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18 Nov

A Foreign Perspective, News and Analyses

English Online International Newspapers

Nearly all of these are English-edition daily newspapers. These sites have interesting editorials and essays, and many have links to other good news sources. We try to limit this list to those sites which are regularly updated, reliable, with a high percentage of “up” time.

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Nature photographer of the year 2019 – in pictures

 

Toxic air contributes to health conditions such as asthma, cancer and stroke, say experts

Residential homes next to a motorway in Bristol.

Residential homes next to a motorway in Bristol. Photograph: Alamy

Five people die each week in Bristol as a result of high levels of air pollution, a study has revealed.

Researchers at King’s College London examined the combined impact of PM2.5, which is mainly from domestic wood and coal burning and industrial combustion and nitrogen dioxide, which mainly comes from older polluting vehicles.

The fine particulates and nitrogen dioxide that pollute Bristol’s air cause about 260 people to die each year, the scientists calculated. These pollutants could cause up to 36,000 deaths across the UK each year, and also contribute to several health conditions including asthma, lung cancer, heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

This is the first time that new government guidance on “mortality burdens” of air pollution developed by a government advisory committee have been applied to the largest city in the south-west.

Bristol had higher levels of PM2.5 pollution than Liverpool and Greater Manchester, the study found, but a lower death rate – partly because it is less densely populated.

The research, commissioned by UK 100, revealed that a child born in 2011 could die up to six months early if exposed over their lifetime to air pollution in the city.

The study was published as the Bristol mayor hosts an air pollution summit on Monday.

This month the city announced radical plans to address air pollution, including a proposal to ban diesel cars from central areas between 7am and 3pm from 2021. The plans are subject to government approval and consultation with residents and businesses.

The study found the annual cost of the health impact of air pollution in Bristol was up to £170m a year.

Public Health England assessed in a 2018 report that the total national cost to the NHS and social care budgets of air pollution could be up to £5.56bn for PM2.5 and NO2 combined.

Marvin Rees, the Bristol mayor, said: “We have a moral, ecological and legal duty to clean up the air we breathe. This research emphasises how vital it is that we act quickly to improve health and save lives in Bristol.”

David Dajnak, the principal air-quality scientist in the environmental research group at King’s College London, said: “This report shows that more needs to be done to address the level of threat air pollution poses to health in Bristol.

“It highlights that the highest level of air pollution in Bristol coincides with zones of exceptional population growth and areas having the highest black and minority ethnic population.”

Bristol is one of several areas in the UK with illegal levels of air pollution. The most recent government data submitted to the EU revealed that 83% of reporting zones in the UK had illegal levels.

World Politics

United States

‘I’m not tearing down the system,’ Bernie Sanders says in response to former president’s message

Former president Barack Obama: ‘The average American doesn’t think we have to completely tear down the system and remake it.’

Former president Barack Obama: ‘The average American doesn’t think we have to completely tear down the system and remake it.’ Photograph: Michael Sohn/AP

Democratic 2020 presidential candidates have rejected criticism from former president Barack Obama, after he warned the field of White House hopefuls not to veer too far to the left because it would alienate voters.

Though Obama did not mention anyone by name, the message he delivered before a room of Democratic donors in Washington on Friday was a clear word of caution about the candidacies of Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, who are seen as two of the top-tier candidates in the crowded field.

Sanders and Warren have called for massive structural changes and policies that would dramatically alter the role of government in Americans’ lives. The centrist wing of the party has warned for months that a far-left nominee could alienate moderate Republicans and independent voters needed to oust Donald Trump.

“The average American doesn’t think we have to completely tear down the system and remake it. And I think it’s important for us not to lose sight of that,” Obama said.

Addressing Obama’s comments over the weekend, Sanders told a forum in Long Beach: “I’m not tearing down the system.”

“When I talk about health care being a human right and ending the embarrassment of America being the only major country on earth that does not guarantee health care for every man, woman and child, that’s not tearing down the system,” he said, according to the New York Times. “That’s doing what we should have done 30 years ago.”

New Jersey senator and 2020 candidate Cory Booker called for Democrats to “stop tearing each other down” and to instead back the wide field of contenders in the race to win the Democratic presidential nomination ahead of the 2020 election.

“What we’re doing right now, creating these dynamics within the Democratic party, we’ve got to be careful,” Booker told reporters in Long Beach. “Because whoever is the nominee, we have one shot to make Donald Trump a one-term president. And so I’m not interested in delineating left or right or criticizing other folks.”

He added: “Let’s stop tearing each other down, let’s stop drawing artificial lines. I’m tired in this election of hearing some people say, ‘Well if this person gets elected, I can’t support them,’ and then other people say, ‘If this person gets elected, I can’t support them.’ Are you kidding me?”

Julián Castro, a 2020 Democratic candidate who served as housing secretary under Obama, said while he takes what the former president says seriously, he also believes any of the 2020 Democratic candidates would be better than Trump. “Their vision for the future of the country is much better and will be more popular than Donald Trump’s.”

Obama has largely refrained from publicly opining on the Democratic primary, which has exposed a growing rift between an ascendant progressive wing of the party and old-guard centrists like his former vice president, Joe Biden.

But on Friday he said he felt compelled to weigh in because some of the loudest and most strident voices, particularly on social media, aren’t representative of where most in the party are at. Immigration and health care are two issues he cited as cases where Democratic candidates are out of sync with public sentiment.

“There are a lot of persuadable voters and there are a lot of Democrats out there who just want to see things make sense. They just don’t want to see crazy stuff. They want to see things a little more fair, they want to see things a little more just. And how we approach that I think will be important,” Obama said.

”Even as we push the envelope and we are bold in our vision, we also have to be rooted in reality and the fact that voters, including the Democratic voters and certainly persuadable independents or even moderate Republicans, are not driven by the same views that are reflected on certain, you know, left-leaning Twitter feeds,” Obama said.

Obama delivered his remarks at a gathering of the Democracy Alliance, a group of wealthy Democrats who raise large sums for the party. He was interviewed by Stacey Abrams, a rising star in the party who narrowly lost the Georgia governors race last year.

He also sought also to ease jittery Democrats who have been wringing their hands over the size of the sprawling field, which some worry will lead to a prolonged contest that will leave the eventual nominee with limited time to prepare for the general election.

“I just have to remind you that I had a very robust primary,” Obama said. “Not only did I win ultimately a remarkably tough and lengthy primary process with Hillary Clinton, but people forget that even before that we had a big field of really serious, accomplished people.”

Associated Press contributed to this report

Beyond the tussle between Democrat Adam Schiff and Republican Devin Nunes is the big question – will party interest reign supreme?

Adam Schiff and Devin Nunes on Capitol Hill in Washington DC Wednesday.

Adam Schiff and Devin Nunes on Capitol Hill in Washington DC on Wednesday. Photograph: Rex/Shutterstock

The battle for American hearts and minds in the unfolding impeachment drama is, at its core, a battle between two very different California congressmen.

In the red corner is Devin Nunes, a Republican former dairy farmer from the state’s agricultural Central Valley, who long ago threw his lot in with Fox News talking-point orthodoxy and has never hesitated to defend Donald Trump, no matter how much the rest of the political establishment – and the factual record – was arrayed against him.

In the blue corner is Adam Schiff, Democrat of Los Angeles, who in January took over Nunes’s gavel as chair of the House intelligence committee, and has dug deep into his experience as a federal prosecutor to distill the complexities of a political intrigue spanning halfway around the globe into an easily digestible indictment of the president.

As the two senior lawmakers on the intelligence committee, the pair has emerged as Trump’s chief defender and chief nemesis, highly visible surrogates but also lightning rods of the broader political struggle. Both have earned lopsided quantities of praise from their own partisans and boundless scorn from the other side of the aisle.

Their styles could not have contrasted more sharply than when they made their opening statements in the public impeachment hearings on Wednesday. Schiff was cool, forensic, quoting witness statements and established facts, outlining what he saw as the key questions before Congress and the American people.

The outcome of the impeachment process, Schiff said, would affect “not only the future of this presidency but the future of the presidency itself, and what kind of conduct or misconduct the American people may come to expect from their commander-in-chief”.

Nunes was indignant and blustery, sweat pricking at his brow as he reeled off a litany of supposed plots, conspiracies and low conniving by everyone except the person the members were there to investigate – the president of the United States.

The Democrats, he charged, were “the last people on Earth with the credibility to hurl more preposterous accusations at their political opponents”. They were waging a “scorched-earth war” in a “cult-like atmosphere” and putting witnesses through “Star Chamber” interrogations before deciding if they were fit for prime-time exposure.

On the key question of whether Trump had pressured Ukraine into providing political dirt for his re-election campaign, however, Nunes remained largely silent.

In some ways, Schiff and Nunes are acting as one would expect lawyers to act in a courtroom, seizing the best arguments at their disposal and running with them. Schiff has close to a cast-iron case that Trump did indeed demand political favors from Ukraine in exchange for US military aid and other vital forms of assistance; the only real question is whether they amount to the “high crimes and misdemeanors” required by the constitution to justify removing a president mid-term.

Without such an advantage, Nunes is instead seeking to undermine the credibility of the people making the case against Trump, to question the reasons why the impeachment process began at all, and to muddy up the factual record with dark hints of Democratic party plots, collusion with key witnesses and outright deception.

But beyond this tussle for the rhetorical upper hand lies a deeper and more consequential issue: whether Congress is capable of exercising its constitutional independence as a check on executive power, as it ultimately did during the Watergate scandal, or whether partisanship in 2019 has devolved to a point where party interest reigns supreme and nothing else – not even the sale of America’s foreign policy for political favors – really matters.

Long before Trump entered the political scene, Nunes had a reputation as someone willing to toe the party line without question. As chair of the intelligence committee from 2015-2019, he was part of a years-long (and ultimately unsuccessful) quest for evidence of wrongdoing by Hillary Clinton in the lead-up to the deadly 2012 attack on a US diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya.

After Trump came into office, Nunes made it his job to protect Trump at all costs against allegations that his campaign had welcomed or even colluded with Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Nunes rejected the unanimous conclusions of the intelligence services – over whom he was charged with exercising oversight – that Russia had indeed interfered. And he made a notorious cloak-and-dagger trip to the White House to accuse those same intelligence services of mounting a deep-state espionage operation against Trump and his allies. (The charges he made did not stick.)

Not only did Nunes clear Trump of any collusion with Russia; he turned right around and started investigating the FBI’s reasons for opening the investigation in the first place, thus feeding straight into the sort of deep-state conspiracies beloved of Fox News hosts and Trump’s inner circle. Other Republicans, fearful of the Trump-supporting party base, followed him some of the way along this path but he was one of the very few to go so far, and so publicly.

Senior Democrats – not Schiff – began referring to Nunes as “Trump’s stooge” and “Trump’s fixer”. And when Schiff pushed back, he came in for his own typically Trumpian form of abuse. One tweet, memorably, called him “little Adam Schitt”.

Schiff has played a principal role in the House’s investigation into the Trump campaign and Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, the subject of Robert Mueller’s investigation. He’s been more reluctant than some of his more gung-ho fellow Democrats to call for the impeachment of the president and came around only when Nancy Pelosi, the equally reluctant speaker, concluded that the Ukraine affair was too grave to overlook. What the New York Times has described as Schiff’s “more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger tone” has been a big part of his appeal across all parts of his party.

The darkest interpretation of the standoff is that Nunes is part of an attempt by Trump and his supporters to destroy the very notion of investigative fact and replace it with a series of partisan talking points – that the investigation is a “sham”, that Schiff should himself be investigated, that Trump’s call in which he openly asked the Ukrainian president to “do us a favor” by investigating Hunter Biden was “perfect”, and so on.

Another way of looking at it, though, is through opinion polls that suggest the case for impeachment is growing stronger, not weaker, with the American public. The CNN political analyst Brian Stelter put it this way on Wednesday: “Schiff is trying to speak to the entire country. Nunes is only speaking to the Trump base and the Fox audience.”

It’s pretty clear, meanwhile, which man is doing better in his own home district. In last year’s midterms, Nunes saw his previous 35 percentage-point advantage over his Democratic challenger shrink to just six points, turning a rock-solid Republican seat into a swing district. Schiff, by contrast, was returned with close to 80% of the vote.

Michael Bloomberg apologizes for stop-and-frisk as he mulls presidential run>>

Pelosi says Trump is welcome to testify in impeachment inquiry, if he chooses>>

Pete Buttigieg surges ahead of fellow candidates in Iowa, new poll shows>>

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16 Nov

How the U.S. betrayed the Marshall Islands, kindling the next nuclear disaster

How the U.S. betrayed the Marshall Islands

By Susanne RustPhotography and videography by Carolyn Cole. Graphics and design by Lorena Iñiguez Elebee and Sean Greene | REPORTING FROM MAJURO, MARSHALL ISLANDS

Five thousand miles west of Los Angeles and 500 miles north of the equator, on a far-flung spit of white coral sand in the central Pacific, a massive, aging and weathered concrete dome bobs up and down with the tide.Here in the Marshall Islands, Runit Dome holds more than 3.1 million cubic feet — or 35 Olympic-sized swimming pools — of U.S.-produced radioactive soil and debris, including lethal amounts of plutonium. Nowhere else has the United States saddled another country with so much of its nuclear waste, a product of its Cold War atomic testing program.Between 1946 and 1958, the United States detonated 67 nuclear bombs on, in and above the Marshall Islands — vaporizing whole islands, carving craters into its shallow lagoons and exiling hundreds of people from their homes.U.S. authorities later cleaned up contaminated soil on Enewetak Atoll, where the United States not only detonated the bulk of its weapons tests but, as The Times has learned, also conducted a dozen biological weapons tests and dumped 130 tons of soil from an irradiated Nevada testing site. It then deposited the atoll’s most lethal debris and soil into the dome.Now the concrete coffin, which locals call “the Tomb,” is at risk of collapsing from rising seas and other effects of climate change. Tides are creeping up its sides, advancing higher every year as distant glaciers melt and ocean waters rise.Officials in the Marshall Islands have lobbied the U.S. government for help, but American officials have declined, saying the dome is on Marshallese land and therefore the responsibility of the Marshallese government.“I’m like, how can it [the dome] be ours?” Hilda Heine, the president of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, said in an interview in her presidential office in September. “We don’t want it. We didn’t build it. The garbage inside is not ours. It’s theirs.”To many in the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Runit Dome is the most visible manifestation of the United States’ nuclear legacy, a symbol of the sacrifices the Marshallese made for U.S. security, and the broken promises they received in return.They blame the United States and other industrialized countries for global climate change and sea level rise, which threaten to submerge vast swaths of this island nation’s 29 low-lying atolls.“More than any other place, the Marshall Islands is a victim of the two greatest threats facing humanity — nuclear weapons and climate change,” said Michael Gerrard, a legal scholar at Columbia University’s law school. “The United States is entirely responsible for the nuclear testing there, and its emissions have contributed more to climate change than those from any other country.”Over the last 15 months, a reporting team from the Los Angeles Times and Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism made five trips to the Marshall Islands, where they documented extensive coral bleaching, fish kills and algae blooms — as well as major disease outbreaks, including the nation’s largest recorded epidemic of dengue fever. They interviewed folk singers who lost their voices to thyroid cancers and spent time in Arkansas, Washington and Oregon, where tens of thousands of Marshallese have migrated to escape poverty and an uncertain future.Marshallese leaders acknowledge that America doesn’t bear full responsibility for their nation’s distress. But they say the United States has failed to take ownership of the environmental catastrophe it left behind, and they claim U.S. authorities have repeatedly deceived them about the magnitude and extent of that devastation.A Times review of thousands of documents, and interviews with U.S. and Marshallese officials, found that the American government withheld key pieces of information about the dome’s contents and its weapons testing program before the two countries signed a compact in 1986 releasing the U.S. government from further liability. One example: The United States did not tell the Marshallese that in 1958, it shipped 130 tons of soil from its atomic testing grounds in Nevada to the Marshall Islands.U.S. authorities also didn’t inform people in Enewetak, where the waste site is located, that they’d conducted a dozen biological weapons tests in the atoll, including experiments with an aerosolized bacteria designed to kill enemy troops.U.S. Department of Energy experts are encouraging the Marshallese to move back to other parts of Enewetak, where 650 now live, after being relocated during the U.S. nuclear tests during the Cold War. But many Marshallese leaders no longer trust U.S. assurances of safety.“We didn’t know the Runit Dome waste dump would crack and leak…. We didn’t know about climate change,” said Jack Ading, a Marshallese senator from Enewetak Atoll. “We weren’t nuclear scientists who could independently verify what the U.S. was telling us. We were just island people who desperately wanted to return home.”Adding to the alarm is a study published this year by a team of Columbia University scientists showing levels of radiation in some spots in Enewetak and other parts of the Marshall Islands that rival those found near Chernobyl and Fukushima.Such discoveries could give Marshallese leaders fresh ammunition to challenge the 1986 compact, which is up for renegotiation in 2023, and also to press the United States to honor property and health claims ordered by an international tribunal.The tribunal, established by the two countries in 1988, concluded the United States should pay $2.3 billion in claims, but Congress and U.S courts have refused. Documents show the U.S. paid just $4 million.The U.S. position is that it has already paid more than $600 million for the resettlement, rehabilitation and radiation-related healthcare costs of communities affected by the nuclear testing, said Karen Stewart, the U.S. ambassador to the Republic of the Marshall Islands. She said inflation brings the number closer to $1 billion.“The United States recognizes the effects of its testing and has accepted and acted on its responsibility to the people of the Republic of the Marshall Islands,” Stewart said in a statement.In September, the Marshallese parliament, the Nitijela, approved a national nuclear strategy, which calls for a risk analysis and environmental survey of Runit Dome, an assessment of legal options for its cleanup and a new attempt to secure the $2.3 billion ordered by the tribunal.Last month, Marshall Islands lawmakers called on the international community to reduce greenhouse gases causing what they declared to be a “national climate crisis.”China is taking an increasing interest in the Marshall Islands and other Pacific island nations, in part because of their strategic location and Beijing’s interest in reducing U.S. influence in the region. Those inroads by China have alarmed U.S. leaders, forcing them to pay more attention to the grievances of Marshallese leaders such as Heine.“This heightened interest,” Heine said, “should bode well for us.”

MAJURO, MARSHALL ISLANDS—MAY 15, 2019–A ship wreck rests in the harbor off of Majuro, where children play in the water. (Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times)

A shipwreck rests in the harbor off Majuro, where children play in the water.

From the U.S. mainland, it takes more than a day to fly to the Marshall Islands, and only one commercial airline makes the trip.The “Island Hopper,” United Airlines Flight 154, starts at Honolulu, making stops in the Marshall Islands at Majuro and Kwajalein before heading west toward the Micronesian islands of Kosrae, Pohnpei and Chuuk, and finally terminating in Guam.The next day, it doubles back.As it approaches Majuro, the blue-scape of the ocean is broken by an oblong necklace of white-coral-beached islands, dotted with coconut, pandanus and breadfruit trees.

The Marshall Islands’ atolls are the remnants of ancient volcanoes that once protruded from these cerulean seas. They were settled 3,000 years ago by the ancestors of present-day Marshallese who crossed the ocean on boats from Asia and Polynesia. For American officials in the mid-1940s, this 750,000-square-mile expanse of ocean, nearly five times larger than the state of California, must have seemed like a near-perfect spot to test their growing atomic arsenal.“The Marshall Islands were selected as ground zero for nuclear testing precisely because colonial narratives portrayed the islands as small, remote and unimportant,” said Autumn Bordner, a former researcher at Columbia University’s K=1 Project, which has focused on the legacy of nuclear testing in the Marshall Islands, and now a research fellow in ocean law and policy at UC Berkeley’s Center for Law, Energy & the Environment.Nerje Joseph, 72, was a witness to the largest thermonuclear bomb tested by the United States: the Castle Bravo detonation. She was 7 years old at the time, living with her family in Rongelap Atoll, 100 miles east of Bikini Atoll — a tropical lagoon commandeered for nuclear testing.On March 1, 1954, Joseph recalls waking up and seeing two suns rising over Rongelap. First there was the usual sun, topping the horizon in the east and bringing light and warmth to the tropical lagoon near her home. Then there was another sun, rising from the western sky. It lighted up the horizon, shining orange at first, then turning pink, then disappearing as if it had never been there at all.Joseph and the 63 others on Rongelap had no idea what they had just witnessed. Hours later, the fallout from Castle Bravo rained down like snow on their homes, contaminating their skin, water and food.According to Joseph and government documents, U.S. authorities came to evacuate the Rongelapese two days later. By that time, some islanders were beginning to suffer from acute radiation poisoning — their hair fell out in clumps, their skin was burned, and they were vomiting.Nerje Joseph, 72, was 7 years old when the United States detonated its largest nuclear bomb. The Castle Bravo test sent a mushroom cloud into the sky and unexpectedly irradiated parts of the northern Marshall Islands that she and her family called home.The Castle Bravo test and others in the Marshall Islands helped the U.S. establish the credibility of its nuclear arsenal as it raced against its Cold War adversary, the Soviet Union, to develop new atomic weapons. But the testing came at a horrible price; Joseph and other Marshallese ended up becoming human guinea pigs for U.S. radiation research.Three years after Castle Bravo, U.S. authorities encouraged Joseph, her family and her neighbors to return to Rongelap.U.S. government documents from the time show that officials weighed the potential hazards of radiation exposure against “the current low morale of the natives” and a “risk of an onset of indolence.” Ultimately they decided to go forward with the resettlement so researchers could study the effects of lingering radiation on human beings.“Data of this type has never been available,” Merrill Eisenbud, a U.S official with the Atomic Energy Commission, said at a January 1956 meeting of the agency’s Biology and Medicine Committee. “While it is true that these people do not live the way that Westerners do, civilized people, it is nonetheless also true that they are more like us than the mice.”The resettlement proved catastrophic for the people of Rongelap. Cancer cases, miscarriages and deformities multiplied. Ten years later, in 1967, 17 of the 19 children who were younger than 10 and on the island the day Bravo exploded had developed thyroid disorders and growths. One child died of leukemia.In 1985, the people of Rongelap asked Greenpeace to evacuate them again after the United States refused to relocate them or to acknowledge their exposure, according to government documents and news reports from the time.Joseph, who had her thyroid removed because of her radiation exposure, has spent nearly seven decades taking daily thyroid medication, enabling her body to produce hormones it otherwise would not generate.A quiet, dignified woman with thick, wavy gray hair, Joseph lives in a cinder-block home in Majuro, the capital, a setting far different from the pristine atoll where she grew up.Composed of three low-lying islands connected by one flood-prone road, Majuro is long and narrow and home to roughly half the population of the Marshall Islands, about 28,000 people. Taxis crawl the length of this lone road, fitting as many riders into their vehicles as they can accommodate. Visitors opting to walk are encouraged to carry long sticks to beat away packs of feral dogs that roam the streets.Joseph says she misses her home, but she knows she may never go back.“We had a oneness when we lived on Rongelap,” she said of her childhood. “We worked together, we ate together, we played together. That has been lost.”

More than 40 years ago, U.S. authorities buried plutonium and other waste from nuclear testing in an unlined bomb crater on Runit Island and encapsulated it with concrete. The so-called Tomb, which is in Enewetak Atoll, now bobs with the tide, sucking in and flushing out radioactive water into nearby coral reefs, contaminating marine life.

The legacy of the testing program is most evident at Enewetak, an atoll that took the brunt of the United States’ late-stage nuclear detonations before an international ban on atmospheric testing in 1963.A string of 40 islands to the west of Bikini, Enewetak was once a postcard-perfect ring of coral reefs, white-sand beaches and coconut trees, where roughly 450 dri-Enewetak and dri-Enjebi — the two clans that lived in the atoll — gathered breadfruit and pandanus, and harvested fish and clams from the lagoon.Between 1948 and 1958, the U.S. military detonated 43 atomic bombs here. After agreeing to a 1958 temporary moratorium on nuclear testing with the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union, the U.S. began using the atoll as a conventional and bioweapons testing ground. For the next 18 years, the U.S. shot ballistic missiles at it from California, tested virulent forms of bacteria on its islands and detonated a series of other large, conventional bombs in the lagoon.In 1972, after the U.S had nearly exhausted its military interest in the region, it invited the leaders of Enewetak back to see the atoll for the first time since 1946.According to a Department of Energy report of the event, the Enewetak leaders “were deeply gratified to be able to visit their ancestral homeland, but they were mortified by what they saw.”The islands were completely denuded. Photos show an apocalyptic scene of windswept, deforested islands, with only the occasional coconut tree jutting up from the ground. Elsewhere, crumbling concrete structures, warped tarmac roads and abandoned construction and military equipment dotted the barren landscape.The damage they saw on that visit was the result of nearly three decades of U.S. military testing.The United States had detonated 35 bombs in the Marshall Islands in 112 days in 1958. Nine of these were on Enewetak’s Runit Island. With names such as Butternut, Holly and Magnolia, the bombs were detonated in the sky, underwater and on top of islands.One test shot, Quince, misfired Aug. 6, 1958, and sprayed plutonium fuel across Runit Island. The Department of Defense and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which was sponsoring the test, ordered soldiers into the contaminated ground zero to prepare the site for the next bomb, 12 days later.Soldiers swarmed in with bulldozers and earthmoving equipment, pushing the radioactive soil into big debris piles that they shoved into the lagoon, the ocean or possibly left alone; government reports differ on these details.What is clear, and which has never been reported before, is that 130 tons of soil transported 5,300 miles from an atomic test site in Nevada was dumped into a 30-foot-wide, 8-foot-deep “conical plug” where the next bomb, Fig, was detonated.Archived documents suggest the soil was used as part of an experiment, to help scientists understand how soil types contribute to different blast impacts and crater sizes.Terry Hamilton, a researcher at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and today the Department of Energy’s point person on the Marshall Islands’ nuclear issues, said the soil was clean and taken from Area 10 at the Nevada Test Site. That area of the Nevada site had been the site of two nuclear blasts in 1951 and 1955, according to government records.“It is appalling that the Marshallese people, and in particular the people of Enewetak, are just learning about this for the first time,” said Sen. Ading, the Marshallese minister of justice, immigration and labor.A decade later, in 1968, teams from the Department of Defense set up a new experiment. This time, they were testing biological weapons — bombs and missiles filled with bacteria designed to fell enemy troops.According to a 2002 military fact sheet and Ed Regis, the author of “The Biology of Doom,” U.S. government scientists came to Enewetak with “their boats and monkeys, space suits and jet fighter planes” and then sprayed clouds of biologically enhanced staphylococcal enterotoxin B, an incapacitating biological agent known to cause toxic shock and food poisoning and considered “one of the most potent bacterial superantigens.”The bacteria were sprayed over much of the atoll — with ground zero at Lojwa Island, where U.S. troops were stationed 10 years later for the cleanup of the atoll.According to military documents, the weapons testers concluded a single weapon could cover 926.5 square miles — roughly twice the size of modern-day Los Angeles — and produce a 30% casualty rate.Records of the test, including a two-volume, 244-page account of operation “Speckled Start,” as it was called, are still classified, according to the Defense Technical Information Center, a branch of the Department of Defense.

Today, 40 years after it was constructed, the Tomb resembles an aged, neglected and slightly diminutive cousin of the Houston Astrodome.Spiderweb cracks whipsaw across its cap and chunks of missing concrete pock its facade. Pools of brown, brackish water surround its base, and vines and foliage snake up its sides.The Tomb, which was built atop an unlined crater created by a U.S. nuclear bomb, was designed to encapsulate the most radioactive and toxic land-based waste of the U.S. testing programs in Enewetak Atoll. This included irradiated military and construction equipment, contaminated soil and plutonium-laced chunks of metal pulverized by the 43 bombs detonated in this 2.26-square-mile lagoon, according to U.S. government documents.It took 4,000 U.S. servicemen three years to scoop up 33 Olympic-sized swimming pools’ worth of irradiated soil and two Olympic swimming pools’ worth of contaminated debris from islands across the atoll and dump it into the crater on Runit Island.Much of it was mixed in a slurry of concrete and poured into the pit, which was eventually capped with a concrete dome. Six men died during the cleanup; hundreds of others developed radiation-induced cancers and maladies that the U.S. government has refused to acknowledge, according to news reports.

Rising seas could unseal a toxic tomb

More than 3.1 million cubic feet of radioactive material lie within a bomb crater that was capped with an 18-inch-thick cover on Runit Island.

graphic showing what is underneath the dome

What is underneath the dome

Contaminated debris and soil left behind by 43 nuclear bombs detonated in Enewetak Atoll were cemented and enclosed in a crater from one of the nuclear tests. The dome, constructed in the late ’70s, is showing signs of decay. If it crumbles, its radioactive contents will be released into the lagoon and ocean.

graphic showing what is underneath the dome

Department of Defense, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory“It’s like they say in the Army,” said Bob Retmier, a retired Huntington Beach-based electrician who did two six-month tours of duty at the dome in 1977 and 1978. “They treat us like mushrooms: They feed us crap and keep us in the dark.”Retmier, who was in Enewetak with Company C, 84th Engineer Battalion out of Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, said he didn’t know he had been working in a radioactive landscape until he read about the dome in The Times this year.“They had us mixing that soil into cement,” he said. “There were no masks, or respirators, or bug suits, for that matter. My uniform was a pair of combat boots, shorts and a hat. That was it. No shirt. No glasses. It was too hot and humid to wear anything else.”According to unclassified military documents, the completion of the dome fulfilled “a moral obligation incurred by the United States.”Marshallese officials say they were never told that U.S. authorities had doubts about the long-term integrity of the dome to safely store waste.According to a 1981 military document chronicling the construction of the dome, U.S. government officials met Feb. 25, 1975, to discuss various cleanup options — including ocean dumping and transporting the waste back to the U.S. mainland. Many “of those present seemed to realize that radioactive material was leaking out of the crater even then and would continue to do so,” the document reported.But because the other options were so expensive, they settled on the dome and relied on military personnel to do the cleaning instead of contractors.At that meeting, a top Pentagon official was asked what would happen if the dome failed and who would be responsible.“It would be the responsibility of the United States,” said Lt. Gen. Warren D. Johnson of the U.S. Air Force, who was directing the cleanup process through the Defense Nuclear Agency.Documents show that as construction teams were finishing the dome by capping it with an 18-inch concrete cover, new, highly contaminated debris was discovered.In the process of adding that material to the waste site, parts of the concrete top were embedded with contaminated metallic debris.“It was sloppy,” said Paul Griego, who worked as a contract radiochemist for Eberline Instruments in Enewetak while the military built the dome.The authors of the report noted that because the dome was “designed to contain material and prevent erosion rather than act as a radiation shield,” the radioactive material in the dome cover was no cause for concern.Today, U.S. officials maintain that the dome has served its “intended purpose” — to hold garbage, not necessarily to be a radiation shield.That distinction, though, is not well understood in the Marshall Islands, where many assumed the United States built the dome to protect them.“My understanding from day one is that the dome was to shield the radiation from leaking out,” Ading said.Soon after the dome was completed, the winter tides washed more than 120 cubic yards of radioactive debris onto Runit’s shores, prompting U.S. authorities to build a small antechamber adjacent to the dome to hold the new “red-level” debris.When more debris washed up, they built a second, smaller antechamber.Then they left.

The U.S. scientific expert on Runit Dome is Hamilton, the Energy Department contractor. He began working on radiation issues nearly three decades ago and is widely respected among nuclear scientists and physicists.In 2012, Hamilton called the waste site a highly radioactive “point source” whose construction was “not consistent” with U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission regulations. He also suggested it could possibly release more plutonium into the surrounding environment.“Any increases in availability of plutonium will have an impact on food security reserves for the local population,” he wrote with two Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory coauthors, noting a “growing commercial export market” for sea cucumbers in the lagoon.In more recent years, Hamilton’s message has changed: The islands are safe, U.S. researchers are monitoring the situation, and no one should be concerned.At a May meeting in Majuro, he told an audience of Marshallese dignitaries, politicians and U.S. officials that the Tomb was bobbing with the tides, sucking in and flushing out radioactive water into the lagoon. Moreover, he said, its physical integrity is “vulnerable to leakage and the sustained impacts of storm surge and sea level rise.”But Hamilton went on to assure them such a scenario was not cause for alarm. Enewetak lagoon is already so contaminated, he said, that any added radiation introduced by a dome failure would be virtually undetectable — in the lagoon, or in the wider ocean waters.Hamilton has said that his assessment is based on a sampling of U.S. documents from the 1970s and 1980s suggesting that there is far more contamination in Enewetak lagoon than remains inside the dome. He contends the land is safe for habitation and will remain so, even if the dome crumbles and releases its contents into the contaminated lagoon.Plutonium is a risk to human health only when it is airborne or introduced via a cut in the skin, Hamilton said. The plutonium in the lagoon, he claims, is not a concern.“Under existing living conditions, there is no radiological basis why I or anyone else should be concerned about living on Enewetak,” Hamilton said in an email, reflecting a position that other experts find perplexing.“That’s crazy,” said Holly Barker, a University of Washington anthropologist who serves on the Marshall Islands nuclear commission. The whole point of building the Tomb, she said, was to clean up contamination left behind by the U.S. testing programs.“Does that mean they didn’t clean it up?” she asked.Asked about his contradictory messages, Hamilton wrote in an email that his earlier assessment was “put forward to help provide a scientific justification” for securing funding and time for a more thorough analysis of the dome.“People living on Enewetak do not show elevated levels of plutonium in their bodies,” he said, discounting concerns. “This is the ultimate test.”To many, Hamilton’s most recent position is just another case of the United States moving the goal posts in the Marshall Islands: It promised a thorough cleanup, only to backtrack in the face of new revelations or costs.Griego, the radiochemist and the New Mexico state commander of the National Assn. of Atomic Veterans, notes that when Hamilton wrote a report for the Department of Energy in 2013 stating that catastrophic failure of the dome would be inconsequential, the report included a mission statement that cast doubt on its scientific integrity.According to the document, the report’s purpose was to “address the concerns of the Enewetak community” and “help build public confidence in the maintenance of a safe and sustainable resettlement program on Enewetak Atoll.”Griego worked as a contractor in Enewetak in 1978.“I saw the water rising and falling as we filled that dome. I know that limestone is porous. And I know how sick people got,” Griego said. “That dome is dangerous. And if it fails, it’s a problem.”

Josephine Noka and her son JulesJosephine Noka walks with her son Jules, 6, from Ejit Island to Majuro during low tide. Bikini refugees and their descendants moved to Ejit after being forced to leave their islands because of nuclear testing conducted by the U.S. government. They are still unable to return home.

Climate scientists have been nearly unanimous about one thing: The waters around the Marshall Islands are rising — and growing warmer.On an August day a year ago, tens of thousands of dead fish washed up on the ocean side of Bikini Atoll.Dick Dieke Jr., one of seven temporary caretakers working for a Department of Energy contractor there, recalls the water being uncomfortable.“It didn’t feel good to put my feet in it,” he said. “It was too hot.”

Earlier that day, the typically crystalline and azure waters of the Bikini lagoon, near Nam Island, were cloudy and brown. Sea turtles, reef fish and rays swam slowly through the murk, appearing suddenly out of the cloudy bloom only to disappear just as quickly.

Dive computers showed 92-degree temperatures 30 feet below the surface in the lagoon, an area usually no warmer than 86 degrees in August.

It is impossible to say exactly what caused that day’s massive algae bloom and fish kill, but scientists say such marine incidents will occur more frequently as oceans warm from climate change.

“I’ve never seen or heard of a fish kill in Bikini,” Jack Niedenthal, the Marshall Islands’ secretary of health and human services, said in an interview last summer, just a week after the event. “That’s surprising and deeply upsetting.”

Just a few years ago, the northern Marshall Islands were known for their pristine coral reefs, little disturbed by human contact, in part because many of these isles were radiation no-go zones. But during a visit last year, The Times saw vast expanses of bleached and dead coral around Bikini Atoll, a finding that surprised some familiar with the region.

BIKINI ISLAND, MARSHALL ISLANDS–AUG. 6, 2018–Record high temperatures the first week of August 2018 created such hot water that thousands of fish were killed,
thousands of black angel fish, dead puffer fish, eels, parrot fish, trigger fish and others formed a black line along the high tide line of Bikini Island’s beaches. (Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times)

Elora López, a Stanford University doctoral student, accompanied a PBS documentary film team in 2016 to Bikini Atoll to collect coral samples. The reefs — hundreds of miles from the nearest tourist — were healthy.

But when she returned in 2018, using GPS coordinates to find the same location, all of the corals were dead.

Since 1993, sea levels have risen about 0.3 inches a year in the Marshall Islands, far higher than the global average of 0.11 to 0.14 inches. Studies show sea levels are rising twice as fast in the western Pacific than elsewhere.

Based on forecasts by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, sea levels could rise 4 to 5 feet by the end of the century, submerging most of the Marshall Islands.

Even if seas rose just half that, said Curt Storlazzi, a geoengineer at the United States Geological Survey, the islands would be in trouble — damaging infrastructure and contaminating most groundwater reserves.

“We have a lot of difficult choices to make,” James Matayoshi, the mayor of Rongelap Atoll, said in a September interview. “If the seas don’t stop rising, we’re going to lose some places. Assuming we can save some, we’ll have to decide which islands, which places, for which people. But who gets to do that?”

The thought of abandoning their homeland is unthinkable for many Marshallese, the nation’s president said.

“Many of our people … want to stay here,” Heine said. “For us, for these people, land is a critical part of our existence. Our culture is based on our land. It is part of us. We cannot think about abandoning the land.”

Outbreaks of certain diseases in the Pacific also have been linked to climate change. The Republic of the Marshall Islands is fighting the largest outbreak of dengue fever in its recorded history — more than 1,000 people have been infected, with the outer atolls quarantined to prevent the spread of disease among people with no access to hospital care.

“Most people talk about rising sea levels when it comes to climate change,” said Niedenthal, the health secretary. “Even more immediate and devastating is what has been happening with disease outbreaks. This is the worst outbreak in Pacific history.”

For many Americans, the Marshall Islands are best known for a movie monster and a cartoon icon. Godzilla, the Japanese-inspired monster of the Pacific, was awakened and mutated by the atomic bombs in Bikini Atoll. SpongeBob SquarePants, the Nickelodeon cartoon character, lives with his friends in Bikini Bottom.

A recent review of California-approved high school history textbooks and curricula showed no mention of the Marshall Islands or the U.S. nuclear testing program and human experimentation program there.

Even less widely known are the Marshallese attempts, for the last three decades, to seek compensation from the U.S. for the health and environmental effects of nuclear testing. They’ve been denied standing to sue in U.S. courts, and Congress has declined their requests.

The Nuclear Claims Tribunal — an independent arbiter established by the U.S.-Marshall Islands compact to process and rule on claims — has ruled in their favor, awarding them more than $2 billion in damages. But the U.S. has paid out only $4 million, according to congressional testimony, and no enforcement mechanism exists.

In the last few years, though, the island nation’s claims have begun to get more visibility.

President Heine has achieved near-celebrity status at international events. The Marshall Islands recently secured a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council, giving the nation another forum in which to raise its concerns.

A geopolitical shift also has given the islands new leverage. China has increased its reach into the central Pacific, providing aid and loans to dozens of nations, surpassing the United States as the region’s largest trade partner.

“China is trying to erode U.S. influence in the region to weaken the U.S. military presence and create an opening for Chinese military access,” according to a 2018 report from the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, a congressional committee.

In September, two of the United States’ staunchest allies in the Pacific — Kiribati and the Solomon Islands — severed diplomatic ties with Taiwan, embracing China instead.

Washington has greeted those developments with concern.

In August, Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo flew to Micronesia to meet with the leaders of several Pacific island nations, including the Marshall Islands.

He announced the United States’ intention to extend the compact with the Marshall Islands — providing aid in exchange for a secure military presence, and working rights for Marshallese in the United States.

The announcement came as a surprise to the Marshallese, who were anticipating the expiration in 2023 of their compact, which includes annual grants from the U.S. that total about $30 million a year.

Marshallese officials read that as a sign that the islands have new negotiating power.

“These are matters of life and death for us,” said Ading, the Enewetak senator. “We can’t afford to rely exclusively on reassurances from one source. We need neutral experts from the international community to weigh in, to confirm or challenge” previous U.S. findings.

Many Marshallese say they don’t want U.S. money or apologies, but just a home in the Marshall Islands that is safe and secure.

Nerje Joseph holds out hope for a day when her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren can return to her ancestral home in Rongelap and she can be buried in the sands of her youth, alongside her ancestors, under the coconut trees she remembers so well.

“In Los Angeles, you make movies about the Titanic. About people who lost everything,” she said.

“Why don’t you make movies about us?”

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12 Nov

A Foreign Perspective, News and Analyses

English Online International Newspapers

Nearly all of these are English-edition daily newspapers. These sites have interesting editorials and essays, and many have links to other good news sources. We try to limit this list to those sites which are regularly updated, reliable, with a high percentage of “up” time.

Recommended:

Irish Examiner>>

France 24>>

Spiegel>>

The Age>>

The Observer>>

View All>>

Climate Visuals photography award 2019: winners and shortlisted

 

My community deserves the unvarnished truth from me, its mayor. Ignorance and arrogance delivered us ashes

 

Fire and rescue team inspects damage around Torrington in Glen Innes

‘Members of my family are in hospital. Two community members, my neighbours for decades, are lost to us.’ Photograph: Brook Mitchell/Getty Images

Heeding the advice of fire controllers and decades of scientific reports, Glen Innes Severn council last month declared a climate emergency. As the New South Wales government itself has now declared, those emergency conditions extend far beyond our shire borders and touch every community across the state.

Within our borders we have seen a magnificent, humane and unstinting response from the Rural Fire Service, State Emergency Service, Red Cross, Salvation Army, NSW Police, Glen Innes Severn council employees, fellow councillors, the deputy mayor, Dianne Newman, and hundreds of community volunteers who for months now have done everything from sweep gutters to pitch tents to butter bread for sandwiches.

The anger is real. The anger is justified. Because this disaster was all foreseen and predicted

Throughout this time, every effort has been made to prepare and defend both private and public properties in my community of Wytaliba, NSW, which last week succumbed to merciless physics that pay no heed to opinion, nor folklore, nor politics.

Members of my family are in hospital. Two community members, my neighbours for decades, are lost to us. We have lost dozens of homes beloved by hundreds of people. An entire community has been all but wiped off the map.

In the face of this tragedy already I have received a personal message of support from the NSW governor, Margaret Beazley, for whose humane and wise words I am most humbly grateful, and for whose leadership of the state of NSW we are together all indebted.

Alongside everyone in this community, I also welcome the commitment of our state member for Northern Tablelands, Adam Marshall, to the rebuilding of Wytaliba public school, a much-loved school which burned to the ground on the same day that the federal government announced that only private schools will share in $10m of drought support funding.

While all this is a personal tragedy for my family and myself, it is but one story within an unfolding statewide and global disaster, about which our community deserves nothing less than the honest and unvarnished truth.

There are already those who, following such statements, will aim to shoot the messenger. To those people I say this: take your best shot, for I have already been through hell and there is nothing you can say or do that can touch me now.

But for the sake of the future, for the sake of our community and the rising generation who will inherit this scorched Earth, one can only hope there will be enough people remaining who retain the common decency to listen, to heed the cries of those in harm’s way, who will now together take decisive and collective action to save our ecosystem and our civilisation from collapse.

Already there are armchair experts ready with free advice about meeting with disaster. Let it be made perfectly clear that all the area that burned has already been a fire ground for two months. There were hazard reduction and backburns under state authority last month and last year. The properties were all well-prepared and extensively defended. People who have lived with fire risk for decades knew exactly what to do, and they did it. The full expertise and advice of fire controllers has been heeded at every turn.

I’ll put my 20-year Rural Fire Service medal up against your free advice any day of the week.

The anger is real. The anger is justified. Because this disaster was all foreseen and predicted. For decades the link between a hotter, drier climate, land-clearing, excessive irrigation and increased fire risk have all been attested in scientific papers.

Equally for decades there have been those who insist they know better. Their ignorance and arrogance have delivered us only ashes – let these now be swept away.

Instead, we will turn towards the sober and sensible measures recommended by fire controllers, and by scientists. We will insist that governments at all levels take heed of that advice, for we have seen now up close the result when they do not.

We turn to those governments now to seek what support is needed and available to assist these devastated communities to get back on their feet. To protect these communities from future harm by curbing climate change. To commit to a saner, safer world where we measure our progress in terms of sustainability, and our wealth in terms of community.

In the face of disaster, everyone learns something about themselves and the people around them. What, I wonder, will be the lesson learnt from this disaster? That remains to be seen. But for now it is the words attributed to Winston Churchill that are salutary: “if you’re going through hell, keep going.”

Carol Sparks is the mayor of Glen Innes Severn council

World Politics

United States

The McGlynn: A fool, following in his Dad’s footsteps. Hell, what did you expect?!

Donald Trump Jr and his girlfriend, Kimberly Guilfoyle, were forced to cut short a launch event for his book, Triggered: How the Left Thrives on Hate and Wants to Silence Us, at the University of California, Los Angeles, because of loud booing from the audience.

The audience was angry that Trump Jr and Guilfoyle would not take questions.

Trump Jr tried to argue that taking questions risked creating soundbites that leftwing social media posters would distort

  • Trump falsely tweets that Daca covers ‘hardened criminals’

  • Court to decide on status of 700,000 undocumented migrants

 

A crowd of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (Daca) program supporters is reflected in Rosario Lopez’s glasses during a protest on Olivera Street in Los Angeles, California, in 2017.

A crowd of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (Daca) program supporters is reflected in Rosario Lopez’s glasses during a protest on Olivera Street in Los Angeles, California, in 2017. Photograph: Kyle Grillot/Reuters

Crowds cheered and cars honked outside the supreme court on Tuesday morning, hours before the nation’s highest court was to weigh a case that will determine whether 700,000 young undocumented immigrants can remain in the US under a program the Trump administration has sought to end.

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (Daca) applies to undocumented migrants who were brought to the country as children. It was introduced by Barack Obama in 2012 and shut down by the Trump administration in September 2017.

The court will consider whether it has the jurisdiction to review the government’s decision to end Daca and, if so, whether the Trump administration ended it lawfully.

Early on Tuesday, Trump incorrectly tweeted that some Daca recipients, who he has repeatedly expressed support for in the past, were “hardened criminals”. The program bars convicted felons and others convicted of serious crimes.

The fate of Daca recipients, or Dreamers, has become a pawn in relations between Democrats in Congress and the Trump administration.

On Tuesday morning, Trump also wrote: “If supreme court remedies with overturn, a deal will be made with Dems for them to stay!”

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11 Nov

Veterans’ Day 2019

Normandy American Cemetery

The McGlynn: Originally Published in 2007

HUBRIS

 Now, tell me, again, what did our President say

as he ended his review of the war in Afghanistan?

 

Did our President say, “I am going to finish the job.”?

I am going to finish the job.” just “I” as in “I, the decider”?

just “I,” not “we,” not “our brave soldiers,” not “our allies,” not “the congress”?

I am going to finish the job.” Did our President say that?

 

Tell me, again, what did our President say?

Did he say, “I am going to finish the job.”

finish” as in “to successfully complete,” “finish” as in “to accomplish”?

finish,” as in “to win,” not “to re-think,” not “to change direction,” not “to bring to an end”?

“I am going to finish the job.” Did our President say that?

 

Tell me, again, what did our President say?

Did he say, “I am going to finish the job“?

the job” as in “a definite piece of work,” “the job” as in a “certain mission”?

the job” as in “the bombing, the killing, the dying,”?

the job” as in “that which we began eight years ago”?

the job” as in his “war of necessity”?

“I am going to finish the job.” Did our President say that?

 

Tell me again, what did our President, Barack Obama, say

as he ended his review of the mess in Afghanistan?

 

“I am going to finish the job.”

 

*hubris, as in “arrogance resulting from excessive pride which goes before the fall”

 

By Mary O’Leary McGlinn Datwyler

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