Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Right-wing loudmouths have made their madness clear to all -- and it is truly terrifying

Michael Winship, Common Dreams
October 18, 2021

Angry man screaming (Shutterstock)

In the weeks since the 20th anniversary of 9/11, sensory memories of that disastrous day -- things I haven't thought about in years – came flooding back.

In the hours and days immediately after the collapse of the twin towers, I remember the National Guardsmen posted at a nearby intersection checking ID, the police from all over the country rotating turns to guard our local precinct house, the post office a couple of blocks away closed "to all overseas mail."

I can see the steelworker lying across a row of seats on a Long Island Railroad train that weekend, covered in dust. His crew had been moved from a construction job at Kennedy Airport to Ground Zero and he had seen a lot. As he gripped a six pack of beer, he said there was no way he would go back there, NO WAY.

I remember the smells downtown where I live: the day after 9/11, walking up Eighth Avenue toward 23rd Street, when suddenly, there was the overwhelming scent of something electrical burning and then a day or two later, something else, something more fetid and organic. We all knew what it was. We lit candles to fight the smell. Depending on the wind, it came and went for weeks.

And I remember the sounds -- or rather, lack of sound. After the thunder of the buildings falling, there was the ringing of church bells and endless horns and alarms. But in the days immediately following, silence. Our streets were shut down except to emergency vehicles and soon even they stopped using their sirens. There was no one left to save, no reason to rush, no need to disturb the broken peace. Even the songbirds left my apartment building's courtyard, not to return for weeks.

In the aftermath of 9/11's brutality, there followed many days when we quietly worked together and supported one another as human beings. "Nous sommes tous Americains," the French newspaper Le Monde headlined in a famous front page editorial: We are all Americans. And for a while it seemed almost to be true, until war and a president who thought it better for us to shop rather than help each other intervened.

That was then, this is now. In the last six years especially, a sense of community, no matter the political stripe, seems to appear only sporadically as the two sides of a sharply divided country go at each other. Add to the mix COVID and the insane, even suicidal refusal to take vaccines or wear masks, as well as a presidential election that for too many remains in dispute not due to any real fraud but because of specious allegations with no basis in reality. These false charges of ballot theft are solely to create chaos and disrupt our fragile democracy, to cast doubt on election integrity, grease the skids of a descent into dictatorship, and to raise a lot of cash, much of it going into the pockets of Donald Trump, his family and autocratic cronies.

Most of their prevarications and nutty theories are screamed at the top of their lungs – like those nimrods who bellow at people who don't speak English, somehow thinking that with volume the words will sink in. Symbolically – here in my neighborhood at least – there's another way the noise is uniquely made manifest, a form of auditory aggression.

When the pandemic first hit and lockdown began, the streets here were almost as quiet as those first days after 9/11, with stores and schools shuttered, hardly anyone on the sidewalks and traffic at a minimum – interrupted only in the early evening when we rattled our pots and pans to honor essential workers.

Now, the avenue that runs beneath my windows is filled with noise – and not just the sounds you associate with a busy Manhattan thoroughfare. Motorcycles and illegal dirt bikes and all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), sometimes two dozen or more at a time, roar down the street at all hours of the evening, disturbing the night, popping wheelies and recklessly running red lights. Meanwhile, cars souped up like drag racers – even the most ordinary looking models – are speeding through with modified exhaust systems tuned to a roar, mufflers removed and blasting music cranked up way beyond 11, without regard to anyone else.

This never has happened before. Reportedly, the New York Police Department is scheduled to seize and destroy some 3000 of the illegal ATVs and dirt bikes by the end of the year but if past evidence is any indication, it won't make much of a dent. There was a time when police responded more readily to noise complaints, even measured sound levels, and made arrests of occupants of vehicles that exceeded the decibel limit. But between employment shortages and what seems to be an increasing and deliberate indifference from police who believe themselves above the law, nothing much is being done.

There is a legitimate concern that people of color are being singled out for these confiscations. That certainly must be taken into account, yet it remains a fact that this is a massive amount of noise, plain and simple. Protestations to the contrary, this is done in part to annoy, disrupt and murder sleep. It screams, "Look at me now!" in a way not unlike the bullying egotism that infects the extremes of the political spectrum.

In any case, I'm using it as a metaphor so bear with me. Please don't mistake me for the old man snarling about "these kids today." Instead of calls for unity from those who have fallen under the sway of a mad, bitter orange grifter intent on a coup d'etat, we get nothing back but noise, recklessness and an embrace of conspiracy and lies. They fling insults and grievance, little of which are of any constructive use. Destructiveness is not a glitch in the system but the goal.

Increasingly, we see members of city councils and school boards, teachers and hospital employees threatened with violence for trying to ensure the survival of COVID patients and protect the rest of us from catching the contagion. They urge the safety of getting vaccinated. But political leaders and others who dare to speak such truth are smeared and put on a death watch with Trump and gang smearing their reputations, falsely accusing them of all the things for which he is genuinely guilty.

They are angry, frustrated, and afraid. Many of them are enraged by "the other" – anything or anyone that they do not know. They fail to understand such people and things because they have never been in proximity of all that's different and only learn about them through the blatantly biased, spittle- flecked rhetoric of Trump, other obeisant Republican politicians and the right-wing media that echoes its anger, especially Fox News.

In Mother Jones recently, Kevin Drum wrote:

The answer to the increasing amount of hate in our politics, then—the only answer that fits the data—is almost certainly Fox News, along with the increasing despair and commitment of conservative evangelicals. We saw it in the Fox-led tea party eruption of 2009. It's evident in the fact that white evangelicals are the most faithful viewers of Fox News. It was behind the months-long Fox coverage of "fraud" following the 2020 election. And we're seeing it right now in the endless Fox coverage of critical race theory and supposed anti-white bias in general.

Loudmouths and members of right-wing extremist and militias groups now feel entitled by the encouragement of Fox and other right-wing media, the former president and his Republican henchmen. GOP candidates and incumbents are so afraid of losing their base that they echo and fall back on lies and lame excuses, trying to rationalize Trump's – and their own --sociopathic words and behaviors.

We know where this leads. January 6 was just a taste of what these thugs are capable of. This past Friday, Joe Biden traveled to Hartford, Connecticut, to visit the Capitol Child Development Center and greet the kids there. Less than a block away, Trump supporters waved signs and flags, jeered, and screamed, "F**k Biden!" and "Traitor!" all within hearing range of the children. This kind of action is being replicated across the country, aided and abetted by those who would subvert a free and open society.

January 6 and all of the rest have the makings of a nascent coup. Don't let the beards and beer bellies in the crowds fool you into thinking otherwise. We know that their goal – and the goal of the Trump advisers and lawyers who egged their boss on -- is the overthrow of the United States government and democracy. Their screaming says it all, and if we let this minority take over, sadly, we'll deserve what we get. That's why the investigative work of the House Select Committee on the January 6 Attack is crucial.

As novelist Joseph Conrad wrote more than a hundred years ago in The Secret Agent, such madness as we're seeing now, "is truly terrifying, inasmuch as you cannot placate it by threats, persuasion, or bribes." So what do we do? Stand together, stand up, raise our voices in opposition at every opportunity, especially when it comes to voter suppression laws, vote for every pro-democracy candidate from city councils and state legislatures on up. Do not let their screams and their madness go unanswered.

A red, white and blue sign that appeared all over my neighborhood in the days after 9/11 says it all: "With liberty and justice for all. You got a problem with that?"

Religion scholar explains how a specific strain of Christianity became a toxic political force

Chauncey Devega, Salon
October 19, 2021

Since at least the 1980s, the conservative movement has increasingly been governed by faith, which can be described as a belief in things that cannot be proved by empirical means. In practice, this means that the Republican Party and the larger right-wing movement's policies and ideology across a range of issues — the economy, the environment, science, health care, democracy and the rule of law — have little if any basis in fact.

In the Age of Trump, movement conservatism has metastasized or devolved into its purest form: American fascism, a form of religious politics taken to its most illogical extreme. Facts, truth and even the conception of reality itself are being replaced with lies, fictions, and fantasies that serve the American fascist movement and its leader.

As public opinion polls and other research have repeatedly shown, white right-wing Christians, especially Protestant evangelicals, have pledged their loyalty to Donald Trump and his movement. Many view him as a literal prophet or savior: His evident immorality has been rationalized as somehow necessary to his prophetic role.

Violence is a key feature of the new American fascism, as dramatically illustrated on Jan. 6 but also at many other moments. Trumpists and other Republican fascists, many or most of whom identify as Christian, have widely embraced political violence, including outright terrorism, as a necessary measure to "protect" their "traditional way of life" against "radical socialist Democrats", Black and brown people, Muslims, LGBTQ people and pretty much all Americans who still believe in the constitutional separation of church and state and the rule of law.

Together, these forces exist in a state of collective narcissism and shared malignant reality. In that relationship, white right-wing Christianity is a nexus or type of glue.

To discuss this profoundly disturbing phenomenon, I recently spoke with Anthea Butler, professor of religious studies and Africana studies at the University of Pennsylvania. She has been a guest on MSNBC, CNN, PBS and the BBC, and her essays have been featured in the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Guardian, the Religion News Service and MSNBC. Butler's new book is "White Evangelical Racism: The Politics of Morality in America".

In this conversation, she discusses the phenomenon of "white Christianity" and its role in the Age of Trump and America's current crisis of democracy. She also explores the specific role this phenomenon played in the events of Jan. 6 and the ascendant fascist movement, and its crucial role in legitimating and normalizing the society-wide moral crisis catalyzed and empowered by the Age of Trump.

Toward the end of this conversation, Butler warns that too many white people have erroneously convinced themselves that racial privilege will protect them from escalating right-wing Christian terrorism and related political violence.

This conversation has been edited, as usual, for clarity and length.

Imagine that American democracy is a patient in the hospital. If you were a type of religious figure — a priest, an imam, a rabbi or the like — what counsel would you be offering that patient in this dire moment?

I will answer that question in the context of the Catholic tradition. In that faith tradition there is something called "extreme unction." This is when you are on your deathbed, and they come to you to give you a prayer. Before the changes of Vatican II, the priest also carried a little kit, which had what would be used for communion and other needs. If I were diagnosing democracy right now in America, it is in a state of extreme unction. American democracy is in its last moments and it is going to need a miracle to get up from that deathbed. I would whisper in that patient's ear right now that you had better decide to fight back or you are dead in the next 15 minutes. Your 15 minutes are about up.

What would penance look like?

Continuing with the Catholic tradition. Most of the time the penitence, in the old Catholic tradition, would involve beating oneself. Self-flagellation. There would be bloodletting. You would not want someone else to make the bloodletting happen for you.

In the case of American democracy, especially with the Democratic Party, they are holding on to some old, tired notion that they are still in power and that the things that they have counted on before will work for them in this moment of crisis. The Democrats are counting on Black folks standing in line for 20 hours to vote. They are counting on Black people to ignore the fact that the Democrats have not done much for them. The Democrats are counting on the good Black Christians to come and save them, once again, from themselves.

There are all these political leaders and others who claim to be Christians and say that America is supposedly a "Christian nation." But there is little talk of the many forms of evil both summoned and empowered by the Age of Trump. How is this being reconciled?

There are two primary reasons, as I see it. Half the time they do not believe that there is in fact a devil. Moreover, many of these Christians are the devils at work in this society. Two, if you don't believe in the devil, then you don't have to deal with anything that is evil.

Instead, you use language such as "people are misguided" or "they have the wrong idea" or "they didn't really mean to lie like that." Evangelicals of the 1950s, and even the '60s and early '70s, would have looked at Donald Trump and said that he was the Antichrist. Now evangelicals worship him. To be clear, I am not offering a position on whether or not I believe that Trump is the Antichrist or whether he should be worshipped. I'm just telling you what is happening.

Donald Trump, his regime and the Republican fascist movement are objectively evil. How do white Christians explain away such behavior?

Because they're in a bubble. Their pastor is reinforcing these messages. The people they live around are reinforcing these messages. They listen to Fox News. Their other information sources reinforce the same message.

Let's be frank: I don't care how many times they carry a Bible. Half of them are not reading it anyway. One may think that these people are evangelical Christians and therefore they know scripture. Yes, some of them do. These evangelicals may know it very well. But even though these evangelicals say, "I'm living by scripture," the reality is that they are living by the scriptures that are written by their politicians and their pastors.

The Jan. 6 coup attempt and attack on the Capitol was an act of white right-wing Christian terrorism against multiracial democracy. Given the Christian iconography and behavior seen on Jan. 6 — that huge cross, the prayers, the horns, and other examples — why do mainstream news media and others refuse to state such obvious facts?

It's intentional. They cannot come to grips with the fact that the Christianity of America is just like any other fundamentalist religion that gets weaponized in order to hold on to power. Therefore, they have to continue to tell themselves that everything that happened on Jan. 6 was an aberration and not something religious in nature. Those people are not "Christians" like us.

But the reality is that those people are you. And not only are those people you, they sat with you in the pews. They prayed with you. And if they had succeeded on Jan. 6, you would be right there on their side. And you would say that God must have blessed them to be able to overthrow the United States government.

Can you explain more about the horns and specific prayers that were used on Jan. 6?

They had horns, what are known as the ram's horn or the shofar, which appeared in the Old Testament. Those horns were blown before the walls of Jericho came down. It was like a battle. Those horns were used in rituals in ancient Judaism. That horn is also used in Jewish rituals today to mark certain kinds of events, whether that's Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur. The blowing of the horn means that we are going into battle — in this context, that God is going with us into the Capitol.

The kinds of prayers we saw on Jan. 6 at the Capitol are called "imprecatory prayers." There are the kinds of prayers used when you want your enemy to die. On Jan. 6 they believed that they were on a mission from God to go into the Capitol and get Nancy Pelosi, Mike Pence and other people they saw as enemies.

And that huge Christian cross?

They used that cross to be like the crusaders during the European Middle Ages.

Tate Reeves, the Republican governor of Mississippi, recently said that Christians are not afraid of the coronavirus because they believe in "eternal life." How did you process his assertion? The country is in the midst of a deadly plague, and right-wing leaders are summoning God and their faith to encourage people not to take proper health precautions.

Those words are a claim that "we" are not afraid of death because we are Christians. It is a claim of certainty on going to heaven. It will all be fine, because if you die from the coronavirus then you are going to see Jesus. Well, what if Jesus is not there? What if there's no Jesus? What if you just drop straight down into the pit of hell?

I'm not saying that's what's going to happen, but the way in which the governor of Mississippi spoke about the pandemic was as though if you die, then it is all going to be all right. What kind of sense does that make?

As a matter of public policy, Christian nationalists, dominionists and other Christian fascists are trying to impose their End Times eschatological fantasies onto secular America in opposition to the Constitution and the separation of church and state. These are fantasies of death and destruction. These white right-wing Christians literally seem to be seeking out death.

They do in fact appear to be seeking out death. They have this huge desire to live the way they want to live without restraint. At some point it is death for you, but it is not death for them.

One of the dimensions here that many people do not understand is that when the pandemic started and many of these red-state and other right-wing leaders were telling people not to wear masks, they were kind of hoping that the "right people" would die. We know who the "right people" are.

Now, people in red states are dying and those Republican and other right-wing leaders can't get out of the spiral of telling people not to get vaccinated. They were hoping that all the people of color were going to die. But now in the red states, it's a lot of white folks dying. A lot of white children are going to die, and they still are doubling down on the same thing. It hasn't changed.

What is "White Christianity"?

White Christians tend to do very different things than Black Christians or Asian American Christians or Latino Christians in this country. You can be a Black Christian and believe in white evangelicalism. You can be Black and a Christian and be bought out and sold out to white evangelicalism or white Christianity because you accept the premises of what these white preachers are telling you, especially about how you're supposed to love America for example.

There are Black Christians, and others, who are not being discerning about what is Christianity, as opposed to what is better described as White American Christianity.

For some Christians, the question becomes, "Well, I'm a red-letter Christian," which basically refers to how the words of Jesus are red in the Bible. "I believe what Jesus says." My intervention there is: If that's the case, great. That means you have to be for the poor and all that comes with that.

White Christianity is a Christianity that is based on the following: Jesus is white. Jesus privileges white culture and white supremacy, and the political aspirations of whiteness over and against everything else. White Christianity assumes that everybody should be subsumed under whiteness in terms of culture and society.

White Christianity assumes that it does not have to look at poverty. We see this in the form of the so-called prosperity gospel, and that any blessing you get from God is because God favors you. If anybody else is out of favor, let's say some poor kid in Northwest Philadelphia who doesn't have enough to eat, well, that's just too bad because they're not blessed of God.

When suffering happens, it's blamed on anybody else but God.

As part of the right-wing culture war narrative there is a martial language that includes Christianity. There is talk of "Christian struggle" and "Christian war." What are the connections between such militant language and actual right-wing violence?

That language has a long history in this country. There's war imagery all through Biblical scripture. There are war songs that people sing in churches. This idea about battling for the Lord, whether we're talking about the Crusades or the Civil War or fighting communism and everything else, is embedded in our history. That language of war and fighting is being used to incite people now.

Most people in America do not want such violence to happen. The problem is that if you've got enough people who want such an outcome, who can make it hell for everybody else, and there are people in power who want to use the public to create decay and destruction, such violent language is going to be used to that end. Donald Trump knows how to push every one of these buttons.

How do you explain the role of white Christianity in the right-wing disruptions and threats of violence at local school board meetings about "critical race theory," vaccinations and other topics?

It is as though nobody remembers the 1950s, when white people were standing outside yelling and screaming and cussing Black children who were actually integrating these schools. These were Christians who were in churches, who were out there yelling and spitting and screaming. Women especially. Evangelicalism and harsh rhetoric have always been part and parcel of this.

We need to quit talking about evangelicalism as though it is some type of coddling religion and understand it for what it has been and what it is doing.

The language of "religious freedom" is central to the power of white Christianity in America. Other religions are rarely able to make such claims and have them accepted as normal or reasonable by the public, or especially by the Supreme Court and political leaders. In practice, the "freedom" of white Christianity is something unique in America. Muslims, for example, are rarely if ever afforded such protections and special rights.

The rhetoric of freedom is being used to elevate "freedom" for white Christians and to suppress freedom for everyone else. In order to remain on top, the freedom of everybody else is being suppressed. These types of white Christians want you to do what they want you to do. In turn, you will be controlled by them. Limiting women's reproductive freedoms is a way to keep everybody in check.

What is the role of white privilege in explaining why so many white Americans are able to deny the serious dangers embodied by white Christian fascist violence?

White privilege convinces many white people that they will not personally have to deal with the violence. They believe that, unlike other people, they will just be able to melt away into the background when the violence happens and nobody is going to shoot people who look like them.

White privilege has convinced them that nobody's going to take their home away from them. Nobody's going to kill their kids. Nobody's going to march them out as an example and shoot them. White privilege has convinced them that they can take some type of loyalty oath or pledge and they will be safe.
Teexas Republicans are appealing to voters' worst instincts

The Republican Party has been pitting trans people and queer and feminist allies against one another for years. It may be working.

Activists gather on Sept. 20 at the Texas Capitol in Austin to protest Republican-led efforts to pass legislation that would restrict the participation of transgender student-athletes in sports.Tamir Kalifa / Getty Images

Oct. 20, 2021,
By Katelyn Burns, MSNBC Opinion Columnist

On Sunday, the Texas House of Representatives passed a bill banning teenage and adolescent trans girls from playing high school girls sports, after the bill passed the state Senate late last week. It now heads to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk for a signature.

Texas isn’t alone in targeting trans kids and abortion access.

Texas has also been in recent headlines for its extremely unusual abortion ban that deputizes citizens to enforce the ban instead of the state, a legal end around the Constitution. Federal court judges have either been bewildered at the ploy or have taken a wink-wink, nudge-nudge approach to effectively ending Roe v. Wade.

The proximity of these two bills is more meaningful than one might think: Conservatives have been hard at work over the last few years trying to divide the natural solidarity that should exist between feminists and trans people. In introducing bills that disempower both populations, they’re making crucial headway toward that goal.

Texas isn’t alone in targeting trans kids and abortion access. The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a case over a Mississippi abortion ban on Dec. 1. Reproductive rights activists and court-watchers have speculated that the case could be the death knell for the constitutional right to access an abortion.

Attacks on abortion rights already forcing women to dangerous 'back alley' alternatives  OCT. 13, 202106:18

On the trans side, in 2021 alone, more than 100 anti-trans bills have been introduced on the state level, with 10 becoming law. While we can stand around all day arguing over what should be done with trans kids and adolescents, Republicans' proposed bans on school sports and puberty blockers are extreme solutions to problems that simply don’t exist.

The extremism is the point. The anti-trans movement has become an important plank in the conservative culture wars, effectively a copy-paste of the anti-gay-rights movement of the '80s, '90s and early 2000s. The difference between then and now is that the Republican Party has fully committed to seizing and holding on to political power through voter suppression, packing the courts and gerrymandering.

The implications for trans people and women couldn’t be more terrifying. In multiple states, GOP legislators have pushed heavy-handed abortion bans alongside bills to prevent trans people from changing their gender on their birth certificates. Conservatives have signaled that birth control may be their next target, which affects both cisgender women and trans people.

In 2021 alone, hundreds of anti-trans bills have been introduced on the state level, with 10 passing into law.

A coordinated media campaign to demonize trans women and paint them as threats to cis women and children initially gained steam in Great Britain and has in recent years spread here in the United States.

The plan to separate trans people from their feminist and LGB allies was initially conceived shortly after the Supreme Court made marriage equality the law of the land in 2015. A key document developed by the anti-LGBT group Family Research Council signaled the anti-queer movement’s effort to “drop the T” from the LGBTQ acronym. Since then, a British group called the LGB Alliance, which pushes an exclusively anti-trans message while claiming to be a charity for lesbian and gay people, has popped up and even received charity status in the U.K. Several international branches of the LGB Alliance have also come into existence, including in the U.S. and Canada.

Looking at the big picture, it’s easy to see why conservatives would take this tactic. Perceiving themselves to be in the minority in the U.S., they believe they no longer control popular culture and thus cling to political power through a bag of electoral and legislative tricks. So to win the argument around a fairly recent plank of the culture wars on trans rights, conservatives must divide and conquer.

If feminists, gays, lesbians and trans people all stick together in solidarity, the conservative agenda would surely be doomed. But if conservatives can pit these groups against each other, they can sit back and enjoy their rhetorical victory.

Instead of bickering among one another over things like gender-inclusive reproductive health language, it’s worth women and trans people looking at the bigger picture and taking note of the world conservatives are striving to create.

It’s a future in which personal liberty is a facade and cis women and trans people have no right to make the most personal decisions about their own bodies. The world conservatives are trying to create through minority political rule is not consistent with the values of liberty that the U.S. is supposed to stand for. It’s up to women and trans people to work together to ensure it doesn’t come to fruition.
Trial over killing of HIV activist begins in Greece

AFP 2 hrs ago

Three years after a prominent Greek-American HIV activist was beaten to death in Athens, six people will appear in court on Wednesday in what Greece's LGBTQ community sees as an important trial for gay rights in the country.

© LOUISA GOULIAMAKI A Facebook group, Justice for Zackie, has called for a demonstration outside the Athens courthouse on the first day of the trial

 Aris MESSINIS Amnesty International described Kostopoulos' death as a "lynching" and "assassination"

The six defendants -- including four police officers -- face up to 10 years in prison for the violent death of 33-year-old Zacharias Kostopoulos on September 21, 2018 in a rundown part of central Athens.

The long-awaited trial had barely started in October 2020 when it was interrupted by procedural issues related to anti-coronavirus measures.

Kostopoulos, known by his artistic name "Zak / Zackie Oh", was an HIV-positive drag queen and advocate for the rights of LGBTQ and other HIV-positive people.

According to a video posted on social media at the time, he was first beaten by two men, including the owner of a jewellery store in which Kostopoulos had found himself locked in circumstances that are not clear.

Disoriented, he attempted to escape by smashing through the glass storefront, cutting himself and suffering kicks to the head from the owner and a neighbour.

Believing him to be a burglar, police officers arriving at the scene also beat and handcuffed him as he lay bleeding on the pavement, the video showed.

He was pronounced dead a few hours later at the hospital.

- 'Lynching' -

According to the autopsy report, Kostopoulos suffered "an ischaemic myocardial infarction (heart failure) following serious injuries," his family's lawyer Anna Paparoussou told AFP.

"After three years, this trial must demonstrate to the victim's family and to society what justice really means," Paparoussou said, denouncing the fact that the defendants were "still roaming free".

All six men face the same charge of causing "fatal bodily harm", but Kostopoulos' family wants the men to be charged with homicide.

The trial is set to start at 9:00 am (0600 GMT) before a panel of three judges and four jury members.

A Facebook group, Justice for Zackie, has called for a demonstration outside the courthouse on the first day of the trial.

After his death, a book titled "Zak / Zackie Oh" was published, drawing on Kostopoulos' personal texts and images, which contrasted his introverted private life with his extravagant drag queen alter ego.

Amnesty International described Kostopoulos' death as a "lynching" and "assassination" and pointed to homophobic bias in some of the early Greek media reports about the case.

And in a statement Tuesday, Amnesty denounced the "stigmatisation, the prejudice and the hateful rhetoric" with which Kostopoulos and his family "have often been confronted, even after Zak's death".

Homophobic attacks are not uncommon in Greece, where the powerful Greek Orthodox Church officially disapproves of homosexual relations and the civil union of same-sex couples was only approved by parliament in 2015.

Defence attorneys for the police argue that the charge of mortal injury is different to actual murder.

Petty crime is rife in the area where the killing occurred, and the jewellery store owner later claimed he had already been burgled three times in the past, and thought Kostopoulos was armed.

"I did it out of outrage... I didn't want the boy to die, I have children his age," he said in early testimony, according to media reports.

The police officers' legal team previously included former far-right politician, Thanos Plevris, who is the son of a prominent Greek Holocaust denier and was appointed as minister for health a few weeks ago.

Nigerian youths plan protest memorials a year after bloody crackdown

AFP 1 hour ago

Activists say they will stage commemorations in several cities in Nigeria Wednesday, one year after security forces violently suppressed protests, despite several warnings from the authorities.

 Phill Magakoe Online messages have called on youths to 'honour the memory of the victims'

Messages calling on youths to rally in the capital Abuja, Lagos and Port Harcourt to "honour the memory of the victims" have been shared tens of thousands of times across social networks.

© Yasmine CANGA-VALLES Survivors 'speak up' a year after Nigeria's Lagos shooting

Youth-led demonstrations against police brutality in Africa's most populous country came to a halt after October 20, 2020, when security forces shot at thousands of peaceful protesters gathered at the Lekki tollgate in Lagos.

© PIUS UTOMI EKPEI Human Rights Watch denounced what it called a 'culture of impunity'

The crackdown was live-streamed on social media and Amnesty International has since said it has confirmed that at least 10 people were killed.

The Nigerian army denied shooting live rounds, telling a judicial panel only blanks were used to disperse a crowd that had violated a curfew.

The protest movement that has sprung up since is named after the social media hashtag #EndSARS.

It started as a campaign to close the notorious Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) unit but snowballed into wider protests against bad governance.

- 'Fallen heroes' -

The singer Falz, who has over eight million followers on Instagram, is among those who shared details of a planned rally in Lagos.

"It is impossible for us not to memorialise our fallen heroes," Falz wrote. "We will never ever forget."

"Innocent Nigerian citizens waved flags and sang till they were shot at, injured and killed."

A procession of cars would cross through the tollgate, the epicentre of the earlier demonstrations, to mark the anniversary, he said.

"We know their way, so a procession of cars is the safest option to minimise police harassment," he added.

Recent weeks have seen multiple warnings against more EndSARS protests by the authorities, who say they turned into rioting and pillaging last year.

According to Amnesty, at least 56 people died nationwide during the weeks of protests.

Police reported 51 civilians and 22 officers killed in and around the demonstrations, with 205 police stations and other buildings set ablaze or vandalised.

In February, several dozen protesters gathered at the Lekki tollgate to demand justice for the victims of the crackdown. All the protesters were arrested.

Lawyer Moe Odele took to Twitter to urge all lawyers who tried to represent those arrested to "stand by tomorrow" for the memorial.

"They will not intimidate us into silence," said Odele.

- 'Culture of impunity' -

A major deployment of security forces is expected Wednesday in Lagos, particularly at the Lekki tollgate, where several police units have already been deployed over recent nights, witnesses have told AFP.

In the federal capital Abuja, gathering is scheduled at the Unity fountain, scene of previous demonstrations and physical attacks on protesters last year.

At other southern cities including Port Harcourt and Nsukka, candle-lit marches are set for the evening.

In a new report, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Tuesday that victims were still awaiting justice.

It said it had interviewed 54 people, including victims and their family members, protesters, civil society members, doctors and journalists.

The rights group was unable to confirm a death toll but witnesses told researchers they saw "what appeared to be at least 15 lifeless bodies and that military officers had taken away at least 11."

"Failure to pursue justice will strengthen the culture of impunity and reinforce the perceptions that brought protesters to the streets in the first place," said HRW researcher Anietie Ewang.

Nigeria set up the judicial panel last year to investigate the bloodshed and wider allegations of police abuses.

Public hearings ended on Monday and its findings should shortly go to the government.

Ship's destruction after fire caused by repeated failures, Navy says

David Martin 11 hrs ago

A Navy investigation into the fire that destroyed the USS Bonhomme Richard concluded that although the July 2020 fire is believed to be arson, "the ship was lost due to an inability to extinguish the fire."
© Sean M. Haffey / Getty Images Navy Ship USS Bonhomme Richard Burns At Naval Base In San Diego

The findings, reviewed by CBS News on Tuesday, found that 36 individuals —including the ship's captain and five admirals — were responsible for the loss of the ship, either by their own actions or by a lack of oversight leading up to the alleged arson.

The investigation also took note of "repeated failures" during the 19-month period the ship was undergoing a major overhaul that "allowed for the accumulation of significant risk and an inadequately prepared crew, which led to an ineffective fire response."

The fire started on a Sunday in July 2020, while the ship was undergoing an overhaul in San Diego. It burned for four days and injured over 60 sailors and civilians before firefighters could put it out.

© Provided by CBS News SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA - JULY 12: A fire burns on the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard at Naval Base San Diego on July 12, 2020 in San Diego, California. There was an explosion on board the ship with multiple injuries reported. / Credit: Sean M. Haffey / Getty Images

Extinguishing the fire required hundreds of military and civilian firefighters and used helicopters to dump gallons of water onto the blaze.

Earlier this year, the Navy charged 20-year-old Ryan Sawyer Mays for starting the blaze. Mays, who holds the rank of seaman apprentice, was a member of the ship's crew at the time.

While investigators believe Mays started the fire, they found the ship's destruction should have been prevented.

The investigation found four major areas that contributed to the ultimate destruction of the ship - the material condition of the ship, the lack of training and readiness, the inadequate response of support from the shore, and oversight that would've codified what to do in response to the fire.

The Navy estimated it would cost more than $2.5 billion to repair the ship, so it had the ship decommissioned in April and towed away to be dismantled.
Activision Blizzard fired 20 employees for 'patterns' of harassment and discrimination (Tyler Sonnemaker) 
 Associated Press Associated Press

Activision Blizzard has fired 20 employees over harassment and discrimination issues.

Activision disciplined another 20 employees and announced a variety of internal changes.

The changes follow a lawsuit, SEC investigation, and employee walkout over widespread cultural issues.

Video game giant Activision Blizzard has fired 20 employees and disciplined another 20 workers over harassment and gender discrimination issues, the Financial Times first reported Tuesday.

Frances Townsend, Activision's chief compliance officer, told the FT that a months-long investigation had determined certain employees had exhibited "patterns" of misconduct that justified termination, while others were reprimanded for behavior the company believed could be addressed through additional training.

Townsend also told the FT that most of the misconduct happened off-site at events involving alcohol, and that several game developers and managers were let go, but that no one from Activision's board was fired.

In a memo sent to staff and published on its website Tuesday, Townsend announced a variety of internal changes, including that Activision will triple its spending on training resources, hire 19 full-time roles for its ethics and compliance team, and restructure its investigations team to be separate from its human resources and employee relations teams.

The announcement comes as Activision has faced widespread allegations of gender-based harassment and discrimination that have sparked employee backlash in recent months.

In July, the state of California sued Activision, following a two-year investigation into the company, accusing it of fostering a "pervasive frat boy" culture where women are paid less for the same jobs that men perform, regularly face sexual harassment, and are targeted for reporting issues.

The suit also said that female employees at Activision face "constant sexual harassment," from "having to continually fend off unwanted sexual comments" to "being groped," and that no action was taken on issues reported to human resources and management.

Townsend and other Activision executives, including CEO Bobby Kotick, initially downplayed the claims in the lawsuit, leading more than 2,000 employees to co-sign a letter calling the company's response "abhorrent and insulting."

Kotick later issued a statement calling the initial responses "tone deaf," but hundreds of employees still walked out the following day to demand more systemic changes.

In September, the Securities and Exchange Commission opened its own investigation into Activision over how the company handled employees' allegations, issuing subpoenas to multiple employees. Activision has said it is cooperating with the SEC's investigation.

Some of the changes employees called for over the summer, such as dropping mandatory arbitration clauses from employee contracts, were not addressed in Townsend's memo on Tuesday.

Townsend told the FT that more changes are coming and that "Kotick and the Board basically gave me a blank check."

Review: A fresh take on George Orwell as an avid gardener

© Provided by The Canadian Press

“Orwell’s Roses,” by Rebecca Solnit (Viking)

Weeks after Donald Trump was elected president, George Orwell’s dystopian novel “1984” shot to the top of bestseller lists. Suddenly, it seemed, readers wanted to reacquaint themselves with a world in which “war is peace” and “two plus two equals five.”

That historical moment was not the impetus for Rebecca Solnit’s invigorating new book, “Orwell’s Roses,” although she briefly touches on the Orwellian dimensions of the last administration. Instead, it grew out of a casual conversation with a friend about a newspaper column Orwell wrote in 1946 about the fruit trees and rosebushes he planted around his rural cottage outside London.

Soon Solnit and her friend were on the internet, trying to find out if they were still there. That, in turn, led to a visit to the cottage, where Solnit found out that while the trees were gone, the roses were thriving, decades after Orwell’s death.

The discovery “filled me with joyous exaltation,” she writes, as did “the fact that this man most famous for his prescient scrutiny of totalitarianism and propaganda” was an avid gardener. It also sent her back to his novels and essays, making her realize that all his writing, even the most political, is suffused with a passion for the natural world.

Solnit, a prolific author whose essay “Men Explain Things to Me” has been credited with inspiring the term “mansplaining,” describes that Orwell essay as a “triumph of meandering” — and the same might be said about this book. It is not a biography in the traditional sense, although she revisits significant episodes of his life, from serving as a British officer in Burma to fighting against the fascists in the Spanish civil war.

Along the way, she touches on a wide range of subjects including photographer Tina Modotti’s pictures of roses, Stalin’s obsession with growing lemons in the winter and the brutal conditions of the rose industry in Colombia. She also reckons with Orwell’s slave-owning ancestors and shows, as gently as possible, how he was the unwitting beneficiary of not just colonialism but also the patriarchy. Finally, she attempts to connect his love of plants and trees to contemporary thinking about climate change.

At times her digressions and literary flourishes are maddening, but she always returns to the startling brilliance and clarity of Orwell’s work. She ends with a sensitive reconsideration of “1984” that, if you haven’t done so already, will make you want to reread it, too.

Ann Levin, The Associated Press
Rob Zombie Shares First Look at The Munsters Remake: 'Newly Completed 1313 Mockingbird Lane'

Vanessa Etienne 1 day ago

The Munsters remake is officially on the way!

On Monday, director Rob Zombie shared a first look at the reboot for the classic sitcom, confirming that the cast will include Jeff Daniel Phillips as Herman Munster, Sheri Moon Zombie as Lily Munster, and Dan Roebuck as The Count.

Zombie shared photos of the three sitting in front of the newly constructed set while wearing their iconic costumes and makeup from the original TV show.

RELATED: Halloween Kills Kills Box Office with $50 Million Opening While The Last Duel Loses Battle

"Since Halloween is rapidly approaching I thought it was the perfect time to MEET THE MUNSTERS! 馃巸 Direct from the set in good old Hungary 馃嚟馃嚭 I present Herman, Lily and The Count sitting in front of the newly completed 1313 Mockingbird Lane . ☠️ 馃巸," he captioned the post.
© Universal Studios via Rob Zombie/Instagram Rob Zombie gives fans a first look at Herman, Lily, and The Count from the replica of the iconic set in Hungary

Though additional information about the remake has been tightly under wraps, the filmmaker has shared a few updates on social media about the project over the past several months.

In June, the Zombie first announced that he would be working on the reboot, calling it a project he's "been chasing for 20 years."

Never miss a story — sign up for PEOPLE's free daily newsletter to stay up-to-date on the best of what PEOPLE has to offer, from juicy celebrity news to compelling human interest stories.

The following month, he teased possible costume designs for the characters, including the sleepwear for the characters of Lily and Herman. Zombie wrote in the caption: "What do Herman and Lily wear to bed? Perhaps something like this! Check out some wardrobe designs by our amazing costume designers. 馃馃馃☠️☠️☠️."

He later shared that the 1313 Mockingbird Lane set and Mockingbird Heights neighborhood would be built from scratch as a replica to the original 1960s sitcom. The design was finished in September.

RELATED: The Munsters Star Beverley Owen Dies at 81

"1313 is looking good! Lots of work left to do, but it is getting there! Takes a lot of work to build an entire neighborhood. ☠️," Zombie wrote on Instagram alongside photos of the set.

The original series aired on CBS from 1964 to 1966. As of now, there is no official release date for The Munsters, however, the film will be released in theaters and on Peacock for streaming, per CNN.


USC to apologize for sabotaging its Japanese American students' educations in WWII

The University of Southern California announced last week that it will make amends for its discrimination against Japanese Americans during World War II, when the U.S. government deemed the community a national security threat.
© Provided by NBC News

USC President Carol Folt will award posthumous degrees and apologize to the students of Japanese descent whose schooling was interrupted when they and their families were forcibly displaced and put into concentration camps. At the time, the university refused to release transcripts for students who wanted to transfer, sabotaging their chances to complete their educations. USC is now trying to identify the families of about 120 students who were affected during the 1941-42 academic year.

“I think we’re starting to understand … there’s things that have happened in the past that are not things that we’re proud of,” Folt told NBC Asian America. “It only does good to acknowledge that — to find the source of problems, to apologize, but maybe even more importantly ... to make sure that these sorts of issues do not happen.”

Many college students were left with uncertain futures after President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 in 1942, mandating the removal and subsequent incarceration of 120,000 people of Japanese descent who lived in the designated “military zones” along the West Coast. The National Japanese American Student Relocation Council, formed by organizations, college administrators and several Quaker religious groups, encouraged schools in other parts of the country to accept students of Japanese descent, most of whom were children of Japanese immigrants, known as nisei

© Franklin D. Roosevelt Library/National Archives Image: Newspaper headlines of Japanese Relocation after Pearl Harbor attack in 1941. (Franklin D. Roosevelt Library/National Archives)

The council was largely successful. Schools on the West Coast released the students’ transcripts, helping many students graduate from other colleges, said Brian Niiya, the content director of Densho, a nonprofit Japanese American history and education organization.

The council “allowed for some thousand of the nisei students to leave camp and to continue with their education on the outside. So that was a really important step,” Niiya said. “Others, though, were never able to continue with their education.”

Some students chose to remain with their families in concentration camps, and others joined the military to prove their loyalty to the U.S. But some who wanted to continue their studies found that schools like USC stood in their way, Niiya said. Under the leadership of Rufus B. von KleinSmid — the university’s president at the time, whose name has since been stripped from campus buildings because of his racist beliefs and his support for eugenics — USC campus officials withheld the documents.

Not only were many USC students forced to abandon their studies during the war, but when Japanese American students tried to re-enroll at USC or obtain their transcripts afterward, they were also allegedly told to start their college educations over again. Some have said officials claimed that their paperwork had been lost.

“California had been the center of the anti-Japanese movement for decades since the early 1900s. It’s safe to say that the vast majority of Californians, including those in power ... were supporters of the incarceration or the removal of Japanese Americans,” Niiya said. “It’s not surprising or remarkable that this university president would have those views. That was just the mainstream at that time.”

Niiya said USC’s newest efforts to make amends are the result of the Japanese American redress movement that began in the 1970s. Activists sought reparations and apologies for the government’s role in Japanese Americans’ loss of their civil liberties. Niiya said that for many, restitution came in the form of back pay that was restored or service time for employees who had been fired. As time went on, the movement pushed for honorary degrees for students.

USC had previously given honorary degrees to surviving students in 2012 after a 2009 law required California public universities to do so. But the school wouldn't give the same honor to those who had died, citing a policy against awarding posthumous degrees. Under Folt, it made an exception.

She said the plan was set in motion after she got a letter from Jonathan Kaji, the president of the school’s Asian Pacific Alumni Association, which has been pushing for such action since 2007. Holt said it was Kaji, who had protested the previous awards ceremony because it didn’t honor those who had died, who laid bare the injustices to her.

“I just immediately thought, ‘I don’t know how it happened, but this is something we can acknowledge and make right,’” Folt said. “My efforts were on fixing it, rather than trying to understand why it didn’t happen before.”

Folt said the university is working with several Japanese American community organizations to find the families of former USC students and is calling on the public to help. She said the degrees and the apology will be presented to descendants at an awards ceremony next spring.

Even though the ceremony comes 80 years after the students were forced to leave school, Niiya said, it is an important step in both healing and moving forward.

“For individual families, it’s really important in many cases that the grandparents or great grandparents are getting this posthumous recognition,” Niiya said. “But I think on a broader level, it’s just a way to keep this incarceration story at the forefront, just as a reminder ... to continue to be vigilant in what we do now.”
After lecture is canceled, free speech debate roils science academia

A prominent climate physicist has resigned from one of his roles at the University of California, Berkeley, after he said faculty members would not agree to invite a guest lecturer to the school who had come under fire for his political views.

© Provided by NBC News

Denise Chow 4 hrs ago

The lecturer, Dorian Abbot, a geophysicist, has been criticized for opposing affirmative action programs and other initiatives to promote diversity, equity and inclusion at colleges and universities. He has been the subject of boycotts and opposition from left-leaning students and at academic faculty meetings.

In a statement on Twitter, the physicist, David Romps, said Monday that he is stepping down as director of the Berkeley Atmospheric Sciences Center, or BASC, “at the end of this calendar year or when a replacement is ready, whichever is sooner.” Romps will remain a professor in the school’s department of earth and planetary sciences, a university spokesperson said.

The incident has added to the debate about when, if ever, it is appropriate to suppress speech on college campuses.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology this month rescinded a lecture invitation to Abbot, a geophysicist and associate professor at the University of Chicago, amid public backlash over an op-ed he co-wrote in Newsweek that argued in favor of a “Merit, Fairness, and Equality” framework on campuses as an alternative to diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, which he said sought “to increase the representation of some groups through discrimination against members of other groups.” Last year, Abbot also denounced the riots that erupted in Chicago after George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. He addressed those comments in a post published Oct. 5 on Substack.

Abbot was scheduled to deliver the prestigious Carlson Lecture at MIT’s department of earth, atmospheric and planetary sciences about his research on climate science and the potential for alien planets to support life.

Romps, who did not respond to a request for comment, said his request to the faculty followed the MIT cancellation.

Romps said he asked faculty members whether the school could invite Abbot “to speak to us in the coming months to hear the science talk he had prepared and, by extending the invitation now, reaffirm that BASC is a purely scientific organization, not a political one,” he wrote on Twitter.

He said that discussions remained unresolved and that his colleagues’ unwillingness to include guest lecturers who have divergent political beliefs goes against the school’s mission.

“Excluding people because of their political and social views diminishes the pool of scientists with which members of BASC can interact and reduces the opportunities for learning and collaboration,” he wrote, adding that such actions signal that “some opinions — even well-intentioned ones — are forbidden, thereby increasing self-censorship, degrading public discourse, and contributing to our nation’s political balkanization.”

Abbot said in an emailed statement: “Professor Romps is an extremely brave proponent of academic freedom. There are very few people willing to openly defend academic freedom, let alone resign an important directorship in support of it. If we had a few more leaders and administrators like Professor Romps, we wouldn’t be having a crisis of academic freedom in our universities.”

Dan Mogulof, a spokesperson for UC Berkeley, said the school believes diversity of perspective is “absolutely essential.”

“UC Berkeley’s administration regrets that the director of the Berkeley Atmospheric Sciences Center has decided to resign given that faculty members affiliated with the Center have not yet fully discussed and considered — much less decided — whether to extend an invitation to the speaker in question,” Mogulof said in a statement.

Keith Whittington, a professor of politics at Princeton University and the chair of the academic committee of the Academic Freedom Alliance, a nonprofit free speech organization, said decisions to shy away from lecture topics or figures who represent opposing viewpoints or have controversial personal politics risk compromising the principles of free speech that universities are meant to uphold.

“That could shrink the scope quite dramatically of what kinds of ideas and opinions can be discussed on college campuses,” he said.

But equating the cancellation of a school’s public lecture to censorship oversimplifies the matter, said Phoebe Cohen, a paleontologist and associate professor of geosciences at Williams College. She said concerns over whether such actions curtail free speech on campuses are overblown.

“It becomes this battle cry of free speech and academic freedom, but he has academic freedom,” Cohen said of Abbot. “He is allowed to say whatever he wants to say, and he has, but that doesn’t mean that he’s free from consequences.”

And while universities should uphold academic freedoms, Cohen said, institutions also have a responsibility to consider the communities their students and faculties are a part of.

“It comes down to who is being harmed,” she said. “Universities don’t have a responsibility to platform people who are harming others.”

Still, Whittington said, Abbot’s case differs from other cancellations because the views expressed in his op-ed were unrelated to the topic of his planned lecture at MIT.

“We’re not talking about some outside provocateur that a student group brought to campus,” Whittington said. “We’re talking about a distinguished scientist who was invited to give a scientific talk and people were saying he can’t do that because he also happens to hold political beliefs they disagree with.”

Whittington and his colleagues at the Academic Freedom Alliance sent a letter Monday asking MIT to take action to address and rectify the situation.
Australia's chief scientist wants to make academic research publicly available

Aimee Chanthadavong 3 hrs ago

Australia's chief scientist Dr Cathy Foley has proposed to make academic research openly and freely available, believing it will help unlock further in-country collaboration, commercialisation, and innovation.
© Getty Images/iStockphoto

female lab technician doing research with a microscope in the lab. coronavirus

"I've been saying research is the superpower to be able to make any society … to be able to weather any changes that come across us, and we've seen our fair share in the last few years," she said, speaking during the virtual Collaborate Innovate 2021 event.

"But what we have in Australia is about AU$12 billion … in research and yet to be able to read that, we're paying … between the order of AU$400 million to probably AU$600 million a year in order to be able to see this -- and it's only able to be read by people who are either paying for a page by page or a journal article by journal article, or being able to have a subscription through their organisation.

"If we're looking at what we're trying to achieve as a country, where we want to be evidence-based in all the decisions that we make, why is it then that research is only available through these paywalls … and so I was wondering could we actually envisage a scheme where we can use the funds that are in the system already, make them available to a central implementation body that negotiates agreements to have open access of research from all publishers, leading us to access research or journals," she continued.

Foley hopes that if such a scheme were to exist, it would mean that every person based in Australia -- from individuals, industry, government, and other researchers -- would be able to access research or academic information.

In addition, Foley said she wants to see Australian-led research papers be made available to the rest of the world too, highlighting that opening up access would help build stronger relationships between the research community and other sectors.

"If you think about the importance of scientific publication and peer review, it's absolutely critical to gain that trust … this is why I think open access is really important because we need to make sure that everyone understands what information comes from and can be trusted," she said.

The proposal of open access, says Foley, is currently undergoing the final stages of prospective analysis. Foley added she has already put forward a proposal to the National Science and Technology Council, who have been "very positive and are supporting it".
You Can Watch Hundreds Of Polar Bears Migrate Through Manitoba On This Camera (VIDEO)

If you've finished binge-watching Squid Game on Netflix and are in need of something new to watch, let us introduce you to this live cam where you can check out fluffy polar bears

© Provided by Narcity Canada Edition (EN) 9 hrs ago

The Polar Bear Cams from Polar Bears International (PBI) will track hundreds of the majestic white creatures as they migrate across Churchill, Manitoba, and you can already see a few of them hanging out and generally relaxing.

Video player from: YouTube (Privacy Policy, Terms)Polar Bear Tundra Buggy powered by

According to PBI, at this time of the year, the bears gather in that area to wait for the water to freeze so they can resume hunting seals after their summer fast.

Because they're typically solitary creatures, PBI says that the bears only gather in Churchill for a short period of time, so you'll want to keep an eye on the cam to spot them while you can.

The Polar Bear Cams are part of the company's Polar Bear Week initiative that runs from October 31 to November 6.

"This year, we're launching a campaign to fund the development of Bear-dar 'Detect and Protect' systems to alert communities of approaching bear," PBI said of the initiative. "The goal is to reduce conflict between polar bears and people—keeping both from harm."
Sudan's key Red Sea ports coveted by regional powers

From Washington to Moscow, Tehran to Ankara, Sudan's strategic Red Sea ports, blockaded for a month by protesters, have long been eyed by global powers far beyond Africa's borders.

© Ashraf SHAZLY Ahmed Abdelaziz, professor at Port Sudan University, said Sudan's Red Sea islands were 'vulnerable to illicit activities'

Blessed with natural resources such as gold and rich in maritime biodiversity, the picturesque region of white sands and mangroves stretches some 714 kilometres (444 miles) -- from Sudan's borders with Egypt in the north to Eritrea in the south.

© Ashraf SHAZLY Suakin is one of many Red Sea islands held by Sudan which analysts see as 'integral to the country's national security'

"Sudan's Red Sea ports are a trade hub for neighbouring landlocked countries like Chad, Ethiopia and central Africa," Ahmed Mahgoub, head of Port Sudan's southern terminal, told AFP
© ASHRAF SHAZLY Members of the Beja ethnic group of eastern Sudan wave the flag of the Beja Congress political group as they demonstrate outside the Osman Digna port

But traffic through Sudan's main maritime nerve centre Port Sudan has been paralysed since anti-government protests broke out in mid-September amid disenchantment with the region's political and economic marginalisation.

So since October much of the trade has been re-routed via other regional ports, mostly in Egypt.

The protests are just the latest chapter in decades of intense tribal and factional infighting driven in part by Sudan's shifting political alliances under ousted president Omar al-Bashir.

He was deposed in April 2019 after mass protests against his three-decade iron-fisted rule.

Demonstrators say they oppose an October 2020 peace deal between Sudan's post-Bashir transitional government and rebel groups as "it does not represent" them.

- Militarily strategic -

The protests in the east have also triggered unrest in the capital Khartoum, where pro-military demonstrations erupted on Saturday demanding the dissolution of the embattled transitional government.

But for foreign powers who covet Sudan's Red Sea coast, the region has strategic military dimensions.

It hosted Iranian fleets for decades under Bashir, to the dismay of Tehran's regional rival Saudi Arabia, whose Red Sea port of Jeddah lies opposite Port Sudan on the other side of the waterway.

© Ashraf SHAZLY A man carries coral on the island of Suakin in eastern Sudan

And in 2017, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Bashir negotiated the building of a naval base in Port Sudan, to be staffed by up to 300 military and civilian personnel and to include nuclear-powered vessels.

That same year Bashir also signed a 99-year lease for the island of Suakin with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a move that angered Egypt and other rival Sunni Muslim powerhouses worried about Ankara's spreading regional influence.

© Ashraf SHAZLY Sudan's Red Sea islands could be used as observation outposts or for conducting military manoeuvres, one expert said

The deal provides for building maintenance, docks for ships and renovating Ottoman-era edifices on the island.

Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses II is said to have dubbed Suakin the "white city" as it is home to spectacular buildings made of porous coralline limestone quarried from coral reef.

Suakin is one of many Red Sea islands held by Sudan which analysts see as "integral to the country's national security".

The islands cover a total area of 23,100 square kilometres (8,9100 square miles), equivalent to the size of Djibouti, said Shaimaa Abdelsameea, a professor at the Red Sea University.

- 'Race for control' -

These islands could be used as observation outposts or for conducting military manoeuvres, she noted.

"They are however all uninhabited, making them vulnerable to illicit activities including smuggling," said Ahmed Abdelaziz, a professor at Port Sudan University.

Sudan had sought to cement its ties with Russia under Bashir to offset the crippling sanctions imposed by Washington against his autocratic regime.

And last year, Moscow announced the signing of a 25-year agreement with Khartoum to build and operate the base in Port Sudan.

However in June, Sudan said it was still "reviewing" the deal after it found that some clauses were "somewhat harmful".

The move came as Khartoum pushed to solidify ties with the United States following Bashir's ouster.

In December, Washington removed Khartoum from its crippling State Sponsors of Terrorism list, a designation that had long strangled Sudan's economy.

The lifting of sanctions took place after a meeting between former US president Donald Trump and Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok.

Senior US military officials have since visited Sudan.

"The Red Sea is a key waterway for the movement of American fleets," according to Abdelsameea.

"It links the US Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean and the Fifth in the Arabian Gulf," she said.

"So the race for control over Sudanese ports is very natural."


3M to pay $99 mn to settle dispute over harmful chemicals


The US group 3M, which among other things manufactures anti-Covid protective face masks, said Tuesday it will pay $99 million to settle complaints related to health and the environment

© JUSTIN SULLIVAN 3M will pay $99 million to settle complaints related to health and the environment

"3M has reached a collaborative agreement to resolve ongoing litigation and negotiations related to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) near 3M's Decatur, Alabama facility," the company said in a statement.

Lawsuits had been filed against 3M in three US states - Alabama, Illinois and Minnesota - as well as in Germany and Belgium, charging that its products contain potentially harmful chemicals known as PFAS which are present in wide variety of products such as Teflon, paints, packaging or textiles.

The agreement was signed with the city of Decatur, Morgan County, plaintiffs from Saint John, and the Tennessee Riverkeeper organization, said the manufacturer of post-it notes, adhesive tape and Covid face masks.

"Through these agreements, subject to final approval, 3M will support activities to address PFAS that 3M manufactured or disposed of, as well as to enhance the quality of life for Decatur residents," the group said.

3M said in April 2019 that it had set aside $548 million to settle the dispute, as well as another dealing with complaints against its coal mines in Kentucky and West Virginia.

Climate change: The world is banking on giant carbon-sucking fans to clean our mess. But can they save the planet?

By Ivana Kottasov谩, CNN Video and Photos by Temujin Doran, CNN Design by Carlotta Dotto, CNN

The windswept valleys surrounding the Hengill volcano in southwestern Iceland are dotted with hot springs and steam vents. Hikers from all over the world come here to witness its breath-taking scenery. Even the sheep are photogenic in the soft Nordic light.

© Temujin Doran/CNN Climework's Orca project at the Hellishei冒i Geothermal Power Plant in Iceland opened last month.

Right in the middle of all that natural beauty sits a towering metal structure resembling four giant Lego bricks, with two rows of six whirring fans running across each one. It's a contraption that looks truly futuristic, like something straight out of a sci-fi film.

Humans have emitted so much carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere that machines like this are being used to literally suck the gas back out, like giant vacuum cleaners, in an attempt to slow the climate crisis and prevent some of its most devastating consequences.

The Orca plant — its name derived from the Icelandic word for energy — is what is known as a "direct air carbon capture facility," and its creators and operators, Swiss firm Climeworks and Icelandic company Carbfix, say it's the world's largest.

The aim of Orca is to help the world reach net zero emissions — where we remove as much greenhouse gas from the atmosphere as we emit. Scientists say that simply cutting back on our use of fossil fuels won't be enough to avert catastrophe; we need to also clean up some of the mess we've been making for hundreds of years.
© Temujin Doran/CNN Dr. Edda Arad贸ttir is a chemical and reservoir engineer and the CEO of Carbfix.

Orca is a depressing symbol of just how bad things have become, but equally, it could be the tech that helps humanity claw its way out of the crisis.

"We, as humans, have disturbed the balance of the natural carbon cycle. So it's our job to restore the balance," said Edda Arad贸ttir, a chemical engineer and the CEO of Carbfix. "We are assisting the natural carbon cycle to find its previous balance, so for me, at least, this makes total sense — but we have to use it wisely," she said.

It opened last month and currently removes about 10 metric tons of CO2 every day, which is roughly the the same amount of carbon emitted by 800 cars a day in the US. It's also about the same amount of carbon 500 trees could soak up in a year.

It's a fine start, but in the grand scheme of things, its impact so far is miniscule. Humans emit around 35 billion tons of greenhouse gas a year through the cars we drive and flights we take, the power we use to heat our homes and the food — in particular the meat — that we eat, among other activities.

All this CO2 accumulates in the in the air, where it acts like the glass of a greenhouse, trapping more heat in the atmosphere than Earth has evolved to tolerate.

That's where the technology used for Orca, called carbon capture and storage (CCS), comes in.

"Carbon capture and storage is not going to be the solution to climate change," Sandra 脫sk Sn忙bj枚rnsd贸ttir, a Carbfix geologist, told CNN.

"But it is a solution. And it's one of the many solutions that we need to implement to be able to achieve this big goal that we have to reach."

She added: "First and foremost, we have to stop emitting CO2 and we have to stop burning fossil fuels, the main source of CO2 emissions to our atmosphere."

How the 'magic' happens

The Orca machines use chemical filters to capture the heat-trapping gas. The "fans," or metal collectors, suck in the surrounding air and filter out the CO2 so it can be stored.

Carbon dioxide's concentration in Earth's atmosphere has likely not been this high at any other point in the last 3 million years, according to NASA scientists. But at levels over 410 parts per million, to actually capture a meaningful amount of CO2, a huge amount of air needs to pass through these machines.

"What is happening is that CO2 in the air is an acid molecule and inside the collectors we have alkaline. Acids and alkaline neutralize each other," Climeworks co-CEO Christoph Gebald told CNN. "That's the magic that happens."

In two to four hours, the surface of the filter is almost completely saturated with CO2 molecules — as if there are "no parking slots left," as Gebald puts it.

"Then we stop the airflow and we heat the internal structure to roughly 100 degrees Celsius, and at that temperature, the CO2 molecules are released again from the surface, they jump off back to the gas phase and we suck it out."

Because of the high temperature that is needed for the process, the Orca plant requires a lot of energy. That's a problem that's easily solved in Iceland, where green geothermal power is abundant. But it could become a challenge to scale globally.

The machines at Orca are just one way to remove CO2 from the air. Other methods involve capturing the gas at source — like the chimney of a cement factory — or removing it from the fuel before combustion. That involves exposing the fuel, such as coal or natural gas, to oxygen or steam under high temperature and pressure to convert it into a mixture of hydrogen and CO2. The hydrogen is then separated and can be burned with much lower carbon emissions. However, methane emissions could be a problem when the process is used on natural gas.

The carbon that comes out of CCS can be used for other purposes, for example to make objects out of plastic instead of using oil, or in the food industry, which uses CO2 to put the fizz in drinks. But the amount that needs to be captured vastly exceeds the world's demand for CO2 in other places, which means the majority of it will need to be "stored."

At Orca, this happens just a few hundred meters away from its vacuum in several igloo-like structures where the gas is mixed with water and injected around 800 meters underground. There, the CO2 reacts with sponge-like volcanic rocks and mineralizes, while the water flows away.

Emissions crisis

The latest state-of-the-science report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) showed that the world needs to cut greenhouse gas emissions in half over the next decade and achieve net zero by 2050 to have any chance of keeping global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

The higher temperatures rise beyond 1.5 degrees, the more the world will experience an increase in extreme weather events — both in strength and frequency — like droughts, hurricanes, floods and heatwaves.

CCS technology sounds like the perfect solution, but it remains highly controversial, and not just because of the amount of energy it needs. Its critics say the world should be aiming for zero emissions, not net zero.

But scientific consensus is pretty clear: some level of carbon capture will soon become necessary. The IPCC estimated that even if emissions decline dramatically, to keep temperature increases below 2 degrees will require the removal of between 10 billion and 20 billion tonnes of CO2 every year until 2100.

"I don't think carbon capture is a silver bullet, because there is no silver bullet," said Nadine Mustafa, a researcher that specializes in carbon capture at the department of chemical engineering at Imperial College London, and is not involved with Orca.

"It's not that we are going to fix everything by using renewables, or that we're going to use carbon capture and storage and we're going to fix everything with that. We're going to need everything, especially because we're already behind on our goals."

The oil and gas link

Opponents of CCS argue the technology is simply another way for the fossil fuel industry to delay its inevitable demise.

While they are not involved in the Orca plant, fossil fuel giants dominate the sector. According to a database complied by the Global CCS Institute, a pro-CCS think tank, an overwhelming majority of the world's 89 CCS projects that are currently in operation, being built or in advanced stages of development are operated by oil, gas and coal companies.

Oil companies have had and used the technology to capture carbon for decades, but they haven't exactly done it to reduce emissions — ironically, their motivation has been to extract even more oil. That's because the CO2 they remove can be re-injected into oil fields that are nearly depleted, and help squeeze out 30-60% more oil than with normal methods. The process is known as "enhanced oil recovery" and it is one of the main reasons why CCS remains controversial.

Fossil fuel companies are also investing in the newer carbon capture tech that removes CO2 from the air — like Orca's machines do — so they can argue they are "offsetting" the emissions that they can't capture in their usual processes. It's one way to delay fossil fuels' inevitable demise as the world transitions to renewable energy sources.

There is another way to look at it.

Fossil fuel companies have the big bucks to invest in this expensive tech, and considering fossil fuels are by far the main driver of climate change, it can be argued that they have a responsibility to foot the bill for what could be the biggest environmental disaster clean-up in human history.

The global fossil fuel industry is worth trillions of dollars. In 2019, the last year before the pandemic, publicly listed fossil fuel companies raked in $250 billion in profits, according to data compiled for CNN by Refinitiv. That figure doesn't include Saudi Aramco, the world's biggest oil company, which was not publicly listed until December 2019. On its own, the company made $88 billion that year.

"This is a group who could transition to providing this service to society at large," said Graeme Sweeney, chairman of the Zero Emissions Platform (ZEP), which is one of the more powerful advocates for CCS in Europe. The group acts as an advisor to the European Commission, from which it also receives part of its funding, and comprises research groups, the European Trade Union Confederation, as well as many of the world's biggest oil companies, including Shell, Total, Equinor, ExxonMobil and BP.

The way Sweeney sees it, providing this tech could even be a chance for the fossil fuel industry to begin to atone for the climate crisis.

"It would be, in a sense, odd, if that was not the contribution that they made," said Sweeney, who previously worked for Shell for three decades.

Asked whether CCS should be used to allow more fossil fuel production in the future — something climate activists worry about — Sweeney said: "If we regulate this appropriately, then it will produce an outcome which is compatible with net zero in 2050 ... what's the problem?"

One remaining risk in this technology is the impact that storing the carbon may have on the Earth, or at least its immediate environment. In its special report on carbon capture and storage, the IPCC said that by far the biggest risk comes from potential leaks. A sudden and large release of CO2 would be extremely dangerous. In the air, a CO2 concentration of around 10% is deadly, but even much lower levels can cause health issues.

It's a massive risk to take.

But the idea of using deep sea storage is not new and it has been used for some time. At Sleipner, a gas field in Norway, CO2 has been injected underground since 1996. The site has been monitored closely, and apart from some issues during the first year, it has not shown any problems in its 25 years running.

Sn忙bj枚rnsd贸ttir, who heads the CO2 mineral storage at Carbfix for Orca, said the mineralization process they use in Iceland eliminates the risk of leaks. And the basalt — which is volcanic rock — around the plant makes for an ideal geological storage.

"These rocks are very permeable, so they are kind of like a sponge, and you have a lot of fractures for the CO2-charged fluid to flow through, so it mineralizes quite rapidly," Sn忙bj枚rnsd贸ttir said.

Standing next to the injection site, Sn忙bj枚rnsd贸ttir grabbed a piece of crystallized calcium carbonate, known here as the Icelandic spar, and held it against the sunlight. "This is nature's way of turning CO2 into stone, in its most beautiful way," she said as tiny reflections of light from the rock danced on the walls around her.

"Once you have mineralized the CO2, it stays there forever."