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Brazil’s Bolsonaro calls surging Amazon fires a ‘lie’

BRASILIA – Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro on Tuesday angrily denied the existence of fires in the Amazon rainforest, calling it a “lie,” despite data produced by his own government showing that thousands of fires are surging across the region.

Bolsonaro last year similarly denied a spike in fires that provoked a global outcry, with the right-wing populist trading barbs with French President Emmanuel Macron and other world leaders.

The president’s comments on Tuesday come even as Reuters witnesses in the remote Amazon town of Apui observed smoke blanketing the horizon in all directions during the day and large fires setting the sky aglow at night.

Fires in Brazil’s Amazon for the month of August hit a nine-year high in 2019 and this month so far looks even worse. More than 10,000 fires have been recorded in the first 10 days of August, up 17 percent from the same period a year ago, according to data from the country’s national space research agency Inpe.

But in a speech to other South American leaders on Tuesday, Bolsonaro challenged foreign representatives to fly over the Amazon saying that traveling by air from the far-flung cities of Boa Vista to Manaus, you would not see a single flame.

A Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA) fire brigade member holds a dead anteater while attempting to control hot points in a tract of the Amazon jungle near Apui, Amazonas State, Brazil.
A Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA) fire brigade member holds a dead anteater while attempting to control hot points in a tract of the Amazon jungle near Apui, Amazonas State, Brazil.Reuters

“They won’t find any spot of fire, nor a quarter of a hectare deforested,” the former army captain told a meeting of members of the Leticia Pact, an agreement between Amazon countries to protect the rainforest.

“This story that the Amazon is going up in flames is a lie and we must combat it with true numbers,” he said.

Bolsonaro interfered in Inpe after it released unfavorable data on Amazon deforestation last year, firing the agency’s head Ricardo Galvao who defended his agency’s numbers that showed rising destruction.

In his speech, Bolsonaro argued that Brazil has shown itself capable of protecting the Amazon alone because the majority of the forest is still standing.

He said the Amazon is a wet forest that preserves itself and does not catch fire. The media and foreign governments are presenting a false narrative about the Amazon, he said.

General view of a tract of the Amazon jungle which burns as it is cleared by loggers and farmers near Apui, Amazonas State, Brazil.
General view of a tract of the Amazon jungle which burns as it is cleared by loggers and farmers near Apui, Amazonas State, Brazil.Reuters

Experts say that fires are not a natural phenomenon in the rainforest, but are usually man-made in order to clear deforested land for pasture.

Deforestation rose 34.5 percent in the 12-months through July, compared to the same period a year ago. Forest clearances did fall in July, the first decline in 15 months, a point emphasized by Bolsonaro.

Foreign pressure is mounting on Brazil to protect the world’s largest rainforest, an ecosystem vital to preserving climate change because of the vast amount of carbon dioxide that it absorbs.

Global investors managing more than $2 trillion have threatened to pull their investments out of Brazil’s meatpackers, grains traders and government bonds if Bolsonaro’s administration doesn’t take action on Amazon destruction.

Bolsonaro has dispatched the military to fight fires and deforestation since May, with the armed forces working with environmental agency Ibama to combat fires near Apui, according to Reuters witnesses.

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Australia fires: On kangaroo killing field, from horror to hope

A mob of kangaroos had gathered on the fairway, the last patch of green grass left after fire ripped through the eastern Victoria town on New Year’s Eve, destroying close to 100 homes and thousands of hectares of native habitat. Over 4,000 locals and tourists had to be evacuated by sea after the fires cut the one road in and out of Mallacoota.

The pristine national park that rings the town is home to native wildlife in an abundance unmatched throughout Australia. The fires burned fast, killing animals in their thousands — and even those that made it to the comparative safety of the golf course were often horrifically injured.

The four kangaroos Barton had to euthanize Thursday morning had third degree burns on their paws and faces that were already becoming septic. It was not going to be possible to treat their terrible injuries, forcing vets to put them down.

“I have nightmares,” Barton says, standing on the golf course. Behind him is a healthy couple — a baby kangaroo feeding from its mother. Moments earlier he had used his rifle to euthanize another joey which was too badly burned to hop. The young male was tranquilized first and then put down swiftly and, the vet said, painlessly.

“I’ve been a vet for 40 years, and I still don’t get used to it. Wholesale slaughter is awful. It still brings tears to my eyes.”

The Mallacoota golf course was a sanctuary for animals fleeing Australia's bushfires, but it has become a killing field.

The tears flow as Barton’s wife and clinical partner at Vets for Compassion, Elaine Ong, interjects.

“The animals suffer just as humans do,” she says. “The community has been telling us that they’ve gone through so much trauma and they are further traumatized by seeing the animals suffer. So they are pleased we can come and help the animals.”

It’s somber and difficult work, but leaving distressed animals to suffer through a slower and more painful death is even worse for the pair, who arrived from Melbourne on a trip sponsored by the NGO Animals Australia. Barton and Ong want to draw a line under the horror of the fires that burned almost all the land around Mallacoota, allowing others to begin the task of repopulating wildlife and healing the land.

Resilience and recovery

Southeastern Australia is in the grip of a three-year drought, with significant rain not forecast until April.

The conditions have exacerbated the fires burning across Australia for months, razing homes and wiping out entire towns. Across the country, more than 7.3 million hectares (17.9 million acres) of land has been burned — much of it bushland, forests and national parks, home to the country’s beloved and unique wildlife.

Cutie Pie, an orphan koala, is being cared for by Mallcoota resident Sue Johns. His mother died in the fires.
In New South Wales, the state neighboring Victoria, ecologists estimate that as many as half a billion animals may have been affected by the fires, with millions potentially killed. That figure includes birds, reptiles, and mammals, except bats. It also excludes insects and frogs — meaning the true number is likely much higher.

There are fears that some species may not recover, entering a terminal decline, such is the degree to which the fires have ravaged their populations.

But amid all the bleak news, there is still room for hope that Australia’s unique landscape and wildlife could bounce back.

When the rains finally do come, much bushland could quickly recover — particularly eucalypt forests where koalas live and feed. Beds of ash left by the fire provide nutrients for the seeds of Australian gum trees, which evolved to survive and even thrive from fires.

Much of the vegetation that has burned this summer will naturally rejuvenate — and the koala carers in Mallacoota are already preparing.
Jack Bruce holds Wilbur, a koala rescued from the fires, who he and his partner Alyex Burges are helping rehome.

A short drive from the golf course, volunteers Jack Bruce and Alyex Burges believe they may have found a new home for Wilbur, an adult koala that fled the blazes five days ago. After spending that time in a cage, clinging to a stump and shrouded in a buffet of eucalyptus leaf varieties, he’s going back to the bush.

A fertile gully at the back of Bruce’s family farm has been identified as being relatively unscathed after last week’s flames. But when the pair conduct a cursory check that Wilbur is not going to be put up an already occupied tree, they are shocked to find they have company.

This area was meant to be wiped of life — but up in the canopy is a healthy mother koala with a baby on her back. Birds sing as she takes in some of the 20 hours of sleep the species enjoys a day.

Wilbur gets a tree a few steps down the road. After 10 minutes of wondering whether he’ll give up his blanket and free meals, he crawls out of his cage and up a tree.

Nothing is certain when it comes to wildfire, but the gully Wilbur now shares with his neighbor will hopefully be spared again from fires feared this weekend — it’s surrounded by already burned-out bushland and close to homes. Bruce hopes the two koalas there will be part of the rejuvenation of this previously untouched environment.

“It is sad to go out there and see them suffering. But you have to confront that to give them any chance of survival,” he says. (The survivors will) return back to Mallacoota when it begins to rejuvenate. I think there is hope. It is inspiring and it is encouraging.”

This story has been updated to accurately reflect the number of animals affected by the fires in New South Wales.

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Australia fires live: NSW and Victoria bushfire towns get brief rain reprieve – latest updates

Rain falls on some NSW, Victorian and South Australian bushfire-affected areas, but worse fire conditions are forecast to return. Follow all today’s latest news and live updates

9.19pm GMT

Asked if Scott Morrison’s initial response to the crisis was embarrassing for the nation, Craig Kelly says:

Absolutely not. In fact, what has been disappointing, is that we are a very stoic nation. We have had disasters in the past. Everyone has got behind the leader, we have got in there, done our best to clean it up.

But unfortunately, during an international tragedy, we have seen people actually trying to exploit it for political advantage.

9.16pm GMT

“There is no denialist cult,” Craig Kelly says, about views about climate change within the Morrison government.

He says the debate should be about hazard reduction. Which has already been explained about a million times.

Continue reading…

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NSW fires live: roads closed and second person dead in South Australia bushfires – latest news | Australia news






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Australia fires: blazes ‘too big to put out’ as 140 bushfires rage in NSW and Queensland | Australia news

Dozens of fires will burn across Australia for weeks, fire authorities say, including a “mega-fire”, already the size of greater Sydney, that is too big to put out.

At 6am on Sunday there were 96 bush and grass fires in NSW – 47 of which were not contained. Five fires are at a watch and act level.

Conditions eased on Sunday morning, allowing firefighters a chance to do critical back-burning and containment work ahead of Tuesday, when the mercury is tipped to soar into the 40s in parts of the state.

NSW Rural Fire Service commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said overnight conditions had improved.

“We’ve got much more benign conditions, particularly a dominant easterly influence which will stretch pretty much right across most of our fire grounds,” he told Seven News.

“Which means hundreds – as a matter of fact more than 1600 – firefighters are around again today doing really important and critical back burning and containment-line consolidation to try and gain the upper hand before we see those conditions deteriorate into Tuesday.”

Already this fire season, six people have died and more than 1,000 homes have been lost across NSW and Queensland.

The largest conflagration, the “mega fire” at Gospers Mountain near Sydney’s north-western outskirts, was likely to burn for weeks until substantial rain falls, likely at the end of January or early February.

The NSW Bureau of Meteorology said the largest fires simply could not be extinguished by water-bombing aircraft or firefighting crews on the ground.

“The massive NSW fires are in some cases just too big to put out at the moment … they’re pumping out vast amounts of smoke which is filling the air, turning the sky orange and even appearing like significant rain on our radars,” the bureau said.

The bureau has forecast a grim week ahead, with strong winds forecast for fire-affected areas and no rain relief in sight. A months-long drought in eastern Australia has left bushland tinder dry and prone to ignition, especially from dry lightning strikes.

Temperatures are expected to reach 43C in western Sydney, and 44C in the Hunter region immediately north of Australia’s largest city.

Temperatures will also soar in the state’s north-west, where they are forecast to hit 44C in Bourke and 43C in Colbar.

In Queensland late on Saturday, a shipping container filled with fireworks exploded and residents were forced to flee their homes as an unpredictable fire threatened homes in Bundamba, on the outskirts of the state capital, Brisbane.

Residents within an three-kilometre-squared exclusion zone were ordered out as the firefront was waterbombed but fire crews warned they might not be able to stop the fast-moving blaze.

Conditions have eased off, a spokeswoman for Queensland’s Fire and Emergency Services said on Sunday morning, however are expected to pick up later in the day.

A high fire danger rating is in place for the Darling Downs and Granite Belt to Cape York Peninsula, and will ramp up to severe in the Northern Goldfields and Upper Flinders on Monday.

One home was reportedly destroyed in the Bundamba fire on Saturday night.

The chief scientist at the Australian Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Dr Bidda Jones, said that, beyond the human cost of the fires, the widespread blazes would have a “major impact of biodiversity”.

“Depending on the intensity of the fire, it will have had a massive impact on wildlife,” she said. “And not just on those iconic species like koalas. You have to think of this in terms of how it affects the entire ecosystem.

“You have animals relying on the eucalyptus trees for their primary diet – greater gliders are another example of that. Then you have a whole range of other species living off nectar or the insects in that environment, and there’s going to be a considerable loss of insect life in those fires.”

Jones said animals often preferred old large trees for nesting, the trees most likely to be destroyed by the fires.

“And then with fires that have been burning even at low intensity, leaf litter and all the understorey is gone. That’s providing food and refuge to animals there and the animals they would eat.

“So if you look at the overall picture … the damage has been so extensive, it’s going to have a major impact on biodiversity.”

Much of Jones’s own property, which backed on to national park at Braidwood near the Australian capital, Canberra, was lost to fires this week.

“At this point almost all of that has been burnt, all of that continues forest, up to 31,000 hectares,” she said. “The big trees are still there and we have greater gliders that live in the forest, as well as powerful owls.

“So I’m hoping that they’ll be OK. They’ll have lost nesting holes because the big trees have fallen and it’s the big old trees that have the nesting holes.”

Jones’s property was home to a huge variety of birds, as well as eastern grey kangaroos, swamp wallabies and red wallabies.

“We were going out and meeting kangaroos and red neck wallabies that were moving away from the fire,” she said. “A lot of wombats, I’m not sure what they’re going to eat. All of the forest floor, any grass any shrubs, are gone.”

Jones said her rainfall records showed last month to be the driest November in 40 years. The November average is about 100ml but this year it was 18ml.

The role of climate change in contributing to Australia’s unusually early and fierce fire season has been the subject of acute political debate. The federal government has refused to concede that climate change – and in particular Australia’s continued rising carbon emissions and massive fossil fuel exports – have played any role in the current fire crisis.

The Australian, prime minister Scott Morrison, has consistently said it was “no credible scientific evidence” linking climate change with the fires. This has been rejected by climate scientists, who have said politicians are “burying their heads in the sand while the world is literally burning around them”.

“Anytime I hear ‘don’t talk about climate change’,” Jones said, “anyone in my situation has absolutely no doubt these conditions are extreme and are connected to climate change.”

with Australian Associated Press

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Chicago Mayor Fires Police Superintendent, Citing ‘Ethical Lapses’ : NPR

Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson announced on Nov. 7 that he would retire at the end of the year. On Monday, he was fired by the mayor.

Teresa Crawford/AP

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Teresa Crawford/AP

Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson announced on Nov. 7 that he would retire at the end of the year. On Monday, he was fired by the mayor.

Teresa Crawford/AP

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Monday fired the retiring police superintendent, Eddie Johnson, who she accused of lying about an incident in which he was found asleep at the wheel of his car a few blocks from his home after having drinks on a mid-October night.

Her announcement, at a hastily called news conference, came after reading an inspector general’s report and viewing bodycam video of the incident. Johnson had said that he had neglected to take his blood pressure medication and had been drinking earlier in the evening.

Lightfoot made it clear that she was not buying Johnson’s story.

“The findings … make it clear that Eddie Johnson engaged in conduct that is not only unbecoming, but demonstrated a series of ethical lapses and flawed decision making that is inconsistent with having the privilege of leading the Chicago Police Department,” the mayor said.

The report and video showed that Johnson had repeatedly lied about the events on the night of Oct. 16 and morning of Oct. 17, the mayor said.

“What he portrayed to me, what he portrayed to the public was fundamentally different than what the facts show,” she added.

But Lightfoot declined to be more specific about what the report and video showed, saying she did not want to influence the ongoing investigation and that she was acting “out of deference” to Johnson’s family.

“While at some point, the inspector general’s report may become public and those details may be revealed, I don’t feel like it is appropriate or fair to Mr. Johnson’s wife or children to do so at this time,” she said.

The police who discovered their boss asleep in his car did not administer a sobriety test and allowed him to drive himself home.

Johnson, 59, was chief of patrol when then-mayor Rahm Emanuel appointed him to lead the nation’s third largest police force in 2016 to replace the fired Superintendent Garry McCarthy. Johnson, who never applied for the job as Chicago’s top cop, was selected when Emanuel bypassed three finalists in favor of the former patrolman who was raised in Chicago in an apparent effort to ease tensions between the police department and communities of color.

At the time of his appointment, the police department was reeling from the release of the video depicting the controversial shooting of teenager Laquan McDonald by officer Jason Van Dyke in 2014. Last fall a jury convicted Van Dyke of second-degree murder and earlier this year, he was sentenced to 81 months in prison.

Johnson supervised an expansion of the police force by about 1,000 new officers and the largest roll-out of police body cameras in the country. Overall violent crime declined in November 2019 compared with the same month a year ago.

Last month, Lightfoot and Johnson had appeared together at a news conference announcing he would retire at the end of the year. The mayor praised the reform-minded superintendent who insisted that his decision to leave his post had nothing to do with the October incident. The mayor said she now regrets appearing at that event.

Former Los Angeles police Chief Charlie Beck, who already been named as Johnson’s interim successor, will take immediate control of the police department.

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Trump fires back at former FBI lawyer Lisa Page

President Trump on Monday fired back at former FBI lawyer Lisa Page, who claimed in a new interview she feels “crushed” by his criticism while defending her relationship and anti-Trump texts with an agent.

“When Lisa Page, the lover of Peter Strzok, talks about being ‘crushed’, [sic] and how innocent she is, ask her to read Peter’s ‘Insurance policy’ text, to her, just in case Hillary loses. Also, why were the lovers text messages scrubbed after he left Mueller. Where are they Lisa?” the commander-in-chief tweeted from aboard Air Force One on his way to the NATO summit in London.

Page, 39, opened up about the criticism she has received from Trump in an interview published Sunday, revealing that “It’s like being punched in the gut,” whenever he tweets derogatory posts about her.

Page, who bashed Trump in text messages to her special-agent boyfriend Peter Strzok, told The Daily Beast that she finally decided to speak out after the president acted out a fake orgasm to mock her texts with Strzok during an October rally in Minneapolis.

“Honestly, his demeaning fake orgasm was really the straw that broke the camel’s back,” she told the website.

“I had stayed quiet for years hoping it would fade away, but instead it got worse. It had been so hard not to defend myself, to let people who hate me control the narrative. I decided to take my power back.”

The president made the comment at an October rally in Minnesota.

“I’m telling you Peter, she’s going to win,” Trump said in an apparent imitation of an aroused Page texting Strzok about Hillary Clinton.

“Peter, oh, I love you so much.”

Page also stressed that she had not done anything wrong, despite the president’s allegations.

A Justice Department Inspector General report into allegations by Trump that the FBI spied on his 2016 campaign is expected to be released Dec. 9.

Lisa Page
Lisa PageAP

The texts were released in December 2017, and showed that Page and Strzok had feared that Trump might win the election.

“This man cannot be president,” Page wrote in March 2016.

“She just has to win now,” she said in a July 2016 message, referring to Clinton.

In his texts to Page, Strzok referred to Trump as an “idiot” and a “douche.”

Shortly before the 2016 election, he wrote that the prospect of a Trump presidency made him “scared for our organization.”

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U.S. defense secretary fires Navy chief over handling of SEAL saga

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper fired the Navy’s top civilian after losing confidence in him over his handling of the high-profile case of a Navy SEAL convicted of battlefield misconduct in Iraq, the Pentagon said on Sunday.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper delivers remarks before ringing the closing NASDAQ bell for Veterans Day in New York, New York, November 11, 2019. DoD/Lisa Ferdinando/Handout via REUTERS

Esper also determined that the sailor in question, Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher, should be allowed to retain his Trident pin designating him as a SEAL – effectively ending the Navy’s efforts to carry out a peer review that could have led to his ouster from the elite force.

President Donald Trump had publicly opposed taking away Gallagher’s Trident pin. Trump had already intervened in Gallagher’s case earlier this month, using his authority to restore the decorated officer’s rank and pay and allow him to retire later this year on a full pension.

Navy Secretary Richard Spencer made headlines last week for suggesting a possible split with Trump by saying Gallagher should face a peer review board.

But Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said Spencer also had a private line of communications with the White House.

“Secretary Spencer had previously and privately proposed to the White House – contrary to Spencer’s public position – to restore Gallagher’s rank and allow him to retire with his Trident pin,” Hoffman said.

Spencer never informed Esper of his private proposal, Hoffman said.

Esper decided to ask for Spencer’s resignation after “losing trust and confidence in him regarding his lack of candor over conversations with the White House,” Hoffman said.

Gallagher, 40, was demoted in rank and pay grade after being convicted by a military jury in July of illegally posing for pictures with the corpse of an Islamic State fighter.

On Nov. 15, the White House said in a statement that Trump had restored Gallagher’s rank and had pardoned two Army officers accused of war crimes in Afghanistan. Critics had said such actions would undermine military justice and send a message that battlefield atrocities will be tolerated.

In an appearance on Fox News Channel on Sunday, Gallagher indicated that he hoped to retire next Saturday, “without the board” convening to decide whether he could continue to be a SEAL, considered among the most elite of U.S. fighting forces.

Reporting by Phil Stewart, Patricia Zengerle and Howard Schneider; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall and Peter Cooney

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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