Ukrainian court finds ex-president guilty of treason
Thursday, January 24
MINSK, Belarus (AP) — A court in the Ukrainian capital Kiev on Thursday found former President Viktor Yanukovych guilty of treason and helping Russia annex the Crimean peninsula.
The Kiev court began reading out the verdict in Yanukovych’s case, a process that is expected to take at least the whole day. The judge already declared Yanukovych guilty of treason and premeditated actions to alter the country’s borders, and will rule later on the other charges.
Yanukovych fled Ukraine in 2014 as tensions in Kiev flared up following a deadly police crackdown on protesters calling for the president to follow through with an association agreement with the European Union. Yanukovych eventually surfaced in Russia and was tried in absentia.
The Kremlin has used a request by Yanukovych as one of the legal grounds to seize the Crimean peninsula and later formally annex it.
At a United Nations Security Council session on March 1, 2014, a Russian envoy had read out a request by Yanukovych to send Russian troops to Ukraine.
Yanukovych later said he did send a letter to Putin asking for military assistance, but claimed that that was not an official invitation for boots on the ground.
The annexation of Crimea triggered hostilities in eastern Ukraine where fighting between Russia-backed separatists and government troops has claimed more than 10,000 lives.
Earlier in the trial, Yanukovych testified via video link from Moscow. His lawyer has said that the former president would not be able to follow the verdict because he is in hospital after sustaining injuries on a Moscow tennis court in November.
Prosecutors have asked the court to sentence Yanukovych to 15 years in prison.
Not so long ago, cities were starved for trees
January 24, 2019
Author: Sonja Dümpelmann, Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture, Harvard University
Disclosure statement: Sonja Dümpelmann’s book Seeing Trees was published with assistance from The Foundation for Landscape Studies and a Dean’s Annual Research Grant from the Harvard University Graduate School of Design.
Many cities, in recent years, have initiated tree planting campaigns to offset carbon dioxide emissions and improve urban microclimates.
In 2007, New York City launched MillionTrees NYC, a program designed to plant 1 million new trees along streets, in parks and on private and public properties by 2017. They hit their goal two years ahead of time.
These programs are popular for a reason: Not only do trees improve the city’s appearance, but they also mitigate the urban heat island effect – the tendency for dense cities to be hotter than surrounding areas. Studies have shown that trees reduce pollutants in the air, and even the mere sight of trees and the availability of green spaces in cities can decrease stress.
But as I show in my new book, “Seeing Trees: A History of Street Trees in New York City and Berlin,” trees weren’t always a part of the urban landscape. It took a systematic, coordinated effort to get the first ones planted.
A landscape that was hot, congested – and treeless
As New York City’s population exploded in the 19th century, poor sanitary conditions, overcrowding and hot summers made the city a petri dish for disease: Between 1832 and 1866, cholera outbreaks alone had killed an estimated 12,230 people.
By the turn of the 20th century, living conditions had deteriorated. Neighborhoods continued to be overcrowded, indoor plumbing was still lacking and open sewers could still be found along many of the city’s dusty streets and alleys.
Trees could be entirely absent from a neighborhood. The few trees that did line city streets – mostly ailanthus, elms and buttonwoods – could be individually cataloged with relatively little effort. For example, in 1910, The New York Times reported on the decreasing number of trees along Fifth Avenue. The article noted that between 14th Street and 59th Street, there were only seven trees on the west side and six on the east side of the avenue.
Real estate development, subway expansion and utility line construction had clearly taken their toll.
A physician proposes a solution
In the 1870s, eminent New York City physician Stephen Smith spearheaded a movement to plant more trees. Doing so, he argued, would save lives.
Smith, who pioneered the city’s sanitary reforms and founded the Metropolitan Board of Health, was the author of a groundbreaking study that correlated high temperatures with childhood deaths from a number of infectious diseases. He concluded that planting street trees could mitigate oppressive heat and save 3,000 to 5,000 lives per year.
To promote street tree planting in his city, Smith drew attention to what became known as the Washington Elm study.
Attributed to Harvard College mathematics professor Benjamin Peirce, the study claimed that the famous Washington Elm standing on the Cambridge Common in Massachusetts had an estimated crop of 7 million leaves that, if laid out next to each other, would cover a surface of 5 acres. The study illustrated the vast potential of a single tree’s foliage to absorb carbon dioxide, emit oxygen and provide shade.
In 1873, Smith drafted and introduced his first bill to the New York state legislature for the establishment of a Bureau of Forestry, which would promote the cultivation of street trees.
But the bill stalled; it took several additional attempts and amendments before it was finally approved in 1902. Even then, it didn’t provide adequate funds for municipal street tree planting. So, in 1897, Smith joined a group of citizens who decided to take matters into their own hands. Calling themselves the Tree Planting Association, they helped homeowners plant trees in front of their residences. A few years later, they also established the Tenement Shade Tree Committee to plant trees along tenement blocks and in front of public schools.
The city encouraged residents living on a block to collaborate on planting decisions so that trees could be planted at regular intervals, providing even shade and a uniform aesthetic. Some species, like the Norway maple, were favored because of their tall trunks and their ability to grow in poor soil and withstand urban pollution.
The association’s first list of members read like a New York City “Who’s Who”: philanthropist and housing reformer Robert de Forest; art dealer Samuel P. Avery; sculptor Augustus St. Gaudens; industrialist and former mayor Edward Cooper; and financiers J.P. Morgan, W. Bayard Cutting and William Collins Whitney.
On the front lines of fighting climate change
For these early activists planting trees was a way to cool streets and buildings in the summer and beautify the city’s gritty urban landscape.
Only later would scientists come to realize the enormous potential that urban trees besides entire forests held in mitigating the effects of climate change.
In 1958, Chauncey D. Leake, president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, warned of the warming atmosphere in a well-received paper at the National Conference on Air Pollution. He pointed out that warming temperatures could cause the huge polar ice caps to melt, leading to sea-level rise. To lower levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, he suggested planting 10 trees for every automobile and 100 for every truck.
Leake’s proposal was an early attempt at using tree planting to offset global warming. Since then – and particularly over the last two decades – methods that calculate the number of trees needed to offset carbon dioxide emissions have become more sophisticated. For this purpose scientists and foresters from the U.S. Forest Service and the University of California Davis developed iTree, a suite of software tools that help to determine a tree species’ ability to sequester carbon, reduce pollution and decrease storm water runoff in a particular ecosystem.
Despite their popularity, new trees can be met with resistance. While many residents enjoy the shade and look of a tree, there’s always someone who sees them as a nuisance that blocks sunlight from entering their apartment. Others complain about the smelly flowers that some trees produce, the seeds they shed, and the way they attract birds that speckle sidewalks with their droppings.
But as the perils of climate change become more apparent, the hope is that the broader benefits of trees prevail over personal predispositions.
Congo’s new leader completes 1st peaceful transfer of power
By SALEH MWANAMILONGO
Thursday, January 24
KINSHASA, Congo (AP) — Congo’s new President Felix Tshisekedi made news as soon as he was sworn into office on Thursday by announcing he would release all political prisoners and by praising his father, the late opposition icon Etienne, calling him “president” to cheers from the crowd.
The 55-year-old Tshisekedi’s inauguration marked the Central African nation’s first peaceful transfer of power since independence nearly 60 years ago.
He takes over from Joseph Kabila, who led the country since 2001. Kabila quietly watched from behind his mirrored sunglasses the extraordinary scene of an opposition leader becoming president. When Kabila left the dais, some in the crowd booed.
Tshisekedi appealed for tolerance as questions remained about the disputed Dec. 30 election, calling national reconciliation “one of our priorities.” Congolese largely have accepted his win in the interest of peace.
Despite the concerns, the new leader has inherited much goodwill with the legacy of his father, who pursued the presidency for decades but never achieved the post his son has won. The reference to Etienne Tshisekedi as “president” was a nod to the late opposition leader’s defiant declaration after losing the disputed election in 2011 to Kabila.
Tshisekedi’s father had posed such a charismatic challenge that after he died in Belgium in 2017, Congo’s government did not allow his body to be brought home. His son’s spokesman has said that will be corrected soon.
Supporters of the new president stormed the Palais de la Nation for a glimpse of the inauguration.
Just one African head of state, Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta, was seen at Thursday’s ceremony after the African Union and others in the international community expressed reservations over alleged election fraud. The United States and others this week said they will work with the new leader but did not offer congratulations.
Many Congolese hope that Tshisekedi will bring change after Kabila, who in a final address on Wednesday night urged the country to unite and support the incoming leader. He said he was stepping aside with no regrets.
Tshisekedi now faces the challenge of working with a legislature dominated by members of Kabila’s ruling coalition, likely restricting the chances of dramatic reforms in a country that remains largely impoverished and plagued by dozens of rebel groups.
Few had expected an opposition victory in Congo, where Kabila had hung on for more than two years of turbulent election delays.
Declared runner-up Martin Fayulu mounted a court challenge to Tshisekedi’s win, alleging massive rigging and demanding a recount. The Constitutional Court on Sunday rejected it. Outside court, Fayulu accused Kabila of making a backroom deal with Tshisekedi as it became clear the ruling party’s candidate did poorly at the polls.
The new president saluted Fayulu in his speech as a “veritable soldier of the people” and acknowledged the Catholic Church, whose large electoral observer mission found that Fayulu had won.
Observers have said Fayulu, an opposition lawmaker and businessman who is outspoken about cleaning up Congo’s sprawling corruption, was seen as a bigger threat to Kabila and his allies.
Few Congolese have taken up Fayulu’s call for peaceful protest, appearing instead to accept Tshisekedi’s win as long as Kabila is on the way out.
Congo will not be a nation of “division, hate or tribalism,” the new president declared.
Tshisekedi also vowed to take on widespread corruption, asserting that billions of dollars are lost per year. He called the revenue brought in “the weakest in the world.”
Congo has trillions of dollars’ worth of mineral wealth but the country remains badly underdeveloped, to the frustration of the population of its 80 million people.
The new president briefly paused his inauguration speech, surrounded by concerned supporters, before resuming several minutes later and asking the crowd for its understanding.
He cited a “small moment of weakness.” A number of people in the crowd earlier had fainted in the heat.
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AP to bring Indian Ocean exploration to you
The Associated Press will provide content (live, video, photos and text) from a deep-sea research mission that aims to unlock the secrets of the Indian Ocean.
AP is the only news agency working with a team of British scientists from the Nekton research team, who will explore depths of up to 300 meters (1,000 feet) off the coast of the Seychelles in two-person submarines.
Scientists will draw additional data from precision instruments dropped to up to 2,000 meters (6,500 feet). There is currently very little comprehensive mapping or biological research of the Seychelles or the wider Indian Ocean below 30 meters (100 feet).
JANUARY 24, 2019: MISSION PHASE ONE
The diving vessel Ocean Zephyr, which will be the mission command centre, will be mobilised in Bremerhaven, Germany.
AP will have onboard coverage and interviews with the mission director as the specially commissioned ship is readied for its voyage of discovery.
FEBRUARY 26 TO MARCH 3, 2019: MISSION PHASE TWO
Final preparations are made aboard Ocean Zephyr in Victoria Harbour, Seychelles, as it begins its expedition to map the huge expanse of water that two billion people living in coastal nations on the Indian Ocean rim depend on for survival.
MARCH 3 TO APRIL 19, 2019: MISSION PHASE THREE
Coverage will include the search for previously unseen marine life and the hunt for underwater forests and submerged mountain ranges off the Seychelles.
* The scientific programme planned is varied and to an extent weather dependent. Please note therefore that the mission timeline is subject to change.
Explore the deep ocean with AP …
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Why Chinese science seems so secretive – and how it may be about to change
January 24, 2019
Author: Joy Y. Zhang, Senior Lecturer in Sociology, University of Kent
Disclosure statement: Joy Y. Zhang has received funding from the British Council, the Economic and Social Research Council, the Wellcome Trust in the UK, and la Fondation Maison des Sciences de l’homme in France.
Partners: University of Kent provides funding as a member of The Conversation UK.
China’s recent scientific achievements – including its embryo gene-editing research and historic moon landing – appear to be surrounded by secrecy. The global scientific community first learned about its experiments modifying the DNA of human embryos through rumours in 2015. And while China’s National Space Administrative (CNSA) acknowledged in December 2018 that its spacecraft was preparing to land on the moon, it didn’t broadcast or announce the actual touchdown. Instead we learned about it through whispers among journalists and amateur astronomers.
These events demonstrate how little we actually know about what’s going on within the Chinese scientific establishment. They also cast doubt on the accountability of scientific projects carried out in and with China. Extreme cases such as scientist Jiankui He’s controversial claim of having created the world’s first gene-edited babies have tinted China’s image as a trusted player. In fact, China later condemned the research, which has not yet been published in a scientific journal – blaming the scientist. Unsurprisingly, this further challenges the global confidence in the country’s researchers.
It may be tempting to ascribe these secretive practices as a throwback to a Cold War mentality, with China competing with the West by incubating cutting-edge research programmes behind closed doors. But my research on China’s life sciences over the last 14 years suggests that the culture actually stems from something else: a sense of sociopolitical insecurity.
The problem is rooted in the once-prized but increasingly problematic social ethos of “prioritising the doing, postponing the talking” (xian-zuoshi, hou-taolun). The phrase, often used by Chinese scientists, resonates strongly with a “do-not-argue” principle (bu-zhenglun) promulgated by China’s former president, Deng Xiaoping, in his watershed reform speech in 1992. The speech set out how to develop China with tangible socioeconomic betterment rather than rhetorical debates. While that may seem sensible, the approach has led to a number of problems in science governance.
At the institutional level, a pragmatism has taken hold in research oversight. The primary aim has become to minimise public concerns – delivering technological fixes to social problems instead of generating worries. So unless there is concrete evidence of wrongdoings, Chinese regulators will limit their interactions with the public and the scientific community to pragmatically fix problems that have already occurred. Unfortunately, though, this doesn’t help prevent them from arising in the first place.
As ministry officials and bioethicists involved in policy making have explained to me, opening up pioneering research to public scrutiny could be precarious for their careers and for their institution’s reputation. Moves that seem to overturn the priorities of doing and talking could be considered politically irresponsible – wasting important research opportunities.
Institutions that draw the public’s attention may also risk political embarrassment. For example, great promises of discovery may not materialise. And ethical concerns can turn out to be nothing. CNAS’s tightly controlled publicity of the Chang’e 4 mission could be seen an example of the authority’s caution against embarrassment in the case of a touchdown failure.
But why don’t the researchers themselves step up and reach out? After all, a growing number of Chinese scientists are being trained in the West and remain in regular contact with Western peers. But the truth is they need to adapt to the social and political norms when they later settle back in China.
For many Western scientists, publicly disclosing possible research harms is seen as a crucial part of good governance. For example, in 1969 Jonathan Beckwith from the University of Harvard publicly announced that his team had successfully isolated a single gene simply to be able to express his strong reservations about how the research could be used. Similarly, the co-creator of the CRISPR gene-drive technology Kevin Esvelt from Massachusetts Institute of Technology is currently a visible figure campaigning for public awareness of its adverse impacts.
He Jiankui claimed to have created gene-edited babies.
Yet, the Chinese life scientists I have interviewed consider such precautionary acts potentially irresponsible, both to their peers and their institutions. That’s because they are trotting a thin line of “double clientelism”. While researchers are conscious of their responsibility to engage with the public, they are also pressured to meet the state’s demands for technological progress – often for the good of the people.
Communicating with the public also takes skills and training. Without clear political guidance and support, many of the scientists I interviewed felt they were “unqualified” to talk about their work to the public, especially if potentially contentious.
There is also little incentive to engage with the media or the public in China. For that reason, it may be understandable that scientists are reluctant to take the risk of communicating their work. The stakes, after all, are high. Chinese authorities have several times interfered or even banned technology as a hasty response to a single problematic case. For example, China developed the world’s first human hybrid embryo in 2001. This was groundbreaking scientifically, but was also met with international scepticism – leading the state to immediately ban such research.
Change on the horizon?
The “secretive culture” within Chinese science is therefore not really primarily about active concealment. Rather it resembles a collective coping strategy in a system where there is an over emphasis on getting things done and an under appreciation of collective deliberation.
There may be reasons for optimism, however. There is a growing recognition of the value of transparency and public engagement in the country. On January 3, China’s Ministry of Science and Technology published a set of policy recommendations developed by me and my colleagues on revising the priorities of “doings” and “talkings”. These are currently being put forward to high-ranking officials.
This is a significant and welcome signal that Chinese authorities are exploring ways to enhance transparency and accountability of its science. But how quickly these commitments will be translated into institutional norms remains to be seen.