Meet the Senator Trying to End U.S. Support for the War in Yemen

Source: TheIntercept.com

Since a Saudi-led coalition began bombarding Yemen in March 2015, more than 10,000 people have been killed and over 2 million displaced. Yemenis are suffering mass starvation and, thanks to the destruction of the country’s water treatment plants, the world’s worst cholera outbreak, with a million cases in 2017 alone. And while most U.S. politicians would prefer to pretend otherwise, all of this is happening with the cooperation and direct support of the United States, which is supplying bombs to the Saudis and refueling the planes that are dropping those bombs — like the one that hit a school bus full of children last month. Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy is one of the few lawmakers who has taken a loud and consistent stand against the war, even putting forward an amendment to cut off military assistance to the Saudi coalition. He joins Mehdi Hasan to discuss the ongoing conflict — and whether it can be ended.

(Read more at TheIntercept.com)

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South African Ambassador’s Dinner with EJN

On Tuesday the 4th of September, the European Journalists Network were graciously invited by Her Excellency, Ambassador Carmen Smidt, to attend a journalists dinner at her official residence along the seaside of Helsinki. To no surprise, at the onset we were warmly greeted by embassy staff who escorted us to the balcony for drinks. With a view of the garden and sea, a discussion of African Union representation and an anecdote of the Ambassador’s Finnish ice fishing experience, was underway. Upon settling down at the table for a dinner of divinely prepared oxtail stew, pap (a South African staple, akin to polenta), complimented with selected wines from the tip regions of Africa, Ambassador Smidt captivated her EJN guests with pressing issues and concerns, ranging from her diplomatic experiences with the fragile state of South Sudan, Finnish and European trade & tourism with the African continent, to the pending land expropriation legislation of South Africa.

South African Ambassador to Finland with EJN

All in all, it was a memorable evening lubricated with laughter accompanying the serious reflection of cultural tolerances needed for world relationships to progress and flourish.

The EJN is most grateful to Her Excellency and staff for a lovely evening, and we hope to see them all again at the South African Heritage Day event, to be held at Arcada Polytechnic University, on the 15th of September.

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Inside Greece’s first smart city: ‘Now you don’t need to know a politician to get something done’

Source: TheGuardian.com

Trikala, in Greece’s agricultural heartland, is an unlikely candidate for a leading smart city – but innovations have improved lives despite the financial crisis.

“In the past, residents had to call the vice mayor just to change a broken street lamp,” says Sonia Sofou, a police officer turned civil servant. “Now you don’t need to know a politician to get something done.”

The 37-year-old is hard at work in the control room of Trikala, Greece’s first smart city. On the wall, nine screens display colourful maps and graphs monitoring the availability of parking spaces, the status of traffic lights and water pipes, the location of rubbish trucks and the town hall’s monthly budget.

Sofou answers the phone, logging reports of uncollected rubbish and fallen tree branches into the small city’s e-complaint system. As she works, the information shows up on one of the screens above her.

Smart cities – usually defined as those that use technology to improve services, increase transparency and become more efficient – are proliferating around the world. Pioneered in Europe, they can now be found everywhere from India to Korea. With more than two-thirds of the world’s population expected to live in cities by 2050, finding ways to make cities work better for the people who live in them has become a priority. Major companies such as Intel, Cisco Systems and IBM are involved in researching new applications in this growing field.

Set among green fields in the agricultural heartland of Greece, the historic city of Trikala – population 82,000 – was not an obvious candidate for the nation’s first smart city.
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The country was in the grips of a financial crisis and the municipality was €45m (£40m) in debt when Dimitris Papastergiou became mayor in 2014. There was zero budget for his grand, tech-savvy plans.

But through collaborations with partners including the European commission, which funded a driverless bus pilot, and companies such as Greece’s Sieben and Parkguru, Trikala has earned a reputation for innovation that dates back to 2004 when Greece’s Ministry of Economics named it the nation’s first digital city. It was later shortlisted as one of the top 21 smart cities in the world. By participating in EU-funded projects and offering up a test site for local tech companies, the city has cut its debt by €20m.

(Read more at TheGuardian.com)

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‘A blow to press freedom’: world reacts to jailing of Reuters journalists in Myanmar

Source: TheGuardian.com

UN human rights chief calls for the pair’s unconditional release as Aung San Suu Kyi refuses to condemn sentence.

The seven-year jail sentence handed down to two Reuters journalists arrested in Myanmar while investigating a massacre of Rohingya Muslims was condemned worldwide as a travesty of justice and severe blow to press freedom in the south-east Asian country.

Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, were found guilty on Monday of breaching the Official Secrets Act, under laws introduced in 1923 under British rule.

They have been held in prison since December, when they were arrested while reporting on an alleged killings of 10 Rohingya at the hands of soldiers and Buddhist villagers in Inn Din, a village in the north of Rakhine state.

The sentences, and the lack of condemnation from Aung San Suu Syi, the Nobel peace prize winner and now state counsellor, a position akin to prime minister, led to claims that her international reputation was now in shreds.

(Read more at TheGuardian.com)

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Few complaints as heat decimates Finland’s mosquitoes

Source: Yle.fi

There are unusually low numbers of mosquitoes throughout Finland this sweltering summer – and likely fewer than usual next year as well.

One of Finland’s hottest summers on record has not been easy on mosquitoes, which have nearly vanished from some areas. Due to the heat, their favoured breeding grounds, shallow ponds, have dried up in areas such as Finnish Lapland – which is usually notorious for mosquito infestations.

Jukka Salmela, who researches mosquitoes at the University of Lapland and is also a curator at the Provincial Museum of Lapland, does not expect any major resurgence of the blood-sucking insects in late summer, either.

Although there is still standing water in places, the number of larvae is much lower than in the spring and early summer.

“Mosquitoes don’t like long periods of hot weather. Then they move around extremely little during the daytime,” says Salmela.

(Read more at Yle.fi)

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Liveblog: Julian Assange in jeopardy

Source: CourageFound.org

Support Assange and WikiLeaks with a donation here.

Julian Assange’s status in the Ecuadorian embassy has been in jeopardy over the past months, particularly since Ecuador’s Lenin Moreno came to power, with Ecuador and the UK believed to be engaged in negotiations to bring his stay to an end. In a recent interview, Moreno said, “Let’s not forget the conditions of his asylum prevent him from speaking about politics or intervening in the politics of other countries. That’s why we cut his communication.”

Isolated without internet access since March, Julian Assange will have been arbitrarily detained by the UK in the Ecuadorian Embassy for six years on 19 June 2018. The UN has condemned his detention; leading intellectuals, academics, and artists around the world have called for an end to his isolation; and the UK refuses to guarantee safety from extradition should he step outside the embassy.

Due to the seriousness of the current situation, Courage will be live blogging daily updates on the situation at the Ecuadorian embassy and support actions planned worldwide. The website Justice4Assange has published a template to encourage NGOs to take a stand for Assange.

Today marks Julian Assange’s 47th birthday. Supporters worldwide have been drawing attention to his plight.

(Read more at CourageFound.org)

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Are we running out of water?

Source: TheGuardian.com

by Fiona Harvey Environment correspondent

As the world’s water needs grow so is concern that we’re rapidly using up supplies. How worried should we be?

Water seems the most renewable of all the Earth’s resources. It falls from the sky as rain, it surrounds us in the oceans that cover nearly three-quarters of the planet’s surface, and in the polar ice caps and mountain glaciers. It is the source of life on Earth and quite possibly beyond – the discovery of traces of water on Mars aroused excitement because it was the first indication that life may have existed there.

Where is the water going?

How do you fit 130 litres of water in a single cup? The answer: fill it with coffee. Growing coffee beans is a thirsty business, as is growing cotton – 10,000 litres of water in a pair of jeans – and 2,500 litres in the average T-shirt. Avocados, almonds – even bottles of water themselves, are all highly water-intensive enterprises. Agriculture uses about 70% of freshwater across the globe.

Regions that export water-intensive crops are effectively exporting their water, in a trade known as “virtual water” or “invisible water”. Agricultural products are the most obvious trades in virtual water, but vast numbers of manufactured goods also require large quantities of water. When countries and regions with water shortages pour their water into exports, on the surface it can look as if they are making a profit, but in the long term their reliance on diminishing water resources will be damaging.

“The concept of virtual water can help countries that lack abundant water resources to meet food needs without using precious water for thirsty agricultural practices,” says Vincent Casey, senior manager at WaterAid. “It doesn’t make sense for Saudi Arabia to use vast quantities of limited water resources for agriculture when food grown elsewhere can be imported.”

The problem is that most of the Earth’s water resources are as inaccessible as if they were on Mars, and those that are accessible are unevenly distributed across the planet. Water is hard to transport over long distances, and our needs are growing, both for food and industry. Everything we do requires water, for drinking, washing, growing food, and for industry, construction and manufacturing. With more than 7.5 billion people on the planet, and the population projected to top 10 billion by 2050, the situation is set to grow more urgent.

Currently, 844 million people – about one in nine of the planet’s population – lack access to clean, affordable water within half an hour of their homes, and every year nearly 300,000 children under five die of diarrhoea, linked to dirty water and poor sanitation. Providing water to those who need it is not only vital to human safety and security, but has huge social and economic benefits too. Children lose out on education and adults on work when they are sick from easily preventable diseases. Girls in developing countries are worst off, as they frequently stop going to school at puberty because of a lack of sanitation, and girls and women travelling miles to fetch water or forced to defecate in the open are vulnerable to violence. Providing affordable water saves lives and reduces the burden on healthcare, as well as freeing up economic resources. Every £1 invested in clean water yields at least £4 in economic returns, according to the charity WaterAid.

(Read more at TheGuardian.com)

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On World Day to Combat Desertification, UN shines spotlight on ‘true value’ of land

Source: United Nations (UN.org)

In a statement marking the World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought, the head of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) said that everyone needed to recognize the true value of land.

“I would ask you: when you choose what to eat, what to wear or what to drive, think about how your choice impacts the land — for better or for worse,” said Monique Barbut, UNCCD Executive Secretary, in her message for the day, marked on 17 June.

Land-grabbing, unplanned urban sprawl, unsustainable agriculture and over-consumption can yield quick economic gains, but such short-sightedness eventually causes degradation and loss of critical ecosystem services due to unsustainable land use.

(Read more at United Nations (UN.org))

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Finnish President says EU left in the shadow of strongman politics

Source: Yle.fi

In an interview with UK daily Financial Times (paywall) published on Monday, President Sauli Niinistö reflected on the current state of geopolitics, saying that the world has entered an era of strongman politics that has marginalised many small states like Finland.

He named current world leaders such as Russian President Vladimir Putin, US President Donald Trump and Chinese premier Xi Jinping as embodiments of “personalised global policy”.

In this age of “peak persons” Niinistö told the paper, “it’s difficult to get a seat at the table because it’s a table for the strong and powerful,” he noted.

FT reported that Niinistö did not hold back from naming Russia as a major point of concern. He borrowed an old Finnish adage to counsel EU leaders to approach discussions with Moscow with a combination of steadfastness and respect.

(Read more at Yle.fi)

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Monetary Policy in the Digital Age

Source: International Monetary Fund (IMF.org)

Crypto assets may one day reduce demand for central bank money

by
Dong He

The global financial crisis and the bailouts of major financial institutions renewed skepticism in some quarters about central banks’ monopoly on the issuance of currency. Such skepticism fueled the creation of Bitcoin and other crypto assets, which challenged the paradigm of state-supported currencies and the dominant role of central banks and conventional institutions in the financial system (He and others, 2016).

Twenty years ago, when the Internet came of age, a group of prominent economists and central bankers wondered whether advances in information technology would render central banks obsolete (King 1999). While those predictions haven’t yet come to pass, the rise of crypto assets has rekindled the debate. These assets may one day serve as alternative means of payment and, possibly, units of account, which would reduce the demand for fiat currencies or central bank money. It’s time to revisit the question, will monetary policy remain effective in a world without central bank money (Woodford 2000)?

For the time being, crypto assets are too volatile and too risky to pose much of a threat to fiat currencies. What is more, they do not enjoy the same degree of trust that citizens have in fiat currencies: they have been afflicted by notorious cases of fraud, security breaches, and operational failures and have been associated with illicit activities.
Addressing deficiencies

But continued technological innovation may be able to address some of these deficiencies. To fend off potential competitive pressure from crypto assets, central banks must continue to carry out effective monetary policies. They can also learn from the properties of crypto assets and the underlying technology and make fiat currencies more attractive for the digital age.

(Read more at International Monetary Fund (IMF.org))

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