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Offline Darja

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« on: Jun 14, 2021, 02:43 AM »
This thread will now continue from the old message board

« Last Edit: Jun 21, 2021, 03:31 AM by Rad »


Offline Darja

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« Reply #1 on: Jan 20, 2022, 03:27 AM »

Nocebo effect could cause most COVID-19 vaccine symptoms

Reactions from headaches to fatigue were attributed to the negative version of the placebo effect.

Fermin Koop   
January 20, 2022

You’ve probably heard of the placebo effect — when patients think they’re getting an actual drug but they’re just getting a sugar pill or a hollow shell — and they recover just like they had been taking the actual drug. But the placebo effect also has a negative side, called the nocebo effect, when patients exhibit negative side effects after taking treatments with no pharmacological effects. This could be the case with some COVID-19 vaccines.

In a meta-analysis of placebo-controlled COVID-19 vaccine trials, researchers compared the rate of adverse effects reported by those who got the vaccines to the one by patients who got the placebo shot (as in, an empty shot that isn’t actually a vaccine). Overall, two-thirds of participants reported adverse effects such as headaches and fatigue — including the ones in the placebo group.

In other words, a lot of the people reporting side effects didn’t get the vaccine at all. Instead, it was the nocebo effect giving them side effects, researchers argue.

    “Nonspecific symptoms like headache and fatigue are listed among the most common adverse reactions following COVID-19 vaccination in many information leaflets,” senior author Ted Kaptchuk said in a statement. “This sort of information may cause people to misattribute common daily background sensations as arising from the vaccine.”

The researchers analyzed data from 12 clinical trials of Covid-19 vaccines. Trials included adverse effect reports from over 22,000 placebo recipients and 22,000 vaccine recipients. After the first shot, over 35% of those who got the placebo had adverse effects such as headaches and 16% reported a local event, such as swelling.

In comparison, 46% of vaccine recipients had at least one adverse effect, with two-thirds reporting at least one local event. While they had the actual vaccine treatment, researchers argue that at least some of their side effects can be attributed to the nocebo effect — considering some of the same effects happened in the placebo group.

The researchers then looked at the side effects after the second shot. The rate of headaches and systemic symptoms was twice as high in those who got the vaccine compared to the placebo group, at 61% and 32% respectively. The gap was larger for local events, reaching 73% in vaccine recipients and 12% in the placebo group.

    “Collecting systematic evidence regarding these nocebo responses in vaccine trials is important for COVID-19 vaccination worldwide, especially because concern about side effects is reported to be a reason for vaccine hesitancy,” lead author Julia W. Haas, PhD, an investigator at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, said in a statement.

The side effects of COVID-19

With over five million deaths worldwide because of the ongoing pandemic, vaccination programs have been very successful in reducing the number of new infections and the number of hospitalizations. However, about 20% of the population still refuse vaccination. In 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic, the WHO described vaccination hesitancy as a global threat — and this year, we saw just how big of a threat this can be.

Common symptoms such as headache and fatigue, which the study has associated with the nocebo effect, are listed among the most common adverse effects of COVID-19 in many information leaflets. This information can increase nocebo mechanisms and make patients falsely attribute symptoms to vaccination.

Full disclosure and education about nocebo effects could be helpful to address this, the researchers argued. Adding simple and accurate information about nocebo to the informed consent procedure can reduce medication-related adverse effects. Highlighting the possibility of not experiencing adverse effects can also be beneficial, they conclude.

The study was published in the journal JAMA.


Offline Darja

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« Reply #2 on: Jan 20, 2022, 03:30 AM »
‘The treeline is out of control’: how the climate crisis is turning the Arctic green

In northern Norway, trees are rapidly taking over the tundra and threatening an ancient way of life that depends on snow and ice

by Ben Rawlence
Thu 20 Jan 2022 06.00 GMT

Altafjord is a wide expanse of black water on the edge of the Barents Sea, ringed with mountains. Alta is a relatively large town in the Finnmark province, the crown of the horse’s mane that forms Norway’s jagged coastline and Europe’s northern shore. Here at sea level the most northerly trees in Europe are moving upslope, gobbling up the tundra as they go. The people and animals that live here are trying to make sense of the rapid changes with a mixture of confusion, denial and panic.

Dawn at 70 degrees north during winter lasts nearly the whole day. The sun never rises, the day is permanently on the verge of breaking. It is disorienting. On the way to city hall from the guesthouse, I spied few pedestrians. Alta is a town built along American principles – that is to say a town built for a world in which petrol is cheap and cars are taken for granted. It is a landscape of shopping malls, gas stations and spaced-out residential suburbs. Normally at this time of year it isn’t safe to be outside for long without wearing animal skins, but on the day of my visit it was only -1C.

All along the road to the city centre were rows of young Scots pines, their orangey bark contrasting with the fresh dusting of snow. Intermingled with the pines were shorter, ragged-looking trees with lumpy trunks, wizened branches and fine twigs like gnarled fingers: Betula pubescens, downy birch. It is these trees that had brought me here, to the office of Hallgeir Strifeldt, the director of planning for the municipality of Alta, at 9am on a Monday in the middle of winter.

As the planet warms, the Arctic treeline is accelerating towards the pole, turning the white landscape to green. The trees used to creep forward a few centimetres every year; now they are leaping north at a rate of 40 to 50 metres a year. In the European Arctic, the birch is the leader of the pack.

Downy birch is one of few broadleaved deciduous trees in the Arctic and it is hardier even than most conifers. Its “down” is a soft coating of hairs that acts like a fur coat in the punishing cold. Often found cooperating with pines and spruce at lower latitudes and altitudes, above a certain point the birch leaves the others behind and goes on alone for hundreds of miles.

It might be unprepossessing, even ugly, with its stumpy branches and pockmarked bark, but this tough little tree is a survivor and a pioneer, essential to nearly all life in the Arctic. Used by humans for tools, houses, fuel, food and medicine, it is home to microbes, fungi and insects central to the food chain, and it is critical for sheltering other plants needed to make a forest. The downy birch dictates the terms of what can grow, survive and move in the areas in which it takes hold. And, as the Arctic heats up, that range is expanding fast.

Alta’s town hall is a modern timber-clad building radiating orange light. The entrance vestibule is a two-stage affair, like a submarine airlock, where you must pass through a bath of blasting hot air. When I arrived, the receptionist was in a good mood. She, like everyone in Alta, was relieved. Finally, there was some snow and finally the temperature was below freezing, even if only just.

“It gets very dark when we don’t have any snow,” said Strifeldt, ensconced in his modern office. Winters have been getting gradually warmer in recent years, but the warmth when I visited was, he said, “extreme”. The whole community had been in a state of panic, reindeer herders posting photos of a snowless tundra on Facebook.

Strifeldt is a city dweller, a mild man with rimless glasses and a reserved air. He is also half-Sami, the indigenous people of Arctic Europe who share DNA and a common linguistic heritage with the peoples of the circumpolar region, from Finland to Russia across the Bering Strait to Alaska, Labrador and back to Greenland. The Sami used to migrate across the land without hindrance, but now the 80,000 who remain find themselves instead citizens of one of four different modern nations: Norway, Sweden, Finland or Russia. They are the only indigenous group in Europe recognised by the United Nations.

Reindeer are central to Strifeldt’s identity, as they are for all Sami. His mother’s family were reindeer herders, but when his grandmother died in childbirth on the plateau, his grandfather brought his infant mother to Alta, and left her with a Norwegian family to raise. The grandfather went back to his herds beneath the wide skies of the plateau, to his laavo – a traditional tent much like a tipi – and married again. Hallgeir has a foot in the city and the laavo. When I saw him later that week at a Sami cultural event, he was wearing the traditional Sami felt jacket embroidered with gold, a silk scarf, reindeer-skin trousers and boots and an elaborately worked silver belt.

Reindeer are endearing animals, with their wide brown eyes, furry antlers, soft fur and enormous snow-proof padded hooves. Sami herders recognise every member of their herd individually. Love is an insufficient word for the relationship: codependency comes closer. The people move because the reindeer move in search of grazing. Their culture has evolved around the migratory needs of the herds. But the breakdown in weather is upsetting this cycle. The Sami are among the first victims of climate breakdown, forced to contemplate a little earlier than the rest of us the collapse of a whole culture.

The reindeer are the only pillar left of what was once a more diversified civilisation. The forest Sami are long gone, forced by the Norwegian government over a century ago to choose between reindeer husbandry or assimilation. The integration of the fishing Sami has taken longer, but the collapse in cod stocks has helped accelerate the move to the towns, a process that it is Strifeldt’s job to manage. Alta is a boom town of 20,000 inhabitants, growing as the countryside all around is drained of people.

Reindeer herding is valued by the rest of Norway and so it has persisted. The Norwegian state sees reindeer as a farmed resource, with quotas and subsidies and strict controls on culls. To the official mind they are a commodity, a useful export from the otherwise unproductive vast plateau of the north, but for the Sami the reindeer’s significance is not only economic and cultural, it is also symbolic. “Reindeer are life. They are everything. Without reindeer, we die,” Strifeldt told me.

And now reindeer herding, a way of life that has survived intact for 10,000 years, is under threat. This time it is not the Norwegian government that poses the greatest danger, but the climate. Warmer winters are deadly for the reindeer in two ways: one is short and sharp, leading to a quick death – ice; the other is slow but sure – too many trees.

Once upon a time, the first snows of winter would fall some time in October, initially on the tundra, the plateau above the treeline, and then on the pine and birch forests of the river valleys and the coasts. Shortly after, the mercury in the thermometer would descend below freezing and stay there until April or May, when the snow would begin to melt and the rivers would rush with the clear turquoise of superoxygenated ice. Until 2005, the average winter temperature in the region was -15C and it would reliably sink below -40C at least once during the winter, eliminating even the hardiest of all insect larvae, a process that kept the Arctic pest-free in the summer.

This world of winter was dark and cold and dry. At those temperatures there was no moisture at all. The snowpack was the consistency of sand, made up of several layers of large snow crystals. At -40C or-50C in the middle of winter, the quality and nature of snow crystals is critical to the survival of humans and animals alike.

When the temperature climbs back up towards zero or, even worse, above it, this delicate winter ecosystem collapses. Even a little warming of the snow can create havoc. Moisture starts to appear in the snowpack at -5C or -6C, at which point it loses its sand-like quality, and the snow starts to compact under the reindeer’s hooves, ruining the grazing beneath. If the thermometer goes all the way into the positive, as it has done increasingly in recent years, it is a catastrophe. Melting snow or rain will freeze when the temperature goes negative again, forming a crust of ice over the ground, locking the vegetation away from the browsing reindeer. This happened in 2013 and again in 2017. Tens of thousands of reindeer died; some herders lost more than a third of their animals.

In the past 130 years, the temperature has crept above zero three times during winter – two of these times were in the past decade. From now on, the projections say every winter will experience days above zero. Reindeer herds can be up to 20,000 or 30,000 strong, and they are spread out across thousands of square miles of the Finnmark plateau. Artificial feeding is impractical, not to mention far too expensive. Something is going to have to give.

Warmer winters mean that the reindeer herds need more space in which to feed. Competition for the grassy tundra of the plateau is increasing from other reindeer, from windfarms, pylons, roads and mines. But the most formidable challenger is the humble downy birch.

The office next to Strifeldt’s belongs to Tor Ha?vard Sund, manager of the Finnmark forest service. Sund is a large man in a checked shirt with an open face and a warm smile. As we were talking, we consulted the huge map that forms one wall of his office, but he quickly got frustrated.

“When was this map printed?” he asked. We located the date in small print at the edge: 1994. “This is totally useless,” he said. “We need new maps. The treeline is out of control.”

Several interlinked factors affect the habitable range of tree species: the availability of sunlight, water and nutrients are prerequisites, but these interact with other variables such as wind and temperature. Tiny gradations in altitude or latitude can mark large differences in vegetation. The downy birch detected the current warming trend much earlier than most scientists. This tree loves the warmer weather. It used to be confined to the dips and gullies on the plateau, away from the icy winds, but, unleashed by the warmth, it is storming over the top and out into the open, moving upslope at the rate of 40m a year. An enormous amount of territory is being transformed from tundra into woodland.

On the face of it, more trees might sound like a good thing. The problem is that the greening of the tundra further accelerates the warming process, as the birch improves the soil and warms it with microbial activity, melting the permafrost and releasing methane – a greenhouse gas 85 times more powerful than carbon dioxide in its warming effects over a shorter timeframe.

Birch is a pioneer tree. In spring it can sense when the nights are getting shorter and the temperature is warmer, and when the timing is right, it flowers with two sets of catkins. After pollination the downy buds covered in fine hair break open to release countless little winged seeds on to the wind. A good year for seed dispersal is called a mast year. Every year is a mast year these days. Before, the growing season was May to October; now it is April to November.

“Sooner or later, the whole of the plateau will be covered in trees,” said Sund.

It takes 160 years for an old-growth pine and birch forest to form – one that is suitable for reindeer to graze in. In Norway, aggressive tree growth is now creating havoc. The birch is racing over the tundra faster than the pines can keep up.

This is bad news for the reindeer and the humans who rely on them. Upright birch forests don’t develop a canopy; they are more like thickets. Without a canopy, they trap more snow, their mass forming a windbreak for drifts too deep for the reindeer to walk or dig through. Their roots warm the ground below, causing ice and melt around them. In time, a hectare of birch will deposit three to four tonnes of leaf litter on the ground, further improving the organic composition of the soil and encouraging other plants. Reindeer do nibble the twigs of young birch, “but even if you doubled the number of reindeer in Finnmark county you could not stop the birch”, said Sund.

Every year more and more herders beg Sund to cut the birch to protect the precious tundra habitat needed for reindeer. And so the herders who traditionally considered themselves a part of the natural world, not distinct from it, are fighting a losing battle against nature.

Sund was blunt: “The Sami will need to find another lifestyle.”

In spring and summer the Sami bring their herds of reindeer to the coast. It used to be common in springtime to see herds swimming across a fjord to reach the lush grass of an untouched island, the herders and their dogs following in kayaks or rowing boats. These days most herds make the crossing in ferries that are otherwise used for cars.

In summer, many Sami are dispersed with the herds, living in laavo, their traditional tents made of woven wool stretched over an interlocking pyramid of birch poles. Children, off school for the holidays, will still often spend weeks at their family’s summer place, rarely venturing home. It was only recently that herding families began to settle predominantly in one location, required by government edicts to live by a road and to send their children to government schools – an attempt to clip the wings of the nomads and keep them where they could be seen, and their animals taxed. Before, herding was a family affair; now it is mostly a male activity as women look after school-age children.

In autumn and winter, though, the herds return to the plateau, to their “winter place”. It is during winter that Sa?mi socialising takes place, when herds are gathered on the plateau mostly within striking distance – a day’s hard riding by snowmobile – of the centre of Sami cultural life, the town of Kautokeino.

It is Kautokeino that hosts Sa?mi University of Applied Sciences, the Sami cultural centre, the Beaivva?s? Sa?mi Theatre and the International Centre for Reindeer Husbandry. For the hub of Europe’s oldest continuous civilisation – a way of life essentially intact for more than 10,000 years – it is surprisingly small. There are only 1,500 permanent inhabitants. Photos from the 1950s show the buildings of Kautokeino surrounded by the unbroken white of snowy tundra without a tree in sight; now it is in the middle of a birch forest.

From Alta, I took the road to Kautokeino, 80 miles south. The road starts among the mixed pine and birch forests that border the River Alta. Then it climbs swiftly through a narrow gorge beneath sheer towering cliffs hundreds of metres high, up on to the plateau above. As I drove, all along the roadside shrubby birch kept close company with the car. Only once, when a mountain rose above the level of the open river valley, was there a flashing glimpse of unforested tundra: smooth unblemished snow cut by a line of bent and twisted little figures, a battalion of birch marching upward.

A short distance from Kautokeino the road crested a ridge, and below, the plateau unfurled in a wide vista. From this vantage point the plague of trees was frighteningly clear. As far as the eye could see the tundra of the plateau was flecked with black streaks. It was a beautiful scene, but the fact that the trees shouldn’t be there and the river should be rock-hard – with ice several metres thick, capable of sustaining the weight of a herd of reindeer or an articulated truck – made the beauty of the vision hard to absorb. On this winter day, at this spot in the Arctic Circle, at -1C (14 degrees above average for this time of year), it was hard to avoid the feeling that if there is a tipping point in Earth’s climatic equilibrium, we have already left it far behind.

On my first morning in Kautokeino, the town was half-asleep, deadened by the dark and the cold. It was now -8C, still not cold enough, the woman in my guesthouse complained. The sky was overcast, and without its clear dome, the light was a kind of murky soup. The river beneath the bridge was moving in a slow sweep past the dark church on its spit of land.

But the petrol station was different. The forecourt was blazing with white lights. Queues of huge pickup trucks, many outfitted by the same Arctic Truck Co with enormous snow tyres, sat with their engines running, filling the crisp air with clouds of diesel fumes. Behind each one was a trailer carrying a snowmobile or quad bike or both. Men wrapped head to toe in snow suits and fox-fur hats clambered down and filled batches of jerrycans with fuel. They bought energy snacks, then they jumped into their massive polluting machines, pushed them into gear and roared off into the murk that passes for morning. They were the reindeer herders, off to do their check on their animals. Some might be back tonight; some might be gone for weeks; some might not come back at all.

In a yellow one-storey house on the outskirts of Kautokeino, Berit Utsi held her two-year-old son to her chest and looked out into the mounting dark at the lake covered by a paper-thin sheet of ice and ringed with birch trees. The secretary of the local reindeer herders’ association, she had agreed to talk to me about the problems caused by the advancing trees.

“It’s not our culture to make a drama,” she said. “Everyone kept a calm exterior but inside we were all very worried.” She was speaking of the incredibly warm winter, which had just been blessed with its first snow. But Utsi’s worries were not over. Her husband, a reindeer herder, was still out there. This is a very stressful time for herders even in a good year: moving the herds from autumn to winter grazing, keeping the herd together over hundreds of square kilometres.

Apart from the previous week, when he had come back for a few days because she’d had an operation, Utsi’s husband had been out on the plateau with the herds for two months straight. The family’s entire income and savings are invested in the herd. One animal is worth over €1,200 (£1,100) at the abbatoir, and every part of the carcass – skin, antlers, hooves and sinews – is used by the Sami for clothes, tools and handicrafts. The high stakes encourage risk.

“There have been a lot of accidents lately,” Utsi said. A “point check” – driving a perimeter all around the herd – is the daily routine of a herder. “People have been driving snowmobiles on stones, hitting trees and crashing, ending up in hospital … or maybe the ice is strong enough to carry the reindeer, but the quad bike falls in. Last year two people went through the ice and did not come up,” she said.

When she was a teenager, Utsi tried working in a town but she missed her reindeer. She grew up with them, spending every summer with her family and the animals. She remembers the tundra with fewer trees when she was a child. She feels the change as a loss, but like most Sami I met she is pragmatic: “We adapt, we always have.”

But the changing weather and the advance of the trees combined with other pressures on grazing – roads, mines, wind turbines – mean that the economics of reindeer herding are becoming harder and harder. And, to make matters worse, the government is aware of the shrinking grazing and demands ever larger culls of animals every year. Her family needs another income.

The birch is almost as essential to traditional Sami life on the tundra as the reindeer – crucial for shelter, insulation, sleds, skis and snow-shoes, and for fuel. Its tannins and oils are used in treating clothes and skins and making oiled paper. Its bark was used for canoe skins and fermented in seawater. Utsi’s modern kitchen was still full of the traditional handicrafts of the nomads, made on her summer trips to the mountains. Her wooden spoons and ladles were all carved from birch. Cups and bowls on a shelf were also carved from birch, while the handles of handmade knives were of antler and bone. In a small pot on the worktop were shavings of birch bark for tisanes and medicinal brews.

“But now the trees have become too much,” said Utsi, frowning. She was studying to become a teacher.

Everyone knows someone who has given up their reindeer. Those who continue are either the herding aristocracy, who are so rich in animals that they can weather the storms for the moment, or else they are true devotees: possibly addicts, possibly mad. I am not sure which epithet best describes Issa?t, but his experience perfectly captures the cognitive dissonance forced upon us by global heating. Rationally, we know what is happening and what is likely to happen. But practically and emotionally it seems we will do everything we possibly can to avoid accepting the facts.

I met Issa?t in his nondescript office in the back of a municipal building in Kautokeino at 9pm at the end of a long day. His organisation, Protect Sa?pmi, is an NGO that provides legal advice to Sami communities challenging the takeover of their land by multinationals and government parastatal organisations, and it is overwhelmed. The warming Arctic has led to massive interest in “opening up” the north not just in Norway but all over the circumpolar world: Russia, Greenland, Alaska, Canada.

Norway is self-sufficient in renewable energy but there is huge demand from Germany, the UK and the Netherlands, and windfarms in the Arctic Circle are rapidly colonising the few remaining treeless mountain ranges in Finnmark. The Sami people are supposed to control 96% of the land of Finnmark according to a recent law, and the Norwegian government is supposed to follow the UN principles of “free, prior and informed consent” for the alienation of indigenous land, but it doesn’t.

At the end of our discussion, at around 11pm, when I was ready for bed, Issa?t announced that he would now begin his “second job”, reindeer herding. He invited me to come along. His home was up the hill, a terrace house in a small housing estate resembling many others in Europe. While I waited outside, Issa?t went in to kiss his wife and his four sleeping children and to put on his reindeer herding clothes: two pairs of thick wool socks, thermals, down trousers, a fleece, a knee-length outer coat, a snowmobile jacket, thick rubber snow boots, mittens and a battered old reindeer-skin hat lined with fox fur. He emerged 10 minutes later. Without his glasses and suit and neatly cut hair he was transformed. No longer the quiet, diffident legal expert, he had become an action man.

Outside, it was only -5C, but we had to be prepared to be out all night if an animal was lost or we had an accident. Shortly before I visited, a herder was trapped under a snowmobile for 12 hours before his friends came looking for him. Issa?t whistled to his dog, who jumped up on the back of his quad bike next to me – she knew where we were going.

The quad took us out of town, past the scraggy birch struggling up the hill until the clumps got shorter and shorter. We sped past the “60” sign and up on to the plateau. At the top the trees were only head-high. Issa?t slowed down and steered the quad to one side of the road. Standing up, he peered into the beams of his headlights tracing the edge of the asphalt, looking for tracks.

Where the snow was disturbed he moved especially slowly. Marks in the snow mean his reindeer have crossed the road and strayed. The trees cause the reindeer to roam more widely, which means more conflicts over territory and grazing areas, and more disputes with neighbours. Issa?t must patrol every night to make sure his reindeer are on the right side of the road. The changes are increasing tensions in the Sami community.

Back on the bike, we sped on across open ground untrodden by reindeer, looking for tracks. Issa?t spied one, then many, heading in the wrong direction. He swerved at speed, following the tracks. The quad bike briefly left the ground then landed with a crack on a frozen lake. Issa?t held his breath as the ice creaked and strained, issuing an occasional report like a gunshot. Twice in the previous month he had gone through the ice. Last time he got soaked in a shallow pool up to his chest, and the bike had to be winched out, taking several days to dry out in the garage.

“This is the most dangerous job in Norway!” he said with a grin.

After an hour and a half, Issa?t slid the bike to a stop.

“They should be here.”

“Do you have GPS?” I asked.

There were 10 reindeer in the herd tagged with GPS, but Issa?t’s phone was out of juice. In any case, he prefers not to use it. He turned off the engine and the lights, and listened for the bells that some of the reindeer wear. The silence was immense. Nothing.

“Oh well,” he said, turning the key and twisting the bike towards home. Issa?t told me his brother could continue the search in the morning. Issa?t knows that herding reindeer this way is no longer viable, though he spends all day arguing with the government and mining companies for compensation on the basis that it is. As the quad bike whined down the hill back towards the sleeping town in the valley below, the trees by the roadside gradually increased again in height and the howls of the dogs of Kautokeino filled the night air. A wolf had been sighted nearby in recent days – another consequence of the expanding forest. Issa?t pulled up outside his house shuttered in darkness, and I climbed down, stiff with cold. As he unwrapped his outer clothes and went inside to bed, a light came on in his sister’s house next door. His niece Ma?ret was just waking up.

It was the day of a big meeting, the 50th anniversary of the Norwegian Sa?mi Association. Ma?ret is a chef and today she would be cooking for the 200 delegates. Ma?ret is famous among her people. She is one of a few Sa?mi chefs trying to preserve its cuisine and traditional practices around food and the medicinal uses of plants. “I want to make people think through their stomachs!” she said. “I can make a protest through my food. Everything is from nature.”

That day, Sami representatives from all over the north of Norway would gather to discuss the new reindeer law, proposed mining and windfarm developments in Finnmark and Tromsø, and a climate crisis adaptation fund to help the Sami transition to new livelihoods. But Ma?ret sees the problem as much larger than Norway. “Someone has to pay for this life, this lifestyle – and it seems it is the animals and our indigenous way of living. That is the cost.”

This is an edited extract from The Treeline: The Last Forest and the Future of Life on Earth, published by Vintage. To order a copy, go to guardianbookshop


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« Reply #3 on: Jan 20, 2022, 03:33 AM »

From large to small, every urban garden is important for pollinators

Bees are in trouble, and urban private gardens can make a difference.

Fermin Koop   
January 20, 2022

Size isn’t everything when it comes to gardens. According to a new study, the size of a garden doesn’t correlate with how much nectar its pollinators produce, which means that even small gardens can provide pollinators like bees with a large supply of food.

We tend to think of urban areas as problems for conservation, but what if they could also be a part of the solution?

Urban areas can play an important role in the conservation of pollinators, which are currently under threat, especially by pesticides but also by other threats. Urban areas currently cover 2% to 3% of the world’s land and can support substantial pollinator diversity, according to a new study. Among them, small, private gardens can play an important role for pollinators thanks to their flowering plants.

Gardening for the future

Private gardens vary in size, shape, soil type, topography, and amount of sunlight. People also manage their gardens in widely different ways. As a result, the abundance and composition of flowering plants (which is crucial for bees) vary dramatically among gardens; one garden with many flowers may be a delicious buffer for bees, while freshly mown lawns offer next to nothing.

In a new study, researchers from Bristol University carried out the first investigation of how the nectar supply of private gardens changes in space and time. They found that because small gardens can be so important, actions by independent gardeners can lead to a stable and diverse provision of food for pollinators, supporting bees in key areas.

    “We knew that gardens were important habitats for UK pollinators, providing 85% of nectar sugar in urban landscapes and a great diversity of flowering plants. However, we didn’t know how nectar production varied between individual gardens or through the months of the year,” PhD student Nick Tew, lead author, said in a statement.

Tew and his team surveyed residential gardens in Bristol, choosing six regions of the city for garden surveys. They visited 59 gardens once per calendar month between March and October – covering most of the UK pollinator flight season. They recorded floral abundance in each garden and measured when pollinators can find more nectar.

The researchers found that individual gardens vary significantly in the quantity of nectar they supply, registering a higher nectar production in more affluent neighborhoods but not in large gardens. The supply of nectar reached its peak in July when more plants are in flower, but temporal patterns varied among each garden depending on what flowers they had.

Gardens with a larger flowering plant richness had a more stable nectar production, the study showed. In other words, individual decisions on how people manage gardens (and how many pollinator-friendly plants are included) can make a big difference for pollinators. The highest-nectar garden produced over 700 times more sugar than the lowest-nectar garden during the survey period.

    “This means that everyone has the potential to help pollinators in a meaningful way, even with a small garden and there is a lot of room for improvement, with some gardens providing hundreds of times less food than others, depending on what people choose to plant, weed, prune or mow,” Nick Tew, lead author, said in a statement.

In their study, the researchers also included a set of recommendations for all gardeners out there. They suggested using nectar-rich shrubs with complementary flowering periods and flowers with an open shape for late summer and autumn, as most nectar is only accessible to long-tongued pollinators later in the year.

For a list of some of the flowers that are good for bees, check out this research by the University of Sussex.

The study was published in the Journal of Applied Ecology.


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« Reply #4 on: Jan 20, 2022, 03:35 AM »

Climate change and land use are lethal one-two punch for protected areas

As if ecosystems didn't have enough trouble already.

Matt Williams   
January 20, 2022

Scientists from Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia have authored a new paper that shows that terrestrial protected areas (PAs) around the world are hit by two major threats: climate change and land-use change. While areas may be able to withstand one of them, the two of them combined are overwhelming.

Climate change has already been found to be impacting biodiversity and ecosystems in a number of ways. These include changes in species distribution, declining coral reef production, and affecting 1 in 5 threatened or near-threatened species. Some estimates suggest that up to 8% of species are predicted to become extinct from climate change.

Land-use change, on the other hand, is also one of the leading threats to biodiversity currently. Agriculture and logging in particular destroy habitat for wildlife in many of the most biodiverse regions of the world.

On their own, both issues are major concerns for conservation but can be managed. Together, their combined impacts may spell disaster for the species of Earth if action is not taken. This new study shows that the two threats may work synergistically to undermine the effectiveness of PAs and threaten progress on species conservation goals.

The researchers compared the rate of climate change and land-use change to characteristics of PAs such as species diversity and location. They used this data to project what kind of changes PAs will experience in the coming decades and how this might affect their functioning.

Two key findings from this study are that:

    27% of PAs around the world are in areas that will experience high rates of climate change and land use change by 2050 – areas that the paper terms “high-risk zones”
    Land use change and climate change will collectively challenge efforts of biodiversity conservation

The authors of the paper reaffirm the need for conservation targets to consider all the factors that make a PA effective. These include “improved governance, targeted interventions and clear management plans”. Additionally, they state the need for PAs to utilize principles of climate change adaptation to maintain their effectiveness into the future.

The authors also recommend “ambitious climate change mitigation that exploits synergies with land-use systems”. But what could something like this entail?

A study from 2019 found that a number of different practices can have large benefits to both climate change mitigation and/or adaptation as well as combatting land degradation – without requiring any land-use changes. Some of these practices include:

    Improved cropland management;
    Improved forest management;
    Increased soil organic carbon content;
    Increased food productivity;
    Dietary change;
    Reducing food loss and waste.

Importantly, however, in terms of climate change mitigation, the number one focus in the coming decades must be on keeping fossil fuels in the ground.

The study was published in the journal Nature Climate Change.


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« Reply #5 on: Jan 20, 2022, 03:37 AM »
‘This alert is her scream’: new system would help locate missing Indigenous women

A program in Washington state is intended to trigger an effective search and raise awareness of the problem

Hallie Golden in Seattle
20 Jan 2022 11.00 GMT

Four years ago, Debra Lekanoff was busy traveling across the nation in her role as governmental affairs director for the Swinomish Tribe when her daughter came to her, worried.

The 14-year-old had just learned some of the troubling details of the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women and was concerned that her mother, who is Alaska Native and tended to travel alone, might one day not make it home.

Lekanoff said she remembers her daughter asking her: “Isn’t there a way where we could let everybody know when we get stolen?”

Today, as a Washington state Democratic representative and the only Native American member of the state legislature, Lekanoff is working to do just that. Earlier this month she helped introduce legislation that would implement an alert system specifically for missing Indigenous people.

If passed, the system would be a first in the US. It is expected not only to help locate the individual and improve communication between law enforcement agencies and local jurisdictions, but also to increase awareness about the crisis of missing Indigenous people, particularly women and girls.

American Indian and Alaska Native women in Washington go missing at a rate more than four times higher than the state’s white residents, according to a 2019 report by the Urban Indian Health Institute, a division of the Seattle Indian Health Board. In a 2018 report, the institute found that of the 29 states surveyed, Washington had the second highest number of cases of missing and murdered American Indian and Alaska Native women and girls.

Lekanoff, who is Tlingit and Aleut, said the system will convey to Washingtonians “that this isn’t just an Indian issue, this is really a crisis that all Washingtonians need to take responsibility for. We want to hear her screams when she’s being torn away from her family. And this alert system is her scream.”

The proposed alert system would function similarly to “silver alerts”, which are used in Washington and dozens of other states across the nation to help locate missing vulnerable people.

The idea is that when an Indigenous person is reported missing, law enforcement could activate the alert, resulting in details about the person being broadcast via highway advisory radio messages, signs and press releases for the media.

“The more this is in the dark corners of our state and that we’re not talking about [it] and we’re not sharing information, the more this crisis is going to continue,” said Washington’s attorney general, Bob Ferguson, who worked with Lekanoff on the legislation. “I think an important step, one of many, but an important step to address the crisis, is to daylight it.”

Some tribal leaders across the state have also voiced their support for the legislation. But given the many years this crisis has gone on, there have also been questions about why such a system wasn’t implemented long ago.

“This is something that could have been enacted very quickly early on when we became of knowledge of how severe this issue was,” said Puyallup tribal councilwoman Anna Bean. “It’s something that we could have put in place, like a long time ago.”

But, she added: “It’s being brought to the table now, and something’s being done. And I’m just very thankful for that.”

Bean, who is also a member of the Washington State Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and People Task Force, described the Puyallup Tribe, whose reservation lies along the US Interstate 5 corridor, as practically a “stomping ground” for trafficking and other types of crimes that result in disappearances. She said this type of alert system could make a big difference in these cases, when timely, accurate dissemination of information on a disappearance is vital.

Just a few years ago, Andy Joseph Jr, who chairs the Colville Business Council, the governing body of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, said his own family found themselves in the middle of one of these devastating situations when the boyfriend of his daughter’s sister-in-law took their young children. The man was caught in part thanks to the community’s posts on Facebook. But Joseph said he believed the man could have been found even quicker if an alert system like the one proposed had been in place.

“I think it would make our people feel a lot safer and also I think the perpetrators might think a little bit more before they would attempt to do anything like this, because they probably know that they’d been pinned or tagged,” he said.

Some tribal officials have recommended that the alert include elements such as a photograph of the missing individual, and that the system be automated, rather than law enforcement activating the alerts, so that no one gets missed. Officials have also suggested improving data gathering on the wider crisis, so that more is understood about the issue and the impact of such an alert system.

Lekanoff said the finer details of the system would be worked out in consultation with the 29 federally recognized tribes in Washington.

She said that the proposal has received bipartisan support from lawmakers and with the legislative session kicking off last week she’s hopeful it will pass.

Lekanoff talked about the red handprint over the mouth, which has become a symbol of the missing and murdered Indigenous movement.

She said: “The alert system is removing that hand. It is unleashing the screams of those women who are being stolen or murdered from their families, from their children, from their communities.”


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« Reply #6 on: Jan 20, 2022, 03:59 AM »
As Omicron rages around the world, Ardern deploys an old tactic - delay

Jacinda Ardern says Omicron is ‘knocking at our door’ as the prime minister faces criticism over gaps in preparations for a Covid wave   

Tess McClure in Auckland
Thu 20 Jan 2022 05.48 GMT

In her first press conference of the year, held outside in the central North Island sun, prime minister Jacinda Ardern was almost drowned out by a wave of cicada calls.

The clamour is synonymous with New Zealand summertime, a reminder that the country had managed to snatch a long, hot, largely unrestricted holiday season from the mouth of a late-2021 Delta outbreak.

But as New Zealanders trickle back from vacation to their homes and workplaces, they do so with the knowledge that respite will probably be fleeting.

“Omicron is knocking at our door now,” Ardern told reporters over the buzz. “We won’t stop Omicron, but we can try and slow it down.”

At least three cases of the new variant have been confirmed among border workers and their contacts in Auckland, and there are fears it made have already spread into the wider community.

For now, New Zealand is one of a very small handful of countries keeping Omicron at bay. That path is an increasingly lonely one – very few medium-sized economies have stayed dedicated to Covid-zero or heavy-duty suppression. China, the notable exception, faces increasing questions over how sustainable its elimination strategy is. While Beijing remains fiercely committed to that path, however, New Zealand’s leader is now resigned to battle Omicron, describing its transmission across the country as a matter of “when, not if”.

“Omicron is in every corner of the world at the moment. And we also know that there will be other variants. And we know that we will experience in New Zealand cases at a level that we haven’t experienced before,” Ardern said.

In the meantime, the country will turn to its tried and tested strategy: delay. This has been a central tactic to New Zealand’s Covid game plan.

The country had some advantages from the first days of the pandemic: physical isolation and distance bought it time to observe the damage inflicted on overseas health systems, and to respond by closing its borders and moving to wipe out the disease in-country.

Over and over again, Ardern’s government chose to sustain that initial advantage – opting for conservatism in the face of Covid, watching other countries’ trajectories, buying time to build vaccination rates.

Epidemiologist and public health prof Michael Baker says New Zealand’s “strategic advantage is that we can delay the inevitable.”

“The turn of phrase ‘delaying the inevitable’ [makes it sound] as though: why bother? But I would say delaying the inevitable is an extremely good idea with Covid-19,” he says.

‘Concerning gaps’

In the face of the highly-transmissible variant, however, questions linger about what New Zealand’s future will look like when widespread infections finally arrive - and whether it has used its hard-won time to adequately prepare for the coming wave.

While vaccination rates are high – about 94% of the adult population is now double-vaccinated and children aged 5-12 this month began receiving their jabs this month – the country’s health system is small and vulnerable to overwhelm, especially outside major cities.

A government report on preparedness for Omicron, leaked to M?ori Television this week, highlighted concerns that intensive care beds were severely limited, with just one-third, or 108 ICU beds currently free. In several of the country’s 20 district health boards, there was no ICU care available.

Even if initial evidence holds and Omicron is a ‘milder’ variant, the speed at which it spreads could still quickly overwhelm New Zealand’s health system, Baker said.

“As everyone points out, even a small proportion of a big number is still a big number,” he says.

While Ardern has said that an outbreak Omicron would not trigger a lockdown, Baker says they may be necessary to tamp down widespread transmission.

“That’s really the essence of mitigation and flattening the peak – is to say well, for all countries, their ability to look after very sick people is always going to be limited.”

Epidemiologist Dr Jennifer Summers said via Science Media Centre that there were “concerning gaps in New Zealand’s preparation for delaying and managing an Omicron outbreak” and Ardern ruling out lockdowns was “worrying”.

“The health system will be under further immense pressure once Omicron enters the community ... ruling out potential public health measures that could be used to minimise the impact of Omicron is short-sighted,” she said.

From the opposition, the government has faced criticism that it has squandered its window of opportunity by failing to roll out widespread access to rapid testing, make large-enough increases to hospital capacity, or outline clear plans for mask use or ventilation in schools or workplaces.

In the face of Omicron, opposition leader Christopher Luxon said, the government was “embarking on a second year of Covid complacency: a lack of urgency, a lack of a plan, and making things up as they go”.

Even as the country fights to buy itself a few more weeks, its remaining Omicron-free days may be limited. Soon, delay won’t be available as a tactic, Baker said, “given how rapidly Omicron will arrive and spread. That’s if it’s not spreading already - which it could be.”


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« Reply #7 on: Jan 20, 2022, 04:02 AM »
Joe Biden thinks Russia will attack Ukraine – but will face a ‘stiff price’

US president alarms government in Kyiv by saying Nato was divided on how to respond to ‘minor incursion’

Luke Harding in Kyiv, Andrew Roth in Moscow and Julian Borger in Washington
Thu 20 Jan 2022 00.11 GMT

Joe Biden has said he thinks Russia will attack Ukraine, warning that Moscow would face a “stiff price”, but he admitted Nato was divided on how to respond if there is only a “minor incursion”.

The White House was forced to issue a hasty clarification to that last point, saying that any movement of Russian forces over the border would be treated as invasion.

But Biden, in his most extensive remarks on the Ukraine crisis to date, given at an extended press conference on Wednesday, alarmed the government in Kyiv and strayed from the show of determined unity that Nato has sought to project.

Asked about Vladimir Putin’s intentions, the US president said: “I’m not so sure he is certain what he’s going to do. My guess is he will move in. He has to do something.”

Biden said a full-scale invasion would be “the most consequential thing that’s happened in the world in terms of war and peace since World War Two”, with the risk of spilling outside Ukraine’s borders, and “could get out of hand”.

He said that Russia would prevail militarily in an invasion but would suffer heavy casualties.

“This is not all just a cakewalk for Russia militarily,” he said, noting the military aid the US has provided recently. “They’ll pay a stiff price, immediately, short-term, medium-term and long-term if they do it.”

Nato has said it would move troops to its eastern flank in the event of an attack, and the US has been discussing a range of sanctions with its European allies.

However, the president, in reflecting on the possible scenarios, revealed behind-the-scenes divisions among the Nato allies on how severe the response would be.

“What you’re going to see is that Russia will be held accountable if it invades and it depends on what it does,” he said. “It’s one thing if it’s a minor incursion, and then we end up having to fight about what to do and not do etc.”

Asked to clarify what qualified as a minor incursion, he pointed to cyberattacks and the presence of Russian intelligence officers, who Washington has said are already in Ukraine. He suggested a major movement of troops into Ukrainian territory would be a red line.

“There are differences in Nato as to what countries are willing to do, depending on what happens,” Biden said. “If there’s Russian forces crossing the border … I think that changes everything.”

There was an immediate dismayed reaction from Kyiv on Biden’s choice of words, and his suggestion that a “minor incursion” would divide Nato and draw an uncertain response. One Ukrainian official told CNN it “gives the green light to Putin to enter Ukraine at his pleasure”.

A few minutes after Biden finished speaking, his spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, issued a clarification.

“President Biden has been clear with the Russian president: If any Russian military forces move across the Ukrainian border, that’s a renewed invasion, and it will be met with a swift, severe, and united response from the United States and our allies,” Psaki said in a written statement.

“President Biden also knows from long experience that the Russians have an extensive playbook of aggression short of military action, including cyberattacks and paramilitary tactics. And he affirmed today that those acts of Russian aggression will be met with a decisive, reciprocal and united response.”

Earlier in the day the US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, said Russia could take “further aggressive action” against Ukraine “at any moment”, adding that Putin’s military intentions were still unclear as he prepared for talks with his Russian counterpart at the end of the week.

Speaking after meeting Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, in Kyiv, Blinken said Russia had amassed “very significant forces” on Ukraine’s borders, including in Belarus where major exercises are due to begin next month. It could double them in “relatively short order”, he said.

Before talks on Friday in Geneva with Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, Blinken said he was relentlessly pursuing a peaceful solution to the crisis. But there seem few signs that Moscow and Washington can reach diplomatic agreement in Switzerland.

The Kremlin wants Nato forces to withdraw from eastern Europe and to return to 1997 levels of deployment. Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Sergei Rybakov, said on Wednesday that Moscow would be satisfied with a unilateral US commitment to vote against Nato membership for Ukraine.

Blinken said he did not have a “piece of paper” by way of answer to Russia’s latest security demands, but he appeared to rule out a veto promise over Ukraine’s future, saying closing Nato’s doors to new members was an “absolute non-starter”.

Asked what Russia might do next, Blinken said: “I can’t read Vladimir Putin’s mind.”

But he pointed out that Russia’s president had a long history of aggressive behaviour. This included attacking Georgia in 2008 and annexing Crimea in 2014, and “training, arming and leading” a separatist rebellion in eastern Ukraine. Blinken added: “We have to base our actions on the facts.”

After Kyiv, Blinken is due to travel to Berlin for talks with German and European allies. Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, said relations with the US were advancing at “Formula One speed”.

He acknowledged Russia was refusing to negotiate with his government directly, saying: “Mr Lavrov is avoiding me.”

Russia has brushed off calls to withdraw its troops from the Ukrainian border by saying it has a right to deploy its forces wherever it likes on its own territory.

It also has rejected US allegations that it is preparing a pretext to invade Ukraine. Lavrov dismissed the US claim of a Russian “false-flag operation” as “total disinformation”.

Speaking at a meeting of the Valdai discussion club, Ryabkov repeated Moscow’s denials it had plans to attack Ukraine.

“I am confident that there is no risk of a large-scale war that could break out in Europe or somewhere else. We do not intend to take any aggressive steps,” he said. “We have no intention of attacking, staging an offensive on or invading Ukraine.”

Ryabkov said Moscow would not consider an informal moratorium on Ukraine’s entrance into Nato sufficient.

“If the US assumes a unilateral legally binding commitment that it will never vote in favour of admitting Ukraine and other countries to Nato, we will be ready to consider this option. It would be an easier path for the US,” he added.

Meanwhile, Russia continued its deployment of military assets from its far east to the borders of Ukraine. Open source researchers said on Wednesday they had identified elements of a BM-27 Uragan rocket artillery launcher in Belarus about 200km (125 miles) from Kyiv.

The deployment of heavy rocket artillery so close to the Ukrainian capital could further increase fears that the plans for joint exercises could provide cover for a Russian-led advance that could quickly engulf Kyiv and its government.

    Ended negotiations with @SecBlinken. I appreciate personal involvement in the de-escalation of the situation around 🇺🇦. Grateful for 🇺🇸's political & security support. Count on enhancing economic & financial cooperation. I'm sure there will be no decision about 🇺🇦 without 🇺🇦. pic.twitter.com/MNGvHqBKE2
    — ????????? ?????????? (@ZelenskyyUa) January 19, 2022

On Wednesday Russia’s defence ministry released fresh details of the joint exercises, which are set to begin next month and continue until 20 February.

Russia was planning to deploy 12 Sukhoi Su-35 air defence fighters to Belarus for the exercises, along with S-400 and Pantsir anti-air defence systems, the ministry said in a statement.

The Biden administration has promised to boost military assistance to Ukraine in the event of a Russian operation, but has ruled out sending troops. On Wednesday Blinken said military support was continuing, with deliveries last year at their highest level since 2014.

The US has also been supplying Ukraine with classified intelligence. The CIA director, William Burns, visited Kyiv last week and shared its risk assessment with Zelenskiy’s cabinet, a US official said.


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« Reply #8 on: Jan 20, 2022, 04:05 AM »
Fear and defiance on Ukraine’s frontline: ‘We don’t like dictators here’

With ageing Soviet-era rockets and a depleted, elderly fleet, Ukraine’s military hold their breath for Moscow’s next move

Luke Harding in Mariupol
20 Jan 2022 14.45 GMT

Yiry Ulshin surveyed a scene of ruin. Before him were the remains of what was once a school. Desks were covered in debris. A photo of the class of 2011 lay in the wreckage. There were abandoned crayons and year 3 books in Ukrainian and Russian. Beyond a bullet-scarred wall was a view of pine trees and sea.

“My heart is hurting. Why did Russia do this?” Ulshin, a Ukrainian army commander, asked.

The abandoned primary school is situated in Shyrokyne, in eastern Ukraine, on the frontline between the Ukrainian army and pro-Russian forces. The village was once a resort. Tourists would stay in its guesthouses, walk along the sandy beach and paddle in the picturesque Sea of Azov.

Now it is a ghostly wreck. In 2014 Russia annexed Crimea, down the coast, and kickstarted a violent conflict in the Donbas region. The following year Ukrainian militias clawed back some of the province’s seaside strip including Shyrokyne, 14 miles east of the port city of Mariupol. “My friend was killed in fighting here,” Ulshin said.

Today the village’s holiday complex resembles a phantasmagoric film set. An alley of pulverised flats leads on to a glass-strewn summer terrace. There is a rusted child’s bicycle, a washing machine and a savagely twisted bonnet from a GAZ-53 truck. The ground is pitted with shell holes. Swimming is not advised: the beach is mined. A seagull floated above it.

The separatists did not retreat far, ensconcing themselves in the hillside village of Vodyane, just over a mile away and visible from the net-covered former sanatorium that serves as the soldiers’ frontline base. Washing was hanging on a line; logs were piled up for fuel. “Two days ago they fired a rocket at one of our cars, out on patrol,” Ulshin said. “It missed.”

Was anywhere in the village safe? “No,” Ulshin said. “Death happens when you don’t expect it. The Russians [separatists] work very professionally. A sniper shot me in 2018. I lost so much blood, people thought I wasn’t going to make it. But here I am. Ten of my men have been wounded.”

Since autumn, Russia has assembled a potential invasion force of 100,000 soldiers on Ukraine’s borders. The latest signals are ominous. The Kremlin says military exercises will take place next month in Belarus, 90 miles north of the capital, Kyiv. According to the Ukrainian government, Russian forces are covertly stationed in rebel mini-fiefdoms in the cities of Donetsk – adjacent to Mariupol – and Luhansk.

So far, Putin has kept the world guessing as to what he plans to do. The EU and US have condemned Russian aggression and threatened sanctions. This week the UK flew defensive anti-tank weapons to Kyiv. The Biden administration is reportedly considering military help. On Wednesday the US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, visited Kyiv. None of this is likely to stop a Russian incursion should Putin order one.

    A lot of us are ready to fight. We will resist in every city, in every village. Ukrainians hate Putin

“Look at history. All conflicts have an active phase and a less active one,” Ulshin said. The Kremlin would not seize the whole of Ukraine, an enormous and bloody undertaking, he thought; instead it would pursue hybrid war, with the goal of toppling Ukraine’s Nato-aspiring government and replacing it.

Ukraine’s soldiers are motivated, professional and ready to defend their homes. But it is obvious they are badly outgunned. Ulshin said he had received some help from Lithuania in the shape of four lightweight bulletproof plates. In the near distance shots rang out, followed by a percussive boom from an auto-grenade launcher.

Ukraine lost much of its navy in 2014, when Russian special forces seized Crimea. Moscow eventually returned the Donbas, an ageing Soviet warship that now sits in Mariupol’s port alongside two small armoured artillery boats, the Ludny and Kremenchuk. This meagre collection is no match for Russia’s mighty Black Sea fleet.

“It’s old but reliable,” Cptn Oleksandr Hrigorevskiy said, pointing to the Donbas’s bow machine gun. Stamped on the side was a date, 1954. The Russians trashed the ship’s communication system before handing it back, he said, and many of his former officer colleagues defected. The boat subsequently caught fire. It is now used as a command and repair ship.

The deck offers a sweeping view of the Azov Sea bathed in a raspberry light. At 9am each day sailors raise and salute the Ukrainian flag. At night the Russian port of Yeysk twinkles in the distance. The Azov and Black seas are a key commercial route for Russia, linked to a network of rivers and canals.

According to Hrigorevskiy, the Kremlin has annexed the Azov Sea by stealth. Under a 2003 agreement, Russia and Ukraine are supposed to share access. But Moscow now controls Crimea’s Kerch Strait, the only way in and out. In 2018 it started impounding Ukrainian civilian vessels, dealing a death blow to Mariupol as a cargo port.

Of late, Moscow has declared large chunks of the internal sea off limits to Ukrainian boats, citing the need to carry out “naval exercises”. When the Donbas set off towards Kerch in December, sailing in international waters, Putin’s FSB spy agency accused Kyiv of an act of aggression. “We watched a report on Russian TV. They play psychological games,” Hrigorevskiy said.

Mariupol stands in the way of any potential Russian advance from the east. In 2014, Kremlin-backed separatists controlled the city for two months. Since then pro-Kyiv volunteers have moved to the area.

Anatoliy Lozar helped to liberate Mariupol, and subsequently married a local woman. He said Russian sentiment was still strong, especially among older residents. “Television plays a big role,” he said. “You can get Russian state channels for free. You have to pay for Ukrainian ones.” Lozar said most people in Mariupol vote for the opposition party of Viktor Medvedchuk, a pro-Moscow oligarch accused of treason and now under house arrest.

Over at Mariupol’s aerodrome, soldiers acknowledged that Moscow was likely to bomb the runway and other strategic military targets, should it attack. “Yes, we can’t defend physical infrastructure. But we’ve learned to spread our forces out, to minimise losses,” Taras Eleyko said. He added: “Putin is a card-sharp. He would need 600,000 troops to occupy Ukraine. He doesn’t have that.”

Eleyko was part of a travelling amateur theatre troupe from western Ukraine. The group had arrived at the military airport to entertain troops with a traditional mystery play known as a vertep. This one featured familiar characters such as an angel and devil, as well a crown-wearing Putin – plus Joe Biden, who carried a stars and stripes flag.

The show took place in what was once the departure lounge, beneath a colourful communist-era mosaic. Someone had pasted Ukraine’s blue and yellow flag over the old hammer and sickle. The play ended with Death – actually Olena Chebeliuk, a historian from Lviv – chasing “Putin” off to hell. She wore a skeleton costume and carried a white scythe.

‘We’re afraid Russia will invade and capture Ukraine. Our army is not very ready to fight,” Chebeliuk said, speaking in fluent English. “We don’t really have Stingers or patriot missiles. We only have old Soviet rockets, many of them not in a good state. If there is a big war, I fear in the first weeks we will have many casualties.”

Chebeliuk predicted that a Russian offensive would set off a partisan war. “A lot of us are ready to fight. We will resist in every city, in every village. Ukrainians hate Putin, especially in the west of our country. I hope Putin is just pretending with his threats, to get something from the west and Biden.”

Whenever Ukrainian rulers began acting like dictators the people rose up against them, she said, citing the 2014 “revolution of dignity” in Kyiv against the then president, Viktor Yanukovych. Chebeliuk rejected Putin’s recent claims that Ukraine and Russia were “one people”.

“Russians have lived for 20 years in a dictatorship. They are happy,” she said. “We don’t like dictators here. Putin is a bit of a dreamer. He wants to be the most powerful man in the world. If he tries to make a dictatorship in Ukraine he will fail.”


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« Reply #9 on: Jan 20, 2022, 04:07 AM »
Macron says EU must start own dialogue with Russia over Ukraine

France’s president hopes to restart four-way talks between Russia, Germany, France and Ukraine

Daniel Boffey in Brussels and Angelique Chrisafis in Paris
20 Jan 2022 16.59 GMT

The EU must open its own talks with Russia rather than rely on Washington, France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, has said as he warned of the prospect of the “most tragic thing of all – war”.

In a wide-ranging speech in Strasbourg, Macron said it was not sufficient for the US to negotiate with the Kremlin over its threats to peace but that Europe needed to have its voice heard.

Macron said he hoped to revitalise four-way talks between Russia, Germany, France and Ukraine, known as the Normandy format, to find a solution to the escalating crisis.

The French president, who was speaking to mark the start of his country’s six-month presidency of the EU, told MEPs: “I think our credibility vis-a-vis Russia lies primarily in entering into demanding dialogue.

“And we see that looking at the dialogue that the US and Russia are currently undertaking. I think that it is good for there to be coordination between Europe and the US but it is vital that Europe has its own dialogue with Russia.”

Officials in Brussels insist that Russia has not been able to divide the west in recent months as it has amassed more than 100,000 troops on its border with Ukraine.

But for all the protests of a unified approach, the EU was sidelined from talks held last week between Russia and the US, Nato and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

The Normandy format is a legacy of a meeting of the leaders of Germany, France, Ukraine and Russia during the 2014 D-day celebrations.

It subsequently became a vehicle for implementation of the 2015 Minsk agreements designed to end the separatist war in Ukraine’s Donbas region that followed Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.

Macron said, however, that the EU had to work out a coordinated approach in its future talks with Russia and address its vulnerabilities with regard to the Kremlin, including energy supply.

The EU has threatened severe economic and diplomatic consequences should there be a further military incursion. But the 27 member states are divided as to what should trigger sanctions, with some arguing that cyber-attacks or false-flag operations should be dealt with in the same way as a full-on occupation.

Macron said: “We’ve seen migration movements being manipulated. We’ve seen cyber-attacks. We’ve seen hikes in gas prices. And on this front we need to build in collective resilience together.

“The security of our continent requires strategic rethinking, strategic rearming of Europe as an area of balance and peace. And when it comes to dialogue with Russia in particular.

“This dialogue is something I’ve been standing up for for many years. It’s not just a vague idea … We need this dialogue we need in Europe collectively to set out our own requirements and make certain that they are respected, and we need to be in a position to make that happen.”

Beyond the escalating security threat to the east, Macron touched on a range of EU priorities for the French government, including strengthening the rule of law within the bloc, reducing the gender wage gap and giving rights to people who are commissioned with piecemeal work through web platforms. He also proposed including the right to abortion in the European Charter of Fundamental Rights.

Citing the issues of Northern Ireland and fishing rights in UK waters, he warned the British government that in order to “remain friends” it “needs to commit to itself in good faith respecting the agreements already concluded with the union”.

Macron told critical MEPs that he would not use the EU presidency as a “springboard” for his reelection as French president in three months’ time. However, he challenged those who equated his belief in stronger powers at an EU level with a lack of patriotism.

He said: “I will distinguish between those that love their country and culture … and those that want to destroy Europe. I think actually there is a majority here, for example, who believe in Europe but also the cultures and identities of each country but still fight against the barbaric acts of nationalism.”

Ahead of the first round of the French presidential election in April, Macron’s political opponents, including on the European parliament benches, sought to use his appearance to criticise his record.

Yannick Jadot, the Green MEP and presidential candidate, told Macron he had “sacrificed” Europe’s ambitions on the climate crisis. “You will go down in history as the president of climate inaction.”

Jordan Bardella, an MEP from Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally, told the parliament that European immigration policy meant member states and their people could no longer decide “who enters or leaves their territory” so Europe risked “no longer being Europe”.

Meanwhile, the far-right TV pundit and presidential challenger Éric Zemmour headed to Calais in northern France to deliver a speech on the site of a former makeshift camp where thousands of migrants had once slept rough as they hoped to stow away on lorries to reach England.

He said France should immediately deport any migrant entering its territory who hoped to reach the UK. He said that, because of immigration, Macron’s idea of Europe was “a Europe without mind, body or soul, pulling up its own roots, erasing its own history”.


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Joe Biden says his administration has ‘outperformed’ in bruising first year

President touts coronavirus relief aid and infrastructure law but acknowledges pandemic is unfinished job

Lauren Gambino in Washington
20 Jan 2022 23.18 GMT

Joe Biden on Wednesday conceded that the unshakable threat of the Covid-19 pandemic had left many Americans demoralized, but insisted that his administration had “outperformed” expectations despite the myriad crises facing the nation during his first year in office.

Speaking to reporters in the East Room of the White House for his first news conference in months, the US president said he was confident Democrats could pass “big chunks” of his sprawling domestic policy bill currently stalled in the Senate before the 2022 midterm elections.

“It’s been a year of challenges but it’s also been a year of enormous progress,” Biden said, outlining the administration’s early successes: passing coronavirus relief aid that slashed child poverty rates and a bipartisan infrastructure law that will shower funding for major public works projects on every state in the nation.

Biden was also realistic about the difficult road ahead, as the extremely contagious Omicron variant of the coronavirus overwhelms hospitals, inflation rises and his agenda languishes before a Congress controlled by Democrats.

“After almost two years of physical, emotional and psychological impact of this pandemic, for many of us, it’s been too much to bear,” he said. “Some people may call what’s happening now ‘the new normal’. I call it a job not yet finished. It will get better.”

Grading his efforts to combat the pandemic, Biden insisted the US was better positioned now than when he took office, while acknowledging mistakes, such as not ordering more tests earlier. He vowed the US would not go back to the earliest days of the pandemic when lockdowns and school closures were widespread.

“I didn’t overpromise,” he said. “I have probably outperformed what anybody thought would happen.”

Wednesday’s press conference was his 10th since taking office, far fewer than his most recent predecessors. Only a limited number of journalists were credentialed for the press conference, and all were required to wear masks, a reminder of the virus’s continuing threat.

In a revealing split screen, Biden’s press conference took place as Senator Joe Manchin, a conservative Democrat and key holdout on much of Biden’s agenda, took to the floor of the Senate to denounce his party’s efforts to amend the filibuster rule to pass voting rights protections. Biden defended his pursuit of what appeared to be a hopeless effort to pass the bills, which are all but certain to fail without full Democratic support in the evenly-divided Senate.

Biden said he was still hopeful that the Congress would find a path forward on voting rights legislation, and as such wasn’t prepared to divulge possible executive actions he might take on the issue. The bills, Biden argued, were urgently needed to counter voter suppression and subversion efforts being carried out in Republican-led states. Lacerating speeches by the president on the need for these protections failed to move Republicans.

In the coming months, Biden said he would travel to states and districts across the country to promote his agenda and sell his administration’s accomplishments, trying to correct what he described as a communication failure on his part. Citing the coronavirus and his work in Washington, he lamented not being able to leave Washington more frequently during his first year to “do the things I’ve often been able to do pretty well – connect with people”.

He believed key pieces of his Build Back Better agenda could pass the Senate, including popular plans to combat climate change and create a universal pre-kindergarten program.

Plans to extend a monthly child tax benefit expanded temporarily as part of the $1.9tn pandemic relief package may not be included in a scaled-back version of the bill, he indicated. The payments, which expired in December, helped keep millions of children out of poverty during the pandemic.

To the chagrin of many Democrats, Biden, a veteran of the US Senate, said he failed to anticipate that there would be “such a stalwart effort” by Congressional Republicans to obstruct his agenda.

“One thing I haven’t been able to do so far is get my Republican friends to get in the game at making things better in this country,” Biden said. He assailed the Republican party for its deference to Donald Trump, wondering how “one man out of office could intimidate an entire party?”

Previewing a line of attack he will use against the party in the midterms, he accused Republicans of lacking a policy core or a set of guiding principles. “What are Republicans for? What are they for? Name me one thing they’re for.”

Biden bristled at the notion that his agenda was radical in any way. “I’m not asking for castles in the sky,” he insisted. “I’m asking for practical things the American people have been asking for for a long time.”

At ease behind the lectern, Biden parried with reporters for nearly two hours. At one point, he checked his watch, smiled and agreed to take questions for 20 more minutes.

The range of questions he fielded – on the pandemic, rising inflation, Russian aggression, the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, a daunting electoral landscape, his falling approval ratings – underscored the extent of the challenges that lie ahead for the administration as it aims to recalibrate after a string of setbacks.

Addressing the brewing threat at the Ukrainian border, where Russia has amassed tens of thousands of troops, Biden predicted that Moscow would invade Ukraine and promised Vladimir Putin would pay a “dear price” if he moved forward with an attack. He also appeared to suggest that a “minor incursion” would draw a lesser response from Nato than a full-scale invasion.

Moments after he spoke, White House press secretary Jen Psaki sought to clarify the remark, saying that any act of aggression by Russia, including cyberattacks and paramilitary tactics, would be “met with a decisive, reciprocal, and united response.”

On Afghanistan, Biden said there was no easy way to leave the country after 20 years of war: “I make no apologies for what I did.” And asked about talks with Iran, he said now was “not the time to give up” on efforts to revive the 2015 nuclear deal.

Pressed on the economy, he said it was the “critical job” of the Federal Reserve to tame inflation, but touted his domestic agenda as a remedy for rising costs, which has left voters pessimistic about the state of the economy and Biden’s ability to improve it.

But Biden was bullish: “I’m happy to have a referendum on how I handled the economy.”

Looking ahead, he was unequivocal when asked whether vice-president Kamala Harris would again be his running mate in 2024. “Yes,” he replied.

In one exchange, a reporter with a right-wing news outlet asked why some Americans view Biden as mentally unfit to run the country. “I have no idea,” he replied tartly.

In another, he pushed back on the notion that he was trying to pull the country leftward. “You guys have been trying to convince me that I am Bernie Sanders. I’m not,” Biden said, asserting that he was a “mainstream Democrat” as he always had been.

Asked how he could win back independent voters who supported him in 2020 but have become disillusioned with his leadership so far, Biden pushed back. “I don’t believe the polls.


Opinion: The media wants to paint Joe Biden as a failure. He won’t let that happen

By Jennifer Rubin
WA Post

President Biden, while marking the end of his first year in office on Wednesday, met a press corps anxious to paint him as a failure. While conceding that his voting rights bill and Build Back Better package have both stalled, Biden stuck to one core theme: The economy and the effort to crush the pandemic are improving because of his administration.
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Many of the questions from reporters verged on self-parody. Fox News’s Peter Doocy comically asked why Biden is pulling the country so far to the left. (Disclosure: I’m an MSNBC contributor.) The right-wing outfit Newsmax asked about his mental fitness for the job. It seemed everything was his fault, from Republicans’ refusal to support virtually any proposal to the fight between airlines and telecom companies over 5G.

Biden, for the most part, remained a “glass half full” president. “I’m not going to give up and accept things as they are now,” he said. “I call it ‘a job not yet finished.’” He stressed that the situation with covid-19 is improving. On school closures, he emphasized that 95 percent remain open.

He also seems to have heard complaints from Democrats, who have practically been begging him to focus more on his legislative successes. He started the news conference with a lengthy and passionate recitation of the low unemployment, widespread vaccination and infrastructure investment he achieved during his first year. “It’s been a year of challenges but also enormous progress,” he declared, conceding the nation should have done more testing earlier in the omicron surge. He also vowed to spend more time telling the country what he’s done and stressed the need to contrast his ambitions agenda with the stand-pat Republicans.

On inflation, he shifted attention to the Federal Reserve, which is responsible for price stability. He nevertheless took credit for untangling supply chains. Instead of austerity, Biden’s solution is a more vibrant economy.

While he argued that his BBB plan would have helped to address rising prices, such as for child care and prescription drugs, he recognized for the first time that the bill may need to broken into “big chunks.” While he initially denied that he was going to “scale back” his ambitions, this suggested he was doing just that. He speculated that investments in clean energy and universal pre-K might get through, but that an expanded child tax credit and free community college would not.

And while he has not given up on voting rights, he indicated he might be able to pass a bill to reform the Electoral Count Act. He remained upbeat about Americans’ willingness to defy voting suppression efforts and turn out in large numbers. He dismissed Republicans’ false claims that he compared them to Bull Connor and George Wallace in a recent speech. (In reality, the speech asked if Republicans would side with the segregationists of history over John Lewis.) Instead, Biden pointed out that 16 sitting Republican once voted to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act.

Biden also responded to demands from his base for tougher rhetoric against the do-nothing Republicans. “What are Republicans for?” he asked repeatedly. He also humorously needled the Senate minority leader. “I actually like Mitch McConnell … but he has one straightforward objective: Make sure there’s nothing that makes me look good … with the public at large.” Again, he asked: “What’s Mitch for?”

He did stumble at one point. In response to a question about Russia, he almost certainly caused his foreign policy team to cringe when he suggested that the United States might not retaliate to a “minor incursion” by Russia into Ukraine. Even worse, he said cyberterrorism might not trigger a full-scale response. His discussion of Russia was at best confusing, and at worst an echo of Dean Acheson, the secretary of state under President Harry S. Truman who was blamed for triggering the Korean War. Indeed, minutes after the news conference, the White House issued a written statement reaffirming any invasion would result in severe consequences.

In a moment of candor, he confessed, “I haven’t been out in the community enough and I haven’t been connecting with people,” and that this was a problem of “my own making.”

In a show of bravado, he asked if the reporters wanted to continue the presser for another hour or two. (He gave them 20 more minutes.) By then, he had demonstrated he had far more patience than was necessary considering the questions’ low quality.

In short, with the exception of the Russia questions, Biden turned in a strong performance that belies the right’s accusation that he is feeble. He was determinedly upbeat, ready to defend a productive first year and more pointed than he has been in dealing with Republican extremism. The press corps, by contrast, revealed once more that they put more emphasis on sounding tough, asking unanswerable questions and creating conflict than they do on exploring some of the gravest problems our country has ever faced. Our democracy deserves better.


Opinion: Biden’s road back: Asking Republicans ‘What are they for?’

By E.J. Dionne Jr.
WA Post

The old joke about Wagner’s music being better than it sounds applies to President Biden’s first year in office: It’s better than it looks. Alas for Biden, that’s not good enough.

With the president’s approval ratings languishing, the first anniversary of his inauguration has turned into a Rorschach test for partisans and commentators. Advice on how to turn his presidency around bears an uncanny resemblance to the preexisting views of those offering their counsel.

Republicans say Biden needs to be less partisan, centrists that he needs to be more moderate, the consensually minded that he didn’t do enough to bring us together — and so on.

None of us checks our values at the analytical door, but let’s try to separate our assumptions from realities.

Biden and his supporters are frustrated at how little notice is given to all that has gone right this past year, as the president took pains to remind us at his news conference on Wednesday.

With 6.2 million jobs created on his watch, the unemployment rate is at 3.9 percent, far lower than anyone anticipated when he took office. Gross domestic product is up and workers have more bargaining power than they’ve enjoyed in decades.

Nearly 210 million Americans are fully vaccinated, as Biden noted, through more than a half-billion shots. With very narrow congressional majorities, Biden secured his $1.9 trillion economic relief package and a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill.

It’s a good record. The problem is that much of this occurred in the first part of Biden’s opening year. His approval ratings then, a healthy 50 percent or better,, reflected this.

Then came the pell-mell withdrawal from Afghanistan, the fruitless wrangling among Democrats over his Build Back Better program and a partial unraveling of Biden’s earlier achievements.

The last development might be most important because voters incline toward what-have-you-done-for-me-lately thinking. The strong economic growth combined with much-discussed supply-chain problems to produce inflation. The delta and omicron variants rolled back progress against the coronavirus pandemic and pointed to how Biden, in betting big on vaccination, shortchanged testing. It’s also true that some Republican politicians, a massive disinformation campaign and, lately, the Supreme Court, undercut those vaccination efforts.

Leana S. Wen: We need to hear President Biden's year-two covid strategy

Here is where middle-of-the-road critiques of Biden are right: He needs to focus incessantly on the virus and inflation — twin challenges that are top of mind for most Americans. Biden clearly knows this, which is why he spoke at length on Wednesday about how his administration has made testing widely available through an easy-to-use website and is boosting access to high-quality N95 masks.

Going forward, he needs to settle on a strategy that reaches toward as much normality as is consistent with the virus threat, and he needs to put an end to confusing messaging from various parts of the government. Neither will be easy.

On inflation, he needs highly visible efforts to unsnarl the supply chain. One idea: Create a task force on these issues. Possible members: Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg; Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm; Cecilia Rouse, chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers; Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo; Labor Secretary Marty Walsh; and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. Have them report publicly every week on concrete steps the administration is taking to fix the problems.

But as progressives insist, Biden also needs to resolve the core contradiction of his presidency — between his longing to be the great unifier and his desire to do big things Republicans were bound to oppose. Not, mind you, radical things. Simply helping Americans on health care, child care, education and relief for our ailing planet.

The problem with dreams of bipartisan Nirvana is that the other party must be willing to cooperate. Except on physical infrastructure, achieving this would have required Biden to abandon all his campaign promises around economic justice. He acknowledged Wednesday that he had not “anticipated” the ferocity of GOP obstruction.

And on the biggest struggle of this generation, the battle for voting rights and democracy, Trumpified Republicans are plainly committed to giving the states they run free rein to suppress votes and subvert elections.

Democrats need to enact whatever they can of the Build Back Better legislation and then move on to passing pieces of what’s left individually, if only to force the question Biden asked of Republicans at his news conference: “What are they for?” And whatever happens the next few days on voting rights, they cannot walk away from the struggle — in Washington or in the states.

Biden’s task is to combine effective, visible engagement on the front-burner problems with a determined effort to raise the stakes in our politics. Americans need to come to terms with the radicalism of the Republican Party and its attacks on our democracy. If the president can make progress on the first imperative, he’ll earn the nation’s attention on the second.


Opinion: As one Joe builds, another Joe destroys

Columnist |
WA Post

It was the split screen that has bedeviled the Biden presidency.

There they were Wednesday afternoon, in the exact same time slot: The two Joes. The president, and the man who is destroying his presidency.

In the East Room of the White House, President Biden gave only the second solo news conference of his tenure, marking the end of a punishing first year in office.

And smack dab in the middle of the news conference, Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) rose on the Senate floor to hammer one more gratuitous nail in the coffin of Biden’s agenda.

Biden, in a nearly two-hour session with reporters, pleaded passionately for Democrats to force action on the voting rights legislation to counter breathtaking moves by GOP-controlled states to disenfranchise racial minorities, give partisan actors more power to overrule election outcomes and otherwise stack the deck against democracy.

“There’s certain things that are so consequential you have to speak from your heart as well as your head,” Biden said, defending his earlier statement that those who defeat voting rights will be on the side of Bull Connor and George Wallace in history. “Don’t think this is a freebie. You don’t get to vote this way and then somehow it goes away. This will be — stick with you the rest of your career and long after you’re gone.”

Manchin, reaffirming his intention to uphold a Republican filibuster of voting rights legislation, self-righteously portrayed himself as a defender of minority rights in the Senate. But the practical effect of his action will be to deny voting rights to millions of Black, Latino and Asian American voters — and to doom yet another piece of Biden’s agenda, and a foundational piece of American democracy.

“Let this change happen in this way, and the Senate will be a body without rules,” Manchin said, using some Senate floor poster-art to emphasize his point. “The Senate’s greatest rule is the one that is unwritten. … It’s the rule of self-restraint, which we have very little of any more. Self-restraint.”

Manchin was too high on his horse to grasp the obvious truth that Republicans abandoned self-restraint when they fomented and then excused a bloody insurrection in the very chamber where Manchin stood. Neither have Republicans been acting in good faith with their embrace of the “big lie” about the 2020 election — and with their abuse of the filibuster to protect GOP-led states’ efforts to undermine voting rights and future elections. The filibuster was intended to forge compromise; Republicans have used it to bring government to a halt.

And Manchin, along with Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), have served as the handmaidens of that destruction. The only question is whether they’ll still be in office when Republicans revoke the filibuster the next time the moment suits them.

The damage to Biden caused by the Manchin-Sinema support for the GOP filibuster abuse (the pair used the same move to block the Build Back Better program that was the basis of Biden’s winning presidential campaign) was evident the moment the questioning began at Wednesday’s news conference.

“A few hours from now, an effort in the Senate to deal with voting rights and voting reform legislation is going to fail,” the Associated Press’s Zeke Miller told Biden. “Did you overpromise? … And how do you plan to course-correct?”

The second questioner, ABC News’s Mary Bruce, echoed the theme. “Your top two legislative priorities, your social spending package and voting rights legislation, are stalled, blocked by your own party,” she said. “Do you need to be more realistic and scale down these priorities?”

Biden admitted defeat, mentioning Manchin by name. “It’s clear to me that we’re going to have to probably break it up,” he said of Build Back Better, noting that “Joe Manchin strongly supports early education.”

President Biden found himself negotiating with President Manchin through the assembled reporters. Asked whether Manchin’s opposition to the child tax credit doomed that proposal, Biden acknowledged there were items “I’m not sure I can get it in the package.”

Needled by Fox News’s Peter Doocy about why he has tried “to pull the country so far to the left,” Biden noted that he is squarely in the Democratic mainstream. “If you notice, 48 of the 50 Democrats supported me in the Senate on virtually everything I’ve asked,” he said.

That’s true. The outliers from the Democratic mainstream are Manchin and Sinema.

Manchin sounded an optimistic note as he doomed voting rights. “We can make it easier to vote. We must,” he said. “We can make it harder to cheat. I think we can. We’ve heard from our Republican colleagues who basically agree with us on that.” He also pledged to reform the Electoral Count Act to avoid another Jan. 6.

Manchin has held out such hopes of bipartisan agreement before, when he torpedoed items on Biden’s agenda. It’s time for him to produce — or spare us the naive piety. In democracy’s dark hour, he has already done incalculable harm.


Opinion: How Biden can fix his presidency

By Editorial Board
WA Post

President Biden on Wednesday closed a mixed year of both successes and frustrated hopes. At a news conference, Mr. Biden acknowledged “challenges” but also boasted of “enormous progress” fighting the pandemic and passing major legislation, saying that he would “stay on this track.” In fact, despite his substantial achievements, his presidency could use a reset.

To be clear: Americans should be grateful every day that Mr. Biden is in office rather than former president Donald Trump and the band of incompetents who used to run the government. One can only imagine how much worse off the country would be if Mr. Trump were still dispensing bizarre medical advice from the White House, running a Russia-friendly foreign policy as the Kremlin prepares to invade Ukraine, or continuing to deny climate change. Mr. Biden has also restored integrity to the Oval Office, neither lying nor abusing his authority the way Mr. Trump did. And the president can claim some important accomplishments. Most Americans are vaccinated. His covid-19 aid bill alleviated child poverty during the worst of the pandemic. The country is only beginning to see the benefits of the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill that will fund massive investments in green energy, highways, bridges and rail, which passed under his leadership.

But when the president entered office, expectations ran high. New vaccines would tame the coronavirus and reignite the economy, and the Democrats’ majorities in Congress would draft transformative social legislation. When congressional Democrats quickly passed the massive covid-19 aid bill and the Biden administration ran an orderly vaccine rollout, hopes rose even higher. Yet in recent weeks, the omicron variant has set records for new cases in the United States, jobs numbers are volatile, inflation is up, and the Democrats’ $2 trillion Build Back Better plan has stalled in the Senate.

This history shows that the president controls only so much. He can do little about inflation and even less about the viral genetic mutations that lead to new coronavirus variants.

But that is not the whole story. Mr. Biden, who ran as a longtime Senate veteran able to get the executive branch and Congress working again, has committed several unforced errors.

Top on the list was his chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, which resulted in the deaths of 13 American service members and consigned to Taliban rule a country into which the United States had invested vast resources.

As Afghanistan unwound, Mr. Biden allowed progressive expectations to outrun the reality of what Democrats could accomplish with their slim congressional majorities. Progressives talked of passing a Build Back Better bill running to several trillion dollars or more, using the Senate’s reconciliation procedure that allows taxing and spending legislation to duck the filibuster’s 60-vote requirement. In fact, conservative Senate Democrats Joe Manchin III (W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) would not support a bill that surpassed $2 trillion. Once that reality sank in, Mr. Biden should have persuaded Democrats to prioritize a few programs to fund sustainably. Instead, House Democrats refused to sacrifice programs to save others, approving a bill containing a large number of underfunded initiatives. When Mr. Manchin balked publicly, the White House released a blistering statement that poisoned negotiations.

On voting rights, Mr. Biden and congressional Democrats pushed for sweeping legislation that would end partisan gerrymandering and mandate voting-access measures, warning that failure to do so could leave U.S. democracy in severe danger. This time, Mr. Manchin and Ms. Sinema supported the bill but did not favor changing Senate rules to pass it over a Republican filibuster.

Even on the omicron variant, the Biden administration could have been better prepared. It was foreseeable that the coronavirus would continue to mutate, perhaps in a way that made it more infectious and enabled it to evade vaccines. The White House should have built rapid PCR testing infrastructure throughout the country in case this occurred, which it did this winter. Instead, wait times are almost uselessly long for reliable results.

In his second year, Mr. Biden must tack toward the practical. Mr. Manchin had offered to support a $1.8 trillion Build Back Better proposal last month, which would have included hefty climate change provisions, before his talks with the White House collapsed. The president should have taken up Mr. Manchin then. Mr. Biden should say yes to Mr. Manchin now, salvaging as much of that proposal as he can in direct talks with the West Virginia senator. Progress could happen soon: Mr. Biden signaled Wednesday that he would substantially pare down the Build Back Better bill to match Mr. Manchin’s preferences, with the climate and energy provisions remaining at its core.

E.J. Dionne Jr.: Biden’s road back: Asking Republicans ‘What are they for?’

Meanwhile, the gravest threat to U.S. democracy is not vote denial but that administrators or elected officials will attempt to tamper with legitimate vote counts based on lies about fraud. Mr. Trump’s continuing effort to discredit the 2020 vote, which experts say was the most secure presidential election ever, has spurred a wave of GOP candidates to campaign on his bogus conspiracy theories. A bipartisan group of senators is discussing a bill that would harden vote-counting procedures against partisan subversion. Mr. Biden should foster these discussions.

The president should also encourage lawmakers to keep working on reforming the Senate. Though Mr. Manchin refused to upend the filibuster to pass a voting rights bill, he has signaled openness to altering the rules in more modest ways. These could include making it more difficult for the minority party to sustain filibusters, which have become routine only recently. Doing so might require more talks with Republicans; the president should get those started.

Mr. Biden’s first year was not as bleak as many reports have portrayed. But he could have accomplished more. He might yet do so if he behaves more like the pragmatic former senator he promised to be.


Manchin, Sinema join with GOP in rejecting attempt to change filibuster rules, effectively killing Democratic voting bill

Senate Democrats fail to change filibuster rules to pass voting rights bill

By Mike DeBonis
WA Post

The year-long Democratic push for federal voting rights legislation died in the Senate on Wednesday night, after Republicans blocked an elections bill for the fifth time in six months and Democrats failed to unite their caucus behind a plan to rewrite the Senate’s rules and pass it anyway.

The final clash, which has been brewing since Democrats won congressional majorities a year ago as Republican legislatures in 19 states embarked on a campaign to roll back election access, began with an evening vote to close debate on a sprawling voting rights bill. That vote, at the Senate’s traditional 60-vote margin for legislation, failed on party lines.

The late-evening vote amounted to a bitter but unsurprising finale for the Democratic voting rights effort on Capitol Hill, a campaign backed by top party leaders and pushed by key elements of its coalition even as Manchin and Sinema repeatedly made clear they would not weaken the 60-vote rule, defending it as a tool to protect minority-party rights and promote bipartisanship in U.S. democracy.

But Schumer and other top Democrats were determined to push forward with a floor confrontation regardless, even as it promised to expose bitter divisions inside their own party rather than amplify a GOP blockade that they have described as an existential threat to democracy.

In the final hours of debate, Democrats pressed the need for action — including a rare rules change that threatened to upend decades of Senate procedure — in lofty terms couched in the preservation of democracy, while Republicans angrily countered with accusations that the maneuver amounted to nothing more than a partisan power play.

“Shall we see American democracy backslide in our time, grow feeble in the jaws of its adversaries, and ultimately succumb to the cancer of voter suppression?” Schumer said Wednesday. “The answer, in a large sense, could depend on how we move forward this evening.”

Sen. Raphael G. Warnock (D-Ga.), who faces reelection this year in one of the states subject to new GOP voting laws, compared the vote to late activist and congressman John Lewis’s bloody trip across a Selma, Ala., bridge during a 1965 voting rights march.

“We’re talking about a procedural bridge,” he said. “I’m still praying that we will cross that bridge. But if not tonight, we will come back again and again and again.”

At a news conference earlier in the day, President Biden acknowledged the looming setback but said Democrats were “not out of options” and that the fight over changes to voting laws would continue to the midterm elections and beyond.

“I’ve been engaged in a long time in public policy, and I don’t know many things that have been done in one fell swoop,” he said, adding that he believed voters would turn out in coming elections and force action in Congress. “But it’s going to be difficult. I make no bones about that. It’s going to be difficult,” he said.

Republicans have shown little hesitation in marshaling opposition to the Democratic voting legislation, which combines an effort to restore portions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that have been struck down in recent years by the Supreme Court with a broader effort to establish new national standards for federal elections, including minimum requirements for early voting, vote by mail and other methods of making it easier to vote.

In final remarks before the vote, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) accused Democrats of seeking to “shatter the soul of the Senate for short-term power.”

“When our country needs leaders to fight the fires of factionalism, almost half the Senate over here wants to literally dump more gasoline right on top of our institutions,” he said. “Thanks to the courageous position of at least a few of their members, they will not succeed.”

Democrats contend the legislation is needed to counter changes made in several states by GOP legislatures that they argue will make voting more difficult, particularly in minority communities. Republicans have dismissed the Democratic criticism of these laws as overblown and have described the legislation in Congress as an effort to rig state elections in Democrats’ favor.

In four Senate votes held since June on various voting bills, only one Republican, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), cast one vote on one bill to proceed with debate. Other Republicans have rallied around a position staked out early last year by McConnell, holding that the federal government should have no additional role in regulating state elections, despite the Constitution’s clear reservation of a federal role in elections for federal office.

In a bid to overcome Republican opposition, Democrats coalesced around a plan this week to modify the Senate’s debate rules only for the pending voting rights legislation. While current rules require 60 senators to vote to close debate and move to a final vote, Schumer proposed enforcing an existing two-speech-maximum rule for each senator. Once debate is fully exhausted under those terms, the Senate could move to a final vote at a simple majority threshold.

But the two holdout Democrats and scores of Republicans warned that there could be no simple exception for the pending bill and that any attempt to exempt legislation from the 60-vote rule would inevitably lead to the permanent end of the Senate filibuster as it currently exists.

Manchin confirmed his intention to oppose the rules change in a floor speech Wednesday afternoon, when he accused fellow Democrats of misrepresenting the history of the filibuster, which has evolved over the Senate’s 232-year history but has generally served to protect the rights of the minority party.

In recent decades, it has become a tool of routine legislative obstruction utilized by both parties, but Manchin argued that did not necessitate fundamentally changing the nature of the Senate along party lines. Any such move, he warned, would only exacerbate poisonous political divisions among Americans.

“I cannot support such a perilous course for this nation when elected leaders are sent to Washington to unite our country, not to divide our country,” he said. “We’re called the United States, not the divided states, and putting politics and party aside is what we’re supposed to do.”

Sinema did not speak on the floor Wednesday, but she made her position clear in a speech last week, delivered just before Biden arrived on Capitol Hill to lobby Democrats at a private Senate lunch. She sat at her desk on the Senate floor for much of Wednesday’s debate, listening to speakers of both parties.

Both Democrats’ views have remained firm as numerous other Senate Democrats have changed their views on the filibuster, backing the need for changes after defending the rule earlier in their careers — including during the Trump administration, when Republicans held unified control of the White House and Congress from 2017 to 2019.

The final push for action on voting rights legislation has included a major Atlanta address last week from Biden, a former six-term senator, who threw his support behind changing the filibuster after concluding, he said, that democracy was at critical risk.

On Wednesday, Sens. Mark Kelly (Ariz.) and Christopher A. Coons (Del.) became the latest Democrats to publicly back a rules change after keeping mum for months on the question. Coons, a Biden confidant, said he backed a “narrow and temporary” filibuster exception aimed at upholding fundamental rights, while Kelly, who faces reelection later this year, said his constituents “deserve a Senate that is more responsive to the challenges facing our country.”

“Protecting the vote-by-mail system used by a majority of Arizonans and getting dark money out of our elections is too important to let fall victim to Washington dysfunction,” Kelly said, outlining a position that notably breaks with Sinema, his fellow Arizona Democrat.

But Manchin and Sinema have resisted a blitz of political pressure from political organizations, civil rights groups and their own colleagues, who have all made the case that the threat to democracy posed by a spate of Republican-passed state voting restrictions outweighs the need to preserve the filibuster.

On Tuesday, for instance, a key fundraising group backing Democratic women who favor abortion rights, Emily’s List, announced it would not support Sinema in a future Democratic primary should she oppose the rules change. The NAACP also made a final appeal to Senate Democrats to support “what may be our last hope to save our democracy.”

In an interview Wednesday, NAACP President Derrick Johnson said the failed vote “marks a sad day for our democracy” and criticized lawmakers, such as Manchin and Sinema, who said they supported the underlying voting legislation but opposed changing Senate rules to pass it.

“It’s almost like saying that you’re half-pregnant. You are [for passing the bill] or you’re not,” Johnson said, adding that “individuals who relied on the African American vote, in particular, or the Latino vote to be elected to office have turned their backs on the very community that allowed them to be in the Senate.”

Manchin, meanwhile, insisted the Democratic proposal amounted to an attempt to “break the rules to change the rules.”

Manchin said Democrats could opt to keep the voting rights legislation on the Senate floor for days or weeks longer, working to invite amendments and build GOP support that has been elusive over months of back-channel negotiations.

“We’ve wasted a year behind the scenes,” he said. “Talking through each other, around each other, but not to each other. Let’s have the debate.”

The suggestion mystified several of Manchin’s colleagues, who said Republicans have been uninterested in having any kind of debate on voting rights.

While defeat appeared assured, Democrats on Wednesday moved forward with a day-long final debate on the issue. Party leaders encouraged Democratic senators to remain at their desks on the Senate floor through the day as the final vote approached to emphasize the gravity of the issue. While GOP attendance was more sparse, more than a dozen Republican senators delivered floor speeches rebutting the Democrats throughout the day.

Republicans who supported Voting Rights Act now oppose bill Democrats say would strengthen its provisions

There were moments of strong words and pointed emotion, as well as occasional exchanges between members of opposite parties that resembled the sort of bygone, freewheeling debates that many senators say should be a more routine feature of an institution that was once deemed, in seriousness that has evolved into sarcasm, the “world’s greatest deliberative body.”

In one notable speech, Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) accused Democrats of peddling a “negative, false narrative of what is happening to America” by referring to the new state laws as “Jim Crow 2.0” and making comparisons to the depravities suffered by Black Americans before and during the civil rights era.

“As I keep hearing the references to Jim Crow, I ask myself how many Americans understand what Jim Crow was,” said Scott, the Senate’s only Black Republican, calling the comparison “offensive not just to me or Southern Americans, but offensive to millions of Americans who fought, bled and died for the right to vote.”

That drew a response from Cory Booker (D-N.J.), a fellow Black senator, who countered that Democrats were simply dealing with the fact that “it is more difficult for the average African American to vote than the average White American.”

“Don’t lecture me about Jim Crow,” he said later. “I know this is not 1965. That’s what makes me so outraged — it’s 2022 and they’re blatantly removing more polling places from the counties where Blacks and Latinos are overrepresented. I’m not making that up. That is a fact.”


Offline Rad

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« Reply #11 on: Jan 20, 2022, 05:00 AM »
In Rebuke to Trump, Supreme Court Allows Release of Jan. 6 Files

The House committee investigating the riot received hundreds of pages of documents from the former president’s White House within hours of the ruling.

By Adam Liptak
NY Times
Jan. 20, 2022

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Wednesday refused a request from former President Donald J. Trump to block the release of White House records concerning the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, effectively rejecting Mr. Trump’s claim of executive privilege and clearing the way for the House committee investigating the riot to receive the documents hours later.

The court, with only Justice Clarence Thomas noting a dissent, let stand an appeals court ruling that Mr. Trump’s desire to maintain the confidentiality of internal White House communications was outweighed by the need for a full accounting of the attack and the disruption of the certification of the 2020 electoral count.

In an unsigned order, the majority wrote that Mr. Trump’s request for a stay while the case moved forward presented weighty issues, including “whether and in what circumstances a former president may obtain a court order preventing disclosure of privileged records from his tenure in office, in the face of a determination by the incumbent president to waive the privilege.”

But an appeals court’s ruling against Mr. Trump did not turn on those questions, the order said.

“Because the court of appeals concluded that President Trump’s claims would have failed even if he were the incumbent, his status as a former president necessarily made no difference to the court’s decision,” the order said.

Within hours of the decision, the National Archives turned over hundreds of pages of documents to the committee.

Representative Bennie Thompson, Democrat of Mississippi and the chairman of the committee, and Representative Liz Cheney, Republican of Wyoming and the vice chairwoman, called the decision “a victory for the rule of law and American democracy.”

“Our work goes forward to uncover all the facts about the violence of Jan. 6 and its causes,” they said.

It was the latest example of a case in which the Supreme Court, which includes three justices appointed by Mr. Trump, ruled against him and his allies on issues related to the 2020 election.

Because the House committee investigating the attack sought the records from the National Archives, President Biden and Mr. Trump both had the opportunity to object.

Mr. Trump invoked executive privilege, a doctrine meant to protect the confidentiality of presidential communications, over some of the documents.

“These sweeping requests are indicative of the committee’s broad investigation of a political foe, divorced from any of Congress’s legislative functions,” his lawyers told the justices in an emergency application.

Mr. Biden took a different view in October in declining to assert executive privilege over some of the materials.

“Congress is examining an assault on our Constitution and democratic institutions provoked and fanned by those sworn to protect them, and the conduct under investigation extends far beyond typical deliberations concerning the proper discharge of the president’s constitutional responsibilities,” wrote Dana Remus, the White House counsel.

She added that executive privilege should not be employed to protect “information that reflects a clear and apparent effort to subvert the Constitution itself.”

The committee has demanded detailed records about Mr. Trump’s every movement and meeting on the day of the assault. The panel’s requests include material about any plans formed in the White House or other federal agencies to derail the electoral vote count by Congress.

House investigators are seeking information about Mr. Trump’s lack of action in calling off the mob and more details about his pressure campaign to overturn the results of an election he lost at the polls.

Among the documents that Mr. Trump had asserted executive privilege over were proposed talking points for Kayleigh McEnany, his former press secretary; a handwritten note concerning Jan. 6; a draft text of a presidential speech for the “Save America” rally that preceded the mob attack; and a draft executive order on the topic of election integrity, the filing states.
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Mr. Trump has also sought to block the release of records from the files of Mark Meadows, his former chief of staff; Stephen Miller, his former senior adviser; and Patrick F. Philbin, his former deputy counsel. Mr. Trump also sought to stop the release of the White House Daily Diary — a record of the president’s movements, phone calls, trips, briefings, meetings and activities — as well as logs showing phone calls to the president and to Vice President Mike Pence concerning Jan. 6.

Finally, Mr. Trump tried to keep secret a draft proclamation honoring the Capitol Police and two officers who died after the riot, Brian D. Sicknick and Howard Liebengood, as well as related emails; a memo about a potential lawsuit against several states that Mr. Biden won; an email chain from a state official regarding election-related issues; and talking points on supposed election irregularities in one county in Michigan.

Mr. Trump told the justices that he had a constitutional right to shield the materials from Congress even though Mr. Biden declined to invoke executive privilege over them.

“The disagreement between an incumbent president and his predecessor from a rival political party,” Mr. Trump’s lawyers told the court, “is both novel and highlights the importance of executive privilege and the ability of presidents and their advisers to reliably make and receive full and frank advice, without concern that communications will be publicly released to meet a political objective.”

Lawyers for the House committee responded that the Supreme Court should not thwart its inquiry. “The select committee’s work,” they wrote, “is of the highest importance and urgency: investigating one of the darkest episodes in our nation’s history, a deadly assault on the United States Capitol and Congress, and an unprecedented disruption of the peaceful transfer of power from one president to the next.”

Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, who served as staff secretary to President George W. Bush, was the only justice to issue a signed opinion in the case. He said the appeals court, in a passage the majority had said was nonbinding, had been wrong in its analysis.

“A former president must be able to successfully invoke the presidential communications privilege for communications that occurred during his presidency, even if the current president does not support the privilege claim,” Justice Kavanaugh wrote. “Concluding otherwise would eviscerate the executive privilege for presidential communications.”

Mr. Trump had sued to block release of the documents, saying that the committee was investigating possible criminal conduct, a line of inquiry that he said was improper, and that the panel had no valid legislative reason to seek the requested information.

The House investigation. A select committee is scrutinizing the causes of the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, which occurred as Congress met to formalize Joe Biden’s election victory amid various efforts to overturn the results. Here are some key figures in the inquiry:

Donald Trump. The former president’s movement and communications on Jan. 6 appear to be a focus of the inquiry. While Mr. Trump has invoked executive privilege in an attempt to shield his records, the Supreme Court refused to block the release of the files.

Kevin McCarthy. The panel has requested an interview with the House Republican leader about his contact with Mr. Trump during the riot. The California representative, who could become speaker of the House after the midterms in November, has refused to cooperate.

Rudolph Giuliani. The panel has subpoenaed Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer and three members of the legal team — Jenna Ellis, Sidney Powell and Boris Epshteyn — who pursued conspiracy-filled lawsuits that made claims of voter fraud in the 2020 election.

Mike Pence. The former vice president could be a key witness as the committee focuses on Mr. Trump’s responsibility for the riot and considers criminal referrals, but Mr. Pence reportedly has not decided whether to cooperate.

Mark Meadows. Mr. Trump’s chief of staff, who initially provided the panel with a trove of documents that showed the extent of his role in the efforts to overturn the election, is now refusing to cooperate. The House voted to recommend holding Mr. Meadows in criminal contempt of Congress.

Scott Perry and Jim Jordan. The Republican representatives of Pennsylvania and Ohio are among a group of G.O.P. congressmen who were deeply involved in efforts to overturn the election. Both Mr. Perry and Mr. Jordan have refused to cooperate with the panel.

Fox News anchors. ??Texts between Sean Hannity and Trump officials in the days surrounding the riot illustrate the host’s unusually elevated role as an outside adviser. Mr. Hannity, along with Laura Ingraham and Brian Kilmeade, also texted Mr. Meadows as the riot unfolded.

Big Tech firms. The panel has criticized Alphabet, Meta, Reddit and Twitter for allowing extremism to spread on their platforms and saying they have failed to cooperate adequately with the inquiry. The committee has issued subpoenas to all four companies.

Far-right figures. White nationalist leaders and militia groups are being scrutinized as the panel’s focus intensifies on the rallies that led up to the mob violence and how those with extremist views worked with pro-Trump forces to undermine the election.

Roger Stone and Alex Jones. The panel’s interest in the political operative and the conspiracy theorist indicate that investigators are intent on learning the details of the planning and financing of rallies that drew Mr. Trump’s supporters to Washington based on his lies of a stolen election.

Steve Bannon. The former Trump aide has been charged with contempt of Congress for refusing to comply with a subpoena, claiming protection under executive privilege even though he was an outside adviser. His trial is scheduled for next summer.

Michael Flynn. Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser attended an Oval Office meeting on Dec. 18 in which participants discussed seizing voting machines and invoking certain national security emergency powers. Mr. Flynn has filed a lawsuit to block the panel’s subpoenas.

Phil Waldron. The retired Army colonel has been under scrutiny since a 38-page PowerPoint document he circulated on Capitol Hill was turned over to the panel by Mr. Meadows. The document contained extreme plans to overturn the election.

Jeffrey Clark. The little-known Justice Department official repeatedly pushed his colleagues to help Mr. Trump undo his loss. The panel has recommended that Mr. Clark be held in criminal contempt of Congress for refusing to cooperate.

John Eastman. The lawyer has been the subject of intense scrutiny since writing a memo that laid out how Mr. Trump could stay in power. Mr. Eastman was present at a meeting of Trump allies at the Willard Hotel that has become a prime focus of the panel.

Lawyers for the committee responded that the two tasks were often intertwined. “Congress often legislates by probing past illegality to determine why it occurred, how it could be prevented, whether more resources should be allocated to prevention and whether and how existing laws should be changed,” they wrote, noting that Congress had enacted major legislation after the Watergate and Teapot Dome scandals.

Judge Tanya S. Chutkan of the Federal District Court in Washington ruled against Mr. Trump in November. A unanimous three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed that ruling in December.

Judge Patricia A. Millett, writing for the panel, acknowledged that former presidents have the right to invoke executive privilege. But she said the privilege is not absolute even when it is asserted by a sitting president.

In 1974, for instance, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that President Richard M. Nixon had to comply with a trial subpoena seeking tapes of his conversations in the Oval Office, rejecting his claims of executive privilege.

In his opinion on Wednesday, Justice Kavanaugh said there were important lessons in the court’s analysis in the Nixon case.

“The Nixon court noted, by way of historical example, that the Constitutional Convention was conducted ‘in complete privacy’ and that the records of the Convention remained confidential for more than 30 years,” Justice Kavanaugh wrote. “As was true at the Constitutional Convention, the presidential communications privilege cannot fulfill its critical constitutional function unless presidents and their advisers can be confident in the present and future confidentiality of their advice.”

Judge Millett wrote that several factors warranted disclosure of the documents despite Mr. Trump’s objections.

“To start,” she wrote, “as the incumbent, President Biden is the principal holder and keeper of executive privilege, and he speaks authoritatively for the interests of the executive branch. Under our Constitution, we have one president at a time.”

It is not unusual for sitting presidents to waive executive privilege, Judge Millett wrote. Nixon declined to invoke it to block his aides’ testimony concerning discussions of possible criminal conduct before a Senate committee investigating the Watergate scandal. President Ronald Reagan authorized providing documents, including excerpts from his diaries, to congressional committees investigating the Iran-contra affair. Mr. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney were questioned for hours by a commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

In a Supreme Court brief on behalf of the Biden administration, Elizabeth B. Prelogar, the solicitor general, wrote that Mr. Biden’s decision to allow disclosure of some documents was similarly appropriate.

His decision, she wrote, “is not likely to have any materially greater effect on the future candor of presidential advisers than have prior presidential decisions not to assert executive privilege in connection with events like Watergate, Iran-contra and Sept. 11.”

Mr. Trump’s lawyers said the former president enjoyed a special status under a federal law governing the disclosure of presidential records.

“President Trump is more than an ordinary citizen,” they wrote. “He is one of only five living Americans who, as former presidents, are granted special authority to make determinations regarding the disclosure of records and communications created during their terms of office.”

Judge Millett wrote that the House committee had a legitimate need for the documents.

“There would seem to be few, if any, more imperative interests squarely within Congress’s wheelhouse than ensuring the safe and uninterrupted conduct of its constitutionally assigned business,” she wrote. “Here, the House of Representatives is investigating the single most deadly attack on the Capitol by domestic forces in the history of the United States.”


Offline Darja

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« Reply #12 on: Jan 21, 2022, 03:27 AM »

Drug-resistant pathogens now kill over one million people per year — more than malaria

It's a growing threat to humanity that won't go away anytime soon.

Fermin Koop   
January 21, 2022

Bacteria and fungi with the ability to withstand the drugs meant to kill them are now causing 1.2 million deaths every year, according to a global study. This represents a big jump from previous estimates of 700,000 deaths a year, and has prompted researchers to call for concentrated efforts that include infection prevention and vaccination to deal with antibiotic resistance.

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) has been described as the most alarming issue for human health, expected to cause up to 10 million deaths after 2050 – the same as the number of people that die from cancer every year in present times. It can affect people at any stage of life, also affecting the agriculture, veterinary and healthcare industries. It’s also a problem that will likely grow more and more as time passes.

The problem roughly goes like this: when a new antibiotic is introduced, it is generally very good at killing the pathogens it’s meant to kill. But in time, bacteria and fungi can grow more and more resistant to it, especially if people don’t take antibiotics properly. Evolutionary pressure pushes the pathogens to develop more and more resistance, until they can render the antibiotic useless. We’re already seeing this with some strains of gonorrhea, which are virtually untreatable, and several other types of bacteria. This means we constantly need a fresh supply of antibiotics to ensure we can defeat these bacteria and fungi, but developing new antibiotics is slow — slowly but surely, we’re losing the upper hand.

The World Health Organization (WHO) warned last year that none of the 43 antibiotics in development as well as the recently approved medicines are enough to take antimicrobial resistance. Of the 43 drugs in development, 26 target dangerous superbugs, but they are derivatives of existing classes of antibiotics, the WHO warned.

    “AMR is a leading cause of death around the world, with the highest burdens in low-resource settings. Understanding the burden of AMR and the leading pathogen–drug combinations contributing to it is crucial to making informed and location-specific policy decisions, particularly about infection prevention,” the researchers wrote.

The effects of superbugs

The Global Research on Antimicrobial Resistance report, published in The Lancet, is based on modelling that incorporates a wide range of data sources – including lab results, hospital records and surveillance information from pharmaceutical companies. It’s the first comprehensive assessment of the global burden of AMR, the researchers said.

The analysis covers more than 200 countries and territories. AMR was directly responsible for 1.27 million deaths, and associated with 4.95 million deaths, in 2019 – more than malaria or HIV/Aids. Hundreds of thousands of deaths happen due to common and previously treatable infections, as bacteria that cause them is now resistant to treatment.

People of all ages are affected by AMR, the researchers said, with young children being particularly at risk. One in five deaths happened in kids under five years old. AMR’s impact was described as more severe in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. However, data was limited for some regions, especially for low and middle-income countries, which could alter the estimates.

Addressing the challenge of AMR will require a set of intervention strategies, the researchers said. Infection prevention and control is the most important area, including community-based programs and hospital-based infection prevention. Vaccination programs can also reduce AMR emergence, even for pathogens without vaccines.

“Minimising the use of antibiotics when they are not necessary to improve human health—such as treating viral infections—should be prioritized,” the researchers wrote. “Maintaining investment in the development pipeline for new antibiotics—and access to second-line antibiotics in locations without widespread access—is essential.”

The study was published in The Lancet


Offline Darja

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« Reply #13 on: Jan 21, 2022, 03:33 AM »
‘Like witnessing a birth in a morgue’: the volunteers working to save the Joshua trees

If carbon emissions stay at current levels, just 0.02% of the desert tree would survive. Volunteers are now banding together to plant seedlings

by Max Ufberg, with photographs by Kovi Konowiecki
21 Jan 2022 11.00 GMT

The trees are not exactly imposing. Slim and spiny, with limbs that grip small poms of sharp leaves, they look like something a child might dream up. Or maybe Salvador Dalí. Even the name, Joshua tree, sounds kind of awkward.

On a wet and chilly December morning, I stood at a makeshift encampment in the Mojave national preserve in San Bernardino county, California, listening as a group of strangers fretted over the trees’ precarious future. Within the preserve is Cima Dome, a broad-sloping mound that, until recently, contained the densest Joshua tree forest in the world.

That changed in August 2020, when a lightning storm ignited the Dome fire, which ripped through over 43,000 acres of Cima Dome and burned about 1.3m Joshua trees. Given that Joshua trees – which technically are not trees but a species of desert succulent – are native only to the south-western US, the Dome fire represented an outright disaster to their survival.

Looking out that morning, I saw seemingly endless fields of the trees’ scorched and tortured carcasses. This was a terrible harbinger of things to come: a 2019 Ecosphere journal study determined that, if carbon emissions stay at current levels, just 0.02% of the species would survive.

Now, a year and a half later, a wide-ranging group of volunteers are working alongside the National Park Service, which manages the preserve, to replant Joshua trees.

When I visited in early December, the plan was to plant 1,500 seedlings over the next several weeks. The 18 people spending their day (or days, in some cases) with the trees included civilians from all walks of life, members of the Arizona and Nevada Conservation Corps, and a group of women who brought along two pack camels to help carry baby Joshua trees through some of the more treacherous terrain. Joshua trees typically have a lifespan of 150 years; if all goes according to plan, these saplings will become a fixture of the preserve for a long, long time.

Among those assembled was Brendan Cummings, the conservation director with the Center for Biological Diversity, a national non-profit focused on saving imperiled plants and animals. Tall and wiry with a thick head of salt and pepper hair and a pensive demeanor, Cummings is spearheading an attempt to list the tree under the state-level Endangered Species Act. “What they’re doing could be the model for what climate restoration will look like,” he told me on the phone a few weeks prior.

    In December 2021, a group of volunteers traveled to the Mojave national preserve to plant 1,500 eastern Joshua tree seedlings. Pictured: Volunteers Brendan Cummings, Avery Arp, Anthony Chesney and Nancy Fite.

The threat isn’t just wildfires. The climate crisis, invasive grasses and poor migration patterns for the trees’ seeds all contribute to the species’ imperilment. Human development – the trees have been cleared out to build anything from new neighborhoods to solar farms – isn’t helping matters. Because the threats are so varied, it can be difficult to calculate exactly how many trees are in danger (something land developers love to point out).

But Cummings believes that fact is beside the point. “You don’t need to know whether there were 500 passengers or 2,000 passengers on the Titanic to know that the entire population was threatened when they hit an iceberg,” he said as we stood near the basecamp on that frigid winter day.

After about an hour’s wait – the camels were ultimately unwilling to saddle the load of supplies, “living up to the stereotype of being recalcitrant”, as Cummings put it – the volunteers were split into small groups and directed to designated sites. There they would plant the spiky green seedlings that, if all went according to plan, would over the course of a few decades replace the blackened husks of trees that now line the landscape.

Though they look pretty similar, there are in fact two different species of Joshua trees: western and eastern. The majority of easterns are located on federal land and are not under threat by developers. Cummings’ work as a conservationist focuses on the western variety. “Most of the range of the eastern species is on federal land, which is never going to get bulldozed,” he said. “About 40% of western Joshua tree habitat is on private land, and most of that will ultimately get developed.”

    A solar panel at the Antelope Valley solar ranch in the western Mojave Desert. Solar farms such as this one can contribute to the endangerment of Joshua trees because building them can require forests to be cleared out.

Cummings’ fight to save the western species picked up steam in September 2020, when the California fish and game commission accepted a petition he authored to offer endangered protections to Joshua trees for one year (since extended to May of 2022), during which the agency is conducting research into the plants’ long-term viability. Those protections made it illegal to damage or remove Joshua trees without special permits. (That ban didn’t apply to everyone: the commission approved an exemption allowing solar projects in Kern and San Bernardino counties to continue removing Joshua trees during construction.)

“After the commission receives the report, it can complete the process to make a final determination whether or not to list the Joshua tree as threatened or endangered under the California Endangered Species Act,” said Rachel Ballanti, deputy executive director of California fish and game commission.

Though temporary, the decision was still precedent-setting: it marked the first time a plant species was given protection as a result of a climate crisis threat.

“Climate change is creating a much hotter and much drier desert environment, and that is restricting species’ ability to reproduce,” said Cameron Barrows, one of the Ecosphere study’s authors and an ecologist with the University of California, Riverside. In the case of Joshua trees, drought has left the soil too dry to sustain saplings. As a result, we’re left with a species that skews quite old. It’s sort of akin, as Barrows explained, to a community with a senior center but no elementary school: “You would immediately realize the community has a very short lifespan.”

This isn’t Cummings’ first conservation rodeo. He was also part of the successful push to get the polar bear listed as endangered under the Bush administration. Yet, all these years later, the bear is still on thin ice, with recent estimates warning the species could be wiped out by the end of the century.

I asked Cummings if, given this fact, all the conversation around government protections really matter in the first place. He nodded his head in amusement; clearly he was expecting the question.

    Volunteers Brendan Cummings and Chris Clarke plant eastern Joshua tree saplings in the Mojave national preserve.

“If you look at the modeling for say, polar bears in Alaska, if we halt global warming in the next 20 years, even in that optimistic scenario, polar bears have about an 80% chance of extinction,” he said. “However, if you reduce other threats that kill polar bears – oil development in their habitat in the Arctic Refuge, trophy hunting – the extinction risk drops from 80% down to about 50%. You have a significantly greater chance of a species surviving, if you can reduce those other threats.”

The same thing, he explained, applies to Joshua trees.

It’s not exactly a sunny outlook, but coming from a man who’s dedicated his life to the preservation of the natural world, it’s probably the most clear-eyed view we’ve got.

In the meantime, all he can do is dig. Crouching over a sapling, Cummings and the other volunteers were given a quick run-down on planting the dozen eastern babies they had been assigned: why, for example, it’s important to build a berm around the sapling (it helps to retain water), or why only half of the saplings are encased by small chicken-wire cages (a maze of regulations prohibit the use of fencing, so they’re conducting a mini-field experiment to evaluate whether the barriers will improve life expectancy). “A lot of red tape to navigate,” explained Nic Anderson, the unofficial supervisor and a researcher with the Great Basin Institute, an environmental group working closely with the National Park Service.

Soon enough the volunteers were packing their infant plants into the soil, all under the mournful gaze of the thousands of burned Joshua trees. It was a hopeful sight, but also an eerie one: like witnessing a birth in a morgue.
Hands hammer wire, a large bush-like tree

    Left: Chris Clarke and Brendan Cummings place a chicken-wire cage around recently planted saplings. Right: A western Joshua tree in the west Mojave.

I got to talking with volunteer Chris Clarke, an associate director with the National Parks Conservation Association, another environmental group. Clarke explained how the Dome fire didn’t just impact the trees, but also the antelope squirrels that eat their seeds, and the ladder-backed woodpeckers that look for insects in their limbs. And the desert night lizards that seek shelter under their stumps. And tortoises. And jackrabbits. And cottontail rabbits. “There are lots of animals that depend on the Joshua tree forest for food,” he explained. “The Joshua tree is really the linchpin of the ecosystem.”

After about two hours, the group had all 12 of their saplings firmly planted into the ground. By then the rain had picked up and temperatures had dipped into the 40s, and the caravans of tree-huggers decided to head back to base. It was a modest effort, and one that even in the best-case scenario, won’t come to approaching the scale of devastation wrought by the Dome fire. But the process was therapeutic for the humans involved as much as it was restorative for the ecosystem.

    Park ranger Sierra Willoughby caresses the burned bark of a Joshua tree.

And maybe the dead trees aren’t so dead after all. Though the Mojave national preserve staff had initially believed every tree was dead, they’d suddenly noticed a handful of natural new growths sprouting from the husks of the charred trees (though it’s macabre, imagine a baby limb on a decaying corpse). As Cummings and I strolled through the forests near the basecamp, he couldn’t help but eagerly point out any unexpected saplings. Even after 16 years living among the trees in the town of Joshua Tree, he’s still amazed by them.

“You walk through the burned Cima Dome and feel a little hopeless,” Cummings said. “But dig a hole and plant a new tree in the ground and suddenly it feels a little less hopeless.”


Offline Darja

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« Reply #14 on: Jan 21, 2022, 03:35 AM »
‘Like a work of art’: rare stretch of pristine coral reef discovered off Tahiti

Scientists say find shows importance of mapping deep ocean where coral can escape effects of global heating

Patrick Greenfield
21 Jan 2022 11.40 GMT

A huge coral reef has been discovered off the coast of Tahiti in the Pacific Ocean’s “twilight zone”, offering hope that more pristine ecosystems are waiting to be discovered at unexplored depths.

Stretching along the ocean floor for nearly 2 miles, the reef, covered in rose-shaped corals, is one of the largest such discoveries at depths of more than 30 metres, where sunlight levels are much lower.

Scientists for the Unesco-led mission in French Polynesia said the reef, discovered in November, did not appear to have suffered bleaching events that had damaged neighbouring reefs in shallower waters in 2019. During dives totalling 200 hours, researchers were able to witness the coral spawning, with some spanning 2 metres.

“It was magical to witness giant, beautiful rose corals which stretch for as far as the eye can see,” said Alexis Rosenfeld, a French underwater photographer who was part of the team of international divers that made the discovery. “It was like a work of art.”

Researchers said more reefs were likely waiting to be discovered at these depths following improvements in diving technology, which had previously inhibited exploration.

“To date, we know the surface of the moon better than the deep ocean. Only 20% of the entire seabed has been mapped,” said Audrey Azoulay, Unesco’s director general.

Most of the world’s known coral reefs are at depths of 25 metres and above, with many facing the risk of collapse as the world’s oceans continue to heat. In September, a study found coral reef coverage had fallen by half since the 1950s because of global heating, overfishing, pollution and habitat destruction.

Speaking to the BBC Prof Murray Roberts, a marine scientist at the University of Edinburgh, said the discovery underscored the need to map similar reefs to make sure they can be protected in the future.

“We still associate corals with the shallowest tropical seas but here we find a huge previously unknown coral reef system.

“As shallow waters warm faster than the deeper waters we may find these deeper reef systems are refuges for corals in the future. We need to get out there to map these special places,” he said.

Further dives are planned in the coming months off the coast of Tahiti to continue investigations around the reef.