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Net Zero: Australia’s Scott Morrison and His Climate Change Balancing Act

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MELBOURNE, Australia — 

Freak storms, catastrophic bushfires, debilitating drought. Australia knows about extreme weather.

But when hailstones recently struck northern Queensland, just as the government’s junior party was debating a plan to reduce greenhouse emissions, it seemed like a sign from above. The 6-inch chunks of ice pounded cars and shattered windshields.

Days later, the government, with historic support from the junior National Party, endorsed Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s goal of achieving net zero emissions in 2050. Morrison could be a leading voice to replace the world’s reliance on fossil fuels such as oil and gas with cleaner alternatives such as solar or hydrogen.

Instead, he’s headed to the United Nations Climate Change Conference that begins Sunday in Glasgow, Scotland, with a policy light on detail and soundly criticized by many Australians, from scientists to politicians, as leaving other countries to do the heavy lifting as greenhouse gas emissions and global temperatures keep rising.

Australia won’t shut down coal or gas production or exports and there will be no job losses in farming, mining or gas as a result of the international push to address climate change, Morrison told reporters while presenting the plan.

“It’s an energy, trade and economic plan, not just an environmental plan,” he said. “It is not a revolution, but a careful evolution to take advantage of changes in our markets.”

Australian coal not only contributes to the emissions produced domestically, but its fossil fuel export industry — one of the largest in the world — contributes to emissions produced by other countries. It ranks last of 31 wealthy developed countries for its emission performance, according to the research group Climate Council.

Net zero refers to balancing the greenhouse gas emissions going into and coming out of the atmosphere.

Australia’s current 2030 target aims to cut emissions by 26%-28% below 2005 levels, a target that climate experts and other countries say is too low. Morrison said his country is on track to beat the target and reduce emissions by 30% to 35%. That’s considerably short of the 50%-52% target  announced by President Biden in April for U.S. emissions by 2030.

While Australia is a big exporter of carbon-rich fossil fuels, it is also a big and growing exporter of low-carbon new-energy metals needed to replace fossil fuels. It is well placed to benefit from growing demand for metals such as nickel, copper, lithium and cobalt.

Government subsidies for solar energy have led to Australians adopting rooftop solar panels so enthusiastically that the grid operator has had to bring forward plans to upgrade the grid to prevent blackouts.

But adoption of electric vehicles, which can lead to lower carbon emissions, trails other developed nations even though Australia is the world’s biggest exporter of the lithium used in the batteries of vehicles.

When he left for Glasgow on Thursday, Morrison fended off a suggestion from the UK hosts of the conference, known as COP26, that Australia make a more ambitious contribution to the 2030 target.

“We’ve got a plan for Australia. They’ve got a plan for the UK,” Morrison said.

Morrison has been seen as a supporter of the fossil fuel industry at least since February 2017, when, as treasurer, he brandished a lump of coal in Parliament and told lawmakers how the mineral had made Australia one of the wealthiest countries in the world.

The former marketing executive – derisively called “Scotty from marketing” by his critics – won leadership of the conservative Liberal Party and the government when Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull was deposed in a party room battle in 2018. Morrison led the party to a narrow victory in 2019, in part on a promise to take a cautious approach to climate change policies.

“What is important is that I act consistent with the mandate I had from the Australian people,” he told reporters. “They rejected a 45% target at the last election. They endorsed a meet-and-beat target of 26 to 28%, which is what we’ve done.”

In the run up to the climate change conference, politicians, comedians and princes have urged Australia to do more. Comedian Dan Ilic crowdfunded a campaign to take out advertisements in Times Square, mocking Australia’s track record; Prince Charles diplomatically urged Morrison to attend COP26.

The net zero plan Morrison is taking to Glasgow will not look impressive among the 38 nations in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, said Jeremy Moss, a professor of political philosophy at the University of New South Wales.

This “last-minute commitment to net zero will leave Australia more closely aligned with Saudi Arabia than the U.S. and Europe,” Moss said, referring to the Middle Eastern country that is the world’s biggest oil exporter. Saudi Arabia has said it will reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2060 although it doesn’t plan to stop producing oil.

“Australia has lost an opportunity to show how a wealthy democratic country can transition away from dependence on fossil fuel exports,” Moss said.

Apart from not shutting down coal and gas, Morrison’s plan pledges $20 billion in technology investments expected to unlock at least $80 billion of private and public investment in clean hydrogen, carbon capture and storage and energy storage.

Mike Cannon-Brookes, the Australian U.S.-based billionaire and co-founder of software company Atlassian, said Australia’s plan paled in comparison to the UK proposal, which details pathways for every sector to 2037.

Morrison’s plan is meaningless without strong action this decade, Simon Bradshaw, the head of research at the Climate Council, said in an email. The organization favors Australia reducing its emissions by 75% by 2030.

When Morrison says his strategy is about “technology, not taxes,” it’s a reference to the legacy of the impact of climate change policies on Australian politics. Policies to reduce emissions — like a carbon emissions trading scheme or a carbon tax — have been seen by lawmakers to be a threat to jobs and incomes that could cost them votes in elections.

Morrison became prime minister after Turnbull’s plan for an energy and climate change policy made Turnbull unpopular within his party.

National Party support, stemming from the vast Australian countryside where mining and farming are strongholds, is crucial for Morrison if he is to win an election due in the next 12 months. The partnership between the Liberal Party Morrison now leads and the Nationals has lasted 75 years.

The opposition Labor Party led Morrison’s Coalition 54%-46% in a poll published in the Australian newspaper in late October.

Representatives of Australia’s most popular European car, Volkswagen, say it is becoming the biggest seller of affordable EVs everywhere but in Australia because of the government’s failure to adopt tighter restrictions on vehicle emissions such as those required in Europe.

Australia is “an automotive dumping ground for auto engines that our competitors cannot sell in other markets,” said Volkswagen Australia’s Managing Director Michael Barstch. The continued lack of federal leadership on EVs and its aversion to setting emissions targets means “Australia languishes in the automotive third world,” he said.

The Australian government’s climate approach, even after the National Party’s endorsement of Morrison’s plan, means it risks being left behind, particularly as other regions act more resolutely and investment increasingly seeks “green” criteria, some observers say.

“The advantage of adopting meaningful 2030 emission reduction targets now is that the economy won’t be littered with stranded fossil fuel assets in the future,” Moss said.

Petrakis is a special correspondent.

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Original Post: latimes.com

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School Librarians Vilified As the ‘arm of Satan’ in Book-banning Wars

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In her time as a Texas school librarian, Carolyn Foote watched the image of her profession veer from “shrinking violets behind spectacles” cataloging titles to “pedophiles and groomers” out to pollute the minds of the nation’s youth.

“Librarians came from a climate of being so appreciated to hearing this message that we’re reviled,” said Foote, co-founder of Freadom Fighters, an advocacy group for librarians that has nearly 15,000 Twitter followers. “It was an astonishing turn of events.” A lot of librarians are asking themselves whether they want to remain in the profession, she added. “At least five people I know have retired early.”

Once a comforting presence at story circle and book fairs, librarians have been condemned, bullied and drawn into battles over censorship as school and library boards face intensifying pressure from conservatives seeking to ban books exploring racial and LGBTQ themes. Those voices have grown stronger in red states since the pandemic, when parental groups opposed to mask mandates expanded their sights and became more involved in how and what their children were taught.

Recent polls suggest most Americans are not in favor of banning books. But concentrated pressure by politically connected parental groups, said Peter Bromberg, a board member at EveryLibrary, a nonprofit library advisory group, “has librarians facing a great deal of stress. There are signs on people’s lawns calling librarians pedophiles.” They face pressure from principals and administrators over book displays, and “neighbors talk about them being an arm of Satan.”

The Patmos Library in Jamestown, Mich., which lost public funding after a campaign by conservatives, forcing it to rely on donations.
(Joshua Lott / Washington Post via Getty Images)

Some librarians are fighting back; others have lost or left their jobs. The culture wars over books come at a time when about 27% of public libraries have reduced staff because of budget cuts and other reasons, according to a 2021 national survey. Lessa Kanani’opua Pelayo-Lozado, president of the American Library Assn., said librarians’ problems are compounded by attacks that are part of an effort “seeking to abolish diverse ideas and erode this country of freedom of expression. I see it as the dismantling of education.”

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A number of school board meetings in recent years have become explosive and emblematic of the country’s political animosities. Parents yell, boo, shake fists and hold up sexually graphic images in dramas that play out on social media. Similar scenes have erupted at public libraries, including at the Patmos Library in western Michigan, where at least two librarians have quit amid pressure and harassment from residents demanding the removal of LGBTQ books and young adult graphic novels.

Visitors enter the Patmos Library.
(Joshua Lott / Washington Post via Getty Images)

At the library’s December board meeting, librarian Jean Reicher denounced critics a week after the building closed early over fears for the staff’s safety. She said that signs around town labeled her a pedophile and that she’d received abusive phone calls and had cameras pointed at her. Her emotional retort came a month after a campaign led by conservatives succeeded in defunding the library, forcing it to rely on donations.

“We have been threatened. We have been cursed,” said Reicher. “How dare you people. You don’t know me. You don’t know anything about me. You have said I’ve sexualized your children. I’m grooming your children.”

She raised her hands. Her anger welled.

“I have six grandkids out there,” she said, ticking off the offenses aimed at her. “I moved to this town 2½ years ago, and I regret it every day for the last year. This has been horrible,” she continued. “I wasn’t raised this way. I believe in God. I’m a Catholic. I’m a Christian. I’m everything you are.”

School and library boards are encountering demands from conservative lawmakers and parental groups, such as Moms for Liberty and Mama Bears Rising, and in a few instances the far-right extremist group the Proud Boys, to scour libraries of what they consider upsetting pornographic and LGBTQ depictions. Many conservatives criticize schools as overrun with progressive ideas that are confusing children about race and gender.

“By exposing our children to adult concepts such as gender identity we are asking them to carry a load that is much too heavy for them,” Kit Hart, a Moms for Liberty member, said in a video posted last year from a school board meeting in Carroll County, Md. “A 10-year-old should not be reduced to his sexuality.”

A video posted on the Moms for Liberty website shows another one of its members outlining her concerns at a public meeting in Mecklenburg, N.C.: “Parents beware of terms like social justice, diversity, equity, inclusion. Those inherently good things are being used to disguise a biased political agenda,” she said. “Our schools are becoming indoctrination camps and a breeding ground for hatred and division.”

Florida and other states have placed tougher restrictions on books that schools can stock. A Missouri law passed last year makes it a crime for a school to provide sexually explicit material to a student. After a discrimination complaint filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, the U.S. Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights is investigating a Texas school district after a superintendent directed librarians to remove LGBTQ-related books.

“We have been thrown to the forefront of the cultural wars whether we want to be there or not,” said Amanda Jones, a middle school librarian in Livingston Parish, La., who last year broke out in hives and fell into depression after she was threatened for speaking against censorship. “It’s not fun to be vilified in your small town or the country at large. It’s all related to their using political fear and outrage. And they’re using children to do it.”

Jones was skewered by conservative activists, including Citizens for a New Louisiana, after she warned at a library meeting that “hate and fear disguised as moral outrage have no place in Livingston Parish.” A picture of her appeared online with a red circle around her head — resembling a target — and she was called a pig and a supporter of teaching anal sex to 11-year-olds. Someone suggested she should be slapped.

Martha Hickson, a high school librarian in Annandale, N.J., endured similar stress and said she lost 12 pounds in one week after she was accused by a parent at a school board meeting of being a groomer by providing graphic novels and memoirs, such as “Gender Queer” by Maia Kobabe and “Lawn Boy” by Jonathan Evison, that could influence children toward “heinous acts.”

Maia Kobabe holds a copy of her book “Gender Queer: A Memoir” at North Sonoma Regional Park in Santa Rosa, Calif. Her graphic novel about coming out as nonbinary is the most banned book in America.
(Josh Edelson / For The Times)

“What really stung was that my name was used in that context,” said Hickson, 63,whoin 2020 received the American Assn. of School Librarians’ Intellectual Freedom Award. “It was devastating. I broke down and I couldn’t stop crying.” She couldn’t catch her breath, she said, and “couldn’t speak in full sentences. I cracked two teeth from grinding and was fitted with a night guard. I go to the pool now and swim three times a week. It washes the stress away.”

Jessica Brassington, head of the Texas-based Mama Bears Rising, which advocates for increased parental oversight in education, said her intent is not to rebuke librarians or teachers but to get stricter state guidelines on selecting school books in what she sees as a broader war against her Christian faith.

“We want to protect our children. We’ve seen the dark side of what can happen beyond the book. Suicide. Alienation,” said Brassington, whose organization has pressed for the removal of books in school districts and warned against children being indoctrinated by an “evil” sexual agenda.“We want to know what books are available to our children. … The parents are being bypassed.”

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Calls to ban certain books in schools have arisen for generations among liberal and conservative parents, educators and activist groups. Classics such as Mark Twain’s “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and Maya Angelou’s “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” have been pulled from reading lists. Books deemed to be obscene such as “The Catcher in the Rye” and “Tropic of Cancer” were censored for decades. In the 1980s, well-funded and organized groups like the Christian right Moral Majority condemned books on secular humanism.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has pushed laws to restrict school instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation.
(Paul Hennessy / SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Those battles echo today and have accelerated as religious conservatives and right-leaning politicians, including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, have backed bills to limit school instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation. Of the 1,648 titles banned in schools across the country in the 2021-22 school year, according to a PEN America study, 41% had prominent LGBTQ characters or explicitly explored LGBTQ themes.

“It’s hard to compare this to anything other than the Red Scare in the 1950s,” said Foote, a retired high school librarian of 29 years who was named a Champion of Change by President Obama. “There’s nothing else remotely close to this.”

Librarians are being “pushed out of the process of selecting books,” said Tasslyn Magnusson, a Wisconsin writer and teacher who has compiled a national database of books being challenged in school districts. “We’re cutting kids off from all the things they need to function in a diverse society. They’re trying to [keep] kids from learning about the world. How will kids grow into good Americans and global citizens? I just read somewhere James Baldwin got banned.”

School librarians have long been accustomed to hearing from angry parents. Some parents request that their child not be allowed to check out certain books. Demands to remove a book from circulation traditionally go through a committee review process. But librarians have complained recently that thorough reviews are sometimes skipped or influenced by pressure from parental groups.

That pressure in some districts is likely to make for less diverse reading lists as librarians choose not to select certain books. “If librarians are being threatened with lawsuits and fines,” said Pelayo-Lozado, whose association is holding a nationwide conference this weekend that will address book banning, “it can lead to self-censoring.”

Hickson’s school district in New Jersey faced criticism in 2021 when a group of parents wanted “Gender Queer,” “Lawn Boy” and other books removed from the library. A complaint was filed against Hickson with police, but the country prosecutor did not pursue charges. At later school board meetings, a contingent of parents, students and residents urged the board not to purge those titles. A district committee reviewed the books and last year decided to keep them on the shelves.

“But I was still tarred and feathered,” said Hickson. Amid pressure from her union and support in the community, the school board said accusations of “malicious motives” against Hickson were unfounded. “I look at these kids and my heart breaks,” she said. “These groups wanting to ban books have a whole political machinery around them and are using books as proxies to attack people in society.” Kids have to deal with “bullying, slurs and shoving.”

Jones in Louisiana said school libraries are often refuges for students to explore what they may be experiencing along racial and LGBTQ themes.

“A lot of parents supported me but they were scared to speak out because of harassment,” said Jones, president of the Louisiana Assn. of School Librarians. “Some students question their identity and they come to me and ask about LGBTQ books. But the parents want to keep it quiet so the child is not harassed. This whole thing has turned my life upside down.”

Jones is on medical leave until next semester. A defamation suit she filed against two men, including one belonging to the conservative group Citizens for a New Louisiana, was dismissed. She said she will appeal. Last month, state Atty. Gen. Jeff Landry, who is running for governor, announced a tip line for people to “protect” children and report library books that contain “extremely graphic sexual content.”

“They’re using librarians again for their politics,” said Jones, who is writing a book about her ordeal and forming a citizens’ alliance against censorship in the state’s 64 parishes.

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Original Source: latimes.com

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Supreme Court Says It Cannot Determine Who Leaked Draft Abortion Opinion Last Year

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WASHINGTON — 

The Supreme Court said Thursday it has failed to solve the mystery of who leaked its draft opinion last May in the pending abortion case that resulted in overturning Roe vs. Wade.

The leak of the high-profile decision is one of the biggest breaches in court history.

In a statement, the court said Gail Curley, its marshal, interviewed 97 people who worked at the court and had access to draft opinions, and then re-interviewed several of them. But she could not determine who copied the draft opinion and gave it to Politico.

“The Marshal’s team performed additional forensic analysis and conducted multiple follow-up interviews of certain employees. But the team has to date been unable to identify a person responsible by a preponderance of the evidence,” the court said.

The leaked draft confirmed what many had already suspected at the time. Five conservatives led by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. had agreed to overturn the right to abortion established in 1973 and allow states to prohibit some or all such procedures.

The day after the unprecedented leak, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. confirmed the draft opinion was authentic, and he said the breach would not affect the handling of the decision.

In late June, the court issued the 5-4 decision in the Mississippi abortion case, and its opinion closely matched the draft.

The justices said they were shocked and surprised by the leak, and they remain angry over what they described in Thursday’s statement as “an extraordinary betrayal of trust” and a “grave assault on the judicial process.”

Although the justices often argue back and forth when cases are heard in the court, they insist on strict confidentiality when they are writing and revising opinions.

Law clerks are hired for one year and are required to promise they will maintain the confidentiality of these internal debates.

The marshal’s report hinted that she may suspect one or more people were involved in the leak, but lacked evidence to prove that. She also said the COVID-19 pandemic may have played a role because employees were working from home.

“If a court employee disclosed the draft opinion, that person brazenly violated a system that was built fundamentally on trust with limited safeguards to regulate and constrain access to very sensitive information,” she wrote. “The pandemic and resulting expansion of the ability to work from home, as well as gaps in the court’s security policies, created an environment where it was too easy to remove sensitive information from the building and the court’s IT networks, increasing the risk of both deliberate and accidental disclosures of court sensitive information.”

Former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said he had been asked to independently evaluate the court’s internal inquiry, and he pronounced it a “thorough investigation.”

The court said it has not closed the investigation. “The Marshal reports that ‘[i]nvestigators continue to review and process some electronic data that has been collected and a few other inquiries remain pending. To the extent that additional investigation yields new evidence or leads, the investigators will pursue them.”

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ICE Releases Thousands of Migrants Affected by Data Breach

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Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials have released nearly 3,000 immigrants whose personal information, including birthdates and detention locations, was inadvertently posted online by the government, according to U.S. officials.

In late November, officials accidentally posted to the agency’s website the names, birthdates, nationalities and detention locations of 6,252 immigrants who claimed to be fleeing torture and persecution. Immigrant advocates criticized the disclosure, saying it could put people at risk.

ICE will not deport any immigrants affected by the disclosure until they have a chance to raise the issue in immigration court, officials said. But more than 100 immigrants whose information was leaked already had been deported by the time the breach was discovered. Another group — fewer than 10 people, officials said — was deported shortly after the data leak but before those migrants were notified. The agency is willing to help those deportees who wish to return to the U.S. and seek asylum, officials added.

Many immigrants who seek safety in the U.S. fear that gangs, governments or individuals back home will find out that they did so and retaliate against them or their families. To mitigate that risk, a federal regulation generally forbids the release of personal information of people seeking asylum and other protections without approval by top Homeland Security officials.

“Although inadvertent, ICE put lives at risk through this data breach. The commitments ICE has made to those impacted will go a significant way toward mitigating the harm done, but only if ICE is diligent and transparent in making good on its promises,” said Heidi Altman, director of policy at the National Immigrant Justice Center, an immigrant advocacy organization.

The agency should take more proactive action, however, Altman said, and guarantee the safe return of the immigrants already deported so they can make new claims for asylum.

Curtis Morrison, an immigration lawyer in California, said he is planning to file a lawsuit on behalf of more than a dozen immigrant detainees who claim the disclosure put them in danger.

The agency’s “actions are not sufficient to mitigate the harm of ICE’s data breach,” Morrison said in an email Thursday.

ICE’s disclosure of the more than 6,000 names triggered a massive effort by the agency to investigate the causes of the error and reduce the risk of retaliation against immigrants whose information was exposed.

The agency has been contacting immigrants whose information was posted online, including several hundred people who already had been released from custody by the time the information was posted.

The agency mistakenly published the data during a routine update of its website Nov. 28. Human Rights First notified ICE officials about the mistake, and the agency quickly deleted the data. The file was posted to a page where ICE regularly publishes detention statistics. The information was up for about five hours.

“Though unintentional, this release of information is a breach of policy and the agency is investigating the incident and taking all corrective actions necessary,” an ICE spokesperson said in a statement.

Thus far, about 2,900 immigrants named in the leak have been released from custody. An additional 2,200 still in custody will have their cases reviewed for potential release.

ICE officials will allow some immigrants affected by the data disclosure to seek asylum even if they would not normally have been eligible. The agency will not oppose efforts to reopen cases of immigrants affected by the leak.

In December, the Department of Homeland Security inadvertently tipped off the Cuban government that some of the immigrants the agency sought to deport to the island nation had asked the U.S. for protection from persecution or torture.

A Homeland Security official communicating with the Cuban government about deportation flights to the country “unintentionally” indicated that some of the 103 Cubans who could have been placed on a flight had been affected by the late November data breach, ICE officials told Congress in December.

The Homeland Security official did not name any specific individuals. But telling Cuba that some of the potential deportees had been affected by the ICE leak amounted to confirming that they had sought shelter in the U.S. Every person whose information was leaked had sought U.S. protection, and the leak was widely covered in U.S. media.

None of the 103 Cubans have been removed, and ICE officials said that about 90 have been released from U.S. custody as of early January, agency officials said this week.

In December, several members of Congress, including Reps. Norma Torres (D-Pomona) and Nanette Diaz Barragán (D-San Pedro), sent a letter to ICE leadership demanding answers on how the initial leak happened.

“We believe that ICE’s failure to comply with simple regulations to protect asylum seekers have potentially endangered the lives of these vulnerable individuals and their families and urge you to take immediate action to ensure the privacy of this and other sensitive information held by the agency,” the letter stated.

“We are deeply troubled by this news because federal law mandates that the information of people seeking asylum is to be kept confidential,” the letter said. “Several of us frequently receive visits from individuals risking life and livelihood to help their communities thrive in the face of repressive regimes. Some of these courageous individuals go on to seek asylum in the United States — and it is unacceptable to put their information into the hands of bad actors.”

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Original Source: latimes.com

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