US, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait Have not Endorsed a Key Study on Global Warming

As the U.N. global climate conference in Katowice, Poland entered its second week Sunday, the non-governmental environmental organization Greenpeace demanded urgent action from world leaders to tackle climate change.

Greenpeace activists projected a message onto the roof of the “Spodek” arena where the COP24 is being held, saying “No Hope Without Climate Action: and “Politicians Talk, Leaders Act.”

Disappointing many of the scientists and delegates at the conference, the United States, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait refused to endorse a landmark study on global warming which was to be the benchmark for future action in curbing the global warming.

The four nations wanted only to “note” but not “welcome” the report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that was released in October, in keeping with the views of the Trump administration. With no consensus on including the report, the idea was dropped.

U.S. President Donald Trump, who has announced he is pulling the United States out of the Paris climate agreement, tweeted Saturday that “people do not want to pay large sums of money … in order to maybe protect the environment.” 

The IPCC’ report said that drastic actions would be needed to achieve the Paris accord’s most ambitious target of keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius. The report warned that the world was far from that target and heading more towards an increase of 3 degrees Celsius.

On Monday, the environmental ministers arrive at COP24 and many delegates hope that they will make every effort to include the IPCC report in the conference agenda.

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Huge Winter Storm Hits US South

Crews in several southern U.S. states are working Monday to clear roads and restore electricity after a strong storm dumped snow, sleet and freezing rain.

Parts of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia and Tennessee received between 30 and 60 centimeters of snow Sunday.

The storm made roads treacherous, leading to numerous accidents and one reported death from a tree that fell on a car in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Charlotte’s normally busy airport had more than 1,000 canceled flights Sunday.

​Power companies reported the storm knocked out service to more than 300,000 people, the majority of them in North Carolina.

Big snow storms are much more common in northern U.S. states, which are also better equipped to respond to them.

The governors of both Virginia and North Carolina declared a state of emergency before the storm hit in order to help mobilize resources from the state governments to help with recovery efforts.

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Official: Trump Backs $750 Billion Defense Budget Request to Congress

U.S. President Donald Trump has backed plans to request $750 billion from Congress for defense spending next year, a U.S. official said on Sunday, signaling a Pentagon spending hike at a time of potential belt-tightening elsewhere in the government.

Trump, faced with a budget deficit at a six-year high, told his Cabinet earlier this year to come up with proposals to cut spending by their agencies by 5 percent, but he suggested the military would be largely spared.

The $750 billion would be even more than the $733 billion request that the Pentagon had been expected to make for fiscal year 2020. It is also well above a $700 billion figure Trump cited in October.

A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Defense Secretary Jim Mattis had discussed the budget with Trump in recent days and outlined the risks of flat defense spending. The official said that it was clear during that discussion that Trump wanted to “accelerate the progress his administration has made in rebuilding the military.”

In August, Trump signed a $716 billion defense policy bill.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Female Veterans Quietly Struggle With Sexual Harassment, Suicide

Pfc. Nichole Bowen-Crawford said she was walking to lunch on her Army base near Nasiriyah, Iraq, in 2003 when she received her daily proposition from a passing fellow soldier.

“Hey, Bowen,” the officer tossed out, “let’s go f— in the bunker.”

Bowen-Crawford told VOA that while this was the most shocking example of the day-to-day regimen of verbal sexual harassment she experienced while in the Army between 2001-2004, it was not her worst experience — she had been assaulted by a higher-ranking sergeant earlier that year.

When she reported the incident to a male supervisor, she was advised to stay quiet for the sake of her career.

Bowen-Crawford’s experience is not universal, but far from rare.

​Suicide rate

A work environment tolerant of sexual assault and harassment is believed to be one of the causes of high suicide rates among female veterans, which soared more than 45 percent between 2001 and 2015, according to data from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA).

The rate among female veterans is lower than that of male veterans, but not compared to their civilian counterparts. Female veterans are almost twice as likely to kill themselves as civilian women.

“Certainly a mental health diagnosis like PTSD is a risk factor for suicide,” said Megan McCarthy, VA deputy director of suicide prevention. “Certainly, there’s some evidence that experiencing MST (Military Sexual Trauma) is associated with suicidal thoughts and behaviors, so those that have experienced MST are more likely to think about suicide and possibly more likely to attempt suicide.”

McCarthy told VOA that the relationship between suicide and trauma is complex. The VA’s own research has shown that veterans who experience MST tend to be at higher risk for suicide. A 2016 VA survey of 60,000 veterans found that more than 41 percent of female veterans had experienced sexual harassment.

Many believe that the military’s flawed reporting mechanisms have aggravated the epidemic.

Sexual misconduct complaints are often handled by the alleged victim’s supervisor, who may have close ties to the accused. As the Convening Authority (CA), they have the power to act as judge in the case and appoint a jury, as well as decide if the charges should be referred to a court-martial.

Critics say this puts pressure on commanding officers to suppress allegations for the sake of their own reputations. Victims tend to face pressure to stay quiet, as well.

“Traditionally, if you talked about being sexually assaulted or being sexually harassed, you were seen as a troublemaker,” said Toni Rico, a former Army media relations worker who accompanied combat missions and now works as director of communications and policy for Service Women’s Action Network. “You were kind of harassed and faced retaliation. … So there’s this culture within the military of silence, and if you want it to negatively affect your career.”

Defense Department data

Protect Our Defenders, a nonprofit combating sexual assault in the military, has reported that 60 percent of men and 58 percent of women who reported sexual assault faced retaliation, based on an analysis of Department of Defense data. Veterans say retaliation can take the form of insults, social isolation and even physical threats.

But the greatest challenge to female veterans’ mental health may come after they leave service. Many report feeling there is no place for them in the Department of Veterans Affairs’ reintegration and health services, especially for sexual assault survivors.

“This is supposed to be where you get care when you’re dealing with whatever you’re dealing with, from your combat or from your service,” Bowen-Crawford said. “Getting hit on, it can be a trauma trigger.”

Bowen-Crawford said she sought treatment for PTSD elsewhere after being propositioned multiple times.

Outside the government, support groups exclusively for female veterans are rare, as well.

“I walked into an American Legion, and every gentleman I met there commented on the fact I was there and I was a woman Marine,” Dr. Kate Hendricks Thomas, a former Marine teaching public health at Charleston Southern University, told VOA. “They were in the kindest and well-intentioned possible way othering me and saying, ‘Wow, it’s really weird. I’ve never met a woman Marine. It’s weird to meet you.’”

Suicide rates steady for female vets

The lack of community and resources may help explain a 2015 study showing that while suicide rates steadily declined among male veterans of the Iraq War for seven years after leaving service, they remained elevated for women.

For veterans who attempt to kill themselves, the means are deadlier. Women who have served in the military use firearms to attempt suicide 41.2 percent of the time, compared to 32.4 of civilian women. The VA has said this may partly explain why the suicide rates are higher.

Suicide rates in the military and the civilian world have climbed in the last few years, but little public attention has been given to the dramatic rates among female veterans. Some say this may be because while women’s roles in the military are expanding, service is still seen as a traditionally male occupation.

“If you ask somebody what a veteran looks like, they’re not going to tell you that it’s a young woman from Kansas, you know?” Thomas said. “That’s just not the picture of a veteran.”

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World Marks Anti-Corruption Day

Corruption costs the world economy $2.6 trillion each year, according to the United Nations, which is marking International Anti-Corruption Day on Sunday.

“Corruption is a serious crime that can undermine social and economic development in all societies. No country, region or community is immune,” the United Nations said.

The cost of $2.6 trillion represents more than 5 percent of global GDP.

The world body said that $1 trillion of the money stolen annually through corruption is in the form of bribes.

Patricia Moreira, the managing director of Transparency International, told VOA that about a quarter of the world’s population has paid a bribe when trying to access a public service over the past year, according to data from the Global Corruption Barometer.

Moreira said it is important to have such a day as International Anti-Corruption Day because it provides “a really tremendous opportunity to focus attention precisely on the challenge that is posed by corruption around the world.”

​Anti-corruption commitments

To mark the day, the United States called on all countries to implement their international anti-corruption commitments including through the U.N. Convention against Corruption.

In a statement Friday, the U.S. State Department said that corruption facilitates crime and terrorism, as well as undermines economic growth, the rule of law and democracy.

“Ultimately, it endangers our national security. That is why, as we look ahead to International Anticorruption Day on Dec. 9, we pledge to continue working with our partners to prevent and combat corruption worldwide,” the statement said.

Moreira said that data about worldwide corruption can make the phenomena understandable but still not necessarily “close to our lives.” For that, we need to hear everyday stories about people impacted by corruption and understand that it “is about our daily lives,” she added.

She said those most impacted by corruption are “the most vulnerable people — so it’s usually women, it’s usually poor people, the most marginalized people in the world.”

The United Nations Development Program notes that in developing countries, funds lost to corruption are estimated at 10 times the amount of official development assistance.

What can be done to fight corruption?

The United Nations designated Dec. 9 as International Anti-Corruption Day in 2003, coinciding with the adoption of the United Nations Convention against Corruption by the U.N. General Assembly.

The purpose of the day is to raise awareness about corruption and put pressure on governments to take action against it.

Tackling the issue

Moreira said to fight corruption effectively it must be tackled from different angles. For example, she said that while it is important to have the right legislation in place to curb corruption, governments must also have mechanisms to enforce that legislation. She said those who engage in corruption must be held accountable.

“Fighting corruption is about providing people with a more sustainable world, with a world where social justice is something more of our reality than what it has been until today,” she said.

Moreira said change must come from a joint effort from governments, public institutions, the private sector and civil society.

The U.S. Statement Department said in its Friday statement that it pledges “to continue working with our partners to prevent and combat corruption worldwide.”

It noted that the United States, through the U.S. Department of State and U.S. Agency for International Development, helps partner nations “build transparent, accountable institutions and strengthen criminal justice systems that hold the corrupt accountable.”

Moreira said that it is important for the world to see that there are results to the fight against corruption.

“Then we are showing the world with specific examples that we can fight against corruption, [that] yes there are results. And if we work together, then it is something not just that we would wish for, but actually something that can be translated into specific results and changes to the world,” she said.

VOA’s Elizabeth Cherneff contributed to this report.

 

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US to Close Idaho Nuclear Waste Processing Project

Federal officials will shut down an Idaho nuclear waste treatment project after determining it would not be economically feasible to bring in radioactive waste from other states.

The U.S. Department of Energy in documents made public this week said the Advanced Mixed Waste Treatment Project that employs 650 workers will end next year.

Officials said workers are wrapping up processing 85,000 cubic yards (65,000 cubic meters) of radioactive waste at the department’s 890-square-mile (2,300-square-kilometer) site that includes the Idaho National Laboratory.

$500 million plant

A $500 million treatment plant handles transuranic waste that includes work clothing, rags, machine parts and tools that have been contaminated with plutonium and other radioactive elements. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission says transuranic wastes take much longer to decay and are the most radioactive hazard in high-level waste after 1,000 years.

The Energy Department said that before the cleanup began, Idaho had the largest stockpile of transuranic waste of any of the agency’s facilities. Court battles between Idaho and the federal government culminated with a 1995 agreement requiring the Energy Department to clean up the Idaho site.

The Idaho treatment plant compacts the transuranic waste, making it easier to ship and put into long-term storage at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico.

Not cost-effective

Federal officials earlier this year floated the idea of keeping the $500 million treatment plant running in Idaho with waste from other states. The bulk of that would have been 8,000 cubic yards (6,100 cubic meters) of radioactive waste from a former nuclear weapons production area in Hanford in eastern Washington.

Local officials and politicians generally supported the idea because of the good-paying jobs. The Snake River Alliance, an Idaho-based nuclear watchdog group, said it had concerns the nuclear waste brought to Idaho would never leave.

A 38-page economic analysis the Department of Energy completed in August and released this week found “it does not appear to be cost effective due to packaging and transportation challenges in shipping waste” to Idaho.

“As work at the facility will continue into 2019, no immediate workforce impacts are anticipated,” the agency said in an email to The Associated Press on Friday. The Energy Department “recognizes the contribution of this facility and its employees to DOE’s cleanup mission and looks forward to applying the knowledge gained and experience of the workforce to other key activities at the Idaho site.”

The agency said it would also consider voluntary separation incentives for workers.

Unclear where waste to go

With the Idaho treatment plant scheduled to shut down, it’s not clear how the transuranic waste at Hanford and other sites will be dealt with.

The Energy Department “will continue to work to ensure a path forward for packaging and certification of TRU (transuranic) waste at Hanford and other sites,” the agency said in the email to the AP.

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Trump Says Chief of Staff John Kelly to Leave at Year’s End

President Donald Trump says chief of staff John Kelly will leave his job at the end of the year.

Trump isn’t saying immediately who will replace Kelly, a retired Marine general who has served as chief of staff since July 2017. But the president says an announcement about a replacement will be coming in the next day or two.

Trump spoke to reporters at the White House before departing for the Army-Navy football game in Philadelphia.

He calls Kelly “a great guy.”

The West Wing shake-up comes as Trump is anticipating the challenge of governing and oversight when Democrats take control of the House in January, and as gears up for his own campaign for re-election in 2020.

 

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Trump Confirms He’ll Nominate Army General Milley as Next Top Military Adviser

U.S. President Donald Trump has confirmed he will nominate Army General Mark Milley to replace Marine General Joseph Dunford as his next top military advisor.

“I am thankful to both of these incredible men for their service to our Country! Date of transition to be determined,” Trump wrote in a Saturday morning tweet.

Milley is a combat-experienced military leader and the current Chief of Staff of the Army, a position he has held since 2015.

Milley, who commanded troops during multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, must be confirmed by the Senate to serve as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Some military officials at the Pentagon had said Air Force General David Goldfein was also a top contender for the job but added that Milley has a good relationship with the president.

Department of Defense spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Mike Andrews said in a statement Saturday, “We are aware of the President’s nomination and share his confidence for Gen. Mark Milley.”

Trump hinted Friday he would make the announcement Saturday while attending the annual Army-Navy football game in Philadelphia. Instead, he announced it at the White House before departing for Philadelphia.

As the Army’s top officer, Milley helped lead the effort to allow women to serve in front-line infantry and other combat positions. He has worked to reverse a decline in Army recruiting, which fell far short of its annual goal this year.

Milley is an infantry officer by training, and has also commanded Special Forces units.

His career includes deployments in the 1989 invasion of Panama, the multinational mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and the Iraq war.

If confirmed, Milley will replace Dunford, a former commandant of the Marine Corps and commander of coalition troops in Afghanistan. Dunford is expected to serve the remainder of his term as Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman, which ends October 1, 2019.  

 

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In White House Shake-up, Kelly’s Departure Now Seems Certain

President Donald Trump is inching closer to his long-teased major White House shake-up, gearing up for the twin challenges of battling for re-election and dealing with the Democrats’ investigations once they take control of the House.

The biggest piece of the shifting picture: Chief of Staff John Kelly’s departure now appears certain.

Trump announced Friday he was picking a new U.S. attorney genera l and a new ambassador to the U.N. , and at the same time two senior aides departed the White House to beef up his 2020 campaign. But the largest changes were still to come. Kelly’s replacement in the coming weeks is expected to have a ripple effect throughout the administration.

According to nearly a dozen current and former administration officials and outside confidants, Trump is nearly ready to replace Kelly and has even begun telling people to contact the man long viewed as his likely successor.

“Give Nick a call,” Trump has instructed people, referring to Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff, Nick Ayers, according to one person familiar with the discussions.

Like all of those interviewed, the person spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive personnel matters.

Trump has hardly been shy about his dissatisfaction with the team he had chosen and has been weighing all sorts of changes over the past several months. He delayed some of the biggest shifts until after the November elections at the urging of aides who worried that adding to his already-record turnover just before the voting would harm his party’s electoral chances.

Now, nearly a month after those midterms, in which his party surrendered control of the House to Democrats but expanded its slim majority in the Senate, Trump is starting to make moves.

He announced Friday that he’ll nominate William Barr, who served as attorney general under President George H.W. Bush, to the same role in his administration. If confirmed, Barr will fill the slot vacated by Jeff Sessions, who was unceremoniously jettisoned by Trump last month over lingering resentment for recusing himself from overseeing special counsel Robert Mueller’s Trump-Russia investigation.

Sessions was exiled less than 24 hours after polls closed. But Trump’s broader efforts to reshape his inner circle have been on hold, leading to a sense of near-paralysis in the building, with people unsure of what to do.

Trump also announced that State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert is his pick to replace Nikki Haley as the next U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and he said he’d have another announcement Saturday about the military’s top brass.

All this came the same day that Trump’s re-election campaign announced that two veterans of the president’s 2016 campaign, White House political director Bill Stepien and Justin Clark, the director of the office of public liaison, were leaving the administration to work on Trump’s re-election campaign.

“Now is the best opportunity to be laser-focused on further building out the political infrastructure that will support victory for President Trump and the GOP in 2020,” campaign manager Brad Parscale said in a statement.

The moves had long been planned, and will give Kelly’s eventual successor room to build a new White House political team.

Kelly was not at the White House on Friday, but was expected to attend an East Room dinner with the president and senior staff.

Ayers, who is a seasoned campaign veteran despite his relative youth — he’s just 36 — has the backing of Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, the president’s daughter and son-in-law and senior advisers, for the new role, according to White House officials. But Ayers has also faced some resistance. During Trump’s flight home from a recent trip to Paris, some aides aboard Air Force One tried to convince the president that Ayers was the wrong person for the job, according to two people familiar with the matter.

Trump and Kelly’s relationship has been strained for months — with Kelly on the verge of resignation and Trump nearly firing him several times. But each time the two have decided to make amends, even as Kelly’s influence has waned.

Kelly, a retired Marine Corps four-star general, was tapped by Trump in August 2017 to try to normalize a White House that had been riven by infighting. And he had early successes, including ending an open-door Oval Office policy that had been compared to New York’s Grand Central Station and instituting a more rigorous policy process to try to prevent staffers from going directly to Trump.

But those efforts also miffed the president and some of his most influential outside allies, who had grown accustomed to unimpeded access. And his handling of domestic violence accusations against the former White House staff secretary also caused consternation, especially among lower-level White House staffers, who believed Kelly had lied to them about when he found out about the allegations.

Kelly, too, has made no secret of the trials of his job and has often joked about how working for Trump was harder than anything he’d done before, including on the battlefield.

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Stocks Drop 4 Percent in Rocky Week on Trade, Growth Worries

Wall Street capped a turbulent week of trading Friday with the biggest weekly loss since March as traders fret over rising trade tensions between Washington and Beijing and signals of slower economic growth. 

The latest wave of selling erased more than 550 points from the Dow Jones Industrial Average, bringing its three-day loss to more than 1,400. For the week, major indexes are down more than 4 percent. 

Worries that the testy U.S.-China trade dispute and higher interest rates will slow the economy has made investors uneasy, leading to volatile swings in the market from one day to the next.

Dispute between U.S. and China 

On Monday, news that the U.S. and China had agreed to a 90-day truce in their escalating trade conflict drove stocks sharply higher, adding to strong gains the week before. The next day, as doubts mounted over the likelihood of a swift resolution to the trade dispute, stocks sank. On Friday, another early rally faded into another sharp drop.

“We’re in a market where investors just want to sell any upside that they see,” said Lindsey Bell, investment strategist at CFRA. “The volatility we’ve seen the last couple of weeks has been pretty extreme in both directions.”

The S&P 500 index fell 62.87 points, or 2.3 percent, to 2,633.08. The index has ended lower three out of the last four weeks. The Dow dropped 558.72 points, or 2.2 percent, to 24,388.95. 

The Nasdaq composite slid 219.01 points, or 3 percent, to 6,969.25. The Russell 2000 index of small-company stocks gave up 29.32 points, or 2 percent, to 1,448.09.

The S&P 500 and Dow are now in the red for the year again. The Nasdaq was holding on to a modest gain. 

Markets upset since October 

Volatility has gripped the market since early October, reflecting investors’ worries that the Federal Reserve might overshoot with its campaign of rate increases and hurt U.S. economic growth.

Traders also fear that a prolonged trade dispute between the U.S. and China could crimp corporate profits and that tariffs will raises costs for businesses and consumers. Uncertainty over those issues helped drive the market’s sell-off this week. 

“The Fed has taken the punch bowl away in getting back to rates where they are today,” said Doug Cote, chief market strategist for Voya Investment Management. “We’re also going to get back to more normal volatility.”

At the same time, traders are also worried about a sharp drop in long-term bond yields as investors plow money into Treasurys, which tends to happen when investors expect slower economic growth. 

Technology stocks accounted for much of the market’s broad slide Friday. Chipmaker Advanced Micro Devices slid 8.6 percent to $19.46.

Health care stocks take big hit

Health care sector stocks, the biggest gainer in the S&P 500 this year, took some of the heaviest losses. Medical device company Cooper lost 12.3 percent to $243.01.

Utilities, which investors favor when they’re fearful, eked out a slight gain. PPL Corp. gained 2.8 percent to $31.09.

Oil prices rose after OPEC countries agreed to reduce global oil production by 1.2 million barrels a day for six months, beginning in January. The move would include a reduction of 800,000 barrels per day from OPEC countries and 400,000 barrels per day from Russia and other non-OPEC nations. 

The news, which had been widely anticipated, pushed crude oil prices higher. U.S. benchmark crude rose 2.2 percent to $52.61 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, gained 2.7 percent to $61.67 a barrel in London.

The Labor Department said U.S. employers added 155,000 jobs in November, a slowdown from recent months but enough to suggest that the economy is expanding at a solid pace despite sharp gyrations in the stock market. The unemployment rate remained at 3.7 percent, nearly a five-decade low, for the third straight month. 

Bond prices rose, sending yields slightly lower. The yield on the 10-year Treasury fell to 2.86 percent from 2.87 percent late Thursday. 

The decline in bond yields, which affect interest rates on mortgages and other consumer loans, weighed on banks, which make more money when rates are rising. Morgan Stanley slid 3 percent to $41.32.

The dollar rose to 112.66 yen from 112.65 yen late Thursday. The euro strengthened to $1.1418 from $1.1373.

Small gains for gold, silver

Gold gained 0.7 percent to $1,252.60 an ounce. Silver climbed 1.3 percent to $14.70 an ounce. Copper added 0.6 percent to $2.76 a pound.

In other commodities trading, wholesale gasoline climbed 3.7 percent to $1.49 a gallon. Heating oil rose 1.5 percent to $1.89 a gallon. Natural gas gained 3.7 percent to $4.49 per 1,000 cubic feet.

In Europe, Germany’s DAX dipped 0.2 percent while the CAC 40 in France rose 0.7 percent. Britain’s FTSE 100 jumped 1.1 percent. Major indexes in Asia finished mostly higher. 

Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 added 0.8 percent and Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 gained 0.4 percent. South Korea’s Kospi rose 0.3 percent. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng gave up 0.3 percent. 

 

            

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