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The Rainbows Behind The Coronavirus Crisis

Milan is the V-8 engine of Italy’s economy. Known as an industrial and financial powerhouse, Milan is also famous for its foul air. Now the city and its region, Lombardy, have become the epicenter of Europe’s coronavirus pandemic. To stop the virus’ spread, factories, offices, restaurants and bars are closed. People are ordered to stay at home. The traffic is gone.

And the air is much cleaner. Satellites report a dramatic drop in the region’s air pollution. Since the lockdown started on March 9, the levels of nitrogen oxide in northern Italy have plunged dramatically. NO2 is a toxic gas that can cause inflammation of the body’s air passages. Clean air has been a bright spot in the region’s immense suffering.

Earlier, when China closed down its industry and told residents in the infected areas to shelter in place, the satellites noted a large drop-off in China’s air pollution. Once the virus was contained and China restarted economic activity, pollution picked up.

This is not, of course, a call to freeze the American economy until the U.S. totally wipes out the coronavirus. Business must resume at some point, though let’s pray that our political leaders have the wisdom to retain the ban on large human gatherings until this horrid microbe is under control.

This is merely a call for the world’s industrialized peoples to breathe deeply and think: Clean air is kind of nice. Smog, the kind of air pollution you see and smell, also causes lung disease. And a byproduct of cleaning the air is a lowering of planet-warming gas emissions. Climate change will remain an existential threat long after the coronavirus is tamed.

Perhaps this direct experience — easier to comprehend than the scientists’ complicated models — will build support for a faster move to clean energy. My editor, Alissa Stevens, in notoriously smoggy Los Angeles says, “Skies are clearer than we’ve ever seen.” The city was recently treated to a double rainbow over the Pacific Ocean, visible end to end. Everyone understands that.

The coronavirus has shuttered Venice, Italy. The massive waves of tourists are gone. No day-trippers. No gigantic cruise ships. The remaining Venetians have been ordered indoors.

But for some populations in Venice, social gatherings are booming. Shoals of tiny fish have returned to the canals. The daily flotilla of boats that churned up waves, making the water muddy, has been stilled. The canals are now hosting crabs and new plant life. Large water birds can be seen diving for fish, and ducks are leaving eggs.

Though tourism is Venice’s economic lifeblood, not everyone there is totally unhappy with the quiet. There’s been a growing movement in recent years to curb the city’s overwhelming tourist numbers (20 million a year!) and restore some serenity to “La Serenissima.”

Bad air can add to a virus’ death toll. Researchers in China and the U.S. looked at mortality during the earlier outbreak of the SARS virus. They found that patients in areas with heavy pollution were twice as likely to die from the virus as those living under clearer skies.

Cai Xue’en, a delegate of China’s National People’s Congress, told Bloomberg News that in the wake of the coronavirus epidemic, “I think environmental protection will rank even higher for both the central and local governments.”

No, we don’t want a return to the pre-industrial age. Those who argue that an economy in deep recession, or even depression, is also bad for people’s health have a point. But reduced pollution gives us a window into what we could experience daily were the environment cleaner. Sure, that may involve economic tradeoffs, but some would be worth making for a life more in tune with the Creation.

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at fharrop@gmail.com. To find out more about Froma Harrop and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators webpage at www.creators.com.

Italy’s Prime Minister Renzi To Resign After Referendum Rout

By Crispian Balmer and Gavin Jones

ROME (Reuters) – Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi is set to resign on Monday after suffering a crushing defeat in a referendum over constitutional reform, tipping the euro zone’s third-largest economy into political turmoil.

His decision to quit after just two-and-a-half years in office deals a blow to the European Union, already reeling from multiple crises and struggling to overcome anti-establishment forces that have battered the Western world this year.

Renzi’s emotional, midnight resignation announcement sent the euro lower and jolted stock and bond markets on concerns that early elections could follow, possibly paving the way for an anti-euro party, the 5-Star Movement, to come to power.

But financial markets bounced back later in the morning as European officials played down the prospect of a broader euro zone crisis.

Even Italy’s fragile bank sector, which is looking to raise around 20 billion euros ($21 billion) over coming months, staged a comeback on the Milan exchange after a shaky start.

European Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs Pierre Moscovici dismissed talk of a euro zone crisis, and German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble urged calm. Both said Italy’s institutions are capable of handling a government change, which would be its 64th since 1946.

Italian Economy Minister Pier Carlo Padoan, who has pulled out of scheduled meetings with European finance ministers in Brussels this week, is viewed as a possible candidate to replace Renzi.

Senate President Pietro Grasso and Transport Minister Graziano Delrio have also been tipped as possible successors.

The government crisis could open the door to elections next year and to the possibility of the opposition 5-Star Movement gaining power in the heart of the single currency area. 5-Star, which campaigned hard for a ‘No’ vote, wants to hold a referendum instead on membership of the euro.

“I take full responsibility for the defeat,” Renzi said in a televised address to the nation, adding that he would hand in his formal resignation to President Sergio Mattarella on Monday.

“I will greet my successor with a smile and a hug, whoever it might be,” he said, struggling to contain his emotions when he thanked his wife and children for their support.

“We are not robots,” he said at one point.

Sunday’s referendum was over government plans to reduce the powers of the upper house Senate and regional authorities but was viewed by many people as a chance to register dissatisfaction with Renzi, who has struggled to revive economic growth, and mainstream politics.

“No” won an overwhelming 59.1 percent of the vote, according to the final count. About 33 million Italians, or two-thirds of eligible voters, cast ballots following months of bitter campaigning that pitted Renzi against all major opposition parties, including the anti-establishment 5-Star.

The euro briefly tumbled overnight to 21-month lows against the dollar, as markets worried that instability could deal a hammer blow to Italian banks, especially the troubled Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena. However, by early in the European morning it had largely rebounded. [FRX/]

Monte dei Paschi shares were suspended, initially falling 7 percent before bouncing back to a small gain. Yields on Italy’s benchmark 10-year bond soared to more than 2 percent, but then also retreated back below that mark. [GVD/EUR]

Monte dei Paschi needs to raise 5 billion euros by the end of this month. A consortium of investment bankers supporting its cash call will meet at 1100 GMT on Monday to decide whether to go ahead with it, a source familiar with the situation said.

Mattarella will consult with party leaders before naming a new prime minister – the fourth successive head of government to be appointed without an electoral mandate, a fact that underscores the fragility of Italy’s political system.

In the meantime, Renzi would stay on as caretaker.

The new prime minister, who will need the backing of Renzi’s Democratic Party (PD) to take office, will have to draw up a new electoral law, with 5-Star urging a swift deal to open the way for elections in early 2017, a year ahead of schedule.

“From tomorrow, we will start work on putting together 5-Star’s future program and the team of people that will make up a future government,” said Luigi Di Maio, tipped to be the group’s prime ministerial candidate.

Opinion polls put 5-Star neck-and-neck with the PD.

Renzi, 41, took office in 2014 promising to shake up hidebound Italy and presenting himself as an anti-establishment “demolition man” determined to crash through a smothering bureaucracy and reshape creaking institutions.

Sunday’s referendum, designed to speed up the legislative process, was to have been his crowning achievement.

However, his economic policies have made little impact, and the 5-Star Movement has claimed the anti-establishment banner, tapping into a populist mood that has seen Britons vote to leave the European Union and Americans elect Donald Trump president.

In a moment of relief for mainstream Europe, Austrian voters on Sunday rejected Norbert Hofer, vying to become the first freely elected far-right head of state in Europe since World War Two, choosing a Greens leader as president instead.

But elsewhere, the established order is in retreat. French President Francois Hollande said last week he would not seek re-election next year, and even German Chancellor Angela Merkel looks vulnerable as she seeks a fourth term in 2017.

($1 = 0.9400 euros)

(Additional reporting by Steve Scherer and Isla Binnie; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Pravin Char)

Death Toll In Italian Earthquake Rises To 73: Official

This post was updated at 12:41pm

ACCUMOLI, Italy (Reuters) – A powerful earthquake devastated a string of mountain towns in central Italy on Wednesday, trapping residents under rubble, killing at least 73 people and leaving thousands homeless.

The quake struck in the early hours of the morning when most residents were asleep, razing homes and buckling roads in a cluster of communities some 140 km (85 miles) east of Rome. It was powerful enough to be felt in Bologna to the north and Naples to the south, each more than 220 km from the epicenter.

A family of four, including two boys aged 8 months and 9 years, were buried when their house in Accumoli imploded.

As rescue workers carried away the body of the infant, carefully covered by a small blanket, the children’s grandmother blamed God: “He took them all at once,” she wailed.

The army was mobilized to help with special heavy equipment and the treasury released 235 million euros ($265 million) of emergency funds. At the Vatican, Pope Francis canceled part of his general audience to pray for the victims.

Rescue workers used helicopters to pluck trapped survivors to safety in the more isolated villages, which had been cut off by landslides and rubble.

Aerial photographs showed whole areas of Amatrice, voted last year as one ofItaly‘s most beautiful historic towns, flattened by the 6.2 magnitude quake. Many of those killed or missing were visitors.

“It’s all young people here, it’s holiday season, the town festival was to have been held the day after tomorrow so lots of people came for that,” said Amatrice resident Giancarlo, sitting in the road wearing just his underwear.

“It’s terrible, I’m 65-years-old and I have never experienced anything like this, small tremors, yes, but nothing this big. This is a catastrophe,” he said.

The national Civil Protection Department gave the official death toll of 73 at about 12 hours after the pre-dawn quake struck. Scores more will still believed unaccounted for, with the presence of the summer holidaymakers making it difficult to tally.

DISAPPEARING INTO DUST

Patients at the badly damaged hospital in Amatrice were moved into the streets.

“Three quarters of the town is not there anymore,” Amatrice mayor Sergio Pirozzi told state broadcaster RAI. “The aim now is to save as many lives as possible. There are voices under the rubble, we have to save the people there.”

Stefano Petrucci, mayor of nearby Accumoli, said some 2,500 people were left homeless in the local community, made up of 17 hamlets.

Residents responding to wails muffled by tonnes of bricks and mortar sifted through the rubble with their bare hands before emergency services arrived with earth-moving equipment and sniffer dogs. Wide cracks had appeared like open wounds on the buildings that were still standing.

The national Civil Protection Department said some survivors would be put up elsewhere in central Italy, while others would be housed in tents that were being dispatched to the area.

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said he would visit the disaster area later in the day: “No one will be left alone, no family, no community, no neighborhood. We must get down to work .. to restore hope to this area which has been so badly hit,” he said in a brief televised address.

A spokeswoman for the civil protection department, Immacolata Postiglione, said the dead were in Amatrice, Accumoli and other villages including Pescara del Tronto and Arquata del Tronto.

Most of the damage was in the Lazio and Marche regions. Neighboring Umbria was also affected.

The U.S. Geological Survey, which measured the quake at 6.2 magnitude, said it struck near the Umbrian city of Norcia, while Italy‘s earthquake institute INGV registered it at 6.0 and put the epicenter further south, closer to Accumoli and Amatrice.

INGV reported 150 aftershocks in the 12 hours following the initial quake, the strongest measuring 5.5.

The damage was made more severe because the epicenter was at a relatively shallow 4 km below the surface of the earth. Residents of Rome were woken by the tremors, which rattled furniture, swayed lights and set off car alarms in most of central Italy.

“It was so strong. It seemed the bed was walking across the room by itself with us on it,” Lina Mercantini of Ceselli, Umbria, about 75 km away from the hardest hit area, told Reuters.

Italy sits on two fault lines, making it one of the most seismically active countries in Europe.

The last major earthquake to hit the country struck the central city of L’Aquila in 2009, killing more than 300 people.

The most deadly since the start of the 20th century came in 1908, when an earthquake followed by a tsunami killed an estimated 80,000 people in the southern regions of Reggio Calabria and Sicily.

(Writing by Crispian Balmer and Philip Pullella, reporting by Steve Scherer, Philip Pullella, Stephen Jewkes, Eleanor Biles and Giulia Segreti.; Editing by Nick Macfie, Robert Birsel and Peter Graff)

Europe’s Far Right Is Propagandizing The Brussels Bombing

Following the attacks in Brussels, Belgium that killed at least 30 people and injured many more, EU heads of state issued a joint statement condemning the attacks and reinforcing “European values and tolerance from the attacks of the intolerant.”

Yet while the European Council urged members to “be united and firm in the fight against hatred, violent extremism and terrorism,” right-wing party leaders around Europe used the attacks to justify and extend their xenophobic platforms.

 

In Austria, according to the Wall Street Journal, Heinz-Christian Strache, who serves as one of the leaders of the far right Austrian Freedom Party (FPO), responded to the attacks by saying “[These attacks highlight why] irresponsible mass immigration from the Arab world must be ended once and for all.”

Austrian anti-discrimination organization ZARA has said racism in Austria is higher than ever, with 1201 reported and recorded xenophobic attacks.

With roots dating back to the 1800s, the Freedom Party advocates against EU integration. In the midst of the uncertainty and unrest over Europe’s migration crisis, the FPO managed to win 30 percent of votes in September’s local elections, and sustained that victory in October’s general elections.  

 

In the wake of the Paris terror attacks, France’s far-right party, Front National, aggressively pushed their anti-EU, closed border platform, to huge success: In France’s December election, Front National won a record six million votes in the first round.

After the Brussels bombings, party leader Marine Le Pen made a statement to a Canadian crowd after attending meetings in Quebec:

“We need to take seriously the criminal networks of Islamic fundamentalists that exist in our countries… I’ve maintained this position in France for months. And I will repeat the same thing everywhere I go… I don’t get the sense that Islamic fundamentalism is being treated like the threat it really is. And just like I saw in France in the past, here in Canada, whoever condemns Islamic fundamentalism is accused of Islamophobia.”

Marie Le Pen has been impugned for “thinly veiled racist positions” — positions her father, Jean-Marie, pioneered without any veil — and has been outspoken about the deterioration of French society at the hands of multiculturalism.

 

Under Chancellor Angela Merkel’s leadership, Germany has been incredibly welcoming of refugees. After a video of Germans congregating to warmly welcome the first round of refugees, the world began to look to Germany, and in particular Chancellor Merkel, as a beacon of strength amid global disequilibrium.

But in September 2015, when Deutschland Trend conducted a public opinion poll to measure Germans’ opinions towards the resettlement, results showed that German support for migrants had decreased since Merkel’s initial announcement, and Merkel’s approval ratings had plummeted, with one in two Germans believing that Merkel acted inappropriately.

Germans’ growing discontent with Chancellor Merkel and the Christian Democratic Party have yielded a rise in nationalistic sentiment and right-wing politics.

The right wing Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) — with slogan “Asylum requires borders – Red card for Merkel” — has benefited from increasingly resentment towards Merkel’s Christian Democratic Party.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the migrant crisis has fueled support for the anti-immigration AfD party, and recent public opinion polls show support for the AfD rising while approval for Merkel’s Christian Democratic party decreases.

In the wake of the Brussel attacks, the Alternative Fur Deutschland leader Frauke Petry said “The dream of a colorful Europe is dead, bombed away yet again… Finally accept it. It is time for change!”

 

In the Netherlands, Geert Wilders of the Dutch Freedom Party (PVV) has suggested that Europe should close its borders to Muslims to avoid the “Islamic invasion.”

The PVV advocates for strong assimilation into Dutch culture, and prides itself on being Eurosceptic. With many Dutch dissatisfied with the European Union’s agreement to resettle refugees, the PVV is building a base in Holland.

In fact, according to public opinion polls, the PVV has attracted such a strong following that it could win an election immediately. In a statement issued to Breitbart London, Wilders claimed:

“It is time to act. First of all, we must close our national borders and detain all the jihadists whom we have foolishly allowed to return from Syria. We must also tell people the truth. The cause of all this bloodshed is Islam. We need to de-Islamize the West. That is the only way to safeguard our lives and protect our freedom.”

In a later interview with Breitbart, Wilders continued to denounce the attacks by saying:

“I fear that we ain’t seen nothing yet. According to Europol 3,000 to 5,000 European jihadists, who went to Syria to fight in the ranks of IS and similar terrorist groups, have meanwhile returned to Western Europe. Some of them hid among the hundreds of thousands of Islamic asylum seekers that entered Europe from Asia and Africa… Two of last November’s terrorist in Paris had fought in Syria. So had the terrorist who, last August, attempted to attack the high speed train between Amsterdam and Paris. So had the two terrorists who, in January 2015, massacred the editorial staff of Charlie Hebdo. So had the terrorist who, in May 2014, shot four people at the Jewish Museum in Brussels.”

European Commissioner Hermann Kelly, commented that “[it] is amazing to me that these people can kill people abroad, come here, and then walk free in the centre of Brussels.”

In response to Kelly’s observations,  Wilders said “Returned Syria fighters are a huge threat. They are dangerous predators roaming our streets. It is absolutely unbelievable that our governments allow them to return. And it is incredible that, once returned, they are not imprisoned… In the Netherlands, we have dozens of these returned jihadists. Our government allows most of them to freely walk our streets and refuses to lock them up. I demand that they be detained at once. Every government in the West, which refuses to do so, is a moral access have pushed for closed borders if one of these monsters commits an atrocity.”

Wilders is one of many European leaders that have pushed for closed borders in the wake of recent tragedies.

In addition to his public interviews, Wilder tweeted:

“If I become Dutch Prime Minister next year, I’ll crush Islamic terrorism, close our national borders, and De-Islamize The Netherlands. #nomore”

A few hours later, Wilder posted another tweet that directly blamed Islam for the attacks:

“What are the causes of all these terror attacks?

Islam

Islam

Islam

#StopIslam”

 

Hungary, like many European countries, responded to the migrant crisis with increased nationalistic sentiments.

According to the Hungarian government’s website, the Orban government sent Hungarians a questionnaire to gage their opinions about the migrant crisis. However, economics professor Gyorgy Malovics explained that the questionnaire was framed in nationalistic terms, as it included warnings of Hebdo-style killings and reminders of Hungarian pride.

NPR reports that over one million Hungarians responded to the survey, and the results have been used to justify Hungary’s strictly anti-migrant policies.

According to Express, Orban’s government commissioned the construction of a 110 foot wall along its shared border with Serbia in order to keep migrants out of Hungary.

Yet Orban’s hardline stance was not enough for some Hungarians. The Jobbik Party is even farther to the right, and 20 percent of Hungarians supported them in April elections, a huge increase in support.

Although support for Jobbiks has decreased since April, it should be noted that they were the ones that proposed the fence as well as the military deployment that followed.

Following yesterday’s attacks, Hungarian Foreign Minister stated that “There is no doubt that illegal migration is behind the rise in terror threat”

Representatives from the Orban government responded to the attacks by saying “We’ve said many times: [the] EU have to fully stop illegal migration,

 

As Italy’s Prime Minister Matteo Renzi agreed to European Union demands to accept refugees amidst funding threats, the Italian public began shifting in favor of the Northern League, which boasts a strong anti-immigrant record.

Northern League leaders Gian Marco Centinaio and Massimiliano Fedriga commented to the Wall Street Journal:

“We are astonished and heartbroken for the lives broken by Islamic hate. We aren’t responding, the E.U. institutions are weak, fragile, helpless and are turning the other way, allowing these massacres.”

According to the Wall Street Journal, the Northern League has also called for the closure of Mosques.

Photo: Belgian troops on patrol in cenral Brusselsl following Tuesday’s bomb attacks in Brussels, Belgium, March 23, 2016. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler