News, August 12th

Amazon fires a ‘lie’, says Brazil’s Bolsonaro

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has said it is a “lie” that fires are ravaging the Amazon rainforest, despite data from his own government showing the number of blazes is rising.

The far-right leader has faced international condemnation for presiding over huge fires and rising deforestation in the Amazon — criticism he took issue with in a speech to a video conference of countries that share the world’s biggest rainforest.

“Tropical rainforest doesn’t catch fire. So, this story that the Amazon is burning is a lie, and we have to fight it with real numbers,” he said Tuesday.

Yet satellite data from Brazil’s national space agency, INPE, show the number of forest fires in the Brazilian Amazon last month rose 28 percent from July 2019, to 6,803.

Experts say the fires are typically not sparked naturally but set by humans to clear land illegally for farming and ranching.

Last year, huge fires devastated the Amazon from May to October, sending a thick haze of black smoke all the way to Sao Paulo, thousands of kilometers away.

The fires triggered worldwide alarm over a forest seen as vital to curbing climate change.

Experts warn this year’s dry season, which is just getting started, could see even more fires.

The scrutiny is pressuring Bolsonaro, who has called for protected Amazon lands to be opened up to mining and agriculture.

He has deployed the army to the Amazon basin, 60 percent of which is in Brazil, to fight fires and deforestation, declared a ban on agricultural fires and launched a task force to combat the problem.

He said that was producing results, pointing to a more than 25-percent reduction in deforestation year-on-year last month.

“We are making big, enormous efforts to fight fires and deforestation, but even so, we are criticized,” he told the meeting of the Leticia Pact, a group launched last year to protect the Amazon.

His government has been accused of cherry-picking data by trumpeting the July drop in deforestation.

Despite the one-month decline, deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon set a new record high in the first seven months of the year, according to INPE data.

Chicagoans rally in support of arrested after police shoot young Black man

On August 10, protesters gathered outside the 1st District – Central Police Station in Chicago’s South Loop to denounce the shooting of Latrell Allen and provide jail support to those arrested in the protests and unrest that followed. The event was organized by Black Lives Matter Chicago and kicked off with a speech from Ariel Atkins, an organizer with BLM Chicago.

Speaking in front of a banner which read “OUR FUTURES HAVE BEEN LOOTED FROM US… LOOT BACK,” Atkins called for the abolishment of the police saying, “The very foundation of the police is violent and racist. You cannot take the foundation out from under a building, it will fall apart. You cannot reform what has always, always been wrong. The only thing you can do is abolish it.”

Atkins urged people to focus on the root causes of the rage seen across the city. “I don’t care if someone decides to loot a Gucci or a Macy’s or a Nike store, because that makes sure that person eats, that makes sure that person has clothes,” she told the crowd.

Others in the crowd expressed similar sentiments. Josiah Plummer, a resident from the South Side of Chicago, told Liberation News; “I’m out here today to defend and protect Black lives. We know that we haven’t had justice in a long time and there is a lot of pain in our community, and so I’m out here to fight for the freedom of our people.” Plummer continued: “I hope to continue this fight, I hope to continue to fight for the liberation of our people.”

On August 9, Chicago police shot and wounded Allen in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood. Outraged community members demanded answers from officers on the scene. Chicago police responded by sending additional units to the neighborhood resulting in 150 officers on one street who immediately met community members with violence.

The Chicago Police Department claimed that officers were involved in a foot chase and were shot at but reports from community members contradict CPD’s account. In a later press conference, Officer Yolanda Talley indicated that the three officers involved in the shooting did not have their body-cameras turned on.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and city officials responded to Sunday night’s unrest in downtown Chicago with what has now become a common tactic, raising the bridges, and shutting down transportation into the city’s center. “The transportation bans downtown and Lori Lightfoot’s response this morning made it clear to me that the city values property over people, so I had to be out here today,” protester Adelai Abdelrazaq told Liberation News.

While more than one hundred dancing and chanting protesters held the space in front of the police station, around the corner others offered support, supplies, and rides to those being released from jail. “Six people have been released since 4 pm. We expect to be out here for many more hours tonight,” a protester called Gabriel told Liberation News at 9 pm. “The frequency of releases has increased since the larger crowd showed up,” she said.

Later in the rally, Atkins told Liberation News: “People are tired, they’re tired of being poor, they’re tired of being hungry, they’re tired of being ignored and unheard.” Expressing the widespread failures of the city to protect its residents Atkins continued: “The City has shown us over and over again that they do not care, that they would rather put money and time and effort into protecting property over actual people in the city who are suffering in the middle of a devastating pandemic.”

Could Covert War With Iran Become Overt Before November 3rd?

History’s a joke, right? We know that from our president who creates laughable moments of history daily – as when, reading from a script recently, he pronounced America’s famed Yosemite National Park “Yo-Semite.” In that context, let me bring up one of his favorite countries: I-Run. Its modern history, if anybody remembered anymore, would leave us all chuckling grimly. If you’re thinking about alternate futures (and you happened to remember the past), you might wonder what that country would have been like if, in 1953, the CIA and British intelligence hadn’t overthrown an elected secular democratic government there led by Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh at the very moment when he wanted to nationalize the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (now known as BP). They then reinstalled the autocratic young Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi in power along with his terrible secret police, the Savak.

What, you might wonder, would that nation have been like had it remained a secular democracy, had there been no need for masses of Iranians in revolt more than a quarter of a century later to pave the way for an exiled fundamentalist ayatollah named Khomeini to take power from the shah and turn Iran into an Islamic fundamentalist country? I mean, honestly, a democratic, secular Iran probably wouldn’t have been the country served up on a platter to Donald Trump as he came into office spouting anti-Islamic trash. And whatever it might have become, it probably wouldn’t have been the possible target for an “October surprise” either – as TomDispatch regular Bob Dreyfuss points out today – back in October 1980 or, potentially, in October 2020.

All these years since September 11, 2001, administrations in Washington have run a war on terror in response to the destruction created by 19 al-Qaeda hijackers, but we Americans so easily forget the terror we’ve visited on others in our years as a great imperial power. Think about that today, as you consider the possibility that the Iran that is, not the one that might have been, could become the target before November 3rd of far worse than the drone assassination of one of its leaders.

EU agrees MoU with 8 partners in support for COVID-19 fight

The European Union (EU) has agreed Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) with eight non-EU partners to help their businesses limit the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, the European Commission said on Tuesday (August 11).

As of Tuesday, MoU have already been agreed with Albania, Georgia, Jordan, Kosovo, Moldova, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Ukraine, the Commission said in a press release. Four of them, namely Kosovo, Moldova, North Macedonia, and Ukraine, have formally signed the documents.

The money for each partner is linked to specific actions, such as strengthening public finance and the resilience of the financial sector, improving governance, and fighting corruption, enhancing social protection, and addressing youth unemployment.

The Commission said the agreements were part of a package worth EUR3 billion (US$3.52 billion), which is available to ten enlargement and neighborhood partners. Negotiations of MoU with the remaining two partners, Bosnia, and Herzegovina (BiH) and Tunisia are underway.

“Supporting our neighbors is essential during this time of crisis to keep the entire region stable,” said Valdis Dombrovskis, the Commission’s executive vice president.

On April 22, when the EU member states were still fighting with the epidemic peaks, the Commission adopted a proposal for a EUR3 billion macro-financial assistance package to the ten partners. The funds will be made available in the form of loans on highly favorable terms to help the partners cover their immediate, urgent financing needs.

Head of Russian fund backing Sputnik coronavirus vaccine is fully confident it will work

The head of the Russian fund backing a coronavirus vaccine has declared his full confidence in the project — despite significant skepticism.

The country’s announcement comes weeks after the U.S., UK and Canada accused Russian hackers of trying to steal their research into Covid-19. And before Russia has completed the conventional three phases of trials.

Kirill Dmitriev, head of the Russian Direct Investment Fund backing the vaccine called Sputnik V said he has full confidence in the scientists involved in the project and their techniques honed over long years of studying Ebola.

“We’re being attacked for not doing it long enough,” he told Fox News. “We’re also being attacked by the lobby of pharma companies and by some politicians. The scientists who understand it know the credibility of our institute is strong because it’s one of the best institutes in the world for vaccines.  We may not be strong in some other areas, but in vaccines, Russia is strong.”

Dmitriev says he has also used the vaccine himself and on his family, including his septuagenarian parents.

He recalled key moments in the history of Russian science and medicine. Russian leader Catherine the Great was one of the earliest believers in the idea of vaccine, having brought an English doctor all the way to St. Petersburg to inoculate herself and her son against the smallpox that was running roughshod across the country in 1768. She took a cutting-edge treatment and apparently had a team of horses on hand in case things went wrong and that doctor had to be spirited out of the country to avoid a lynching.

Dmitriev explained that the new vaccine works on a dual vector system, the administration of two different adenoviruses that deliver a corona-shaped protein and is produced by the Gamelaya Institute.

The World Health Organization has not received full information on Russia’s potential COVID-19 vaccine and as such cannot evaluate it. “Accelerating vaccine research should be done following established processes through every step of development, to ensure that any vaccines that eventually go into production are both safe and effective,” the WHO, a United Nations agency, said in a statement. “WHO is in touch with Russian scientists and authorities and looks forward to reviewing details of the trials.”

The U.K.-based Science Media Centre posted reaction to Russia’s announcement from several professors. Many expressed concerns about a lack of transparency in the process and that the Russians were rushing it.

Dmitriev said the vaccine has gone through phases one and two of the standard three phases, but some question whether in fact they’ve actually gone that far.

Phase three is meant to last months and typically detects side effects as well as how effective the vaccine is against the broadest sample.

Danny Altman, Professor of Immunology at Imperial College of London wrote: “The collateral damage from the release of any vaccine that was less than safe and effective would exacerbate our current problems insurmountably…we are all in this together.”

Dr. Ohid Yaqub of the University of Sussex spoke to the notion of “vaccine nationalism,” writing:

“I would hope other countries are not drawn into such pork-barrel nationalism…. decision making should be published, open to scrutiny and free from flag waving.  We should resist allowing vaccine development to be used as a measure of national scientific prowess.”

Sputnik was the world’s first satellite launched into orbit and set off a space race.

No doubt Putin would like to save the world from COVID-19. He wouldn’t be the only one.

Dmitriev insisted Russia wants to work together on cures and treatments with other countries.

“We believe we should have a political ceasefire about coronavirus, about vaccines. We are humans after all,” he said. “We are humans first and citizens of our countries second.”

Russia has seen more than 900,000 cases and over 15,000 deaths from COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic.

Real Life Heroes: heading into disaster, in the service of others

Growing up in Indonesia in the shadow of an active volcano, Agus Haryono has witnessed the deadly risks of living in a disaster-prone region. This prompted him to join the country’s Search and Rescue Agency, in the hope of saving lives, when disaster strikes.

Mr. Haryono was born in Klaten, a small town in Central Java, near Mount Merapi. Many people live on the flanks of the mountain, even though it is the most active volcano in the country and has claimed many lives during its frequent eruptions.

“When I was young, I dreamed of being a soldier, because I thought that soldiers are tough, brave and loyal. Because of my poor eyesight, I had to give up that dream, and instead joined the Ministry of Transport after graduating from college.

Whilst there, I found out about maritime search and rescue (SAR) and realized that saving the lives of others is a very noble profession. Rescuers would fight to save people they don’t know, and even sacrifice themselves in the attempt. Today, I’m the Deputy Director of Search and Rescue at Indonesia’s Search and Rescue Agency.

Growing up in Klaten, disaster is something usual for me. The threats to my hometown don’t only come from Mt Merapi, but also from earthquakes. Situated in “the ring of fire”, an area of the Pacific Ocean Basin which sees many earthquakes and volcanoes, Indonesia is a disaster-prone country.

The Search and Rescue Agency was set up in 1972, the year I was born, to provide 24-hour assistance, in case of aviation and maritime accidents, natural disasters as well as other life-threatening situations.

The most shocking earthquake to hit my region struck on May 27, 2006, claiming some 5,800 lives, and causing severe damages to buildings. Another shocking volcanic strike on October 26, 2010 when Mount Merapi erupted, killing around 353 of Klaten’s inhabitants.

I saw with my own eyes how such a catastrophe can change someone’s life, the desperation and hopelessness when family members and property are lost. At these moments, they need the assistance and care of others to rise up again.

Working as a humanitarian has taught me about caring, empathy, cooperation, and brotherhood, regardless of race and nationality.

I’m 47 now, which might sound too old to be a rescuer, but what matters is having a strong spirit, and the will  to give the best service to other people who are in the need of assistance, particularly, those whose lives are in imminent danger.

Saving lives is not a matter of heroism, it is about our commitment to humanity, and trying to give back, and giving others the opportunity to live their lives. There is no happier moment than when you can return someone to their family, alive.”

Urgent pumping removes oil from ship grounded near Mauritius

In a race against tides and time, workers pumped tons of fuel on Tuesday from a Japanese bulk carrier ship grounded in the shallow waters of Mauritius to try to prevent a renewed oil spill from further fouling the island’s eastern lagoons and shore.

The Japanese ship, MV Wakashio, ran aground on a coral reef about a mile off Mauritius on July 25, and prolonged pounding by heavy surf caused the vessel to crack about two weeks later. It spilled an estimated 1,000 tons of oil — about a quarter of the ship’s total cargo — into the Indian Ocean, polluting the island’s once pristine coastline.

Although the oil leak was stopped, the ship’s hull was continuing to crack, prompting fears that the remaining fuel would gush into the sea.

By Tuesday, about 1,000 tons of the fuel had been pumped out of the stranded ship into small tankers nearby, according to a statement from the Wakashio’s owner, Nagashiki Shipping. About 1,800 tons of fuel remained on the ship by midday and with efforts continuing, some experts expressed hope that all the fuel could be emptied from the ship before it breaks up.

“The situation is very tight. The pumping is continuing non-stop,” said Sunil Dowarkasing, an environmental consultant and former member of parliament who was at the scene. “If all the oil can be successfully removed from the ship that would prevent any increase in the destruction, which is already an environmental disaster.”

The ship’s owners confirmed that the cracks inside the ship’s hull had expanded. “The situation is being continuously monitored by a professional team of salvors,” said the statement. “Since this ship is unable to navigate by itself, a tow connection has been established between a tug and the Wakashio, in order to secure the vessel so that it will not drift.”

Of the 1,000 tons of oil that seeped from the ship, about 460 tons had been scooped out of the ocean, said the statement.

Mauritius Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth said his government is working with the ship’s owners to try to prevent any further spillage. He thanked the thousands of volunteers who are working to contain the spread of the oil and to begin cleaning the shores.

A team of French experts is assisting the efforts. France sent a navy ship, military aircraft and technical advisers after Mauritius appealed for international help Friday.

The ship ran aground on July 25 but work to remove the oil it was carrying only started last week when the hull cracked and started emptying the fuel into the sea, according to Dowarkasing.

Jugnauth’s government is under pressure to explain why it did not take immediate action to avert the environmental disaster. Jugnauth has declared the oil spill a national emergency, but some residents say he acted too late.

The opposition and activists are calling for the resignation of the environment and fisheries ministers.

US media dismisses “COVID-19 lab conspiracy” after being given access to Wuhan Institute of Virology

Ever since COVID-19 began spreading uncontrollably across the US, the White House and several US politicians have attempted to deflect away from their own failure in responding to the pandemic by coming up with conspiracy theories, one of which involved blaming the Wuhan Institute of Virology for leaking the virus. In response to these groundless accusations, the institute on Friday granted access to NBC news, allowing its journalists to meet with senior Chinese scientists working to pinpoint the origins of the virus, and gave them a tour of the facility.

During the roughly five-hour visit, which included a tour of the BSL-4 lab, where technicians clad in protective suits handled small vials and other equipment while sealed inside a thick-walled glass enclosure, Wang Yanyi, director of the Wuhan Institute of Virology, said she and others felt they were being unfairly targeted. She said that politics should not hamper investigations into how the coronavirus became transmitted to humans. NBC news later aired a report titled “Inside the Chinese lab central to the search for the coronavirus’ origin”, in which US reporters drew the conclusion that the White House’s accusation against China lacked any solid evidence.

According to the article, the White House has shown no credible proof to back up claims that the coronavirus was either manufactured at or accidentally leaked from the lab, and neither have any other sources. However, Trump continues to add fuel to this idea, often through the use of racist rhetoric, by regularly referring to the pathogen as the “China virus,” the “Wuhan virus” or “kung flu.” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has repeated similar claims, also without providing proof.

“In April, current and former U.S. intelligence officials told NBC News that the U.S. intelligence community was examining whether the virus emerged accidentally from the Wuhan lab. Spy agencies had ruled out that the coronavirus was man-made, the officials said at the time. Democrats in Congress who have asked administration officials to provide information about any such associations say their requests have been ignored,” noted the article.

During the interview with NBC News, Wang said that none of the institute’s scientists had contracted the virus, which she said made it extremely unlikely that the pathogen could have escaped from the facility.

Her statement was supported by Peter Daszak, president of EcoHealth Alliance, a New York City-based nonprofit dedicated to studying and preventing pandemics, which worked with the Wuhan institute for 16 years until the U.S. government cut funding this year. He also rejected the idea that the virus could have leaked from the lab.

“The fact that they published the sequence so quickly suggests to me that they weren’t trying to cover up anything,” he told NBC.

There is “absolutely zero evidence that it escaped from a lab,” he added.

In May, the director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Anthony Fauci, told National Geographic that he discounted the idea that the virus had accidentally escaped from a lab.

Wang said the institute will “fully support” the World Health Organization, which has dispatched a team to China to interview scientists in Wuhan and develop a framework to investigate the origin of the coronavirus. She also called for more international collaboration to this end.

US Revises Iran Arms Embargo Plan, Hopes to Avoid Vetoes

The Trump Administration has offered a substantially revised draft on a call for the UN to extend the Iran arms embargo. The new draft is substantially different from the June version, which was 35 paragraphs, and is now down to four.

The goal seems to be to limit debate and avoid vetoes from Russia and China by removing as much as possible. A veto is still a foregone conclusion, with Russia planning sales as soon as the embargo expires.

Removed from this latest draft was a lot of extraneous language that entitled nations to search Iranian cargo just in case, and several provisions condemning Iran for various US grievances over the past year.

Iran has been prohibited from buying defensive weapons systems since 2010, and a number of those systems are expected to be Russian made, with Russian air defenses a priority as US and Israeli threats continue apace.

Why Joe Biden picked Kamala Harris as his VP running mate

When Joe Biden, Democratic candidate for the 2020 US presidential election, announced the name of US Senator Kamala Harris, a biracial woman with Jamaican and Indian heritage, as his vice-presidential pick, the Indian Diaspora and Indians went into a jubilant mood. Sharp and witty, and known for his senatorial inquisition of Trump loyalists, she is a progressive face in US politics. But truth be told, it is her African roots from her father’s side that might have forced Biden’s hand to pick an adversary he was battling on his race to win the Democratic nominations.

African Americans make up 13.4 per cent of the US population whereas the Indian origin people are still less than one per cent. Harris fits the role perfectly. Harris has a glowing record as a prosecutor in California and graduated from Howard University in Washington D.C., a historically Black college. She belongs to a prestigious Black sorority from a campus which in American parlance is often called the “Black Harvard”. She can rally that constituency in her defense when the Trumpistas start veering from politics into personal attacks, a Republican trademark that saw Michelle Obama being called an ‘ape’ in the run-up to Barack Obama’s first presidential bid.

Harris happens to be the first Indian American woman and only the second Black woman in history to serve in the US Senate. She is only the fourth woman in US history and the first Indian American and Black woman to be chosen for one of the presidential tickets.

But with this move, Biden may have prevented a huddling of Indian American votes and resources (Indian Americans typically are part of the richest section of the American people) in the Republican camp, duly aided by the Trump-Modi bonhomie, the groundwork of which is being done by the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh, the international wing of the RSS. If the HSS had made headways into bringing Indian Americans into the Republican fold by co-opting politicians like right-wing Hindu Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, as shown by independent journalist Pieter Friedrich, this move by Biden certainly galvanizes a large section of the Indian Diaspora who are not ideologically right-wing and have traditionally been Democratic supporters.

Kamala’s mother, Shyamala Gopalan, was born in Chennai and moved to the US to attend a doctoral program at UC Berkeley. A mixed-race heritage allows Harris to connect across identity silos and reach multiple voting blocs.

In an interview to Aziz Haniffa in India Abroad, a US-based newspaper for the Indian Diaspora, on August 26, 2009, a part of which has been reproduced by CNN, Harris said, “I believe that one of the benefits of having traveled the world and having known different cultures is that you really understand and see very clearly that people, whoever they are, whatever language they speak, have so much more in common than they do differences.” That’s inclusion she is talking about.

In the same interview, Harris also underlines the importance of her Indian roots: “My mother was very proud of her Indian heritage and taught us, me, and my sister Maya, to share in the pride about our culture. We used to go back to India every couple of years. One of the most influential people in my life, in addition to my mother, was my grandfather P.V. Gopalan, who actually held a post in India that was like the secretary of state position in this country. My grandfather was one of the original Independence fighters in India, and some of my fondest memories from childhood were walking along the beach with him after he retired and lived in Besant Nagar, in what was then called Madras.

He would take walks every morning along the beach with his buddies who were all retired government officials and they would talk about politics, about how corruption must be fought and about justice. They would laugh and voice opinions and argue, and those conversations, even more than their actions, had such a strong influence on me in terms in terms of learning to be responsible, to be honest, and to have integrity. When we think about it, India is the oldest democracy in the world—so that is part of my background, and without question has had a great deal of influence on what I do today and who I am.”

Harris has been an outspoken backer of the Black Lives Matter movement which gathered storm in the US after the horrific video-taped death of Black American George Floyd in the hands of a white police officer in Minneapolis in May. Harris joined protesters on the streets of Washington and a week ago, she scored a crucial endorsement when civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who represents George Floyd’s family, backed her.

Biden was always under pressure to pick an African American. A biracial and progressive woman allowed him to tick all the right slots: Black, Indian, South Asian and woman.

Published by jim

Curator of things...

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