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Venice Mayor Blames Worst Flood in 50 Years on Climate Change

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  • The Italian government declared a state of emergency in Venice after the city experienced its second-worst flooding in almost 150 years of flood records.
  • Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro blames the floods that have grown increasingly common over the last few decades on climate change.
  • While the flood peaked at over six feet, it has receded some; however, parts of the city are still four feet underwater.
  • The flood has reportedly caused structural damage to major landmarks like St. Mark’s Basilica.

Second Worst Flood on Record

The Italian government declared a state of emergency on Thursday as 85% of Venice sits underwater.

On Tuesday night, a combination of high tide, strong winds, and a full moon led to seawater overwhelming seawalls and flooding the city. The flood, which is the second-worst on record in almost 150 years, peaked at more than six feet; however, it came only a couple of inches shy of beating the record-breaking 1966 floods.

Wind and water reportedly slammed boats onto streets in the city, which is only about three feet above sea level. In some cases, boats hit streets so violently that they dislodged bricks and stones. By Wednesday morning, many of those boats sat on the streets. 

As water gushed into the city, it flooded homes, stores, and hotels. In some instances, water spewed out of toilets as pipes backed up. 

There have also been reports of power outages across the city. Reportedly, one 78-year-old man died after being electrocuted by a short circuit in his home.

Schools were canceled on Wednesday and again on Thursday. 

“The disaster that hit Venice is a blow to the heart of our country,” Italy’s Prime Minister, Giuseppe Conte said in a Facebook post. “It hurts to see the city so damaged, its artistic heritage compromised, its business activities on its knees.”

All of that presents another massive problem as floodwater damages major landmarks in the city. People described St. Mark’s Square as a lake, with the floodwater also reaching St. Mark’s Basilica, which along with Venice is part of a World Heritage Site. 

The archbishop of Venice, Francesco Morgalia, said St. Mark’s is now suffering structural damage and that the water is causing “irreparable harm.” The flood has also further damaged marble that was already showing signs of water and salt damage.

Although the basilica has only flooded six times since it was built in 1063, the last four of those times have all been within the past 20 years, with the most recent being in November 2018.

Venice is an emblem for the whole country,” Venice’s mayor, Luigi Brugnaro, said in a press conference on Wednesday. “We are no longer talking about a local problem, but a worldwide one.”

“There were people who were crying today because they’ve lost everything, and we’re not talking about the poor,” he added. “The point is that there is no longer certainty. You no longer know how to live, and if we want to repopulate, we want to give certainty. It’s the life of the city itself, the future of the city.”

The Floods’ Connection to Climate Change

On Twitter, Brugnaro also said that the floods are a result of climate change, and climate scientists have agreed.

Similar to the current fires in Australia, scientists say the world is seeing more extreme weather events.

As polar ice caps continue to melt, ocean and sea levels have begun to rise. In Venice alone, city officials said the sea level is four inches higher than it was 50 years ago. In addition to that, Venice sunk five inches between 1950 and 1970 and continues to sink at a rate of half an inch per year.

Climate scientists predict the city will be underwater by the end of the century.

Venice’s expected flooding season, known as “acqua alta,” also carries strong winter winds that can be made even stronger by the effects of climate change. 

All of those factors can then produce higher and more devastating tides. 

Since the record-breaking 1966 flood, Venice has seen almost 20 floods peaking at over four-and-a-half feet.

“The [increased flooding] is a trend that jibes with the extremization of climate,” the former head of Venice’s Tide Monitoring and Forecast Centre said. “If we look at the course of history, we have documents dating back to 1872, and we can see that these phenomena didn’t used to exist.”

Venice’s Floodgate Project

While Venice does have seawalls to help reduce flooding, there’s actually been a lot of controversy around the city’s new floodgates. 

Since 2003, the city has been trying to complete a more than $6 billion dollar effort to build 78 underwater floodgates. That project, MOSE, would temporarily isolate the lagoon from the sea during flood season, but it has also been plagued by cost burdens and corruption scandals.

Because of that, it has been delayed multiple times and even missed its 2018 deadline. Currently, MOSE is projected to be completed by 2022. 

Following the flood, Brugnaro said MOSE must be completed soon. On Thursday, Regarding the MOSE project, Conte also said that the “commitment to Venice is total”.

He said he hopes the floodgates are at least partially functional by the 2022 deadline. 

“The situation in this unique city is dramatic,” he added. “Lots of money has been spent.” 

See what others are saying: (The Guardian) (Fox News) (NPR)

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Malaysia Tells Women Not to Nag Spouses During COVID-19 Lockdown

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  • The Malaysian government released a series of infographics advising women on how to maintain a happy home during the country’s coronavirus lockdown.
  • The posts told women to take on the playful tone of a cartoon character, wear makeup and dress up at home, and avoid nagging their partners, among other advice.
  • Many were outraged by the infographics, slamming them as “sexist.” Others called it a poor response to concerns of spiking domestic violence cases as more people are forced indoors with their abusers. 
  • The government issued an apology following the backlash.

Controversial Advice

Malaysia’s government has apologized after receiving backlash for advising women to dress nicely and avoid nagging their spouses in order to maintain a happy home as the coronavirus prompted a nation-wide lockdown. 

The advice came from online posters that were released across social media by the country’s Ministry for Women, Family, and Community Development and accompanied by the hashtag #WomenPreventCOVID19.

“If you see your partner doing something wrong, avoid nagging – use ‘humorous’ words like saying: ‘This is how you hang clothes my dear,’” the ministry wrote in a now-removed infographic. 

This piece of advice was paired with another seemingly-bizarre nugget: use a high-pitched, squeaky voice instead, specifically imitating the popular Japanese cartoon character Doraemon, and follow your statement with a giggle.

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Doraemon.

The Ministry also encouraged women to avoid the use of sarcasm, and to continue to wear makeup and dress up even if working from home.

Backlash

After the posters’ release earlier this week, the Ministry and its advice faced a slew of backlash, ranging from mockery to anger. 

“[It] is extremely condescending both to women and men,” Nisha Sabanayagam, a manager at the Malaysian advocacy group All Women’s Action Society, told Reuters.  

“These posters promote the concept of gender inequality and perpetuate the concept of patriarchy,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation over the phone.

Sabanayagam’s frustration was matched by many online. 

“This is violently sexist,” one person tweeted. “Makes me angry even thinking about this.”

Some mocked the more ridiculous elements of the advice, like the hashtag’s message that somehow women can prevent the virus itself. 

“How will dressing up and putting on makeup at home [prevent] Covid-19? Pray, tell?” one person wrote online. 

Another piece of advice that was largely ridiculed was the suggestion to imitate the cartoon character Doraemon. 

“I think my husband should speak to me in a Doraemon like voice. That will amuse me to bits and put me in a good mood,” a Twitter user said.

Others were outraged that these were the solutions to a happy home in the Ministry’s eyes, especially as more serious problems stem from stay-at-home orders, like a rise in domestic violence.

“How did we go from preventing baby dumping, fighting domestic violence to some sad variant of the Obedient Wives Club?” one person asked online.

Ministry Apologizes

After being scraped over the coals, the Ministry addressed the controversial advice and issued an apology Tuesday night. 

It said its intentions were aimed at “maintaining positive relationships among family members during the period they are working from home.”  

“We apologize if some of the tips we shared were inappropriate and touched on the sensitivities of some parties,” the Ministry said in a statement, adding that they will take caution in the future. 

See what others are saying: (NPR) (Reuters) (Guardian)

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Is April Fools’ Day Canceled? K-Pop Star’s Stunt Backfires While Countries Warn Against Misinformation About Coronavirus as Pranks

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  • Many are warning against April Fools’ Day pranks as the world deals with coronavirus outbreaks, but others say laughs are needed now more than ever.
  • Companies like Google have pulled their annual pranks while countries like India, Thailand, and others announced punishments for those spreading coronavirus misinformation on this day. 
  • K-pop star Kim Jaejoong has already come under fire for lying about being hospitalized with the virus as an April Fools’ stunt, then later passing it off as an attempt to raise awareness about social distancing. 

April Fools’ Day Debate 

Internet users are weighing in on whether or not April Fools’ Day is officially canceled this year as the world battles against the growing coronavirus pandemic. 

For some, the annual day devoted to pulling practical jokes and hoaxes feels completely inappropriate given the current state of society. 

But others argue that we need some fun and laughter during this dark time. 

One of the biggest companies to take a side in the debate was Google, a company that has pulled major April Fools’ Day pranks for two decades. Earlier this week, the company said it would “take the year off from that tradition out of respect for all those fighting the Covid-19 pandemic.” 

“Our highest goal right now is to be helpful to people, so let’s save the jokes for next April, which will undoubtedly be a whole lot brighter than this one,” it added.

Other brands are likely to follow Google’s lead, especially since many people are waiting to call out anyone who they feel has crossed a line. The Verge, for instance, even promised to keep an eye out and make a list of brands pulling pranks this year. 

K-Pop Star Lies About Coronavirus 

But of course, despite desperate calls for people to think twice about insensitive pranks, reports have already surfaced of coronavirus-related stunts. On Wednesday, K-Pop Star Kim Jaejoong, of the group JYJ, told his nearly 2 million Instagram followers that he had tested positive for COVID-19.

“It is a result of my negligence, ignoring the cautionary words shared by the government and those around me,” he wrote according to a translation by K-pop news site Soompi.

“A person’s individual actions can have such a big impact on society as a whole. I am so sorry to those who may have been infected because of me. My foolish judgment to live as though it couldn’t happen to me is why I am like this today. I am currently hospitalized. I am reflecting on my past a lot and feeling both grateful and sorry. There are many things I want to say. There are many people I want to see so much,” he added. 

Soon after, he was of course flooded with support in the comments and fan sites began reporting his shocking announcement. 

His agency, CJeS Entertainment, even released a statement saying they were trying to confirm the news after seeing the post themselves. Less than an hour later, Jaejoong edited his caption, replacing it with a message clarifying that he doesn’t actually have the virus. Instead, he tried to suggest that his prank was intended to raise awareness for the importance of social distancing.

“What if the people we love, someone precious to us, contracted the virus? It’s such a heart-wrenching thing to think about. Despite this, so many people walk the streets and live their lives without their guards up, ignoring it… and thinking it won’t happen to them, and it makes me so worried that my family and friends might get sick,” he wrote in the updated post.

He went on to say that a number of his acquaintances are testing positive and encouraged people to “stay alert.”

“Although this did go quite far for April Fool’s Day, so many people worried about me in a short span of time. Oh… and I don’t think of this as an April Fool’s joke. My family and my friends are getting sick.. and dying.. It’s never!! just someone else’s problem. I wanted to tell you that protecting myself is protecting the precious people around us,” he continued.

“I will accept all punishment I receive from this post. I hope all of you are healthy.”

Jaejoong Apologizes 

Jaejoong eventually deleted the entire post and was hit with a ton of backlash from people who were upset by his lie. Many called it disrespectful while others noted that there are better ways to raise awareness if that was truly his intent.  

Following the outrage, he posted longer statement to his Instagram account apologizing. “I am also personally aware that it was something that shouldn’t be done…I want to express my sincere apologies to the people who have suffered because of COVID-19 and to the people who were disrupted in their administrative work,” he wrote.

He called his post “bad judgment” and again expressed that he was trying to raise awareness about the virus. 

“My post today… it went very far, but I thought that if people paid a large amount of interest to it, then they might listen. This method has hurt a lot of people and I am receiving criticism for it.

“For causing distress, I sincerely apologize to the government agencies and medical professionals who are working hard because of COVID-19 and to the many people who are following instructions to give up on their lifestyles and are doing all they can to overcome this,” he concluded. 

Countries Warn Against Spreading Misinformation About COVID-19 as Pranks 

Jaejoong’s initial post is essentially what many people are afraid of seeing on this day. But even aside from lying about having the virus, more people are worried that misinformation will be spread under the guise of April Fools’ jokes. 

Governments worldwide have been taking steps to combat this issue. Police in Thailand, for instance, warned that anyone disseminating false information about the coronavirus on April Fools’ Day could face up to five years in jail and a fine of up to about $3,000.

Taiwan’s president warned people not to pull virus-related pranks, adding that anyone spreading false rumors or information could face up to three years in jail and/ or a fine of up to $99,200.

In India, Maharashtra’s cybersecurity unit promised to pursue legal action against anyone spreading misinformation or rumors today as well, with Home Minister Anil Deshmukh tweeting “the state govt won’t allow anyone to spread rumors/panic on #Corona.”

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Germany’s health ministry issued a similar warning under the heading “Corona is no joke,” according to Reuters. Meanwhile, authorities in South Korea have said misinformation related to the virus would fall under laws on obstruction of official duties and defamation.

For those who choose to take their coronavirus pranks a step further by pulling them against others in person, keep in mind that anyone who threatens or attempts to spread COVID-19 in the U.S. can be hit with terrorism charges.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Forbes) (The Hill

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Hungary, Iran, and Other Countries Use Coronavirus Pandemic to Suppress Journalists

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  • On Monday, Hungary passed a law allowing Prime Minister Viktor Orban to indefinitely rule by decree, giving him the power to rule the country how he sees fit.
  • Hungary also passed a law banning the spreading of “false” information, a move critics call a censor to free press.
  • Other countries such as the Philippines, Egypt, Iran, and Brazil have also made moves to block journalists, either by censoring, harassing, detaining, or attempting to discredit them.
  • Facebook and Twitter, in turn, have removed posts by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro for misinformation relating to the use and promotion of hydroxychloroquine, a drug being investigated as an antiviral COVID-19 treatment.

Hungary Gives PM Power to “Rule By Decree”

As governments around the world struggle with how to contain the coronavirus pandemic, Hungary has given its prime minister the power to indefinitely rule by decree.

Hungary’s parliament overwhelmingly passed that bill Monday, and as of Tuesday, it is now in effect. In essence, it gives Prime Minister Viktor Orban the legal ability to govern the country unchallenged for as long as he sees fit. Notably, that means he doesn’t need to consult with other lawmakers when it comes to making decisions. 

In theory, the bill stills allow for the country’s constitutional court to act as a check; however, Orban had already stacked that court with loyalists. That means a check against him is extremely unlikely to happen.

Hungary’s government has justified this new law by saying emergency powers are necessary to fight the outbreak, but rights groups are fighting back by saying such a move suspends democracy. Many political analysts have also questioned whether or not Orban will give back his newfound power once the coronavirus crisis is over. 

In fact, some say there’s precedent to suggest he might not. In 2016, Orban was granted emergency power to deal with Hungary’s migrant crisis, but he’s yet to relinquish those powers and still holds them today.

“He is using this crisis to further increase his power,” the director of a Budapest-based think tank told The Washington Post. “The Hungarian prime minister enjoys the situation where he can act as a captain in a crisis. I don’t see him giving up these powers again easily.”

Because of that, there are concerns that Orban and his administration might also use “rule by decree” to suppress independent voices and free press. It’s possible that the country might already be taking such steps, as the law that gave Orban rule by decree also criminalizes any attempts to stop the Hungarian government from fighting the outbreak. Notably, that includes the spreading of false information, which is punishable by up to five years in prison.

Of course, the kicker is that whenever a government allows a single person to call the shots, they can decide what is considered “false” information. 

The European Union, of which Hungary is a member, has already launched punitive measures against the country, saying Orban’s attacks on the media, the courts, and minority rights pose a “systematic threat” to its core values.

Hungary has defended itself against that criticism, with a spokesperson saying, “False claims of a power grab in Hungary are just that. Such insinuations are not only incorrect but defamatory and impede the government’s efforts in slowing down the spread of the coronavirus.”

Other Countries Make Moves to Block Journalists

It’s not just Hungary making big moves to potentially change freedoms and block journalists. 

Last week in Egypt, authorities forced a reporter for The Guardian to leave the country after she reported on a scientific study that said Egypt likely had many more COVID-19 cases than officially reported.

In the Philippines, journalists can now face sentences up to two months and a fine up to $20,000 for “spreading false information” related to the coronavirus.

In Iran, authorities have been aggressively working to contain independent reporting by harassing, detaining, and censoring journalists. Officials there have also ordered the media to only use the government’s statistics when covering COVID-19.

In Brazil, President Jair Bolsonaro has called the coronavirus a media trick, saying: “The people will soon see that they were tricked by these governors and by the large part of the media when it comes to coronavirus.”

“It is a shameless campaign, a colossal and absurd campaign against the head of state…” he also said. “They want to force me out however possible.”

Facebook and Twitter Remove Bolsonaro Posts

By contrast, multiple social media sites have removed posts from Bolsonaro that they say feature him making false, harmful, or misleading statements.

The posts all contain video of Bolsonaro walking through Brazil’s capital. He then talks to a street vendor and insinuates an end to social distancing.

“This medicine here, hydroxychloroquine, is working in every place,” he adds in the video that was posted Saturday. 

Notably, that is incorrect. Both hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine are being investigated as possible antiviral treatments for COVID-19; however, while those drugs are approved for use in patients with malaria, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis, they have not been approved for use in people with COVID-19.

Twitter banned two tweets featuring the video on Sunday. According to NBC News, Twitter ordered Bolsonaro to take down that video himself if he wanted to keep using the platform.

“Twitter recently announced the expansion of its rules to cover content that could be against public health information provided by official sources and could put people at greater risk of transmitting Covid-19,” a spokesperson for the site said in a statement.

Monday night, both Facebook followed suit by removing the video on its platform. It also removed the video from Instagram, which it owns. 

“We removed content on Facebook and Instagram that violates our Community Standards, which do not allow misinformation that could cause real harm to people,” read a statement to media outlets. 

Bolsonaro is not the only world leader to be hit by social media platforms hoping to cut down on misinformation surrounding COVID-19. Last week, Twitter also deleted a tweet from Venezuelan President Nicholas Maduro for promoting a “natural brew” to cure COVID-19.

Though not governmental leaders, it has also deleted tweets from President Donald Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani and Fox host Laura Ingraham for promoting the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine before its widespread approval. 

On Saturday, the Food and Drug Administration gave the Trump Administration emergency approval to distribute millions of doses of those drugs to hospitals. Even with that, that does not mean that the FDA is approving the long-term use of these drugs against COVID-19.

See what others are saying: (NBC News) (Politico) (Axios)

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