Month: October 2020

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Harsher, Longer Winters Here to Stay?

October 22, 2020 | News | No Comments

As a result of steadily climbing Arctic temperatures, the polar jet stream has been thrown off its usual course, setting off wild weather patterns such as the extremely harsh winter in the Northern and Eastern U.S. this year. This chilly reality is likely to become the new norm, a group of U.S. scientists said at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science on Saturday.

“The jet stream, a ribbon of high altitude, high-speed wind in northern latitudes that blows from west to east, is formed when the cold Arctic air clashes with warmer air from further south,” Agence France-Presse explains. “The greater the difference in temperature, the faster the jet stream moves.” Because the air coming from the Arctic is warming, the jet stream has weakened and “has begun to meander, like a river heading off course.”

“Weather patterns are changing,” said Jennifer Francis, a climate expert at Rutgers University, at the meeting. “We can expect more of the same and we can expect it to happen more frequently.”

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Temperatures in the Arctic have been rising “two to three times faster than the rest of the planet,” said James Overland, a weather expert with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

This trend could in turn see the increasingly harsh winters in Northern U.S. and Europe continue into the unforeseeable future.

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In a nondescript industrial estate in El Segundo, a boxy suburb in northern Los Angeles just a mile or two from LAX international airport, 20 people wait in a windowless canteen for a ceremony to begin. Outside, the sun is shining on an unseasonably warm February day; inside, the only light comes from the glare of halogen bulbs.

There is a strange mix of accents – predominantly American, but smatterings of Swedish, Russian, Spanish and Portuguese can be heard around the room, as men and women (but mostly men) chat over pepperoni pizza and 75-cent vending machine soda. In the corner, an Asteroids arcade machine blares out tinny music and flashing lights.

It might be a fairly typical office scene, were it not for the extraordinary security procedures that everyone in this room has had to complete just to get here, the sort of measures normally reserved for nuclear launch codes or presidential visits. The reason we are all here sounds like the stuff of science fiction, or the plot of a new Tom Cruise franchise: the ceremony we are about to witness sees the coming together of a group of people, from all over the world, who each hold a key to the internet. Together, their keys create a master key, which in turn controls one of the central security measures at the core of the web. Rumours about the power of these keyholders abound: could their key switch off the internet? Or, if someone somehow managed to bring the whole system down, could they turn it on again?

The keyholders have been meeting four times a year, twice on the east coast of the US and twice here on the west, since 2010. Gaining access to their inner sanctum isn’t easy, but last month I was invited along to watch the ceremony and meet some of the keyholders – a select group of security experts from around the world. All have long backgrounds in internet security and work for various international institutions. They were chosen for their geographical spread as well as their experience – no one country is allowed to have too many keyholders. They travel to the ceremony at their own, or their employer’s, expense.

What these men and women control is the system at the heart of the web: the domain name system, or DNS. This is the internet’s version of a telephone directory – a series of registers linking web addresses to a series of numbers, called IP addresses. Without these addresses, you would need to know a long sequence of numbers for every site you wanted to visit. To get to the Guardian, for instance, you’d have to enter “77.91.251.10” instead of theguardian.com.

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The master key is part of a new global effort to make the whole domain name system secure and the internet safer: every time the keyholders meet, they are verifying that each entry in these online “phone books” is authentic. This prevents a proliferation of fake web addresses which could lead people to malicious sites, used to hack computers or steal credit card details.

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The east and west coast ceremonies each have seven keyholders, with a further seven people around the world who could access a last-resort measure to reconstruct the system if something calamitous were to happen. Each of the 14 primary keyholders owns a traditional metal key to a safety deposit box, which in turn contains a smartcard, which in turn activates a machine that creates a new master key. The backup keyholders have something a bit different: smartcards that contain a fragment of code needed to build a replacement key-generating machine. Once a year, these shadow holders send the organisation that runs the system – the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (Icann) – a photograph of themselves with that day’s newspaper and their key, to verify that all is well.

The fact that the US-based, not-for-profit organisation Icann – rather than a government or an international body – has one of the biggest jobs in maintaining global internet security has inevitably come in for criticism. Today’s occasionally over-the-top ceremony (streamed live on Icann’s website) is intended to prove how seriously they are taking this responsibility. It’s one part The Matrix (the tech and security stuff) to two parts The Office (pretty much everything else).

Read the full article at the Guardian.

© 2014 Guardian News and Media Limited

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Australia’s Victorian state parliament passed a draconian anti-protest bill on Tuesday, prompting protests in the Melbourne parliament chamber that were violently shut down by security.

The Summary Offenses and Sentencing Amendment Bill has been widely criticized as a crackdown on freedom of expression and public protest, as well as an attack on marginalized, poor, homeless, and undocumented people.

When opponents of the bill voiced their opposition during debate in the chamber on Tuesday, security “proceeded to drag people by their arms, legs and their necks out of the gallery for daring to express the concerns of the community,” said protester Samantha Castro in an interview with 7 News describing the scene, which was captured on the video below.

In addition, a riot police squad was called to the scene to disband the approximately 30 protesters. The demonstrators “were representative of a much larger movement, of many [thousands] of people who do not want to see democracy further stifled in this state,” wrote Nicola Paris of nonviolent direct action group CounterAct, in a statement about the action.

Now passed, the bill drastically expands police powers to force individuals or groups of people in public places to “move on” on the suspicion that they will cause violence, obstruction, or sell drugs, and it expands powers to ban, imprison, and fine people who are deemed not in compliance.

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“These laws will disproportionately affect marginalized young people, people experiencing homelessness, poverty, and mental health issues who occupy public spaces, both as a result of social choice and necessity,” reads a statement from a coalition of Australian organizations that oppose the bill.

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“By necessity, people experiencing homelessness live their lives in public places,” reads a statement from Australian organization Justice Connect. “Unlike the rest of us who could go home if told to move-on, homeless people have no-where else to go.”

Many suspect the law is aimed, in part, at stifling demonstrations and worker pickets in the state, including Melbourne protests against an East West Link Road under construction that critics charge would displace residents, contaminate the environment, and expand carbon pollution.

Describing the Tuesday protests, Paris wrote, “We were there for unionists, for teachers, for nurses, for people who fought for the rights we now have. We were there for environmentalists, for people who care for refugees, who care about the city we live in, and who have saved the buildings we now cherish. We were there for those defending their homes and communities from an unwanted road project that will bring no benefit but much pollution, at a cost of billions.”

“This legislation is yet another step down the slippery slope. If we don’t fight for our rights now, they will take them away.”

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As Ukraine’s acting President Oleksandr Turchynov told parliament on Tuesday that the military was engaged in an “anti-terrorist operation” in the east of the country, Russia’s Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev warned against the use of force and said that Ukraine is again “on the brink of civil war.”

Pro-Russian activists in cities across the east have risen up against Kiev’s authority, with many calling for the opportunity to vote on their continued inclusion in Ukraine.

“Overnight, an antiterrorist operation began in the north of Donetsk. But it will be phased, responsible and balanced,” Turchynov announced, according to the Interfax news agency. “The purpose of the actions, I stress once again, is to protect the citizens of Ukraine.”

According to CNN, “A spokesman for Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, Evgen Rojenyuk, confirmed that a National Guard battalion made up of 350 troops was sent to eastern Ukraine from Kiev on Tuesday morning.”

Tweets about “Ukraine Russia filter:links”

Updates to follow….

(11:25 AM EST):

The Guardian reports:

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(11:18 AM EST):

RIA-Novosti, the Russian state-run news agency, reports:

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Previous ultimatums from Kiev for the pro-Russian activists to relinquish their positions had gone unfulfilled. But as the New York Times reports, “The first indication that the operation represented more than just words this time was a modest Ukrainian military checkpoint established on a highway north of the town of Slovyansk, which has been controlled by militants since Saturday.”

Witnesses confirmed to the Times that a dozen armored personnel carriers were parked on the highway and flying Ukrainian flags about 25 miles, north of the town, but that “no credible reports of confrontations” had yet occurred.

In a phone call Monday night, President Obama spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin and again warned that further sanctions would be imposed by the west if Moscow did not end its interference in eastern Ukraine. Putin, however, rebuffed Obama’s claims of Russian interference and said that it was incumbent on the U.S. and its European allies to use their influence with the government in Kiev to make sure violence does not break out.

In a statement made from Beijing, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called Ukraine’s decision to use military action against the uprisings in the east as “unacceptable.” He reiterated Putin’s claim as well, saying that Moscow’s involvement among the Pro-Russian activists in eastern cities was “the biggest load of nonsense I have ever heard.”

Media outlets report that Russia has threatened to cancel international talks scheduled for later this week if Ukraine follows through with its threat to oust those occupying government buildings.

In a related development, the White House confirmed on Monday that CIA chief John Brennan did visit Kiev over the weekend, though spokesman Jay Carney would not detail who he met or why, exactly, he was there. As the AP reports: “Ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych is accusing the CIA of being behind the new government’s decision to turn to force. But the CIA denies that Brennan encouraged Ukrainian authorities to conduct tactical operations.”

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A strong earthquake hit Japan’s northern coast Saturday near the Fukushima nuclear power plant crippled in the 2011 tsunami.

Japan’s Meteorological Agency said the magnitude-6.8 quake struck 6 miles below the sea surface just off the coast of Fukushima. The 4:22 a.m. local time quake rattled buildings in Tokyo, about 120 miles southwest of the epicenter.

A small tsunami reached the coast of Ishinomaki Ayukawa and Ofunato about 50 minutes after the quake. Smaller waves were observed at several other locations along the coast, but changes to the shoreline were not visible on television footage aired by public broadcaster NHK.

Eight towns devastated by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, including Rikuzentakata, Higashi Matsushima and Otsuchi, issued evacuation advisories to thousands of households along the northern coast, along with schools and community centers.

All tsunami and evacuation advisories were lifted about two hours after the quake.

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Fukushima Dai-ichi – the nuclear plant decimated in the 2011 disaster – and two other nuclear power plants, along with other nuclear facilities along the coast, claimed their reactors and fuel storage pools were being cooled safely, according to Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority.

Plant operators Tokyo Electric said there were no immediate reports of abnormality after the quake, according to Kyodo news agency.

The meteorological agency advised people to leave the coast immediately, while Japan’s public broadcaster NHK said some local authorities issued evacuation advisories to their residents.

The 2011 disaster killed about 19,000 people and triggered multiple catastrophic meltdowns at the Fukushima nuclear facilitiy. More than 100,000 people have been displaced by radiation contamination in communities near the nuclear plant.

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Swiss athletic footwear brand On has unveiled the second addition to the Roger Federer franchise in the form of a bold statement sneaker that aims to target a younger audience.

The debut sneaker from Federer, the ‘Centre Court’ marked the performance running brand’s first tennis-inspired style. It was minimalistic in design and featured On’s award-winning CloudTec sole.

The new Roger Clubhouse has been designed to make a statement and has a much chunkier look and feel than the Centre Court style. Described by the brand as an “ode to youth culture: to be worn, torn, stained and just lived in”.

The upper has been made from vegan leather and is tailored with textured layering for more robustness and durability. In addition, the Clubhouse also still features all of On’s performance DNA including the signature Speedboard and CloudTec technology.

On states that these sneakers have been made to be “functional” and they’ve added a herringbone pattern for better traction so they can be worn “wherever you see fit”.

“For those who tend to shy away from an all-white silhouette and still believe that collectables should remain in immaculate condition, it’s about living in them,” added On in the press release. “Every crease should take you back to a moment in time you celebrated being you. Paint them proud!”

The On Roger Clubhouse will be limited to just 2,000 pairs worldwide and will be available online via a raffle running from October 19 until October 21 and via 18 Montrose.

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Lance Stroll has confirmed that he tested positive for coronavirus after he was forced to pull out of the Eifel Grand Prix at the Nurburgring.

Stroll felt unwell with “flu-like symptoms” on the Saturday morning before final practice and decided not to take part, handing over his Racing Point seat to last-minute replacement Nico Hulkenberg.

He had not tested positive in the most recent round of routine coronavirus testing of key paddock and team personnel before the race weekend, but did so when he was subsequently re-tested after returning home.

“I just want to let everyone know that I recently tested positive for COVID-19 after the Eifel GP weekend,” Stroll posted on social media on Wednesday.

  • Read also: Villeneuve questions Stroll’s commitment after Eifel GP pull-out

“To fill you all in on what happened, I arrived at the Nurburgring after testing negative in the normal pre-race tests,” he continued. “On Saturday morning I started to feel unwell and woke up with an upset stomach.

“I followed the FIA protocol and self-isolated in my motorhome and did not re-enter the paddock.

“I wasn’t fit to race so I flew home early Sunday morning. As I was still feeling under the weather I took a COVID test on Sunday evening.

“The next day the results came back positive, so I stayed at home self-isolating for the next 10 days. Luckily my symptoms were pretty mild.”

Stroll said that he had made a swift recovery and was ready to race in this weekend’s Portuguese Grand Prix.

“I am feeling 100 per cent,” he wrote. “I was tested again on Monday this week and my results were negative. I feel in great shape and I can’t wait to be back with the team and to race in Portugal.”

He’s the second Formula 1 driver to test positive for coronavirus, after his team mate Sergio Perez was forced to sit out the Silverstone double header in August. He too had been subbed at short notice by Hulkenberg.

Racing Point boss Otmar Szafnauer had previously stated that Stroll felt unwell at the preceding Grand Prix in Sochi at the end of September, but that all tests for coronavirus before the Eifel GP had come back negative.

That had led to speculation about whether the FIA’s testing regimen is as robust as needed, but Formula 1 race director Michael Masi told Motorsport.com he was confident about the protocols the governing body had put in place.

“We don’t feel there is any loophole,” Masi insisted. “The requirement for Lance, or any other attendee on that matter, is that there are the various time requirements to test prior to entering the paddock, and then the follow up testing from that point.

“Based on the Tuesday test [before the Eifel GP] his next test would have been Sunday morning to fulfil the requirements of the FIA COVID protocol.

“With regards to Lance feeling ill, like any other driver it’s incumbent upon the driver and the competitor – in this case, Racing Point – to determine if they feel that their driver is not up to the capacity to drive the car.

“It’s incumbent upon Racing Point as the stakeholder in this case and Lance himself as an attendee to declare within the parameters of the protocol if they are having any of those requirements, and then there is the requirement from there to report.

“None of that has been reported to the FIA, so there’s nothing further from our perspective at this point in time.”

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The Minneapolis City Council voted Friday to recognize Columbus Day as “Indigenous Peoples Day” after years of organizing by indigenous activists.

Hundreds of Native Americans filled the Minneapolis City Hall for Friday’s vote, Native News Online reports.

“City of Minneapolis recognizes the annexation of Dakota homelands for the building of our city, and knows Indigenous nations have lived upon this land since time immemorial and values the progress our society has accomplished through American Indian technology, thought, and culture,” reads the resolution.

The resolution does not do away with Columbus Day, but instead adds Indigenous Peoples Day as an official holiday. However, all official city communications will say “Indigenous Peoples Day,” not “Columbus Day.”

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Since the late 1970s, indigenous people have organized to change Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day, the resolution notes.

Columbus, who never set foot in what is now the United States, is widely credited with discovering the “New World,” despite the fact that indigenous people were already living there.

Columbus, who landed in what is now Haiti and the Dominican Republic, exterminated and enslaved the Taíno people.

Columbus Day has been a federal holiday since 1937, but Alaska, Hawaii, Oregon, and South Dakota do not celebrate it.

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The movement for reproductive justice sees women’s decision to have – or not have – children as a fundamental right. Should they choose to bear a child, women should have the right to care and provide for them; if they opt not to give birth, family planning services should be made available to enable women to space or prevent pregnancies.

In Cambodia, where women make up 60 percent of the population of 14 million people, this fundamental right is being trampled by insecure labour contracts, toxic working conditions and a near-total absence of maternity benefits for working mothers.

Take Cambodia’s garments industry, a massive sector that accounts for 80 percent of the country’s exports. A full 90 percent of the workforce is female, but labour rights have not accompanied employment opportunities.

Ever since the country entered into a liberalising agreement with the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in 2005, long-term contracts have been edged out in favour of short term or fixed duration contracts (FDCs), the latter being far more popular among East Asian factory owners and western clothing brands like Gap, Walmart and H&M.

These informal arrangements “abuse garment workers’ reproductive rights,” Sophea Chrek, a former garment worker and technical assistant to the Workers Information Center (WIC) – which recently staged a fashion show to highlight the issue – told IPS.

“Women employed under FDCs for three to six months, or sometimes even one month, will not risk their job by having a baby. Usually, they choose to have an abortion…before the contract ends to ensure that the line leaders or supervisors are not aware of their pregnancy,” Chrek added.

According to Cambodian labour law, factories are supposed to provide maternity leave, but most get around this requirement with short contracts, which leave the estimated 600,000 workers vulnerable to employers’ whims.

Melissa Cockroft, a technical advisor on sexual and reproductive health, tells IPS that women without access to family planning services resort to unsafe and unregulated measures, such as using over-the-counter Chinese products to induce abortions.

These methods can be fatal, but women seem hesitant to avail themselves of NGO-provided free or discounted service at on-site infirmaries, which are less confidential.

Sometimes their grueling schedules, which include 10 to 12-hour workdays with only a short lunch break in between, keep them from making appointments. Many of these women, Cockroft says, are just too busy to even think of starting families.

Garment workers’ reticence to use reproductive services can be cultural too, as talking about sexual health is considered ‘shameful’ in traditional Cambodian society.

Cambodian law also stipulates that factories provide working mothers with childcare, but Cockroft says she has only seen one operational childcare facility during all her years as an advocate in the field.

For some women, the decision to leave their children at home emerges from a desire to spare them the grueling commute – many factory workers travel shoulder-to-shoulder in trucks or on compact wagons pulled by tuk tuks, ubiquitous motorcycle taxis, down Cambodia’s notoriously unsafe roads.

Very often, babies remain at home with their grandmothers in the countryside while their mothers go off to work in the city, where they earn roughly 100 dollars per month. Union leaders are trying to raise this minimum wage to 160 dollars.

In general, though, both Cockroft and Chrek say garment workers consider themselves “too poor” to have children.

Entertainers and street workers

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Meanwhile, in Cambodia’s popular entertainment sector, women face a unique set of challenges, their access to reproductive health services hindered by the informal and unpredictable nature of their work.

Independent researcher Dr. Ian Lubek tells IPS that entertainment workers are likely to experience a much higher risk of foetal alcoholic syndrome due to the number of beverages they are forced to consume every night in order to get tips from their customers. Research from the International Labour Organisation (ILO) suggests that a female beer seller or hostess consumes up to 11 drinks a night.

Years of advocacy efforts have at least enabled entertainers working for international beer companies to secure better wages, with women employed by the Cambrew brewery now drawing a salary of close to 160 dollars a month.

Higher wages, according to Phal Sophea, former beer seller and representative for the Siem Reap division of the Cambodia Food and Service Workers Federation (CFSWF), amounts to less economic pressure to have transactional sex.

“I think better pay will reduce sex work because the [women] generally go out with customers when the pay is too low,” she told IPS.

Of all the groups of working women struggling to raise children, street-based sex workers are among the most marginalised and are often subject to police violence, arrests and forced detention in anti-trafficking ‘reeducation centres’.

While unions for entertainment workers can negotiate contracts, sex workers are left completely vulnerable to the laws of the streets.

Pen Sothary, a former sex worker and secretary of the sex-worker led collective Women’s Network for Unity (WNU), told IPS that many women are so poor they take whatever work they can get.

Labour research indicates that Cambodians living in urban areas require, at the very least, 150 dollars a month in order to survive; most salaries are set below 100 a month, making it very difficult for the average working Cambodian to make ends meet, and feed their families. As it is, 40 percent of Cambodian children are chronically malnourished.

WNU Board Member Socheata Sim explained that sex work might be the only option for the many women without a formal education; according to a report on education levels among women in Cambodia, only one-third of school-aged girls are enrolled at the lower secondary school level, and one in ten at the upper secondary school level.

Many sex workers want a better life for their children, but few can afford the high fees, bribes and related costs of formal schooling.

Furthermore, sex workers living in slum dwellings face a constant threat of eviction. Tola Moeun, head of the labour programme at the Community Legal Education Centre, told IPS that high rates of evictions are now forcing many women to migrate abroad in search of employment.

“Yet once abroad, if undocumented, migrant workers find they do not have the rights citizens have,” he lamented.

In Thailand, for instance, where tens of thousands of Cambodian women now live and work, undocumented workers are fired from their jobs if they become pregnant, are denied maternity leave and earn half the 300-baht (nine-dollar) daily minimum wage.

Tola sees the “lack of labour rights for women as a worrying trend that is completely changing the culture of Cambodia.”

© 2014 IPS

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Scientists Call for Moratorium on Tar Sands

October 15, 2020 | News | No Comments

The culmulative effects of tar sands development—from environmental degradation to transportation to emissions from burning—must be determined before Canada or the United States approve any more projects, a group of scientists argue in an op-ed published Wednesday in the journal Nature.

Calling for a binational moratorium, the scientists—representing a number of North American universities including Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Northern Arizona University, the University of Calgary and the University of Waterloo—argue that governments must evaluate tar sands development projects, including the Keystone XL and Northern Gateway pipelines, “in the context of broader, integrated energy and climate strategies.”

“Anything less demonstrates flawed policies and failed leadership,” they write. “With such high stakes, our nations and the world cannot afford a series of ad hoc, fragmented decisions.”

The group continues:

The scientists say that current debate which presents each pipeline proposal as an “ultimatum” between environmental costs and economic success “artificially restricts discussions to only a fraction of the consequences of oil development.”

The letter comes just over a week after the Canadian government approved the construction of Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline, which will carry 200 million barrels of tar sands crude each year from Alberta to an export terminal in Kitimat, British Columbia. 

“Reform is needed now,” the group adds, concluding: “Canada and the United States can avoid the tyranny of incremental decisions — and the lasting economic and environmental damage that poorly conceived choices will cause.”

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