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Wednesday, July 15, 2020
WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) - Parts of the United States saw record levels of high-tide flooding last year as rising seas brought water farther into coastal homes and infrastructure, government scientists reported on Tuesday (July 14). The increase in high-tide flooding along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts since 2000 has been "extraordinary", the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported, with the frequency of flooding in some cities growing fivefold during that time. That shift is damaging homes, imperiling the safety of drinking water, inundating roads and otherwise hurting coastal communities, the agency said. "Conditions are changing, and not just in a few locations," Nicole LeBoeuf, acting assistant administrator for NOAA's National Ocean Service, which compiled the report, said during a call with reporters. "Damaging floods that decades ago happened only during a storm now happen more regularly, even without severe weather." NOAA defines high-tide flooding, also called sunny-day or nuisance flooding, as water rising more than half a metre, or about 20 inches, above the normal daily high-tide mark. The frequency of that flooding has increased because of rising sea levels, which were roughly 13 inches higher nationally last year than in 1920, the agency reported. The number of days with high-tide flooding set or tied records in 19 places around the country last year, including Corpus Christi, Texas, which recorded 18 days of flooding; Galveston, Texas (18 days); Annapolis, Maryland (18 days); and Charleston, South Carolina (13 days). The place with the greatest number of recorded flood days was Eagle Point, Texas, in Galveston Bay; it reported high-tide flooding on 64 days, or almost 1 out of 5 days. Those numbers represent huge jumps in a short period of time. In 2000, Corpus Christi had just three days of tidal flooding; Charleston had just two. The report notes that Charleston recorded just 13 days of high-tide flooding in the more than 50 years that measurements were first kept - the same number that occurred last year alone. That trend is likely to accelerate, the agency said. By 2030, NOAA projected, the frequency of high-tide flooding could double or triple. By 2050, it said, that number could be five to 15 times as great, with the typical coastal community flooding between 25 and 75 days a year. "You see where this is going," LeBoeuf said. "We all need to pay attention." The new data come as the Trump administration continues to play down the threat of global warming, which is the driving factor behind sea-level rise. President Donald Trump is pulling the United States out of the Paris climate accord, and his officials have cited the coronavirus pandemic in efforts to weaken crucial environmental provisions. In a separate report on Tuesday, a government watchdog found that his administration was understating the cost of climate change in its regulations. NOAA, like other government scientific agencies, has been subject to political pressure. The White House pushed the agency to rebuke weather forecasters who contradicted Trump's inaccurate claim last year that Hurricane Dorian would strike Alabama, the agency's inspector general reported last week. Still, the agency has mostly been allowed to continue gathering and releasing data showing the effects of climate change. Tuesday's report opened with what amounted to a warning: "Sea level rise flooding of US coastlines is happening now, and it is becoming more frequent each year." Yet the report was silent on the cause of rising seas, containing no mention of climate change or global warming. "Climate change and carbon emissions are a factor at play when we look at how tides are rising," LeBoeuf acknowledged in the call with reporters, adding the paper had not been reviewed or edited by political officials. But she emphasised that the report, strictly speaking, was limited to data collected from the tide gauges. The question of what is causing seas to rise is, she said, "a little different".
WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - US President Donald Trump said on Tuesday (July 14) California's two largest school districts were making a "terrible mistake" by making students stay home for the upcoming term in the face of the resurgent coronavirus pandemic. The Republican president, in an interview with CBS News, said it was a mistake for Los Angeles and San Diego school districts to provide only online education for the academic year beginning in August. "I would tell parents and teachers that you should find yourself a new person, whoever's in charge of that decision, because it's a terrible decision," Trump said. "Because children and parents are dying from that trauma too. They're dying because they can't do what they're doing." "Mothers can't go to work because all of a sudden they have to stay home and watch their child, and fathers," he said. Trump, who has been reluctant to embrace mandatory face masks ordered by many US governors to control the spread of Covid-19, also told CBS Americans should wear them "if necessary". Against the backdrop of rising cases and deaths, US school districts have been confronted with a difficult choice of resuming classes or using only online teaching, which many parents have called ineffective and burdensome. School districts refusing to send children back to class in the fall, like those in California, are at odds with Trump, who has said he may withhold federal funds or remove tax-exempt status from schools that don't open. Trump's campaign views the reopening of classrooms as a key to economic recovery and a boost to his re-election chances on Nov 3. The nation's 98,000 public schools are a cornerstone of the economy, providing childcare for working parents, employing 8 million workers prior to the pandemic, and preparing some 50 million students to join the U.S. workforce. DEATHS RISE IN 3 SOUTHERN STATES Both Florida and New York state have said students will be allowed to return to school. New York is one of a handful of states where cases continue to fall and positive test rates are about 1 per cent - although it has seen by far the greatest number of deaths overall, at more than 32,000. North Carolina's governor on Tuesday ordered schools to reopen if safety measures can be met but said districts can opt for online learning only. The president's comments came as Alabama, Florida and North Carolina on Tuesday reported record daily increases in deaths from Covid-19, marking grim new milestones of a second wave of infections surging across much of the United States. Florida, which has become an epicentre of the new outbreak, reported 133 new Covid-19 fatalities on Tuesday, raising the state's death toll to more than 4,500. "We must all continue to do our part to protect Florida's most vulnerable and avoid the 3 Cs: closed spaces, crowded places and close-contact settings," Governor Ron DeSantis wrote on Twitter. "Safeguarding the elderly and those with underlying health conditions will continue to be our top priority." Mandi Hawke, who runs a small children's book company from her home in Broward County near Fort Lauderdale, said she recently made her first trip to the local mall in months and was "horrified" by what she saw. "As bad as things are in south Florida, I feel they're only going to get worse. We are not getting a grip on this," said Hawke, 38. Alabama reported a record spike of 40 deaths on Tuesday and North Carolina an increase of 35, bringing each state's total to over 1,100. US Vice-President Mike Pence on Tuesday visited Louisiana, which reported nearly 13,000 new cases last week. The state's attorney general, Jeff Landry, cancelled a meeting with Pence after testing positive for the coronavirus. Landry said he had no symptoms and was taking medication prescribed by his doctor. Related Stories: 
WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - Anthony Fauci, the top infectious disease expert in the United States, warned young people who gamble they can go out to bars and socialise thinking that even if they get sick, it won't be a severe case of Covid-19, they are "inadvertently propagating the pandemic". When asked at a virtual event hosted by Georgetown University who people should trust on the novel coronavirus, Dr Fauci said "respected medical authorities" and added that he thinks he - the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease - is one of them. The most important thing is to "stick to the science and stick to the evidence," he said, and not "get involved in any of the political nonsense" about masks and other issues that have become topics of debate. Many aspects of the virus itself, including who to listen to, how individuals should behave and how aggressively communities should reopen, have become political footballs, with President Donald Trump and members of his administration often at odds over the dangers posed by Covid-19 versus the risks to keeping the economy shuttered. Most recently, the issue of when and how to return students to schools has become a flashpoint, with Mr Trump criticising the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention's guidance as too difficult. "As a general principle we should try as best as possible to keep children in school," Dr Fauci said, noting remote learning's risks for children's development as well as the impact on their families. However the "safety and welfare of the children, and the safety and welfare of teachers" and school staff need to be taken into account in assessing whether a school district can resume in-person classes. While he expects deaths will increase given the recent spikes in cases and hospitalisations, Dr Fauci said he doubts the death rate will return to the levels seen in April, largely because so many of the sick now are younger and less vulnerable. In response to a student's question about the impact of lockdowns on people's mental health, he acknowledged the stress that the pandemic has caused. "The strain on the morale and the mental health of people being put in a really abnormal situation like a lockdown is something you need to consider and balance," he said. Still, "confinements and physical distancing have played an important successful role in getting cases down." Related Stories: 
LONDON (REUTERS) - The United Kingdom could soon recommend face coverings in all public places including offices and other workplaces, the Telegraph reported on Tuesday (July 14), a day after the government said masks will be made mandatory in shops from July 24. Officials have started private talks with groups representing major employers as ministers prepare a "road map" to avoid a second wave of Covid-19, the report added. On Friday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to set out a fresh road map for his long-term strategy, which will include details of how the country will get back to work without risking a second spike, it said. Face coverings inside shops are already compulsory in a few other European countries including Germany, Spain and Italy. Mr Johnson had said last week that tighter rules on wearing face coverings might be needed, while opposition Labour Party criticised his government for not moving sooner in England. Monday's order noted that people who fail to wear face coverings may be fined up to 100 pounds (S$175) - in line with existing fines for people who do not cover their faces on public transport - which would fall to 50 pounds if paid within 14 days. Related Stories: 
Trump administration reverses course on barring many foreign students In a stunning reversal of policy, the Trump administration on Tuesday abandoned a plan that would have forced out tens of thousands of foreign students following widespread condemnation of the move and pressure from colleges and major businesses. US officials announced last week that international students at schools that had moved to online-only classes due to the coronavirus pandemic would have to leave the country if they were unable to transfer to a college with at least some in-person instruction. The government said it would drop the plan amid a legal challenge brought by universities. But a senior US Department of Homeland Security  official said the administration still intended to issue a regulation in the coming weeks addressing whether foreign students can remain in the United States if their classes move online. READ MORE HERE Masks prevented major coronavirus outbreak at US hair salon, study shows Two US hair stylists who wore masks while infected with the coronavirus did not pass on Covid-19 to nearly 140 clients they saw over the course of several days, a study said on Tuesday. The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, which released the report, said the findings added weight to universal face covering policies as a means of slowing the spread of the Sars-CoV-2 virus. On May 12, a hair stylist (stylist A) developed respiratory symptoms at a salon in Springfield, Missouri, and continued working with clients until May 20, when she received a positive test for the new coronavirus. READ MORE HERE China reacts with fury after Britain bans Huawei from 5G networks China reacted with fury after Britain said Huawei Technologies will be banned from its next-generation mobile networks, in a sweeping crackdown on the company that will delay 5G rollout and hit businesses with billions of pounds in extra costs. Liu Xiaoming, China's ambassador to Britain, called the decision "disappointing and wrong," and said it had become "questionable whether the UK can provide an open, fair and non-discriminatory business environment for companies from other countries." Under the blueprint agreed by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, operators will not be able to add any new Huawei components to their 5G networks after Dec 31 this year. READ MORE HERE Football: Giroud guides Chelsea closer to the Champions League Chelsea opened up a four-point cushion over Manchester United and Leicester in the race for a place in the Champions League next season despite making heavy weather of beating already relegated Norwich 1-0 at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday. Olivier Giroud's header in first half stoppage time secured the Blues a much-needed three points with a trip to champions Liverpool and sixth-placed Wolves visiting Stamford Bridge on the last day of the season to come in Chelsea's final two league games of the season. Leicester can narrow the gap when they host Sheffield United on Wednesday, while United travel to Crystal Palace on Thursday. READ MORE HERE Glee star Naya Rivera died of accidental drowning, autopsy finds Glee star Naya Rivera died of accidental drowning, the Ventura County medical examiner said on Tuesday, following the recovery of her body from a lake near Los Angeles. Rivera, 33, was found in the lake on Monday five days after going missing on a boating trip with her young son. The medical examiner's report said there was no indication that drugs or alcohol played a role in her death. READ MORE HERE 
SAN DIEGO • Hundreds of firefighters battled through a second day from the air, land and water to save a US war vessel swept by flames while moored at a San Diego shipyard, as the number of sailors and civilians injured in the blaze rose to nearly 60. The USS Bonhomme Richard, an amphibious assault ship whose size ranks second in the US Navy fleet to that of an aircraft carrier, remained largely shrouded in thick, acrid smoke on Monday as the vessel began listing to its starboard side. The fire, accompanied by at least one large explosion, erupted on Sunday morning in the lower cargo hold of the 257m ship, docked for routine maintenance at its home port at US Naval Base San Diego. Since then, flames have spread throughout much of the ship and up into the tower and other structures on the top of the vessel, Rear-Admiral Philip Sobeck told a news conference on Monday. Because it was undergoing repairs at the time, only about 160 of the ship's usual contingent of 1,000 crew members were aboard at the time and all major munitions had already been removed from the vessel as a standard safety practice, Navy officials said. Helicopters dropped water over the ship throughout Monday while fire boats on the perimeter streamed water on the hull to cool it from the outside. San Diego fire crews discontinued blasting water into the ship from shore, apparently out of concern over destabilising the vessel's buoyancy. Asked whether the ship might be razed beyond repair, Rear-Adm Sobeck said he was "hopeful" it could be spared. "Once we get the fire out, which is our priority, then we'll make that assessment." The fire's cause was unknown, but a Navy spokesman said there was no evidence of foul play. The Navy said 36 sailors and 23 civilians had been treated for minor injuries, including heat exhaustion and smoke inhalation, and no personnel remained hospitalised. The Bonhomme Richard, commissioned in 1998, is designed to carry US Marine Corps attack helicopters and ground troops into battle. REUTERS
NEW YORK (REUTERS) - The Trump administration on Tuesday (July 14) abandoned its attempt to force foreign students to leave the United States if all of their classes are to be taught online this autumn, in a dramatic reversal from a policy announced just last week. US District Judge Allison Burroughs in Massachusetts said the US government and Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology that sued over the measure had come to a settlement that would roll back the new rules and restore the previous status quo. The universities argued the measure was unlawful and would adversely affect their academic institutions. A flurry of lawsuits, including one brought by a coalition of state governments, were filed after Harvard's legal action and major tech companies and dozens of colleges and universities filed "friend-of-the-court" briefs opposing the rule. There are more than a million foreign students at US colleges and universities, and many schools depend on revenue from foreign students, who often pay full tuition. In March, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) waived rules for international students on F-1 and M-1 visas that limit the number of online courses foreign students can take if they want to remain in the United States. The move came as schools shuttered campuses in response to the spreading coronavirus and public health lockdowns. But on July 6, ICE abruptly reversed the policy, blindsiding many universities and colleges that were still making their plans for the fall semester. Many academic institutions are grappling with the logistical challenges of safely resuming classes as the coronavirus pandemic continues unabated around the world, and surges in the United States, especially among young people.
ISTANBUL (AFP) - Turkey's Hagia Sophia will open to visitors outside prayer times and its Christian icons will remain, religious officials said on Tuesday (July 14), after a court ruling paved the way for it to become a mosque. The sixth-century Istanbul landmark's museum status - in place for nearly a century - was revoked on Friday, with control handed to the religious authority Diyanet. The decision sparked condemnation from Western governments, Russia and Christian leaders - Pope Francis saying he was "very distressed". Hagia Sophia was a cathedral for nearly 1,000 years before being converted into a mosque in 1453 and a museum in 1935. Diyanet said in a statement on Tuesday that the Christian icons in Hagia Sophia were "not an obstacle to the validity of the prayers". "The icons should be curtained off and unlit through appropriate means during prayer times," it said. "There is no obstacle from a religious perspective to Hagia Sophia Mosque being open to visitors outside prayer times," the statement added. Hagia Sophia, a major tourist attraction, has been the scene of Islam-linked activities in recent years. In 2018, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan controversially recited a verse from the Koran in the building. Erdogan, who said the first Muslim prayers would begin in Hagia Sofia on July 24, has insisted the building will be open to all, including non-Muslims. In an address to the nation, the Turkish leader promised: "We will preserve Hagia Sophia's status as a cultural heritage the same as our ancestors did. "I want to stress that Hagia Sophia turned into a mosque from a museum, not from a church," he said.
WASHINGTON (AFP) - Nasa's most advanced Mars rover, Perseverance, launches from Earth on July 30, on a mission to seek out signs of ancient microbial life on what was once a river delta three-and-a-half billion years ago. The interplanetary voyage will last six months. Should the SUV-sized vehicle touch down unscathed, it will start collecting and storing rock and soil samples, to be retrieved by a future mission and brought back to Earth in 2031. Perseverance follows in the tire tracks of four rovers before it, all American, which first launched in the late 1990s. Together with satellite and surface probes, they have transformed our understanding of Mars, showing that the Red Planet wasn't always a cold and barren place. Instead, it had the ingredients for life as we know it: water, organic compounds and a favorable climate. Scientists will examine the samples obtained by Perseverance to look for fossilised bacteria and other microbes to try to confirm if aliens did once live on our neighbouring planet. Nasa has been teleworking for months because of the Covid-19 pandemic, but the launch calendar for this US$2.7 billion (S$3.7 billion) mission hasn't been affected. "This mission was one of two missions that we protected to make sure that we were going to be able to launch in July," said Nasa chief Jim Bridestine. Earth and Mars are on the same side of the Sun every 26 months, a window that can't be missed. The United States is the only country on the planet to have successfully landed robots on Mars: four landers, which aren't mobile, and the rovers Pathfinder, Spirit, Opportunity and Curiosity. Of the rovers, only Curiosity is still active, with the others left on the surface after their machinery failed or contact was lost. It's only in the past two decades that it's been confirmed Mars once had oceans, rivers and lakes. Curiosity confirmed the presence of complex organic molecules - but its instruments aren't capable of concluding that they were created by biological processes. The first two landers, Viking 1 and 2, both looked for signs of life as far back as 1976, but haphazardly. "At the time the experiment for life detection was considered to be a complete failure," said G. Scott Hubbard, who launched the current Mars exploration program in the 2000s. Nasa then decided to proceed in stages. By studying the soil, analyzing the molecular composition of rocks, and carrying out satellite observations, geologists and astrobiologists gradually understood where water had flowed, and what areas could have been conducive to life. "Understanding where Mars would have been habitable in the past, and what kind of fingerprints of life you're looking for, was a necessary precursor to then going, at significant expense, to this very well selected spot that would produce these samples," said Hubbard. FOSSIL REMAINS On Feb 18, 2021, Perseverance should land in the Jezero Crater, home to an ancient river that fanned out into a lake between three and four billion years ago, depositing mud, sand and sediment. "Jezero is host to one of the best preserved deltas on the surface of Mars," said Katie Stack Morgan, a member of the science team. On our planet, scientists have found the fossilised remains of bacteria billions of years old in similar ancient deltas. The six-wheeled rover is three meters long, weighs a ton, has 19 cameras, two microphones and a 2m-long robotic arm. Its most important instruments are two lasers and an X-ray which, when projected on rocks, can analyze their chemical composition and identify possible organic compounds. Also on board is the experimental mini-helicopter Ingenuity, which weighs 1.8 kilograms. Nasa hopes it will be the first chopper to take flight on another planet. Perseverance probably won't be able to determine whether a rock has ancient microbes. To know for sure, the samples will have to be brought back to Earth where they can be cut into ultra-thin slices. "Getting true scientific consensus... that life once existed on Mars, I think that would still require a sample return," Ken Williford, deputy head of the science project told AFP. One thing we shouldn't expect are the fossilized shells that people find on Earth, he added. If life once did exist on Mars, it probably didn't have time to evolve into more complex organisms before the planet dried up completely.
BRUSSELS (REUTERS) - European Union countries remain divided over the scale of emissions cuts they are prepared to deliver over the next decade, with some still hesitating to commit to bigger curbs. The bloc has pledged to slash greenhouse gas emissions 40 per cent against 1990 levels by 2030, but that target needs upgrading because scientists say far more rapid cuts are needed to stave off catastrophic climate change. The Commission will propose a 2030 EU emissions cut of 50 per cent or 55 per cent in September, following an impact assessment, and needs to agree the target with member states and lawmakers. In a two-day virtual meeting that ended on Tuesday, environment ministers from the bloc's 27 countries failed to find common ground on whether the target should be raised at all. "Some are sceptical," German Environment Minister Svenja Schulze said after the meeting. "With them... we need to say why this is so important, to get a higher target, and what is the help the European Commission will provide to them to reach such a target." The Commission wants to launch a €40 billion (S$63 billion) EU fund to help fossil fuel-dependent regions decarbonise. However, the investments needed to reach the EU's existing 2030 climate goal are expected to be far higher, at around €2.4 trillion by 2027. Poland, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Romania, Czech Republic and Hungary wrote to the Commission on Monday, saying they will not support a new target until seeing the Commission's impact assessment. "We would like to avoid a situation where we are left wondering what are the real social, environmental and economic costs for us all," said the letter, seen by Reuters. An EU official from one of the signatory nations said a new climate target was unnecessary, but said it would form a firm position after seeing the impact assessment. Spain, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, the Netherlands, Austria and Luxembourg support an emissions cut of at least 55 per cent by 2030.
PARIS (AFP) - French President Emmanuel Macron defended on Tuesday (July 14) the appointment of a minister under investigation over a rape claim, saying nobody should be judged "by the street" or through social media. Mr Macron named 37-year-old Gerald Darmanin as interior minister earlier this month, outraging feminists and sparking street protests. Promotion of the high-flying former budget minister came despite allegations from a woman that Mr Darmanin raped her in 2009 after she sought his help in having a criminal record expunged, a claim he denies. In his first public comments on the controversy, Mr Macron said he respected "the emotion and anger of feminist causes". But he added: "If, from the moment someone is accused, but not tried, they somehow become the victim of judgment by the street or on social networks... our democracy changes its nature and it becomes a democracy of opinion." "I cherish this just cause of the fight against violence and real gender equality," he said during a television interview marking France's national Bastille Day. "But I also cherish what can make our democracy an even stronger democracy - that of not yielding to constant emotion." The president said he had discussed the issue with Mr Darmanin before naming him interior minister. "There is a relationship of confidence - man-to-man - between the president of the republic and the minister who has been named, on the reality of these events and the consequences." The charges against Mr Darmanin were dismissed in 2018 but earlier this year appeals judges in Paris ordered the investigation to be reopened. Thousands protested across France last week with slogans denouncing "the culture of rape on the move", a reference to Mr Macron's Republic on the Move party.