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Science, Inventions & Techology / Fibonacci Sequence: The Spiral of Life
« Last post by RE on Today at 06:45:30 AM »

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The defeat of Republican Roy Moore in Alabama’s U.S. Senate race by Democrat Doug Jones was a stunning rebuke to the GOP’s anti-establishment wing led by Steve Bannon and a major political embarrassment for President Donald Trump.

Moore’s candidacy was the opening gambit in Bannon’s war to oust Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the rest of the GOP’s congressional leadership. While Trump backed Moore’s primary challenger at McConnell’s behest, he jumped in with a full-throated endorsement of Moore a week before the election in an attempt to put him over the top.

All that unraveled on Tuesday night.

Trump, who once said he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and still win votes, found his limit with Moore -- even in a state he won by 28 percentage points just one year ago. Combined with recent Republican losses in statewide elections in Virginia and New Jersey, Moore’s defeat blows a hole in Trump’s aura of political invincibility that will embolden Democrats as they prepare for the 2018 congressional elections.

The result was also a loss for McConnell and congressional Republicans because it trims their Senate advantage to 51-49 as they enter some tough negotiations on spending with Democrats next year. But it also may bring some measure of relief to GOP lawmakers running for re-election who feared the sexual misconduct claims against Moore would taint the party for years to come.

The outcome isn’t likely to quell the fight with Bannon’s insurgency.

Minutes after the race was called, Andy Surabian, a Bannon ally who is senior adviser to the pro-Trump Great American Alliance, laid the blame at the feet of the Senate’s top leader.

“Mitch McConnell and the Republican establishment got their wish: they successfully delivered Alabama to a liberal Democrat,” Surabian said.

Republican Carlos Curbelo of Florida taunted Bannon for backing “disgusting Roy Moore.”

“Congratulations to the Bannon wing of the @GOP for gifting a seat to @SenateDems in one of the reddest states,” Curbelo wrote on Twitter. “You have no future in our country’s politics.”

It was Trump who sounded a gracious note at the end of the night, congratulating Jones on Twitter “on a hard fought victory” and saying Republicans will have another shot at the seat in a short time -- Jones will face reelection in 2020.

Doug Jones celebrate at an election night party in Birmingham, Alabama, U.S., on Dec. 12.

On Wednesday morning, Trump said he knew all along that Moore couldn’t win. “The reason I originally endorsed Luther Strange (and his numbers went up mightily), is that I said Roy Moore will not be able to win the General Election,” Trump said on Twitter Wednesday morning. “I was right! Roy worked hard but the deck was stacked against him!”

Jones, a former federal prosecutor, prevailed in a solidly Republican state by running a low-key local campaign while Moore was consumed by a national furor following allegations he had pursued relationships with teenage girls while in his thirties.

With Moore out of the picture, Republicans may have dodged a bullet. They now won’t have to answer uncomfortable questions about why they tolerate a colleague accused of initiating a sexual encounter with a 14-year-old girl and assaulting a 16-year-old. McConnell had promised an ethics investigation of Moore if he won. That might have led to a contentious vote on expulsion, which in turn would have kept alive uncomfortable questions about Trump’s own conduct. More than a dozen women have accused the president of sexual harassment or other misconduct over the years.

McConnell’s allies were so worried about Moore that they spent millions trying to defeat him in the primary. Now the majority leader can point to Moore’s defeat as another in a string of disastrous candidates pushed by the party’s right wing that have cost the GOP Senate seats in Delaware, Indiana and Missouri.

“Any illusion that Steve Bannon’s brand of politics could be successful vanished when a state like Alabama became competitive,” said Josh Holmes, former campaign manager and chief of staff for McConnell. “You’d have to be absolutely blind and willfully ignorant to not realize this has been a national embarrassment.”

Even without the sexual misconduct claims, Moore was a polarizing figure. He was twice ousted from the Alabama Supreme Court for refusing to follow federal court orders, argued in 2006 against allowing Representative Keith Ellison of Minnesota to serve because he is Muslim, and backed impeaching Supreme Court justices who voted to legalize same-sex marriage.

Bannon has pledged to run insurgents against every GOP incumbent except Ted Cruz of Texas. Now he’ll have a much harder time carrying that strategy into November’s congressional elections.

Dealing with Moore would have been a daily challenge for a Republican Party already struggling to unite behind its agenda. Moore said he was running so God could save the country, and he vilified McConnell and other leaders as establishment sellouts.

He favored bans on homosexual conduct and gays serving in the military. He had said he believed former President Barack Obama wasn’t born in the U.S., and recently was quoted as saying at a rally that the U.S. was great before the Civil War "even though we had slavery" because, he said, families stuck together and the country had a direction.
$100 Check

Some Republican senators engaged in public debates over just how much to oppose Moore. Senator Jeff Flake tweeted a photo of a $100 check he sent to Jones, while Nebraska’s Ben Sasse tweeted that both Flake, in backing Jones, and the Republican National Committee, which renewed its financial support for Moore, had gotten it wrong. Strikingly, Republican Richard Shelby, Alabama’s senior senator, said he didn’t vote for Moore and instead wrote in the name of a "distinguished Republican."

The outcome adds urgency to Republican efforts to send a massive tax-cut bill to Trump’s desk before Jones can be seated -- by Jan. 3 at the latest -- and it greatly complicates Trump’s plan to attempt a broader repeal of the Affordable Care Act next year.

The one-seat gain gives Democrats a slightly better shot in 2018 at winning the Senate majority, which they could use to control the agenda, investigate the president and block nominees, from the Supreme Court on down.

A Democratic majority is still a long shot. The election map strongly favors the GOP, with 10 Democrats up for re-election in states won by Trump and just one Republican incumbent -- Dean Heller of Nevada -- running in a state won by Democrat Hillary Clinton.

To take the majority, Democrats would likely need to re-elect their incumbents, defeat Heller and pick up an open seat in Arizona or Tennessee -- or, in perhaps the dream Democratic scenario, topple Cruz in Texas.

A small win for the good guys. It's tempting to say the tide is turning against Bannon and Trump, but the truth is that this kind of upset is likely to remain an anomaly, at least for a while.
Knarfs Knewz / We owe ourselves a pollution-free planet
« Last post by knarf on Today at 05:07:48 AM »

President Uhuru Kenyatta addressing delegates at the official opening of the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) High- Level Segment at the United Nation Complex, Gigiri

In the age we live in, now called the Anthropocene, mankind’s impact on our fragile planet has been as consequential as natural catastrophes — volcanoes, hurricanes and even tsunamis. We are now the most virulent biological agent on the universe.

For far too long we have been led to believe that economic growth and prosperity are only attainable through rapacious harvesting and plunder of the planet’s resources. We have fouled the air and damaged our soils. Our forests have been decimated. Our oceans are trawled relentlessly for food and treasure. Thanks to our energy systems, the planet is warming up inexorably.

It might seem like we have a suicide pact as a species. We are all hurtling down the path of irreversible disaster. Committed action to forestall dangerous global warming is not forthcoming. Somehow we are convinced that reining in our fossil fuel and carbon addiction will leave us poorer. Nothing could be more delusional. Somehow we believe killing ourselves into prosperity is cool.

Here is why. According to the World Health Organization, 23 per cent of all deaths —estimated at 12.6 million people in 2012 — are due to environmental causes. Children in low- and middle-income countries bear the biggest burden of environment-related morbidity and mortality. This is certainly not a great outcome in the pursuit of growth and prosperity.

The report, ‘Towards a Pollution-Free Planet’, submitted by the executive director of Unep at the just-concluded United Nations Environment Assembly, is depressing. According to the report, 4.3 million people die annually owing to indoor air pollution.

About three billion people, that includes all Kenyans, do not have access to controlled waste disposal facilities. Lower respiratory infections owing to household or ambient air pollution causes 52 million years of life lost or lived with disability annually.

What is most disconcerting is that many of the harmful effects of chemical pollutants are not fully known; these include the hormonal disruptors and neurological impacts related to human development as well as the effects on biodiversity and ecosystem level processes.

Deforestation and poor land use management, as well as domestic and industrial waste, are killing inland lakes and rivers in Africa. For instance, Lake Victoria is eutrophic, fertile and choking with invasive plant species.

As a consequence of dramatic changes in water quality and the introduction of the Nile perch, the lake’s native fish species are at risk of extinction.

The United Nations Environment Assembly, which just ended here in Nairobi, passed 13 non-binding resolutions. Among these were to protect water-based ecosystems from pollution, remove poisonous lead from paint and batteries, prevent and reduce air pollution and address marine litter and microplatics.

According to a recent report by the Business and Sustainable Development Commission, combating pollution makes business sense. Business opportunities arising from reducing waste, recovery and recycling of materials could be worth $12 trillion globally.

A cleaner and healthier planet is good for the business bottom-line, for people and for the planet. We must find the courage to act now and save ourselves.

Alex O. Awiti is the director of the East Africa Institute at Aga Khan University

 In San Francisco, autonomous crime-fighting robots that are used to patrol parking lots, sports arenas, and tech company campuses are now being deployed to keep away homeless people.

The San Francisco Business Times reported last week that the San Francisco SPCA, an animal advocacy and pet adoption group, put a security robot to work outside its facilities in the gentrifying Mission neighborhood. The robot's presence is meant to deter homeless people from setting up camps along the sidewalks.

Last week, the City of San Francisco ordered the SF SPCA to keep its robot off the streets or be fined up to $1,000 per day for operating on sidewalks without a permit, according to the Business Times.

Krista Maloney, media relations manager for the SF SPCA, told Business Insider that staff wasn't able to safely use the sidewalks at times because of the encampments. Maloney added that since the SPCA started guarding its facilities with the robot — known as K9 — a month ago, the homeless encampments have dwindled and there have been fewer car break-ins.

 K9 is part of a crime-fighting robot fleet manufactured and managed by startup Knightscope in Mountain View, California. The company's robots don't fight humans; they use equipment like lasers, cameras, a thermal sensor, and GPS to detect criminal activity and alert the authorities.

Their intent is to give human security guards "superhuman" eyes and ears, according to Bill Santana Li, CEO of Knightscope, who spoke with Business Insider earlier this year.

Knightscope rents out the robots for $7 an hour — less than a security guard's hourly wage. The company has over 19 clients in five US states. Most customers, including Microsoft, Uber, and Juniper Networks, put the robots to work patrolling parking lots and office buildings.

Preventing crime is part of the pitch that Knightscope makes to prospective customers. (Increased police presence can reduce crime, though this is not always the case.)

"If I put a marked law enforcement vehicle in front of your home or your office, criminal behavior changes," Li told Business Insider earlier this year.

The K9 robot circling the SF SPCA has drawn mixed responses. Within the first week of the robot's deployment, some people who were setting up a homeless encampment nearby allegedly "put a tarp over it, knocked it over, and put barbecue sauce on all the sensors," according to Jennifer Scarlett, president of the SF SPCA. A Twitter user reported seeing feces smeared on the robot.

A spokesperson for Knightscope declined to comment.
'This is a real world analysis of what is actually happening, rather than a projection of what might happen in the future,' says author Richard Black

Extreme weather events such as Hurricane Harvey are increasingly being linked to climate change in scientific studies

Climate change is increasing the risk of extreme weather events, including droughts, flooding and heatwaves, according to a new report.

Researchers from the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, a non profit organisation that supports debate on climate change and energy issues, analysed 59 studies which looked at climate change and extreme weather.

All had been published since the Paris climate summit two years ago.

They concluded that 41 of the studies demonstrated climate change had made extreme weather events more intense and more long-lived. These included droughts in Syria to Storm Desmond, which battered the UK in 2015.

The harm inflicted by these events was estimated at around $8bn (£5.9bn) in economic damage and resulted in at least 4,000 deaths.

“Just a few years ago it was hard to say more about any storm, drought or heatwave than it was ‘consistent with what science predicts’,” said the report’s author, Richard Black, a director of the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit.

As climate science has advanced, scientists have become increasingly able to not just make future predictions of climate change’s impact, but also look for its effects in current weather events, he added.

“This is a real world analysis of what is actually happening, rather than a projection of what might happen in the future,” he said. "This report shows that increasingly, [scientists are] finding that specific events are made more likely or more damaging by climate change."

The effects were most obvious for heatwaves, as the connection between increased general temperatures and increased temperatures during a hot spell are relatively straightforward.

Storms and hurricanes are more complicated. Although such events are strongly linked to climate change, they are complex phenomena with many contributing factors, making the links more ambiguous.

“We’re now finding that for many kinds of extreme weather event, especially heatwaves and extreme rainfall, we can be quite confident about the effect of climate change,” said Dr Friederike Otto, deputy director of the Environmental Change Institute at the University of Oxford, who was not involved in the report.

“This ECIU report shows just how quickly knowledge is accumulating, and I think it’s only going to accelerate.”

Mr Black added: “Two years’ worth of studies shows that climate change is affecting heatwaves, droughts and rainfall right now."

The new report comes shortly before another climate summit in Paris, the One Planet Summit, which is set to focus on the economics of climate change.

Soenke Kreft, leader of Munich Climate Insurance Initiative at the United Nations University, who was not involved in the report, said understanding the links between natural disasters and climate change was important, as it can play a role in convincing policymakers and citizens of the threat posed by climate change and encouraging them to take action.

“Attribution science is an important field of research that has the potential to transform public narratives into more specific prevention measures of risks,” he said. “It also helps to underscore the international responsibilities in supporting the protection of communities by prevention measures and insurance related mechanisms, and providing swift assistance in post disaster situations."

Mr Black added: “The science shows that the further and faster climate change progresses the larger this effect is likely to be, therefore the best way to restrain this is to curb global emissions."
The climate science maverick believes catastrophe is inevitable, carbon offsetting is a joke and ethical living a scam. So what would he do? By Decca Aitkenhead

James Lovelock

In 1965 executives at Shell wanted to know what the world would look like in the year 2000. They consulted a range of experts, who speculated about fusion-powered hovercrafts and "all sorts of fanciful technological stuff". When the oil company asked the scientist James Lovelock, he predicted that the main problem in 2000 would be the environment. "It will be worsening then to such an extent that it will seriously affect their business," he said.

"And of course," Lovelock says, with a smile 43 years later, "that's almost exactly what's happened."

Lovelock has been dispensing predictions from his one-man laboratory in an old mill in Cornwall since the mid-1960s, the consistent accuracy of which have earned him a reputation as one of Britain's most respected - if maverick - independent scientists. Working alone since the age of 40, he invented a device that detected CFCs, which helped detect the growing hole in the ozone layer, and introduced the Gaia hypothesis, a revolutionary theory that the Earth is a self-regulating super-organism. Initially ridiculed by many scientists as new age nonsense, today that theory forms the basis of almost all climate science.

For decades, his advocacy of nuclear power appalled fellow environmentalists - but recently increasing numbers of them have come around to his way of thinking. His latest book, The Revenge of Gaia, predicts that by 2020 extreme weather will be the norm, causing global devastation; that by 2040 much of Europe will be Saharan; and parts of London will be underwater. The most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report deploys less dramatic language - but its calculations aren't a million miles away from his.

As with most people, my panic about climate change is equalled only by my confusion over what I ought to do about it. A meeting with Lovelock therefore feels a little like an audience with a prophet. Buried down a winding track through wild woodland, in an office full of books and papers and contraptions involving dials and wires, the 88-year-old presents his thoughts with a quiet, unshakable conviction that can be unnerving. More alarming even than his apocalyptic climate predictions is his utter certainty that almost everything we're trying to do about it is wrong.

On the day we meet, the Daily Mail has launched a campaign to rid Britain of plastic shopping bags. The initiative sits comfortably within the current canon of eco ideas, next to ethical consumption, carbon offsetting, recycling and so on - all of which are premised on the calculation that individual lifestyle adjustments can still save the planet. This is, Lovelock says, a deluded fantasy. Most of the things we have been told to do might make us feel better, but they won't make any difference. Global warming has passed the tipping point, and catastrophe is unstoppable.

"It's just too late for it," he says. "Perhaps if we'd gone along routes like that in 1967, it might have helped. But we don't have time. All these standard green things, like sustainable development, I think these are just words that mean nothing. I get an awful lot of people coming to me saying you can't say that, because it gives us nothing to do. I say on the contrary, it gives us an immense amount to do. Just not the kinds of things you want to do."

He dismisses eco ideas briskly, one by one. "Carbon offsetting? I wouldn't dream of it. It's just a joke. To pay money to plant trees, to think you're offsetting the carbon? You're probably making matters worse. You're far better off giving to the charity Cool Earth, which gives the money to the native peoples to not take down their forests."

Do he and his wife try to limit the number of flights they take? "No we don't. Because we can't." And recycling, he adds, is "almost certainly a waste of time and energy", while having a "green lifestyle" amounts to little more than "ostentatious grand gestures". He distrusts the notion of ethical consumption. "Because always, in the end, it turns out to be a scam ... or if it wasn't one in the beginning, it becomes one."

Somewhat unexpectedly, Lovelock concedes that the Mail's plastic bag campaign seems, "on the face of it, a good thing". But it transpires that this is largely a tactical response; he regards it as merely more rearrangement of Titanic deckchairs, "but I've learnt there's no point in causing a quarrel over everything". He saves his thunder for what he considers the emptiest false promise of all - renewable energy.

"You're never going to get enough energy from wind to run a society such as ours," he says. "Windmills! Oh no. No way of doing it. You can cover the whole country with the blasted things, millions of them. Waste of time."

This is all delivered with an air of benign wonder at the intractable stupidity of people. "I see it with everybody. People just want to go on doing what they're doing. They want business as usual. They say, 'Oh yes, there's going to be a problem up ahead,' but they don't want to change anything."

Lovelock believes global warming is now irreversible, and that nothing can prevent large parts of the planet becoming too hot to inhabit, or sinking underwater, resulting in mass migration, famine and epidemics. Britain is going to become a lifeboat for refugees from mainland Europe, so instead of wasting our time on wind turbines we need to start planning how to survive. To Lovelock, the logic is clear. The sustainability brigade are insane to think we can save ourselves by going back to nature; our only chance of survival will come not from less technology, but more.

Nuclear power, he argues, can solve our energy problem - the bigger challenge will be food. "Maybe they'll synthesise food. I don't know. Synthesising food is not some mad visionary idea; you can buy it in Tesco's, in the form of Quorn. It's not that good, but people buy it. You can live on it." But he fears we won't invent the necessary technologies in time, and expects "about 80%" of the world's population to be wiped out by 2100. Prophets have been foretelling Armageddon since time began, he says. "But this is the real thing."

Faced with two versions of the future - Kyoto's preventative action and Lovelock's apocalypse - who are we to believe? Some critics have suggested Lovelock's readiness to concede the fight against climate change owes more to old age than science: "People who say that about me haven't reached my age," he says laughing.

But when I ask if he attributes the conflicting predictions to differences in scientific understanding or personality, he says: "Personality."

There's more than a hint of the controversialist in his work, and it seems an unlikely coincidence that Lovelock became convinced of the irreversibility of climate change in 2004, at the very point when the international consensus was coming round to the need for urgent action. Aren't his theories at least partly driven by a fondness for heresy?

"Not a bit! Not a bit! All I want is a quiet life! But I can't help noticing when things happen, when you go out and find something. People don't like it because it upsets their ideas."

But the suspicion seems confirmed when I ask if he's found it rewarding to see many of his climate change warnings endorsed by the IPCC. "Oh no! In fact, I'm writing another book now, I'm about a third of the way into it, to try and take the next steps ahead."

Interviewers often remark upon the discrepancy between Lovelock's predictions of doom, and his good humour. "Well I'm cheerful!" he says, smiling. "I'm an optimist. It's going to happen."

Humanity is in a period exactly like 1938-9, he explains, when "we all knew something terrible was going to happen, but didn't know what to do about it". But once the second world war was under way, "everyone got excited, they loved the things they could do, it was one long holiday ... so when I think of the impending crisis now, I think in those terms. A sense of purpose - that's what people want."

At moments I wonder about Lovelock's credentials as a prophet. Sometimes he seems less clear-eyed with scientific vision than disposed to see the version of the future his prejudices are looking for. A socialist as a young man, he now favours market forces, and it's not clear whether his politics are the child or the father of his science. His hostility to renewable energy, for example, gets expressed in strikingly Eurosceptic terms of irritation with subsidies and bureaucrats. But then, when he talks about the Earth - or Gaia - it is in the purest scientific terms all.

"There have been seven disasters since humans came on the earth, very similar to the one that's just about to happen. I think these events keep separating the wheat from the chaff. And eventually we'll have a human on the planet that really does understand it and can live with it properly. That's the source of my optimism."

What would Lovelock do now, I ask, if he were me? He smiles and says: "Enjoy life while you can. Because if you're lucky it's going to be 20 years before it hits the fan."
Neonicotinoids, banned on flowering crops, were found in nearly all rivers tested, increasing concerns over their impact on fish and birds

The river Waveney that supplies the Norfolk Broads had chronic neonicotinoid pollution levels recorded.

Rivers in England are contaminated with powerful insecticides, new testing has revealed, increasing concerns over the impact of the toxic chemicals on fish and birds.

Neonicotinoids were banned from use on flowering crops in the European Union in 2013 due to the harm they cause to bees and other vital pollinators. Following even more evidence of harm, an EU vote to extend the ban to all outdoor uses is expected soon.

However, evidence is also growing that neonicotinoids – the world’s most widely used insecticide – harm other species, such as songbirds. Neonicotinoids have been in use since the early 1990s and now contaminate landscapes around the world. But very little monitoring of their concentration in soils or water is done, a failing recently condemned by a UK government chief scientific adviser.

The first systematic testing of neonicotinoids in rivers in Britain was mandated by EU water regulations and conducted in 2016. The results, obtained by the conservation charity Buglife, show that half of the 16 rivers tested in England had either chronic or acute levels of contamination. Of the 23 rivers tested across Britain, neonicotinoids were not detected in six.

No official limits exist in the EU for neonicotinoid pollution in freshwater. But a peer-reviewed scientific analysis published in 2015 recommended chronic and acute levels that should not be exceeded “to avoid lasting effects on aquatic invertebrate communities”, and these were used by Buglife to asses the new river data.

Like flying insects, aquatic insects are vulnerable to neonicotinoids and provide the main source of food for many fish and birds. Recent research in the Netherlands has shown chronic neonicotinoid pollution in water led to sharp drops in insect numbers and was linked to heavy falls in bird numbers.

“We are devastated to discover that many British rivers have been heavily damaged by neonicotinoid insecticides,” said Matt Shardlow, CEO of Buglife.

Mark Lloyd, CEO of the Angling Trust, said: “These results are highly alarming in the context of widespread declines in aquatic insect life and fish populations. We urge the government to act urgently to ban continued use of these chemicals to protect wildlife, fisheries and drinking water.”

The most polluted river tested was the river Waveney on the Norfolk/Suffolk Border, where the acute harm level was exceeded for a whole month in the summer of 2016. Sugar beet fields are the most likely source of pollution, said Shardlow.

The nearby river Wensum, in a Special Area of Conservation for its river life, was also chronically polluted. Both rivers supply the Norfolk Broads, an internationally important wetland site and home to many endangered aquatic animals.

The proposed EU ban would still allow neonicotinoids to be used in greenhouses and as a flea treatment for pets. A new Greenpeace study suggests neonicotinoids are frequently found in waterways close to greenhouses where they have been used. The new tests found contamination in a stream in the Cairngorms, which Shardlow said is most likely the result of a treated dog entering the stream.

“It is vital that action is taken to completely ban these toxins, including in greenhouses and on pets, before another year of disgraceful pollution occurs,” he said.

Arlin Rickard, CEO of the Rivers Trust, said: “We work closely with farmers and growers to reduce and better target chemical and fertiliser usage, however some chemicals are just too damaging and persistent to be tolerated.”

A spokesman for the National Farmers Union said: “British farmers take their environmental responsibilities seriously and have high levels of pesticide stewardship through schemes like the Voluntary Initiative, which offer advice and actions designed to keep pesticides out of water. The Environment Agency closely monitors pesticides in rivers and we are not aware of it raising any specific concerns about high levels of neonicotinoids.”

Xinjiang is one of the most tightly controlled parts of China.

Chinese authorities are collecting DNA samples, fingerprints and other biometric data from every resident in a far western region, Human Rights Watch has said.

Officials are also building a database of iris scans and blood types of everyone aged between 12 and 65 in Xinjiang, adding to controls in a place some experts have called an “open-air prison”.

The region is home to over 11 million Uighurs, a Muslim Turkic minority, and is occasionally hit by bouts of violence.

The data can be used for “surveillance of persons because of ethnicity, religion, opinion or other protected exercise of rights like free speech”, according to Human Rights Watch.

Part of the collection is being done through government-provided medical checkups, and it is unclear if patients are aware the exam is also designed to transmit biometric data to the police.

Although the checks are officially voluntary, one Uighur said local cadres “had demanded that they must participate in the physicals”. A story in a local newspaper encouraged officials to “work hard to convince them to participate”.

Nearly 19 million people have participated in the medical exams, dubbed Physicals for All, in 2017, according to state news agency Xinhua. For people determined to be “focus personnel” – a euphemism for those the government views as dangerous – their data will be collected regardless of age.

“The mandatory databanking of a whole population’s biodata, including DNA, is a gross violation of international human rights norms,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. “It’s even more disturbing if it is done surreptitiously, under the guise of a free healthcare program.

“Xinjiang authorities should rename their physical exams project ‘Privacy Violations for All’, as informed consent and real choice does not seem to be part of these programs,” she added.

Officials in the region claim the scheme is meant to improve policies aimed at poverty alleviation. They also say it is targeted at “social stability”, a phrase commonly used to describe crackdowns on government critics.

In the massive effort to collect biometric data from millions of residents, police in Xinjiang bought DNA sequencers from the US company Thermo Fisher Scientific, according to Human Rights Watch. The company refused to directly address its products being used in Xinjiang, saying only: “We do expect all of our customers to act in accordance with appropriate regulations and industry-standard best practices.”

Biometric data collection also applies to people originally from Xinjiang who have moved to other parts of China, where they will be required to submit their information locally.

Xinjiang is one of the most tightly controlled parts of China, with the Uighur minority facing increased scrutiny in recent years. Heavily armed troops on city streets are a common sight and the authorities frequently hold mass rallies to bolster their support in the fight against the Islamic extremists Beijing blames for a series of attacks on government officials and civilians.

But rights groups say most of the violence stems from restrictions on religion, culture, language and expression, as well as a lack of economic opportunities in the impoverished region. Uighurs often complain high-paying jobs are given only to Han Chinese.
Knarfs Knewz / Macron: World is losing battle against climate change
« Last post by knarf on Today at 04:43:00 AM »
French President Emmanuel Macron delivered a stark warning on climate change at a meeting in Paris, urging political and business leaders to launch an urgent new phase in the fight against global warming.

"We are losing the battle," Macron said at Tuesday's "One Planet" summit. "We must all act because we will all be held to account."

The meeting was held on the second anniversary of the Paris climate agreement, a pact ratified by 170 nations to cut Earth-warming greenhouse gas emissions.

US President Donald Trump, however, has since announced plans to withdraw from the accord, a move Macron described as "bad news".

"We are here in such great numbers because so many of us have decided not to accept the US government decision to leave the agreement," he said.

Macron did not invite Trump to the summit. Several prominent American figures - including Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bill Gates, and Elon Musk - were in attendance.

Al Jazeera's Natacha Butler, reporting from Paris, said the US pullout has left "an enormous shortfall in the funding for the battle against climate change".

Trump, who has called climate change a "hoax", said he would withhold $2bn pledged to the Green Climate Fund, set up to help poorer countries tackle the effects of climate change.

Antonio Guterres, the UN chief, said the Green Climate Fund was indispensable, adding it was "only justice" that developed countries help poorer countries fight climate change.

"We are in a war for the very existence of life on our planet as we know it," said Guterres.

"There is no shortage of funds. What we are short on is trust and we must fix this. This means that the rich northern countries up their engagement and pledge $100bn a year until 2020 for developing countries."

Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York, said environmentalists owed Trump a debt of gratitude for rallying thousands to action.

Speaking to reporters earlier in the day, Bloomberg added America's Pledge - a coalition of 1,000 US governors, mayors, business leaders, and academics, formed to honour US commitments in the Paris Accord - now "represents half of the US economy".

Other public and private financial institutions unveiled plans to invest in clean energy and divest from fossil fuels.

That included an announcement by the World Bank that it would not finance oil-and-gas exploration or production after 2019.

A group of more than 225 investment funds managing more than $26 trillion in assets pledged to step up pressure on the world's largest corporate greenhouse gas emitters to curb emissions and disclose climate-related financial information.

Here are some of the other commitments announced in Paris:

    French insurer Axa said it would quadrupole investments in environmentally friendly projects, and pull out $2.9bn from companies that derive more than 30 percent of their revenues from coal
    Dutch bank ING said it would have "close to zero exposure" to coal power generation by 2025
    Norwegian pension fund Storebrand said it will expand its portfolio of fossil fuel-free investments to more than $3bn
    The European Union pledged to invest 9 billion euros ($10.6bn) in clean energy, sustainable agriculture, and climate-resilient cities
    The World Bank also announced a slew of other projects, including a $4.5bn fund for cities to fight the effects of climate change, and a plan to tackle erosion along the West African Coast

Margaret Kuhlow, the World Wide Fund, told Al Jazeera she was "encouraged" by the new commitments.
Knarfs Knewz / Can #MeToo go beyond white neoliberal feminism?
« Last post by knarf on Today at 04:39:35 AM »

Demonstrators participate in the #MeToo Survivors's March on November 12 in Los Angeles

Alicia Garza, the cofounder of Black Lives Matter, recently paid tribute to Tarana Burke, the African American activist who began the "Me Too" campaign in 2007 as a grassroots movement to aid sexual assault survivors in underprivileged communities where no rape crisis centres existed and few sexual assault workers were on the payroll. Garza, herself a survivor of sexual assault, explained that for her, the importance of "Me Too" lies in the "power of empathy, this power of connection, is really about empowering people to be survivors, to be resilient, and also to make really visible that sexual violence is not about people's individual actions, that this is a systemic problem".

These words are not only directed towards the Donald Trump and Roy Moore types and the conservative backlash against #MeToo, but should also be read as a counterbalance to the trenchant feminist critiques of the campaign.

Activists and feminists have, rightly, pointed out that it is only when powerful, wealthy and mostly white women come forward that influential men have been forced to resign from high-profile positions. This raises the absolutely crucial question of when and where claims of sexual harassment and assault are heard and whose voices count.

Other critics have noted that the denunciation and the tendency to conflate more "casual" sexual harassment with sexual assault can lead to scapegoating, lack of due process, and a new "sex panic", where sexuality will be even more forcibly policed. Historically, such processes have translated into more intensified policing of non-normative sexual practices, particularly among LGBTQ people.

Along similar lines, women of colour have voiced their grave concerns about the incredibly bloated and racist criminal justice system, claiming that the mere criminalisation of perpetrators is problematic.

    #MeToo has already shifted debates about workplace norms, created new and surprising alliances


Finally, another concern coming from the left has to do with its individualistic nature. This line of critique suggests that #MeToo is about "me", the individual's resilience and survival and does not and likely cannot mobilise people politically. Thus, it can easily become part of a neoliberal feminist discussion, which ultimately individualises and atomises each person who uses the hashtag while disavowing the socioeconomic and cultural structures shaping our lives. In this way, it also elides the women who are perhaps most vulnerable to violence - sexual or otherwise - such as immigrant, domestic workers, and low-income women of colour.

Insofar as this is the case, then the #MeToo discourse not only helps to disarticulate the systemic nature of gendered and sexual violence, but it actually places the onus on individual women to come forward and speak their pain.

These criticisms are both valid and forceful. But Garza, in her single sentence quoted above, manages to address many of the issues raised, while highlighting the fault lines as well as the incredible potential of the #MeToo campaign.

First, Garza reminds us that "Me Too" began as a grassroots movement, founded by an African American woman, whose aim was to reach women in underprivileged communities, particularly young women of colour. From the outset, the movement had a very specific therapeutic and political vision that helps explain its affective pull, as well as why women feel empowered when speaking about their painful and often traumatic experiences. As Burke puts it: "Me Too" is about "using the power of empathy to stomp out shame."

The Time magazine named the 'Silence Breakers', those who have shared their stories about sexual assault and harassment, 'person of the year'. The magazine's cover features Isabel Pascual, Ashley Judd, Taylor Swift, Adama Iwu and Susan Fowler [AP]

While the mainstream press has noted - albeit mostly in passing - Burke's coining of the term, much less has been said about the origins of "Me Too" as a grassroots movement, its therapeutic vision or its initial mission to help underprivileged women find their voice. Thus, Garza's intervention reminds us, yet again, how often "black women's work" and their voices have been erased from mainstream US narratives.

Second, Garza highlights one of the main tensions or paradoxes in the current #MeToo movement. On the one hand, she says that #MeToo is about empowering individuals who have experienced sexual harassment and assault, transforming shame into a language of empowerment, survival and resilience. The desire for emotional transformation and the effort to enable survivors to speak and work through their pain clearly has its roots in the movement's original therapeutic vision.

On the other hand - and in the very same breath - she insists that sexual violence is about systemic patriarchal violence, which, she contends, feeds off of shame and silence.

Garza has a point. Notwithstanding the strength of the different critiques, the "#MeToo" campaign has, within a short period, managed to bring about noticeable social change. Its incredible domino effect has begun to transform not only public discussion but also the cultural landscape in ways that no one could have predicted even six months ago. Indeed, we are witnessing a new phenomenon in which self-entitled and privileged men who think they can do whatever they want with impunity are actually being sacked as a result of sexual assault and even "casual" sexual harassment. This is historic.

#MeToo has already shifted debates about workplace norms, created new and surprising alliances where female farmworkers are not only speaking out, but expressing their solidarity with Hollywood actresses; it is breaking the silence around gender inequality in this particular form - sexual harassment and assault - pushing the mainstream media to abandon the bad apple approach and to note that the problem is, in fact, pervasive, if not structural.

In this context, it is crucial to remember the motivations behind the original "Me Too" campaign, as well as the words of its founder: "I appreciate the hashtag, and I appreciate the hashtag elevating the conversation, but it's not a hashtag, right? It's not a moment. This is a movement."

It is certainly true that the current #MeToo campaign could devolve into another aspect of an individualistic neoliberal feminism, leaving men like Donald Trump and Roy Moore unscathed. But it is also true that it could gather more momentum and broaden the conversation to include urgent and difficult discussions about structural sexism, male self-entitlement, and - just as importantly - other forms of intersecting systemic oppressions. Burke and Garza are leading the way. Whether we follow their lead and help mobilise the moment into a mass movement is, in many ways, up to us. So, yes, "MeToo."
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