CIA Torture Report, Observer Status For Palestine, Lakes On Mars

A Bangladeshi man is working inside a jute warehouse on the outskirts of the country's capital Dhaka.
A Bangladeshi man is working inside a jute warehouse on the outskirts of the country's capital Dhaka.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Security has been tightened at U.S. embassies around the world and intelligence agencies have been asked to monitor more closely terrorist communications in anticipation of today’s release of a CIA torture report. The U.S. Senate will release the long-delayed report into the intelligence agency’s brutal post-9/11 interrogation techniques, The New York Times reports. The White House and the GOP reportedly clashed yesterday, with the latter urging the report not to be published. They argued that its release could “incite unrest and violence, even resulting in the deaths of Americans,” the newspaper writes.

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel arrived in Baghdad this morning to assess the anti-ISIS coalition’s efforts against the terrorist group. He said it would be “a long-term effort” and told U.S. and Australian soldiers that their role “has to be a support role ... It is their country. They have to lead.” Read more from Reuters.

A Bangladeshi man is working inside a jute warehouse on the outskirts of the country's capital Dhaka.

The Hague’s International Criminal Court has granted Palestine observer status, a decision that paves the way for Palestinians to be able to sue over possible war crimes committed in territories occupied by Israel, Al Jazeera reports. The network’s diplomatic editor James Bays notes that the decision is “symbolic but adds to the international momentum for Palestinian statehood” and “brings war-crimes trials against Israelis one step closer.” Amnesty International published a report this morning in which it accuses Israel of having committed war crimes in the last days of the Gaza operation last summer, describing the bombing of buildings as “extensive, wanton and unjustified.” Amnesty called for an independent and impartial investigation.


Defense Minister Anna Soubry
told a BBC radio program about her obsession with Kim Kardashian.

A “Day of Silence” is being held in eastern Ukraine amid uncertainty over when ceasefire talks, which were due to take place today in Minsk, will begin, the BBC reports. Kiev officials told AFP that no talks would be held today in the Belarus capital and that no further date had been agreed on yet, but the temporary truce for today appeared to be respected on both sides. Russia, meanwhile, resumed gas flowsto Ukraine after a six-month hiatus.

A convoy transporting the wreckage of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, which was shot down in eastern Ukraine in July, will reach the Netherlands today, where it will be reconstructed as part of an ongoing investigation.

As Die Welt reports, use of the incredibly addictive drug crystal meth is growing in Germany, especially among Millennials who say it makes them feel invincible. “The states of Bavaria and Saxony in particular are being flooded with the drug, which is coming from the Czech Republic,” the newspaper reports. “The number of offenses committed in Saxony due to crystal meth has tripled to some 5,000 since 2009. The drug is produced in hundreds of meth labs in the Czech Republic. The anti-drug squad in Prague operates on the assumption that annual production amounts to 10 tons, of which three end up in Germany.”
Read the full article, Crystal Meth, Drug Of Choice Of The "Selfie Generation."

Pro-democracy protesters occupying the main camp in Hong Kong have been urged to pack up their belongings and leave the site ahead of a clearing operation scheduled for Thursday morning, the South China Morning Post reports. A bus company obtained a court order to clear the site, which sits near government buildings, arguing it had affected its business. An attorney for the company said it would “officially request the involvement of bailiffs and police” if protesters refuse to follow the court order.


The Greek government announced yesterday it would hold an early presidential election Dec. 17, two months ahead of schedule, in a bid to end “political uncertainty” in the debt-ridden country, Bloomberg reports. The move is risky for the center-right government and could trigger a general election, with anti-austerity far-left party Syriza leading the polls. The Greek president is elected by lawmakers and needs the backing of 180 members, but the government only has a majority of 155 in the 300-seat parliament. Stocks in Athens fell by more than 5% in early trading this morning in reaction to the news.

Gabi Orrù, a fifth-grade teacher at the Heinrich Andresen School in the northern German town of Sterup, has a staff of two, but they aren't paid a dime and sometimes they scratch their ears during class. Read more about her assistants, Stableford and Dimple, in the Worldcrunch Zoo'd blog.

NASA scientists have found new evidence that the Gale Crater on Mars, where the Curiosity rover landed in 2012, was home to successive lakes over millions of years. Their discovery suggests that the planet’s climate used to be a lot warmer and wetter. Read more from The New York Times.

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7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.

More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.

But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:

Cleaner aviation fuel

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.

While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.

Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.

In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.

Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

Hydrogen and electrification

Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.

One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.

New aircraft designs

Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.

International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.

The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Hygiene rankings  

Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.

Smoother check-in

​The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

Data privacy issues

​However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?

At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.

40% of Swedes intend to travel less

According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.

At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.

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