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Archive for June 18th, 2022

Western Europeans wilt in early summer heatwave, compounding climate change fears

A farmer pours water on his face as he works in a greenhouse in southern France on June 17 as western Europe struggles with a heatwave.

(Reuters)Spain is seeing its hottest early summer temperatures, one area of France banned outdoor events, and drought stalked Italian farmers as a heatwave sent Europeans hunting for shade and fretting over climate change.

Such was the heat that England’s upscale Royal Ascot Racecourse even saw a rare change of protocol: guests were allowed to shed hats and jackets once the royals had passed.
“Avoid over-exposing to the sun, hydrate and take care of the most vulnerable so they don’t suffer from heat stroke,” was the advice from Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez in Madrid during an event, fittingly, about desertification.
Temperatures reached 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) in Madrid on Friday, the national weather agency AEMET said. A level not seen so early in the year since 1981.
Northern Italian regions risk losing up to half their agricultural output due to a drought, a farm lobby said, as lakes and rivers start to run dangerously low, jeopardizing irrigation.
The federation of Italian utility companies, Utilitalia, warned this week that the country’s longest river, the Po, was experiencing its worst drought for 70 years, leaving many sections of the vast, northern waterway completely dried up.
The heatwave piled pressure on energy systems as demand for air-conditioning risks driving prices higher, adding to the challenge of building up stocks to protect against any further cuts to Russian gas supplies.
‘Health risk’
In France, the Gironde department around Bordeaux prohibited public events including concerts and those at indoor venues without air conditioning, a local official said.
“Everyone now faces a health risk,” Gironde prefect Fabienne Buccio told France Bleu radio.
Temperatures in many of France’s areas hit 40 Celsius for the first time this year on Thursday and were expected to peak on Saturday, climbing to 41-42 Celsius. A record night temperature for June, 26.8 Celsius, was recorded in Tarascon, southern France.
Fourteen administrative departments were on red alert, with schoolchildren told to stay at home in these areas. Speed limits were lowered in several regions, including around Paris, to limit exhaust emissions and a buildup of harmful smog.
Britain’s weather service said Friday was the hottest day of the year so far, with temperatures above 32 Celsius in some parts of the southeast.
Parks, pools and beaches were packed, and while many enjoyed a day of fun and freedom after two years of periodic pandemic restrictions some were also worried.
“I’m from Cyprus and now in Cyprus it’s raining … and I’m boiling here, so something must change. We need to take precautions about the climate change sooner than later because undoubtedly it’s worrying for all of us,” said student Charlie Uksel, visiting Brighton, south of London.
“Now we are enjoying it, but for the long-term we might sacrifice.”
Mediterranean nations are more and more concerned about how climate change may affect their economies and lives.
“The Iberian peninsula is an increasingly dry area and our rivers’ flow is slower and slower,” Spanish leader Sanchez added.
Firefighters were battling wildfires in several parts of Spain, with Catalonia in eastern Spain and Zamora near the western border with Portugal the worst hit.
In Zamora, between 8,500 and 9,500 hectares turned to ashes.
The cloud of hot air was sparing Portugal on Friday, where temperatures were not as high as in other European nations, with Lisbon likely to reach 27 Celsius.
However, last month was the hottest May in 92 years, Portugal’s weather agency IPMA said. It warned that most of the territory is suffering from a severe drought.
Portugal’s reservoirs have low water levels, with the Bravura dam of the most affected at only 15% full.

Japan’s top court says government not responsible for Fukushima damage

The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant following a strong earthquake, in Okuma town, Fukushima prefecture, Japan, on March 17, 2022.

TokyoJapan’s government is not liable for damages demanded by people whose lives were devastated by the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the country’s top court said on Friday, the first such ruling in a series of similar cases.

The ruling’s effect as a precedent will be closely watched, media said.
A massive tsunami set off by a 9.0 magnitude earthquake off Japan’s northeastern coast on March 11, 2011 struck the Fukushima Daiichi power plant of Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco), causing the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl and forcing hundreds of thousands from their homes.
Plaintiffs demanded damages from both Tepco and the country in several class-action lawsuits, and in March the Supreme Court upheld an order for Tepco to pay damages of 1.4 billion yen to about 3,700 people.
Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno declined direct comment when asked about the ruling at a news conference, though he said he was aware of it.
“Regardless of the ruling, we will stay close to those affected by the disaster and keep on doing our utmost for Fukushima’s reconstruction and revival,” he said.
About 470,000 people were forced to evacuate in the first days after the disaster, and tens of thousands remain unable to return even now.
Lower courts had split over the extent of the government’s responsibility in foreseeing the disaster and ordering Tepco to take steps to prevent it.

Why is Prince Charles headed to Rwanda?

The British royals are going back on tour, after two visits to the Caribbean earlier this year that were marred by anti-monarchy, anti-colonialism demonstrations.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were caught out by photo ops that some criticized for their colonialist undertones. The Prime Minister of Jamaica told the couple in public that his country would be “moving on.” Prince William later conceded that foreign tours were an “opportunity to reflect.”
A follow-up visit to the region by the Earl and Countess of Wessex then had to be rearranged to avoid Grenada, where there have been calls for the UK to pay reparations for slavery. There were concerns in the government that the issue could overshadow the visit.
A visit to Canada by Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall last month was less contentious — while there is a republican movement there, it isn’t rooted to the same extent in issues of slavery and race.
The heir to the throne may be under more scrutiny in Africa next week, when he attends the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in the Rwandan capital, Kigali. While the Queen is the head of the Commonwealth, the role is purely ceremonial and the UK has no more power within the grouping than any other country.
Charles will represent her, which will help prepare everyone for the time when he takes over as head. The question that inevitably surfaces is whether he will be as effective as his mother, but he’s no doubt used to that. The more profound question that comes up is whether, with its origins in the British Empire, the Commonwealth is still relevant.
The Queen and Prince Charles at the last Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in London in 2018.

The location of the 2022 meeting may provide one argument in favor of the organization. The host, Rwanda, only joined the group in 2009 and has no historical ties to the UK. In fact, this will be the first time a member of the royal family has set foot in the country.
“My wife and I much look forward to meeting Commonwealth leaders and, for the first time, being able to visit Rwanda,” Charles said ahead of the visit. “Over the years, I have learned a great deal from the ideas, concerns and aspirations which people across the Commonwealth have so generously shared.”
There will be other engagements built around the main event. Charles will visit a college and a wildlife sanctuary, and attend summits on sustainable business and tropical disease. Camilla will go to a library and later give a speech on violence against women and girls. Together they will lay a wreath at the Genocide Memorial and meet both survivors and perpetrators of the 1994 massacre of Tutsis.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson will also be attending “CHOGM,” as the meeting is known. He won’t be able to avoid questions on his asylum policy, following a storm back home. He has tried and failed — so far — to get legal clearance to fly people seeking asylum in Britain to Rwanda for processing, with successful applicants granted asylum there instead. Charles reportedly described the plan as “appalling.” Photographers will be looking for any signs of tension between the two, though the prince will be keen to avoid any accusations of political interference.
For the inside track on the Rwanda tour, look no further than this newsletter. We will be traveling with Charles and Camilla to and from Kigali. See you back here next week…

WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING?

The Queen hits another milestone!
There were no bells and whistles this time round but Queen Elizabeth II quietly broke yet another record in the past week. On Sunday, she officially became the second longest-serving monarch in world history. The Queen overtook Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who died aged 88, having achieved 70 years and 126 days on the throne between 1946 and 2016. In case you’re wondering, the record for longest-ever reign belongs to Louis XIV of France. He ruled for 72 years, 110 days, from 14 May 1643 to 1 September 1715.
The Queen smiles during a Platinum Jubilee appearance in early June.

William and Kate attend Grenfell memorial service.
The Cambridges paid their respects to bereaved relatives and survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire on Tuesday — exactly five years to the day after the tragedy. The pair chatted with attendees before taking a seat for the multi-faith service at the foot of the building. They joined the congregation in a 72-second silence in memory of the 72 victims who perished in the fire that tore through the west London high-rise. Following the memorial service, the couple laid a wreath in honor of the victims. Back in 2017, William accompanied his grandmother to the site to meet members of the community affected by the blaze.
The Cambridges mark the fifth anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire on June 14 in London, England.

DON’T MISS

Ahead of Prince Charles’ visit to Rwanda, two daughters have written a plea to the heir to the British throne for CNN. Carine and Anaïse Kanimba are the adopted daughters of Paul Rusesabagina, the hotel manager who inspired the film “Hotel Rwanda.” He was convicted of terrorism-related charges and sentenced to 25 years in prison last September, in what his supporters said was a politically motivated show trial. The US State Department said last month that Rusesabagina had been “wrongfully detained.” In an op-ed for CNN, his daughters are asking the visiting royal “not to remain silent” and “to not shake the hand of the tyrant who is holding our father as a political prisoner.”
Read their message for Prince Charles here.

ROYAL TEA BREAK

Most of us have read the tales of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. At the very least you’ve probably seen the 1963 Disney classic “The Sword in the Stone.” Well, it turns out the Arthurian legend has even had a few blue-blooded fans over the centuries. In fact, King Edward III was so taken with it that nearly 700 years ago he created his own group of chivalrous knights — the Order of the Garter.
Now, this elite institution still exists, and every June it gathers for the annual Garter Day procession at Windsor, after which new members are welcomed into the fold, a lunch is put on and then it’s over to St. George’s Chapel for a service. The event is pretty spectacular, as traditionally the Queen and the knights — who are now both male and female — don fabulously grand velvet robes with plumed hats for the parade. Members of the order — 24 in total, as well as certain royal family members — are personally chosen by the sovereign, in recognition of an individual’s service to the nation through public office or to the monarch personally.
The Duchess of Cornwall was installed in the Order of the Garter this year.

This year’s event caused a bit of a stir as former British Prime Minister Tony Blair was invested as a member of the Order of the Garter, becoming “Sir Tony.” Beyond the castle’s walls, Stop the War activists and members of the Free Assange movement protested the former leader’s appointment to the country’s most senior order of chivalry, chanting “war criminal” and holding placards. Separately, there was some royal drama after it was revealed Prince Andrew had been blocked from attending parts of the day. A royal source told CNN Monday that the embattled royal would only be going to the private events and would not be seen in public, in what was understood to be a “family decision.”
Max went deeper into Britain’s oldest and most senior order of chivalry over on TikTok:

PHOTO OF THE WEEK

Prince Charles peeks at the ponies as he and Camilla — along with several other members of the royal family — enjoyed a day at the races for Royal Ascot 2022. Sadly, the Queen wasn’t in attendance, due to her mobility problems, and was probably watching from the comfort of her Windsor home down the road, especially as she had a couple of horses running on Gold Cup day. Both ended up coming second in their races but the events would have still delighted the monarch, according to her racing manager, John Warren.
He told Britain’s PA Media news agency that he was “disappointed for Her Majesty” but “she gets it.” He explained that horses are “her passion, and the Queen would have absorbed everything that was there to be seen. She is so engaged in it that it is nice to know that she is probably seeing more than we do!”

“If we come together to raise the importance of early childhood development, we’ll soon see that healthy, happy individuals make for a healthier, happier world. Which is why every second we spend with a child, is an investment in our collective future.”

The Duchess of Cambridge

Kate, who founded the Royal Foundation Centre for Early Childhood last year, made the remarks as the organization unveiled new research into public perceptions of early childhood development on Thursday. One of the findings revealed that while nine in 10 agree on the importance of early years in shaping a person’s future, less than a fifth recognize the “unique” importance of the period between 0 and 5. Alongside the new research, the duchess hosted a roundtable discussion with representatives from the early years sector, including the UK Secretary of State for Health Sajid Javid and Minister for Families Will Quince.

Putin lambasts the West and declares the end of ‘the era of the unipolar world’

Putin unveils imperialist mission: Taking back land he says is Russia’s 02:59

(CNN)Russian President Vladimir Putin has declared the end of “the era of the unipolar world” in a combative speech that lambasted Western countries at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum on Friday.

“When they won the Cold War, the US declared themselves God’s own representatives on earth, people who have no responsibilities — only interests. They have declared those interests sacred. Now it’s one-way traffic, which makes the world unstable,” Putin told the audience.
The much-hyped speech was delayed by more than 90 minutes because of a “massive” cyberattack. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told journalists in an impromptu conference call that the speech was postponed due to distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks on the conference’s systems.
It was not immediately clear who was behind the attack. Ukrainian IT Army, a hacker collective, named the St. Petersburg Forum as a target earlier this week on its Telegram channel.
Putin’s address at the annual conference, one of his more substantial speeches since he ordered the invasion of Ukraine almost four months ago, was seen as an opportunity for the world to get some insight into his thinking.
Once the Russian president took the stage in the western Russian city, he wasted no time on pleasantries and went straight into attacks on the United States and its allies.
“They live in the past on their own under their own delusions … They think that … they have won and then everything else is a colony, a back yard. And the people living there are second-class citizens,” he said, adding that Russia’s “special operation” — the phrase the Russian government uses to describe its war on Ukraine — has become a “lifesaver for the West to blame all the problems on Russia.”
After accusing western countries of blaming their problems on Russia, Putin tried to pin the blame for rising food prices on the “US administration and the Euro bureaucracy.”
Ukraine is a major food producer, but the Russian invasion has affected its entire production and supply chain. The United Nations has said the war has had a devastating impact on supplies and prices and warned it could push up to 49 million more people into famine or famine-like conditions.
European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said last week that food has become part of the Kremlin’s “arsenal of terror.”
Ukrainian officials have accused Russia of stealing Ukrainian grain, accusations that appear to have been confirmed by satellite images showing Russian ships being loaded with Ukrainian grain. On top of that, Russia is blocking maritime access to the Black Sea ports held by Ukraine, meaning that even the grain that is still under Ukrainian control cannot be exported to the many countries that rely on it.
Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech during a session of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum in St. Petersburg on June 17, 2022.

The long-time Russian leader also blamed the West for trying to hurt the Russian economy, calling the sanctions on Moscow “crazy” and “reckless.”
“Their intention is clear to crush the Russian economy by breaking down the chain the logistical chains, freezing national assets and attacking the living standards, but they were not successful,” he added. “It has not worked out. Russian business people have rallied together working diligently, conscientiously, and step-by-step, we are normalizing the economic situation.”
The Russian president has long framed his decision to launch an invasion of Ukraine as a response to Kyiv’s growing diplomatic and security ties with the West. Last week, he hinted that his aim in Ukraine is the restoration of Russia as an imperial power.

Putin claims Russia ‘forced’ into the conflict in Ukraine

Speaking about his war on Ukraine on Friday, Putin went straight to his propaganda playbook, claiming Russia was “forced” into the conflict.
He called the invasion “the decision of a sovereign country that has an unconditional right … to defend its security.”
“A decision aimed at protecting our citizens, residents of the People’s Republics of Donbas, who for eight years were subjected to genocide by the Kyiv regime and neo-Nazis who received the full protection of the West,” he said.
The two areas — the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) and Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR) — fell under the control of Russia-backed separatists in 2014.
The Kremlin has accused Ukrainian authorities of discriminating against ethnic Russians and Russian speakers in the regions, a charge Kyiv has denied. Starting 2019, Russian passports were offered to the residents of the two entities.
Finally, in late February, Putin announced he would recognize them as independent, a move that was seen as the opening salvo of the war.
He said on Friday that Russian soldiers and the separatists were “fighting to defend their people” in the Donbas and the right to “reject any attempt to impose pseudo values of dehumanization and moral degradation from outside.”
No country other than Russia recognizes the two as independent. Ukraine and the rest of the international community considers the territories to be under Russian occupation.
The European Commission announced Friday that it was recommending Ukraine and neighboring Moldova as EU candidate states, with the commission’s chief Ursula von der Leyen saying that Ukrainians are “ready to die” for the European perspective.
Speaking about the European Union on Friday, Putin said the bloc had “lost its sovereignty.”
“The European Union has fully lost its sovereignty, and its elites are dancing to someone else’s tune, harming their own population. Europeans’ and European businesses’ real interests are totally ignored and swept aside,” he said.
He later added that Russia has “nothing against” Ukraine joining the EU.
“The EU is not a military-political bloc, unlike NATO, therefore we have always said and I have always said that our position here is consistent, understandable, we have nothing against it,” Putin said during a panel discussion following his speech.
“It is the sovereign decision of any country to join or not to join economic associations, and it is up to this economic association to accept new states as its members or not. As far as it is expedient for the EU, let the EU countries themselves decide. Whether it will be for the benefit or to the detriment of Ukraine is also their business,” he said.

Boris Johnson’s wish to pick fights with his old enemies risks making the UK a pariah

‘No way out’: Commentator predicts Boris Johnson’s future 02:10

London (CNN)UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his government have spent much of this week fighting with the EU and rowing with a European human rights court, all while playing down accusations that they are breaking international law and pandering to his party’s base.

On Monday, Johnson’s foreign secretary, Liz Truss, revealed the long-awaited Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, a piece of legislation that, if passed, would allow the British government to unilaterally override parts of the Brexit deal it agreed with the EU in 2019.
Two days later, the EU responded by launching legal proceedings against the UK over its failure to implement parts of the protocol to date, while Maroš Šefčovič, the European Commission vice-president, said that “there is no legal nor political justification whatsoever for unilaterally changing an international agreement … let’s call a spade a spade: this is illegal.”
UK government officials responded angrily by insisting that the bill, if passed, would be perfectly legal. Suella Braverman, the attorney general who gave the new bill a green light, went on television to defend the proposed legislation. In doing so, she accused the BBC of painting the EU as “the good guys” and told ITV’s political editor that his assertion the bill would break that law was “Remaniac make-believe.”
On Tuesday, the Johnson government found itself cursing the name of another European institution, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), after it was forced to abandon a flight that would transport asylum-seekers to Rwanda. The UK announced a deal in April under which asylum seekers in the country could be relocated and granted asylum in Rwanda. The UN’s human rights agency had previously warned the UK that the policy might be unlawful, as it could expose those refugees to human rights abuses in Rwanda.
Demonstrators protest outside of an airport perimeter fence against a planned deportation of asylum seekers from Britain to Rwanda, at Gatwick Airport near Crawley, Britain, June 12, 2022.

The scheme had been widely criticized by human rights organizations, which succeeded in numerous legal challenges against individual removals but failed in their bid for an injunction suspending the flight. However, when the ECHR intervened on Tuesday night, saying that the last asylum seekers due to be on board had not exhausted their legal options in the UK, the plane was grounded.
Again, government ministers responded by insisting that the plan was lawful. Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab has since suggested that the UK will introduce its own Bill of Rights that could effectively allow it to ignore the ECHR.
Johnson’s willingness to have public spats with large, international institutions makes sense when you look at recent history. Both Johnson and his predecessor, Theresa May, picked fights with the judiciary and the EU during the most frustrating days of Brexit. This, so the theory goes among Conservatives, gave both leaders a boost among their core supporters for attacking elitist bodies that were blocking the will of the people.
“Historically, Boris has done well hitting out at big institutions like the EU and courts,” says a former government minister told CNN. “These were not artificial fights, both Rwanda and Northern Ireland are proper government policy. But the hardline way we’ve defended them suggests to me that Boris sees a silver lining,” they added.
In one sense, this logic makes sense. Johnson has been hit by scandal after scandal and has seen his personal approval ratings tank, along with national polling for his Conservative Party.
He has had to fight off a vote among his own party to remove him as leader and on Thursday night saw his own ethics adviser Christopher Geidt resigned, saying that Johnson’s government had put him in an “impossible and odious position.”
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks as he takes questions at the House of Commons in London, Britain June 15, 2022.

So, a fight with the lofty elites in Brussels and Strasbourg over real red-meat Conservative issues like Brexit and immigration could be just what Johnson needs to get things back on track.
However, every time a government becomes so fixated on domestic policy, it risks forgetting that allies and enemies around the world are paying attention.
CNN spoke to multiple Western diplomatic sources who said that Johnson’s government had cast a dark shadow over their perception of the UK. One senior Western official who has worked closely with the UK during the Ukraine crisis said that while allies still coordinated with the UK, the sense of concern that they don’t know what version of Johnson they will get has become normalized.
“He is not Donald Trump, but he is so unpredictable that it’s easy for allies to think of him as being like Donald Trump,” said a Western diplomat.
A European diplomat told CNN that “it’s hard to overstate just how much damage has been done. Trust has been hugely damaged.” They pointed to the issue over Northern Ireland, saying that “on our side, we know that there are solutions to the protocol. But those solutions rely on trust. Why should we trust him not to tear up any new agreement in the future?”
Western officials say, with some sadness, that there were moments in the immediate aftermath of Russia invading Ukraine where they thought Johnson might start behaving like a “stable and predictable” leader, as the Western diplomat put it.
A European official agreed, saying that “there were moments when we looked at the UK with some admiration and thought there might be some path forward. Ukraine was something bigger than our squabbles.”
However, the official continued that this feeling of optimism faded quickly, after Johnson compared the Ukrainian fight for freedom to Brexit.
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the National Service of Thanksgiving held at St Paul's Cathedral as part of celebrations marking the Platinum Jubilee of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, in London, Friday, June 3, 2022.

Conservatives in Westminster have mixed views on how bad this all is. Some worry that Johnson’s continued scandals and rhetoric are making the UK a pariah. Worse, they fear that a country like the UK — a longstanding member of the rules-based, international order — playing so fast and loose with international law sets a terrible precedent at a time when democracy is under threat in many parts of the world.
On the other hand, some MPs think that Johnson’s critics are getting worked up about something that normal people don’t care about. They say, not unreasonably, that a G7, NATO member with a permanent seat on the UN Security Council — and one that has in many respects led the way on Ukraine — is not about to get cut out by its allies.
Ultimately, Johnson’s international spats are most likely to play out in the domestic political arena. Some will love that he is taking a hardline stance. Others will feel a deepening sense of embarrassment that this man is their prime minister.
“If you are in Boris’s position, then you may as well double down on some of this stuff. What does he have to lose?” a senior Conservative MP told CNN. “Either things are so terminally bad that he’s doomed whatever he does, or he’s got two years to turn things around before the election. So why not go out there and have fights on your own pitch?”
That summary makes a lot of sense when you are sitting in Westminster, talking to people who spend too much time in Westminster. However, Johnson’s decisions seriously impact the lives of people who spend no time in Westminster and for whom this really is not a game. Especially as the UK is going through the worst cost-of-living crisis it has suffered in decades.
Johnson won’t know if his red meat gamble has paid off with the public until the next general election — unless he’s removed from office before then. There will undeniably be people who see him as the same Brexit street fighter who stands up for Britain against the bullies seeking to do it down.
But there will be an awful lot of people who think that instead of picking fights with the EU and ECHR, Johnson should be thinking of ways to improve their lives.