Greta Thunberg, German Railway Company in Tweetstorm

Climate activist Greta Thunberg and Germany’s national railway company created a tweetstorm Sunday after she posted a photo of herself sitting on the floor of a train surrounded by lots of bags.The image has drawn plenty of comment online about the performance of German railways.Thunberg posted the tweet late Saturday with the comment “traveling on overcrowded trains through Germany. And I’m finally on my way home!”Traveling on overcrowded trains through Germany. And I’m finally on my way home!
— Greta Thunberg (@GretaThunberg) December 14, 2019But German railway company Deutsche Bahn suggested that Thunberg may not have spent the whole time sitting on the floor. And the 16-year-old Swedish activist later sought to draw a line under the matter by tweeting that she eventually got a seat and that overcrowded trains are a good thing.Some Twitter users expressed pity for Thunberg for not being able to get a proper seat on the train for the long ride home from Madrid, where she was attending the U.N. climate change conference. Others wished her a safe trip home after months of traveling by trains and boats to different climate events in Europe and the United States.Thunberg doesn’t fly on planes because it’s considered harmful to the climate. Last week, she was named Time magazine’s Person of the Year for her efforts to prod government and others to take faster actions in fighting climate change.Deutsche Bahn, which used to be famous for its punctuality, has come under fire in recent years for delays, last-minute train cancellations and expensive ticket fares.In Deutsche Bahn’s first reply to the teenager’s initial tweet, the company wished her a good trip back home and adding that “we continue working hard on getting more trains, connections and seats.”Later, however, the railway company wrote in a statement to the media that Thunberg had a seat in first class between Kassel and Hamburg and that other members of her team were already sitting in first class from Frankfurt onwards.In the photo on Twitter, Thunberg is sitting on the floor at the end of a rail car with her back leaning against a suitcase, staring out of a window. There’s an empty food box next to her and more suitcases and backpacks piled up by her side.Later on Sunday, Deutsche Bahn tweeted twice more in regard to Thunberg’s train travels through Germany.
In the first tweet, the company thanks the teenager for supporting Deutsche Bahn’s battle against climate change and pointed out that the train she used had been running 100% on eco-friendly electricity.In the second tweet, however, Deutsche Bahn seemed to suggest that Thunberg hadn’t spent the entire train ride sitting on the floor.The company pointed out to the teenager that “it would have been even nicer if you had also reported how friendly and competently our team served you at your seat in first class.”Thunberg later tweeted that the fact she didn’t first sit in a seat wasn’t meant as a knock against Deutsche Bahn.She wrote that “this is no problem of course and I never said it was. Overcrowded trains is a great sign because it means the demand for train travel is high!” 

UK Opposition Chief Corbyn ‘Sorry’ for Election Wipeout

Britain’s main opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn apologized Sunday for waging a disastrous campaign that handed Prime Minister Boris Johnson a mandate to take the UK out of the EU next month.But the veteran socialist defended his far-left platform and blamed the media for helping relegate his century-old party to its worst performance since before World War II.”I will make no bones about it. The election result on Thursday was a body blow for everyone who so desperately needs real change in our country,” Corbyn wrote in the Sunday Mirror newspaper.”I wanted to unite the country that I love but I’m sorry that we came up short and I take my responsibility for it.”Thursday’s snap general election turned into a re-run of the 2016 EU membership referendum in which Johnson championed the Brexit cause.Johnson now commands an 80-vote majority in the 650-seat House of Commons  — a margin last enjoyed by the late Tory icon Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s.A sombre but combative Corbyn said Friday that he will step aside once Labour completes a period of “reflection” about its mistakes.The party is expected to have a new leader in place before England votes yet again in local polls in May.Yet the 70-year-old has no clear successor after a year of infighting between a protectionist old guard backed by the unions and more metropolitan members with pro-European views.Corbyn tried to find a balance between the two camps by taking a neutral position on Brexit — a decision that Labour finance spokesman John McDonnell proved to be fatal.”What we tried to do is bring both sides together and we failed,” McDonnell told the BBC.Labour’s campaign was also dogged by allegations of anti-Semitism that forced a handful of senior lawmakers to resign.Corbyn tried to shift the campaign’s focus on bread-and-butter social issues important to Labour voters.”But despite our best efforts, this election was ultimately about Brexit,” Corbyn admitted in his letter.”The Tory campaign, amplified by most of the media, managed to persuade many that only Boris Johnson could ‘get Brexit done’,” he said in reference to Johnson’s campaign slogan.”We will learn the lessons of this defeat.”Soul-searchingThe soul-searching and recriminations have been accompanied by questions in other Western countries about how far left traditionally liberal voters are prepared to go.”Look what happens when the Labour party moves so, so far to the left,” U.S. Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden warned Friday.Yet Corbyn signaled Sunday that he wanted to leave behind a radical legacy that keeps Labour’s focus on vast social spending and redistribution of wealth.He came under intense criticism from more moderate supporters Sunday for claiming that his platform ultimately proved right.”I am proud that on austerity, on corporate power, on inequality and on the climate emergency we have won the arguments and rewritten the terms of political debate,” he wrote in a separate column in The Observer newspaper.Several prominent Labour members who are viewed as potential leaders sharply disagreed.”It’s time to try something different, rather than re-enacting old battles,” lawmaker Jess Phillips wrote in The Observer.”Everywhere I campaign, I heard the same thing. It was less about Brexit and more about belief. In these places of generations of Labour voting, they did not believe a Labour government would or could deliver for them.”Labour parliamentarian Lisa Nandy agreed that the party had “lost touch with the day-to-day… experience of many of the people we want to represent”.”If we are going to represent the country, we need to understand it, to see it as it really is, not how we might imagine it to be,” she wrote in The Observer.    

This Little Piggy Went to Court: German Piglets ‘Sue Over Castration’

Little piggies go to market, but in Germany they also go to court.In a legal first, animal rights activists have asked Germany’s top court to ban the practice of castrating young male pigs without anesthetic – with the piglets themselves listed as the plaintiffs.The painful procedure has become increasingly controversial in Europe and has been banned in Sweden, Norway and Switzerland.Farmers argue that the castration of piglets a few days after birth is necessary to prevent “boar taint”, the occasional occurrence of a foul smell when cooking pork from male pigs past puberty.The German parliament outlawed castration without pain relief in 2013 but it offered farmers a five-year transition period to help them adapt to the change – a timeline that was extended last year until 2021.Outraged by the inaction, the PETA campaign group filed a lawsuit with Germany’s Constitutional Court in November on behalf of the baby pigs.The group wants judges to recognize that pigs have rights similar to human rights and that these are being violated by the “cruel act” of castration without pain relief.”Non-human entities like companies and associations have legal personhood. So why not animals too?” said lawyer Cornelia Ziehm, who is supporting PETA in representing the piglets in court.’Little chance of succeeding’PETA argues that under German law, animals cannot be harmed without reasonable explanation.”The castration of piglets – with or without anesthesia – is in clear violation of this, giving Germany’s male piglets only one option: to sue for the enforcement of their rights in court,” the group said in a statement.The crux of the case is their argument that in Germany “everyone” (jedermann) can file a constitutional complaint if they believe their basic rights have been violated – even a pig.But Jens Buelte, a law professor at Mannheim university, doubted whether the judges in Karlsruhe would see it the same way.”Animals do not have their own rights under German law,” he said, giving PETA’s lawsuit “little chance of succeeding”.Monkey selfieIt is not the first time campaign groups have filed a case on behalf of animals.PETA made global headlines in 2015 when it asked an American court to grant a macaque the copyright to a selfie it snapped on a wildlife photographer’s camera.The picture of the broadly grinning monkey went viral but the court eventually ruled that animals cannot bring copyright infringement suits.PETA condemned the verdict, saying the monkey was “discriminated against simply because he’s a nonhuman animal”.However, in Argentina in 2016 a judge ordered Cecilia the chimpanzee to be released from Mendoza Zoo after agreeing with activists that she was entitled to basic rights and her solitary confinement was unlawful.AlternativesGerman farmers, who remove testicles from roughly 20 million piglets each year, have long resisted the push to end castration without anesthesia.They say there is a lack of workable alternatives to tackle boar taint, in an industry already struggling with fierce foreign competition.Local anesthesia and gene editing are not yet viable or too expensive, they say, and would raise the cost of pork in a country famous for its love of schnitzel and sausage.The government agreed in late 2018 to give the farmers a final two-year extension before the ban takes effect – a decision decried by the opposition Greens and far-left Die Linke, who argued it put the interests of the meat industry above animal protection.Some German pork producers are pinning their hopes on a vaccine that requires just two injections to prevent boar taint – already a popular alternative abroad.A pilot project involving 100,000 German piglets is currently ongoing, though critics say the vaccines are costly too.A similar debate is raging in France, where agriculture minister Didier Guillaume recently said castration of piglets without pain relief should be banned by the end of 2021.

Albania Seeks Arrests for Guake Deaths in Collapsed Buildings

Albanian prosecutors have issued a series of arrest warrants on charges including murder and abuse of office over the deaths of 51 people killed when a 6.4-magnitude earthquake toppled dozens of buildings last month, police said on Saturday.Police and prosecutors said initial investigations showed “the loss of life in the collapsed buildings came also because their builders, engineers and owners had failed to observe the rules, norms and standards of safe constructions.”Prosecutors issued 17 warrants in total, police said. Two of the nine people detained on Saturday on murder charges were the owners of two hotels that collapsed, killing four people in Durres, Albania’s second-biggest city and main port.A third was the manager of a police vacation hotel where a high-ranking police officer was killed under the rubble.During the three decades since toppling communism in 1990, many Albanians have moved nearer cities, squatting on land and building with little supervision by authorities.Many of the buildings have been legalized since then by governments eager to get votes but also seeking to urbanize such areas by putting in sewage systems and roads.Both hotels on the 10-mile long beach on the Adriatic Sea south of Durres port were built illegally, police said, and the second had also been legalized illegally.Police said that some of the 17 people being sought by prosecutors had fled after the Nov. 26 quake.The high-rises built during the post-Communist boom along the beach are mostly apartments and hotels catering to both Albanians and foreigners, including ethnic Albanians from the Balkans and the Diaspora. Most suffered no damage.Albania has yet to calculate the cost of rebuilding housing for the 14,000 people left homeless by the quake.

Frustrated Climate Activists Dump Manure Outside Madrid Summit

Green activists dumped horse manure and staged a mock hanging outside the venue of a U.N. climate summit in Madrid on Saturday, airing their frustration at the failure of world leaders to take meaningful action against global warming.Led by grass-roots group Extinction Rebellion, the actions were timed to coincide with the closing of the COP25 summit, where negotiators have been unable to agree on how to implement the 2015 Paris climate agreement.”Just like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic, this COP’s fiddling of carbon accounting and negotiating of Article 6 is not commensurate to the planetary emergency we face,” Extinction Rebellion said in a statement.Twelve members of the group stood on melting blocks of ice, nooses drawn tight around their necks to symbolize the 12 months remaining until the next summit, when the Paris deal enters a make-or-break implementation phase.Attached to the pile of manure was a short message to leaders saying, “The horses— stops here.”In contrast to a protest held last weekend, in which hundreds of demonstrators blocked one of Madrid’s central shopping streets for a mass disco dance, the mood at the gathering was subdued.’Nothing has really changed'”Even if they reach an agreement, it’s still not enough. This is the 25th COP they’ve had and nothing has really changed,” protester Emma Deane told Reuters from her perch atop an ice block, holding her young daughter in her arms. “She’s going to grow up in a world where there’s no food on the shelves, and that breaks my heart.”Still, Extinction Rebellion spokesman Ronan McNern stressed the importance of humor in the face of the climate crisis.”Out of s— comes the best roses. We hope that the international community comes together to create a beautiful future,” McNern said.

Mexico Disputes Language in US Bill on Ratifying Trade Pact 

Just days after agreement on a pact to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement, Mexico objected Saturday to legislation introduced in the U.S. Congress as part of an eventual ratification of the deal. Jesus Seade, the Mexican Foreign Relations Department’s undersecretary and chief trade negotiator for North America, said most of the bill is in line with the typical process of ratification, but it also adds the designation of up to five U.S. labor attaches in Mexico tasked with monitoring the implementation of the labor reform that is under way in our country.'' Seade said that was not part of the agreement signed December 10 in Mexico City by Mexico, the United States and Canada to replace NAFTA, but was rather the product ofpolitical decisions by the Congress and administration of the United States.” Mexico should have been consulted but was not, Seade said, and, of course, we are not in agreement.'' Mexico said that it resisted having foreign inspectors on its soil out of sovereignty principles, and that the agreement provided for panels to resolve disputes pertaining to labor and other areas. The three-person panels would comprise a person chosen by the United States, one by Mexico and a third-country person agreed upon by both countries. Seade called the designation of labor attachesunnecessary and redundant” and said the presence of foreign officials must be authorized by the host country. “U.S. officials accredited at their embassy and consulates in Mexico, as a labor attache could be, may not in any case have inspection powers under Mexican law,” he added. Sunday trip to WashingtonSeade said that he sent a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer expressing Mexico’s surprise and concern'' over the matter and that he would travel to Washington on Sunday to convey the message personally to Lighthizer and U.S. lawmakers. The elements of House Resolution 5430 in questiondisplay a regrettable mistrust” in the treaty, which was negotiated in the spirit of good faith,'' the letter read. We reserve the right to review the scope and effects of these provisions, which our government and people will no doubt clearly see as unnecessary,” it continued. “Additionally, I advise you that Mexico will evaluate not only the measures proposed in the [bill] … but the establishment of reciprocal mechanisms in defense of our country’s interests.” Mexico’s Senate approved the modifications to the agreement Thursday evening 107-1. 

Johnson’s Win May Deliver Brexit But Could Risk UK’s Breakup

Leaving the European Union is not the only split British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has to worry about.Johnson’s commanding election victory this week may let him fulfill his campaign promise to “get Brexit done,” but it could also imperil the future of the United Kingdom of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Scotland and Northern Ireland didn’t vote for Brexit, didn’t embrace this week’s Conservative electoral landslide — and now may be drifting permanently away from London.In a victory speech Friday, Johnson said the election result proved that leaving the EU is “the irrefutable, irresistible, unarguable decision of the British people.”Arguably, though, it isn’t. It’s the will of the English, who make up 56 million of the U.K.’s 66 million people. During Britain’s 2016 referendum on EU membership, England and much smaller Wales voted to leave bloc; Scotland and Ireland didn’t. In Thursday’s election, England elected 345 Conservative lawmakers — all but 20 of the 365 House of Commons seats Johnson’s party won across the U.K.In Scotland, 48 of the 59 seats were won by the Scottish National Party, which opposes Brexit and wants Scotland to become independent of the U.K.SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon said her party’s “emphatic” victory showed that “the kind of future desired by the majority in Scotland is different to that chosen by the rest of the U.K.”The SNP has campaigned for decades to make Scotland independent and almost succeeded in 2014, when Scotland held a referendum on seceding from the U.K. The “remain” side won 55% to 45%.At the time, the referendum was billed as a once-in-a-generation decision. But the SNP argues that Brexit has changed everything because Scotland now faces being dragged out of the EU against its will.Sturgeon said Friday that Johnson “has no mandate whatsoever to take Scotland out of the EU” and Scotland must be able to decide its future in a new independence referendum.Johnson insists he will not approve a referendum during the current term of Parliament, which is due to last until 2024. Johnson’s office said the prime minister told the Scottish leader on Friday that “the result of the 2014 referendum was decisive and should be respected.”The Scotsman newspaper summed up the showdown Saturday with front page face-to-face images of Sturgeon and Johnson: “Two landslides. One collision course.””What we’ve got now is pretty close to a perfect storm,” said historian Tom Devine, professor emeritus at the University of Edinburgh. He said the U.K. is facing an “unprecedented constitutional crisis” as Johnson’s refusal to approve a referendum fuels growing momentum for Scottish independence.Politically and legally, it’s a stalemate. Without the approval of the U.K. government, a referendum would not be legally binding. London could simply ignore the result, as the Spanish government did when Catalonia held an unauthorized independence vote in 2017.Mark Diffley, an Edinburgh-based political analyst, said Sturgeon “has said that she doesn’t want a Catalonia-style referendum. She wants to do this properly.”There’s no clear legal route to a second referendum if Johnson refuses, though Sturgeon can apply political and moral pressure. Diffley said the size of the SNP’s win allows Sturgeon to argue that a new referendum is “the will of the people.”Sturgeon said that next week she will lay out a “detailed democratic case for a transfer of power to enable a referendum to be put beyond legal challenge.”Devine said the administrations in Edinburgh and London “are in a completely uncompromising condition” and that will only make the crisis worse.”The longer Johnson refuses to concede a referendum, the greater will the pro-independence momentum in Scotland accelerate,” he said. “By refusing to concede it, Johnson has ironically become a recruiting sergeant for increased militant nationalism.”Northern Ireland has its own set of political parties and structures largely split along British unionist/Irish nationalist lines. There, too, people feel cast adrift by Brexit, and the political plates are shifting.For the first time this week, Northern Ireland elected more lawmakers who favor union with Ireland than want to remain part of the U.K.The island of Ireland, which holds the U.K.’s only land border with the EU, has proved the most difficult issue in Brexit negotiations. Any customs checks or other obstacles along the currently invisible frontier between Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland would undermine both the local economy and Northern Ireland’s peace process.The divorce deal struck between Johnson and the EU seeks to avoid a hard border by keeping Northern Ireland closely aligned to EU rules, which means new checks on goods moving between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K.”Once you put a border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland’s going to be part of a united Ireland for economic purposes,” Jonathan Powell, who helped negotiate Northern Ireland’s 1998 peace accord, told the BBC. “That will increase the tendency toward a united Ireland for political reasons, too.”I think there is a good chance there will be a united Ireland within 10 years.”In Scotland, Devine also thinks the days of the Union may be numbered.”Anything can happen,” he said. “But I think it’s more likely than not that the U.K. will come to an end over the next 20 to 30 years.

Chile Security Forces Accused of Gross Violations in Quelling Protests

UN investigators accused Chile’s police and army of indiscriminate violence and gross violations, including torture and rape, in crushing recent mass protests over social and economic grievances.An investigative team from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights produced a 30-page report expressing alarm at the excessive use of force by security agents.     It said Chile’s violent crackdown on protesters resulted in the reported deaths of dozens of people, a high number of injuries, and the arbitrary detentions of thousands of demonstrators.Chile’s Office of the Public Prosecutor says it is investigating 26 deaths.   The report holds state agents responsible for many of these deaths, noting that live ammunition was used in some cases.  The Chilean Ministry of Justice reports that nearly 5,000 people, more than half of whom were police officers, have been injured during the protests.  UN sources say the number of injured is higher than that cited by government officials.  They accuse state agents of unnecessary and disproportionate use of less-lethal weapons, such as anti-riot shotguns, during peaceful demonstrations.Imma Guerras-Delgado headed the mission to Chile, which took place in the first three weeks of November.  She said the demonstrations that have been occurring since mid-October were triggered by multiple causes, including social and economic inequality.”The majority of those who have exercised the right to assembly during this period have done so in a peaceful manner,” Guerras-Delgado said. “We have found that the overall management of assemblies by the police was carried out in a fundamentally repressive manner.”  Guerras-Delgado said the mission is particularly concerned by the use of pellets containing lead.  She said hundreds of people suffered eye injuries, causing blindness in a number of cases, and condemned the brutal suppression of peaceful nationwide protests by the police and army.”Human rights violations documented by OHCHR [Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights] include the excessive or unnecessary use of force that led to unlawful killings and injuries, arbitrary detentions and torture and ill treatment,” she said.   Among its recommendations, the report urges Chile to immediately end the indiscriminate use of anti-riot shotguns to control demonstrations.  It also calls on the government to make sure security forces adopt measures to guarantee accountability for human rights violations and to prevent the recurrence of similar events.

‘Let The Healing Begin,’ British Prime Minister Says After Election

Britain “deserves a break from wrangling, a break from politics and a permanent break from talking about Brexit,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Friday, after his Conservative Party won what Johnson described as an “extraordinary” election.””Let the healing begin,” the prime minister said.Johnson focused his campaigning efforts on the slogan –  “Get Brexit Done.”  He said the parliamentary majority for his Conservative Party will allow him to push through a previously rejected divorce deal with the European Union and carry out Brexit by January 31, 2020.He thanked Labour Party supporters who voted for the Conservative Party for the first time and promised a “One Nation Conservative government.”  “I say thank you for the trust you have placed in us and in me and we will work round the clock to repay your trust and to deliver on your priorities with a Parliament that works for you,” Johnson said.The British leader, who accepted the Queen’s offer earlier Friday to form a government, said there is no one definition for one nation conservatism, “but broadly it refers to the idea the Conservative Party should act for everybody in the UK. That means policies that work for people from different economic backgrounds, from different regions and from the different nations of the UK.”The win gives the Conservatives their biggest margin in parliament since the 1980s.

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