James McNeill Whistler Symphony in White, No. 3 1867
• US Hikes Tariffs On Chinese Goods, China Says To Strike Back (R.)
U.S. President Donald Trump’s tariff increase to 25% on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods took effect on Friday, and Beijing said it would strike back, ratcheting up tensions as the two sides pursue last-ditch talks to try salvaging a trade deal. China’s Commerce Ministry said it “deeply regrets” the U.S. decision, adding that it would take necessary countermeasures, without elaborating. The hike comes in the midst of two days of talks between top U.S. and Chinese negotiators to try to rescue a faltering deal aimed at ending a 10-month trade war between the world’s two largest economies. Chinese Vice Premier Liu He, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin talked for 90 minutes on Thursday and were expected to resume talks on Friday.
The Commerce Ministry said that negotiations were continuing, and that it “hopes the United States can meet China halfway, make joint efforts, and resolve the issue through cooperation and consultation”. With no action from the Trump administration to reverse the increase as negotiations moved into a second day, U.S. Customs and Border Protection imposed the new 25% duty on affected U.S.-bound cargoes leaving China after 12:01 a.m. EDT (0401 GMT) on Friday. Goods in the more than 5,700 affected product categories that left Chinese ports and airports before midnight will be subject to the original 10% duty rate, a CBP spokeswoman said.
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Don’t worry, Fed to the rescue.
• Historic Lawsuit Could “Wreak Havoc” On The Leveraged Loan Market (ZH)
Ask any banker (or analyst) what the difference is between a junk bond and a loan, and you’ll most likely get a blank start in response: starting with the size of the loan market, which is now virtually identical to that of the high yield bond market, continuing through the standardization of loan terms, the growth of secondary trading, and all the way through to “protections” granted to loan investors, which in an age of exclusively covenant-lite issuance, no longer exist, and one can argue that at least superficially, a loan is effectively the same as a junk bond. And yet, there is one critical difference between the two: junk bonds are securities, while loans aren’t. That difference, however, may not be true for much longer.
As Bloomberg reports, a group suing JPMorgan Chase and other banks over a loan that went sour four years ago is alleging the underwriters engaged in securities fraud. If successful, the article contends correctly, the lawsuit will “radically transform the $1.2 trillion leveraged lending market” because should the plaintiff ultimately prevail in arguing that loans are de facto securities, it would dramatically alter how American companies raise debt, according to two industry groups that filed a brief supporting the defendants’ argument last week. “There are absolutely enormous market consequences if a court determines that leveraged loans are securities,” J. Paul Forrester, a partner at Mayer Brown told Bloomberg. “Leveraged loans and lenders would be potentially subject to the same offering and disclosure requirements as securities and would face the same regulatory oversight and enforcement consequences.”
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Well, whaddaya know, there are people who agree with me… The VIPS, Assange, it’s all I’ve been talking about. I said Mueller is a coward and a liar, Murray calls him deeply corrupt. Same difference.
• The Real Muellergate Scandal (Craig Murray)
Robert Mueller is either a fool, or deeply corrupt. I do not think he is a fool. I did not comment instantly on the Mueller Report as I was so shocked by it, I have been waiting to see if any other facts come to light in justification. Nothing has. I limit myself here to that area of which I have personal knowledge – the leak of DNC and Podesta emails to Wikileaks. On the wider question of the corrupt Russian 1% having business dealings with the corrupt Western 1%, all I have to say is that if you believe that is limited in the USA by party political boundaries, you are a fool. On the DNC leak, Mueller started with the prejudice that it was “the Russians” and he deliberately and systematically excluded from evidence anything that contradicted that view.
Mueller, as a matter of determined policy, omitted key steps which any honest investigator would undertake. He did not commission any forensic examination of the DNC servers. He did not interview Bill Binney. He did not interview Julian Assange. His failure to do any of those obvious things renders his report worthless. There has never been, by any US law enforcement or security service body, a forensic examination of the DNC servers, despite the fact that the claim those servers were hacked is the very heart of the entire investigation. Instead, the security services simply accepted the “evidence” provided by the DNC’s own IT security consultants, Crowdstrike, a company which is politically aligned to the Clintons.
That is precisely the equivalent of the police receiving a phone call saying: “Hello? My husband has just been murdered. He had a knife in his back with the initials of the Russian man who lives next door engraved on it in Cyrillic script. I have employed a private detective who will send you photos of the body and the knife. No, you don’t need to see either of them.” There is no honest policeman in the world who would agree to that proposition, and neither would Mueller were he remotely an honest man.
[..] Mueller’s failure to examine the servers or take Binney’s evidence pales into insignificance compared to his attack on Julian Assange. Based on no conclusive evidence, Mueller accuses Assange of receiving the emails from Russia. Most crucially, he did not give Assange any opportunity to answer his accusations. For somebody with Mueller’s background in law enforcement, declaring somebody in effect guilty, without giving them any opportunity to tell their side of the story, is plain evidence of malice. Inexplicably, for example, the Mueller Report quotes a media report of Assange stating he had “physical proof” the material did not come from Russia, but Mueller simply dismisses this without having made any attempt at all to ask Assange himself.
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Where would US media be without Russia?
• From Russiagate to Gunboat Diplomacy (Jacobin)
One of the things Russiagate skeptics found unsettling about the frenzy over supposed “collusion” was that it made war more likely. Not only did the now-debunked conspiracy theories and resulting political climate push officials into a more aggressive posture toward Russia, but once the Kremlin was returned to its status as the foreign policy elite’s Big Bad, it was easy to imagine a situation where the threat of a Russian bogeyman could be used to justify any number of unrelated foreign adventures. This appears to be exactly what’s happening with Venezuela right now. First there was Fareed Zakaria, who two months ago tried to goad Trump into attacking Venezuela by pointing to Russia’s support for Maduro.
“Putin’s efforts seem designed to taunt the United States,” he said (it might also have something to do with the billions of dollars Russia sank into the country), making reference to the Monroe Doctrine. He asked if Washington would “allow Moscow to make a mockery of another American red line,” warning that “if Washington does not back its words with deeds” the country could become another Syria. Zakaria concluded: “will Venezuela finally be the moment when Trump finally ends his appeasement?” More recently, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo charged that Russia had “invaded” Venezuela before claiming the Kremlin had dissuaded Maduro from fleeing the country at the last moment, something Pompeo has provided no evidence for but much of the media has treated as fact since.
National Security Advisor John Bolton has said that “this is our hemisphere” and “not where the Russians ought to be interfering.” Democratic Sen. Doug Jones echoed this sentiment on CNN, praising the Trump administration for saying “all options are on the table” to deal with Venezuela, something he suggested may have to be acted on “if there is some more intervention [by] Russia.” The national press, taking a break from warning about Trump being a dangerous authoritarian, has been demanding to know why he hasn’t been more aggressive toward the country over this. Particularly shameless was Florida Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart, who went on Tucker Carlson’s show to peddle half-baked innuendo as brazen as anything claimed in the lead up to the Iraq War. If Maduro’s government survived, he claimed, it would be “a green light, an open door for the Russians and for the Chinese and for others to increase their activity against our national security interest right here in our hemisphere.”
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John Solomon digs on. “She quoted Steele as saying, “Payments to those recruited are made out of the Russian Consulate in Miami..” [..] “It is important to note that there is no Russian consulate in Miami.”
• FBI’s Steele Story Falls Apart (Solomon)
The FBI’s sworn story to a federal court about its asset, Christopher Steele, is fraying faster than a $5 souvenir T-shirt bought at a tourist trap. Newly unearthed memos show a high-ranking government official who met with Steele in October 2016 determined some of the Donald Trump dirt that Steele was simultaneously digging up for the FBI and for Hillary Clinton’s campaign was inaccurate, and likely leaked to the media. The concerns were flagged in a typed memo and in handwritten notes taken by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Kathleen Kavalec on Oct. 11, 2016. Her observations were recorded exactly 10 days before the FBI used Steele and his infamous dossier to justify securing a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant to spy on Trump campaign adviser Carter Page and the campaign’s contacts with Russia in search of a now debunked collusion theory.
It is important to note that the FBI swore on Oct. 21, 2016, to the FISA judges that Steele’s “reporting has been corroborated and used in criminal proceedings” and the FBI has determined him to be “reliable” and was “unaware of any derogatory information pertaining” to their informant, who simultaneously worked for Fusion GPS, the firm paid by the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the Clinton campaign to find Russian dirt on Trump. That’s a pretty remarkable declaration in Footnote 5 on Page 15 of the FISA application, since Kavalec apparently needed just a single encounter with Steele at State to find one of his key claims about Trump-Russia collusion was blatantly false.
In her typed summary, Kavalec wrote that Steele told her the Russians had constructed a “technical/human operation run out of Moscow targeting the election” that recruited emigres in the United States to “do hacking and recruiting.” She quoted Steele as saying, “Payments to those recruited are made out of the Russian Consulate in Miami,” according to a copy of her summary memo obtained under open records litigation by the conservative group Citizens United. Kavalec bluntly debunked that assertion in a bracketed comment: “It is important to note that there is no Russian consulate in Miami.”
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What if the relevant sections did get redacted?
• Roger Stone Wins Right To Receive Unredacted Parts of Mueller Report (SC)
A federal judge in Washington ordered the Department of Justice to turn over any unredacted sections of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian activities during the 2016 presidential campaign that relate to Roger Stone. U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson gave the prosecutors until Monday to “submit unredacted versions of those portions of the report that relate to defendant Stone and/or ‘the dissemination of hacked materials.” Judge Jackson would review the material in private to see if it is relevant to the case and to decide whether Stone and his defense team will have access to the material.
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Is this a game?
• Chelsea Manning Released After 2 Months, Might Be Back In Jail In 6 Days (RT)
Whistleblower Chelsea Manning has been released from a Virginia prison where she spent the last 62 days for refusing to testify on her 2010 leak of classified military files before a grand jury. Manning was released from William G. Truesdale Adult Detention Center in Alexandria, Virginia, on Thursday after the term of the grand jury before which she was supposed to testify expired, her legal team said in a statement reported by the Sparrow Project. However, the WikiLeaks whistleblower and activist might soon be locked up again and has already been served with another subpoena, requesting that she testifies before a different set of jurors. “Unfortunately, even prior to her release, Chelsea was served with another subpoena.
This means she is expected to appear before a different grand jury, on Thursday, May 16, 2019, just one week from her release today,” her lawyers said. Despite having spent over two months behind bars, Manning has no intention to cave in to the demand and make herself available to a secret grand jury’s questioning, according to the statement. “Chelsea will continue to refuse to answer questions, and will use every available legal defense to prove to District Judge Trenga that she has just cause for her refusal to give testimony.” Manning insists that she already gave an “exhaustive testimony” on all the matters concerning her disclosure of military documents at a 2013 court martial. In an 8-page declaration filed to the Virginia court on May 6, Manning accused the US government of using the “corrupt and abusive tool” of grand jury to “harass and disrupt political opponents and activists.”
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Taking us back to Aaron Schwartz.
• The Law Being Used to Prosecute Julian Assange Is Broken (Ekeland)
[..] the UK courts will evaluate the US’s request to send Assange to Virginia to stand trial in federal court for a single felony charge of conspiracy to commit unauthorized access to a government computer, a violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). After Assange’s arrest, many reached out to ask me about the CFAA. For years, I’ve represented hackers in federal criminal cases nationally involving the CFAA, including Lauri Love, whom the US unsuccessfully tried to extradite from the UK. The US indicted Love in three separate federal courts in New York, New Jersey, and Virginia, for hacking of a number of government sites including NASA, the FBI, the United States Sentencing Commission, and the Bureau of Prisons.
This was part of #OpLastResort, in protest of the CFAA prosecution and death of computer science pioneer Aaron Swartz, whose suicide in 2013 was widely viewed as resulting from a draconian CFAA prosecution. Whether intended or not, the CFAA makes it easy for a prosecutor to bring felony computer crime charges even when there’s little or no harm. [..] The core problem with the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act is that it doesn’t clearly define one of the central things it prohibits: unauthorized access to a computer. The courts across the country aren’t any help on this front, issuing conflicting decisions both with other jurisdictions and often within their own. Under the CFAA, what is a felony in one jurisdiction is legal in another.
This lack of definitional clarity allows prosecutors to charge felonies even when the harms are minimal, questionable, or just political views that DOJ doesn’t like. This is a serious problem, given that much political speech and protest these days is done with computers. And DOJ has previously used the CFAA in a politically charged prosecution. In 2011, DOJ charged the politically outspoken Aaron Swartz under the CFAA for going into an open server closet at MIT, a mecca of modern American hacking, and downloading academic articles—many of which were publicly funded—for public distribution. Even though the extent of any harm was questionable—this was a mere copying of articles—DOJ charged him with felony unauthorized access to a computer, unauthorized damage to a protected computer, felony aiding and abetting of both, and wire fraud.
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All Swedes need to be deeply ashamed. Is it too much to ask of you to let your voices be heard? All I hear is silence.
• Swedish Prosecutor To Give Decision On Assange Rape Inquiry (G.)
Sweden’s state prosecutor will announce on Monday whether she will reopen a preliminary investigation into a rape allegation against Julian Assange. The WikiLeaks founder is in prison in Britain after he was arrested last month after seven years holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. The US wants to extradite him in a case relating to WikiLeaks’ massive release of sensitive military and diplomatic documents. Sweden’s legal tussle with the Australian Assange has dragged on for nearly a decade after he was accused by two Swedish women of sexual assault and rape in 2010.
The statute of limitations ran out on the sexual assault allegations in 2015 and the prosecutor dropped the investigation into the rape allegation in 2017 because Assange was in the Ecuadorian embassy, where he had taken refuge to avoid extradition. The prosecutor said at the time the investigation could be reopened if the situation changed. After Assange’s arrest last month, the lawyer representing the woman who accused Assange of rape asked for the investigation to be reopened. “At [a] press conference, the prosecutor will announce her decision, which will formally be made immediately before the press conference,” the Swedish prosecution authority said in a statement.
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Elizabeth Lea Vos is compiling a history of all WikiLeaks files.
• The Revelations of WikiLeaks: No. 2 (Vos)
Three months after it published the “Collateral Murder” video, WikiLeaks on July 25, 2010 released a cache of secret U.S. documents on the war in Afghanistan. It revealed the suppression of civilian casualty figures, the existence of an elite U.S.-led death squad and the covert role of Pakistan in the conflict, among other revelations. The publication of the Afghan War Diaries helped set the U.S. government on a collision course with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange that ultimately led to his arrest last month. The war diaries were leaked by then-Army-intelligence-analyst Chelsea Manning, who had legal access to the logs via her Top Secret clearance.
Manning only approached WikiLeaks, after studying the organization, following unsuccessful attempts to leak the files to The New York Times and The Washington Post. A major controversy surrounding the Diaries’ release were allegations that operational details were made public to the Taliban’s battlefield advantage and that U.S. coalition informants’ lives were put at risk by publishing their names. Despite a widely-held belief that WikiLeaks carelessly publishes un-redacted documents, only 75,000 from a total of more than 92,201 internal U.S. military files related to the Afghan War (between 2004 and 2010) were ultimately published.
WikiLeaks explained that it held back so many documents because Manning had insisted on it: “We have delayed the release of some 15,000 reports from the total archive as part of a harm minimization process demanded by our source.” Manning testified at her 2013 court-martial that the files were not “very sensitive” and did not report active military operations.
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Facebook: We’re Not A Monopoly, We’re “A Successful American Company”
Chris Hughes, Zuck’s former roommate, said in a NYT op-ed that Facebook should be split up. The reaction: no, we’re just successful, but we do need new laws, and Zuck himself has some great ideas for that.
• Facebook Co-Founder Calls For Breakup Of The Company (ZH)
[..] would-be rivals can’t raise the money to take on Facebook. Nobody would finance them knowing that if they get too powerful, Facebook will run them out of business. Hughes doesn’t blame Zuckerberg for this; after all, he’s simply demonstrating the “virtuous hustle of a talented entrepreneur.” But this is exactly why the government should feel obligated to step in and “break up Facebook’s monopoly and regulate the company to make it more accountable to the American people.” Specifically, Hughes believes the FTC should work with the DoJ to undo the Instagram and Whatsapp acquisitions. There is some precedent for this, he says.
How would a breakup work? Facebook would have a brief period to spin off the Instagram and WhatsApp businesses, and the three would become distinct companies, most likely publicly traded. Facebook shareholders would initially hold stock in the new companies, although Mark and other executives would probably be required to divest their management shares. Until recently, WhatsApp and Instagram were administered as independent platforms inside the parent company, so that should make the process easier. But time is of the essence: Facebook is working quickly to integrate the three, which would make it harder for the F.T.C. to split them up. For what it’s worth, Hughes acknowledges his complicity in creating Facebook, and the fact that he didn’t speak out – or even question the company’s monopoly power – until after Cambridge Analytica.
But that’s the past: Already, support for breaking up big-tech monopolies is gaining traction among Democrats and Republicans alike. The fact that Hughes has decided to criticized his former co-founder (and one-time college buddy) in such a public forum might seem galling to some: After all, Hughes was transformed into a millionaire 500 times over largely because he had the good fortune of being assigned to the same dorm room as Zuckerberg at Harvard. But regardless, now that Hughes has broken the seal, will he inspire more of Facebook’s co-founders and former top employees speak out. It’s worth noting that in March, Chris Cox, one of Zuckerberg’s top deputies and a longtime FB executive, left the company. Cox’s decision to leave was reportedly due to ‘disagreement’s’ that were alluded to in a blog post.
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Torn between multiple lovers. The UK governed by a fringe party.
• UK Tories Could Come Sixth In European Elections (G.)
Conservative officials fear the party could come sixth in the European elections, with their support plummeting to single digits. Candidates running in the election said the party was “almost in denial” that the poll was happening and continued to insist they would not need to take up their seats in the European parliament, despite fading prospects for a cross-party deal with Labour that would enable Brexit to happen before 2 July. The fears of a dismal performance have been stoked by the fact that the party plans to spend no money on candidate campaigning, will not publish a manifesto and is refusing to hold a launch.
One MEP said candidates were funding their campaigns out of their own pockets, unlike previous years when there was a central pot of funding available. They have been told they are allowed to have their own regional manifestos, but many are not bothering, and there will be no central party manifesto. “The thinking is that if we make no effort then we will have an excuse for having done so badly. But it is seriously embarrassing,” said one MEP. Another Conservative source said internal data showed the party could do worse than the Brexit party, Labour, the Lib Dems, Change UK and even potentially the Greens, with support at less than 10%. That would translate to only a handful of seats, down from the current 22.
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Nuclear is set to make a come back, because it is the only option to maintain our complex societies. He may have a point there. The ultimate desperation.
• America, You Are Fired! (Dmitry Orlov)
Some ironies are just too precious to pass by. The 2016 US presidential elections gave us Donald Trump, a reality TV star whose famous tag line from his show “The Apprentice” was “You are fired!” Focus on this tag line; it is all that is important to this story. Some Trump Derangement Disorder sufferers might disagree. This is because they are laboring under certain misapprehensions: that the US is a democracy; or that it matters who is president. It isn’t and it doesn’t. By this point, the choice of president matters as much as the choice of conductor for the band that plays aboard a ship as it vanishes beneath the waves. I have made these points continuously since before Trump got into office. Whether or not you think that Trump was actually elected, he did get in somehow, and there are reasons to believe that this had something to do with his wonderfully refreshing “You are fired!” tag line.
[..] Financially ruinous and generally nonsensical schemes such as tar sands, shale oil and industrial-scale photovoltaics, wind generation and electric cars will only accelerate the process of sorting nations into energy haves and energy have-nots, with the have-nots wiping themselves out sooner rather than later. Leaving aside various fictional and notional schemes (nuclear fusion, space mirrors, etc.) and focusing just on the technologies that already exist, there is only one way to maintain industrial civilization, and that is nuclear, based on Uranium 235 (which is scarce) and Plutonium 239 produced from Uranium 238 (of which there is enough to last for thousands of years) using fast neutron reactors. If you don’t like this choice, then your other choice is to go completely agrarian, with significantly reduced population densities and no urban centers of any size.
And if you do like this choice, then you have few alternatives other than to go with the world’s main purveyor of nuclear technology (VVER-series light water reactors, BN-series fast neutron breeder reactors and closed nuclear fuel cycle technology) which happens to be Russia’s state-owned conglomerate Rosatom. It owns over a third of the world nuclear energy market and has a portfolio of international projects stretching far into the future that includes as much as 80% of the reactors that are going to be built. The US hasn’t been able to complete a nuclear reactor in decades, the Europeans managed to get just one new reactor on line (in China) while Japan’s nuclear program has been in disarray ever since Fukushima and Toshiba’s financially disastrous acquisition of Westinghouse. The only other contenders are South Korea and China. Again, if you don’t like nuclear—for whatever reason—then you can always just buy yourself some pasture and some hayfields and start breeding donkeys.
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• Chernobyl Has Become A Refuge For Wildlife 33 Years Later (Conv.)
About 30 researchers from the United Kingdom, Ireland, France, Belgium, Norway, Spain and Ukraine presented the latest results of our work. These studies included work on big mammals, nesting birds, amphibians, fish, bumblebees, earthworms, bacteria and leaf litter decomposition. These studies showed that at present the area hosts great biodiversity. In addition, they confirmed the general lack of big negative effects of current radiation levels on the animal and plant populations living in Chernobyl. All the studied groups maintain stable and viable populations inside the exclusion zone. These studies showed that at present the area hosts great biodiversity.
In addition, they confirmed the general lack of big negative effects of current radiation levels on the animal and plant populations living in Chernobyl. All the studied groups maintain stable and viable populations inside the exclusion zone. A clear example of the diversity of wildlife in the area is given by the TREE project (TRansfer-Exposure-Effects, led by Nick Beresford of the UK’s Centre for Ecology and Hydrology). As part of this project, motion detection cameras were installed for several years in different areas of the exclusion zone. The photos recorded by these cameras reveal the presence of abundant fauna at all levels of radiation. These cameras recorded the first observation of brown bears and European bison inside the Ukrainian side of the zone, as well as the increase in the number of wolves and Przewalski horses.
Our own work with the amphibians of Chernobyl has also detected abundant populations across the exclusion zone, even on the more contaminated areas. Furthermore, we have also found signs that could represent adaptive responses to life with radiation. For instance, frogs within the exclusion zone are darker than frogs living outside it, which is a possible defence against radiation. Studies have also detected some negative effects of radiation at an individual level. For example, some insects seem to have a shorter lifespan and are more affected by parasites in areas of high radiation. Some birds also have higher levels of albinism, as well as physiological and genetic alterations when living in highly contaminated localities. But these effects don’t seem to affect the maintenance of wildlife population in the area.
European bison (Bison bonasus), boreal lynx (Lynx lynx), moose (Alces alces) and brown bear (Ursus arctos) in Chernobyl Exclusion Zone (Ukraine). Proyecto TREE/Sergey Gaschack
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Wondering what practical measures they have in mind. Renewables?
• Ireland Second Country To Declare Climate, Biodiversity Emergency (RTE)
Ireland has become only the second country in the world to declare a climate and biodiversity emergency. The development came after a Fianna Fáil amendment to the Oireachtas report on Climate Action was accepted by both the Government and Opposition parties without a vote. Chair of the Climate Action Committee, Fine Gael’s Hildegarde Naughton, welcomed the outcome as “an important statement” but added “now we need action.” She said Minister for Climate Action Richard Bruton would speedily return to the Dáil with new proposals, and she looked forward to working “with all parties and none” to scrutinise them.
Green Party leader Eamon Ryan also welcomed the development, but warned that “declaring an emergency means absolutely nothing unless there is action to back it up. That means the Government having to do things they don’t want to do”. Deputy Bríd Smith, of Solidarity/People Before Profit, said she was “delighted” with the declaration, but added it will be “interesting to see” if the Government will support her Climate Emergency Measures Bill next month, which seeks to to limit oil and gas exploration.
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