely Nation article (May 8) he wrote, “We are going to demand action commensurate with the problem... an end to new fossil-fuel infrastructure.” McKibben's colleague at The Nation, Patricia Williams, put our climate catastrophe this way (July 3): “Consider how Trump frames coal production only in terms of wealth production... Or how drought and flood and species extinction and food-chain collapse are framed less as holes in the planetary boat in which we ‘re all sinking, and more as winnable wars over unlimited resources. But that kind of wealth is not what’s at stake in this battle. Instead what’s at stake is our planet’s gorgeously resonant eco-system, sustained by very fragile interconnections upon which all future life is inextricably interdependent.”

Vote out deniers as if your life depended on it. It does.
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Betsy DeVos’s Back-To-School Message At Odds With What Parents Want
« Reply #8201 on: September 21, 2017, 04:45:48 PM »

While the vast majority of American parents are addressing Back to School season by buying supplies, readying their children, and joining with other families in preparing for a hopefully successful new year, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is traveling cross-country in a bus to spread a very different message completely at odds with the hope, anticipation, and resolve parents and their communities feel about public education.

Just how far at odds DeVos’s views about public education are with the average American parent’s views became apparent in a new survey released during her bus tour.

DeVos, who says she fully supports “great public schools,” christened her bus tour with the theme “Rethinking Schools,” which somewhat assumes there’s something wrong with public schools to begin with. Her stated purpose for the tour is to promote “innovation” in our education system, which seems fine itself.

But in the first stop of the tour in Wyoming, DeVos’s strongest comments were aimed at the the negative message  she’s been spreading about public schools ever since she was nominated.

As education journalist Valerie Strauss reports on her at the Washington Post, DeVos’s remarks to an audience of  public school school children were anything but an upbeat message. Instead of raising their hopes for the year, she said “most students” are starting the new year at schools that are “a mundane malaise that dampens dreams, dims horizons, and denies futures.”

She contrasted an idealized version of the pioneering spirit that settled the West to the “education system” she rejects – “There’s no such thing,” she said – despite the historic role of public schools in settling the West.

In Colorado, DeVos visited a private school known for specializing in educating children with autism. As a state based media outlet reports, DeVos’s tour chose the school because of its “role in the landmark Supreme Court case” that led to raising the standard schools must meet to educate students with disabilities.

“During her comments,” the reporter writes, “DeVos did criticize ‘artificial barriers schools create to meet the needs of students.’ She did not identify those barriers.”

A barrier DeVos could have identified is the fact that the federal government has never lived up to its legal obligation to fully fund the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. While Congress authorized the federal government to pay 40 percent of each state’s obligations to educate children with disabilities, current levels of federal spending are less than half that. And the budget President Trump and DeVos have proposed in no way addresses for this chronic shortfall.

Then in Nebraska, DeVos chose to visit more private schools – one supported by a local wealthy foundation, and the other a Catholic school – which seems to suggest her notion of rethinking schools is to reconceive them as private schools.

While DeVos’s bus tour paints a bleak and failing portrait of our nation’s public schools, a new survey reveals that parents’ attitudes toward public education are very different

As Education Week reports, the national poll, conducted by Hart Research Associates, finds, “Most parents like their public school and want to support teachers, whom they trust more than anyone else to make choices for education.” The survey was conducted for the American Federation of Teachers, the nation’s second largest teachers’ union.

Contrasting to DeVos’s message about public schools as being “a mundane malaise,” 73 percent of parents responding to the poll “said their public school was ‘excellent or good,’ 20 percent said it was ‘adequate,’ and just 7 percent said their public school was ‘not so good or poor.'”

In contrast to DeVos’s promoting more expansions of private schools and charter schools, the poll found, “Over 70 percent of parents said they would prefer a good quality neighborhood public school for their children over the ability to have more choice of what schools they can send their children to.”

In contrast to DeVos’s proposals to keep our schools inadequately funded, “most parents” responding to the survey “disapprove of reducing spending on traditional public schools and using the funds to increase spending on charter schools.”

Given the results of the survey, there’s little surprise members of Congress are not exactly rallying around the DeVos agenda for public education. Even Republicans on Capitol Hill are generally rejecting most of her budget cuts and her plans to send more public funding to private schools. Yet, at the same time, Congress seems to have no plans to enact the stronger support for neighborhood public schools parents prefer.

What’s not at all clear is where we go now from this place where we have a presidential administration horribly out of step with the people, a population which seems fairly unified on its priorities, and a Congress in a “mundane malaise” about  the conflicted agenda.
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Trump hires campaign workers instead of farm experts at USDA
« Reply #8202 on: September 21, 2017, 04:49:32 PM »
Truck driver, landscaper among political appointees at agency headquarters.

President Donald Trump’s appointees to jobs at Agriculture Department headquarters include a long-haul truck driver, a country club cabana attendant and the owner of a scented-candle company.

A POLITICO review of dozens of résumés from political appointees to USDA shows the agency has been stocked with Trump campaign staff and volunteers who in many cases demonstrated little to no experience with federal policy, let alone deep roots in agriculture. But of the 42 résumés POLITICO reviewed, 22 cited Trump campaign experience. And based on their résumés, some of those appointees appear to lack credentials, such as a college degree, required to qualify for higher government salaries.

It’s typical for presidents to reward loyalists with jobs once a campaign is over. But what’s different under Trump, sources familiar with the department's inner workings say, is the number of campaign staffers who have gotten positions and the jobs and salaries they have been hired for, despite not having solid agricultural credentials in certain cases. An inexperienced staff can lead to mistakes and sidetrack a president’s agenda, the sources say.

“There is a clear prioritization of one attribute, and that is loyalty,” said Austin Evers, American Oversight's executive director, who provided the documents after his organization received them in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. He said the group sought résumés for Trump administration political appointees from across the federal government and found an abundance of former campaign workers in positions that did not appear to match their qualifications. “The theme that emerges is pretty clear: What do you have to do to get an administration job? Work on the campaign,” he added.

USDA in a statement defended the hires: “All of the appointees have skills that are applicable to the roles they fill at USDA.”

The truck driver, Nick Brusky, was hired this year at USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service — an agency tasked with developing overseas markets for U.S. agricultural trade goods — at one of the highest levels on the federal government’s pay scale, a GS-12, earning $79,720 annually. Though that pay grade requires a master’s degree or equivalent experience, it’s not clear from Brusky’s résumé whether he’s a college graduate. The document lists coursework in business management and political science at three universities from 2000 to 2013, but does not specify a graduation date.

Brusky served as a field representative for Trump’s campaign in the battleground state of Ohio, beginning in November 2016, while driving for a trucking company in Hilliard, where he also was a county commissioner. Brusky’s résumé shows he has no experience in cultivating international markets for trade goods, though he notes he has experience “hauling and shipping agricultural commodities.” It says he was twice elected to local office and was a legislative aide to an Ohio state representative from January 2009 until June 2012.

Another example: Christopher O’Hagan, an appointee as a confidential assistant at the Agricultural Marketing Service, which helps producers of food, fiber and specialty crop growers market their goods. O'Hagan graduated in 2016 from the University of Scranton with a major in history and a minor in economics. But his résumé lists only one example of work experience prior to joining the Trump campaign in January 2016 — employment as a cabana attendant at the Westchester Country Club in Rye, New York, while in school.

Similarly, Trump campaign alum Tim Page, a 2016 graduate of Appalachian State University, is now at the Natural Resources Conservation Service, an agency that helps farmers, ranchers and forest managers employ conservation practices. Page's résumé indicates that he owns Cutting Edge LLC, a landscaping service in Connelly Springs, North Carolina.

“Much in the same way previous administrations have done, the USDA worked with the Presidential Personnel Office to place Schedule C appointees where they could be most helpful to the mission of the department,” the department said in an email to POLITICO. “All of the appointees have skills that are applicable to the roles they fill at USDA.“

O’Hagan, Page and Brusky did not respond to emails requesting comment and the USDA declined to make them available for this story.

Brusky, O'Hagan and Page are three of 10 confidential assistants whose résumés were among those obtained by American Oversight, along with the résumés of some career staff who are acting in leadership roles. All but one of the 10 touted their work to get the president elected, and most do not have agricultural experience. All of the appointees with this title are ranked as GS-11, GS-12 or GS-13, positions with annual salaries ranging from $60,210 to $85,816 at Step 1 of each grade. Two of the 10 didn't list college degrees on their résumés, despite guidelines that call for anyone at GS-7 or higher to have completed a four-year degree.

Further, none of the confidential assistants indicated they had earned a master’s. Employees at the GS-9 level or higher are required by Office of Personnel Management guidelines to have obtained that level of education or equivalent experience.

The USDA said duties of a confidential assistant include “conducting research; preparing documents for special projects; overseeing correspondence control … receiving a wide variety of telephone inquiries from executives within and outside the USDA and from other agencies."

O'Hagan and Page were hired at the GS-12 level and assigned to the secretary's office, with a salary of $79,720. They were then transferred to their current roles, both of which are at the GS- 11 level and come with an annual salary of $66,510. Four other political appointees had their salaries reduced after they started.

“By the time these people are serving in confidential assistant roles, they are sitting on a very thin layer in government bureaucracy,” a former USDA official who arrived at the department at the beginning of the Obama administration, noting that the confidential assistant positions can be involved with technical decisions on policy matters. “If you just have someone with no higher education and no experience and no background in policymaking as the arbiter on these questions, that’s pretty unusual."

Also in the ranks of USDA political appointees are the scented-candle company owner; a clerk at AT&T; a Republican National Committee intern; a part-time executive assistant and rental property manager; and a former Washington state senator who mentioned on his résumé that he was the first elected official in his state to back Trump's candidacy.

The list of 42 appointees also includes seven special assistants, who command higher salaries than confidential assistants and generally have experience in policy and government. All of the special assistants are either GS-14 or GS-15, which start at $101,402 and 119,285, respectively. Three of the seven special assistants mentioned work on the campaign on their résumés.

In the early days of the Obama USDA, more experienced people coming off the campaign were given posts as confidential assistants, the former USDA official explained. They were tasked with assisting Senate-confirmed officials, taking notes during meetings and coordinating efforts with career staff.

Special assistants, by contrast, performed jobs for officials who did not require Senate confirmation, such as chiefs of staff, administrators and other leadership posts. There were some young staffers with ties to the campaign trail, sources conceded. The Obama team also pulled heavily from Capitol Hill staff to fill key roles, but only a handful of the appointees at USDA as of late last month have made a similar jump.

For the most part, the administration’s selections for leadership positions at USDA have been well received by industry and Capitol Hill. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, a two-term governor of Georgia who also is a veterinarian and ran a host of agriculture-related businesses, got the endorsement of former Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, the only Trump Cabinet official to be backed by his predecessor.

Perdue also has brought on board about a half-dozen policy advisers and high-level political staff who have backgrounds at influential agricultural policy groups or as staffers on relevant congressional committees or who served under Perdue during his time as Georgia governor. None of these hires listed campaign experience among their qualifications.

Meanwhile, even with the campaign loyalists who are now on the USDA staff, the administration is still behind schedule in hiring for the agency’s more than 200 political positions that span from Washington, D.C., to rural communities across all 50 states.

The combination of a thin political staff and a lack of appropriate expertise among the appointees could spell trouble for Perdue as he pushes forward with his reorganization plan and other policy objectives, said a former USDA official who arrived at the department at the beginning of the Obama administration.

“If you don’t have talented people, experienced people, people who know how policymaking works, there are a number of ways you can get your agenda sidetracked,” said the former staffer, who was granted anonymity to discuss staffing freely. Policymaking is filled with landmines — from congressional oversight to complicated rules related to acceptance of gifts, the source noted, adding: “What you can get is both the failure to take advantage of opportunities ... and mistakes that will eat up time and energy.”
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Indigenous protesters seize oil wells in Peruvian Amazon: chief
« Reply #8203 on: September 21, 2017, 04:52:53 PM »
LIMA (Reuters) - Villagers in the Peruvian Amazon have shut down at least 50 oil wells operated by Frontera Energy Corp to protest talks over a new contract even as past pollution lingers, the leader of an indigenous federation said on Wednesday.

Some 600 members of native Achuar communities in the Corrientes River basin seized the wells on Monday along with an electric plant and oil tanks used by the Canadian company in Block 192, the country’s biggest oilfield, said Carlos Sandi, president of the Feconacor federation.

The latest protest in a region long plagued by complaints of oil pollution came after the center-right government of President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski declined to apply an indigenous rights law as it negotiates with Frontera.

The so-called prior consultation law, passed in 2011, requires the government to seek input from indigenous people before approving development plans that might affect them.

The growing indigenous anger threatens to disrupt Frontera’s plans to keep operating in Peru after its two-year contract expires.

Frontera has been negotiating a long-term contract for Block 192 with state energy regulator Perupetro. Tribal leaders had warned they would forcibly halt oil operations there unless their demands were taken into account through prior consultation.

Communities in Block 192 mainly want past oil pollution cleaned up and better access to education and healthcare, Sandi said.

Frontera, which has operated Block 192 for the past two years, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Protests could expand into other parts of Block 192 as Quechua villagers readied plans to seize 16 additional oil wells and an airport in the Pastaza River basin on Thursday, said Aurelio Chino, president of the indigenous federation Fediquep.

Peru’s Culture Ministry, charged with protecting indigenous rights, did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Last week, the ministry rejected the communities’ request for prior consultation, but said the government might reconsider if new measures regarding Block 192 were implemented.

Block 192 in Peru’s Loreto region produced about 9,500 barrels of oil per day in August, according to official data.
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Letter from Athens: The Greek Oil Spill Disaster That Should Not Have Been
« Reply #8204 on: September 21, 2017, 04:58:16 PM »

ATHENS, Greece – On Sept. 10, the 45-year-old Greek tanker Agia Zoni II sank in the gulf of Saronikos, releasing 2,500 tons of crude oil and marine gas into the sea around Athens. According to investigators, the tanker's hull was compromised and the vessel sank within 15 minutes. Of the 11-person crew aboard the ship, only the captain and chief engineer were on deck at the time.

The ship's owner, Theodoros Kountouris, later broke down during a televised interview when he was informed about the extent of the oil spill disaster. Kountouris said the ship had been overhauled in 2014, and every possible measure was taken to stop the leak as soon as the vessel sank.

The truth is, the vessel had failed to meet the standards of the Norwegian DNV-GL register as early as 2008. Furthermore, according to representatives of the maritime workers' union PEMEN, the ship was deemed “extremely dangerous to safe navigation.”

Even so, the vessel had been granted a two-month extension, in accordance with Greek law, while the Ministry of Shipping and Island Policy arranged for its future inspection. But according to statements by ministry inspectors, the tanker had had no government issued certificates to speak of.

Political Blowback

The immediate political fallout only served to highlight the Syriza administration's lack of preparedness in face of such crises. While accusations flew left and right on traditional media and online, Greece's infamous lack of readiness with regard to environmental disasters came to light once again. In the usual fashion, any statements made so far have been inconclusive.

"We believe that there will be no irreversible consequences to the environment," quipped the Deputy Environment Minister Socratis Famellos. "I would not call it an environmental disaster. There was a serious environmental accident that is being dealt with."

However, within 24 hours after the leak began, sea currents had already spread the spill across the Athenian coastline and moved the bulk of the crude oil across the Saronikos toward the island of Salamis. Local businesses were forced to close and tourist establishments shut down while cleanup efforts were underway. Local municipal services, aided by government, raced against the clock to tackle the brunt of the disaster.

Giorgos Papanikolaou, the mayor of Glyfada, one of the suburbs most heavily affected by the spill, asserted bluntly: "If someone had warned us even on Tuesday, we would have taken precautions."

Following the spill, beaches were cordoned off and privately contracted anti-pollution vessels were deployed to try and contain the spread. Despite a request for assistance by the Greek government to the E.U. Commission's Emergency Response Coordination Centre, seeking more anti-pollution vessels, no such assistance has been provided. In fact, even the single vessel promised by the E.U. seems to have been delayed on account of the infamous red tape enveloping Brussels.

Despite the considerable efforts to stem the impacts, a number of environmental NGOs – notably Greenpeace and the Greek branches of WWF – have pointed out the huge toll the spill has already taken on local wildlife. According to early assessments, this scale of oil spill should never have reached the crisis levels that it did, provided that any sort of response had been put in place to begin with.

In a recent statement, Takis Grigoriou, spokesman for Greenpeace Greece, said, “If a relatively small leak can cause such destruction right beside the country’s biggest port and the operations center of the Shipping Ministry, what exactly is the country’s capability in dealing with leaks and accidents from large-scale oil operations in the Ionian and Cretan seas."

"The question," he said, "is not whether another accident will happen, but when.”

An outraged Dimitris Karavelas, spokesman for the Greek division of WWF, slammed Greek officials, saying, "Clearly, this crash test of readiness was a failed one. We have no idea what is happening on the seabed."

Greek officials have been largely unwilling to respond to the criticism or take direct blame, perhaps hoping instead that this latest environmental crisis will be brushed under the rug, as so many others often have. In a recent statement, Environment Minister Panagiots Kouroumplis said, "One doesn't see mass destruction among birds and fish. In 25-30 days the [situation] will have changed completely... a giant effort is under way."

According to government estimates, 20 additional anti-pollution vessels are expected to join the effort to curb any further damage the spill is causing to the immediate area. Kouroumplis added confidently: "The entire affair will be forgotten in a few days."

In the meantime, radio and television stations continue to relay regular updates, urging citizens to keep an eye out for possible seepage from the Saronikos gulf, and advising them how to handle any dead animals that might be washed ashore.
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