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London to be ‘smogged’ by polluted Paris

High concentrations of harmful particles from the French capital, which has been battling severe air pollution for the past month, are set to drift northward to southeast England, said environmental experts from King’s College London, the Evening Standard reported. The UK’s Met Office added that the emissions will be blown by strong south-easterly winds until Friday. The researchers from King’s College London warned that polluted air would “dip into Central France and travel over Paris before arriving in the southeast.” They added that the emission levels recorded in Paris on Sunday suggested “widespread” pollution across London and Sussex. “There is no reason why Londoners should have to breathe in their fumes. They should clean up their dirty air,” Bob Neill, the Conservatives’ vice-chairman for local government, said of the authorities in Paris, the Evening Standard reported. It will take a few days to analyze the data and confirm the source of the smog when it reaches English shores, media reported. Meanwhile, pollution from other European cities such as Brussels and Amsterdam could also affect the quality of air in the UK’s southeast. In March, Paris’s polluting particulates in the air exceeded safe levels for five straight days. Particles in Paris hit the maximum of 180 micrograms per cubic meter, doubly the allowed 80 per cubic meter standard of the so-called PM10 pollution particles emitted by heavy industry and vehicles. This level was comparable with the world’s most notoriously smoggy cities, such as Beijing and New Delhi. In an attempt to tackle the problem, Parisian authorities called on citizens to leave personal vehicles at home by making all public transport in the capital free for four days in March. Following this, the authorities resorted to drastic measures, forcing vehicles with number plates ending in even numbers off the road for the first time in two decades. The move did not affect electric and hybrid cars, or any vehicle carrying three people or more. France’s Green Party has proposed for vehicles to be banned on alternate days, depending on their number plate, and for trucks to be temporarily banned in Paris. Experts say that the smog is lingering because of bright sunny days and cold nights in the French capital. Unusually high levels of air pollution smothered London and other cities earlier in April after a storm of Saharan dust, emissions from the Continent, low southeasterly winds and local pollution. Air pollution has become one of the biggest environmental risks, according to the World Health Organization. Government health advisors said that in 2013 over 29,000 people were killed by air pollution in the UK. The UK faces fines of up to £300 million ($500 million) following the European Commission’s legal action against the country in February for failing to reduce “excessive” levels of nitrogen dioxide air pollution from traffic, despite 15 years of warnings and several postponements granted to the government. Read More

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Students’ choice Snowden takes up post as Glasgow University rector

Glasgow University’s splendid Bute Hall was packed Wednesday morning as the students hailed their new rector – the former NSA contractor and CIA employee Snowden. Snowden, who lives in Russia under conditions of temporary asylum and is wanted on espionage charges in the US for leaking troves of classified documents on mass American surveillance, addressed the students via a live video chat, accepting his position. “I would say it is a great honor to be part of this today… we are learning the public feel something different,” Snowden said, as quoted by Twitter channel of the university’s Students’ Representative Council (GUSRC). Stressing that “human rights are not granted by governments but are inherent to our nature,” the whistleblower urged the audience to not merely believe in those principles, but also “to speak out.” The procession now leaves the Bute Hall, following the installation of Edward Snowden #gurectorpic.twitter.com/zhReP1cJMx — GlasgowUniversitySRC (@gusrc) April 23, 2014 For the 30-year-old IT specialist and former security analyst, “speaking out” is not merely words as he repeatedly stressed he risked his life and freedom for starting a national dialogue on an intrusive government surveillance in the US. In a strong showing of support for Snowden’s cause, over 3,300 students voted for him receiving the “influential” post in February. The nearest other candidate, the Episcopalian rector of St Mary’s Cathedral in Glasgow, Kevin Holdsworth, got 1,563 votes, while “The Flying Scotsman,” world racing cyclist champion Graeme Obree, got 1,412 votes. All upstanding as that concludes this morning’s proceedings.#gurectorpic.twitter.com/1ISm6ODcT4 — GlasgowUniEvents (@GlasgowUniEvent) April 23, 2014 This puts the whistleblower in a long list of the university’s rectors, who “often reflected the political feelings” of the students, GUSRC’s president, Jess McGrellis, said in a speech Wednesday. A statement from the student group which nominated Snowden said: “We have a proud and virtuous tradition of making significant statements through our rectors and today we have once more championed this idea by proving to the world that we are not apathetic to important issues such as democratic rights. Our opposition to pervasive and immoral state intrusion has gone down in the records. What is more, we showed Edward Snowden and other brave whistleblowers that we stand in solidarity with them, regardless of where they are.” The group vowed to continue campaigning “for the NSA and GCHQ to cease their assault on our fundamental right to privacy” and for Snowden’s recognition “as the courageous whistleblower he is, rather than a traitor.” Answering concerns of some of the students that Snowden will not be able to be a “working” or active rector as he is not leaving Russia, McGrellis said “Mr Snowden is looking to work with the SRC and students to make sure issues at University are not forgotten.” She also encouraged students “to get in touch with both our new rector and the SRC to ensure all student issues are raised.” Famous figures who previously occupied the post of Glasgow University rector include Scottish philosopher and economist Adam Smith, French President Raymond Poincaré, several British prime ministers, prominent politicians, actors and journalists. In 1987-90, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, wife of the late anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela, was the university’s Rector, while another South African politician, Nobel Peace Prize winner Albert Lutuli, was voted into the post in 1962. While some of those receiving the post actively participated in the university’s life, others were unable to do so, treating it rather as an honorary title. Curiously, Snowden has not been the first whistleblower to become the rector of the university, as in 2004 it was given to former Israeli nuclear technician Mordechai Vanunu, who exposed Israel’s nuclear weapons program to the UK media and was subsequently abducted by Mossad in Italy, spending nearly two decades in jail thereafter. According to the official GUSRC website, “the main role of the rector is to represent the university’s students… The rector has a number of key duties representing students. He/she is expected to attend meetings of court, the governing body of the university, to work closely with the SRC, and to bring student concerns to the attention of the university’s managers.” Read More

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Texas prisons are deadly hot

According to the University of Texas Law School’s Human Rights Clinic, at least 14 inmates in the state’s prisons have died from heat-related causes since 2007, but the problem is one that stretches back more than 15 years. Nineteen people have died since 1998, some of which were found in prison cells where the temperature ranged from 115 degrees to 149 degrees Fahrenheit. In the report – a draft of which was obtained by the Houston Chronicle ahead of its publication – the authors state that further inaction by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) would constitute a violation of American and international law protecting against cruel and unusual punishment. “Continuing to disregard the plight of TDCJ inmates subject to extreme heat is not an option,” the report reads, adding that prisons “would be in violation of international human rights standards and the requirements of the Eighth Amendment if it were to do so.” As a result, the Human Rights Clinic calls on the TDCJ to install air conditioners in the state’s 109 prisons and ensure cell temperatures remain between 65 and 85 degrees. “Because the TDCJ exercises complete control over prisoners in its facilities, it also bears the responsibility for guaranteeing the lives and health of all inmates,” clinic director Ariel Dulitzky said in a press release. As noted by the Huffington Post and confirmed by Dulitzky, the department is facing multiple lawsuits related to the conditions of its prisons, including one wrongful death suit claiming an inmate died of organ failure caused by excessive heat. “More lawsuits are pending, not only for wrongful death, but for the ongoing risks that these extreme temperatures pose to inmates,” Dulitzky added in the release. In the face of such criticism, TCDJ executive director Brad Livingston defended the department’s current rules, though he would not comment in the clinic’s report due to continuing litigation. “We have significant protocols in place governing the movement of offenders early in the day for work assignments, we supply ice water and have fans and other equipment to increase air movement,” he said. “We believe the protocols are appropriate.” The Human Rights Clinic, however, disagreed. It noted that the TCDJ has moved to install air conditioning in its warden offices as well as its armories, and stated that current policies governing prison cells themselves are “ineffective in preventing heat-related injuries in very hot and humid conditions, such as those present in TDCJ facilities.” Texas isn’t the only state that has seen heat-induced fatalities, though. As RT reported in March, a mentally ill New York man was found dead in a cell where the temperature surpassed 100 degrees. Despite taking medication that made him susceptible to heat and being located in the prison unit responsible for the mentally ill, the man was dead for hours before officials checked on him. Read More

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Judge approves name change for Chelsea Manning

Manning, 26, was not in attendance at Wednesday’s hearing when Leavenworth County, Kansas District Judge David King granted a petition filed by the former Army intelligence analyst to legally change her name from “Bradley Edward Manning” to “Chelsea Elizabeth Manning.” “Today is an exciting day,” the soldier said in a statement published by the Chelsea Manning Support Network early Wednesday. “I’ve been working for months for this change, and waiting for years.” One day after being sentenced last summer to 35 years in prison as a result of her role with the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks, Manning issued a statement through her attorney saying she wanted to be recognized as a woman. “I am Chelsea Manning. I am a female. Given the way that I feel, and have felt since childhood, I want to begin hormone therapy as soon as possible. I hope that you will support me in this transition,” lawyer David Coombs said in a statement from his client last August. During last summer’s trial, two Army behavior specialists said that they’ve diagnosed Manning with gender dysphoria, or gender identity disorder, which is traditionally grounds for discharge from the Army. Military officials at the Ft. Leavenworth prison where Manning is being held said they would not provide the soldier with hormone treatment, however, attracting the ire of trans advocates and other activists. Last month, Coombs said he will “continue to assist Chelsea in matters related to her official name change and receiving hormone replacement therapy while in confinement.” Previously, Manning said she would sue the US Army if her requests were denied, and Coombs said he hoped the prison “will simply do the right thing.” A grievance with the US Disciplinary Barracks commander at Fort Leavenworth over the lack of a response has since been filed. In her statement issued through the Support Network on Wednesday, Manning said the latest hurdle to be jumped is far from the last. With the obstacle of identity documentation practically out of the way, next she said she will strive for placement in a gender-appropriate institution and access to applicable healthcare. “It’s the most banal things –such as showing an ID card, going to the bathroom and receiving trans-related healthcare –that in our current society keep us from having the means to live better, more productive, and safer lives. Unfortunately, there are many laws and procedures that often don’t consider trans* people, or even outright prevent them from doing the sort of simple day-to-day things that others take for granted,” Manning wrote. “I am waiting on the military to assist me in accessing healthcare,” Manning added. “In August, I requested that the military provide me with a treatment plan consistent with the recognized professional standards of care for trans health. They quickly evaluated me and informed me that they came up with a proposed treatment plan. However, I have not seen yet seen their treatment plan, and in over eight months, I have not received any response as to whether the plan will be approved or disapproved, or whether it follows the guidelines of qualified health professionals.” Wednesday’s decision is unrelated to Manning’s pursuit for hormone treatment or how she is handled and processed by prison officials, but will clear the path for her military papers to be revised in order to reflect her new name. George Wright, an Army spokesman at the Pentagon, previously told the Associated Press that approval of Manning’s petition “will have no other effect on his current status other than the name in his records.” The Army has yet to cease referring to Manning by masculine pronouns. Lauren McNamara, a trans-rights advocate who often chatted with Manning online prior to arrest, told the Support Network she’s “very happy that Chelsea has been able to take this important step.” “Being recognized by the chosen name that reflects who you are is a matter of basic dignity for all transgender people, and this right must be respected,” added McNamara, who has been chosen to represent her friend at the upcoming San Francisco Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Pride Celebration. Manning has been named an honorary grand marshal of the event. “Congratulations to Chelsea on her official name change!” McNamara wrote from her Twitter account on Wednesday accompanied by the hashtag “#FreeChelsea.” In her statement this week, Manning said she pursued a name change “because it’s a far better, richer and more honest reflection of who I am and always have been –a woman named Chelsea.” While serving in the Iraq War, Manning accessed and then shared with WikiLeaks a trove of sensitive US military and State Department documents. In July, Army Col. Denise Lind convicted the soldier on 20 counts, including espionage, theft and computer fraud. Read More

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Bitcoin ‘cheaper and safer’ alternative to fiat money

“Anybody who uses money, Bitcoin is important to them,” Roger Ver, chief executive director at MemoryDealers.com, said in an interview to RT on Wednesday. First of all, Bitcoin is now “a major trend that will be transformative all around the world,” Dr. Bastian Brand, an investment director at Pathfinder Crypto-currency Fund (PCF) said. “It might be not too relevant for Russia as of now, but I expect also that Eastern Europe and Russia will become a very important market for Bitcoin,” he said. While central banks have been recently ringing alarm bells over the legal status of the crypto-currency and its alleged ties with terrorism financing and drug sales, Ver said it didn’t really matter as long as people want to buy bitcoins. “Other people using Bitcoin to buy drugs or launder money is not a danger for me, that’s a danger for those people,” Ver said. “At the end of the day, nobody can block or stop or prevent anybody from using Bitcoin if they want to do that, that’s just a protocol and it just works.” Bitcoin lures Lack of government regulation is one of Bitcoin’s greatest advantages, experts at the conference said. “It cannot be manipulated by politics in an easy way,” said Dr. Bastian Brand. “Just to take an extreme scenario, all the wars in the world have been paid for… by inflation, by printing money. This is not that easy with Bitcoin,” he said. With Bitcoin none of governments’ “fancy” tools like quantitative easing or economic stimulus can happen, Ver said. “There’s a fixed supply, there will never be more than 21 million bitcoins. That’s a fantastic benefit that Bitcoin has over traditional government fiat currencies.” Another advantage for the crypto-currency is that it doesn’t include huge charges. “If you have international money transfers, so far they are awfully expensive,” Ver said. “With Bitcoin, especially in the case with these tax-heavy people, you can cut out a lot of costs.” While bitcoin won’t immediately replace the major existing currencies, it remains an interesting alternative to the conventional currencies we have now, participants in the conference said. Read More

IBM Opens Chip Architecture, in Strategy of Sharing and Self-Interest

The first server designs resulting from IBM’s decision to open up its Power chip technology are being announced on Wednesday. Read More

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Portugal poised to exit bailout program, austerity battle scars remain

Berlin and Brussels are already hailing Portugal’s “clean exit” from its bailout by the EU, the International Monetary Fund, and the ECB, and have started their last quarterly evaluation review. Tough austerity cuts have decreased living standards, cut pensions, and decreased wages over the past 3 years. After Ireland and Spain Portugal will be the third eurozone country to leave its bailout program, but whether it will be “clean”- that is, require no extra credit lines from the EU, remains to be seen. Portugal’s politicians will weigh the pros and cons and will take this decision by May 5 when they meet with eurozone finance ministers in Brussels. Similar to Ireland, the country has been saving up to help cover next year’s finance needs, and already has 15 billion to cover them. “There is a great need in Brussels and Berlin and other capitals to present Portugal and Ireland as success stories. They will claim that their reforms in Portugal have been a success- well, they haven’t, they have destroyed the society and economy,” Rui Tavares, an independent Portuguese MEP told RT. Many economic figures are testimony that Portugal is on the way to healing as it prepares to shake free of its bailout shackles and exit its most brutal recession in 40 years. Economic growth increased 0.5 percent in the first quarter of 2014, exports expanded 4.6 percent, and even tourism was boosted 4.2 percent. The country has certainly come a long way- just last year EU economists were holding talks on a possible second bailout for Lisbon. Still, the economy needs to improve much more. Unemployment still hovers around 15 percent and youth unemployment is still high at 35 percent. “There is still a long way to go before you state that Portugal is back,” Bruno Faria Lopes, a Lisbon-based economics journalist, told RT. “You have to remember, even if Portugal does a clean exit from this bailout program next month, it still has a lot an awful lot of problems. Its running a budget deficit of over 4 percent which means it has to make 16 billion worth of cuts by the end of 2015,” Rui Tavares told RT. “The depression is not only economic, it’s also a psychological depression,” Tavares said. Demographic time bomb Portugal’s high unemployment has forced the workforce to look abroad for work opportunities, increasing emigration. During the past 3 years, the work force has defected for more robust neighboring economies in record numbers. In 2012 this reached a new high of 120,000 émigrés, which was coupled with Portugal’s lowest birth rate. “We have had as many people emigrating from Portugal since the 60s when we had a colonial war and a brutal dictatorship. In one year, more than 1 percent of the population going away– the most skilled, most educated part of society,” Tavares told RT. Another harrowing reality is that while many people struggle with tough austerity measures, a disproportionate amount of people are getting richer and richer. In Portugal, the top 20 percent make six times more than the bottom 20 percent. Bond boost and credit rating On Wednesday, Portugal issued €750m worth of 10 year bonds at its first regular debt auction since requesting eurozone and IMF assistance in 2011. Despite a maximum take-up, today’s bond placements enjoyed a yield of 3.575 percent, the lowest on record in a Portuguese auction of that maturity, and significantly lower than the secondary market yield of 3.68 percent registered just beforehand. “It was a good result which gives us confidence in the future,” Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho said on Wednesday. Emulating Ireland’s success may prove difficult for Portugal, which doesn’t find itself in the exact same financial situation. Portugal’s sovereign debt is still rated below investment grade by Standard & Poor’s, Moody’s, and the Fitch ratings agencies. Moody’s elevated Ireland from “junk” status to Baa3 – the lowest investment grade before it exited its bailout. Fitch recently changed Portugal’s outlook from “negative” to “positive”. Read More

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