10 years after Vatican reform, Legion in new abuse crisis

Associated Press – World

10 years after Vatican reform, Legion in new abuse crisis

By Maria Verza and Nicole Winfield       January 19, 2020

In this Jan. 14, 2020 photo, tears well up in Ana Lucia Salazar's eyes as she tells her story of abuse, during an interview in Mexico City. Salazar says that she was sexually abused by a Legion of Christ priest when she was eight. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)In this Jan. 14, 2020 photo, tears well up in Ana Lucia Salazar’s eyes as she tells her story of abuse, during an interview in Mexico City. Salazar says that she was sexually abused by a Legion of Christ priest when she was eight. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)

 

MEXICO CITY (AP) — The administrator of the elite Catholic school in Cancun, Mexico, used to take the girls out of class and send them to the chapel, where the priest from the Legion of Christ religious order would sexually abuse them.

“As some were reading the Bible, he would rape the others in front of them, little girls aged 6 to 8 or 9,” said one of his victims, Ana Lucia Salazar, now a 36-year-old Mexican television host and mother of three.

“Afterward, nothing was the same, nothing went back to the way it was,” she said through tears at her home in Mexico City.

Salazar’s horrific story, which has been corroborated by other victims and the Legion itself, has sparked a new credibility crisis for the once-influential order, 10 years after the Holy See took it over after determining that its founder was a pedophile.

But more importantly, it has called into question the Vatican reform itself: The papal envoy who ran the Legion starting in 2010 learned about the case nearly a decade ago and refused to punish or even investigate the priest or the superiors who covered up his crimes, many of whom are still in power and ministry today.

The scandal is not the story line the Legion was hoping for as it opened its general chapter Monday in Rome, a weeks-long gathering to choose new leaders and approve policy decisions going forward.

The assembly was supposed to have shown off the Legion embarking fully on its own after 10 years of Vatican-mandated reform. The Holy See imposed structural changes after revelations that the Legion’s late founder, the Rev. Marcial Maciel, sexually abused at least 60 seminarians, fathered at least three children and built a secretive, cult-like order to cater to his whims and hide his double life.

The Cancun scandal, though, has exposed that the Vatican reform failed to address one key area: to punish known historic abusers and the people who covered for them, and change the culture of cover-up that enabled the crimes.

From the outset, the late papal envoy who ran the Legion, Cardinal Velasio De Paolis, refused to hold complicit Legion superiors accountable or investigate past abusers.

“De Paolis said there would be no witch hunt, explicitly, and the consequence is that abuse and its cover-up have remained unpunished,” said the Rev. Christian Borgogno, a former Legion priest who co-founded the “Legioleaks” Facebook group where Salazar first went public in May. Borgogno said De Paolis’ decision to leave in place Legion superiors, many of whom were close to Maciel, “made reform impossible.”

“The only way out was to foster charismatic leaders, and they were even repressed,” he told the AP. “That’s the main reason why many of us left.”

Following the AP story, the Legion announced on Monday it would conduct an investigation with the Vatican into the cover-up of the case, and vowed all superiors involved would cooperate.

Salazar, whose story has made headlines in Mexico, wants more: “What I want is for the pope to get radicalized,” she said. “There’s only one position, to be on the side of the violated children,” not a religious order that has among its priests “villains, delinquents, rapists, accomplices and victimizers.”

“The Legion of Christ has no reason to exist,” she said, echoing calls from even within the church that the Vatican should have suppressed the order 10 years ago. “It’s like taking apart a cartel; you have to remove the ringleaders and dismantle it.”

Legion spokesman the Rev. Aaron Smith argued that the Legion’s leadership had indeed changed over the past decade, noting that 11 priests are participating in the 2020 general chapter for the first time, and that most of the 66 participants are new to the assembly since the Vatican reform began. More than a dozen others, however, belong to Maciel’s old guard.

Smith said the power structure of the Maciel era had been dismantled, with more decentralized authority and systems of checks and balances put in place.

“It would be practically impossible today to have actions like the ones which occurred during Maciel’s tenure to go undetected,” he said in emailed responses to questions, after declining an on-camera interview.

The scandal has struck the Legion at its core — Mexico — and cast a discrediting light where it hurts most: the Legion’s prestigious private schools, which cater to Mexico’s elite and are the order’s main source of income. Former Legion priests say the scandal is a devastating blow that they long warned about, since a loss of credibility among wealthy Mexicans would deprive the Legion of its key base.

Already, the Mexican bishops conference has ended its silence about the Legion to denounce the newly revealed abuse and the Legion’s failure to provide “a specific act of justice or reparation for the victims” even after it acknowledged the crimes, vowed more transparency and pointed to its child protection policies in place now.

The archbishop of Monterrey — a Legion stronghold — denounced the group’s “criminal silence” and treatment of victims, and led recent calls from Mexican bishops for an end to the statute of limitations for child sex abuse cases. It was a remarkable turnabout, given that Mexico’s Catholic hierarchy long supported the Legion and benefited from the once-wealthy order’s largesse.

Even the Vatican’s ambassador to Mexico, Monsignor Franco Coppola, broke the Holy See’s tradition of diplomatic discretion to publicly criticize the Legion’s handling of the case and call for the Vatican to investigate the “web of cover-up” behind it. That too was remarkable, given that the Vatican itself has been implicated in the Maciel cover-up.

Coppola also echoed calls from victims and the archdiocese of Monterrey for the Legion superiors implicated in the cover-up to at least stand down from the general chapter, calling it a “great gesture of humility,” though until Monday none had accepted.

But on Monday evening, the Legion announced that the Rev. Eloy Bedia, who had been the Mexican superior who handled the complaints in the 1990s, had agreed to not participate in the meeting. But he also defended himself in a letter released by the order and noted that all personnel movements in the 1990s were decided by Maciel, not him.

Asked about the criticism from the Mexican hierarchy, Smith said the Legion welcomed the input as it seeks to improve its handling of past cases of abuse and prevention efforts going forward.

He said the general chapter would evaluate current child protection practices, ensure proper outreach to victims, and could mandate a continuation of the investigation into other cases of abuse of power by Legion superiors.

However, victims see such promises as nothing more than lip service, and dismissed the letters they received from the leadership after the scandal broke promising reparations and change. The Legion hasn’t yet settled all requests for financial compensation from eight of Maciel’s original victims, who made formal requests in 2018.

Salazar’s case is particularly grave since her parents went to the bishop, himself a Legionary, to denounce the priest, Fernando Martínez Suárez, as soon as Salazar told them in late 1992 that he had digitally raped her. Then aged 8, she had been jumping on her parents’ bed one night when she revealed that Martínez would sit her on his lap, pull her panties aside, penetrate her and masturbate himself.

“My mother says that while I was jumping, it seemed like I was a butterfly, as if I were lifting the weight off, as if I were flying,” Salazar said.

But Martínez had friends, chief among them Maciel, who it turns out had sexually abused him. Martínez was one of nearly a dozen Legion priests who were childhood victims of the founder and went onto molest other minors, a multi-generational chain of abuse that the Legion acknowledged last month.

Last week, the Legion announced that Martínez had asked to be defrocked, after an outside investigation determined he molested at least six girls in Cancun and that a series of Legion leaders, from the original bishop who took Salazar’s complaint to De Paolis himself, decided against reporting him to police or even the Vatican. Martinez had been transferred from Cancun to a seminary in Spain, with no formal restrictions imposed after the Legion received the first reports.

De Paolis, one of the Vatican’s top canon lawyers, then essentially became part of the cover-up: He had learned of the case between 2011-2013 when he was asked to take action against Martinez since no proper investigation had ever been conducted. But at the moment in which Martinez could have finally been brought to justice, De Paolis settled on inaction since no other complaints had been received, according to the investigation by the Praesidium firm. Martinez was subsequently transferred to Rome in 2016.

The current Legion superior, the Rev. Eduardo Robles Gil, apologized to Salazar for how her case was handled originally and all the subsequent “deficiencies.”

“I could have remedied it starting in 2014, but I followed the decisions that were taken about abuse cases from previous decades, and we didn’t reexamine it,” he wrote her in November.

He forwarded a letter from Martínez to Salazar, in which her abuser begged her forgiveness “for the grave harm I caused you.” He termed his behavior “faults” that were the result of an “uncontrolled sexuality.”

Salazar was deeply offended, feeling the letters diminished the crimes and cover-up. “It was revictimizing to me, humiliating, disgusting.”

After Salazar came forward, other Martínez victims broke their silence.

Their stories were no surprise to Beatriz Sánchez, an English teacher at Cancun’s Colegio Cumbres in the early 1990s who heard about the rapes after discovering a group of his victims whispering — and weeping — in the bathroom.

“When one approached me she said: ‘Miss, each time Father is doing it harder with the littlest ones and we don’t want this to happen to them, please help us,’” Sanchez told AP.

She urged them to write it down — and then was promptly fired when she reported him to Martinez’s then-superior, Bedia.

After Salazar went public, the school official who used to take the girls out of class to offer them up to Martinez was fired from her job at another Legion school.

One of the young victims was Biani López-Antúnez, whose mother had also reported the abuse to the Legion in 1993.

Irma Hassey said she hadn’t pried for details when her daughter first revealed Martinez’s abuse as a child, not wanting to hurt her further, and only learned the full extent in November.

Now, she said, she realizes with horror that for two years “I was leaving my daughter at the door of a rapist.”

In this Jan. 14, 2020 photo, Ana Lucia Salazar shows a photo of herself when she was 8-years-old, on her smart phone during an interview with the Associated Press in Mexico City. At the time Salazar says she was sexually abused by a Legion of Christ priest. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)In this Jan. 14, 2020 photo, Ana Lucia Salazar shows a photo of herself when she was 8-years-old, on her smart phone during an interview with the Associated Press in Mexico City. At the time Salazar says she was sexually abused by a Legion of Christ priest. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)

In this Jan. 14, 2020 photo, Ana Lucia Salazar holds the letters that Legion of Christ's new director general Rev. Eduardo Robles Gil, and her abuser sent to her asking for forgiveness, during an interview in Mexico City. Salazar says she was deeply offended by the way the letters diminished the crimes and cover-up. "It was revictimizing to me, humiliating, disgusting." She said. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)In this Jan. 14, 2020 photo, Ana Lucia Salazar holds the letters that Legion of Christ’s new director general Rev. Eduardo Robles Gil, and her abuser sent to her asking for forgiveness, during an interview in Mexico City. Salazar says she was deeply offended by the way the letters diminished the crimes and cover-up. “It was revictimizing to me, humiliating, disgusting.” She said. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)

FILE - In this Nov. 30, 2004 file photo, then Pope John Paul II gives his blessing to late Rev. Marcial Maciel, founder of the Legion of Christ, during a special audience the pontiff granted to about four thousand participants of the Regnum Christi movement, at the Vatican. It was revealed that Maciel sexually abused at least 60 seminarians, fathered at least three children and built a secretive, cult-like order to cater to his whims and hide his crimes. (AP Photo/Plinio Lepri, File)In this Nov. 30, 2004 file photo, then Pope John Paul II gives his blessing to late Rev. Marcial Maciel, founder of the Legion of Christ, during a special audience the pontiff granted to about four thousand participants of the Regnum Christi movement, at the Vatican. It was revealed that Maciel sexually abused at least 60 seminarians, fathered at least three children and built a secretive, cult-like order to cater to his whims and hide his crimes. (AP Photo/Plinio Lepri, File)

In this Jan. 14, 2020 photo, Ana Lucia Salazar holds one of the letters that her abuser sent to her asking for forgiveness, during an interview in Mexico City. Her abuser begged her forgiveness "for the grave harm I caused you." He termed his behavior "faults" that were the result of an "uncontrolled sexuality." (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)In this Jan. 14, 2020 photo, Ana Lucia Salazar holds one of the letters that her abuser sent to her asking for forgiveness, during an interview in Mexico City. Her abuser begged her forgiveness “for the grave harm I caused you.” He termed his behavior “faults” that were the result of an “uncontrolled sexuality.” (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)

In this Jan.19, 2020 photo, Biani Lopez-Antunez, shows a copy of the letter she wrote describing the sexual abuse she and others suffered when they were children at the hands of a Legion of Christ priest, at park in Mexico City. She wrote the letter at the behest of a teacher she had asked to protect her and her classmates. Her mother had also reported the abuse to the Legion in 1993. (AP Photo/Christian Palma)In this Jan.19, 2020 photo, Biani Lopez-Antunez, shows a copy of the letter she wrote describing the sexual abuse she and others suffered when they were children at the hands of a Legion of Christ priest, at park in Mexico City. She wrote the letter at the behest of a teacher she had asked to protect her and her classmates. Her mother had also reported the abuse to the Legion in 1993. (AP Photo/Christian Palma)

FILE - In this Feb. 25, 2014 file photo, Legion of Christ's new director general Rev. Eduardo Robles Gil, right, prays during a Mass celebrated by Cardinal Velasio De Paolis at the Legion of Christ main headquarters, the Ateneo Pontificio Regina Apostolorum, in Rome. Robles Gil apologized to Ana Lucia Salazar for the abuse she suffered at the hands of a Legion of Christ priest when she was a child, on how her case was handled originally and all the subsequent "deficiencies.""I could have remedied it starting in 2014, but I followed the decisions that were taken about abuse cases from previous decades, and we didn't re-examine it," he wrote her in November. "Today, I am ashamed I didn't." (AP Photo/Riccardo De Luca, File)In this Feb. 25, 2014 file photo, Legion of Christ’s new director general Rev. Eduardo Robles Gil, right, prays during a Mass celebrated by Cardinal Velasio De Paolis at the Legion of Christ main headquarters, the Ateneo Pontificio Regina Apostolorum, in Rome. Robles Gil apologized to Ana Lucia Salazar for the abuse she suffered at the hands of a Legion of Christ priest when she was a child, on how her case was handled originally and all the subsequent “deficiencies.””I could have remedied it starting in 2014, but I followed the decisions that were taken about abuse cases from previous decades, and we didn’t re-examine it,” he wrote her in November. “Today, I am ashamed I didn’t.” (AP Photo/Riccardo De Luca, File)

In this Jan. 14, 2020 photo, Rogelio Cabrera, president of the Mexican bishops conference, takes his hand to his forehead after speaking during a news conference in Mexico City. The Mexican bishops conference ended its silence about the Legion of Christ to denounce the new revelations and the Legion's failure to provide "a specific act of justice or reparation for the victims" even after it acknowledged the crimes. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)In this Jan. 14, 2020 photo, Rogelio Cabrera, president of the Mexican bishops conference, takes his hand to his forehead after speaking during a news conference in Mexico City. The Mexican bishops conference ended its silence about the Legion of Christ to denounce the new revelations and the Legion’s failure to provide “a specific act of justice or reparation for the victims” even after it acknowledged the crimes. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)

FILE - In this Aug. 25, 2011 file photo, the late Cardinal Velasio De Paolis, papal delegate for the Legion of Christ, speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in Vatican City. The latest scandal has exposed that the Vatican reform of the Legionaries of Christ charted by De Paolis failed in at least one key area: rooting out the culture of abuse and cover-up that enabled father Marcial Maciel's double life and allowed his crimes and the crimes of others to go unchecked for decades. (AP Photo/Domenico Stinellis, File)In this Aug. 25, 2011 file photo, the late Cardinal Velasio De Paolis, papal delegate for the Legion of Christ, speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in Vatican City. The latest scandal has exposed that the Vatican reform of the Legionaries of Christ charted by De Paolis failed in at least one key area: rooting out the culture of abuse and cover-up that enabled father Marcial Maciel’s double life and allowed his crimes and the crimes of others to go unchecked for decades. (AP Photo/Domenico Stinellis, File)

Winfield reported from the Vatican.

Trump takes on 50 years of environmental regulations, one by one

Christian Science Monitor – Politics

Trump takes on 50 years of environmental regulations, one by one

Amanda Paulson, CSM       January 16, 2020

It was 1970. Congress was wrestling with whether to give the right-of-way necessary to build a huge, 800-mile oil pipeline across Alaska, when a district judge blocked the project, using a brand new law requiring federal agencies to consider the environmental impact of projects.

“The Interior Department was stunned,” recalls William Reilly, a staff member in the Nixon administration at the time and later Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator. The law’s environmental impact statements, common today, were completely novel at the time. Even the authors of the statute, he says, “never anticipated it would have that effect.”

Exactly 50 years later, that law – the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) – is under attack. The Trump administration last week announced proposed reforms to the act that would significantly reduce its scope. It’s the latest move in an unprecedented effort to roll back not only recent Obama-era environmental regulations but also some of the bedrock laws that have shaped federal environment policy since the 1970’s.

“It’s not unique in being a pushback against regulation, or even in favoring the energy industry, but it’s unique in just how relentless it has been, and how many regulations they’ve tried to undo,” says Daniel Farber, a law professor at the University of California in Berkeley. There have been at least 50 significant environmental regulations President Trump has targeted, Professor Farber notes. “They’re leaving no stone unturned.”

For Mr. Trump, who as a developer has had his own battles with environmental reviews, it’s a pendulum swing that is long overdue.

“The United States will not be able to compete and prosper in the 21st century if we continue to allow a broken and outdated bureaucratic system hold us back from building what we need: the roads, the airports, the schools, everything,” he said last week in announcing proposed changes to NEPA.

Environmental consideration versus delay

Critics of the act, who often complain about lengthy environmental reviews and the impact statements required for major projects, welcomed his proposal, which would not only impose new deadlines on such studies but would also narrow the range of what could be considered.

“This is not about anti-regulation,” says Marty Durbin, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Global Energy Institute. “It’s about having a smart process in place and a certain process in place, so that we can get decisions that will unlock the investment necessary to get these projects built as critical infrastructure.” If there’s no certainty about when a project will be approved, it’s harder to attract investors, he adds.

But others note that NEPA has played a critical role simply by ensuring that the environment gets consideration.

“It’s something that says: ‘Consider, reflect. Is this something you want to do? Is this the best way to do it? Are there any other ways you could do it?’” says Mr. Reilly, the former EPA administrator.

In the case of the trans-Alaska pipeline, it took more than four years of wrangling, an Arab oil embargo, and a special act of Congress before the permits were approved.

But Mr. Reilly recalls the chairman of the oil company in charge telling him that the final project was more robust and sound as a result of the environmental-review process. “In the eyes of the person most closely concerned about it, it was a very constructive intervention,” he says.

A 2016 Congressional Research Service report says critics overstate the permitting process’ effect on project delays. Insufficient data, lack of funds, and state and local issues are far more likely to increase project length than environmental reviews.

Some projects languish in permit purgatory for up to a decade, but the vast majority do not. The average length of time for a full environmental impact statement takes 4.5 years, according to the Council on Environmental Quality. Furthermore, only 1% of projects within the NEPA umbrella complete an EIS, according to a 2014 Governmental Accountability Office report.

Many people want a speedier process, acknowledge Mr. Reilly and others. And if that were the administration’s sole objective, the proposed changes would be less controversial. But by narrowing the range of projects that require environmental review and no longer requiring consideration of a project’s “cumulative” effects – which, under President Barack Obama, were expanded to include long-term climate change impacts – the administration is targeting the backbone of U.S. environmental policy for 50 years.

Beyond Obama-era regulations

Early deregulation efforts from the Trump Administration targeted Obama-era rules: the “Clean Water Rule” that defined what waters are subject to federal water protection; the Clean Power Plan, designed to regulate carbon dioxide pollution; and methane rules, regulating the release of a potent greenhouse gas. One of Trump’s most controversial actions, the legality of which is still being tested in the courts, has been an attempted reduction of two National Monument designations in Utah. And there is evidence of a significant shift toward less enforcement of regulations and policies that remain on the books.

Whittling away the government’s regulatory structures has always been part of Mr. Trump’s agenda, but his dismantling of the EPA is unique, says Caitlin McCoy, a fellow in the Environmental and Energy Law Program at Harvard Law School who tracks such changes. Changing NEPA is the latest sign that the administration wants to undermine the statutory foundations of the EPA.

“They’re trying to take away the very things that the agency relies upon to do its job and to really severely damage its legal authority to function,” she says. “With other agencies, it’s similar, like, yes, we’re relaxing some of these tax rates, but it’s not like we’re trying to keep the IRS from doing audits.”

It’s not clear how successful the administration will be.

“For at least some of these regulations, the appeals will not hold up in court,” says Professor Farber. It’s not clear in the case of NEPA, for instance, whether Trump has the power to drastically reinterpret a major law enacted by Congress.

But for Trump, the payoff politically, showing his determination to undo environmental regulations that many view as overly burdensome, may be enough.

“Trump is doing overreach, and getting his comeuppance in the courts,” says Douglas Brinkley, a history professor at Rice University. “But it looks good [to his supporters] in 2020.”

Spotted lanternfly costing Pennsylvania $50M annually.

Associated Press – U.S.

Study: Spotted lanternfly costing Pennsylvania $50M annually

Michael Rubinkam, AP       January 16, 2020

FILE - This Sept. 19, 2019, file photo, shows a spotted lanternfly at a vineyard in Kutztown, Pa. Penn State researchers estimate the spotted lanternfly is causing some $50 million in damage per year in the state’s hard-hit southeast. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

 

The spotted lanternfly, an invasive pest from Asia that is wreaking havoc on valuable trees and vines, is costing the Pennsylvania economy about $50 million and eliminating nearly 500 jobs each year, according to a Penn State study released Thursday.

The study represents researchers’ first attempt to quantify the destruction caused by the large, colorful planthopper. First detected in the U.S. in 2014, in Pennsylvania’s Berks County, it has since overrun the state’s southeastern corner and spread into nearby states including New Jersey, Delaware and Virginia.

Economists in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences estimated the financial impact on industries most susceptible to spotted lanternfly, including nurseries, vineyards, Christmas tree growers and hardwood producers.

In the state’s hard-hit southeast, spotted lanternfly imposes $29 million in direct costs on growers and forest landowners, according to the study. Secondary costs, including reduced business and household spending, represent another $21 million each year.

If the insect were to expand statewide, it could cause $325 million in damage and wipe out 2,800 jobs, the researchers estimate. The state’s $19 billion forest products industry would be especially vulnerable. Pennsylvania, with its vast unbroken stretches of forest, is the nation’s No. 1 producer of hardwoods.

“The part that we’re really concerned about is what’s going on out in the forest. This thing is feeding on trees and those trees are worth a lot of money,” said Jay Harper, a study co-author and director of Penn State’s Fruit Research and Extension Center.

“This is a call to arms,” he said.

Spotted lanternfly is believed to weaken, though not necessarily kill, trees like maple, oak and black walnut. A greater economic threat than tree mortality is the prospect that states and nations could limit imports from Pennsylvania in an effort to prevent the bugs’ spread, according to Wayne Bender, who leads the Pennsylvania Hardwoods Development Council, part of the state agriculture department.

“The industry is taking it very seriously and has taken proactive … measures to minimize the threat and movement of spotted lanternfly,” he said.

Elsewhere, scientists have been testing chemical and biological methods of lanternfly control. Government contractors are removing tree of heaven — an invasive tree that is the lanternflies’ preferred host — from public property. Pennsylvania has also established a quarantine meant to limit the bugs’ spread.

The Penn State study was funded by the Center for Rural Pennsylvania, a legislative agency.

Newlyweds died together in the plane crash in Iran a week after their wedding

CNN

Newlyweds died together in the plane crash in Iran a week after their wedding

(CNN)The celebration of a new life together turned to loss when newlyweds died in the Tehran plane crash as they traveled home to Canada.

Arash Pourzarabi and Pouneh Gorji tied the knot on January 1 in Tehran in front of their family and friends, according to CNN news partner CTV News.
A week later, they were two of the souls to lose their lives when a plane crashed in Iran, killing all 176 people on board, including 63 Canadians. The Kiev-bound Ukraine International Airlines flight crashed in Tehran minutes after takeoff.
Arash Pourzarabi and Pouneh Gorji

Arash Pourzarabi and Pouneh Gorji
The Victims Wednesday included the  newlyweds, a family of four, a mother and her daughters, “bright students and dedicated faculty members,” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said.
“They were basically the kindest souls that I knew,” friend Amir Forouzandeh told CTV News. “Honestly, if you met them even once you could tell that these two belong together for sure.”
Pourzarabi and Gorji had traveled to Iran for their wedding, Reza Akbari, president of the Iranian Heritage Society of Edmonton, told CNN news partner CBC.
“It’s devastating and shocking,” Akbari told CBC. “It’s a tragic moment.”
Akbari said the couple and others in the Iranian community are being mourned on the messaging app Telegram, which is popular in Iran. He said he knew at least eight of the victims.
“When you go from top to the bottom, it’s hard to believe — all these wonderful people … these people who really were actually impactful in our community, they’re not among us anymore,” he told CBC. “And in one incident all of them are gone.”
Photos of the bride wearing a white, strapless gown and the groom in a black tuxedo smiling as they walked hand-in-hand flooded the bride’s Facebook page with messages of condolence. They were only in their mid-20s, according to CTV News.
‎Sima Hamzehloo‎ talked about Gorji as an intelligent, talented and polite woman, in a post on the bride’s Facebook page. “Although you wanted to leave for a better life, it was the Middle East that couldn’t leave you my dear,” Hamzehloo wrote.
Another friend of Gorji’s posted a photo of the pair when they were teenagers competing at a math tournament.
“Time could have get frozen back there, but well it didn’t,” Yasamin Rezaei wrote in a Facebook post.
The University Of Alberta community also is in mourning. Pourzarabi and Gorji were graduate students studying computer science, the school said.
Ten students, faculty and alumni of the school died in the crash, the university said.
“These individuals were integral to the intellectual and social fabric of our university and the broader community,” University of Alberta President and Vice-Chancellor David H. Turpin said in a statement.
“We are grieving for lost colleagues, classmates, teachers, and mentors, as well as loved ones, family, friends, and roommates,” Turpin said. “We will feel their loss — and the aftermath of this tragedy — for many years to come.”

 

Trudeau says Canadians ‘deserve’ answer on the fatal Iran plane crash.

Yahoo News Canada

‘Something very unusual happened’: Trudeau says Canadians ‘deserve’ answer on the fatal Iran plane crash

Elisabetta Bianchini        January 8, 2020

Canada reacts after 63 Canadians are killed in Iran plane crash

On Wednesday, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko confirmed Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752, a Boeing 737-800, crashed on its was from Iran’s capital, Tehran, to Kyiv and there were no survivors.

“Tehran airport is anything but a simple one. Therefore, for several years UIA has been using this airport to conduct training on Boeing 737 aircraft aimed at evaluating pilots’ proficiency and ability to act in emergency cases, Ihor Sosnovsky, Ukraine International Airlines vice president of operations said in a statement.

“According to our records, the aircraft ascended as high as 2400 meters. Given the crew’s experience, error probability is minimal. We do not even consider such a chance.”

Messaging from the Canadian government

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was joined by other government officials for a press conference to discuss the events of the tragic crash. The prime minister said that 138 passengers on the plane were connecting to Canada on PS752.

“I want to express my deepest condolences to all who are mourning a loss of a love one,” Trudeau said.

He also confirmed that the Canadian government will ensure that the crash is thoroughly investigated.

“We’ve had many countries step up to provide their assistance and support,” Trudeau said. “[Minister of Foreign Affairs François-Philippe Champagne] will be engaging directly with his Iranian counterpart…to request a presence from Canada in Tehran and in the investigation.”

Minister of Transport Marc Garneau told the media that the investigation is in the early stages but the crash happened about two minutes after takeoff, which occurred in a “normal fashion” before contact was lost. Garneau said this suggests that “something very unusual happened.”

Trudeau and Garneau both could not confirm the cause of the crash, with the prime minister saying that Canadians “deserve” answers he cannot categorically say that the plane was not shot down.

“It is too early to speculate. I would encourage people not to speculate, we are certainly aware that this is a terrible, terrible tragedy,” Trudeau said.

The transport minister also confirmed that Iran is leading the investigation but Canada has “offered to the Ukrainians all the technical assistance that they may wish.”

“It’s also true that the transportation safety board…is also going to be involved because there were Canadian nationals won this particular flight,” Garneau said. “They have indicated that if it was the desire of the Ukrainian or the Iranians…that Canada would be prepared to assist in terms of black box data interpretation.”

Details about the victims

There were 63 Canadians, 82 Iranians, 11 Ukrainian passengers and crew, 10 Swedes, four Afghans, three Germans and three Britons on board. The airline has released a list of passengers on the flight. More information continues to be revealed about the victims of the fatal crash.

Pedram Mousavi, Mojgan Daneshmand, Darya Mousavi and Darina Mousavi. (CBC News)
Pedram Mousavi, Mojgan Daneshmand, Darya Mousavi and Darina Mousavi. (CBC News)

 

Reuters has reported that 30 Edmontonians were on the plane, including University of Alberta professor Pedram Mousavi, his wife Mojgan Daneshmand and their daughters Daria and Dorina. Dr. Shekoufeh Choupannejad, an obstetrician-gynecologist at the Northgate Centre Medical Clinic in Edmonton, and her two daughters were also killed, according to CBS News.

The University of Guelph released a statement confirming that two students from the school were aboard the plane, Ghanimat Azhdari and Milad Ghasemi Ariani, who was pursuing a PhD in the Department of Marketing and Consumer Studies.

“We are deeply saddened to hear of the tragic loss of two of our students,” University of Guelph president Franco Vaccarino said in a statement. “Our thoughts go out to the families of these two students and to anyone else affected by this tragedy. Any loss to our campus community touches all of us.”

What we know so far

The crash follows increased tensions in Iran following the killing of Iranian military leader Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani by the U.S. last week.

Global Affairs Canada has alerted all Canadians to avoid all non-essential travel to Iran “due to the volatile security situation, the regional threat of terrorism and the risk of arbitrary detention.”

“Canadians, particularly dual Canadian-Iranian citizens, are at risk of being arbitrarily questioned, arrested and detained,” the advisory from the government agency reads. “Iran does not recognize dual nationality and Canada will not be granted consular access to dual Canadian-Iranian citizens.”

Reuters is reporting that a Canadian security source said the initial assessment of Western intelligence agencies is that the plane was not brought down by a missile. It is believe that the plane crash was caused by a technical malfunction.

We Took a Step Back From the Brink ???

Esquire

We Took a Step Back From the Brink, But Not Because the President* Knows Where He Took Us

By Charles P. Pierce            January 8, 2020

Donald Trump’s Iran speech was equal parts sniffing, slander, and stump speech.

President Trump Addresses The Nation After Iranian Attacks In Iraq Target Bases Where U.S. Troops StationedWin McNamee/Getty Images. (Optional Musical Accompaniment To This Post)

The deadly airplane crash has garnered some attention, but almost nobody has mentioned the earthquake, the one that shook the ground near the nuclear plant. It was a Tuesday night drawn from the worst parts of the Bible in the land in which all the worst parts of the Bible once took place. Meanwhile, Iran fired off some ballistic missiles and, thank god, did little more than blow up some sand and give El Caudillo del Mar-a-Lago the opportunity to take another grotesquely mendacious victory lap on the TV. The president*’s appearance on Wednesday noon was equal parts sniffing, slander, and stump speech. The worst part of it is something we’re all going to have to get used to hearing over the next year:

Iran’s hostilities substantially increased after the foolish Iran nuclear deal was signed in 2013, and they were given $150 billion dollars, not to mention $1.8 billion in cash. Instead of saying thank you to the United States, they chanted “Death to America.” In fact, they chanted “Death to America” the day the agreement was signed. Then Iran went on a terror spree funded by the money from the deal, and created hell in Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, Afghanistan and Iraq. The missiles fired last night at us and our allies were paid for with the funds made available by the last administration.

This is garish, reeking slander. And the way you know it it is garish, reeking slander is that Tailgunner Ted Cruz has picked up this trope and is running with it. Outside of Senator Huckleberry from South Carolina, no elected official has grown quite as comfortable in the sewer of Trumpian politics than the Tailgunner has.

For approximately the 900th time, the money involved in the JPCOA deal with Iran belonged to Iran in the first place. Some of it was from Iranian assets frozen after the Shah was overthrown, and some of it was the result of settlements. It was held, interest-free, by the United States for more than 40 years. In addition, almost all of the Iranian “hell” he cited was created since he tore up the nuclear deal. All of this is fairly easily debunked, but expect to see it promoted by all the usual suspects over the next year, as the president* prepares to run against Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and whoever gets the Democratic nomination—in that order.

US President Donald Trump press conference
All is well! <Getty Images

 

(Also, the president* went out of his way to make the following point: “For far too long, all the way back to 1979, to be exact, nations have tolerated Iran’s destructive and destabilizing behavior in the Middle East and beyond.” Under the bus, Ronnie. You, too, Poppy.)

And this, I am sorry, may be the funniest thing he’s ever said:

The very defective JCPOA expires shortly anyway, and gives Iran a clear and quick path to nuclear breakout. [Ed. Note: Because you pulled out of the deal.] Iran must abandon its nuclear ambitions and end its support for terrorism. The time has come for the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Russia, and China to recognize this reality.

No. Stop it. You’re killing me. Nobody is listening to you, and certainly not the countries that spent 11 years crafting a deal you shattered like a kid throwing a rock through a window. Really. You are lot funnier than I gave you credit for being.

The obvious fact is that he didn’t know anything about anything last week, and he doesn’t know anything about anything now that he’s pushed the Middle East toward a general conflagration. The position of the United States in the region is just as tenuous now that Qasem Soleimani is dead as it was when he was alive. There is no policy. There are no policymakers.

US-IRAN-IRAQ-UNREST-DIPLOMACY
Everyone’s having fun. BRENDAN SMIALOWSKIGetty Images

 

(Apparently, the briefings given to members of Congress on Wednesday regarding the details of the killing of Soleimani were not a hit. Democratic Congressman Jerry Connolly called them “sophomoric.” And Mike Lee, the famous konztitooshunal skolar from Utah, said it was the worst briefing he’d ever been given.)

We have for the moment taken half a step back from the brink, not because the president* knows where he took the country—or, for that matter, where he is in any given moment—but at least partly because the Iranians contented themselves for the moment with blowing up a bunch of sand. I remain skeptical that their retaliation will continue to be so benign. The world seems still to be slouching toward the Plains of Megiddo, where this president* likely would attempt to bribe someone in order to build a hotel.

Oh, and did I mention the locusts?

He chases ’round this desert, ‘cause he thinks that’s where I’ll be/That’s why I love mankind…

trump wags the dog

TRUMP WAGS THE DOG

Claytoonz

cjones01052020

First thing: Don’t let anyone say questions shouldn’t be asked right now. This morning on CNN, I heard one analyst say Senator Chris Murphy should “shut up” with his criticism of this attack on an Iranian government official. Wrong. Now is the time to ask questions. It’s important. Being told to shut up and go along was exactly what they said in the buildup to the invasion of Iraq.

Another reminder of the invasion of Iraq: This morning, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said this move will be celebrated in Iraq and Iran. That’s reminiscent of the claim by Dick Cheney that we’d be “greeted as liberators.”

Now, when they come out with bold claims like that, it means there’s something wrong. It’s when I smell bullshit. The first thing wrong with this is that it was a decision made by Donald Trump. Any decision by Donald Trump should be questioned. The man is irrational, stupid, and has never had preparations for after. This was a decision made between rounds of golf at Mar-a-Lago.

Donald Trump ordered the assassination of Qasem Soleimani, one of the top figures in Iran’s government. The hit occurred in Iraq at the international airport in Baghdad. This was an assassination of a foreign official on the soil of a third nation. Whenever anyone talks about Iran’s proxy wars today, keep that in mind.

Here’s the thing, kids: Assassinating a foreign official is illegal. It’s illegal in the U.S. and internationally. The only way Trump has the authority to do this is if there was indeed an imminent threat that would be eliminated by this guy’s murder. This may be why the Trump administration doesn’t want questions asked. We know one thing and that is Donald Trump is not above abusing presidential authority and breaking the law.

Soleimani was a bad guy. This is not a defense of him. U.S. intelligence (the same intelligence Republicans call “deep state” and have accused of masterminding a coup against Trump) has blamed the general for the deaths of at least 600 Americans. The George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations considered him a terrorist, but they held back on taking the guy out. Now, you can’t say Trump is more decisive in taking him out because it took him three years.

This morning, Pompeo claimed Soleimani initiated an attack on Washington, D.C. in the past that never materialized or was thwarted. If that’s true, then why wasn’t that the time to take him out? Why now? Because there was a protest at our embassy in Iraq or because there were massive revelations on the same day that Donald Trump directed the withholding of military aid to Ukraine? What we saw yesterday was more evidence that Donald Trump and his Attorney General, William Barr, engaged in a coverup.

If there was an imminent attack on American lives, then the administration needs to provide the details. Pompeo claimed this assassination saved American lives and that the region is safer today for Americans…all while the U.S. government is screaming for Americans to get out of Iraq. All while the world is warning of a reprisal attack from Iran. How exactly has this made anyone safer?

Donald Trump did not consult with the Gang of Eight before this attack, which are the leaders of The House and Senate. But, he had time to talk to Senator Lindsey Graham about it Monday in a golf cart. That doesn’t add up.

The Trump administration saw an opportunity to kill this guy and they took it. They’ve had opportunities before, so why now? There have been constant attacks against Americans in Iraq, so why now?

Now, we’re hearing very little talk about impeachment. The irony is, this may be another reason to impeach.

Australia Wildfire Forces 4,000 to Flee to Sea

EcoWatch – Austrailia

Australia Wildfire Forces 4,000 to Flee to Sea

         The remains of burnt out buildings are seen along Main Street in the New South Wales town of Cobargo on Dec. 31, 2019, after bushfires ravaged the town. Thousands of holidaymakers and locals were forced to flee to beaches in fire-ravaged southeast Australia. SEAN DAVEY / AFP via Getty Images

An out-of-control wildfire in the Australian state of Victoria forced thousands of people to flee towards the coast Tuesday.

Residents of the town of Mallacoota hunkered down in their homes or headed for the relative safety of the beach when a siren sounded around 8 a.m., BBC News reported. Victoria’s state emergency commissioner Andrew Crisp said 4,000 sheltered by the water.

“It’s mayhem out there, it’s armageddon,” evacuee Charles Livingstone told The Guardian Australia. He said he had evacuated to the town’s jetty Monday night with his wife and 18-month-old baby, but moved to the community center to escape the smoke.

The fire that prompted the flight to the coast sparked Sunday in Wingan, according to The Guardian, but CNN reported that there were more than 10 fires burning Monday in the East Gippsland area where Mallacoota is located. Three of those fires have been burning for more than a month, and several new blazes were started Sunday by dry lightning and then spread because of hot, dry, windy weather.

Mallacoota was not evacuated along with the rest of East Gippsland Sunday, and by Monday it was too dangerous for anyone to move, The Guardian explained.

Instead, residents fled to the water’s edge, and the fire followed them around 1:30 p.m.

“It should have been daylight but it was black like midnight and we could hear the fire roaring,” local business owner David Jeffrey told BBC News. “We were all terrified for our lives.”

He said residents planned to jump off a sea wall into the water if the flames came too close.

Luckily, a change in the wind redirected the fire away from the town.

“I understand there was a public cheer down at the jetty when that was announced,” chief fire service officer Steve Warrington told BBC News.

However, residents will now have to deal with fire damage. Warrington told CNN that “a number of houses” were destroyed or damaged. Mallacoota residents estimated on social media that around 20 homes, the school, golf club and bowling club had been burned, according to The Guardian.

“I just don’t know how we’re going to pull through this, really,” Maisy Roberts, who works at the town’s Croajingolong Cafe and thought her home was destroyed, told 3AW’s Nick McCallum. “It’s just absolute devastation.”

Mallacoota is not the only place in Australia feeling the heat from a devastating fire season. Four people are missing in East Gippsland as a whole, 3AW reported. Initial aerial investigations show that 19 structures have been destroyed in Sarsfield and 24 in Buchanan, but authorities think the final tally for the region will be higher.

There are fires burning in every Australian state, CNN reported, though Victoria and New South Wales (NSW) have been the hardest hit. More than 900 homes have been destroyed in NSW alone.

Twelve people have died in the blazes so far, BBC News reported. On Tuesday, bodies believed to belong to a father and son were discovered in Corbargo, NSW.

Three of the dead were firefighters. Two, both fathers to young children, died in NSW a little less than two weeks ago. A third, 28-year-old Samuel McPaul, died Sunday when fire-created winds lifted his truck and flipped it over. He was newly married and expecting a child.

The fires have been linked to the climate crisis.

“Climate change is influencing the frequency and severity of dangerous bushfire conditions in Australia and other regions of the world,” Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology said, according to Time.

It’s Our Choice: Medicare for All, or Endless War?

Common Dreams

Published on       November 20, 2019 by OtherWords

It’s Our Choice: Medicare for All, or Endless War?

If we end wars, shut down wasteful and failing weapons programs, and close unnecessary foreign bases, we could come up with an extra $350 billion to spend on Medicare for All—without sacrificing security.

by Lindsay Koshgarian       November 20, 2019
Together with common-sense cuts to runaway overhead costs, and by rolling current Pentagon health care costs into a universal health plan, we easily get more than the $300 billion needed for Medicare for All. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Together with common-sense cuts to runaway overhead costs, and by rolling current Pentagon health care costs into a universal health plan, we easily get more than the $300 billion needed for Medicare for All. (Photo: Shutterstock)

If you’re following the presidential race, you’ve heard plenty of sniping about Medicare for All and whether we can afford it. But when it comes to endless war or endless profits for Pentagon contractors, we’re told we simply must afford it—no questions asked.

Where can we find it? In a giant pot of money that’s already rampant with waste and abuse: the Pentagon.

According to one study, even if universal health insurance didn’t bring health care prices down—an unlikely worst-case scenario—we’d need an extra $300 billion a year beyond our current spending to provide full insurance for everyone.

Where can we find it? In a giant pot of money that’s already rampant with waste and abuse: the Pentagon.

Right now, only about one quarter of the $738 billion Pentagon budget goes to our troops. The rest is mainly three things: the cost of maintaining 800 military installations all over the world; lucrative Pentagon contracts, which account for nearly half of the entire Pentagon budget; and, of course, our never-ending wars in the Middle East.

According to my research, if we end those wars, shut down wasteful and failing weapons programs, and close unnecessary foreign bases, we could come up with an extra $350 billion to spend on Medicare for All—without sacrificing security.

As experts of various political stripes will tell you, the U.S. military is carrying out a costly 20th-century security vision in a 21st century world. For instance, the Pentagon still keeps tens of thousands of troops in Germany and Italy. Maybe 75 years after the end of World War II (and nearly 20 years into our ill-fated Iraq adventure) is a good time to finally bring those troops home?

Closing 60 percent of our foreign bases would save $90 billion a year. There’d be enough left over for more than one foreign military installation in each country on earth, if we insisted.

Right now, those bases enable our endless wars. Troops rotate from Germany into the Middle East and Africa, and tens of thousands are stationed in the conflict-ridden Middle East at any given time. Yet our wars have only further destabilized the region. It’s time we brought our troops home for good—and saved $66 billion each year in the bargain.

Then there are those highly paid contractors. For instance, the F-35 fighter jet is projected to cost more than the entire military budget of Iran. But even after many years and massive cost overruns, the lead Pentagon tester just reported that the F-35 is still “breaking more often than planned and taking longer to fix.”

We should halt the F-35 boondoggle, cut back on 20th century war technology like the aircraft carrier, and freeze nuclear weapons spending, with the eventual goal of eliminating these weapons that could wipe us all out at a keystroke.

All told, we could cut $100 billion from outdated, ill-conceived, or outright dangerous programs like these. The contractors will howl, but they’ve run things long enough.

None of this is as radical as it sounds. Today, military spending higher than it was at the peak of the Vietnam War. Even with a $350 billion cut, it would simply return to levels from the late 1990’s.

Together with common-sense cuts to runaway overhead costs, and by rolling current Pentagon health care costs into a universal health plan, we easily get more than the $300 billion needed for Medicare for All.

Which would make us safer: Medicare for All or endless wars? The choice is ours.

Lindsay Koshgarian

Lindsay Koshgarian directs the National Priorities Project at the Institute for Policy Studies.

Finnish Prime Minister Marin calls for a 4-day-week and 6-hour-day for her country

Scoop.me – Europe

Finnish Prime Minister Marin calls for a 4-day-week and 6-hour-day for her country

Finland’s new head of state caused enthusiasm in the country: Sanna Marin (34) is the youngest female head of government worldwide. She leads a centre-left coalition in which all 5 government parties have women at the top. Her aim: To introduce the 4-day-week and the 6-hour-working day in Finland.

Sanna Marin is the new Prime Minister of Finland. The 34-year-old social democrat was celebrated internationally because of strong women-led government: It is a coalition of five parties – and in all of them, women are the leaders.

For Sanna Marin, the fact that she is young and female doesn’t play a big role:

“I have never thought about my age or gender. I think more about the motivations that brought me into politics.”

Marin wants “much shorter working hours”

More important for Marin is the question, how long the Finns should have to work. She demands much shorter working hours on the occasion of the 120th anniversary of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in Turku. In her position as Minister of Transport and Communications, she said:

A four-day work week, a six-hour workday. Why couldn’t it be the next step? Is eight hours really the ultimate truth? I believe people deserve to spend more time with their families, loved ones, hobbies and other aspects of life, such as culture. This could be the next step for us in working life.

In Finland, 8-hour-days for five days a week are common in peoples’ work life. The left-wing alliance, with which Marin has formed a coalition recently, demanded a test run for the 6-hour-day.

Göteborg proves it: 6-hour-days keep you happy and healthy

The 6-hour-day already works in Finland’s neighbour country Sweden: In 2015, Gothenburg, Sweden’s second largest city, reduced working time to six hours a day in the old peoples’ homes and the municipal hospital – while still full paying their employees. The results two years later: The employees were happier, healthier and more productive. With the reduction in working hours, services were expanded and patients were more satisfied.

And the costs were stable: More employees were hired, which resulted in more tax revenue. In Addition to that, fewer sick days, fewer invalidity pensions and fewer people unemployed saved money.

Swedish Tech Industry as Pioneer

In the Swedish tech industry, the 6-hour-day has been default for many years. First and foremost, the automobile manufacturer Toyota proved how it works. As early as 2003, the Gothenburg plant switched to shorter working days with full pay.

Not only were Toyota’s employees more satisfied and motivated, they could also increase their productivity – and in the end: Toyota’s profits. The reasons for this are simple: First, unnecessarily long meetings were discarded or made more efficient. And second, there are much fewer idle times in the working day that are filled with social media or Internet surfing.

People go to work and do it more focused and concentrated. Then they go home and have enough time to spend the afternoon with their families, friends and hobbies.

The social democratic magazine Kontrast.at covers current political events, both in Austria and in the rest of the world. We view society, state and economy from a progressive, emancipatory point of view. Kontrast casts the gaze of social justice on the world.