07 Aug

News and Analyses, A Foreign Perspective

News and Analyses, A Foreign Perspective

English Online International Newspapers

Nearly all of these are English-edition daily newspapers. These sites have interesting editorials and essays, and many have links to other good news sources. We try to limit this list to those sites which are regularly updated, reliable, with a high percentage of “up” time.


Irish Examiner>>

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‘This is human trafficking’: After Maria, Puerto Rico to move 3,200 inmates to Arizona

Some warn that the radical overhaul of Puerto Rico’s prison system – which was badly affected by Maria – may have dire consequences for inmates’ civil rights

by in Bayamón

Inmates in the Bayamón correctional complex. Photograph: The Guardian

When Maria pounded the concrete walls and rusted iron gates of the Bayamón correctional complex last September, inmates here watched in fear through the reinforced windows and metal bars.

“We went without running water for weeks, without electricity for weeks,” says inmate Joseph Villalobos, who sat in the open courtyard of Bayamón’s minimum security wing in the heart of the complex’s sprawling mass of structures. “It was hard.”

The lack of communication with the outside world kept inmates like Villalobos, seven years into a 26-year sentence for what he describes as a felony offense involving kidnap, in a state of perpetual anxiety.

The shock of last year’s category five hurricane was just a precursor to the radical overhaul of Puerto Rico’s overburdened prison system that some warn may have direconsequences for the civil rights of inmates.

Six months after the hurricane hit, the island’s unelected federal financial oversight board – colloquially named La Junta – approved a suite of austerity measures, ranging from workplace benefits cuts to slashing the education budget, in an ostensible bid to rid the commonwealth of its multi-billion dollar debt crisis.

The plan led to widespread protests and civil unrest in the island’s capital. Nestled away in the 200-page document was a policy to offshore around a third of Puerto Rico’s prison population – 3,200 inmates – to private facilities thousands of miles away within the US. The board claim the policy will help to save close to $400m over four years. The government insists it will be voluntary. But advocates describe it as a disaster waiting to happen.

“This is government sponsored human trafficking. You are transferring people basically against their will,” said William Ramirez, executive director of the Puerto Rico American Civil Liberties Union.

“Even if you say it’s consensual, the reality is that you can’t provide consent freely if you’re a ward of the state, because you’re not free. And secondly, you’re not given the information you need to actually give consent. And finally, it’s all being done for profit.”

Villalobos grimaced when asked about the program. Having spent four years in maximum security on daily 22-hour lockdowns, he recently graduated to the facility’s woodwork program, where his hand-carved biblical figures are sold on by the prison, who hand him back 75% of the profits. He uses the proceeds to provide for his mother and four children who visit him here once a week.

He worried that he would be ripped away from both his family and the progress he had made inside, and expressed skepticism that the transfer policy would remain voluntary.

“I really don’t want to go. But once you’re in jail and you’ve got that sentence on you, they dictate the rules,” he said. “If they come and say, come, pick up your things, you’re leaving, I will make no movement. I will pick up my things and I will go because for you to go home as quickly as you can, you’ve got to obey the rules. You’ve got to do everything that they ask.”

For a week in July the Guardian was granted extensive access to Puerto Rico’s prison system to examine the transfer policy and the many unreported pitfalls that accompany the plan.

Erik Rolón’s 15th floor office commands a panoramic view of San Juan. As the sun sets over the the North Atlantic, cruise liners dotted along the coast, the corrections minister, 36 years-old, calmly but vehemently defended his department’s decision.

“This is something that we need to do due to the economic situation we have in government,” Rolón said. “It’s an initiative that represents a very cost-effective way to provide our service.”

The department hopes to transfer between around 1,200 inmates in 2019, with cohorts of 700 following for the next three years. At the same time it plans to permanently shutter an as yet unspecified cluster of government-run prisons on the island.

Despite Rolón describing the plan as “99% complete” the government has not signed a contract with the only private prison company, CoreCivic, still in the tender process, and many of the finer details appear unresolved. Neither CoreCivic nor Rolón would say how much the contract was valued at.

Further, the department spent a period of weeks last month orientating Puerto Rico’s entire prison cohort on transfers to two prisons – one in Mississippi and another in Texas – that are no longer being considered for use in the program. Rolón insisted his department would re-orient the whole prison population to the facility now being considered – the La Palma correctional center in Eloy, Arizona – before signing any contract.

CoreCivic would not say how it planned to adapt the medium security prison– that was until recently used to incarcerate prisoners from California – to house a variety of inmate categories.

The company declined to respond to a list of specific questions relating to the transfer program, citing: “respect for the integrity of the procurement process” and “competitive reasons”.

Leading scientists warn that passing such a point would make efforts to reduce emissions increasingly futile

Three polar bears walking across fragile-looking sea ice towards the sea.

Polar bears on sea ice: the loss of the Greenland ice sheet could disrupt the Gulf Stream, which would in turn raise sea levels and accelerate Antarctic ice loss. Photograph: Paul Goldstein/Cover Images

A domino-like cascade of melting ice, warming seas, shifting currents and dying forests could tilt the Earth into a “hothouse” state beyond which human efforts to reduce emissions will be increasingly futile, a group of leading climate scientists has warned.

This grim prospect is sketched out in a journal paper that considers the combined consequences of 10 climate change processes, including the release of methane trapped in Siberian permafrost and the impact of melting ice in Greenland on the Antarctic.

The authors of the essay, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, stress their analysis is not conclusive, but warn the Paris commitment to keep warming at 2C above pre-industrial levels may not be enough to “park” the planet’s climate at a stable temperature.

They warn that the hothouse trajectory “would almost certainly flood deltaic environments, increase the risk of damage from coastal storms, and eliminate coral reefs (and all of the benefits that they provide for societies) by the end of this century or earlier.”

Fifty years ago, this would be dismissed as alarmist, but now scientists have become really worried

Johan Rockström, executive director, Stockholm Resilience Centre

“I do hope we are wrong, but as scientists we have a responsibility to explore whether this is real,” said Johan Rockström, executive director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre. “We need to know now. It’s so urgent. This is one of the most existential questions in science.”

Rockström and his co-authors are among the world’s leading authorities on positive feedback loops, by which warming temperatures release new sources of greenhouse gases or destroy the Earth’s ability to absorb carbon or reflect heat.

Their new paper asks whether the planet’s temperature can stabilise at 2C or whether it will gravitate towards a more extreme state. The authors attempt to assess whether warming can be halted or whether it will tip towards a “hothouse” world that is 4C warmer than pre-industrial times and far less supportive of human life.

Katherine Richardson from the University of Copenhagen, one of the authors, said the paper showed that climate action was not just a case of turning the knob on emissions, but of understanding how various factors interact at a global level.

“We note that the Earth has never in its history had a quasi-stable state that is around 2C warmer than the preindustrial and suggest that there is substantial risk that the system, itself, will ‘want’ to continue warming because of all of these other processes – even if we stop emissions,” she said. “This implies not only reducing emissions but much more.”

New feedback loops are still being discovered. A separate paper published in PNAS reveals that increased rainfall – a symptom of climate change in some regions – is making it harder for forest soils to trap greenhouse gases such as methane.

Previous studies have shown that weakening carbon sinks will add 0.25C, forest dieback will add 0.11C, permafrost thaw will add 0.9C and increased bacterial respiration will add 0.02C. The authors of the new paper also look at the loss of methane hydrates from the ocean floor and the reduction of snow and ice cover at the poles.

Rockström says there are huge gaps in data and knowledge about how one process might amplify another. Contrary to the Gaia theory, which suggests the Earth has a self-righting tendency, he says the feedbacks could push the planet to a more extreme state.

As an example, the authors say the loss of Greenland ice could disrupt the Gulf Stream ocean current, which would raise sea levels and accumulate heat in the Southern Ocean, which would in turn accelerate ice loss from the east Antarctic. Concerns about this possibility were heightened earlier this year by reports that the Gulf Stream was at its weakest level in 1,600 years.

Currently, global average temperatures are just over 1C above pre-industrial levels and rising at 0.17C per decade. The Paris climate agreement set actions to keep warming limited to 1.5C-2C by the end of the century, but the authors warn more drastic action may be necessary.

“The heatwave we now have in Europe is not something that was expected with just 1C of warming,” Rockström said. “Several positive feedback loops are already in operation, but they are still weak. We need studies to show when they might cause a runaway effect.

Another climate scientist – who was not involved in the paper – emphasised the document aimed to raise questions rather than prove a theory. “It’s rather selective, but not outlandish,” said Prof Martin Siegert, co-director of the Grantham Institute. “Threshold and tipping points have been discussed previously, but to state that 2C is a threshold we can’t pull back from is new, I think. I’m not sure what ‘evidence’ there is for this – or indeed whether there can be until we experience it.”

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