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Off-duty Rhode Island cop, ex-GOP state Senate candidate allegedly attacks political opponent at abortion rights rally after Supreme Court Roe ruling

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An off-duty police officer and former Rhode Island Republican state Senate candidate attacked his political opponent during a pro-abortion rights rally following the Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade, the alleged victim said.

The alleged attacker, Jeann Lugo, dropped out of the race Saturday afternoon and is now under investigation. “I will not be running for any office this fall,” he wrote on Twitter, before temporarily deactivating his account.

Jen Rourke, a progressive running for Senate District 29 who identifies herself as a reproductive rights organizer, said that her political rival “violently attacked me” after her speech at the Friday night rally outside the state house in Providence.

“This is what it is to be a Black woman running for office. I won’t give up,” Rourke wrote in a tweet that included a snippet of a video of the incident.

The five-second clip, taken by Bill Bartholomew, a local journalist who runs the Bartholomewtown podcast, appears to show a man throwing two punches at a woman’s head, at least one of which connects with its target.

Courtesy Bill Bartholomew — The Bartholomewtown Podcast

Rourke went to a hospital in Kent, Rhode Island, on Saturday for a CT scan, a campaign spokesman told CNBC.

The Providence Police Department tweeted Saturday that it is “criminally investigating the behavior of an off-duty officer last evening during a protest where a female was assaulted.”

The officer, who is not identified by name in the tweet, has been placed on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the review, the department said. A spokesperson for the department did not immediately respond to CNBC’s requests for comment.

Before dropping out of the state Senate race, Lugo sent a statement to CNBC appearing to defend his actions without denying that he punched Rourke.

“As an officer that swore to protect and serve our communities, I, unfortunately, saw myself in a situation that no individual should see themselves in. I stepped in to protect someone that a group of agitators was attacking,” Lugo’s statement said. “At this moment, there’s a pending internal investigation, and as the facts of the incident come to light, I request that my family and I have privacy.”

Bartholomew, in an interview with CNBC, said that about 1,000 people had attended the rally to protest the Supreme Court’s ruling, which on Friday morning struck down the legal precedents that had protected federal abortion rights for nearly 50 years.

About 10 members of a right-wing group known as the Freedom Fighters also showed up to the event, Bartholomew said. One of those members, who was filming, appeared to be goading some members of the crowd. After being asked to leave, the person at first refused, then started to walk away — but when he turned back toward the crowd, someone punched him in the face and stomped on him, Bartholomew said. “A melee ensued,” the local journalist said, at which point he saw Rourke getting hit in the face.

Neither Lugo nor other members of the crowd who allegedly engaged in violence were arrested at that time, Bartholomew said.

Rourke, in a statement to CNBC from her campaign, said she was “deescalating the situation and the counter-protestor was leaving when the altercation started.”

“I was assaulted as a result of that,” she said.

“This is what it is to be a Black woman running for office. All across this country, people like me are threatened or attacked when they run. I’m not going to stop fighting – for reproductive rights, for the people in my district, or for people like me who want to run for office,” Rourke said.

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New Colombian president pledges to protect rainforest

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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Gustavo Petro, Colombia’s first elected leftist president, will take office in August with ambitious proposals to halt the record-high rates of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest. Petro has promised to limit agribusiness expansion into the forest, and create reserves where Indigenous communities and others are allowed to harvest rubber, acai and other non-timber forest products. He has also pledged income from carbon credits to finance replanting.

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“From Colombia, we will give humanity a reward, a remedy, a solution: not to burn the Amazon rainforest anymore, to recover it to its natural frontier, to give humanity the possibility of life on this planet,” Petro, wearing an Indigenous headdress, said to a crowd in the Amazon city of Leticia during his campaign.

But to do that he first needs to establish reign over large, lawless areas.

The task of stopping deforestation seems more challenging than ever. In 2021, the Colombian Amazon lost 98000 hectares (more than 240,000 acres) of pristine forest to deforestation and another 9,000 hectares (22,000 acres) to fire. Both were down from what they had been in 2020, but 2021 was still the fourth worst year on record according to Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project (MAAP), an initiative of the nonprofit Amazon Conservation Association.

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More than 40% of Colombia is in the Amazon, an area roughly the size of Spain. The country has the world’s largest bird biodiversity, mainly because it includes transition zones between the Andes mountains and the Amazon lowlands. Fifteen percent of the Colombian Amazon has already been deforested, according to Foundation for Conservation and Sustainable Development, or FCDS.

Destruction of the forest has been on the rise since 2016, the year Colombia signed a peace accord with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, that ended decades of a bloody armed conflict.

“The peace process allowed people to return to formerly conflict-ridden rural areas. As the returning population increasingly used the natural resources, it contributed to deforestation and increases in forest fires, especially in the Amazon and the Andes-Amazon transition regions,” according to a new paper in the journal “Environmental Science and Policy.”

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The presence of the State is barely felt in Colombia’s Amazon. “Once the armed groups were demobilized, they left the forest free for cattle ranching, illegal mining and drug trafficking,” said Ruth Consuelo Chaparro, director of the Roads to Identity Foundation, in a telephone interview. “The State has not filled the gaps.”

The main driver of deforestation has been the expansion of cattle ranching. Since 2016, the number of cattle in the Amazon has doubled to 2.2 million. In the same period, about 500,000 hectares (1.2 million acres) of forest were lost, according to FCDS, based on official data.

This cattle expansion goes hand in hand with illegally-seized land, said FCDS director Rodrigo Botero. “The big business deal is the land. The cows are just a way to get hold of these territories,” he told the AP in a phone interview.

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Experts affirm that illegally-seized lands are often resold to ranchers, who then run their cattle free of land use restrictions, such as the propriety’s size.

Most of the destruction occurs in an “arc of deforestation” in the northwestern Colombian Amazon, where even protected areas have not been spared. Chiribiquete, the world’s largest national park protecting a tropical rainforest, has lost around 6,000 hectares (14,800 acres) since 2018, according to MAAP.

During the campaign, Botero took Petro and other presidential candidates on separate one-day trips to the Amazon. They flew over cattle ranching areas, national parks and Indigenous territories.

“A very interesting thing Petro and other candidates said was that they never imagined the magnitude of the destruction.” The feeling of ungovernability made a deep impression on each of them, Botero said.

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Almost 60% of Colombia’s greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture, deforestation and other land use, according to the World Resources Institute. In 2020, under the Paris Agreement, Colombian President Ivan Duque’s government committed to a 51% reduction in emissions by 2030. To do that, it pledged to reach net-zero deforestation by 2030.

The Amazon is the world’s largest tropical rainforest and an enormous carbon sink. There is widespread concern that its destruction will not only release massive amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, further complicating hopes of arresting climate change, but also push it past a tipping point after which much of the forest will begin an irreversible process of degradation into tropical savannah.

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Although it holds almost half of the nation’s territory, the Amazon is the least populated part of Colombia, so historically it is neglected during presidential campaigns.

This year’s campaign was not a complete departure from that. But this year, for the first time, there was a TV presidential debate dedicated solely to environmental issues before the first round in the election. Petro, who was leading the polls then, refused to participate.

In his government program, Petro further promises to prioritize collective land titles, such as Indigenous reservations and zones for landless farmers. He also promises to control migration into the Amazon, fight illegal activities, such as land seizures, drug trafficking and money laundering via land purchases.

Petro’s press manager did not respond to requests for comment.

“Petro has studied and understands deforestation,” said Consuelo Chaparro, whose organization works with Indigenous tribes in the Amazon. But the president alone can do nothing, she said. Her hope is that he will listen and move things forward. “We don’t expect him to be a Messiah.”

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Associated Press climate and environmental coverage receives support from several private foundations. See more about AP’s climate initiative here. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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Commonwealth ends summit with call for action on climate change, trade By Reuters

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© Reuters. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Rwandan President Paul Kagame and Secretary-General of the Commonwealth of Nations Patricia Scotland attend the Leaders’ Retreat executive session on the sidelines of the 2022 Commonwealth heads of Government meeting

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By Ayenat Mersie

KIGALI (Reuters) – The 56 members of the Commonwealth made broad commitments to addressing climate change and boosting trade on Saturday as they concluded a summit aimed at shoring up the relevance of a group that evolved from the British empire.

The club, which covers some 2.5 billion people or about one-third of the world’s population, presents itself as a network for cooperation with shared goals, but critics say it needs to take concrete actions and be more than a talking shop.

The week-long summit in Rwanda’s capital Kigali included comments from Britain’s Prince Charles on Friday expressing sorrow for his country’s role in the trans-Atlantic slave trade, the first time the Commonwealth has publicly addressed the subject.

Some members urged the organisation to go further by discussing reparations to countries affected by the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

There was no mention of the topic in the final communique or news conference, which instead focused on declarations regarding sustainable development, health care and gender equality.

A “Living Lands Charter” charter stated that Commonwealth countries would work to implement previously-signed international agreements like the Paris climate agreement.

“We know that we are at code red when it comes to climate change and that the small member states are facing a crisis that could be existential,” Patricia Scotland, re-elected during the summit as Commonwealth secretary-general, told reporters.

Scotland also touted rising trade between Commonwealth members, which she said she expected to hit $2 trillion per year by 2030 after collapsing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gabon and Togo were newly accepted into the Commonwealth, part of a trend of former French colonies in Africa seeking new alliances beyond Paris’ old networks of influence.

“If the Commonwealth wasn’t alive and vibrant and constructive, why would countries such as Gabon … and Togo join?” Michael Moussa Adamo, Gabon’s foreign minister, told Reuters.

HUMAN RIGHTS

Mostly absent from the summit’s public discussions were awkward issues concerning the host country.

Many human rights groups consider Rwanda among Africa’s most repressive countries. The U.S. State Department has cited credible reports of arbitrary killings by the government, including politically motivated reprisal killings abroad.

Neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo accuses Rwanda of supporting rebels waging a major offensive in eastern Congo.

Rwanda denies all of these charges. At the news conference, Rwandan President Paul Kagame defended Rwanda’s human rights record and accused Western governments of hypocrisy.

“There is nobody that is in prison in Rwanda that should not be there,” he said. “Actually there are people who are not in prison who should be there.”

Also in the spotlight has been Britain’s controversial policy to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda, described as “appalling” by Prince Charles, according to British media. Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Kagame have both defended it.

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