Blog Archives

Scientists: Plant More Trees to Combat Climate Change


tree.jpg

Picture Courtesy: George Hodan

Planting forests and other activities that harness the power of nature could play a major role in limiting global warming under the 2015 Paris agreement, an international study showed Monday.

Natural climate solutions, also including protection of carbon-storing peat lands and better management of soils and grasslands, could account for 37 percent of all actions needed by 2030 under the 195-nation Paris plan, it said.

Combined, the suggested “regreening of the planet” would be equivalent to halting all burning of oil worldwide, it said.

“Better stewardship of the land could have a bigger role in fighting climate change than previously thought,” the international team of scientists said of findings published in the U.S. journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The estimates for nature’s potential, led by planting forests, were up to 30 percent higher than those envisaged by a U.N. panel of climate scientists in a 2014 report, it said.

Trees soak up heat-trapping carbon dioxide as they grow and release it when they burn or rot. That makes forests, from the Amazon to Siberia, vast natural stores of greenhouse gases.

Overall, better management of nature could avert 11.3 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions a year by 2030, the study said, equivalent to China’s current carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel use.

The Paris climate agreement, weakened by U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision in June to pull out, seeks to limit a rise in global temperature to “well below” two degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial times.

Current government pledges to cut emissions are too weak to achieve the 2C goal, meant to avert more droughts, more powerful storms, downpours and heat waves.

“Fortunately, this research shows we have a huge opportunity to reshape our food and land use systems,” Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, said in a statement of Monday’s findings.

Climate change could jeopardize production of crops such as corn, wheat, rice and soy even as a rising global population will raise demand, he said.

The study said that some of the measures would cost $10 a ton or less to avert a ton of carbon dioxide, with others up to $100 a ton to qualify as “cost-effective” by 2030.

“If we are serious about climate change, then we are going to have to get serious about investing in nature,” said Mark Tercek, chief executive officer of The Nature Conservancy, which led the study.

News Couartesy: VOA NEWS

Advertisements

What is Iran’s Revolutionary Guard?


U.S. President Donald Trump directed the U.S. Treasury Department to impose additional sanctions on Iran’s Revolutionary Guard as he announced a more aggressive stance toward Iran, including refusing to recertify the nuclear deal with Tehran.

The White House called the Revolutionary Guard, which is separate from Iran’s regular armed forces, a “primary tool and weapon in remaking Iran into a rogue state.” But what is the Revolutionary Guard?

Beginnings

The Revolutionary Guard was founded following Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution, in which the shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, was overthrown by a cleric-led uprising. The Revolutionary Guard was created to enforce the new Islamic government and operated parallel to the country’s regular armed forces. Once a ragtag force protecting the new regime, it is now the nation’s most powerful security institution.

Expanded force

The Revolutionary Guard has between 120,000 and 150,000 active personnel operating air, land and sea defense capabilities. Its elite Quds Force, which the Treasury Department designated a terrorist organization in 2007, is responsible for external operations. Domestically, the guard controls a large network of paramilitary volunteers, known as the Basij.

Loyal to supreme leader

The Guard only answers to Iran’s supreme leader. After the 1979 revolution, the guard faced possible disbanding, but Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei allowed it to thrive and granted it more powers. Since then, the guard has been loyal to the supreme leader and the group’s powers have since been enshrined in the country’s constitution.

Political and economic actor

While the Revolutionary Guard has expanded militarily, it has also become a force within the political scene. Current and former members of the guard hold important posts in government, including foreign and security policy. The guard also has holdings in media, manufacturing, construction, banking and other sectors of the Iranian economy.

Sponsor of terrorism

In announcing the new sanctions Friday, the U.S. Treasury Department said it was designating the Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist entity under a White House Executive Order. It said the group provides “support to a number of terrorist groups, including Hezbollah and Hamas, as well as to the Taliban.”
A Ghadr-H missle, center, a solid-fuel surface-to-surface Sejjil missile and a portrait of the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei are on display for the annual Defense Week, at Baharestan Square in Tehran, Iran, Sept. 24, 2017. Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard displayed the country’s sophisticated Russian-made S-300 air defense system in public for the first time

Ballistic missiles

The Revolutionary Guard oversees Iran’s ballistic missile program and has fired several missile tests since the nuclear deal in 2015. While the nuclear deal does not forbid missile tests, U.S. officials say they violate the spirit of the agreement. The missiles that have been tested can reach Israel, and in March 2016 the Revolutionary Guard launched a test missile bearing the words “Israel must be wiped out.”

News Courtesy:VOA NEWS

Pooch-loving Putin Presented With Puppy


putin.jpg

picture Courtesy: http://en.kremlin.ru

He may strike fear in the hearts of dissidents and foreign leaders, but Russian President Vladimir Putin lost his heart Wednesday to a fluffy white puppy with black and brown markings.

Putin received a belated birthday gift from Turkmenistan President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov — an  alabai, a top Turkmen-bred variety of the Central Asian shepherd dog. The pup is named Verny, or Russian for “loyal.”

Putin, who turned 65 over the weekend, cuddled Verny and kissed it on the head during a meeting in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi.

The pup joins the Kremlin kennel that already is home to a Bulgarian shepherd named Buffy, a gift from Bulgaria’s premier, and an Akita named Yume, from a Japanese official.

Putin with his favorite dog Konnie who died in 2014. Picture Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Putin favorite Konnie, a black Labrador famous for terrifying German Chancellor Angela Merkel, died a few years ago. He was a present from Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.

The Central Asian shepherd dog is a multipurpose working dog native to Russia and the former Soviet republics of Central Asia. The breed is used for a number of purposes, including livestock protection, dog fighting, personal and property protection, companionship and military work.

News Courtesy: VOA NEWS

India May Allow Female Haj Pilgrims to Travel Without Male Guardian


mecca.jpg

Picture Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Indian women over the age of 45 and traveling in groups of four will be able to go for the Islamic haj pilgrimage without a male guardian next year, if the government adopts proposed reforms.

Women meeting these criteria will no longer have to be accompanied by a mahram, or close male relative, such as a father, husband, brother or son, a government-appointment panel recommended in the country’s first haj policy review.

“The mahram rule was there from the very beginning for women — in case they face any difficulty while traveling, it can be taken care of,” said Maqsood Ahmed Khan of the Haj Committee of India, a government body which organises the pilgrimages. “This (dropping of male kin) is an important recommendation, the chief executive told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Nearly half of pilgrims are women

Nearly half of an estimated 170,000 pilgrims who went for the annual religious celebration in Saudi Arabia from India this year were women, officials said.

The panel of bureaucrats and intellectuals was appointed by the ministry of minority affairs to review India’s haj policy for the first time.

Officials from the ministry, which will decide whether to adopt the recommendations, were not available for comment.

The policy would cover the next five years from 2018 and is in line with Saudi Arabia’s haj requirements.

Changes are not enough

Women’s rights campaigners welcomed the proposal but said it did not go far enough.

“Muslim women are traveling across the world independently,” said Noorjehan Safia Niaz, founder of Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan, which campaigns for Muslim women’s rights and won a ban on an instant divorce law in August. “While this is a good decision, the restrictions on age and group size should go.”

If the new rule is implemented, solo women will no longer have to pay private tour operators to provide them with a mahram for a fee of 10,000 Indian rupees ($153.29), campaigners said.

News Courtesy: VOA NEWS 

Catalan Leaders Face Growing Pressure Over Independence Threat


map

Atlas Courtesy: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Leaders in Catalonia are facing increasing domestic and international pressure to abandon plans to declare independence from Spain, ahead of a planned speech by Catalonia’s regional president.

Catalan regional leader Carles Puigdemont is due to address the regional parliament on Tuesday, and Spain’s government is worried the legislature will vote for a unilateral declaration of independence. Puigdemont has not revealed what his message to lawmakers will be.

Political leaders, both domestically and internationally, urged Catalan leaders on Monday to back down to ease growing tensions in the country.

Barcelona’s mayor Ada Colau speaks during an interview with The Associated Press at the city council in Barcelona, Spain, Sept. 28, 2017.

Major speaks out

Barcelona’s mayor was the latest to speak out against a declaration of independence, saying this would put “social cohesion” at risk. Ada Colau called on all sides to de-escalate tensions to solve “the most severe institutional crisis since the re-establishment of democracy in Spain.”

The head of Spain’s main opposition party, Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez, also called for Catalan leaders to drop an attempt to declare independence, saying “a universal declaration of independence doesn’t have a place in a state ruled by law.”

Germany and France also weighed in Monday against a split. German Chancellor Angela Merkel “affirmed her backing for the unity of Spain,” but also encouraged dialogue, according to her spokesman.

France said it would not recognize Catalonia if the region declared independence. “This crisis needs to be resolved through dialogue at all levels of Spanish politics,” France’s European affairs minister Nathalie Loiseau said.

Tensions have grown in Spain since last week when Catalonia held a regional vote for independence, an election deemed illegal by Madrid. Police cracked down on the vote, firing rubber bullets and storming crowds to disrupt the voting, leading to hundreds of injuries.

A man, wearing a t-shirt reading in Spanish: “Please, talk” chats with a passer-by about the current political situation in Catalonia, in Barcelona, Oct. 6, 2017.

Huge support at the polls

Catalan leaders say 90 percent of those who went to the polls voted to break with Spain. However, opponents of the referendum say the vote did not show the true will of the region because those who want to stay in Spain mainly boycotted the polls.

Police say about 350,000 demonstrators attended an anti-independence protest on Sunday.

On Saturday, thousands of protesters gathered at rallies in Barcelona, Madrid and other Spanish cities to demand dialogue to end the dispute.

An “estelada”, or Catalonia independence flag, hangs from a street light in downtown Barcelona, Oct. 6, 2017.

Banks, businesses may move

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said he would not rule out using constitutional powers to take away Catalonia’s autonomous status if the region declares independence.

In an interview with the Spanish newspaper El Pais published Sunday, Rajoy said that he will consider employing any measure “allowed by the law” to stop the region’s separatists.

The crisis has prompted several major banks and businesses to announce they will move their headquarters out of Catalonia to other parts of Spain so they can be sure they will remain in the European Union common market.

Catalonia, a northeastern region in Spain, has its own language and cultural traditions. It is home to 7.5 million people and accounts for about a fifth of Spain’s economy.

News Courtesy: VOA NEWS

IS Deprives Thousands of Children of Education in Afghan Province


afghan.jpg

Picture Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Local affiliates of the so-called Islamic State militant group have shut down dozens of schools in a restive district of northern Afghanistan, provincial officials said.

Abdul Hai Yasheen, the director of education in northern Jawzjan province, told VOA that growing IS threats have scared thousands of students away from schools.

“The ongoing clashes in Qoshtepa and Darzab districts have scared the local people. They refrain from sending their children to school, including schools that are in areas under the government control,” Yasheen said.

Yasheen added that thousands of boys and girls in Darzab district have been deprived of a chance to get education.

“Our schools are closed, IS controls parts of the district, there is no education,” Abdul Murad, a Darzab resident told VOA. “IS kills and does not let us send children to school.”

“Twenty five schools are under IS militant’s control and our teachers are unable to go and teach there,” Baz Mohammad Dawar, Darzab district’s chief said. “Parents have been warned by IS not to send their children to school.”

“Over 18,500 students are unable to attend school and that’s a catastrophe,” Dawar added.

At least two schools remain closed in neighboring Khanqah district as well.

The terror group has destroyed much of the education infrastructure in parts of the Jawzjan province.

In July, IS militants destroyed more than a dozen schools in Darzab, including a girls’ high school. The militants warned that an educational curriculum acceptable to IS must be taught in areas that the group controls, according to provincial education officials.

The terror group had also warned girls not to attend school. They make up 40 percent of students in the district’s 47 government-run schools.

Reza Ghafoori, a provincial spokesperson, told VOA that authorities are seeking to resolve the issue through mediation by local leaders who are trying to talk to IS militants to allow children to attend school. The efforts, however, have not yielded a positive outcome yet.

Islamic State’s self-styled Khorasan Province branch (IS-K) emerged in the mountainous areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan more than two years ago. The terror group has recently attracted hundreds of local militants to its ranks in northern Jawzjan and Sar-e-Pul provinces. Qari Hekmat, an ethnic Uzbek and former Taliban commander who switched his allegiance to IS a year ago, is said to lead IS-affiliated groups in the region. A large number of Central Asian fighters affiliated with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), previously associated with al-Qaida and the Taliban in Afghanistan, have joined the IS cause in the northern provinces.

IS and rival militants from the Taliban frequently fight for control of Darzab and Qoshtepa districts. Recent clashes between the two rival groups have resulted in the death of at least 30 militants from both sides, according to Faqir Mohammad Jawzjani, the provincial police chief in Jawzjan.

“Two days ago, the IS miitants set a school on fire in Qoshtepa and killed two local elders on charges of serving in the local police force,” Jouzjani told Radio Liberty.

The ongoing clashes have led hundreds of families to leave their homes. Most of the fleeing families have taken refuge in the provincial capital Sheberghan and live in dire conditions, according to Radio Liberty.

News Courtesy: VOA NEWS

Iranian Chess Star, Banned for Not Wearing Hijab, to Play for US


chess

Picture Courtesy: Twitter

A leading Iranian chess player, barred from her homeland’s team after she refused to wear a headscarf, will now compete as a player for the United States, the US Chess Federation said.

Dorsa Derakhshani, 19, who was born in Tehran, was forbidden from playing by the Iranian Chess Federation following the Gibraltar Chess Festival in January, US Chess said on its website. She did not wear a hijab during the event.

Since then, she has moved to the United States where she attends Saint Louis University and plays for the school’s team.

Derakhshani will now compete as an official United States chess player, US Chess posted on its website this week. US Chess is the national governing body for chess competition, sanctioning championships and overseeing player rankings.

FILE – Iranian chess player Dorsa Derakhshani speaks in an interview.

‘Welcomed and supported’

“It feels good and … peaceful to play for a federation where I am welcomed and supported,” the website quoted Derakhshani as saying.

On a U.S. radio broadcast last week, she said: “I’m looking forward to finally having a stable trainer and a team, and I really wish to become grandmaster.”

She also said she hopes to become a dentist.

Derakhshani holds the titles of International Master and Woman Grandmaster with the World Chess Federation (FIDE).

A few weeks after the Gibraltar competition, the Iranian Chess Federation announced it was banning Derakhshani for not wearing a hijab. It also banned her brother, who had played an Israeli player in Gibraltar, US Chess said.

Ban may be a distraction

Derakhshani said on the National Public Radio broadcast that she had competed before without a headscarf and thought the ban was issued for other reasons.

The announcement was made during the Women’s World Chess Championship in Tehran, and all three Iranian competitors had lost in the opening round.

“So in the middle of all this, they needed another distraction … which worked perfectly,” she said in the broadcast. “Everybody started talking about us.”

Several top players including the U.S. women’s champion Nazi Paikidze boycotted the Tehran competition because players were required to wear a headscarf, US Chess said.

News Courtesy: VOA NEWS

A Minute With: Harrison Ford, Ryan Gosling on ‘Blade Runner 2049’


HAR.jpg

Picture Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

The long-awaited sequel to the cult classic “Blade Runner,” a 1982 sci-fi thriller, finally hits movie theaters on Friday.

But there is not much that stars Harrison Ford and Ryan Gosling can say about “Blade Runner 2049,” for fear of revealing major plot spoilers.

Ford, who reprises his role as an older Rick Deckard, and Gosling as a new ‘blade runner’ Officer K, told Reuters that the film offers a glimpse into the potential impact of a rapidly changing climate and an increasingly isolated society reliant on technology.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: The first film touched upon the future or what they envisaged the world to be. Now we’re 30 years on, what elements does this film address which you think will resonate with audiences today?

Gosling: “Overpopulation, global warming, being isolated by technology.”

Ford: “Social inequity.”

Gosling: “The false narratives we create about large groups of people in order to make ourselves feel better about how awful their circumstances are.”

Ford: “The necessity to have a moral structure into which to pour what’s possible and to make judgments about what we use and what we don’t use.”

Q: How would you say this film pushes forward messages about humanity that weren’t covered in the first one?

Ford: Well I would just quibble with the word ‘message’ because it’s an experiential opportunity because you discover your relationship to the ideas in the context of an emotional geography so I think as an audience, it has an opportunity to engage you in a way that is pretty rare.

Q: How did you go about playing your character with ambiguity as it is not always known who is a human and who is a Replicant?

Ford: I don’t think there’s a style to the acting necessarily. There is so much new information coming at you as a character and as an audience that you just want to be still and make sure that you’re reading this right, that you really know what’s going on so the characters are constantly in the midst of a dilemma that is like drinking out of a gardening hose. There is so much happening to them that it’s close to overwhelming for them.

Interview Courtesy: VOA NEWS

Forensic Psychologist Profiles Mass Killers


wiki.jpg

Las Vegas Strip shooting site , LasVegas Village and Festival Grounds Pictures taken one week before the beginning of the country music festival from a helicopter Picture Courtesy: Mario Roberto Duran Ortiz/Wikimedia Commons

Studies show mass killings have tripled in the past few years. A massacre Sunday night in Las Vegas left 59 people dead as a gunman in a hotel fired upon thousands of people below who were attending a music festival.

Until that tragedy, last year’s shooting at an Orlando nightclub was the deadliest in U.S. history. Forty-nine people died when a gunman opened fire on club-goers. In 2012, a gunman opened fire at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, killing 20 children between the ages of 6 and 7 years old, as well as six others, including the shooter’s mother and staff and teachers at the school.

Mass killers used trucks filled with fertilizer to create an explosion that left 168 people dead at the federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995. The land is now filled with empty chairs, each etched with the name of one of the victims.

That was the worst mass killing until September 2001, when killers crashed airplanes into The World Trade Center’s twin towers in lower Manhattan. As in Oklahoma City, the ground where the towers once stood is now a memorial.

Profiling mass killers

J. Reid Meloy, a forensic psychologist, said mass murderers “typically have more in common” with each other than not.

He said the killers tend to have a history of psychiatric problems, are mostly men, and have rocky intimate relationships.

Meloy said the killings are a quest for status and usually are not, despite killers’ claims, rooted in a cause.

“Oftentimes, the pathway to violence begins with a personal grievance,” Meloy said. “It typically has three components to it. One is there’s some kind of loss. Secondly, there’s the feeling of humiliation. Then thirdly, there’s anger toward and blaming of a person or a group of people who have caused them to have this problem.”

Access to weapons is one factor, but social media is another.

Meloy said social media makes killers notorious and, when an attack is shown online, those seeking notoriety decide to imitate the atrocity and gain notoriety for themselves.

It is an appeal that, unfortunately, Meloy predicts will spawn even more mass killings.

News Courtesy: VOA NEWS

Mexico Quake Leaves Country’s Historic Churches Battered


WIKI.jpg

File Picture of Mexico City building Picture Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Our Lady of Angels Church has survived several major earthquakes, but Tuesday’s magnitude 7.1 shake proved to be the final death knell for the Mexico City building’s historic cupola.

Violent cracks crisscrossed the dome, and stone from the roof continued to fall onto the church’s wooden pews. On Sunday evening, the cupola split and half crashed to the floor.

“Each earthquake has left its mark,” said Marco Antonio Fuentes, part of the church’s ministry. “This one seems to be the straw that will break the camel’s back.”

According to the Archdiocese of Mexico, more than 150 religious temples in this deeply Roman Catholic country were damaged by Tuesday’s deadly quake. Statues of saints have been left maimed, missing hands and feet. Once towering, celestial church naves now open to the sky. Dust from fallen stone and concrete cover altars.

Santiago Apostol church was destroyed during the recent 7.1-magnitude earthquake, in Atzala, Mexico, Sept. 23, 2017.

Many of the battered churches are in the state of Puebla, where the quake’s epicenter was located. There in the city of Atzala, a child’s baptism turned into tragedy when the roof of a church collapsed, killing 11 family members inside, including the 2-month-old girl being christened.

On the first Sunday since the earthquake, priests no longer able to say Mass inside collapsing churches instead held services outside paying homage to victims and survivors.

“Our religion is more than a building,” Colin Noguez, the priest at Our Lady of Angels, told parishioners inside a tent with a table holding a cross and candles from the building.

A crucifix, recovered from a collapsed church, is held up by ropes inside an auditorium during a Mass, in Tepeojuma, Mexico, Sept. 24, 2017.

Many of the collapsed buildings where rescuers have been searching for survivors held offices and apartments, places where people worked and lived. The damage to churches hit a different chord — striking places that in many Mexican cities serve as pillars of strength in times of distress.

“It’s our mother,” Azalia Ramirez, 60, said of Our Lady of Angels, which sits in a working class neighborhood. “We come here looking for communion, peace and tranquility.”

Our Lady of Angels is believed to be the most heavily damaged church in Mexico City, while the severity of destruction to religious structures is largely concentrated in Puebla.

In Atzala, a town of 1,200 people, little remains of the golden yellow church with a red roof where the 11 people died. The interior where worshippers once prayed from pews is now a mess of twisted metal and fallen stone leading to an altar where the word “merciful” now hangs at a slant.

“Everything happened in the blink of an eye,” said Sergio Montiel, the church’s sexton.

As the Santiago de Apostol church shifted to recovery mode, a planned wedding instead took place outside under a beige tent with mariachi players standing nearby. The bride and groom exchanged rings and a kiss before being showered with rice and confetti just feet from the destruction.

“I’m very sad for the church,” said Aremy Sanchez, the bride. “But we must go on.”

People kneel during a Mass held outside the Parish of Santiago Apostol, where church officials were waiting for inspectors to check damages following the recent earthquake, in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas in Tlatelolco, Mexico City, Sept. 24, 2017.

At Mass in Puebla and elsewhere, priests urged parishioners to use the painful moment as a time of reflection. Damaged churches held mass in plazas and auditoriums. In San Francisco Xochiteopan, clergy members moved broken statues of saints into a gym and proceeded with a service. At the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a national shrine in Mexico City, Cardinal Norberto Rivera asked God to deliver peace.

“It pains us to see our city hurt, so many hopes lost,” he said, speaking before a giant Mexican flag. “For that reason, we come to you, consoler of the afflicted.”

The origin of Our Lady of Angels dates back 433 years, when a painting of the Virgin Mary transported by a Spanish ship was found to have been damaged by water during the journey. A painter in the city’s then-predominantly indigenous community was commissioned to create a replica.

The replica, cracked and with progressively fading paint, has stood at the altar from the time the church was little more than a small hut to its present-day construction, built in the 19th century. The Virgin Mary painting has withstood seven floods and more earthquakes than parishioners can remember.

“I say Our Lady of Angels holds the miracle of perseverance,” said Adela Corona, a member of the ministry.

Engineers told the church’s leaders that the cupola has a 60 percent to 70 percent chance of collapsing. It contains stained glass brought from Germany depicting singing archangels. Projecting above the roof, the cupola is meant to symbolize how the church brings those inside closer to God.

“It is an important part of our historical heritage,” Fuentes said as the sound of small bits of the dome falling onto the floor echoed in the church. “Our idea is to save it.”

But just hours later, half the cupola came crashing down. No one was inside and the painting of the Virgin Mary, protected by a glass case, appeared unscathed.

“Hijole,” Fuentes said after the dome fell, using a popular Spanish word to express astonishment. “There’s sadness, surprise and fear for those who live here.”

But, he added, the Virgin Mary painting’s survival is what mattered: “She’s the boss here.”

News Courtesy: VOA NEWS

%d bloggers like this: