Friday, July 31, 2020

Study points to race, equipment access for higher virus risk in health staffIssued on: 01/08/2020 -

The study was conducted during a period when there was an acute global shortage of protective equipment DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS AFP/File

Paris (AFP)

Researchers raised fears that "systematic racism" in the provision of protective equipment was putting minority health workers at greater risk on Friday, as a study showed higher coronavirus infection rates among British and American medical staff.

The report, published in The Lancet Public Health journal, found that frontline healthcare workers were over three times more likely to test positive than the general population early in the pandemic, with the rate rising to five times for ethnic minority medical staff.

Researchers from the US looked at data from almost 100,000 healthcare workers in Britain and the United States taken from self-reported information on the COVID Symptoms Study smartphone app between March 24 and April 23.


They found that the prevalence of infection among frontline care workers was 2,747 per 100,000 app users, compared with 242 per 100,000 in the general community.

When they took into account the health workers' greater access to testing, the researchers estimated that frontline medical workers were around 3.4 times more likely to test positive for COVID-19 than app users in the wider population.

After accounting for pre-existing medical conditions, researchers estimated that healthcare workers from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds were almost five times more likely to report a positive COVID-19 result than somebody from the general community.

The study also found that frontline healthcare workers who said they did not have sufficient protective equipment -- like masks, gloves and gowns -- were 1.3 times more likely to test positive than those who said they had the proper equipment.

"Our results underscore the importance of providing adequate access to PPE and also suggest that systemic racism associated with inequalities to access PPE likely contribute to the disproportionate risk of infection among minority frontline healthcare workers," said senior author Andrew Chan, of Massachusetts General Hospital.

Minority healthcare workers were "more likely to work in high-risk clinical settings, with known or suspected COVID patients, and had less access to adequate PPE", said co-author Erica Warner of Harvard Medical School.

Around one in three BAME healthcare workers reported that they had needed to re-use protective equipment, or had been provided with inadequate PPE (36.7 percent), compared with around one in four non-Hispanic white care workers (27.7 percent).

- PPE concerns -

Researchers cautioned that the data was collected at a time of global PPE shortages, so the risks may have changed.

The study looked at some 2.1 million app users, mainly from Britain, of which 99,795 people identified themselves as frontline healthcare workers.

It recorded 5,545 positive COVID-19 tests during the period.

Chan said the research builds on initial estimates that frontline healthcare workers could account for 10 to 20 percent of all virus diagnoses.

In a commentary Linda McCauley from Emory University, who was not involved in the study, said the findings were "concerning", adding that many governments around the world "have not adequately improved healthcare workers' access to PPE".


© 2020 AFP


Hong Kong police order arrest of exiled activists:
 China state media
Issued on: 31/07/2020 -

Hong Kong police are seeking to arrest Nathan Law (C) and five other democracy activists now living in exile, China's state television reported ISAAC LAWRENCE AFP/File

Hong Kong (AFP)

Hong Kong police have ordered the arrest of six pro-democracy activists living in exile on suspicion of violating the national security law, Chinese state media reported late Friday, but the city's force refused to comment.

The six included prominent young campaigner Nathan Law, 27, who recently relocated to Britain after fleeing Hong Kong.

"Hong Kong police officially ordered the arrests of six trouble-makers who have fled overseas," CCTV state television said.


A crackdown on Hong Kong's democracy movement has increased apace in the month since Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law on the restless city.

The law targets subversion, secession, terrorism and colluding with foreign forces with up to life in prison, but critics said it was a legal weapon to silence dissidents and criminalise certain political views.

It would be the first time the city's police have used the extraterritorial power in the new law to go after activists who are not in the territory.

Besides Law, the other activists sought include former British consulate staffer Simon Cheng, pro-independence activists Ray Wong, Wayne Chan, Honcques Laus, and Samuel Chu, according to CCTV.

The report said the six were sought for "incitement to secession and collusion with foreign forces".

However, in an email to AFP, the Hong Kong police said they "do not comment on media reports".

Beijing has said the law will restore stability after last year's huge and often violent pro-democracy protests.

But it has also hastened the unravelling of Hong Kong's political freedoms and autonomy, supposedly guaranteed for 50 years after the 1997 handover from Britain.

In just a month since the new security law came into effect, a dozen leading pro-democracy campaigners have been disqualified from running in legislative elections and four students have been arrested on suspicion of "inciting succession" with social media posts.

© 2020 AFP



Postponement of Hong Kong elections raises eyebrows

Issued on: 31/07/2020 -

Hong Kong will delay legislative elections by up to one year. FRANCE 24 correspondent Oliver Farry says Covid-19 was a main reason cited for postponing the vote, with the territory’s leader Carrie Lam saying 600,000 voters would be putting themselves at risk by going out to vote. However, other explanations given have been met with a degree of scepticism.




Colonial-era law used to postpone Hong Kong elections

Issued on: 31/07/2020 -

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam has announced the upcoming legislative elections will be delayed by one year. As FRANCE 24 international affairs commentator Douglas Herbert explains, the postponement of ballots is allowed under Hong Kong law, but only for 14 days, and only if deemed the elections would pose a threat to public law or safety. For this reason, Lam instead drew on a colonial-era emergency ordonnance to push through the delay.


South Africa cuts rhino poaching by half: minister

Issued on: 31/07/2020 -
Rhino poaching in South Africa fell by half in the first six months of 2020, in part because a coronavirus lockdown made it harder to get around GIANLUIGI GUERCIA AFP/File

Johannesburg (AFP)

The number of South African rhinos killed by poachers fell by half in the first six months of the year, but 166 were slaughtered nonetheless, the environment minister said Friday.

And the number of incidences has begun to edge higher again as coronavirus lockdown measures are eased, she added in a statement.

"During the first six months of 2019, 316 rhino had been poached in South Africa," said Barbara Creecy, the minister of environment, forestry and fisheries.


The figure represents a drop of nearly 53 percent.

"We have been able to arrest the escalation of rhino losses," Creecy claimed.

South Africa has for years battled a scourge of rhino poaching fuelled by insatiable demand for their horns in Asia.

Most of the demand emanates from China and Vietnam, where the horn is coveted as a traditional medicine, an aphrodisiac or a status symbol.

The ministry attributed its success in slowing the rate of poaching to a decade of various strategies and supply chain disruptions that stemmed from national travel restrictions during a national coronavirus lockdown.

The famed Kruger National Park reported that 88 rhino had been killed during the first six months of 2020.

But Creecy warned that since lockdown restrictions have been gradually lifted and game parks reopened, so too has rhino poaching slowly increased.

In the three months from when a lockdown was implemented on March 27 until the end of June, 46 rhinos were killed across the country, she said.

Rhino horn is composed mainly of keratin, the same substance as in human fingernails.

It is normally sold in powdered form and touted as a cure for cancer and other diseases.

© 2020 AFP
Natural toxins likely killed hundreds of Botswana elephants: govt
Issued on: 31/07/2020 -

Hundreds of elephants have been found dying (picture courtesy of National Park Rescue) - NATIONAL PARK RESCUE/AFP
Johannesburg (AFP)

Hundreds of elephants that died mysteriously in Botswana's famed Okavango Delta probably succumbed to natural toxins, the wildlife department said Friday.

The landlocked southern African country has the world's largest elephant population, estimated to be around 130,000. Around 300 of them have been found dying since March.

Authorities have so far ruled out anthrax, as well as poaching, as the tusks were found intact.

Preliminary tests conducted in various countries far have not been fully conclusive and more are being carried out, Wildlife and Parks Department boss Cyril Taolo told AFP in a phone interview.

"But based on some of the preliminary results that we have received, we are looking at naturally-occurring toxins as the potential cause," he said.

"To date we have not estabished the conclusion as to what is the cause of the mortality".

He explained that some bacteria can naturally produce poison, particularly in stagnant water.

Government has so far established that 281 elephants died, although independent conservationists say more than 350.

The deaths were first flagged by a wildlife conservation charity, Elephants Without Borders (EWB), whose confidential report referring to the 356 dead elephants was leaked to the media early in July.

EWB suspected elephants had been dying in the area for about three months, and mortality was not restricted to age or gender.

Several live elephants appeared weak, lethargic and emaciated, with some showing signs of disorientation, difficulty in walking or limping, EWB said.

Tests are being conducted at specialist labs in South Africa, C
anada, Zimbabwe and the US.

© 2020 AFP
Coronavirus infected hundreds of children at US summer camp
GOP CONGRESSMEN WERE TRYING TO GET DR. FAUCI TO ADMIT CHILDREN DO NOT GET COVID-19 TODAY
Issued on: 31/07/2020 
A colorized scanning electron micrograph of a cell heavily infected with SARS-COV-2 virus particles (yellow), isolated from a patient sample Handout National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases/AFP/File

Washington (AFP)

Hundreds of children contracted the coronavirus at a summer camp in the US state of Georgia last month, health authorities said Friday, adding to a growing body of evidence that minors are both susceptible to infection and vectors of transmission.

The virus infected at least 260 of the 597 attendees, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said, adding that the true number was probably higher since test results were only available for 58 percent of the group.

The camp ignored the CDC's advice that all participants in summer camps wear cloth masks -- requiring them only for staff.

It did however adhere to a state executive order requiring all participants to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken 12 days or less before their arrival.

Other precautionary measures included physical distancing, frequent disinfection of surfaces, keeping children among the same small group, also known as "cohorting," and staggering the use of communal spaces.

The camp held an orientation for 138 trainees and 120 staff members from June 17 to June 20 -- the vast majority of whom were themselves aged 21 and under.

The staff remained when the camp officially opened on June 21 and were joined by 363 campers, who ranged in age from six to 19, as well as three more senior staff members.

Camp attendees "engaged in a variety of indoor and outdoor activities, including daily vigorous singing and cheering," the report said. They slept in cabins housing up to 26 people.

One June 23, a teenage staff member left camp after developing chills the previous evening. The staff member was tested for SARS-CoV-2 -- the novel coronavirus -- on June 24 and got a positive result the same day.

The camp began sending campers home that day and closed the camp on June 27.

A health investigation started June 25 found that 260 of 344 people for whom test results were available were positive.

Among those, 74 percent had mild symptoms including fever, headache and sore throat while the rest showed no symptoms.

"These findings demonstrate that SARS-CoV-2 spread efficiently in a youth-centric overnight setting, resulting in high attack rates among persons in all age groups," wrote the authors of the CDC report.

The attack rate is the total number of new cases divided by the total at-risk population.

The authors added that the findings contribute to a body of evidence "demonstrating that children of all ages are susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 infection and, contrary to early reports, might play an important role in transmission."

© 2020 AFP
Brazil's Pantanal wetlands hit by record fires in July

 31/07/2020
Handout picture released by the Mato Grosso State Fire Department showing an aerial view of forest fire at the Pantanal region, Mato Grosso state, Brazil - MATO GROSSO FIREFIGHTERS DEPARTMENT/AFP

Bras├şlia (AFP)

The Pantanal, the largest tropical wetlands in the world, suffered a record number of fires in July, according to satellite data, prompting the Brazilian government to deploy the army to fight them.

Brazil's national space agency, INPE, identified 1,669 fires this month in the Brazilian Pantanal, triple the number from July 2019 and the worst month on record since it began tracking in 1998.

Previously, the worst month was July 2005, with 1,259 fires.



Fires in the first seven months of the year also tripled from the same period last year, with a total of 4,203 -- even though 2019 was already a devastating year, with six times more fires than 2018.

The Brazilian defense ministry said it had sent five military planes and 320 troops to the region to fight the fires.

The Pantanal, which sits at the southern edge of the Amazon rainforest and stretches from Brazil into Paraguay and Bolivia, is home to an immense wealth of biodiversity.

Brazil's government is under pressure to do more to protect the Amazon and Pantanal.

Environmentalists accuse President Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right climate change skeptic, of attacking the country's vital natural resources with policies promoting agriculture and mining on protected lands.

© 2020 AFP


Scores of anti-government protesters arrested in Zimbabwe


THE CORRUPTION OF ZANU-PF CONTINUES BEYOND MUGABE



 31/07/2020 -
Police officers patrol the street ahead of planned anti-government protests during the coronavirus disease outbreak in Harare, Zimbabwe, on July 31, 2020. © Philimon Bulawayo, REUTERS
Text by:NEWS WIRES

Scores of people were arrested Friday in Zimbabwe as hundreds of military troops as well as police attempted to thwart an anti-government protest, with streets empty and many people hiding indoors

Organizers said demonstrators originally planned to protest alleged government corruption but instead targeted the ruling political party, using the hashtag #ZANUPFmustgo.”

Tensions are rising in Zimbabwe as the economy implodes. Inflation is more than 700%, the second highest in the world. Now the coronavirus burdens the threadbare health system.

Police arrested scores of people who tried to hold low-key protests, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights said. They included prominent author Tsitsi Dangarembga and Fadzayi Mahere, spokeswoman of the main opposition MDC Alliance party. Charges against them were not yet clear, the lawyers said.

On 21st July I tweeted about Tsitsi Dangaremba @efie41209591 and her protest in Zimbabwe against the imprisonment of a writer. On 29th July Tsitsi was longlisted for The Booker Prize. Today she is in prison. https://t.co/hFA37Gn6Ca— lemn sissay MBE (@lemnsissay) July 31, 2020

President Emmerson Mnangagwa has described the planned protest as “an insurrection to overthrow our democratically elected government.” He warned that security agents “will be vigilant and on high alert.”

Speaking at the burial Friday of a cabinet minister who died from COVID-19, Mnangagwa did not directly refer to the protest but called for unity and urged Zimbabweans to shun violence.

The normally teeming downtown capital, Harare, was deserted as soldiers and police patrolled and manned checkpoints. An army helicopter hovered over some of the capital's poor, volatile suburbs. Security forces on Thursday drove people out of the city and forced businesses to close.

Arrests of Youth Assembly leaders @ceechimbiri2 @JoanaMamombe , @MarovaNetsai and their lawyer @obeyshava1 are unreasonable and unjustified in a democratic society. Earlier police arrested our spokesperson @advocatemahere and other activists. We demand their immediate release.— MDC Alliance (@mdczimbabwe) July 31, 2020

“So both the government and the people are afraid of protests more than coronavirus,” chuckled a security guard, walking along an empty road. “I have never seen these security people so effective, and the people so compliant, even during those days of the complete lockdown."

The southern African country had gradually relaxed its lockdown to allow for some commercial activity, but it continues to ban protests as part of lockdown rules.

The opposition and human rights groups have said they witnessed abuses such as arrests, detentions, beatings and the stalking of activists and ordinary people accused of violating the lockdown ahead of the planned protest.

Police and government spokespeople have dismissed the allegations, even as a prominent journalist and a politician behind the protest have spent close to two weeks in detention.

Mnangagwa’s administration accuses the U.S. government of funding the two men and other activists involved in mobilizing the protest, with a ruling party spokesman this week calling the U.S. ambassador a “thug.”

Anti-government protests in Zimbabwe in 2018 and 2019 resulted in the killing of several people, allegedly by the military.

The pandemic has brought a new layer of suffering.

By year’s end, the number of food insecure Zimbabweans will have surged to 8.6 million - 60% of the population.

­čôú WFP will only be able to provide the most vulnerable with food assistance if it receives support from the international community soon. #SavingLives #ZeroHunger pic.twitter.com/wIE2fSw0sj— WFP Zimbabwe (@WFP_Zimbabwe) July 30, 2020

In public hospitals, doctors and nurses are frequently on strike, and infrastructure is so dilapidated that “unborn children and mothers are dying daily,” according to the Zimbabwe Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

The World Food Program this week projected that the number of Zimbabweans facing food insecurity could reach 8.6 million by the end of the year.

That would be “a staggering 60% of the population – owing to the combined effects of drought, economic recession and the pandemic,” the WFP said, appealing for more money to intervene.

Video by:Catherine CLIFFORD
4 min


(AP)


Decision to honour legendary Egyptian singer in Israel angers right wing
IN BOTH COUNTRIES
Issued on: 28/07/2020 -

This rare file photo taken in the 1930s shows Egyptian diva Umm Kulthum - AFP/File
Text by:Monique El-FaizyFollow


There is perhaps no modern Egyptian cultural treasure more beloved than Umm Kulthoum. Anyone who has visited the Arab world or been in the home of a member of the diaspora has likely heard the moving tones of her distinct, resonant voice. The Israeli town of Haifa recently moved to honour her legacy –and stirred up controversy in the process.
\
“The Star of the East,” as Umm Kulthoum is often called, emerged on the cultural stage in Egypt in the 1920s and dominated the music scene in the Arab world until her death in 1975. There are few Arab homes anywhere in the world in which her melancholy melodies have not been played. In a nod to the roughly 10 percent of its 30,000 residents who are Arab, Haifa, the third-largest city in Israel, voted to name a street after the singer earlier this month. Haifa town council head Einat Kalish-Rotem said that the decision is a reflection of the city’s representing “a model of co-existence between Arabs and Jews”.

T
hat Kulthoum would be recognised in Haifa makes sense, said Huda al-Imam, a Jerusalem-based expert on Palestinian culture. “Haifa has always been a city with a tolerance, a respect for differences,” she said. “When I say differences, I mean respect for the Palestinians.”

Kulthoum walked the streets of Haifa performing there, in Jaffa and in Jerusalem before the 1948 establishment of the state of Israel when those cities were still part of British Mandatory Palestine. But her influence extended outside of the Middle East as well, where she is best remembered for her legendary 1967 concert at the Olympia in Paris.

Considered peerless, Kulthoum’s contralto voice was praised by Bob Dylan and sampled by Beyonc├ę. Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant told the Independent newspaper that he was “driven to distraction” by her. “When I first heard the way she would dance down through the scale to land on a beautiful note that I couldn’t even imagine singing, it was huge: somebody had blown a hole in the wall of my understanding of vocals.”


And Jews who grew up listening to her in North Africa and the Middle East are as attached to her as any Arab. For some, though, that’s where the agreement ends. Kulthoum was fiercely pro-Palestinian and had condemned Israel, and her detractors in Israel think honouring the late singer is inappropriate.

After the decision was announced, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s son Yair tweeted that the decision was “shameful and crazy”. Right-wing lawmaker Ariel Kallner wrote in the local Kol Po newspaper that he was saddened that Haifa had decided to honour a woman who had “called for the destruction of the Jewish state”.

The newspaper published a black-and-white-picture of Kulthoum on its front page with some of her lyrics emblazoned over the image. “Now I have a gun, take me in Palestine, with you,” she had crooned in a song dedicated to the Palestinians.

That wasn’t the only time Kulthoum jumped into the political fray. During the Six-Day War between Egypt and Israel in 1967, Kulthoum – sometimes called “Egypt’s fourth pyramid” – performed a song exhorting Egypt to crush its enemy.

Her nationalistic song, “Walla Zaman Ya Selahy” (It’s Been a Long Time, Oh Weapon of Mine) served as the Egyptian national anthem from 1960 until 1979 when, in a nod to peace negotiations with Israel, president Anwar Sadat replaced it with the more neutral, “Bilady, Bilady, Bilady” (My Homeland), which remains the anthem today.

Kallner said he would fight Haifa’s attempts to change the street name. But if he wants to diminish her legacy, he will have his work cut out for him: In 2011 a street was named after her in East Jerusalem and the city of Ramla is planning to do the same.
There's a street in East Jerusalem named after Umm Kulthum https://t.co/pL2EMyiK7q pic.twitter.com/9cvNzzwR7w— Oren Kessler (@OrenKessler) March 17, 2016

The controversy hasn’t garnered widespread attention outside of certain political circles. Al-Imam said that some of her friends in Haifa hadn’t heard of the uproar.

In Kulthoum's native Egypt, observers were more perplexed than anything. “Anyone looking objectively at it is going to find it to be a rather strange, performative act,” said Dr HA Hellyer, senior associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in London and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, DC.


“Umm Kulthoum was a deeply patriotic Egyptian, who never saw an Egypt that had been in anything but a state of war with Israel. Moreover, she was openly and deliberately a strong supporter of Palestinian rights against the Israelis – so, this all looks a bit odd.”


FASCIST COMEUPPANCE Italy's Senate revokes Salvini's immunity from second trial over migrant detention

Issued on: 31/07/2020 -

Leader of Italy's far-right League party Matteo Salvini addresses the upper house of parliament in Rome, Italy, July 30, 2020. © Remo Casilli, Reuters
Text by:NEWS WIRES

Italy's Senate voted on Thursday to strip far-right chief Matteo Salvini of his parliamentary immunity, paving the way for him to face trial, for a second time, over allegedly illegally detaining migrants at sea


Salvini, a senator, now looks set for a potentially career-derailing case on charges that could see him serve up to 15 years in jail if convicted.

The Senate voted 149 to 141 to strip Salvini of his immunity, with one abstention.


"I am proud to have defended Italy. I would do it again and I will do it again, also because just this July the arrivals are six times those seen in the same period a year ago, with the League party in government," a defiant Salvini told the Senate after the vote.

The head of the anti-immigrant League party is already set to stand trial in a separate but similar case.

Prosecutors in the Sicilian city of Palermo accuse Salvini of abusing his powers as then-interior minister in August 2019 to illegally prevent more than 80 migrants, rescued in the Mediterranean, from disembarking from the Open Arms charity ship.
Ministers cannot be tried for actions taken while in office unless their parliamentary immunity is revoked by the Senate.

Salvini has insisted the decision, which has made to stop the migrants from getting off the ship until a deal was brokered with EU countries to take them in, was reached collectively within the government.

That is the same defence Salvini is using for the other trial, in which he is accused of blocking migrants from disembarking from the Italian "Gregoretti" coastguard boat last July.

In February, the Senate voted to strip him of his parliamentary immunity in that case. The preliminary hearing has been postponed three times due to the coronavirus pandemic, and is now scheduled to take place in Sicily on October 3.

In a statement, Open Arms said it hopes the Senate's decision gives "a definitive and unequivocal signal that the democratic institutions of every liberal country exist to protect the principles on which they are based."

"These are the political choices that make the difference between a country whose foundation is respect for human rights and life and a country that chooses to give up the best part of itself," the group wrote.

'The limelight'

Political analyst Franco Pavoncello said the Senate's go-ahead on the Open Arms trial would "certainly have an impact on Salvini", whose popularity has dropped since the coronavirus pandemic swept through Italy.

Salvini, 47, says Italy's more than two-month lockdown hit him and his party hard, as he had to put an end to his frequent rallies up and down the country and his famous beachside selfie sessions.

A Demopolis poll this week found that the League has dropped more than 11 percentage points in a year, from holding 37 percent of voting intentions to 25.4 percent today.

"At the moment Salvini generates little media interest. The decision to strip him of his immunity would reopen the case and could whip up media attention," Pavoncello told AFP ahead of the Senate vote.

"Those who vote to send him to trial in a bid to create political problems for him could end up giving him the limelight instead."


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But while Salvini may make temporary gains, "a trial could be difficult for him in the long term, for the charges are serious," Pavoncello added.

Salvini is currently in opposition but is determined to become prime minister.

Although the anti-migrant League may be slipping down the polls, it is still the most popular party in Italy and its leader expects to do well at the next elections.

A conviction, however, would throw a serious spanner in the works.

Video by:
Luke SHRAGO
3 min


(AFP)
Barred from running for election, Hong Kong activist vows to keep fighting for political freedom

Issued on: 31/07/2020
Hong Kong pro-democracy dissident Joshua Wong slammed authorities for disqualifying activists for candidature in September's legislative elections. Anthony WALLACE AFP
Text by:NEWS WIRES

Hong Kong's democracy camp will continue to fight Beijing's crackdown on political freedoms, prominent dissident Joshua Wong said Friday after he and other activists were barred from standing for election


"Our resistance will continue on and we hope the world can stand with us in the upcoming uphill battle," he told reporters.

Dressed in a black T-shirt emblazoned with the words "They can't kill us all", 23-year-old Wong slammed authorities for disqualifying some of the city's best-known democracy activists from standing in September's legislative elections.

"Beyond any doubt (this) is the most scandalous election fraud era in Hong Kong history," he said.

The disqualifications were the latest blow against the semi-autonomous city's democracy movement, which has been under sustained attack from China's Communist Party rulers.


China imposed a national security law last month on Hong Kong outlawing subversion, which it warned was a "sword" hanging over the head of democracy protesters.

On Thursday, 12 democracy activists were told they would not be allowed to stand for the partially elected legislature because of their previously stated political views.

The democracy campaigners had been hoping to win a first-ever majority in the 70-seat legislature, which is deliberately weighted to return a pro-Beijing chamber.

In a statement announcing its decision, Hong Kong's government listed political views that required disqualification.

They included criticising Beijing's new security law, campaigning to win a legislation-blocking majority and refusing to recognise China's sovereignty.

But there are doubts over whether the election will even go ahead.

Multiple local media outlets have reported this week that Hong Kong's government will postpone the vote because of a recent surge in coronavirus cases. But there has been no confirmation yet from authorities.

Hong Kong is a semi-autonomous city guaranteed certain freedoms and autonomy under a "One Country, Two Systems" deal agreed ahead of the 1997 handover from Britain.

But Beijing's new national security law has dramatically upended that unique status, the latest in a slew of measures that have eviscerated political freedoms in recent years.

On Wednesday, four students -- aged between 16 and 21 -- were arrested for social media posts deemed to breach the new security law, the first to be made by a new dedicated police unit.

The four were all former members of Student Localism, a pro-independence group that announced it was disbanding its Hong Kong branch the day before the security law was enacted.

Police said they were arrested on suspicion of organising and inciting secession through comments made on social media posts after the law came in.

(AFP)
Rally for opposition leader in Belarus draws huge crowd
Issued on: 31/07/2020 -




Text by:NEWS WIRES


Tens of thousands of supporters of President Alexander Lukashenko's top election rival on Thursday rallied in the Belarusian capital Minsk despite an increasing crackdown on the opposition.

The rally came as Belarus authorities accused top members of the opposition of collaborating with Russian fighters to destabilise the ex-Soviet country.

Backers of political novice Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, a stay-at-home mother-of-two, packed a Minsk square in what appeared to be the largest opposition protest in the ex-Soviet country in a decade, an AFP journalist said.

A sea of people waved flags and ballons emblazoned with the opposition's campaign symbols -- a victory sign, a clenched fist, and a heart.

"Change!" read one of the placards.

The human rights organisation Vyasna said at least 63,000 people had turned out.

Earlier Thursday, Belarus investigators accused Tikhanovskaya's husband, blogger, Sergei Tikhanovsky, and another prominent critic, Mikola Statkevich, of working together with Russian mercenaries to plot mass unrest ahead of the August 9 election.

Both Tikhanovsky and Statkevich were jailed in the run-up to the polls.

The accusation that they were involved with Russian mercenaries was just the latest twist in an extraordinary election campaign in which the 65-year-old Lukashenko, who has dominated Belarus for nearly three decades, is seeking a sixth term in the face of rising anger over his rule.

Belarusian authorities on Wednesday detained 33 Russian "militants" on a mission to destabilise the ex-Soviet country.

The detentions sparked an apparent crisis in ties with ally Moscow which denied any involvement.

Belarusian authorities say the detained men are members of the Wagner group, a shadowy military contractor reportedly controlled by an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin that promotes Moscow's interests in Syria, Libya and Ukraine.

Addressing her supporters at the rally, Tikhanovskaya, 37, said authorities were "ruining" not only her husband's life but those of all political prisoners.

"The situation involving the fighters is very scary," she said to shouts of "Freedom".

'What revolution?'

She denied that the opposition was collaborating with the Russians to stage an uprising.

"People, what revolution? We want honest elections," said Tikhanovskaya, who has emerged as Lukashenko's top rival after main would-be candidates were jailed.

She questioned the timing of the arrests, saying Russian private contractors might have been transiting through Belarus for a long time.

"I have a question: where was the security service before and why are they raising this issue right before the election?"

Investigators opened a criminal case against "Tikhanovsky, Statkevich and 33 detained Russian citizens."

"They acted together," spokesman Sergei Kabakovich told AFP.

An Investigative Committee also said another criminal probe had been launched against Tikhanovsky for inciting "social hostility" and calling for violence against police.

Tikhanovsky, 41, is a popular blogger, who has nicknamed Lukashenko the "cockroach".

Statkevich, 63, challenged Lukashenko in a 2010 election and was sentenced to six years in prison afterwards.

Lukashenko's top election rival, former banker Viktor Babaryko, has been accused of financial crimes and also jailed.

Moscow denied any involvement.

Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said claims that "organisations from Russia are sending some people to destabilise the situation in Belarus" were "nothing but insinuations".

The Russian foreign ministry said its nationals were transiting through Belarus because they worked for a Belarus company, adding that they were en route to Istanbul.

Minsk's version of events "does not hold water," the statement said.

"An attempt to make what happened look like foreign interference in the republic's affairs causes bewilderment, to put it mildly," Moscow said.

Russia urged a halt to the fanning of tensions ahead of the election.

'Regime change'

Moscow is Minsk's closest political and economic ally but relations have been strained for years.

Lukashenko has been under increasing pressure to move closer to Russia but the Belarus leader has rejected the idea of outright unification.

Some analysts suggested the arrest of the Russians gave Lukashenko an excuse to crack down harder on the opposition while others said Moscow might indeed be considering some action.

Russian political analyst Tatyana Stanovaya said the Kremlin had not apparently given up on its unification plans.

Stanovaya quipped that the Russian fighters might have arrived in Minsk to "monitor" the election.
Video by:Haxie MEYERS-BELKIN
4 min

Neo-Nazi violence grows in Berlin immigrant neighbourhood


The left photo, sent to the Observers team on July 15, shows a vehicle tagged with a swastika. At the time, the car was parked by Komturbr├╝ck, bordering Neuk├Âlln. The right photo shows a 'wanted' poster of neo-Nazis.
POLICE / GERMANY - 07/30/2020
This June and July, there has been a rise in neo-Nazi attacks in Neuk├Âlln, a popular immigrant neighbourhood in southeast Berlin. Almost daily, there have been car fires, as well as several larger arson attacks, and an increase in Nazi tags on buildings. This inspires both fear and outrage in our Observer, who believes the police are uninterested in protecting the local immigrant community.

In early July, a fire charred the storefront of Al-Andalos, a Lebanese restaurant in Neuk├Âlln. Two people were injured in the blaze. Although the police have not caught any suspects, locals fear that members of the far-right are responsible for the attack. The area is home to many people from Turkey, Lebanon and Syria, and its identity as an immigrant neighbourhood has made Neuk├Âlln the target of far-right violence and aggressions.

Mohamed Ali Chahrour is a spokesperson for Kein Generalverdacht [which translates as No General Suspicion], a local charity that was founded to help combat racism, xenophobia and police discrimination in Neuk├Âlln.
Since the start of July, we have had attacks almost every week. Violence is getting worse because impunity is still going on. There is the feeling that the police are not really concerned.

They give a stigmatised, prejudgment of all migrants and say that more or less everyone is a suspected criminal. A lot of migrants have citizenship. There are 150,000 people of Arabic background in Berlin, but there’s a mistrust of these people.
The video below shows charred vehicles in front of Damaskus Konditorei, a bakery founded by a Syrian refugee in Neuk├Âlln. The wall next to the shop was also tagged with a Nazi symbol. The attack occurred June 18.


A video from June 19 shows damage to the property around the Syrian-owned bakery. The caption translates as: 'Nazis terrorised Neuk├Âlln again last night with an arson attack and Nazi markings on migrants' shops. Again less than 100m from the police station. The residents of Sonnenallee and Wildenbruchstrasse live in fear. Right-wing terror in Neuk├Âlln must come to an end.'
In Neuk├Âlln, there have been 130 crimes attributed to the far right and neo-Nazis since September 2019, the Senate estimates. These aggressions include tagged swastikas, Hitler salutes, cars being set on fire and vandalism. Over the past seven years, there have been 2,800 cases of arson.

Video of an apartment fire in Neuk├Âlln in 2019, shared with the Observers team by an eyewitness.

' The terror isn’t aimed at single individuals but on the city as a whole'

The past two years have seen a sharp rise in right-wing violence in North Neuk├Âlln, according to Ferat Ali Kocak, a local anti-racist activist and vice speaker with the Die Linke [Left Party] political party.
The right-wing terrorism in Neuk├Âlln has been ongoing and unstoppable for 11 years, despite the fact that it is known who is responsible. But it took a new form in 2018.

What used to be typical was that the Nazis focused more on the south. In the south of Neuk├Âlln it is particularly individuals who are attacked or threatened. It is people who are active in churches, or who support refugees and a peaceful, diverse way of living together. People like the book trader Heinz Ostermann who encourage [Holocaust] remembrance.

In the North, the terror isn’t aimed at single individuals but on the city as a whole. So the aim of the attacks is the community of immigrants. Cars [belonging to immigrants] are burning on a daily basis, even apartment buildings. There are Nazi markings everywhere.

There are a lot of smaller crimes, but it is still terror. Smaller crimes include stealing Stolpersteine [metal plaques placed in the pavement in remembrance of people deported by Nazis] or marking houses.
Ferat posted this photo on July 23 of a defaced poster commemorating people killed by Nazis.


A screen grab from a photo Ferat posted as a story on Instagram. The caption reads, 'This is also in Neukolln! Posters commemorating all those murdered by Nazis since 1990 were damaged here.'
Ferat himself has been the target of neo-Nazis. Two years ago, Ferat’s car was set on fire in a suspected right-wing arson attack. The German intelligence agency verified that neo-Nazis had been spying on Ferat before the attack.
I was spied on by Nazis for over 1.5 years, and the police knew about it, but didn’t warn me. Two weeks before the attack, the Nazis (one was a former NPD official, the other a former AfD official) spied on me during an event that I had, of course, announced over my social media accounts. They followed me all the way home, two weeks before the attack. Next, the car was set on fire.
Right-wing networks and mistrust of the police
In many parts of Germany, far-right extremism is on the rise again. In 2019, the government registered 32,080 documented extremists. For comparison, the number in 2018 was 24,100. Members of two branches of the AfD, the youth arm, “Junge Alternative,” and the identity branch called “Der Fl├╝gel”, are included in this count.

Many instances of far-right violence involve a few individuals. “The detection of small groups and individual authors in particular presents special challenges to the security authorities,” according to a 2019 report from the Office for the Protection of the Constitution.

The police in Berlin have been strongly criticised for failing to prevent far-right and neo-Nazi violence. There have been investigations into right-wing networks within the police. Beginning in 2018, politicians in Germany’s Die Linke party began receiving death threats with personal information obtained from a police computer in Hesse, Germany. These threats are linked to far-right extremists, according to German newspaper Der Spiegel. On July 14, Hesse Police President Udo M├╝nch resigned as a result of the state prosecutor’s investigation.

These scandals mean the police are not trusted to effectively stop right-wing violence and neo-Nazis, Ferat explained.

It is not about suspecting everyone who is in the police. For us it is important to separate good from bad. Those who have a right-wing mindset should be suspended from their positions so that those who really do their jobs responsibly and regular citizens can regain their trust in them.
Often, the police know who is responsible, but those wanted are rarely caught or charged. Leo, whose name has been changed to protect his identity, shared photos with the Observers team of posters that display photos of wanted neo-Nazis in Neuk├Âlln. It is not clear who put up these posters originally, Leo said.
I have seen these posters all over Neuk├Âlln, the photo was taken on Wildenbruchstra├če, in front of the Sahara Imbiss [a Sudanese restaurant and falafel shop]. Some of the posters have been vandalised, which suggests that the Nazis have been actively trying to stop the spread of the posters.


Neo-Nazi wanted posters have appeared inNeuk├Âlln. Our Observer does not know who put them up originally.
The photo below shows one of the damaged posters, which has been ripped off the wall right outside of the Rathaus Neuk├Âlln U-bahn station.



The same Observer sent us this photo of one of the damaged posters.
Ferat worries that not enough is being done.

“And I am asking myself, does there have to be a Hanau [the 2019 far-right shooting in Hanau, Germany] before there is finally some movement?”

Article by Sophie Stuber (@sophiestube)

SCIENCE FRICTION
Power from an artificial sun: Fusion reactor project aims to provide clean energy

Issued on: 31/07/2020 -
The ITER fusion reactor in Saint-Paul-l├Ęs-Durance, France. © AFP, FRANCE 24
Text by:FRANCE 24Follow


The assembly of the ITER fusion reactor began in the south of France this week in what has been called the biggest science project in human history. It is hoped the reactor will be able to produce clean energy using the same process that fuels the sun.

ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor) is an international project that hopes to create clean energy from hydrogen fusion, the same process that occurs naturally in the heart of the sun.

Fusion will be obtained through a mixture of two hydrogen isotopes, heated to a temperature of around 150 million degrees.

"In this space we are going to have a machine in the heart of which a small sun will burn, to put it very simply. This small sun will generate energy. We will use that energy to create electricity,” ITER spokesperson Robert Arnoux told AFP.

A long sought-after alternative to fossil fuels such as coal and gas, hydrogen fusion generates no long-term waste, says ITER, while the fuels needed to create fusion are found in seawater and lithium, and so readily available.

ITER should start producing energy at the end of 2025 or early 2026 but only on an experimental basis. It will be a number of years before it is capable of supplying usable electricity.

"The vision I have, the one I think is most realistic, is that we'll have to wait until about 2060 before we can connect the first fusion-powered generator to a power grid,” said Bernard Bigot, ITER director general.

The ITER project began in 2006 with a treaty bringing together 35 countries, including those in the EU, the UK, Switzerland, Russia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and the US.
Some environmental groups have criticised the ITER project dubbing it a ‘money pit’ and a ‘scientific mirage’.

The project is already five years behind schedule and three times over the initial budget at a cost of almost €20 billion.

Video by:Sam BALL|Guillaume GUGUEN
2 min
How can we apply lessons from the Spanish flu’s second wave to Covid-19?

Issued on: 31/07/2020
The Philadelphia Liberty Loan's Parade, sometimes referred to as the "deadliest parade in history" for acting as a super-spreader event, heading down Broad Street in the city centre on September 28, 1918. © Wikimedia Creative Commons
Text by:Tom WHEELDON


The Spanish flu has swept back into public consciousness thanks to Covid-19, ending its status as a “forgotten pandemic”. Experts emphasise that the infamous second wave of this flu from a century ago was a very different disease from Covid-19 – but also say that it provides historical lessons to help face fears of a resurgent coronavirus.

Covid-19 infection rates are soaring in a variety of countries, several months on from the gruelling lockdowns that characterised the spring across the globe.

In the US, the average daily number of new confirmed infections has skyrocketed since mid-June – while in Spain, one of the countries the virus hit hardest in the early months of the pandemic, a big rise in cases prompted the UK to impose sudden travel restrictions on Saturday. Several countries previously acclaimed for managing the pandemic deftly – such as Australia and Vietnam – have seen alarming new coronavirus clusters.

The World Health Organisation argued on Wednesday that – despite journalists’ and politicians’ frequent use of it – the term “second wave” is inaccurate and that it would be preferable to describe Covid-19 as having “one big wave”, seeing as the virus never went away and does not follow seasonal variations.

“Covid-19 seems ready to come raring back into any population in the world the moment we let our guard down,” Joel Wertheim, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of California, San Diego, told FRANCE 24. “It’s important to distinguish between waves driven seasonally and the ebbing of Covid-19 due to public health measures.”


Police officers in Seattle, USA wearing face masks towards the end of the infamous second wave of the Spanish flu in December, 1918. © Wikimedia Creative Commons

‘Lethal’

This puts it in stark juxtaposition to the previous pandemic to take the world by storm. The 1918-20 Spanish flu came in three waves, during which it killed at least 30 million people across the globe, with some historians putting the figure at 100 million – making it more deadly than the Great War that long overshadowed it in the collective memory.

This first wave of the pandemic in spring 1918 was highly contagious and put a gargantuan spanner in the works of both sides’ war efforts. Nevertheless, it was not especially virulent – official death rates were similar to those from the seasonal flu.

But in the autumn the virus re-emerged in a terrifying second wave, the most severe of the three. In the US – where the historical data on the Spanish flu is most complete – the excess mortality rate from September to December 1918 reached 266,000. “Let’s just say that the reconstructed virus continues to be lethal in lab animals,” John Barry, author of The Great Influenza, a study of the Spanish flu, told FRANCE 24.

The tendency of flu to evolve was likely responsible for this increased virulence, explained Erin Sorrell, an assistant professor of microbiology and immunology at Georgetown University: “The increase in lethality is assumed to be in part due to mutations accumulated by the virus in its initial first wave as influenza viruses are prone to point mutations called antigenic drift that allow them to evade existing immunity from previous infections,” she told FRANCE 24

In this respect, the coronavirus seems less menacing: “This virus is much more stable,” Barry noted. “There is no hint anywhere in the world of it becoming more lethal, as happened in 1918.”

A 'super spreader' parade in Philadelphia

There was a range of different responses to the new strain of Spanish flu. In France, where it killed 240,000 people in all three waves collectively, during the second wave the government was still focused on the war effort, with the conflict in its endgame before the November 1918 Armistice. There were bans on some gatherings and a few public places were closed – but nothing on a similar scale to the Covid-19 lockdowns.

However, in the US – a combatant during the last year of the war, but far from the carnage of the Western Front – some authorities felt free to try and stem the disease’s spread, with several parts of the country shutting down schools, churches and restaurants.

“The initial wave was somewhat glossed over; the war was still very much ongoing, and doctors were focused on keeping soldiers healthy and on the battlefield,” Jim Harris, a historian of science at Ohio State University, told FRANCE 24. “But during the second wave when it became much more virulent, that’s when some policymakers felt forced to react.”

One notorious super-spreader event early in the second wave testifies to the benefits of social distancing measures. On September 28, 1918, more than 200,000 people attended the Philadelphia Liberty Loans Parade to promote the sale of US government war bonds – even though experts had told the city’s health commissioner that the event should not take place.

A historical lesson can be learned by comparing Philadelphia to St. Louis (which cancelled its parade along with other mass gatherings), according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “The next month, more than 10,000 people in Philadelphia died from pandemic flu, while the death toll in Saint Louis did not rise above 700. This deadly example shows the benefit of cancelling mass gatherings and employing social distancing measures during pandemics.”

Experts say this contrast between Philadelphia and St. Louis is part of a bigger picture, in which public health measures clearly helped combat the Spanish flu. “We have learned that during the response to the 1918-19 pandemic (particularly in the US) those cities and states that enacted regulations for the use of face masks, banning large gatherings and closing schools fared better than those that did not,” Sorrell noted.

Young adults hit hard

The coronavirus has opened a generational divide over these kinds of measures – notably demonstrated by an episode this week in Brittany, where a cluster of cases among beachgoers in their twenties provoked a furious response from the French government’s top official in the region, who lambasted “irresponsible” young people “ignoring the danger”.

However, during the second wave of the Spanish flu, many young people were in the same position as the elderly today: the pandemic a century ago was especially lethal for previously healthy people aged 25 to 35. Its second wave affected age groups in a W-shaped curve – hitting infants, young adults and the elderly hardest. This was unusual because influenza – including the first wave of the Spanish flu – typically has a U-shaped curve: it is most dangerous for infants and the elderly, without being particularly virulent in young adults.

The question of why it affected this age group so brutally “has still not been answered”, Barry said. “There are only hypotheses,” he continued. “The most likely one is that young people have stronger immune systems, which overreacted, creating cytokine storms in the lungs” – in which the body’s overly active defences cause even more inflammation.

Even amid this bewildering phenomenon, many people from all age groups tired of taking precautions to avoid contagion as the months went on: during both the coronavirus pandemic and the second wave of the Spanish flu, “People think there comes a moment when it’s time for all this to be over”, Naomi Rogers, a professor of the history of medicine at Yale University, told FRANCE 24.

Despite some hubristic behaviour during the current crisis, the huge advances in science and technology since the time of the Spanish flu – when the nature of viruses remained a mystery – are a genuine source of hope, Sorrell added: “We have, on a global scale, scientific skill and expertise, technology, resources and methods for information sharing.”

However, she continued, there remains a crucial task in the fight against the coronavirus – highlighted by the catastrophic results in places like Philadelphia during the second wave of the Spanish flu, where officials refused to heed warnings about the need for social distancing. “Our challenge today," said Sorrell, "is in disseminating the correct information to the public about the pandemic, giving credit and a voice to our scientists to dispel misinformation and encouraging our national leaders to prioritise public health preparedness and response.”

CORONAVIRUS (COVID-19)
British filmmaker Alan Parker, director of 'Midnight Express', dies at 76
Issued on: 31/07/2020
British film director, producer and writer Alan Parker poses with his BAFTA fellowship award during the annual BAFTA British Academy Film Awards at the Royal Opera House in London, UK, on February 10, 2013. © Carl Court, AFP
Text by:NEWS WIRES

British filmmaker Alan Parker, director of movies ranging from "Bugsy Malone", a gangster comedy featuring children armed with cream-shooting guns, to tense prison drama "Midnight Express", has died aged 76, British media reported on Friday.

Parker, who also directed "Fame", "Evita", "Mississippi Burning", "The Commitments" and other successful movies, died on Friday after a lengthy illness, according to the media reports.

Known for his eclecticism, Parker was equally at ease in the worlds of musical comedy and of hard-hitting true crime drama.

"Bugsy Malone", his highly original feature film debut in 1976, was a musical parody of Prohibition-era gangster movies, performed entirely by children. It featured a young Jodie Foster as glamorous singer Tallulah, and other child actors who went on to have successful careers.

From "Fame" to "Midnight Express," two-time Oscar nominee Alan Parker was a chameleon. His work entertained us, connected us, and gave us such a strong sense of time and place. An extraordinary talent, he will be greatly missed. 

pic.twitter.com/OxZPBxTE8F— The Academy (@TheAcademy) July 31, 2020

Parker followed up with "Midnight Express", based on the true story of an American man imprisoned in Turkey for smuggling hashish. The film won two Oscars, including one for Oliver Stone, who wrote the script.

Again moving in a different direction, Parker then made the gritty musical "Fame", about the highs and lows of the lives of performing arts students in New York - a huge commercial success that spawned a spin-off TV series.

Subsequent successes included "Birdy", a drama about Vietnam War veterans, and "Mississippi Burning", based on the true story of an FBI investigation into the disappearance of three civil rights activists in the 1960s.

We are deeply saddened to hear of the passing of BAFTA Fellow Alan Parker. As BAFTA-winning filmmaker, he brought us joy with Bugsy Malone, The Commitments, Midnight Express and many more. pic.twitter.com/fVOcXARgKM— BAFTA (@BAFTA) July 31, 2020

Although widely acclaimed at the time, garnering seven Oscar nominations and winning one, that film was also criticised by some in the Black community. Among other issues, critics took issue with a lack of Black role models and what they saw as a narrow focus on two white FBI agents.

The actor Matthew Modine, one of the stars of "Birdy", said on Twitter he was very sad to learn of Parker's death. "Being cast in his epic film, Birdy, transformed my life. Alan was a great artist whose films will live forever," Modine said.

Parker later returned to the world of music, with commercial success, directing comedy "The Commitments" about a short-lived soul band in Dublin, and "Evita", starring Madonna and based on an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical.

Andrew Lloyd Webber, who collaborated with Parker on "Evita", said he was "one of the few directors to truly understand musicals on screen".


RIP Alan Parker, director of The Commitments. pic.twitter.com/ePKd5cVKT9— Irish Film Institute (@IFI_Dub) July 31, 2020

He also made a film version of "Angela's Ashes", based on the bestselling memoir of the same name by Frank McCourt.

Parker received honours in Britain for his achievements in filmmaking, including a knighthood in 2002.

He is survived by his wife Lisa Moran-Parker, five children and seven grandchildren, according to the BBC.

(REUTERS)
PERMANENT ARMS ECONOMY
House votes to block funding for transgender troop ban


The House on Thursday approved an amendment that would block funding for the Pentagon's policy preventing transgender people from serving in the military without a waiver. File Photo by Erin Schaff/UPI | License Photo

July 30 (UPI) -- House Democrats on Thursday voted to block funding for the Trump administration's transgender military ban.

The measure, introduced by Rep. Jacki Speier, D-Calif., and 28 Democratic co-sponsors was approved by a voice vote as part of a series of amendments $1.3 trillion spending package including the fiscal 2021 defense appropriations bill.

Republicans opposed the package but did not demand a roll call vote and no lawmakers spoke for or against the amendment.


The amendment would bar using funds to implement the Pentagon's transgender service policy, which requires transgender people to obtain a waiver to serve in the military outside of their biological sex.

The Pentagon has stated this provision, and another allowing transgender people serving openly prior to its implementation to continue, indicates that the policy is not a ban but only one such waiver has been granted since the program went into effect in April.

The House approved the same amendment last year, but it was not included in the final bill.
PERMANENT ARMS ECONOMY

Lockheed, Boeing and Saab bid on Canada's fighter jet contract


Lockheed Martin, builder of the F-35, submitted its bid to equip the Canadian armed forces with advanced fighter planes, it said on Friday. Photo courtesy of Lockheed Martin/Flickr

July 31 (UPI) -- Lockheed Martin, with its F-35 fighter plane, joined Boeing and Saab on Friday in submitting bids to build advanced aircraft for Canada's armed forces.

An upgrade to Canada's fleet of CF-18 planes, first purchased in 1977, is regarded as long overdue, and the process has been onerous.


A plan to purchase new planes first emerged in the 1990s, but changes in Canadian government, questions about the F-35's cost, and longstanding suspicions that the Canadian military has preferred the F-35 over competitors led to delays, and rounds of government/industry consultations and reviews.

The COVID-19 pandemic also pushed the final bid submission date to the end of July.
RELATED Lawmakers criticize Lockheed over F-35 parts, missing equipment files


Lockheed's F-35, Boeing's F/A-18 Super Hornet Block III and Saab's Gripen E are under consideration. The choice is further complicated by the benefits to Canadian industry if the F-35 is chosen.

"Canada has been a valued partner since the inception of the Joint Strike Fighter competition," a Lockheed Martin statement on Friday said. "Canadian industry plays an integral role in the global F-35 supply chain and has gained significant technical expertise over the past 15-plus year involvement in the F-35 production."

The F-35 program would continue to bring manufacturing and production opportunities to Canada, with an estimated 150,000 jobs supported over the life of the program, in which more than 3,200 aircraft are expected to be delivered by 2060, the Canadian Defense Review estimated on Friday.

RELATED
Air Force inks deal to buy F-35s built for Turkey

The $19 billion program calls for eventual purchase of 88 new fighter planes, with initial payments due as Canada begins paying for four new Navy frigates, as well as dealing with the debt accrued in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.

The first planes will not arrive until 2025, and defense analyst Michael Byers of the University of British Columbia suggested that Canada will purchase fewer planes. Byers noted that Conservative Party leadership, no longer in power, planned to buy only 65 planes, the minimum number the Canadian Air Force said at the time was required.
FOREVER CHEMICALS
Investigation of water-borne contaminants starts at former Reese AFB, Texas


Research began this week on carcinogens in ground water at the former Reese Air Force Base, Texas. Photo courtesy of U.S. Air Force


July 31 (UPI) -- Investigative field work began on contaminants in the groundwater of the former Reese Air Base, Texas, the U.S. Air Force said.

The base near Lubbock was closed in 1997 after a 50-year history. Like most U.S. air bases, it had relied since 1970 on foam, to put out fires, containing per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances [PFAS] regarded as hazardous materials. Repeated use of the foam led to contaminants seeping into ground water.
Research has linked PFAS to kidney cancer, testicular cancer, and endocrine disruption. Unusual clusters of serious medical effects in communities with heavily PFAS-contaminated water, many near military bases, have been discovered.

The investigation was announced by the Air Force in a statement on Thursday.

RELATED Wind can carry PFAS pollution miles away from manufacturing facilities

"We didn't do this in neglect or violation of environmental laws," said Stephen TerMaath, chief of the Air Force Base Realignment and Closure Program Management Division. "For a lot of years we all understood this to be a safe product and used it in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions."

"Now, with the TCEQ's [Texas Commission on Environmental Quality] issuance of Protective Concentration Levels for 16 PFAS chemicals, the Air Force is taking aggressive measures to ensure the community has safe drinking water, and find long-term solutions to the contamination," TerMaath said.

The installation, in the next six weeks, of 25 monitoring wells in a 12 square-mile area near the former base is des
igned to provide a better understanding of water source areas and water migration.

RELATED Health-damaging PFAS 'forever chemicals' likely released at 2,500 sites

The Air Force said it has already sampled over 500 drinking water wells at or near the base, and installed 220 drinking water treatment systems of affected wells.

The Pentagon has identified 401 active and former military installations with known or suspected contamination. A 2019 bill requiring federal regulation the cleanup of PFAS on military bases was unsuccessful, leaving the matter to the states.
US: Snake River dams will not be removed to save salmon

In this May 15, 2019, file photo, the Lower Granite Dam on the Snake River is seen from the air near Colfax, Washington. The federal government said Friday, July 31, 2020, four giant dams on the Snake River in Washington state will not be removed to help endangered salmon migrate to the ocean. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — The U.S. government announced Friday that four huge dams on the Snake River in Washington state will not be removed to help endangered salmon migrate to the ocean.

The decision thwarts the desires of environmental groups that fought for two decades to breach the structures.

The Final Environmental Impact Statement was issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Reclamation and Bonneville Power Administration, and sought to balance the needs of salmon and other interests.

The plan calls for spilling more water over the dams at strategic times to help fish migrate faster to and from the ocean, a tactic that has already been in use.

Environmental groups panned the Trump administration plan as inadequate to save salmon, an iconic Northwest species. They contend the dams must go if salmon are to survive.

``This plan is not going to work,″ said Joseph Bogaard, director of Save Our Wild Salmon.

“The federal failure to remove the dams despite clear supporting science is a disaster for our endangered salmon and orcas,” said Sophia Ressler of the Center for Biological Diversity.

Scientists warn that southern resident orcas are starving to death because of a dearth of chinook salmon that are their primary food source. The Pacific Northwest population of orcas — also called killer whales — was placed on the endangered species list in 2005.

Todd True of Earthjustice called the plan “a slap in the face to Native American Tribes, rural fishing communities and anyone in the Northwest who cares about the future of our salmon, orcas and the economic well-being of our river and ocean communities.″

The dams have many defenders, including Republican politicians from the region, barge operators and other river users, farmers and business leaders.

Three Republican members of Congress from Washington state hailed the decision.

``We have always said that our rivers and the benefits they provide are the lifeblood of our region,” Reps. Dan Newhouse, Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Jaime Herrera Beutler said in a joint statement

``The benefits of the dams along the mighty Columbia and Snake rivers are far too precious for our region to go without,″ they said. ``We are proud to see a comprehensive, science-based process come to fruition.″

The four hydroelectric dams were built from the 1960s to the 1970s between Pasco and Pomeroy, Washington. Since then, salmon populations have plunged.
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The dams have fish ladders that allow some salmon and other species to migrate to the ocean and then back to spawning grounds. But the vast majority of the fish die during the journey.

The 100-foot (30 meter) tall dams generate electricity, provide irrigation and flood control, and allow barges to operate all the way to Lewiston, Idaho, 400 miles from the Pacific Ocean.

The final report was similar to a draft plan issued in February, which concluded that removing the four dams would destabilize the power grid, increase overall greenhouse emissions and more than double the risk of regional power outages.

The four dams are part of a vast and complex hydroelectric power system operated by the federal government in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana.

The 14 federal dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers together produce 40% of the region’s power — enough electricity for nearly 5 million homes.

But the dams have proven disastrous for salmon that hatch in freshwater streams, then make their way hundreds of miles to the ocean, where they spend years before finding their way back to mate, lay eggs and die.

Snake River sockeye were the first species in the Columbia River Basin listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1991. Now, 13 salmon runs are listed as federally endangered or threatened. Four of those runs return to the Snake River.

The Columbia River system dams cut off more than half of salmon spawning and rearing habitat, and many wild salmon runs in the region have 2% or less of their historic populations, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.

On the way to the ocean, juvenile salmon can get chewed up in the dams’ turbines.

In all, three federal judges have thrown out five plans for the system over the decades after finding they didn’t do enough to protect salmon.

A record of decision on the plan announced Friday will be released in September.