Voting under way in climate-dominated Australians election


Voting under way in climate-dominated Australians election

Sydney: Australians flocked to the polls Saturday capping a bitterly fought election that may be the first anywhere decided by climate policy. Between 16 and 17 million people are expected to vote across the vast island-continent, with the opposition centre-left Labor party tipped for victory. Casting his ballot in Melbourne, would-be prime minister Bill Shorten was bullish about forming a majority government after a final poll showed his lead increasing.

“Today is the people’s day,” he said. “Be it buying a ‘democracy sausage’, the kids having a bit of a sugar cake or what have you, and voting.” “In the event that the people of Australia voted to stop the chaos and voted for action on climate change, we will be ready to hit the ground from tomorrow.” Weeks ago, Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s conservative Liberals had been heading for an electoral drubbing.

But he has closed the gap with a fiercely negative campaign — backed by powerful right-wing media — targeting older, wealthier voters who face fewer tax breaks under Labor. On the eve of the election, Morrison predicted it would be “the closest election we’ve seen in many, many years”. But anger over his government’s inaction on climate change may prove the difference between the two parties.

A season of record floods, wildfires and droughts have brought the issue from the political fringes to front and centre of the campaign. In traditionally more conservative rural areas, climate-hit farmers are demanding action. And in several rich suburbs, a generational shift has seen eco-minded candidates running Liberal party luminaries close.

In northern Sydney, former prime minister Tony Abbott — who once described climate change as “crap” — appears at risk of losing a seat he has held for more than two decades to independent challenger Zali Steggall, a lawyer and Olympic medallist in Alpine skiing.

Early rising voters in the constituency trickled into a beachside surf club to cast their ballots, as volunteers wearing bright orange “I’m a climate voter” t-shirts handed out pamphlets. “I’m worried about the climate and that Australia is not doing enough,” volunteer Catherine Willis told AFP. Shorten has pledged quick legislation to increase renewable energy, while the Liberals said they would not risk the coal-fuelled economy’s health to make the air cleaner.

Australia is among the world’s largest exporters of coal, providing thousands of jobs in the northeast of the country. A final survey by Newspoll published Saturday showed voters still deeply divided, with Morrison’s coalition trailing Shorten’s Labor 48.5 to 51.5 percent. The campaign has been an often ill-tempered pitched-battle. Candidates have been egged and abused, and a slew have resigned for racist, sexist and otherwise jaw-dropping social media posts.

In Abbott’s battleground seat, a 62-year-old man was arrested and charged with thrusting a corkscrew into the stomach of someone putting up campaign banners on the eve of the election. If Morrison wins, it would be a monumental comeback, having scraped for his political life in the hope of not entering the history books as one of the shortest-serving prime ministers in Australian history.

He took office last August after a party room coup by conservative hardliners that ousted moderate pro-climate leader Malcolm Turnbull — the latest in a series of political fratricides that have made Canberra politics look like “Game of Thrones” meets “The Hunger Games”.

Much of Morrison’s cabinet has resigned or gone into virtual hiding during the campaign because of their unpopularity. If Shorten is elected, he would become the sixth prime minister sworn into office in a decade. The former union leader has struggled with low personal approval ratings but has become a more polished campaigner as the election has neared. Still, his relative lack of charisma was underlined Thursday by the death of much-loved former prime minister Bob Hawke, an Oxford-educated lovable rogue, equally at home chugging a pint or debating Keynesian economics.

But the upswelling of sadness about Hawke’s death could remind voters of less contentious times under Labor. Should Labor win, Australia will likely get a vote on becoming a republic and, as Shorten put it, returning a head of state that the country has borrowed from the other side of the world for more than two centuries. Polls opened at 8:00 am (2200 GMT) and the first exit polls are expected around 10 hours later.




No benefit in breaking up Facebook: COO Sheryl Sandberg


No benefit in breaking up Facebook: COO Sheryl Sandberg

San Francisco: As the chorus grows to break up Facebook, the social networking platform’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg has said that it won’t serve any purpose.

“You could break us up, you could break other tech companies up, but you actually don’t address the underlying issues people are concerned about,” she told CNBC in an interview on Friday.”People are concerned about election security, content, privacy and data portability,” Sandberg added. Several US Senators have called for breaking up the social network amid repeated data breaches and privacy violations on the platform.

Democratic presidential candidate Senator Kamala Harris has stressed that authorities should take a serious look at breaking up Facebook as the social network platform is a “utility that has gone unregulated. Another Democratic 2020 candidate Senator Elizabeth Warren has also stressed upon the possibility of breaking up Facebook.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, however, rejected these calls, saying the size of the social media giant was actually a benefit to its users and the security of the democratic process. Facebook has kept aside $3 billion, anticipating a record fine coming from the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) related to the Cambridge Analytica data scandal that involved 87 million users.

In an opinion piece in The New York Times last week, Facebook Co-founder Chris Hughes said the government must hold Mark (Zuckerberg) accountable. “Mark’s personal reputation and the reputation of Facebook have taken a nose-dive,” wrote Hughes, adding that it was time to break up the company.




414 million plastic pieces found on Indian islands


414 million plastic pieces found on Indian islands

Melbourne: An estimated 414 million pieces of plastic — including nearly one million shoes and 370,000 toothbrushes — have been found washed ashore on the beaches of remote Cocos (Keeling) Islands in the Indian Ocean, according to a study.
The survey of plastic pollution, published in the journal Scientific Reports, estimated that the beaches on the islands are littered with 238 tonnes of plastic.

Remote islands which do not have large human populations depositing rubbish nearby are an indicator of the amount of plastic debris circulating in the world’s oceans, said Jennifer Lavers from the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS) at the University of Tasmania in Australia. “Islands such as these are like canaries in a coal mine and it’s increasingly urgent that we act on the warnings they are giving us,” Lavers said.

Plastic pollution is now ubiquitous in our oceans, and remote islands are an ideal place to get an objective view of the volume of plastic debris now circling the globe, researchers said. Plastic pollution is a well-documented threat to wildlife and its potential impact on humans is a growing area of medical research.




Visas of 90 Pakistan brides are withheld by China


Visas of 90 Pakistan brides are withheld by China

Islamabad: Amidst a raging controversy over Pakistani girls being trafficked to China after fake marriages, the Chinese embassy here has withheld visas of 90 Pakistani brides. China’s Deputy Chief of Mission in Pakistan Lijian Zhao said 140 applications have been received this year from Chinese nationals, seeking visas for their Pak brides.

Only 50 visas were granted, while the remaining requests were withheld, he said, adding that the embassy had received 142 such applications in 2018, The Express Tribune reported. Pakistan Govt has ordered the Federal Investigating Agency (FIA) to take action against the gangs involved in smuggling of Pakistani girls to China on the pretext of contracting marriage.

According to the local media reports, poor Christian girls, are lured, with money and promises of ‘good life’, by the illegal matchmaking centres to marry Chinese men who are either visiting or working in Pakistan. These centres produce fake documents of Chinese men showing them either as Christians or Muslims. Most of the girls became victims of human trafficking and are forced into prostitution.




FDA urged to crack down on European firms shipping abortion pills to US from India


FDA urged to crack down on European firms shipping abortion pills to US from India

Washington: A bipartisan group of 117 lawmakers has urged the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to crack down on companies, primarily based in Europe, that ship chemical abortion drugs from India to the US.

These European companies, like Aid Access, are circumventing the FDA’s safety requirements and placing the lives of women and their children at risk, the lawmakers said in a letter to Norman Sharpless, the Acting FDA Commissioner.

In the letter dated May 10, the bipartisan group of Congressmen urged Sharpless to crack down on Aid Access and Rablon, two foreign companies known to distribute Mifeprex, a chemical abortion drug, by mail-order to US customers in violation of the FDA’s safety protocols.




Claude Monet’s Haystack painting fetches USD 110.7 million at auction


Claude Monet’s Haystack painting fetches USD 110.7 million at auction

New York: A Claude Monet painting from his celebrated “Meules” (Haystacks) series fetched USD 110.7 million in New York on Tuesday in an auction record for the French Impressionist master.

The sale at Sotheby’s — the first time the work had come to auction since 1986 — fetched one of the 10 highest prices ever seen at auction. The total, which includes fees and the commission, was more than 44 times the previous record for the work.

It was the first time an Impressionist painting fetched more than $100 million. Monet painted his 25 “Meules” compositions during the winter of 1890-1891 at his home in Giverny, in France’s Normandy region. In each piece, Monet showed the light and surroundings of the same scene as they changed at different times of day, with the varying seasons and during various types of weather.




Cracks appear in German government over planned climate law


Cracks appear in German government over planned climate law

Berlin: Germany’s environment minister on Monday backed a European proposal to virtually eliminate man-made greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century, deepening divisions within the German government over how to tackle climate change.

French President Macron and eight either EU countries pitched the plan at a summit of European leaders last week, but Germany was a notable holdout.

“I don’t think this decision is final,” said Environment Minister Svenja Schulze of the center-left Social Democrats, the junior partners in Merkel’s government. “I think we should talk about it again. Because I think it’s very sensible to stand alongside France and work to say at the EU-level that we want to implement Paris.”




Indigenous Australians take government to UN over climate change


Indigenous Australians take government to UN over climate change

Sydney: Indigenous residents of low-lying islands off northern Australia will submit a landmark complaint with the United Nations on Monday accusing the government of violating their human rights by failing to tackle climate change.

The lawyers, from the non-profit ClientEarth, said the case was the first of its kind to be lodged with the UN equating government inaction on climate change to a human rights violation.

In their complaint, the islanders ask the UN to find that international human rights law requires Australia to reduce its emissions to at least 65 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030. The country should become carbon neutral by 2050, phasing out its use and export of coal completely, they say.




San Francisco may ban police, city’s use of facial recognition


San Francisco may ban police, city’s use of facial recognition

San Francisco: San Francisco is on track to become the first US city to ban the use of facial recognition by police and other city agencies, reflecting a growing backlash against a technology that’s creeping into airports, motor vehicle departments, stores, stadiums and home security cameras. Government agencies around the US have used the technology for more than a decade to scan databases for suspects and prevent identity fraud.

But recent advances in artificial intelligence have created more sophisticated computer vision tools, making it easier for police to pinpoint a missing child or protester in a moving crowd or for retailers to analyse a shopper’s facial expressions as they peruse store shelves. Microsoft, while opposed to an outright ban, has urged lawmakers to set limits on the technology, warning that leaving it unchecked could enable an oppressive dystopia reminiscent of George Orwell’s novel “1984.”

“Face recognition is one of those technologies that people get how creepy it is,” said Alvaro Bedoya, who directs Georgetown University’s Center on Privacy and Technology. “It’s not like cookies on a browser. There’s something about this technology that really sets  the hairs on the back of people’s heads up.”

They worry people will one day not be able to go to a park, store or school without being identified and tracked. Already, a handful of big box stores across the US are trying out cameras with facial recognition that can guess their customers’ age, gender or mood as they walk by, with the goal of showing them targeted, real-time ads on in-store video screens.




Tomb below UK supermarket


Tomb below UK supermarket

London: A royal burial site found between a pub and a supermarket has been hailed as the UK’s equivalent to Egypt’s famous Tutankhamun tomb, said archaeologists. The archaeologists revealed the results of years of research into the burial site of a rich, powerful Anglo-Saxon man found at Prittlewell in Southend-on-Sea, Essex, the Guardian reported. When it was first discovered in 2003, jaws dropped at how intact the chamber was. But it is only now, after years of painstaking investigation by more than 40 specialists, that a fuller picture of the extraordinary nature of the find was emerging.

Sophie Jackson, director of research at Museum of London Archaeology (Mola), said it could be seen as a British equivalent to Tutankhamun’s tomb, although different in a number of ways. “It was essentially a sandpit with stains,” she said. “It was one of the most significant archaeological discoveries we’ve made in this country in the last 50 to 60 years.” The remains of the timber structure, which would have measured about 13ft square and 5ft deep, housed some 40 rare and precious artefacts, the BBC reported. Among them was a lyre – an ancient harp – and a 1,400-year-old box thought to be the only surviving example of painted Anglo-Saxon woodwork in Britain.




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