Sunday, February 26, 2017

Shark Attacks On The Rise On Reunion Island

U.S. champion surfer Kelly Slater has called on the French government to cull the population of sharks crowding the seas off Reunion island in the wake of the death of a boogie-boarder.  26-year-old Alexandre Naussac was killed last week in the 20th shark attack since 2011 off the French island in the Indian Ocean east of Madagascar.  Eight of the attacks have been fatal.

Surfing competitions only returned to the Reunion last year after a five-year absence triggered by a shark attack on local surf champion Eric Dargent.  The area is known for world-class surfing waves but also as one of the globe’s deadliest spots for shark attacks. All of the island beaches but two are off limits to swimmers and surfers. The remaining two are protected by shark nets. Signs warning of shark attacks at the beach where Naussac entered the water had all been vandalized, so he may have had no idea what dangers he faced. Naussac bled to death when an attacking shark severed his femoral artery, according to reports.

“Honestly, I won’t be popular for saying this but there needs to be a serious cull on Reunion and it should happen everyday,” Slater wrote on Instagram. “There is a clear imbalance happening in the ocean there. If the whole world had these rates of attack nobody would use the ocean and literally millions of people would be dying like this. The French government needs to figure this out ASAP. 20 attacks since 2011!?”

Reunion has banned hunting sharks for food since 1999 because of concerns that their flesh is contaminated with a toxin. Slater, who has a reputation as a conservationist, later told reporters that  the Reunion attacks are “unprecedented.” “There’s no natural reason that many people should be getting attacked in such a small area,” he said. “Sharks are a healthy part of any ocean and when not interfered with, the ocean creates a good balance. People should feel safe in most situations to swim and surf but Reunion obviously has an out of control situation that we don’t totally understand.”

Friday, February 24, 2017

Waiting On Muslim Ban 2.0

A White House official told reporters on Wednesday that the new Muslim ban would come out "sometime next week’."  Twice already this month, Trump has made that same assurance to reporters, but nothing has yet been issued.

The Trump bunch continue to claim that this ban is the only thing standing between the United States and a horde of terrorists.  According to studies, all 12 jihadist terrorists who have killed people in the United States since Sept. 11, 2001, were American citizens or permanent residents, and none had ties to the seven countries named in Trump’s executive order. Out of the nearly 400 non-deadly jihadist terrorist attacks on American soil since 9/11, perpetrators were linked to Iran or Somalia in just three cases.

“Nothing was wrong with the first executive order,” said White House Senior Policy Advisor Stephen Miller, as he blamed a “flawed judicial ruling” that has held up implementation of the order.  “It’s still going to have the same basic policy outcome for the country,” Miller said in an interview, without really giving any details on how it would change. 

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Trump Win Pays Off For Private Prisons

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has withdrawn an Obama-era Justice Department memo that set a goal of reducing and ultimately ending the Justice Department’s use of private prisons.

The Bureau of Prisons currently has 12 private prison contracts that hold around 21,000 inmates. Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates has already concluded that private prisons compared “poorly” to BOP prisons. Her analysis followed a damning report from the Justice Department’s inspector general which found that privately run facilities were more dangerous than those run by BOP.

The two largest private prison companies in the U.S. have been salivating at the prospect of a new Attorney General, telling anyone who will listen that they have room to accommodate increased use of their prisons by federal or state and local authorities. 

Executives at GEO Group emphasized that their company has a total of 5,000 spots in its prisons that are presently either unused or underutilized.  OreCivic, formerly known as CCA, has told investors that the company has nine idle prisons that can hold a total of 8,700 people.   Moreover, CoreCivic is already holding more detained immigrants for the federal government than they had previously anticipated, and is looking at even more robust financial quarters, thanks to the upcoming "military operation" roundup of immigrants promised by Trump.

David C. Fathi, who directs the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project, said that giving for-profit companies control of prisons is “a recipe for abuse and neglect.” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said the Sessions memo was an example of “how our corrupt political and campaign finance system” works.

“Private prison companies invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and today they got their reward: the Trump administration reversed the Obama administration’s directive to reduce the Justice Department’s use of private prisons,” Sanders said in a statement. “At a time when we already have more people behind bars than any other country, Trump just opened the floodgates for private prisons to make huge profits by building more prisons and keeping even more Americans in jail.”

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Hard at Work, or Hardly Working?

Trump made his sixth trip to the golf course last weekend, joined by professional golfer Rory McIlroy.  Trump's hypocrisy widely commented upon, as the Republican was a frequent critic of Barack Obama's fairway excursions.

"Can you believe that, with all the problems and difficulties facing the US, President Obama spent the day playing golf. Worse than Carter," Trump tweeted in October 2014.

Ten days later, he tweeted: "President Obama has a major meeting on the NYC Ebola outbreak, with people flying in from all over the country, but decided to play golf!"

Trump also promised he would be too busy to hit the links if elected. "I'm going to be working for you. I'm not going to have time to go play golf," he said during his campaign last August.

According to an analysis of Washington Post pool reports of his first several weeks in office, the president has dedicated 25 hours to playing golf-- versus 21 hours to foreign relations, 13 hours to tweeting and six hours to intelligence briefings.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders has claimed that Trump had only "played a couple of holes" on Saturday, as well as on Sunday.   McIlroy later debunked that story, admitting that he had played a full 18 holes with the president.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Trump Administration As Dysfunctional As Ever

During his hastily arranged 77-minute press conference last week, Trump mystified many people, making several strange and patently false statements such as:
"They say Donald Trump rants and raves at the press-- I'm not ranting and raving!"
"[The] Russia [interference story] is a ruse" 
"It was the biggest Electoral College win since Ronald Reagan”
“Drugs are becoming cheaper than candy bars” 
. . . and most incredulously of all:   "This administration is running like a fine-tuned machine."
That last statement is easily the most ridiculous, as his first four weeks in office have been nothing short of a disaster.  He can't get a large portion of his cabinet confirmed due to their lack of qualifications or incompetence.  His National Security Advisor was forced to withdraw due to his pre-election contacts with Russia.  His Muslim ban was blocked by the federal courts and despite his promise to "see you in court" he is quietly backing down and drafting a new executive order.  And he continues to make bizarrely untrue claims-- the latest of which was his announcement that immigrants were responsible for a terror attack in Sweden on Friday night (not true).

But even in more mundane matters, his administration continues to operate in a highly dysfunctional manner.  Over the past week, Trump foreign policy officials appeared at odds with each other, giving conflicting statements over key diplomatic issues.

United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley had to backpedal on behalf of he president after he said at a press conference that he was open to a Middle East peace agreement that didn't include a Palestinian state.    Just a day later, Haley said, "Anybody that wants to say that the United States doesn't support a two-state collation would be in error."  Ooops!

In Germany last week, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, meeting his Russian counterpart for the first time, had very conciliatory words for Putin, saying "The United States will consider working with Russia whenever we can find areas of practical cooperation."

But Defense secretary James Mattis, at a NATO summit in Brussels the next day, expressed a different perspective than Tillerson (and even contradicted his boss, who still claims that Russian interference stories are a "ruse") by making it clear that the United States can't trust the Kremlin-- saying, "There's very little doubt that they have either interfered or attempted to interfere in a number of elections."  Get your stories straight, guys.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Bold Steps in Barcelona to Battle Traffic and Pollution

Faced with excessive pollution and noise levels, Barcelona has come up with a new mobility plan to reduce traffic by 21%. And it comes with something extra: freeing up nearly 60% of streets currently used by cars to turn them into so-called “citizen spaces”. The plan is based around the idea of superblocks (in spanish, "superilles"} – mini neighborhoods around which traffic will flow, and in which spaces will be repurposed to “fill the city with life”, as its tagline says.

Barcelona’s new plan consists of creating big superblocks through a series of gradual interventions that will repurpose existing infrastructure, starting with traffic management by changing road signs and bus routes. Superblocks will be smaller than neighborhoods, but bigger than actual blocks. This will first be applied to Eixample neighborhood and others like Sant Martí, which largely follows the same grid pattern.

In Eixample, a superblock will consist of nine existing blocks of the grid. Car, scooter, truck and bus traffic will then be restricted to just the roads in the superblock perimeters, and they will only be allowed in the streets in between if they are residents or providing local businesses, and at a greatly reduced speed of 5 mph.

Superblocks will be complemented by the introduction of nearly 300 miles of new cycling lanes (there are currently around 60 miles of them), as well as an orthogonal bus network that has already been put in place, whereby buses only navigate a series of main thoroughfares. This will ensure, says Salvador Rueda, director of the city’s urban ecology agency, that “anyone will be less than 2/10 of a mile from a bus stop at any time – and average waiting times will be of five minutes anywhere in the city.” Currently, average wait time for a bus is 14 minutes.   In addition, the city's goal to establish an equitable public transit network in which one could go from any point A to point B with just one transfer in 95% of the cases.

The superblock idea was first outlined in 1987, after noise mapping revealed that levels were too high, and the first superblock was tested in 2003 in Gràcia.  According to city councillor, Josep Maria Montaner, "Neighborhoods need to experiment with the concept and try the new spaces, little by little– and we hope many of the ideas for how to use them will come from them.”


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