Connect with us

International

Australian Cabinet Approves 2 Billion Dollars for Fire Relief

Published

on

  • Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced on Monday that at least 2 billion dollars have been approved for bushfire recovery services.
  • The fires have been blazing across the country for months, and have burned over 14 million acres and killed at least 24 people. It has also been estimated that 480 million animals have perished in the state of New South Wales alone. 
  • Australia has faced fires before, but none quite like this, as these flames are intensified by worsening climate change. 
  • Many are frustrated with Prime Minister Scott Morrison, criticizing him of being complacent in the wake of disaster and not taking enough political action to combat climate change.

Funding for Months-Long Destruction

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced funding of at least 2 billion Australian dollars for bushfire recovery on Monday after months of devastation. 

At least 24 people have been killed and over 14 million acres burned by the fires that have raged across the country.   

The fire season kicked up in September after the nation went through its warmest recorded spring. The heat continued into December, when the record was broken for Australia’s hottest day, with average highs of 107.4 degrees Fahrenheit blazing across the continent.  

These extreme temperatures, as well as long periods of drought and fierce winds, have led to the intensification and rapid spread of the fires.

Even with the rain and cooler temperatures that also came on Monday, providing temporary relief, the circumstances remain dire. 

Tens of thousands of firefighters have been battling the flames over the past few months, a majority of them volunteers. Despite these forces, the situation in Australia is so bad that the country has requested additional international aid. 

According to the National Interagency Fire Center, around 100 U.S. firefighters have been deployed to assist in suppressing the Australian bushfires. Canada is also sending firefighters to Australia for the first time. As of Sunday, 87 Canadian firefighters were deployed to Australia, according to the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Center

Widespread Destruction

The flames have affected the nation’s east coast the most, particularly the state of New South Wales, where over 1,300 homes have been destroyed. As of Monday morning, more than 130 fires were still burning across the state, according to the New South Wales Rural Fire Service.

On Nov. 11, the state issued a “catastrophic” fire danger warning. This was the first time a rating that high had been issued since the warning system went into effect in 2009, according to The New York Times. Last month, the air quality in Sydney was measured at 11 times the “hazardous” level. 

Victoria, the state below New South Wales, has faced its own frightening conditions. 

Last week, about 4,000 residents and tourists in the town of Mallacoota fled to nearby beaches to escape the flames. About 1,000 people participated in voluntary evacuations headed by the Australian Defense Force’s navy vessels.

Devastation to Wildlife

In addition to the fires having tragic effects on Australian locals, wildlife have also gravely suffered. An estimated 480 million animals have died in New South Wales alone, according to a report by Chris Dickman, a professor at the University of Sydney. 

This figure includes mammals, birds, and reptiles and does not take into account insects, bats or frogs. It is reported that while many of these animals were likely killed directly by the fires, some succumbed later due to a loss of food and shelter resources. 

Climate Change Implications

Australia has faced tough fires before, but this season is far more intense. The nation typically sees dry, hot summers, and climate change brings extended stretches of extreme heat, which makes vegetation even more susceptible to burn.

According to scientific reports by the United Nations Association of Australia, few if any other developed countries are as vulnerable to climate change as this one. 

Backlash Against Prime Minister

Throughout this year’s fire season, Prime Minister Morrison has received backlash for his response to the disasters—and for what critics call his lack of political action in response to climate change.

In the wake of the bushfires, Morrison took a vacation to Hawaii before for the holidays. But after facing much criticism, he cut his trip short and returned home.

Scrutiny for Morrison then continued after his visit to Cobargo on Jan. 2, a town in New South Wales that has been heavily affected by the fires.

Morrison’s attempt to talk with locals and volunteers did not go well. After reaching out to thank a firefighter, the man said to him: “I don’t really want to shake your hand.”

Another Cobargo local made headlines when she criticized Morrison for not giving enough funds to Rural Fire Services.

“I’m only shaking your hand if you give more funding to RFS,” she told the Prime Minister. “So many people here have lost their homes. We need more help.”

International Attention

The Australian fires have gained attention from people all around the world, including celebrities who are donating funds toward relief and using their platforms to promote awareness. 

Nicole Kidman, who holds Australian citizenship, announced on Instagram that her family is donating $500,000 to RFS.

Musician Pink, whose full name is Alecia Beth Moore, pledged the same amount to local disaster services. 

Actor and environmentalist Leonardo DiCaprio has been posting and reposting updates on the fires for months, urging people to take action in the climate crisis.

See what others are saying: (CNN) (Washington Post) (New York Times)

Advertisements

International

U.S. Charges Venezuelan Leader With Drug Trafficking, Narco-Terrorism

Published

on

  • The Department of Justice announced criminal charges against Venezuelan leader Maduro and about a dozen others.
  • The charges include narco-terrorism, corruption, drug trafficking, and others.
  • The move marks the second time a foreign head of state has been indicted on drug charges in the U.S. and shows a significant escalation in the U.S. pressure campaign on the Maduro regime.

Maduro Charged

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) charged Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro and 14 others, including senior regime officials, with narco-terrorism, corruption, drug trafficking, and other charges in a sweeping indictment unveiled Thursday.

The indictment, which was announced by Attorney General William Barr, accuses Maduro of conspiring with the Columbian rebel group the Revolutionary Armed Forces, known by their Spanish acronym as FARC.

FARC is a U.S.-designated terrorist group that has long secured its funding by smuggling cocaine.

“For more than 20 years, Maduro and a number of high-ranking colleagues allegedly conspired with the FARC, causing tons of cocaine to enter and devastate American communities,” Barr said in a press conference Thursday morning 

“The scope and magnitude of the drug trafficking alleged was made possible only because Maduro and others corrupted the institutions of Venezuela and provided political and military protection for the rampant narco-terrorism crimes described in our charges,” said U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman of the Southern District of New York, who joined Barr via teleconference to make the announcement.

“As alleged, Maduro and the other defendants expressly intended to flood the United States with cocaine in order to undermine the health and wellbeing of our nation,” Berman continued. “Maduro very deliberately deployed cocaine as a weapon.” 

The charges also pertain to Maduro’s alleged leadership of a drug-smuggling cartel called the Cártel de Los Soles, or the Cartel of the Suns, according to a press release from the DOJ.

According to the release, Maduro has served as one of the leaders of the cartel since 1999. In that time, Maduro “negotiated multi-ton shipments of FARC-produced cocaine” and directed the cartel to “provide military-grade weapons to the FARC.”

He also facilitated “large-scale drug trafficking” with Honduras and other countries, and “solicited assistance from FARC leadership in training an unsanctioned militia group” that essentially functioned as an “armed forces unit” for the cartel. 

U.S. Ramps Up Efforts

Very notably, the release also said that the State Department was offering rewards of up to $15 million for information that could lead to the capture and arrest of Maduro.

While it remains unlikely that he will be arrested and actually see the inside of a courtroom in the U.S., the charges are still quite significant for several different reasons.

First of all, it is incredibly rare for the U.S. to indict a foreign leader on drug charges. According to the Miami Herald, it is only the second time the U.S. government has filed criminal charges against a foreign head of state.

Second, it marks a very serious escalation on the part of President Donald Trump and his administration in their pressure campaign on Maduro and his regime.

The U.S. and about 60 other countries have refused to recognize Maduro as the rightful leader of Venezuela after he was re-elected as president last year in an election widely considered illegitimate.

That prompted both a large protest movement and opposition leader Juan Guaidó to declare himself the true leader of the country. But Maduro has held onto power while the people of Venezuela continue to suffer.

The U.S. has slowly ramped up the efforts it’s taken against Venezuela, first imposing sanctions on individuals, then expanding those to a full-blown embargo on oil— Venezuela’s biggest resource.

The U.S. has also broadly moved to lock Venezuela out of the American financial system altogether. 

Venezuela & the Coronavirus

While the U.S. has taken these steps gradually over the course of the last year, the new charges represent a big jump and raised some questions about timing.

Venezuela’s protests movement, which once seemed to be making headlines everyday, has died down in recent months. Efforts to organize and demonstrate against the Maduro regime have also been hampered by the coronavirus pandemic.

The country has reported 106 confirmed cases, and like other countries, the pandemic has also significantly weakened Venezuela.

But Venezuela is particularly vulnerable. With its economy in shambles and its hospital system collapsed, the country was already facing severe medical supply shortages, dilapidated equipment, and unsanitary conditions in hospitals even before the coronavirus outbreak.

Now, the pandemic threatens an already dangerous situation.

Many reporters questioned Barr’s timing with the new charges amid the pandemic. Barr said the case had been in the works for a long time and the announcement was merely a coincidence. 

“We moved on these cases when we were ready to do it,” he said, adding that he felt the move was “good timing” for the people of Venezuela.

“They need an effective government that cares about the people,” he said. “We think that the best way to support the Venezuelan people during this period is to do all we can to rid the country of this corrupt cabal.”

Maduro, for his part, rejected the charges before they were even announced. 

“There’s a conspiracy from the United States and Colombia and they’ve given the order of filling Venezuela with violence” he wrote on Twitter. “As head of state I’m obliged to defend peace and stability for all the motherland, under any circumstances.”

See what others are saying: (NPR) (The Washington Post) (The Miami Herald)

Advertisements
Continue Reading

International

Spain Surpasses China in Coronavirus Deaths

Published

on

  • Spain officially surpassed China in its number of coronavirus deaths on Wednesday, with over 3,400 fatalities reported. 
  • The country has seen tragic fallouts from the pandemic, including elderly people being found abandoned and even dead in nursing home beds.
  • In Madrid, an ice rink is being converted into a makeshift morgue and an exhibition center is being turned into a hospital. 
  • Some Spaniards are not obeying stay-at-home orders, which is frustrating officials. Similar frustrations from leaders are being seen in Italy, which has reported the highest number of coronavirus deaths.

Spain Suffers from Coronavirus

Spain’s coronavirus death toll officially surpassed China’s on Wednesday after the country registered an overnight increase of 738 new fatalities. The total number of coronavirus deaths in Spain has reached 3,434, while China’s is at 3,281, according to The New York Times.

The European nation is facing bleak realities as over 47,600 cases have been reported and the disease continues to wreak havoc. When soldiers were sent to disinfect nursing homes, they found elderly residents left unattended and some even dead in their beds, Spain’s defense minister María Margarita Robles Fernández told the Spanish TV channel Telecinco on Monday.

According to the Spanish newspaper El Pais, caregivers have walked out of these homes when the virus has been detected, and some have expressed their frustrations about working in high-risk conditions without adequate protective wear. 

Prosecutors have opened an investigation into the conditions of these facilities, according to El Pais.

And as of this week, an ice rink in Madrid is being converted into a makeshift morgue as funeral homes are overwhelmed by those left dead from the virus.  

Also in Madrid, an exhibition center — typically used for trade fairs — is being turned into a hospital. It is expected to have over 5,000 beds, including 500 in an intensive care unit when completed, according to reports

Medical facilities in the worst-affected areas have already been short on beds in ICUs, and some health care staffers have said that elderly people who have lost their lives could have been saved if there wasn’t a lack of ICU space. 

But Spanish officials have denied this claim.

“Some units are under a lot of stress, but we haven’t reached that point in Spain,” Ricard Ferrer, chairman of the Spanish Society of Intensive and Critical Care Medicine, told The Wall Street Journal

Spain’s Response Against the Outbreak 

Spain is 11 days into a 15-day nationwide lockdown that will likely be extended further. 

The government has faced criticism for not acting quickly enough, as Spain has seen a dramatic increase in cases over the past two weeks, but Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has argued that he acted in accordance with advice from scientific experts. 

The government is also resisting pushes to make the lockdown more strict by banning all nonessential activities, which would close down many factories and offices in an already-struggling economy.

“Our measures are among the most drastic taken in the European Union,” Health Minister Salvador Illa told reporters on Monday, adding that the challenge is to make sure citizens obey the already-existing restrictions. “We know it’s tough but it is the only path to the defeat of the virus.”

One significant characteristic of Spain that is worsening the problem of the virus is the country’s socially-oriented culture, which citizens have seemed slow to give up. Since the lockdown began, authorities have found about 60,000 people disobeying the restrictions on going out, and have arrested about 500, according to The Wall Street Journal

But just as in other nations hit hard by this pandemic, glimmers of hope and joy have been seen despite the devastation citizens are facing. One notable example of this is a video from Mallorca that went viral. The clip features police singing and dancing in the street for families stuck inside. 

Italy’s Struggles Rage On

Now Italy remains the only country that has seen more coronavirus deaths than Spain, with a staggering 7,503 fatalities as of Wednesday, according to John Hopkins University. Total cases in Italy are at 74,386.  

Italian leaders are facing their own struggles to maintain control over their country’s lockdown. Antonia Decaro, mayor of Bari, was shown on camera personally yelling at people in public to go indoors. Other leaders have released videos of themselves scolding their citizens for not complying with the stay-at-home ban. 

It’s clear by their stern messages that the officials are not taking this lightly.

“This is like a war bulletin because we are in a real war,” Massimiliano Presciutti, Mayor of Gualdo Tadino, said in a Facebook video on Friday. “And now I turn to you…You need to stay home! Don’t you understand that people are dying? Four hundred people are dying a day!”

“Hundreds of students will be graduating… I hear some want to host a party,” Vincenzo De Luca,  president of Campania, said. “We’ll send armed police over, and we’ll send them with flamethrowers.”

Nine EU nations, including Spain and Italy, have called on the EU to raise funds through a “common debt instrument” to handle both the health and economical fallouts from the pandemic.  

See what others are saying: (Wall Street Journal) (Reuters) (BBC)

Advertisements
Continue Reading

International

Trump Points Blame at China as New Reports Explain Coronavirus Spread

Published

on

  • The New York Times created a visual timeline depicting how rapid travel and slow global responses aided the coronavirus’ ability to quickly become a pandemic. 
  • This comes as a Reuters report revealed that a potentially key China-based CDC employee was removed from their post in July. That job could have been crucial in relaying information about the virus to the United States.
  • The elimination of that position also highlights divisions between the Trump administration and China as the two blame each other for the virus’ spread.

Coronavirus Timeline

As an unfinished puzzle mocks you while you stare out the window, dreading your next grocery store run, one question is probably sitting on your mind: how did we get here?

Well, on Sunday, reports from the New York Times and Reuters began to answer that question. The reports created key timelines and noted new details that explain how the world came to face the coronavirus pandemic. The Times created a visual timeline that starts at the virus’s beginnings in Wuhan, China, before breaking down its international reach.

According to the Times, a handful of cases from a seafood market quickly turned to dozens by the end of December. At the time, doctors only knew that patients had a type of viral pneumonia. But even in December, the number of cases could have been exponentially higher. 

“The true size of the outbreak was much larger even then — an invisible network of nearly 1,000 cases, or perhaps several times more,” the Times wrote. 

China first alerted the World Health Organization about public risk on December 31, calling the disease preventable and controllable. This alert came on the eve of a crucial turning point for the virus: traveling for Lunar New Year. On January 1, there was extensive travel from Wuhan and throughout China. Throughout the whole month of January, about 7 million people left Wuhan. 

This infected thousands of travelers and started local outbreaks all over China. By February 4, areas that were centers for travel were seeing outbreaks of their own. The Times said that 85% of virus-carrying travelers may have gone undetected.

International Spread

All of this led to the end of January, when Wuhan was put on lockdown, travel bans were getting set in place, and international spread picked up. Still, even though countries other than China were now taking measures of their own, the damage had already been done.

“It was too late,” the Times report said. “Outbreaks were already growing in over 30 cities across 26 countries, most seeded by travelers from Wuhan.” 

By March, the virus had made its way to Italy, South Korea, Iran, and more. China was no longer the driver of its spread and was actually beginning to see a decline in cases as it increased isolation, tracing, and testing.

The United States, however, has had slim testing in comparison. By the time the country was beginning to respond, major cities already had outbreaks. Like the outbreaks before it, the ones in these areas were “once again outpacing efforts to stop it.”

China-Based CDC Position Removed

On top of this rapid and uncontained spread, a Reuters report indicates that key communication between the United States and China may have been lost. The U.S. got rid of a CDC position in July, just months before the outbreak. According to Reuters, that job belonged to Dr. Linda Quick. Quick was an epidemiologist that trained Chinese field epidemiologists who were sent to the “epicenter of outbreaks to help track, investigate and contain diseases.”

According to several sources in their report, Quick’s position could have been essential in relaying news about the outbreak from on the ground in China at an earlier time, then developing a quicker response. The CDC, however, said her elimination did not stop the spread information and “had absolutely nothing to do with CDC not learning of cases in China earlier.”

Still, cases of the disease began popping up at least in December in Wuhan. Alex Azar, secretary of Health and Human services said he first learned of the virus in early January. A former CDC director maintained to Reuters that if the role existed today “it is possible that we would know more today about how this coronavirus is spreading and what works best to stop it.”

Trump Vs. China

Reports over the past several days also indicated that there could be another factor in potentially lagging information between the United States and China: President Donald Trump.

Dr. Robert Fontaine, who served in that now-removed adviser position years ago, told Reuters that tensions between the Trump Administration and Chinese leadership have grown over the past year, damaging their ability to work together. 

“The message from the administration was, ‘Don’t work with China, they’re our rival,’” he told the outlet. 

On par with that messaging, many experts have claimed that the United States’ relationship with China has weakened since the outbreak. Trump and other officials have repeatedly called the coronavirus “the Chinese virus,” a phrase that has been condemned for being stigmatizing and racist. Despite criticism, the administration has defended the phrase, which works hand in hand with Trump’s efforts to blame China for the severity of the outbreak. 

Trump has pointed fingers at China for not stopping the virus’ spread and travel sooner, among other lagging responses. China, however, has thrown the blame right back, criticizing U.S. leadership for not taking it seriously, even though there were global warnings.

This divide is approaching at an incredibly consequential time. China and the U.S. are the two largest economies in the world, both facing varying levels of uncertainty because of this pandemic. Dr. Mira Rapp-Hooper, a fellow in Asia Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations told The Hill that as they toss blame back and forth, things may only get worse. 

“This is one of these catastrophic, earth shattering moments that have the potential to pull two otherwise rivals together to provide necessary leadership at a time of crisis and it appears to be pushing them even further apart,” she said.

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

Advertisements
Continue Reading