Wednesday, November 5, 2014
REPUBLICANS TAKE CONTROL OF U.S. SENATE
The Republican Party won control of the U.S. Senate for the first time since 2006, gaining at least 7 seats, 1 more than they needed to have a majority after scoring important victories in Tuesday’s midterm election in North Carolina, Colorado, Iowa, West Virginia, Arkansas, Montana and South Dakota. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who is poised to become the Senate majority leader after his reelection for a sixth term, described the nationwide vote as one against a “government that people can no longer trust.”
The G.O.P. also increased their majority in the House of Representatives where The New York Times predicts they will have close to 245 seats, the largest Republican majority since the Truman administration. This represents a major success for the party which, as The Washington Post put it “had a simple plan: Don’t make mistakes, and make it all about Obama.”
Tuesday’s election also saw the election of Tim Scott, a Republican from South Carolina, making him the first black senator in the South since Reconstruction.
Listing the winners and losers of the day, USA Today also puts the President amongst the latter, explaining that his previous stance that his “policies are on the ballot” backfired into “a near total repudiation.”
The New York Times’ Peter Baker notes that Obama “now faces a daunting challenge in reasserting his relevance in a capital that will soon enough shift its attention to the battle to succeed him.” Politico journalist Maggie Haberman was already looking ahead, noting “many silver linings” for Hillary Clinton’s hopes for 2016 as yesterday’s “shellacking” will accelerate the Democratic Party’s “look ahead to its next leader, especially among donors, who want someone to rally around.”
AFRICAN LEADERS HEAD TO BURKINA FASO
The presidents of Ghana, Nigeria and Senegal are expected in Burkina Faso where they will meet Isaac Zida, the interim leader appointed by the army, to pressure him and the military to keep their promise of handing back power to the people in two weeks, AFP reports. Two days ago, the African Union threatened the country’s new leaders with sanctions if they don’t restore civilian rule.
Le Monde’s Arthur Frayer traveled to the northern French city of Calais, along the English Channel, which has served as a hub for UK-bound illegal migrants for more than a decade. But it is an always evolving illicit trade, as Egyptian, Kurdish, Afghan and Albanese traffickers are now fighting for control. “Ahmad, a 26-year-old student from Kabul, steps aside from the others not to disrupt them. He rolls a cigarette between his fingers. "We have until 6 p.m. to climb into the trucks," he says. "After that, it's the Africans' turn."”
Read the full article: Calais Crossing: An Inside Look At The Ugly Business Of Human Trafficking
UKRAINE STARTS PAYING GAS DEBT TO RUSSIA
Ukraine’s state-owned energy company Naftogaz said it had paid $1.45 billion to Gazprom, the first tranche of Kiev’s gas debt to the Russian company. The second part, $1.65 billion, must be paid by the end of the year according to an agreement signed last week. Under the terms of the deal, Gazprom will now resume gas supplies to Ukraine, Ria Novosti reports. This comes amid fears of a new escalation in eastern Ukraine, where rebel leaders accused President Petro Poroshenko of violating the peace agreement signed in early September by deciding to cancel the rebel-held regions’ “special status.” They said they would no longer abide by it but stressed they were ready to renegotiate. Read more from Reuters.
ISRAEL GUILTY OF WAR CRIMES, SAYS AMNESTY INT’L
In a scathing report published today, Amnesty Internationalaccuses Israel of having displayed “callous indifference to the carnage caused” during last summer’s military operation in Gaza. “Israeli forces have brazenly flouted the laws of war by carrying out a series of attacks on civilian homes,” the director of the NGO’s Middle East and North Africa Program said. According to the report, some of these attacks, which targeted civilian “houses full of families” have amounted to war crimes.
New clashes erupted this morning inside the al-Aqsa mosque compound in East Jerusalem, causing the holy site to be briefly closed. This was followed by what Israeli media are describing as a “terror attack,” as a car hit pedestrians in East Jerusalem, wounding at least 14 people. One of the wounded died in hospital and others are in serious condition. The driver then exited the vehicle and began attacking people with a metal rod, before being shot and killed by police, according to Haaretz.
Girondins de Bordeaux soccer club coach Willy Sagnol has sparked anger after remarks on the "typical African player."
GERMAN CARTOON SPARKS DISPUTE WITH TURKEY
The German ambassador to Turkey Eberhard Pohl has been summoned to Ankara by the Turkish Foreign Ministry over a caricature published in 2011 in the daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. The cartoon has been criticized by Ankara for “vilifying” the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan by depicting him as a snarling dog, Die Welt reports.
OIL PRICES SLIDE CONTINUES
The price of West Texas Intermediate crude oil reached a three-year low yesterday of $77.19, having lost nearly 30% since its June high of nearly $108 per barrel, USA Today reports. Similarly, Brent, the international benchmark, declined 2.3%, to $82.82, having earlier fallen to $82.08, its lowest level in just over four years. This comes after Monday’s decision from Saudi Arabia to cut the prices of crude exported to the U.S. in an effort to prop up its share of the market, a move that analysts believe will help boost the American economy.
American country-turned-pop singer Taylor Swift's new album 1989 sold 1.287 million copies in the U.S. in its first week, making it the biggest album release in 12 years.
MY GRAND-PÈRE'S WORLD
CAN YOU LAND ON A COMET?
With the Rosetta spacecraft set to land on a comet next week after a 10-year journey, the BBC put together a little interactive game to explain the landing process and what scientists are hoping to find there.
Slow Food calls for an action plan to significantly reduce and improve the production and consumption of meat, dairy, and eggs by 2050.
If, as the saying goes, we are what we eat, the same also goes for the animals that end up on our plate. How we feed our own food can have knock-on effects, not just for our own health but also for the planet. We are now aware of the meat and dairy industry's significant carbon footprint, responsible for more than a third of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.
Large-scale cattle productions that favor pure profit over more sustainable practices also add to environmental woes through biodiversity loss, deforestation and pesticide use — with some of the world's richest countries contributing disproportionately: The five biggest meat and milk producers emit the same amount of greenhouse gases as the oil giant Exxon.
The good news is that we could meet — if we would — some of these challenges with an array of innovative solutions, as the fields of farming, breeding and nutrition look at ways to shift from centralized intensive agro industry toward a more localized, smaller-scale and more organic approach to production.
Cows fed corn and grain-based diets may grow larger and are ready to be processed at a younger age — but this requires significant energy, as well as land and water resources; in contrast, grass and hay-fed cows support a regenerative farming model in which grazing can contribute to restoring the health of soil through increased microbial diversity. Compared to highly processed GM crops, natural-grass diets with minimal cereals also lead to more nutrient-rich livestock, producing better quality meat, milk and cheese. Farmers have started focusing on breeding native animal species that are best adapted to local environmental contexts.
This new approach to agricultural practices is closely linked to the concept of agroecology, where farming works in tandem with the environment instead of exploiting it. If mowed a few times a year, for instance, natural meadows produce hay that is rich in grasses, legumes and flowers of the sunflower family, like daisies, dandelions, thistles and cornflowers. These biomes become reservoirs of biodiversity for our countryside, hosting countless species of vegetables, insects and birds, many of which are at risk of extinction. Until recently, these were common habitats in meadows that were not plugged or tilled and only required light fertilization. Today, however, they are becoming increasingly threatened: in the plains, where the terrain is used for monocultures like corn; or in hills and mountains, where fields are facing gradual abandonment.
It is worth noting that extensive agriculture, which requires smaller amounts of capital and labor in relation to the size of farmed land, can actually help curb climate change effects through carbon dioxide absorption. Researchers at the University of California, Davis determined that in their state, grasslands and rangelands have actually acted as more resilient carbon sinks than forests in recent years. Through a system of carbon uptake, these lands provide a form of natural compensation, going as far as canceling the farms' impact on the planet, rendering them carbon "creditors."
In the meantime, grasslands and pastures allow animals to live in accordance with their natural behavioral needs, spending most of the year outside being raised by bonafide farmers who care about animal welfare. A recent study by Nature found that allowing cows to graze out of doors has both psychological and physical health benefits, as they seem to enjoy the open space and ability to lie on the soft ground.
Some might worry about the economic losses that come with this slower and smaller business model, but there are also opportunities for creativity in diversifying activities, like agro-tourism and direct sales that can actually increase a farm's profit margin. This form of sustainable production goes hand-in-hand with the Slow Meat campaign, which encourages people to reduce their meat consumption while buying better quality, sustainable meat.
Others may assume that the only environmentally-conscious diet is entirely plant-based. That is indeed a valuable and viable option, but there are also thoughtful ways to consume meat in moderation — and more sustainably. It also should be noted that many fruits and vegetables have surprisingly large carbon footprints: The industrial-scale cultivation of avocados, for example, requires massive amounts of water and causes great hardship to farming communities in Latin America.
But forging a broad shift toward more "biodiversity-friendly" pastoralism requires action by both those producing and eating meat, and those with the legislative power to enact industry-wide change. It is urgent that policies be put into place to support a return to long-established agricultural practices that can sustainably feed future generations. Although no country in the world today has a defined strategy to decrease consumption while transforming production, governments are bound to play a key role in the green transition, present and future.
In Europe, Slow Food recommends that the Fit for 55 package include reducing emissions from agriculture activities by 65% (based on 2005 levels) by 2050. Agriculture-related land use emissions should also reach net-zero by 2040 and become a sink of -150 Mt CO2eq by 2050. But these targets can only be met if the EU farming sector adopts agroecological practices at a regional scale, and if consumers shift to more sustainable diets. If we are indeed what we eat, we should also care deeply about how the choices we make impact the planet that feeds us.