Red Scarves in France; women have been taking the Pill wrong for 60 years; Speaker Pelosi gets invited to visit the border wall
Facebook consolidates; Canada fires its Chinese Ambassador as US government reopens; environmental politics threaten Alberta Heritage Site
Italy's migrant crisis continues; Australia's heatwave and the fate of Amelia Earhart; family drama in Canada
Davos hypocrisy; Pelosi refuses the higher ground; Microsoft censors conservative news sites
Deciem’s innovative founder dead at 40; the politicization of food; bold moves from the NRA and Dyson
Anti-globalist pushback; dragging the Queen into Brexit; Google receives the world’s largest ever fine
Canadian populism; Europe faces new and old authoritarianism; government threats to personal freedom
Speaker Pelosi’s and Prince Phillip’s transportation trouble; food allergies; religious persecution and political corruption
More censorship from Google; coffee in crisis; defending borders and economic competitiveness
‘The parrot is dead’; justice and democracy in America and Brazil; Gillette asks men to be their best.
Economic sanctions; Canadian grandstanding; Brexit showdown; the Alberta Advantage.
A new Eurozone recession with democracy in turmoil; Venezuela’s Millennial opposition leader has changed the game; Beijing rage rooms.
Former head of MI6 says the Brexit deal threatens national security
Sir Richard Dearlove and the United Kingdom’s (UK) former Chief of Defence and head of MI6 Lord Guthrie together took the unprecedented step of writing to Conservative Association chairmen, describing Prime Minister Theresa May’s deal as a “bad agreement” and accused the European Union (EU) of demanding a £39billion “ransom”. Lord Guthrie called on Members of Parliament (MPs) to block the Prime Minister’s Brexit withdrawal agreement, warning it “threatens national security”.
Their letter states: “Your MP will shortly be called upon to support the Prime Minister's withdrawal agreement. As a former chief of the secret intelligence service, with my colleague Lord Guthrie, who served as chief of the defence staff shortly before I was in charge of MI6, we are taking the unprecedented step of writing to all Conservative Party Chairmen to advise and to warn you that this withdrawal agreement, if not defeated, will threaten the national security of the country in fundamental ways. Please ensure that your MP does not vote for this bad agreement.”
Citing a letter Sir Richard and Falklands War veteran Major General Julian Thompson wrote to PM May on November 29, the former defence chiefs claim the withdrawal agreement “threatens to change our national security policy by binding us into new sets of EU-controlled relationships”. They add: “Buried in the agreement is the offer of a 'new, deep and special relationship' with the EU in defence, security and intelligence which cuts across the three fundamentals of our national security policy: membership of NATO, our close bilateral defence and intelligence relationship with the USA, and the Five Eyes intelligence alliance. “The first duty of the state, above trade, is the security of its citizens. The Withdrawal Agreement abrogates this fundamental contract and would place control of aspects of our national security in foreign hands. Please ensure that your MP votes against this bad agreement and supports a sovereign Brexit on WTO rules, without payment of ransom.”
In their joint letter of November 29, Sir Richard and Major General Thompson argued that PM May’s deal was the “exact opposite of the people's instruction to take back control”, claiming it surrenders British national security by subordinating UK defence forces to military EU control and compromising UK intelligence capabilities. Arguing it places the vital Five Eye Alliance “at risk”, the letter, which was published in a national newspaper, dubbed the European Commission an “undemocratic organisation” that had “demonstrated how untrustworthy and hostile towards the UK” it is by “using the Irish border as a weapon”.
Urging PM May to leave the EU on WTO terms, it warned the British public to “ignore the hysterical demonisation of this course of action by the current Project Fear”, insisting “no risks are greater than the withdrawal agreement's terms of surrender”. Number 10 issued a swift rebuttal of the letter, insisting there would be “no subordination” and that “every sector, nation and region would be better off with this deal than in a no-deal scenario”. It denied the £39billion was a ransom, saying it was a “fair settlement of our obligations as a departing member of the EU”.
In the latest letter to Conservative chairman, Sir Richard insisted he and Major General Thompson had repudiated Number 10’s “worryingly poor understanding of the issues”, adding: “Number 10's immediate response to our letter showed we had touched a raw nerve."
U.S. Secretary Pompeo rebukes Obama’s Middle East policy, saying the ‘age of self-inflicted American shame is over'
American Secretary of State Mike Pompeo criticized former President Barack Obama’s foreign policy, declaring that “the age of self-inflicted American shame is over.” While not mentioning Obama by name, Secretary Pompeo said that “it was here, in this city, another American stood before you” and “told you that radical Islamist terrorism does not stem from ideology.” He delivered his remarks in Cairo, where Obama famously spoke in 2009 and promised a new beginning with Muslim and Arab countries, criticized by conservatives for placing too much blame on the U.S. for strife in the region. Secretary Pompeo’s speech comes as part of a tour of the region, including Jordan and other Gulf nations, as he seeks to coordinate an anti-Iran strategy. It follows President Trump’s decision last month to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria, leading to concern from some allies in the region about U.S. commitments.
Secretary Pompeo the American University in Cairo, “He told you that 9/11 led my country to abandon its ideals, particularly in the Middle East. He told you that the United States and the Muslim world needed ‘a new beginning.’ The results of these misjudgments have been dire.” Secretary Pompeo said that under Obama, the U.S. abandoned its allies and was “timid” about asserting itself, that the U.S. “grossly underestimated the tenacity and viciousness of radical Islamism,” and kept silent as Iranians tried to rise up against the regime in Tehran. He also criticized Obama-era policy for “wishful thinking [that] led us to look the other way” as Hezbollah built up its weaponry in Lebanon, and for doing nothing as Syrian President Bashar Assad gassed his own people.
Secretary Pompeo then took another swipe at the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, from which the U.S. withdrew last year. The U.S. has since re-imposed economic sanctions on the country, including on oil exports. “Our eagerness to address only Muslims, not nations, ignored the rich diversity of the Middle East, and frayed old bonds. It undermined the concept of the nation-state, the building block of international stability,” he said, “And our desire for peace at any cost led us to strike a deal with Iran, our common enemy.”
The speech emphasized America as a force for good in the region, and Secretary Pompeo cited accomplishments under President Trump’s leadership, including the pushback of Islamic State, the withdrawal of more troops and personnel from Iraq and Saudi Arabia, and building a coalition to push back against Iranian influence. He said, “We have rediscovered our voice. We have rebuilt our relationships. We have rejected false overtures from enemies. And look at what we have accomplished together.”
He promised his audience that the Trump administration was ushering in a new era of U.S. foreign policy, saying, “The good news is this: The age of self-inflicted American shame is over, and so are the policies that produced so much needless suffering. Now comes the real ‘new beginning.’ Our aim is to partner with our friends and vigorously oppose our enemies, because a strong, secure, and economically viable Middle East is in our national interest – and yours,” he said. “Let me be clear: America will not retreat until the terror fight is over.”
Something very strange is happening to Earth's magnetic North Pole and no one knows why
According to the science journal Nature, something strange is going on deep down below the Earth’s surface that is causing the magnetic North Pole to ‘skitter’ away from Canada, towards Siberia, reporting, “The magnetic pole is moving so quickly that it has forced the world’s geomagnetism experts into a rare move.”
The World Magnetic Model, which governs modern navigation systems, is due to undergo an urgent update on January 30. This model is a vital component of systems ranging from geopositioning systems used to navigate ships through to smartphone trackers and maps. The current model was expected to be valid until 2020, but the magnetic pole began to shift so quickly that the model need the update immediately. “They realized that it was so inaccurate that it was about to exceed the acceptable (safe) limit for navigational errors,” Nature reports.
Every year, geophysicists from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the British Geological Survey do a check on how the Earth’s magnetic field is varying, which is necessary as the liquid iron churning in the Earth’s core does not move in a consistent manner. “In 2016, for instance, part of the magnetic field temporarily accelerated deep under northern South America and the eastern Pacific Ocean,” Nature reports, as this shift was captured by satellites.
The movement of the north magnetic pole has been the object of study since 1831. Initially, it was tracked moving into the Arctic Ocean at a rate of about 15km each year. Since the mid 1990s, it has picked up speed and is now shifting at a rate of about 55km a year. Another recent study has revealed the Earth’s magnetic field has been acting up now for some 1,000 years.
Nature reports, “Geomagnetic pulses, like the one that happened in 2016, might be traced back to ‘hydromagnetic’ waves arising from deep in the core. And the fast motion of the north magnetic pole could be linked to a high-speed jet of liquid iron beneath Canada”. This fast-flowing molten river appears to be weakening the magnetic influence of the iron core beneath North America. “The location of the north magnetic pole appears to be governed by two large-scale patches of magnetic field, one beneath Canada and one beneath Siberia,” Phil Livermore of the University of Leeds told an American Geophysical Union meeting. “The Siberian patch is winning the competition.”
In the world's 'happiest countries,' an increasing number of young people suffer from mental health issues
In international rankings, Australia, New Zealand, Finland and other Nordic nations often come out on top in terms of quality of life, education, or healthcare. When the United Nations released its annual World Happiness Report last year, these countries made it to the Top 10 once again. Surprisingly, however, is that they also led in another, less favourable recent statistic on the ratio of citizens affected by mental health disorders. A separate 2017 study by the World Health Organization concluded that citizens of Australia, Americans, Ukrainians, and Estonians, were more likely to develop depression than people living anywhere else in the world. Other strongly affected nations included New Zealand and Nordic states such as Finland and Denmark.
Studies with a slightly different research focus or methodology have observed similarly severe or even worse mental health issues among children growing up in poorer countries such as India, and it is likely that mental health issues are substantially underreported in many developing nations.
The mental health crisis that increasingly appears to affect young people from wealthier countries has baffled scientists more than other findings that could be explained by inequality or poverty. Australia became the latest country to announce new efforts to combat the growing problem this week, promising Wednesday to fund mental health programs for young people with an additional AUD $34 million. “I want our young people to know they are not alone on their journey,” Health Minister Greg Hunt said, according to a government news release.
Researchers acknowledge that the reasons young people are increasingly anxious or depressed are still not fully understood, but recent studies have cited the use of social media and perceptions of not being able to fulfill expectations of employers, friends, or partners. Numbers collected by the Mission Australia charity from two years ago already showed a sharp increase in the number of young Australians suffering from mental illness, with about 23 percent of 15 to 19-year-olds impacted. More recently, a government study similarly concluded that about 25 percent of all 16- to 24-year-old Australians are believed to struggle with mental illnesses every year. “We are talking about an alarming number of young people facing serious mental illness, often in silence and without accessing the help they need,” said Catherine Yeomans, Mission Australia’s then-CEO.
The same trend was reported in Sweden, where young citizens were 20 percent more likely to be prescribed anxiety medications in 2013 than they were in 2006. Meanwhile, Finnish researchers have observed an even more severe jump in the years since then. In Helsinki alone, the number of children being treated for mental health issues more than doubled within a decade. In Sweden and in some of the other Nordic countries, researchers concluded that mounting mental health problems among younger people are resulting in a widening life satisfaction gap between generations.
“People in the Nordic region are generally happier than people in other regions of the world, but despite this there are in fact also people in Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden who report to be struggling or even suffering,” wrote the authors of the report ‘In the Shadow of Happiness’, which was released by the Nordic Council of Ministers last year. While 12.3 percent of all Nordic region residents said they were struggling or suffering, that ratio was more than one percentage point higher among 18 to 23-year-olds.
Other researchers caution that growing mental health issues among young people might not be necessarily limited to residents of the nations that perform the best in global statistics, such as Australia and Finland. They say that respondents in countries such as Australia, Sweden, and Finland, where access to health care is relatively easy, may be simply more likely to self-report signs of mental illness, skewing the comparability of those rankings and perhaps hiding a more global trend.
U.S. weekly jobless claims showcase economy's strength
A new report from the United States (U.S.) Labor Department showed that in December 2018, employers hired the most workers within the last ten months and increased wages. The number of Americans filing applications for jobless benefits fell more than expected last week, pointing to sustained labor market strength that could further assuage concerns about the economy’s health. Initial claims for state unemployment benefits fell 17,000 to a seasonally adjusted 216,000 for the week ended January 5. Data for the prior week was revised up to show 2,000 more applications received than previously reported.
The economy created 312,000 jobs in December. The unemployment rate rose two-tenths of a percentage point to 3.9 percent as some unemployed Americans piled into the labor market, confident of their job prospects. Claims were boosted in the week ending December 29 as workers furloughed because of a partial shutdown of the U.S. government applied for benefits. The federal government partially closed on December 22 as President Donald Trump demanded that the U.S. Congress give him USD $5.7 billion this year to help build a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico.
The shutdown, which has affected a quarter of the government, including the Commerce Department, has left 800,000 employees furloughed or working without pay. Private contractors working for many government agencies are also not getting paid. Claims by federal workers are reported separately and with a one-week lag. The number of federal employees filing for jobless benefits increased by 3,831 to 4,760 in the week ending December 29. Furloughed federal government workers can submit claims for unemployment benefits, but payment would depend on whether Congress decides to pay their salaries retroactively.
Steep declines in consumer and manufacturing activity in December had stoked fears that the economy was rapidly losing momentum against the backdrop of tightening financial market conditions and slowing global growth. While labor market strength suggests the economy remains on a solid path of expansion, tighter financial market conditions and cooling global growth could make the Federal Reserve cautious about raising interest rates this year. Minutes of the U.S. central bank’s December 18-19 policy meeting published on Wednesday showed “many” officials were of the view that the Fed “could afford to be patient about further policy firming.” The Fed has forecast two rate hikes this year. Fed Chairman Jerome Powell and several policymakers have said they would be patient and flexible in policy decisions this year.
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PM Trudeau calls three byelections for February 25 in B.C., Ontario, and Quebec
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has called three federal byelections to be held on February 25. The three ridings in which constituents will be voting in a new Member of Parliament (MP) are Burnaby South, British Columbia, Outremont, Quebec, and York–Simcoe, Ontario.
The Burnaby South seat was vacated by NDP MP Kennedy Stewart, who resigned to successfully run for election as mayor of Vancouver on October 20, 2018. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is running for the seat against Liberal nominee Karen Wang (daycare owner), Conservative nominee Jay Shin (corporate lawyer), and People's Party of Canada nominee Laura-Lynn Thompson (author and media personality). The Green Party chose to extend Mr. Singh a “leader’s courtesy” and not run a candidate against him.
Mr. Singh has been leader of the federal New Democrats since October 2017. After spending months touring the country meeting with people and saying he was comfortable with not having a seat in the House of Commons, Mr. Singh decided it was time to try to get elected federally and be in Parliament for key political moments, such as Question Period.
A Prime Minister has up to 180 days to call a byelection after a seat is vacated. The recently-passed election reform bill C-76 changed the rules to state that a byelection cannot be called within nine months of the scheduled general election date, which is expected to be October 21, 2019.
PM Trudeau has faced pressure from Mr. Singh and Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer to call these byelection races, criticizing him for delaying the byelections, accusing him of playing politics, and being petty for not holding votes to fill these vacancies earlier. "Voters in these vacant seats deserve the chance to have their voices heard," Mr. Scheer said in a statement last Friday.
The Montreal riding of Outremont was left vacant in August, by the resignation of former NDP leader Tom Mulcair. There, formal president of the Canadian Council for International Co-operation Julia Sanchez is running for the NDP, facing off against past candidate and Liberal staffer Rachel Bendayan, and Conservative Candidate Jasmine Louras.
The Ontario riding of York-Simcoe was left vacant by the September resignation of Conservative MP Peter Van Loan. It’s a long-held Conservative riding, where the defending party is running business owner Scot Davidson. The Liberal candidate is Shaun Tanaka, professor and past federal candidate, and community organizer Jessa McLean is running for the NDP.
There is one outstanding vacancy, in former NDP MP Sheila Malcolmson’s Nanaimo-Ladysmith, B.C. riding. She officially resigned her seat this week, following her announcement she would be running for the provincial NDP. That byelection will have to be announced sometime between January 18 and July 6. Liberal MP Nicola Di Iorio has also said he will be resigning on January 22, days after the window closes on the possibility to hold a byelection to replace him.
Italy’s Minister Salvini says populists could spark a 'European Spring'
Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Matteo Salvini called for an alliance with Poland among others during a visit to Warsaw, ahead of European Parliament elections this May. This was his latest effort to unify Eurosceptic allies against the pro-E.U. French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Minister Salvini’s Italian League party pledges to create a “new European spring” and work supportively with Poland’s government.
The Minister vowed to forge a “new equilibrium” that would challenge the traditional pro-EU axis between Paris and Berlin, saying, "The Europe that will be born in June will have a different pace compared to the one of today, which is guided by bureaucrats." Speaking alongside his Polish counterpart, Joachim Brudzinski, he continued to say, "In Europe, one has always spoken about a French-German axis. We are preparing for a new equilibrium and a new energy in Europe. And Poland and Italy will be the protagonists of this new European spring, of this rebirth of true European values." Echoing former chief strategist to Donald Trump, Steve Bannon, Minister Salvini said that some E.U. leaders tried to deny Europe's "Judeo-Christian origins.”
Minister Salvini and the Polish government are both in opposition to illegal migration and criticize the E.U.’s ability via Brussels to impose rules on national budgets. During his visit to Poland, Minister Salvini was highly critical of a deal reached during the day to allow 49 migrants to disembark from two non-governmental organization (NGO) rescue ships in Malta. He said he was opposed to the E.U.-brokered deal, saying that it would only encourage human traffickers in Libya to smuggle more migrants across the sea.
“I am, and I will remain, absolutely against any new arrivals in Italy. I will continue to work to expel the far too many illegals who are already in this country. To give in to pressure and threats from Europe and from the NGOs is a sign of weakness that is not worthy of the Italian people,” he wrote on Twitter, his position at odds with Giuseppe Conte, Italy’s prime minister, who welcomed an end to the impasse.
Additionally, the right-wing political party Vox agreed to support a conservative/center-right coalition with Ciudadanos in the formation of a regional government in Andalusia, Spain, the country’s most populous region. Twelve of Vox’s candidates won election in December, against expectations that the traditional stronghold for the Socialist Party would prevail. In return for its support, Vox made a 37-point agreement with the conservative People’s Party (PP) that includes commitments to tackle illegal immigration, reduce regional taxes, and combat Islamic fundamentalism. “Today illegal immigration and corruption lose (...) and the Andalusians, the defense of the family and a more pluralistic politics win,” said Vox Deputy Leader Javier Ortega. “The Andalusians have chosen a government of change to put an end to 40 years of awful socialist policies, and (PP coalition leader Juanma Moreno) is not going to let them down,” PP Leader Pablo Casado wrote on Twitter.
Further elections will be held in Spain this year, with polls showing that the right of center political parties could also win seats in other parts of the country.
Divisions and policy confusion in Brazil’s new government
In his government’s first week, Brazil’s new President Jair Bolsonaro faced divisions between his political and economic teams over plans to overhaul a messy tax code and costly pension system to bring a high budget deficit under control.
President Bolsonaro’s comments in interviews and Twitter posts have been at odds with senior aides, which has supposedly concerned investors who expected the government to arrive focused on a swift pension reform to shore up its finances before tackling an array of hot-button social issues and foreign policy proposals. President Bolsonaro told reporters he was increasing the tax on financial operations and cutting the highest income tax rate, prompting a quick denial from an undersecretary to Economy Minister Paulo Guedes, with Chief of Staff Onyx Lorenzoni later, saying the President was mistaken.
Investors had been pleased at the team of orthodox economists assembled by Minister Guedes, many of whom are fellow alumni of the University of Chicago’s free-market school of economics. Investors fear the government will turn first to the social issues dear to President Bolsonaro’s conservative electoral base, burning political capital needed for the unpopular pension reform.
Brazil's stock market has been one of the best performing in the world over the past six months, with the benchmark Bovespa stock index .BVSP climbing 25 percent as President Bolsonaro won election in October and appointed his market-friendly cabinet. Wednesday saw a record high for the Bovespa. “Optimism about the new Brazilian government is adding to the global scenario,” the President said on Twitter.
President Bolsonaro had proposed in an interview with the SBT television network that the new minimum retirement age would be 62 for men and 57 for women, higher than now but lower than ages proposed by the previous government. Investors read that as a sign that he could water down the bill written by the prior government to limit the political costs, easing passage through Congress but requiring further legislation down the road. Minister Guedes has said he favors a tougher proposal that may be politically difficult but would make a larger and more lasting impact on public debt, which has soared to 77 percent of gross domestic product.
“The political and economic teams are at odds. There is a lack of cohesion and even coordination between President Bolsonaro’s closest aides,” said Leonardo Barreto, head of Brasilia-based political consultancy Factual. He also said Minister Guedes is taking an all-or-nothing approach to fiscal reforms, while Chief of Staff Lorenzoni has signaled he would make concessions to lawmakers to shore up political support. The contradictions highlight broader tensions in Bolsonaro’s government, which brings together statist former military officers, right-wing nationalists, the Chicago-trained economists, and Christian evangelicals, all of whom have different priorities within the coalition.
French Ex-Sarkozy Minister leaves the conservative party to join Marine Le Pen
Two politicians, including an ex-minister from Nicolas Sarkozy’s former government, have left France’s conservative party to join Leader Marine Le Pen’s National Front after she dropped a demand for the country to quit the European Union (E.U.). Thierry Mariani’s defection marks a coup for Le Pen as he is the most senior member of Les Republicains (LR) that her Rassemblement National (RN) party has poached, and “It’s an important event because its part of the reshaping of politics,” Le Pen said on Radio Classique. Former conservative lawmaker Jean-Paul Garraud also defected.
The defection underscores the challenge faced by Les Republicains as the party tries to recover from President Emmanuel Macron’s emphatic national election win in 2017, which took votes from the center-right parties, and create dominance among the fragmented political right. Opinion polls place Ms. Le Pen’s party at about 21 percent support, ahead of President Macron’s Republique En Marche (LREM) party, in voting intentions. Les Republicains are at 13 percent. Republicains Leader Laurent Wauquiez, who served as transport minister under Mr. Sarkozy between 2010 and 2012, told Le Parisien newspaper, “Marine Le Pen represents the only true alternative to Macron.”
Ms. Le Pen told Valeurs Actuelles magazine that France’s “yellow vest” protests had also exposed “convergences” of opinion between her party and the far-left La France Insoumise (France Unbowed). Both parties have supported the movement that has been protesting the high cost of living since mid-November, although Le Pen said they remain poles apart on immigration. Les Republicains have become more closely aligned to the Rassemblement National on issues such as immigration and law and order. That has bolstered the appeal of Le Pen to some on the fringe of the mainstream party while also alienating more moderate figures.
Former Prime Minister Alain Juppe distanced himself from Les Republicains last week by not renewing his membership, saying, “There is a drift toward theses that are very close to the extreme right, and an ambiguity about Europe that I am not comfortable with.” He said he believed it was Macron who was going in the right direction.
Prince Charles’ charitable foundation funds yoga and meditation for young prisoners
The Prince of Wales’ Charitable Foundation’s (PWCF) distributes funds to the charities closest to the heir to the throne’s heart. The Prince’s Foundation went through a restructure to streamline around his 70th birthday, when he said, “As I approach something of a milestone in my own life, I have had a chance to reflect on how best to ensure my charities can continue to help those people and causes they were initially set up to serve, both now and for many years to come.” The Foundation gave out £4.4million in grants in 2017/8, compared with £3.1m in the financial year before, and the level of donations decreased to £3m from £4.5m.
Among the causes funded in 2018 was yoga, meditation, and “breath-focused stretches” for young prisoners to help restore “hope and positivity” behind bars. The Duchess of Cornwall has previously spoken of the benefits of the exercise, practising it herself, while the Duchess of Sussex is a devotee.
The PWCF’s annual report for 2018 shows that trustees approved a “small grant” – defined as up to £5,000 – to the Prison Phoenix Trust, which “encourages prisoners in the development of their spiritual welfare, through the practices of meditation and yoga, working with silence and the breath”. The report states: “Incarceration can take a severe toll on offenders’ mental health, especially in young people. The project aims to improve young offenders’ wellbeing and restore hope and positivity towards the future, with a view to reducing the likelihood of reoffending. Classes include breath-focused stretches and meditation sensitively tailored to participants’ needs.”
The Prison Phoenix Trust was offered a grant to run five new classes and continue seven existing classes, with the project already in place across 88 prisons and yoga for young offenders at Feltham, Hydebank Wood, Portland, and Werrington Young Offender Institutions.
Significantly larger grants were also given in 2018 by PWCF to support Britain's bees, since the Prince is concerned about the decline of “pollinator populations”. Approximately £37,000 was designated to the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, which looks after rare bumblebees in North Devon, and £118,000 to Oxford Plant Sciences for research into the behaviour of pollinators in agricultural landscapes.
Funds were also given to the Elderflowers Programme, which brings music and movement to those with dementia in Edinburgh, and Families United Network, which puts on activities from Mexican-themed parties to trampolining and baking for young people with disabilities. Another small grant was given to The People’s Postcode Lottery, which worked to improve isolated rural areas with cafes and community groups.
Small independent charities, which may otherwise struggle to raise funds in a crowded field, are invited to apply for grants up to £5,000 online. The Charitable Foundation applies funds raised through donations, investments and commercial activity, including the Duchy Originals range and profits from Highgrove shop and garden tours, to charities and organisations which reflect the Prince’s key interests and concerns.
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Free speech policies are now in effect at Ontario’s colleges and universities
Last August, after incidents on campuses across North America where speakers faced protests, Ontario’s Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities Merrilee Fullerton told colleges and universities they needed to implement free-speech policies and have them in place for January 1, 2019.
Institutions will be monitored and have been told they could face funding cuts for failing to comply with principles outlined by the provincial government. These include ensuring that universities and colleges are "places for open discussion and free inquiry," that they "should not attempt to shield students from ideas or opinions that (those students) disagree with or find offensive;" and that "members of the university/college ... may not obstruct or interfere with the freedom of others to express their views."
Ontario has experienced protests and arrests since Wilfrid Laurier graduate student and teaching assistant Lindsay Shepherd showed a video to her class of University of Toronto professor Dr. Jordan B. Peterson on TVO challenging federal legislation regarding gender-neutral pronouns that imposes restrictions on freedom of speech. Ms. Shepherd was unfairly disciplined by faculty and staff and recorded the meeting. She and Dr. Peterson are now suing Laurier University for defamation.
Of the new standard policy adopted in mid-December by all publicly-funded colleges, President of Colleges Ontario Linda Franklin said people on campus have to know there are "speakers that you may not like or who support your world view," and open dialogue is essential, adding, "We're committed to the open discussion of diverse ideas and respecting everyone's rights to express their opinions." The University of Toronto has a free-speech policy that has been in place for more than twenty-five years. Queens University in Kingston approved its new policies so December 18, stating that the "failure to explore or confront ideas with which we disagree through disciplined and respectful dialogue, debate, and argument, does society a disservice, weakens our intellectual integrity, and threatens the very core of the university."
Minister Fullterton said the government is "constantly" hearing that free speech is being stifled on Ontario campuses, adding "We heard that from students, we heard that from faculty — it was a message that we heard consistently during the campaign and after. So we know [it was an issue]." She continued, "I think what (the free speech policy) will do is create some certainly around expectations, and we want to make sure that there's an environment of respect, of open debate, respectful dialogue and that's really the foundation. We don't want to see hate speech — we will not tolerate hate speech — that is not permitted. Anything that is against the law already, there will be repercussions."
Solar storms could cause blackouts and leave Britain with £16 billion worth of damage, warns Oxford University
Earth is vulnerable to space weather events such as solar flares, or coronal mass ejection, which fling huge amounts of electromagnetic radiation at the planet, potentially causing severe disruption to power grids, air transport, and satellite communications. Experts at Oxford University in the United Kingdom (U.K.) have called for urgent updates to space weather forecasting satellites to prevent solar storms from causing Britain £16 billion worth of damage, as the first economic risk analysis has projected, which was published in Risk Analysis journal.
The inability to forecast and prepare for solar flare events could be catastrophic for the economy, Oxford University warned, due to the ripple effects on vital infrastructure, businesses, and homes. The most severe incident, known as ‘the Carrington Event’, occurred in 1859, shorting Telegraph circuits, starting fires, and causing the northern lights to dance in the sky as far south as Hawaii. In 1989, a geomagnetic disturbance caused a voltage collapse of Canada’s Hydro-Québec power grid, leaving six million inhabitants without power for nine hours. In 2005, X-rays from a solar flare disrupted the GPS system for about 10 minutes. More recently, a solar flare narrowly missed Earth during London’s 2012 Olympic Games. Oxford’s model suggests that blackouts would be likely in the northeast and north west of England, East Anglia, and Wales, where power supplies are most vulnerable and where transformers failed in the 1989 solar storm.
Dr. Edward Oughton of the Infrastructure Transitions Research Consortium (ITRC), currently at the University of Oxford, said, “If the Earth were to experience a Carrington-sized event without upgrading our current forecasting capability, it could cost the UK up to £16bn in the most severe scenario. The ‘do nothing’ scenario where the UK fails to invest or invests minimally in replacing satellite monitoring capabilities means existing forecasting skill levels will decline. This increases the risk of critical national infrastructure failure because there may be little early warning that an event is taking place. There would be less time for infrastructure operators to implement mitigation plans.”
A solar storm of the size which hit Earth during the Carrington Event is estimated to happen every 100 years, and the planet is already overdue such a catastrophe. If it happened today, researchers estimate there is a 71 percent chance the British power grid would be affected, while mobile phone reception could die, and airlines would be grounded without GPS.
Many of the satellites which currently monitor coronal mass ejections are nearing the end of their lives. The research authors, which include experts from The Met Office, are calling for a fleet of new spacecraft equipped with Heliospheric Imagers and Solar Coronagraphs, in different locations to monitor the Sun. Such a system would increase the current early warning system from a maximum of four days to up to a week ahead and would be more exact in predicting when the storm would hit Earth, narrowing the current window of six hours to four.
Report shows Canadian insolvencies increased 5.2% in November from the prior year
In the face of five interest rate increases during the past year and a half, the Office of the Superintendent of Bankruptcy Canada released a report showing the number of consumer insolvencies in November 2018 rose by 5.2 percent from a year ago, accounting for 97.2 percent of total insolvency filings, while business insolvencies increased by 8.9 percent.
Business insolvencies decreased by 0.6 percent compared with the 12-month period a year prior, with the mining, oil, and gas extraction and manufacturing sectors falling the most, while construction and retail insolvencies sustained the greatest increases. Last year, the federal government’s fall economic statement projected two percent growth for 2019, which many predict will be lower due to low oil prices.
For the 12-month period ending November 30, the number of bankruptcies and proposals (final stage) grew by 2 percent with consumer bankruptcies falling by 5 percent and proposals increasing by 8.4 percent. The number of insolvencies rose in all provinces except Nova Scotia in November compared with the same period a year earlier. Newfoundland and Labrador's filings rose 11 percent, followed by Alberta at 8.3 percent. Quebec and Ontario grew by less than 1 percent.
The combination of high household debt, rising interest rates, and slowing wage growth has been "terrible" for about half a year since early in 2018, said Director of Economics for the Conference Board of Canada Matt Stewart. He said higher interest rates have delivered a hit to household spending, which has been the primary driver of Canada's good economic fortunes. "It's been a long time since we've had a recession. As of yet, I think most of the news is still positive, but there is a growing amount of risks," he added.
Therefore, business investment is seen as the next critical source of growth, however Mr. Stewart said the transition has yet to materialize because investment has underperformed, likely due to competitiveness concerns; businesses aren't sure whether Canada's the best place to put their money.
Cancer breakthrough: Scientists say immune system transplants mean 'future is incredibly bright'
Scientists have discovered a breakthrough treatment to fight cancer, claiming the disease will no longer be deadly for future generations. Researchers at the Francis Crick Institute in London believe it is possible to strengthen the body's defences by transplanting immune cells from strangers. Immunology expert Professor Adrian Hayday, group leader of the Immunosurveillance Lab at The Crick, said scientists and doctors could become more like engineers, upgrading the body rather than bombarding it with toxic chemotherapy. “Using the immune system to fight cancer is the ultimate do-it-yourself approach,” he said.
Professor Adrian Hayday said, “Even a few years ago the notion that any clinician would look at a patient and deliver a therapy which wasn’t going to directly affect the cancer in any way, shape or form, would have been pretty radical. But that’s what happening. We’re seeing impressive results with cells called natural killer cells. It’s very early days but there are patients receiving them in this next year and the year after, and the nice feature is, unlike other immunotherapy, these cells aren’t rejected. So you have the possibility of developing cell banks that could be used for anyone. It could be someone else’s immune system. You would have cell banks and you would call them up and deliver them to the clinic just hours before they were needed to be infused. We’re not quite there yet. But that’s what we’re trying now. There is every capability of getting cell banks like this established.”
Patients will begin to receive the new treatment next year, and the team now wants to establish ‘immune banks’ to store disease-fighting cells. Until this year, scientists thought it would be impossible to import a stranger’s immune cells as the immunosuppresent drugs needed to ensure the body did not reject them, would cancel out the benefits. However, in 2018, scientists realised that immune cells are unlike other cells, and can survive well in another person, opening the door to transplants.
Radical advances over the past decade have seen the number of people surviving cancer for at least a decade rise to 50 percent and the team at The Crick want to make that 75 percent in the next fifteen years. Professor Charlie Swanton, of the Cancer Evolution and Genome Instability Laboratory, said the ability now to sequence tumours was heralding a new era of medicine tailor-made for a patient. He said, “It’s a very exciting time. The technology available to us now is just incredible. We’re able to sequence the genome of a tumour, understand its microenvironment, how it metabolizes, what cells are controlling the tumour, and how those can be manipulated. Using the body’s own immune cells to target the tumour is elegant because tumours evolve so quickly there is no way a pharmaceutical company can keep up with it, but the immune system has been evolving for over four billion years to do just that.”
Tumours evolve in a branched way, like trees, but scientist have recently found immune cells in their ‘trunks’ which could be crucial to battling the disease from the base up. Next year, Professor Swanton’s team begin trials to see if ramping up those specific cells could be effective in fighting lung cancer, saying “It’s personalised medicine taken to the absolute extreme. Each patient has a unique therapy, it’s pretty much impossible to have the same treatment because no two tumours are the same.”
The team is also studying a group of people known as ‘elite controllers’, who have genetic mutations which prevent them from developing cancer. In mice who have been genetically engineered to have the same mutations, it is almost impossible to induce skin cancer. “One of the pivotal breakthrough in HIV was the recognition of people with elite controllers who had mutations in receptors which rendered them resistant to infection and that changed the landscape utterly,” said Professor Hayday, “Bear in mind 30 years ago that was one in four so survival has doubled in my lifetime and I think it will double again over the next 30 years. The future is incredibly bright.”
He added, “We have a group in Sardinia who have a conspicuously low rate of cancers. Technology which allows you to sequence the genome opens the possibility to start looking at elite controllers and learn the pathways. There is every reason, despite the suffering that continues to plague the oncology wards, the family, the friends, the basis for optimism is extraordinary. I would go so far as to say that we might reach a point, maybe 20 years from now, where the vast majorities of cancers are rapidly treated diseases or long term chronic issues that you can manage. And I think the immune system will be essential in doing that. Between 1980 and 2010, 519,000 cancer deaths were avoided because of cancer research. If that’s not a note for optimism I don’t know what is.”
New documents link Huawei to suspected front companies in Iran and Syria
The United States (U.S.) court case against Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Meng Wanzhou of China’s Huawei Technologies, who was arrested in Canada last month, centers on the company’s suspected ties to two obscure companies. One is a telecom equipment seller that operated in Tehran, and the other is that firm’s owner, a holding company registered in Mauritius. U.S. authorities allege Ms. Wanzhou deceived international banks into clearing transactions with Iran by claiming the two companies were independent of Huawei, when in fact Huawei controlled them. Huawei has maintained the two are independent: equipment seller Skycom Tech Co Ltd and shell company Canicula Holdings Ltd.
Corporate filings and other documents found by Reuters in Iran and Syria show that Huawei, the world’s largest supplier of telecommunications network equipment, is more closely linked to both firms than previously known. The documents reveal that a high-level Huawei executive appears to have been appointed Skycom’s Iran manager, and show that at least three Chinese-named individuals had signing rights for both Huawei and Skycom bank accounts in Iran. A Middle Eastern lawyer said Huawei conducted operations in Syria through Canicula.
The previously unreported ties undermines Huawei’s claims that Skycom was merely an arms-length business partner. Huawei, U.S. authorities assert, retained control of Skycom, using it to sell telecom equipment to Iran and move money out via the international banking system. As a result of the deception, U.S. authorities say, banks unwittingly cleared hundreds of millions of dollars of transactions that potentially violated economic sanctions Washington had in place at the time against doing business with Iran.
Meng was released on CAD $10 million bail on December 11, 2018 and remains in Vancouver while Washington tries to extradite her. In the U.S., Meng would face charges in connection with an alleged conspiracy to defraud multiple financial institutions, with a maximum sentence of 30 years for each charge. The exact charges have not been made public.
Meng’s arrest on a U.S. warrant has caused an uproar in China. It comes at a time of growing trade and military tensions between Washington and Beijing, and amid worries by U.S. intelligence that Huawei’s telecommunications equipment could contain “backdoors” for Chinese espionage. The firm has repeatedly denied such claims. Nevertheless, Australia and New Zealand recently banned Huawei from building their next generation of mobile phone networks, and British authorities have also expressed concerns.
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New U.S. Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez proposes 60-70% tax rate for the “tippie tops” to achieve total renewable energy in twelve years
Newly sworn-in 29-year-old United States (U.S.) Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) is a self-described democratic socialist, who was encouraged to run for office by Bernie Sanders supporters who call themselves "justice Democrats”.
In an interview with Anderson Cooper on 60 Minutes Sunday night, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez said her goal is for the U.S. to achieve 100% green energy within twelve years, where everyone would be driving electric vehicles, because people will be required to pay “their fair share” in taxes. Mr. Cooper replied that she was proposing a “radical agenda” and Rep. Ocasio-Cortez said she believes change in America has only ever come from radicals. She said her policies most closely reflect those in the UK, Norway, Finland, and Sweden, not Venezuela. When Mr. Cooper asked Rep. Ocasio-Cortez “how are you going to pay for this?” she did not provide a straight answer and asked, "What makes it unrealistic?" Mr. Cooper responded, "How to pay for it."
When Mr. Cooper said Rep. Ocasio-Cortez’s "math is fuzzy" and brought forward examples of her factual errors in proposed policy costs, she responded by saying, "Oh my goodness. If people really want to blow up one figure here or one word there, I would argue that they're missing the forest for the trees. I think that there's a lot of people more concerned about being precisely, factually, and semantically correct than about being morally right."
Rep. Ocasio-Cortez continued by citing a progressive tax rate system in the 1960s where the top income tier paid 70% tax, explaining that if one earned $0 to $75,000 a year, you would only pay 10% or 15% in income tax, “But once you get to the tippie tops, on your $10 millionth, sometimes you see tax rates as high as 60% or 70%. That doesn’t mean all $10 million are taxed at an extremely high rate. But it means that as you climb up this ladder, you should be contributing more.” However, when tax rates were that high back in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s there were many more tax deductions that could be claimed.
The progressive bloc of forty Democrats are fully backing a radical environmental agenda known as the ‘Green New Deal’ and warned their more moderate colleagues not to interfere in the creation of a “strong” climate committee. After being sworn in, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez called on newly-elected Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to create the green committee, which would have subpoena power and the authority to introduce bills. Speaker Pelosi followed through, though limiting the committee’s powers.
Christian Bale thanks Satan for inspiring his portrayal of Dick Cheney at the Golden Globes
Kicking off Hollywood’s annual award season at the Golden Globes Sunday night, actor Christian Bale, who portrayed former American Republican Vice President Dick Cheney in the new movie ‘Vice’ and won his nomination for Best Actor, Musical or Comedy, said "Thank you to Satan for giving me inspiration to play this role."
Several weeks prior to his acceptance speech, Mr. Bale had praised the former VP and spoke to Fox News about playing Mr. Cheney, expressing his admiration for the former George W. Bush administration member, saying, “He was a wonderful family man — he’s a great dad, he’s an avid reader, he has a brain like a vice and he constantly reads history.”
Mr. Cheney’s daughter, Congresswoman Liz Cheney (R-Wyo) slammed the actor, responding on Twitter that “Satan probably inspired him to do this, too. Christian Bale arrested for ‘assault on mother and sister’'” linking to a news article from The Independent about Mr. Bale's 2008 arrest.
Award shows have experienced a significant drop in audience over the past several years following increasing politicization of the entertainment events by celebrities and industry. It’s become a rare stance in Hollywood to remain publicly anti-political and many entertainers have stirred controversy and backlash with their explicit denunciations of President Donald Trump.
Last year, rapper Snoop Dogg shot an album cover that showed him standing over Trump’s dead body, and in a November Instagram post he shared a video of himself smoking marijuana outside the White House, saying, “F--- the president.” Alternatively, Kanye West wore a “Make America Great Again” hat for the cameras during his Oval Office meeting with President Trump in October and his wife Kim Kardashian appealed to the President on behalf of an incarcerated woman who later received a pardon and was released from prison.
When asked about her practice of keeping her lips sealed on political issues, country singer Reba McEntire recently said, “That’s not my job.” In an interview last year, Ms. McEntire said, “You can vote in and you can say what you want to, and you can choose not to say what you want to.” Of her fans, she said, “They have paid their hard-earned money to come in there and fill a seat. I am there to entertain them. To take their worries away from them, so when they walk out, they can kind of have a lift in their step and just go, ‘Oh that was such a great break from all the problems I have to deal with during daily life.’” Earlier this year, country singer Brad Paisley announced politics would be completely shut out of the Country Music Association Awards in an effort to be more inclusive, saying, "I'm not gonna touch that. I just don't find politics funny anymore."
Whale sharks at risk from plastic pollution in the remote British island of St. Helena
The whale shark is the largest fish on the planet and inhabit the island of St. Helena’s waters from November to June as they migrate across the South Atlantic. Wildlife groups and environmentalists are concerned that the amount of plastic collecting there could prove deadly for whale sharks, which are already enlisted as endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature because they often become tangled in fishing nets or collide with boats.
The tiny volcanic island of St. Helena, which lies 4,000 miles from England in the South Atlantic, is Britain’s second-oldest overseas territory, and was where Napoleon was imprisoned before he died in 1821. Despite its isolated location, the island is now awash with plastic garbage that washes in from South America and beyond, even though its nearest neighbour is thousands of miles away.
Whale sharks are particularly at risk from garbage pollution in the ocean because their main diet is plankton, which they need to suck up in huge gulps. As well as problems with microplastics, large pieces of garbage can pierce stomach linings, and plastic bags are mistaken for jellyfish that block intestinal tracts digestive systems.
David Barnes, of the British Antarctic Survey, said, “There has been an absolutely dramatic change in St Helena. In 2003, there was one plastic item per every three metres. By 2007, that had changed by three times the amount and now we’re finding hundreds of plastic items per metre in some places so that’s a 1000-fold increase – there are unbelievable levels of change and it’s happened in our lifetime. The animals that eat plankton and smaller algae are not discriminating between microplastics and their food. They can process the natural food but the microplastics stay in their stomach and build up until they have a stomach full of plastic which, in some circumstances, can weigh more than the actual organism and then they will die.”
Research into plastic levels on St Helena were recently published in Current Biology. It is estimated that eight million tonnes of plastic are dumped in the world’s oceans each year and the Ellen Macarthur Foundation has estimated there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050, an 83 percent of the world’s tap water is now contaminated. There is growing evidence that plastic is entering the marine food chain, with fish, turtles, sea birds, and cetaceans from around the world all testing positive for plastic contamination.
The World Wildlife Fund is calling for people to avoid using single-use plastics and straws. Lyndsey Dodds, Head of UK Marine Policy, WWF UK said, “We need to go further and faster - plastic is choking our oceans and leading to the demise of some of our much-loved marine animals. Many of us are doing our bit, but it’s time producers were made to face up to their responsibilities too. We need a ban on all unnecessary single-use plastic items by 2025, and other laws that respect the amazing natural systems upon which we all depend, weaning ourselves away from our throwaway culture.”
UPDATE The Chinese scientist who genetically edited babies is under armed guard amid fears he could face death penalty
The Chinese scientist who created the world’s first genetically edited babies is living under armed guard and could face the death penalty, colleagues believe. He Jiankui shocked the world in November 2018 when he announced he had altered embryos for seven couples during fertility treatment to protect them against contracting HIV, leading to the birth of two twin girls with engineered DNA. Since then, he has received death threats and the Chinese government has launched an investigation into his work. He has been confined to a state-owned apartment in the city of Shenzhen since December.
Scientists in Britain who have been in touch believe he could face charges for corruption and bribery which in China can incur the death penalty. He also broke guidelines, which ban genetically altered embryos being implanted into a human, which experts say are as legally binding as laws.
Professor Robin Lovell-Badge of the Francis Crick Institute in London, who organised the genetics summit in Hong Kong where the finding was announced, said, “All the reports suggest he is in a university owned apartment and there are a quite a number of guards. It’s not clear whether he’s under guard, meaning house arrest or the guards are there to protect him. I suspect both. There is an official investigation led by the ministries of science and health. Lots of people are probably going to lose their jobs, he wasn’t the only one involved in this obviously. So how has he got them to do all this work? He could be had up on all sorts of charges of corruption and being guilty of corruption in China these days is not something you want to be. Quite a few people have lost their heads for corruption.”
Mr. He made around £40 million selling genetic sequencing technologies and it is thought he was able to carry out his experiments unobserved by funding the work himself, recruiting lab technicians and IVF doctors to handle the delicate procedures. Mr. He is a physicist, not a biologist by training and it is unlikely he undertook any of the gene editing or implantation himself. His hero was Bob Edwards, the British IVF pioneer behind the birth of Louise Brown, the world’s first test-tube baby, in 1978. “He really thought that he was doing good, that what he was doing was the next big thing, and really important for the good of mankind,” added Professor Lovell-Badge, who was speaking at a briefing in central London about the experiments.
Mr. He said his goal was to give the babies a natural ability to resist HIV, but Professor Lovell-Badge said it was unnecessary as IVF techniques can already remove the infection before implantation. Researchers are also worried that he may have left the babies more susceptible to influenza. According to some animal studies, the Delta32 mutation to the CCR5 gene can make flu deadlier.
Ukrainian Orthodox Church breaks away from Russian influence
An independent Ukrainian Orthodox church was created at a signing ceremony in Turkey on Saturday, formalizing a split with the Russian church it had been tied to since 1686. The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, signed the "Tomos" in Istanbul in front of clerics and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, forming the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. Last month, Ukrainian Orthodox leaders approved the creation of a new, unified church split from the Moscow Patriarchate and elected 39-year-old Metropolitan Epiphanius I to lead it.
The split forces Ukrainian clerics to choose a side between the Moscow-backed Ukrainian churches and the new church, as fighting persists in eastern Ukraine between government forces and Russia-backed rebels.
"The pious Ukrainian people have awaited this blessed day for seven entire centuries," Bartholomew I said in his address. The patriarch, considered "first among equals" in Orthodox Christianity, said Ukrainians could now enjoy "the sacred gift of emancipation, independence and self-governance, becoming free from every external reliance and intervention."
President Poroshenko thanked Bartholomew I "for the courage to make this historic decision" and said that "among the 15 stars of the Orthodox churches of the world a Ukrainian star has appeared," referring to the updated number of churches that don't answer to an external authority.
Bartholomew I's decision in October to grant the Ukrainian church "autocephaly," or independence, infuriated Moscow and the Russian church severed ties with Istanbul, the centre of the Orthodox world. According to Russian state news agency RIA-Novosti, Vasily Anisimov, spokesman for the Russia-affiliated church in Ukraine, said, "We consider these actions to be anti-canonical ... This action will not bring anything to Ukraine except trouble, separation and sin,"
Kyiv has been pushing for a church free from Moscow's influence, which intensified after Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea and amid the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine. Since President Poroshenko’s election in 2014, he has pushed for the creation of the church, as he campaigns ahead of the March 31 election. Though the church is not formally part of the state, it is closely tied. Recent opinion polls suggest President Poroshenko is in second or third place in the race.
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What Happened Over the Holidays?
A tsunami hit Indonesia’s Sunda Strait, caused by a volcanic eruption and subsequent underwater landslide, killing at least 281 people, injuring hundreds more, and many still missing.
U.S. Government shutdown, the new Congress was sworn in, and Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) became House Speaker.
Pope Francis sent a letter to U.S. bishops criticizing their handling of sex abuse scandals, ahead of trials this week.
Over 5.5 million women protested in southern India after two women in their forties entered a Hindu temple that honours a celibate god, which has banned women aged ten to fifty from entering, arguing it makes the temple impure.
Yellow Vests protests continue in France.
French Catholic Cardinals go on trial in sexual abuse scandal
The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Lyon, Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, and five others from his diocese will stand trial Monday, charged with failing to act on historical allegations of sexual abuse of boy scouts by a priest in the diocese. Cardinal Barbarin is accused of failing to report allegations of sexual abuse in the 1980s and early 1990s by Father Bernard Preynat, a priest who has admitted sexual abuse, according to his lawyer, and is due to go on trial later this year. Cardinal Barbarin told French newspaper Le Monde in August 2017 that he had never concealed allegations against Father Preynat but acknowledged shortcomings in his handling of them. The charges carry a potential three-year prison sentence and fines of up to about USD $50,000.
Pope Francis met with Cardinal Barbarin in early 2016, and later told the French Catholic newspaper La Croix that it would make no sense for the Cardinal to resign before any eventual trial. “According to the information at my disposal, Cardinal Barbarin took the appropriate measures, he took things in hand. He is brave, creative, a missionary,” the Pope is quoted as saying.
Pope Francis will host a meeting of senior bishops from around the world in Rome next month to discuss the protection of minors. The Pope has been criticized for the Church’s handling of the spreading sexual abuse revelations. In September 2018, researchers said they had found indications of sexual abuse in Germany by 1,670 Catholic clerics over the course of seven decades. On Friday, the Vatican said an Argentine bishop working in a top Vatican financial department was under preliminary investigation for sexual abuse.
Germany’s coalition SDP demand answers over personal data breach
On Friday, the German government admitted the personal data and documents from hundreds of German politicians and public figures, including Chancellor Angela Merkel, had been published online, in what appears to be one of Germany’s biggest data breaches.
The German government’s coalition partners the Social Democrats (SPD) demanded that Interior Minister Horst Seehofer immediately determine what the country’s security agencies knew about the data breach and how it was handled. This follows an argument late last year over the fate of the head of Germany’s intelligence agency, Hans-Georg Maassen, which threatened Chancellor Merkel’s ‘grand coalition’ with the SDP. Despite SPD resistance, Minister Seehofer rescued Mr. Massen from dismissal in September when the domestic spy chief questioned the authenticity of videos showing far-right nationalists chasing immigrants in the eastern city of Chemnitz. Mr. Maassen was subsequently fired in November over a speech given behind closed doors condemning “naive and leftist” government policies.
SPD’s Secretary General Lars Klingbeil said the government must quickly shed light on “which agencies knew what exactly when, and how that was dealt with. This should be a priority for (Interior Minister) Horst Seehofer. It’s about protecting our democracy.”
Minister Seehofer told the German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung he only became aware of the breach on Friday morning and would share everything he finds out with the public and intended to do so by the middle of this week at the latest.
The opposition called for the President of the BSI cyber defense agency, Arne Schoenbohm, to explain himself urgently in an extraordinary parliamentary committee meeting. On Saturday, the BSI defended its role in responding to the data breach, saying it could not have connected individual cases it was aware of last year until the entire data release became public last week.
China defends its de-radicalization education camps for Muslims
The Chinese government has faced accusations from activists, scholars, foreign governments, and United Nations (U.N.) rights experts over what they call mass detentions and strict surveillance of the mostly Muslim Uighur minority and other Muslim groups in Xinjiang, China. In August 2018, a U.N. human rights panel said it had received credible reports that a million or more Uighurs and other minorities in the far western region are being held in what resembles a “massive internment camp.” However, senior officials, including Shohrat Zakir, Xinjiang’s Governor and the region’s most senior Uighur, dismissed what they called “slanderous lies” about the facilities.
In response, Chinese government officials organized a visit for foreign reporters last week to three of these facilities, which it calls vocational education training centers, and a similar visit for diplomats from 12 non-Western countries, including Russia, Indonesia, India, Thailand, and Kazakhstan. China believes its de-radicalization program in Xinjiang is highly successful but acknowledged fewer people will be sent through going forward. The reason for this is unclear, and it is unknown if the Muslim population is a stagnant figure, which perhaps explains the decrease in future numbers.
Speaking in Xinjiang’s capital, Urumqi, Mr. Zakir said the centers had been “extremely effective” in reducing extremism by teaching residents about the law and helping them learn Mandarin. “As time goes by, the people in the education training mechanism will be fewer and fewer,” he said, adding, “One million people, this number is rather frightening. One million people in the education mechanism - that’s not realistic. That’s purely a rumor.” He stressed these are temporary educational facilities. Residents can “graduate” when they are judged to have reached a certain level with their Mandarin, de-radicalisation, and legal knowledge.
The government says its goal is for Uighurs to become part of mainstream Chinese society. Mr. Zakir said in parts of southern Xinjiang people couldn’t even say hello in Mandarin, and government officials point to a lack of violence in the past two years as evidence of program’s success. “Only with a deeper understanding of the past can you understand the measures we have taken today,” Shi Lei, Xinjiang’s Communist Party committee deputy propaganda chief, told reporters. One member of the Chinese armed forces, who has served in Kashgar, said the security situation had improved dramatically. “You can’t imagine what it was like there in 2014 and 2015. There were attacks all the time, bombings, stabbings. It was chaos,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
Kashgar deputy party chief Zark Zurdun, a Uighur from Ghulja in northern Xinjiang, where many ethnic Kazakhs live, told reporters that “stability is the best human right” and “The West should learn from us” on how to beat extremism, dismissing concerns Uighur culture was under attack. “Did Kazakh vanish in the USSR when they all had to learn Russian? No. So Uighur won’t vanish here,” he added.
Malaysia's King abdicates after two years on throne following his wedding
Malaysia’s 49-year-old King Muhammad V abdicated on Sunday after two years on the throne, the National Palace said in a statement, with the resignation taking effect immediately. This marks the first time in Malaysian history that a monarch has stood down since the country gained independence from Great Britain in 1957, and no reason was given. Following two months of medical leave, the King had resumed his duties for less than a week before his resignation.
Images seemingly show the King getting married in Russia to a former Russian beauty queen, 24-year-old Oksana Voevodina, in photos that appeared on social media in December 2018. The palace did not respond to requests for comment on the photos or reports of a marriage. Photographs show a smiling Ms. Voevodina sitting next to King Muhammad in a white wedding dress, while he is clad in national robes. She is said to have converted to Islam in April of last year and has told friends: "I think that the man must be the head of the family and of course shall not earn less than a woman."
The New Straits Times reported there had been tensions between the palace and the government of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who led the opposition to an election win in May. PM Mahathir, known for challenging royalty during his past 22-year tenure, said in a blog post last week that everyone “from the Rulers to the Prime Minister and Ministers, to the civil servants and ordinary citizens” are subject to the law but did not elaborate.
Malaysia is a constitutional monarchy and the king assumes a largely ceremonial role, including as the custodian of Islam in the Muslim-majority country. However, the king’s assent is needed before the appointment of a prime minister or senior public officials. Malaysia has nine royal households, who typically take turns to sit on the throne, and the selection of the next king is decided by a vote in the Council of Rulers, made up of all nine royal households.
The palace did not indicate when the Islamic rulers would meet to pick the next king; during the King’s leave of absence, the ruler of western Perak state had been carrying out his duties. Portraits of the King and Queen adorn government buildings throughout the country. The King is also the symbolic head of Islam in the nation, as well as chief of the military.
White House is considering compromise, but the government shutdown could continue
On Sunday, the White House alluded that talks to reopen the federal government could produce a deal in which President Donald Trump compromises on his demand that a proposed barrier along the southern border be a concrete wall, with the possible concession being a steel barrier. A top government official, however, warned that the shutdown, now in its third week, could “drag on a lot longer.” President Trump reiterated to reporters outside the White House Sunday that if he is unhappy with negotiations in a few days, he could declare a national emergency and use the military to construct a wall, circumventing Congress.
Democrats have signaled they could accept a deal that precluded a concrete wall but provided funding for a steel barrier. Acting White House Chief of Staff (COS), as well as head of the Office of Management and Budget, Mick Mulvaney said in an interview on NBC’s ‘Meet the Press’ program “that should help us move in the right direction.” He said negotiations between his staff and congressional Democrats were bogged down in technical requests after the two sides met on Saturday morning, saying “I think this is going to drag on a lot longer. I think that’s by intention. We’re asking for $5.6 billion. They’re offering us zero.”
On December 22, many branches of the federal government were shut down after lawmakers and the President hit an impasse over a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico, which means approximately 800,000 government workers are either furloughed or working without pay. President Trump is demanding that any funding to keep the federal government operational also include USD $5.6 billion to begin building a USD $23 billion wall.
Last week, the new Congress was sworn in and the Democrats, who took control of the House of Representatives, passed a bill to reopen the government without providing additional funding for the wall. They insist that reopening the government should not be contingent upon wall construction funds. House Democrats plan to pass a series of bills this week to reopen government, breaking up the legislation they have already approved in a bid to get Republicans to agree to reopen parts of the government, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said on ‘Meet the Press’.