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Wednesday, 19 April 2017 22:28

Florida Cities Closer To Banning The Bag

With last year’s styrofoam ban upheld by a Miami-Dade judge, the city of Coral Gables, south Florida’s “City Beautiful,” is stepping into the eco-regulation fray with another initiative. This time, to “ban the bag.”

At a March 14 meeting, the Coral Gables City Council gave initial approval to an ordinance prohibiting plastic bags being used by retailers or at special events – with a few exceptions. A final vote, which would make the ban official, is expected on May 8.

Coral Gables would be the first city in Florida with a plastic bag ban.
“Coral Gables has strict zoning laws of which you wouldn’t believe the minutiae and nitpicking,” according to WLRN. “If something is ‘decayed’ in Coral Gables, even lushly, you risk getting beaten to death with a perfectly manicured palmetto branch that can ­only be removed Thursdays at 4:00 a.m. by the mayor’s cousin.”
And if the city does enact the bag ban, it would also be operating in defiance of existing state regulations – but perhaps not for long.

Two bills in the state legislature are poised to allow cities across Florida to legally join Coral Gables in this popular regulation.
Ban on the ban

In 2008, Florida lawmakers passed legislation that prohibited cities and municipalities from instituting retail bag bans until such time as the Department of Environmental Protection could make recommendations on the practice. The DEP’s Retail Bags Report came out in 2010.

PROOF IN THE PUDDING

Environmental groups push bag bans as a necessary planet-saving step. But do they work?

State Rep. David Richardson, D-Miami Beach, has been introducing bills for several years to allow bag ban programs in the state.

The third consecutive iteration, this year’s HB 93, would allow coastal or otherwise water-adjacent municipalities of less than 100,000 residents to initiate a pilot program banning plastic bags. The accompanying Senate bill, SB 162, has made it through its first committee stop.

If enacted, the man-made island of Miami Beach, population 92,312 according to the latest available Census estimates, would be allowed to begin a bag ban trial program. On the other side of Biscayne Bay, the city of Miami, with its 2,712,945 residents, would not.

Richardson was not available for comment. But his legislative assistant, Luis Callejas, told us that this was the result of legislative negotiations to advance the bill.

“Initially, it was for any city in the state,” said Callejas. “[Our goal is] just to make sure that interest groups know that this is a big concern for Miami Beach and coastal communities in general.”

Callejas said that the larger goal of this legislation was simply to get these environmental issues more attention in the legislature, but that the Florida Retail Federation had successfully blocked previous bag ban bills from advancing in the House.

The Florida Retail Federation had not responded to our requests for comment at the time of publication, but FRF spokesman James Miller told the TC Palm that the ban hurts the “ability of each retailer to respond to the demands of its customers,” particularly when navigating different regulations in different municipalities.

“Plastic bags are 100 percent recyclable, and retailers have embraced their role in recycling these materials,” he said, adding that there is no perfect environmental solution.

A little less conversation

At the state legislature, the bag ban talk might be more for show.

But for Coral Gables, the activity on the ban is real.

If Coral Gables does pass the ban in defiance of existing state law, it can expect to be sued by the state.
Marilu Flores, vice chair of the Surfrider Foundation’s Miami chapter, told Watchdog that they have offered the city legal assistance in the event of a suit.

“What’s happening in Coral Gables is very interesting because it’s putting pressure in Tallahassee that this is what people want,” she said, adding that Surfrider has drummed up 40 letters of support from different Florida communities interested in their own bag bans.

Callejas also said the Surfrider Foundation has been instrumental in crafting the language of the bill and pushing the legislative agenda.

Surfrider’s involvement in the Florida issue is longstanding. It has been active in pushing legislation in the past few years and tried to thwart the initial legislative bag ban pre-emption.

Flores said she was hopeful. “This year, we’ve seen some movement that haven’t seen in years past.”

She added that Florida was uniquely situated to benefit from a ban, and that aside from all of the obvious wildlife and ecological pollution problems, plastic bag pollution is a “huge financial disruptor as well.”

Miami Beach found that loose plastic bags interfered with the city’s floodgate mechanisms and worsened flooding problems, she said.
Surfrider is one of the most visible advocates behind a nationwide epidemic of bag bans.

Florida alone has eleven Surfrider chapters, with many more across the country, all of which coordinate with the organization’s Malibu headquarters.

Surfrider bills itself as a community of everyday people who are the “champions of surf and sand.”
However, investigations into the national organization suggest that Surfrider sometimes skirts the lawsthat govern not-for-profit entities.

Solving the wrong problem

In addition to questions about the organizational integrity of the bag ban’s loudest advocate, the movement’s claim to scientific integrity and environmental dedication is undermined in another way: the empirical results of places that have already tried the ban.

“Plastic bag bans haven’t been transformative anywhere else. This is a solution in search of a problem,” said Adrian Moore, vice president of policy at the free-market Reason Foundation.

CLEAN WATER: Reason’s Adrian Moore says that banning plastic bags is not an effective way of getting at the real
problem: littering.

He told Watchdog that plastic bag bans do not have a significant impact on litter reduction. Reusable plastic bags make up only 1 percent of litter found in a typical city, and even less than that of the solid waste in landfills.

Moore added that the heavy duty reusable bags that people turn to when grocery plastic bags are banned are not necessarily better for the environment, given the greater resource and processing demands of making them.

He called bag bans a kind of “cop-out,” allowing cities to avoid asking the real questions about why we have problems with litter (including plastic bags) getting into the environment, be it lack of garbage cans, insufficient public education, or not cleaning up after events, for starters.

Moreover, Moore said that a lot of these cities that pass bag bans are those with environmentally conscious, better-off residents. In other words, places where people are already likely to be mindful of reusing bags and stewarding the environment – and where the impact of bag bans is particularly negligible.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 23 states proposed legislation regulating the retail use of plastic bags in 2015 and 2016. The only laws that passed were in Arizona, Idaho and Missouri, all of which pre-empted city bans.

California has the oldest statewide ban, passed in 2014. Hawaii effectively has one as well, given that all of its largest cities have passed bag ban ordinances.

At the city level, there has been even more activity, with cities like Austin, Chicago and Seattle passing legislation regarding the use of plastic bags. Others, such as Boulder, Colorado; Brownsville, Texas; and Washington, D.C., have instituted bag fees.

The results are underwhelming. In Washington, the evidence of definitive success isn’t there. The bag tax money has been used for purposes like school field trips and personnel costs, as opposed to the environment initiatives that it was earmarked for.
In Brownsville, the legality of local bag fees has come under question.

But maybe Florida would be different?

“No,” said Moore. “There’s nothing unique about Florida.”

“If you have a litter problem, you have a litter problem, not a plastic bag problem.”

Erin Clark
Watchdog.org

Wednesday, 19 April 2017 22:25

STOMP comes to town!

Stomp comes to town this week! They will be performing at the Barbara B Mann Performing Arts Hall.

Stomp, now in it's 26th year, was created by Luke Cresswell, John McAuley and Steve McNicholas in Brighton, United Kingdom in 1991.

The performers use a variety of everyday objects like matchboxes, brooms, garbage cans, Zippo lighters and more fill the stage with energizing beats in an inventive and invigorating stage show that's dance, music and theatrical performance blended together in one electrifying rhythm performance.

This an amazing show, I was able to catch them when they performed at Germain Arena years ago, I felt engaged throughout the show and never thought about how much longer till the show was over! A true art form perfecting rhythm, motion, humor and skill into a choreographed evening of captivating entertainment!

The great reviews on line are endless, here are just a few:

-"The musicians take the audience through different themes during this tie, from floor based beats to garbage to light. They add character and a story line without saying a word. Each different scene is done very well - introducing humor and substance to the music. Without giving away too much the lighter bit was so different and unique it really left me impressed!" Sarah N. Il.

- "Stomp is literally my favorite show - I've always loved percussion, and seeing these awesome performers making awesome beats with matchboxes, brooms, garbage cans, Zippo lighters, and brooms is just ridiculously cool. The show itself has a great sense of humor to it, filled with dance, theatrical performance, and awesome beats. I absolutely love it!" Hannah H. Va.

- "Omg! My heart is still beating so fast from the excitement of this show ! These are incredibly talented individuals. John P. Fl

Stomp performs this Thursday and Friday, April 20 & 21Tickets are still available http://www.bbmpah.com

Al DiPasquale

Ed. Note: With the numerous deaths we have had locally due to overdoses of opioids... we have a major problem in Lee and Collier counties.... Please Read this!

Health agencies are calling for doctors who prescribe opioid painkillers such as Vicodin and Percocet to make sure many patients also receive a separate drug that could save their life if they accidentally overdose.

The recommendation, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration, comes in response to an alarming rise in fatal opioid overdoses, says Consumer Reports. They reached a record 33,000 in 2015, according to the most recent data from the CDC. One-third of those deaths involved prescription opioids.

Yet many overdose deaths could be prevented with a single drug: naloxone.

The rescue medication comes in the form of an auto-injector or nasal spray, either of which is easy for anyone to use in an emergency. It doesn't even require a prescription in many states.

But most doctors aren't prescribing naloxone often enough -- and many patients don't even know it exists. That has public health and medical organizations concerned.

People who take opioids regularly for pain should talk to their doctor about naloxone, advises Roger Chou, M.D., associate professor of medicine at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland and co-author of recent CDC guidelines for using opioids to treat chronic pain.

"Getting naloxone makes sense for anyone prescribed opioids, especially for people who have any factors that could put them at risk for overdose," he says. "That includes things like taking high doses or taking certain other medications such as a muscle relaxant, sedative or sleep drug that can intensify the dangerous side effects of the opioid."

But Chou also cautions that naloxone should be only one part of your safety strategy. "Ideally, you should use that conversation with your doctor to talk about ways to reduce your risk, such as slowly tapering down to a safer dose of your pain medication."

Consumer Reports advises that anyone who uses opioids recreationally or has a history of opioid addiction should also have naloxone on hand.

How to Get Naloxone, Even Without a Prescription

Healthcare providers can prescribe naloxone, but in most cases, you can get it even without a prescription. Most states have passed laws allowing pharmacists to dispense the drug.

Your pharmacist can submit the cost to your insurance, regardless of whether you have a prescription.

But because recommendations calling for wider use of naloxone are still relatively new, not all pharmacies are stocking the drug at this point, according to John Beckner, B.S.Pharm., senior director of Strategic Initiatives at the National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA).

If you want to have naloxone on hand for a friend or family member, you can still get the drug from the pharmacy, but your personal insurance probably won't cover it, says the NCPA's Beckner.

Although you can get generic naloxone in vials to be used with injections or in nasal spray kits, the newer brand-name products, Narcan Nasal Spray and Evzio Auto-Injectors, are much easier for people without medical training to use.

Consumer Reports

Monday, 17 April 2017 22:41

PUTIN STILL CALLING THE SHOTS IN SYRIA

Almost exactly 10 years before launching a Tomahawk missile strike against a Syrian air base, Donald J. Trump enjoyed a similar triumph in an internationally televised, pay-per-view spectacle called the "Battle of the Billionaires."

Staged as the culmination of a widely hyped "feud" between Trump and World Wrestling Entertainment mogul Vince McMahon, the event featured Trump in a business suit tackling his rival on the ring apron -- the referee having been rendered conveniently unconscious.

Trump pummeled his rival with some of the weakest fake punches in professional wrestling history. Smirking and swaggering, he then plunked McMahon in a chair in the center of the ring and shaved his head. The video simply has to be seen to be believed.

Now I don't want to shock anybody, but professional wrestling feuds are purely scripted theatrical events. Let Wikipedia explain: "Feuds are often the result of the friction that is created between faces (the heroic figures) and heels (the malevolent, 'evil' participants). Common causes of feuds are a purported slight or insult, although they can be based on many other things, including conflicting moral codes or simple professional one-upmanship."

Which brings us back to Syria. Because if it would be irresponsible to call the events of last week as stage-managed as "WrestleMania 23," it would also be naive to ignore their theatrical aspects.

First, because neither the Assad nerve gas atrocity nor the U.S. response had any real military purpose. The Syrian dictator and his Russian backers have been winning the civil war, bombing hospitals and slaughtering thousands of civilians without resorting to banned weapons. Assad's only imaginable motive would have been to convince rebel factions of his absolute ruthlessness -- something they already believe.

Supposedly, however, the Russians had persuaded Assad to surrender his biochemical arsenal back in 2013, after President Obama's ill-considered "red line" blunder. How, then, with Russian soldiers all over the remote air strip where the gas attack was allegedly launched, could Vladimir Putin NOT have known what was going down?

And why would Assad have defied the Russians? Last week's barbaric strike killed a reported 84 civilians in a rebel-held Syrian village. In contrast, the 2013 chemical assault that prompted Obama's anger took 1,400 lives -- an outrage that troubled Trump hardly at all.

Reasoning that Assad's enemies were Sunni extremists like ISIS, Trump sent out a series of Twitter messages urging Obama to lay off.

"AGAIN, TO OUR VERY FOOLISH LEADER," he wrote, "DO NOT ATTACK SYRIA - IF YOU DO MANY VERY BAD THINGS WILL HAPPEN & FROM THAT FIGHT THE U.S. GETS NOTHING!"

Never mind that Obama ultimately agreed with Trump about the risks of involving the U.S. in yet another Middle Eastern war. "Now that Obama's poll numbers are in tailspin," he tweeted in October 2012, "watch for him to launch a strike in Libya or Iran. He is desperate."

A month later, Obama was re-elected easily.

Meanwhile, "If he (Trump) can reverse himself on Syria," writes former G.W. Bush speechwriter David Frum, "he can reverse himself on anything."

Apparently so. In 2013, a Washington Post-ABC News poll found that only 22 percent of Republicans supported Obama striking Syria; the same poll today shows 86 percent of Republicans back Trump's actions. I'm sorry, but that is exactly a pro-wrestling audience.

But back to Putin. Assuming for the sake of argument that the Russian strongman DID know in advance about Bashar al-Assad's plan to use nerve gas against his own people, why would he let it happen?

Consider what has taken place. By playing the heel, Putin has allowed President Trump to enact the role of hero: launching an almost purely symbolic, militarily insignificant strike against Syria.

"When I take action," George W. Bush famously said after 9/11, "I'm not going to fire a $2 million missile at a $10 empty tent and hit a camel in the butt. It's going to be decisive."

Trump went camel hunting, carefully warning the Russians (hence the Syrians) about the exact time and place precision-guided missiles would strike. Not that it was the wrong thing to do. While few Americans would have minded the U.S. sending a drone strike into Assad's bedroom window, that would risk intensifying Syria's many-sided, 6-year-old civil war.

And yes, Hillary Clinton was urging Trump on.

"You're going to end up in World War Three over Syria if we listen to Hillary Clinton," Trump said last fall. "You're not fighting Syria anymore, you're fighting Syria, Russia and Iran, all right?"

But that was then. This is now.

Meanwhile, Trump's son Eric may have inadvertently given the game away. "If there was anything that (the strike on) Syria did," he told a British reporter, "it was to validate the fact that there is no Russia tie."

We're also not supposed to notice that Putin's the one calling the shots.

 Gene Lyons

United Airlines brought itself a world of hurt with its disastrous handling of a seat-shortage problem Sunday that led to an Asian-American passenger being beaten bloody and dragged, apparently unconscious, off a plane by security personnel at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport. A potentially costly lawsuit by the passenger is probably the least of United's worries. The self-inflicted public relations wounds could be catastrophic.

The airline's stock price took a nosedive. In China, one of the airline's major markets, reaction has been volcanic, largely because the abused passenger was reported to be ethnically Chinese. Within 36 hours of Sunday night's incident, a video of the man being dragged off the Flight 3411 to Louisville, Ky., had been viewed more than 210 million times. Outraged viewers in China called for an international boycott.

United claims to offer more nonstop flights to China than any other airline. The airline cannot afford to put that lucrative market in jeopardy. Deft handling of this incident was an absolute requirement. United blew it badly.

In a statement, chief executive Oscar Munoz offered an Orwellian apology: "This is an upsetting event to all of us here at United. I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers." He revised it Tuesday into a full-throated apology.
What's worse is the reason why the battered passenger and three others were forced off the flight. The airline said it had overbooked -- common in air travel -- and had offered up to $800 and a free night's hotel accommodation for passengers willing to give up their seats. None volunteered.

In desperation, the airline said four passengers were selected at random by computer and then ordered off -- but not to make room for other paying passengers. It was to clear seats so that four United employees could travel to Louisville as relief crew members for another flight. The airline later acknowledged there was never any overbooking.

The airline made a conscious decision to put its own operational priorities ahead of the needs and rights of its paying passengers. No matter how urgent it was for ticketed passengers to get to Louisville, United decided seats for its four employees were more important.
Equally incomprehensible was the airline's decision to board passengers before the overbooking problem had been resolved. It's far easier to deny entry when passengers are in the waiting area than when they're already buckled into their seats.

Various news reports identified the battered passenger as David Dao, a Louisville physician. Witnesses quoted him as saying that he needed to return to Louisville Sunday night because he had appointments with patients on Monday morning.

Reports say that Dao had been in legal trouble from drug-related offenses more than a decade ago. His past should have no bearing on the appalling way he was treated Sunday night.
This is one case where the airline deserves all the rough re-accommodation customers can bestow upon it.

Saturday, 15 April 2017 20:19

Transactional President

As President Donald Trump flew to Palm Beach Thursday for Easter weekend, there was a lull in his first 100 days -- a chance for Washington to reflect on how his presidency is likely to evolve.

There are many question marks, but one sure thing: More than any ideology, Trump values winning itself -- whether the contest is over ratings, poll numbers, crowd size or the claim that he gets things done. This president is no ideologue; he's transactional.

Last week Americans saw Trump's transactional strategies in action.

Feed your political base what it wants most

The week began as Trump's nominee Neil Gorsuch was sworn into the U.S. Supreme Court. At age 49, Gorsuch has decades to carve his mark on the country's top bench.

NBC's 2016 election exit poll found that 27 percent of Trump voters saw Supreme Court appointments as their most important issue, while 48 percent rated it as important. This moment alone is what prompted many Americans to vote for Trump.

Declare victory often

As a candidate, Trump proclaimed, "NATO is obsolete." Wednesday in the East Room, Trump stood next to NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and announced NATO is "no longer obsolete." Had NATO changed so much since Trump won the White House? Not really. What changed is that Trump wanted to display allies who support his missile strike against Syria.

GOP strategist and frequent Trump critic John Weaver cited Trump's NATO declaration as an example of Trump's declaring "victory when nothing has changed," just as Trump did a victory lap because "we closed an airport in Syria for two hours." To Weaver this tactic "might satisfy the 30 percent of the hardcore supporters in the country that he has, but it doesn't change reality."

Live in the present

"I try to learn from the past, but I plan for the future by focusing exclusively on the present," Trump wrote in "Trump: The Art of the Deal."

Kyle Kondik of the University of Virginia Center for Politics wonders if the present is all Trump knows. "A lot of time, he may be hearing an angle on an issue for the first time," said Kondik.

That seemed to be the case when Trump gave an interview in Wednesday's Wall Street Journal. Trump talked about his effort to convince Chinese President Xi Jinping to curb North Korea's nuclear ambitions. "After listening for 10 minutes, I realized it's not so easy," said Trump. "I felt pretty strongly that they had a tremendous power over North Korea. But it's not what you would think."

Trump did claim a win from the Mar-a-Lago summit: Instead of joining Russia in voting against the resolution, China abstained from a vote on a draft U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Syria's use of chemical weapons.

Use the news media

Trump has declared war on the mainstream media, especially the "failing," "dishonest," "fake news," "enemy of the American people" New York Times. Even still, Trump grants frequent interviews to the same news outlets he lambastes.

When Trump's American Health Care Act tanked, he phoned New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman and The Washington Post's Robert Costa. "Time and again," CNNMoney's Dylan Byers observed, "Trump came back to Haberman. He granted her at least a dozen news-making interviews, just counting the ones that were on the record."

Kondik said Trump's ability to "dominate news coverage" was key to helping him clear the crowded GOP primary field and beat Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Make people believe they can persuade you
On Wednesday, Trump told Fox Business News' Maria Bartiromo that he expects to pass a version of his American Health Care Act with "zero" Democrats and "close to 100 percent of the Republicans." That same day he told The Wall Street Journal, "What I think should happen -- and will happen -- is the Democrats will start calling me and negotiating." Huh? It's Trump's way of telling both parties that he will deal with anyone, much as a TV cop announces he is willing to reach a plea bargain with whichever suspect talks first.

"Ultimately his best route on health care is a path that can get Democratic support," Weaver opined, even if Trump alienates the righter-than-right Freedom Caucus.

But Kondik doubts Democrats want to deal when they see the potential for Trump to fail on his own. He added, "I do think that Trump is a naturally transactional person and he may want to be a transactional president, but there may not be a lot of people in the government willing to transact with him."

Maybe, but when your critics think you have moved into their camp, opposition can soften. As MSNBC host Joe Scarborough, a frequent Trump nag, tweeted, "Trump is reversing policies on NATO, Russia, China and other foreign policy positions. And all of these reversals are good for U.S. standing."

Use your power

Thursday the United States dropped the "mother of all bombs" on ISIS caves in Afghanistan. "What I do is, I authorize my military," said Trump. (And North Korea is watching.

Debra J. Saunders

Saturday, 15 April 2017 20:04

Will Christianity Perish in Its Birthplace?

"Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? (My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?)" Those are among Jesus' last words on the Cross that first Good Friday.

It was a cry of agony, but not despair. The dying Christ, to rise again in three days, was repeating the first words of the 22nd Psalm.

And today, in lands where Christ lived and taught and beyond where the Christian faith was born and nourished, the words echo. For it is in the birthplace of Christianity that Christians face the greatest of persecutions and martyrdoms since the time of Vladimir Lenin and Josef Stalin.

President Donald Trump, outraged by pictures of infants and children who had perished in the nerve gas attack in Syria, ordered missile strikes on the air base from which the war crime came.

Two days later, Palm Sunday, 44 Coptic Christians celebrating Christ's triumphal entry into Jerusalem were martyred in terrorist attacks in Egypt. The first bombing was at St. George's Church in Tanta, the second at St. Mark's in Alexandria, where the Coptic Pope Tawadros II was at Mass.

The pope was unhurt, but 100 Christians were injured in the attacks. At St. George's, one witness described the scene after the bomb exploded near the altar: "I saw pieces of body parts. ... There was so much blood everywhere. Some people had half of their bodies missing."

The Islamic State group claims credit for the murders, and the pictures of dead children from those churches were surely as horrific as the pictures the president saw after the gas attack.

Copts are among the earliest Christians, dating to the first century A.D., when St. Mark, one of the Twelve Apostles, established the first church outside the Holy Land and became bishop of Alexandria.

The Copts make up 10 percent of Egypt's population. They have been especially targeted for terrorist attacks since the 2013 overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohammed Morsi, who had been elected president after the ouster of longtime U.S. ally Hosni Mubarak.

In the subsequent struggle between Egypt's Islamists, whose base is in Sinai, and the Cairo regime of Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who was welcomed to the White House in March, the Copts are seen as soft-target allies of Gen. el-Sissi's and hated for their faith.

Whatever they did for democracy, the U.S. interventions in the Middle East and the vaunted Arab Spring have proved to be pure hell for Arab Christians.

In Saddam Hussein's Iraq, Christians were left alone if they did not interfere in politics. Indeed, they prospered as doctors, lawyers, journalists, academics, engineers, businessmen. A Christian, Tariq Aziz, was Saddam's foreign minister who negotiated with Secretary of State James Baker to try to prevent what became the Gulf War.

Before 2003, there were still 800,000 Christians in Iraq. But after a decade of church bombings and murders of priests, their numbers have plummeted. When the Islamic State seized a third of Iraq, Christians under the group's rule had to convert to Islam and pay a tax or face beheading.

On Dec. 26, St. Stephen's Day, which honors the first martyr, Pope Francis hailed the Iraqi Christians lately liberated from Islamic State rule, noting, "They are our martyrs of today, and there are so many we can say that they are more numerous than in the first centuries."

In 2016, an estimated 90,000 more Christians worldwide died for their faith.

Under Syria's dictator Hafez al-Assad and son Bashar, Christians have been 10 percent of the population and protected by the regime. They thus have sided with Assad against the terrorists of the Islamic State and al-Qaida, whose victory would mean their expulsion or death.

Of the 10 nations deemed by Christianity Today to be the most hateful and hostile toward Christianity, eight are majority-Muslim nations, with the Middle East being the site of the worst of today's persecutions.

Afghanistan, which we "liberated" in 2001, is listed as the third-most hostile nation toward Christians. The punishment for baptism there is death. A decade ago, a Christian convert had to flee his country to avoid beheading.

Consider. Christianity, whose greatest feast day we celebrate Sunday, is the cradle faith of the culture and the civilization of the West. And in our secularized world, Christianity remains the predominant faith.

A millennium ago, Christendom mounted crusades to ensure that its pilgrims would not lose the right to visit the Holy Land in peace.

Now, a decade and a half after we launched invasions and occupations of the Muslim world in Afghanistan and then Iraq to bring the blessings of democracy, the people there who profess that Christian faith are being persecuted as horribly as they were under the Romans in Nero's time.

Where are the gains for religious freedom and human rights to justify all the bombings, invasions and wars we have conducted in the lands from Libya to Pakistan -- to justify the losses we have endured and the death and suffering we have inflicted?

Truth be told, it is in part because of us that Christianity is on its way to being exterminated in its cradle.

Happy Easter!
Patrick J. Buchanan

Saturday, 15 April 2017 20:01

WORKING FOR PEACE IN THE FACE OF TERROR

Peace -- it's the first thing you notice as you approach the "Coptic cathedral" in Manhattan, on the Upper East Side. St. Mary and St. Mark Coptic Orthodox Church is located in a former Roman Catholic church by the name of Our Lady of Peace. It was almost stunning to see the word "Peace" on a sign outside the church, one day after almost 50 Coptic Christians were killed in Palm Sunday attacks in Egypt. Also, it was consoling, even hopeful -- even if the temptation to believe peace a lost cause creeps in.

The second thing you notice are the open doors. Again, a surprise. Given what had happened the day before, I expected police and barricades, and possibly locked doors. It was Monday of Holy Week, approaching noon, and there were about a dozen people praying. I wasn't the only person who had made a pilgrimage of prayer and solidarity. We visitors couldn't have been made to feel more welcome -- people offered me a book, showing me what page they were on in weeklong prayers. Other people came by wanting to offer a donation for the churches in Egypt. Tourists made quick stops.

The Coptic Christians are a people not all that well known in the West, and yet here they were, a spiritual shot in the arm to a city and a church in transition. It is no secret that the Roman Catholics in the city are closing schools and churches. A beautiful new life could be seen in this church, recently leased to the Coptic Christians. During some of the holiest days of the Christian church year, there seemed to be a healing happening. Divisions -- and foreignness -- seem to be lessened in both practical and mystical ways as people prayed together. On Good Friday, Cardinal Timothy Dolan headed to the church to offer his own act of prayerful solidarity. What fitting unity in the face of suffering, both of Christ's and the persecuted Church's in Egypt.

One under-reported fact is that on Palm Sunday, terrorists in Egypt tried to kill the Coptic pope, Tawadros II. ISIS has targeted everyone from Pope Francis to Libyan laborers who refuse to renounce their belief in the divinity of Jesus Christ, desiring to rid the world of Christians. This should be a big deal, it should shock us, but we're too distracted by everything else. We must renew our insistence on religious liberty and real tolerance -- where people who don't really know or understand each other can stand side by side in acknowledgment of common humanity.

Preaching shortly after the attacks, Bishop Angaelos, general bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom, talked about the power that the persecuted do possess: "People invade our spaces, our lives and our churches, but they must never invade our hearts." With the attacks in Egypt in mind, he urged that this not be just another Holy Week. He urged that Christians open their hearts to a God who knows betrayal and who forgives in the face of it. That doesn't always happen here on Earth, needless to say. Christians can be some of the worst Christians -- examples of God -- in the world.

"I must love, even if I do not trust," Bishop Angaelos said. "I must be prepared to forgive." Don't let it just be a "cliche," he said. "Don't dismiss this as your annual Palm Sunday sermon."

And while it may be easy to dismiss words, it's harder to dismiss people who died simply gathering to pray. Or at least it should be.

This Holy Week, let's remember their example, and honor them by working to promote more peaceful hearts, conversations, social media interactions -- and maybe even a more peaceful world.
Kathryn Jean Lopez

Saturday, 15 April 2017 17:43

KNOW YOUR ENEMY

So, Donald J. Trump has now exercised his powers as commander in chief, sending Tomahawk missiles to destroy parts of the al-Shayrat air base used for Syrian chemical weapons. This young White House was preening with pride, yet it turned quickly to ambivalence.

Before 24 hours had even passed, the press and the military started asking: Does this attack foreshadow a strategy? Why weren't the runways destroyed? Is this mini-attack a prelude or a one-time shot?

President Trump explained ignoring the base's runways because they are so easy and inexpensive to rebuild (not worth our time, really). But these few seemingly innocent words missed the point.

For our, if you will, public relations interests, the world's TV screens that day should have been featuring Syrian planes and runways in shambles and the Syrian killer-base in ruins. Bashar al-Assad, still safely ensconced in his palaces in Damascus, should have looked like a prisoner encircled by his enemies. Instead, we see business as usual.
And once again, our leaders are being taken in by the American temptation in times of trouble to:
-- believe that a tentative and essentially ineffective strike, like this one, will change any military balance;

-- misunderstand the importance of public relations to warfare;

-- above all, have no idea whatsoever of what the Syrian regime is all about.

Think about it from the inside out: America has such fabulous riches and accomplishments -- from its scientific research to its universities, to its accomplished professionals, working men and women and military. There has never been a country like it in history.

But too much of its world standing is judged today by what people SEE of our international actions. Thus, much of our reputation is being damaged or sometimes even destroyed -- nearly half a century after the humiliating end of the Vietnam War in 1975 -- by the fact that we keep getting into so-called "small wars" where our political and military leaders have no idea how history defines and moves the peoples involved.

Places like Iraq, Afghan-istan and Somalia are "countries" with crazy borders left over from the European colonialists' desperate last-gasp mapmaking before they sailed home. Yet, from Vietnam and Laos to Libya and Syria, we haven't been able to realize, for starters, that peoples who have been colonized will fight to the death against supposed "new colonialists."

Don't misunderstand me: We have individuals in politics, in the Congress, in the universities and in the military who do understand the histories of other nations and how their people are moved (or not moved). For just military examples, take Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, now our hope in the White House, and Gen. James Mattis, secretary of defense. And we have cultural anthropologists and historians galore.

Yet no institutional mechanism exists to bring these individuals together into a group that would be taken seriously and listened to by the men and women actually planning tactics and strategy -- from the invasion of Iraq to the bombing of the Syrian base.

An example: The Trump administration originally talked optimistically about working WITH the Russians against ISIS in Syria. Yet, the quite obvious fact is that the Russians, with the Iranians and their tens of thousands of militiamen on the ground in Syria, have not the slightest intention of working with us on anything.
Shouldn't there have been a group in the Pentagon, the State Department or the White House capable of analyzing nations and peoples that should have foreseen that fact?

Impossible, you say? Never been done, you say?
In 1944, as the wars in Europe and in the Pacific wended their bitter ways to an end, Gen. Douglas MacArthur was aware that he would be tapped to take over the rebuilding of Japan. Not exactly a general who went to his staff for advice, he nevertheless was wise enough to form a group in the War Department to study the psyche of Japan and to provide for him the pattern for how he should rule Japan, as he effectively became its substitute emperor.

The group, mostly anthropologists headed by the brilliant Ruth Benedict, had never been to Japan, yet it came out with a report that became the book "The Chrysanthemum and the Sword," which showed MacArthur exactly how to rule in the occupation. His was an astounding success, while the book remains today the basis for all studies of the Japanese people.

Pentagon military thinkers, they say, are especially fascinated by the ancient writings on war by the wise Chinese tactician Sun Tzu. " If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle." he wrote centuries ago, "you need not fear the result of a hundred battles...If you know the enemy and know yourself,"

Georgie Anne Geyer

Georgie Anne Geyer has been a foreign correspondent and commentator on international affairs for more than 40 years

The world added record levels of renewable energy generating capacity in 2016, at an investment level 23 percent lower than the previous year, finds new research reported in the latest issue of “Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment.”

Wind, solar, biomass and waste-to-energy, geothermal, small hydro and marine sources of power added 138.5 gigawatts to global power capacity in 2016, up eight percent from the year before.

 

The added generating capacity roughly equals that of the world’s 16 largest existing power producing facilities combined, according to the report issued Thursday by three institutions – UN Environment, the Frankfurt School-UNEP Collaborating Centre, and Bloomberg New Energy Finance, BNEF.

“It’s a whole new world: even though investment is down, annual installations are still up,” said Michael Liebreich, chairman of the BNEF Advisory Board.

Investment levels in renewables fell in 2016. Less investment was needed due to falling costs.

The report shows that the average dollar capital expenditure per megawatt for solar photovoltaics and wind dropped by more than 10 percent compared to the previous year.

“Ever-cheaper clean tech provides a real opportunity for investors to get more for less,” said Erik Solheim, executive director of UN Environment, the United Nations environment agency based in Nairobi, Kenya.

“This is exactly the kind of situation, where the needs of profit and people meet, that will drive the shift to a better world for all,” Solheim said.

Investment in renewables capacity was roughly double that in fossil fuel generation, the report shows.

The new generating capacity from renewables was equivalent to 55 percent of all new power brought online in 2016, the highest proportion to date.

“The investor hunger for existing wind and solar farms is a strong signal for the world to move to renewables,” said Professor Dr. Udo Steffens, president of Frankfurt School of Finance & Management, commenting on record acquisition activity in the clean power sector, which rose 17 percent to US$110.2 billion last year.

The proportion of the world’s electricity coming from renewables, excluding large hydro, rose from 10.3 percent to 11.3 percent. The report indicates that this prevented the emission of an estimated 1.7 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide.

Recent figures from the International Energy Agency cited the switch to renewables as one of the main reasons for greenhouse gas emissions staying flat in 2016, for the third year running, while output in the global economy rose by 3.1 percent.

The total investment in renewables last year was $241.6 billion, the lowest since 2013, due in large part to falling costs.

Purchases of assets such as wind farms and solar parks reached a new high, $72.7 billion.

The average dollar capital expenditure per megawatt for solar photovoltaics and wind dropped by over 10 percent.

Solar capacity additions rose last year, while wind capacity additions fell.

New investment in solar totalled $113.7 billion, down 34 percent from the record high in 2015. Even so, solar capacity additions in 2016 rose to an all-time high of 75 gigawatts.

The Ramanathapuram solar complex in India’s Tamil Nadu state, the world’s largest solar photovoltaic project at 648 megawatts, was constructed and came online in September.

“A plant of this magnitude reinstates the country’s ambitions of becoming one of the leading green energy producers in the world,” said Gautam Adani, chairman of the Adani Group, which built the solar complex.

Wind made up $112.5 billion of investment globally, down nine percent; wind capacity additions fell to 54 gigawatts from the previous year’s high of 63 gigawatts.

While much of the drop in financing was due to reduced technology costs, the report documented a slowdown in China, Japan and some emerging markets, for a variety of reasons.

China saw investment drop 32 percent to $78.3 billion, breaking an 11-year rising trend.

Mexico, Chile, Uruguay, South Africa and Morocco all saw falls of 60 percent or more, due to slower than expected growth in electricity demand, and delays to auctions and financings.

Japan slumped 56 percent to $14.4 billion.

Jordan was one of the few new markets to buck the trend; investment there rising 148 percent to $1.2 billion.

The United States saw commitments slip 10 percent to $46.4 billion, as developers took their time to build out projects to benefit from the five-year extension of the tax credit system.

“The question always used to be ‘will renewables ever be grid competitive?'” said Michael Liebreich, chairman of the Advisory Board at BNEF.

“Well, after the dramatic cost reductions of the past few years, unsubsidized wind and solar can provide the lowest cost new electrical power in an increasing number of countries, even in the developing world,” he said, “sometimes by a factor of two.”

“Instead of having to subsidize renewables, now authorities may have to subsidize natural gas plants to help them provide grid reliability.”

Investment in renewables did not drop across the board.

Europe enjoyed a three percent increase to $59.8 billion, led by the UK ($24 billion) and Germany ($13.2 billion).

Offshore wind ($25.9 billion) dominated Europe’s investment, up 53 percent due to mega-arrays such as the 1.2 gigawatt Hornsea project in the North Sea, estimated to cost $5.7 billion.

The launch of the world’s first large-scale tidal energy farm in Scotland in September was hailed as a significant moment for the renewable energy sector.

A turbine for the MeyGen tidal stream project in the Pentland Firth was unveiled outside Inverness in the Scottish Highlands.

China also invested $4.1 billion in offshore wind, its highest figure to date.

Another positive sign came in winning bids for solar and wind in auctions around the world, at tariffs that would have seemed inconceivably low a few years ago.

The records set last year were $29.10 per megawatt hour for solar in Chile and $30 per megawatt hour for onshore wind in Morocco.

© Environment News Service (ENS) 2017. All rights reserved.
www.ens-newswire.com

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