Defying Trump, Obama administration says it will continue transfers from Gitmo

With Guantanamo’s closure blocked, Obama’s White House has focused on whittling down the number of inmates. The White House on Tuesday pledged to move ahead with the transfer of inmates out of the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, rejecting President-elect Donald Trump’s demand for a freeze. Trump’s declaration is the latest in a series of public disputes between Obama and the outspoken Republican president-elect, who has jettisoned the notion that there is “one president at a time.”
Obama came to office vowing to shutter the facility, saying detention without trial did not reflect American values. With President Barack Obama set to leave office on January 20, White House spokesman Josh Earnest put Trump on notice that more inmates would be moved. George W. “He will have an opportunity to implement the policy that he believes is most effective when he takes office on January 20,” he added. But finding countries to take them has often proven time-consuming. Earnest’s comments come just hours after Trump tweeted that “there should be no further releases from Gitmo. Trump has vowed to “load (Guantanamo) up with some bad dudes” once he is in the White House. “No, it will not,” Earnest said. Bush had released or transferred around 500 inmates before leaving office. But he has run up against political and legal hurdles, Pentagon foot-dragging and stubborn Republican opposition in Congress. Around 20 of the remaining prisoners have been cleared for transfer. Many of the others are in legal limbo — not charged but deemed too dangerous to release. Obama has released or transferred around 179. These are extremely dangerous people and should not be allowed back onto the battlefield.”
There are 59 prisoners remaining at the controversial detention center, only a handful of whom have started moving through the military tribunals, including the alleged plotters of the 9/11 attacks. The White House pointedly responded when asked if Trump’s position would impact Obama’s thinking. “I would expect, at this point, additional transfers,” he said.

The effort to save Syria’s Palmyra gets help from a drone and an algorithm

The war in Syria has lots of people   worried about the country’s future. It gave them plenty of data for use in recreating the ruins with 3D printing. But some are also worried about preserving Syria’s past. Take the ancient city of Palmyra. Ubelmann says they used a drone that could take thousands of photographs per hour. “So we can put into this program the thousands of pictures and create a model of Palmyra that is picture-perfect.”
Ubelmann believes that heritage can be rebuilt digitally. ISIS militants destroyed part of it, and they rigged many of the sites there with explosives before they were driven out last spring. So an architect working with the Syrian government had an idea: Send in a drone. “We use a picture to show how nice these sites are. French President François Hollande opened it, and The New York Times reports that he “described the works as ‘an act of resistance’ against terror and intolerance.”
How it got to Paris was a story itself. The result is an art exhibit, “Eternal Sites: From Bamiyan to Palmyra,”   on display in Paris. And I also think it’s a response to violent people who try to destroy sites like Palmyra and Bamiyan [in Afghanistan],” he says. “The situation wasn’t very stable,” says Yves Ubelmann, co-founder of Iconem, the group behind the project. “The problem is that this destruction is the result of ignorance. He also says it’s a way to combat ISIS propaganda. And if we give these people the culture and a way to love this heritage I think we can fight violence in this way.”
As for Palmyra, it’s still in a war zone. But Ubelmann hopes his team can return and protect what’s left. “We use a specific algorithm that is able to reconstruct a 3D model based on 2D pictures,” he says. “It was difficult for us to stay on the site.”
But in the little time they did stay, much was done.

Smog in New York City could be affecting the stock market, new research says

This article is based on an interview that aired on PRI’s Living on Earth with Steve Curwood. A very large change in particulate matter leads only to a “moderate-to-small-size effect on returns.” If particulate matter rises from the bottom 25th percentile, the best quartile, to the 75th percentile, the worst quartile, returns would decrease by two basis points, Neidell says.

When particle pollution rises, the market goes down by small but measurable amounts, says team leader   Matthew Neidell, an associate professor at Columbia University. So, if we’re doing a study in Beijing or London, where air quality is generally worse, we might see much bigger changes.”
‘A role for mood and emotions’
Neidell says his study builds on previous research that has found various effects of air pollution on human well-being, beyond health. High levels of “fine particulate matter” (PM2.5) in the air — such as in haze or smog — can lower the stock market, a research team at Columbia University has found.Player utilitiesPopout
downloadThis story is based on a radio interview. What’s interesting about this is that in New York City, the air quality is actually surprisingly good. “This is a .02 percent decrease, so it’s not the most enormous effect, but we do see it.”
Two cents on the dollar may not sound like   a big deal, but traders make a lot of money by consistently squeezing a 10th of a penny out of many, many transactions. “We had a small inkling that there might be a relationship between these two [things], but we were going a bit on a whim … We were surprised to find as robust of an effect as we did. More pertinent to this study, however, was evidence showing that when someone’s mood drops or their   mental abilities falter, they tend to become more risk averse in the decisions they make, Neidell says. “They pass through our lung barrier and into our blood, which can have effects.”
What surprised the researchers the most was the fact that they “found any relationship at all” between pollution and the behavior of traders on the exchange, Neidell says. Traders may, for example, move away from stocks and shift toward bonds, which are typically safer bets. They were able to compare the times when air pollution   reached   certain levels   with the returns on the Standard & Poor’s 500 index for that same day. We think that has important implications for the effects on the economy on a broader level,” he says. “Given how small they are, they’re able to penetrate deep within our body,” Neidell explains. There’s a role for moods and emotions and things like that affecting a stock price.”
“The other thing that we think is interesting from a policy perspective is that pollution is affecting the performance of workers in a high-skilled occupation, in a very knowledge-based setting. Neidell sees two important features of his results: “The first is that there’s a strongly held belief that stock markets work efficiently — something called the ‘efficient market hypothesis’ — that the price of a stock solely reflects the expected future profitability of a firm,” he says. Results from previous studies have indicated that air pollution might influence mood and cognitive performance. “We found when the entire day had a higher level of particulate matter, we saw the S&P 500 dropped,” Neidell says. When this happens, the price of the S&P 500 drops. To find out about a possible correlation here, Neidell and his colleagues placed an air pollution monitor close to the New York Stock Exchange and took hourly measurements of air pollution. Listen to the full interview. “What we find is that on days with higher fine particulates, we also see a decrease in that index … We think that’s suggestive of risk aversion being what’s driving the results.”
Neidell notes that the study doesn’t necessarily prove anything. They come from natural sources, such as forest fires and volcanoes, but in cities, most of it comes from the combustion of fossil fuels. “But our research shows and other research has shown before, that there’s more to it than just that. The effect, while statistically significant, isn’t very big, he says. “In particular, we found that when particulate matter levels were higher in the morning and throughout the early afternoon, [that] had the biggest impact on the S&P 500.”
Fine particulate matter are less than 2.5 microns in diameter, so they can’t be seen with the human eye. Neidell and his team looked at something called the “volatility index,” which   “a lot of people use as a measure of trader fear,” Neidell says.

Brazil’s deadly prison riot is just one piece of a bigger drug gang war

The victims — many of them beheaded and thrown over the prison walls — mainly included members of Brazil’s feared First Command gang, known by its Portuguese initials PCC, according to local and international media reports. As of Tuesday, officials had recaptured about 50 of the escaped inmates and a manhunt was underway for the rest. The riots finally ended Monday. Credit:


Brazil’s drug gangs are notoriously fierce. At least 56 people were killed during a prison riot over the weekend in the northern city of Manaus. For months, the state hasn’t been able to pay public employees, including police officers, on time. Last month, media outlet O Globo reported that the PCC had taken root in Rio’s massive Rocinha favela. 2017 is off to a bloody start in Brazil’s prisons. A total of 184 prisoners escaped from that and nearby prisons. Exacerbating the situation, Rio state is in a dire financial crisis. For favela residents, internecine wars between different drug dealer factions are just one of the many threats the population has to endure, said Sergio Leal, a resident of the Cidade de Deus favela in Rio. 1. The gangs control much of the drug trade in the largest cities. Historically, the São Paulo-based PCC has largely left Rio de Janeiro’s lucrative drug trade in the hands of the Red Command, Muggah explained. The move is a gutsy incursion into Rio de Janeiro by the criminal organization, and experts like Muggah worry that it will lead to increased intergang violence in the months to come. Fear of drug violence, fear of violence from the police, fear of drug dealers fighting between themselves or one faction taking over from the other. “It appears to be as much about control over national prisons as the country’s drug trade.”

Drug gangs sparked a prison riot that killed 56 people on Jan. That identifying detail has security experts particularly worried. Both the PCC and the Red Command, the country’s   No. 1 and 2   criminal organizations,   were born inside the chaotic prison system in the early 1990s. Sérgio Fontes, security secretary for Amazonas state, home to the prison, cited an ongoing war between rival drug gangs as the cause of the violence. That’s just the fear we live under,” Leal said. The clash between the First Command and the Northern Family and its allies could spell more trouble to come. But the killings in Manaus are more evidence that the São Paulo gang is looking for more territory in Rio and elsewhere and that the Red Command and its allies are fighting back. A “pacifying” program that deployed military police into Rio’s favelas is now considered largely a failure, as drug gangs have retaken control   of many of the city’s most troubled neighborhoods. Favelas, or marginalized neighborhoods, are typically demarcated by which gang is in charge. “It is the death blow to a decade-long truce between the country’s major factions, especially the PCC and the Red Command, who are aligned with the Northern Family,” Robert Muggah,   research director of Rio-based security think tank   Igarapé Institute, wrote in an email. “Look, we live in fear of a lot of things.

Pentagon says its confident the US can defend itself from a North Korean ballistic missile attack

US President-elect Donald Trump, who will take office on January 20, dismissed Pyongyang’s missile claims late Monday. “And we’re watching this very, very carefully.” North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, in a New Year’s speech Sunday, said the country was “in the final stages of test-launching the intercontinental ballistic missile.”
In 2016, North Korea conducted two nuclear tests and numerous missile launches last year alone in its quest to develop a nuclear weapons system capable of hitting the US mainland. “It won’t happen!”
North Korea’s drive to develop nuclear ballistic missiles capable of striking the United States and its allies has prompted Washington to reinforce its antimissile defenses in the region. “We remain confident in our ballistic missile defense and in our defense of our allies and our defense of the homeland,” Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said at a news briefing. The United States is certain it can defend itself from an attack by North Korea, the Defense Department said Tuesday after Pyongyang warned it was close to test launching a ballistic missile. “We’re constantly adjusting to the threat North Korea poses,” Cook said. “North Korea just stated that it is in the final stages of developing a nuclear weapon capable of reaching parts of the US,” Trump tweeted. The Pentagon spokesman declined to comment to reporters on whether the US had prepared scenarios on deterrent military actions to stop North Korea from developing nuclear missiles. The defense strategy is based notably on the AEGIS system, powerful TPY-2 radars and the antiballistic missile system THAAD that Washington is relocating to South Korea, a move that has provoked China, North Korea’s main ally. Analysts are divided over how close Pyongyang is to realizing its full nuclear ambitions, especially since it has never successfully test-fired an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). “We would once again call on the North Koreans to refrain from provocative actions,” Cook said. Pyongyang   “has shown disregard to the international community for its international obligations,” he said.

This Orthodox Jewish camp took in hundreds of firefighters battling a fire in northern Georgia

They require a lot of protein,” he says. It’s a very small price to pay to cook for them.”
In the cafeteria, there’s a wall honoring the different firefighting teams that have played a role in stopping the Rock Mountain Fire. As many as 340 firefighters bunked at the camp in one night. At dinnertime, the different crews gather in the camp’s cafeteria. This article is based on a report by Sean Powers of Georgia Pubic Broadcasting. Many of the firefighters have been moving from one big blaze to another throughout the US. While the fire is now gone, the firefighters will remain, honored in memory. So, it’s almost like a family. Many of the firefighters and camp staff have even connected on Facebook. “They burn a lot of calories a day, probably three or four times what you or I would in one day, just with the type of labor that they do. Chef Jones says food is a way to thank these firefighters. The experience of taking in these firefighters has been eye-opening, he adds. The camp is located in the North Georgia mountains, in the town of Clayton, just a couple hours from Atlanta. “It’s been very humbling. When these firefighters headed south to fight this fire, they found their welcome at a campsite that can house hundreds of people in cabins and hotels. They eat a lot.

Ramah Darom, whose Hebrew name means “southern high place,” opened its doors to these crews as they fought to contain the blaze. Executive chef Todd Jones prepares kosher meals that include   lamb, red roasted potatoes and glazed carrots. The report aired on PRI’s Living on Earth with Steve Curwood. “Our understanding was, these firefighters are accustomed to sleeping in tent cities out west,” says Anthony Franklin, the general manager at Ramah Darom. “They’re big guys. We’ll be seeing these same guys for a long time. Fighting the huge blaze in the tinder dry hills was a tough battle, but when it came time to rest, the firefighters, well-accustomed to makeshift lodgings, were offered an unusual, yet comfortable upgrade: a local Orthodox Jewish camp.Player utilitiesPopout
downloadListen to the Story. “It is November, and we are in the Georgia mountains, and we wanted to offer them at least a nice mattress to sleep on even if it was in a bunking situation,” Franklin says. Very encouraging to meet people of all walks and talks and become friends and realize, you know what? One firefighter describes the   crews as “almost like a noncombative type of army.” Though the Georgia fires are now largely out, and the firefighters have mostly moved on, the connections they made to the Jewish camp in Georgia will be long lasting. They’re just like the rest of us,” Franklin says. At the end of November, hundreds of firefighters from all over the country battled the Rock Mountain Fire in North Georgia.

Children fleeing violence in Central America who don’t make it to the US, often end up in Mexican detention centers — or deported

Only a third were referred to the state’s shelter system for children. And his experience only got worse. On their third try, Carla and Carlos made it across the border without being detained by Mexican authorities. No one asked him if he was seeking refugee status either, which is information children and teenagers won’t often volunteer immediately, according to experts. Because, according to Mexican laws, as a minor he shouldn’t have been in an immigration detention center in the first place. He shouldn’t have had to make that choice. The guards told him not to say that he had been detained with adults. In comparison, the US has deported 6,055 youth that came to the country as unaccompanied children from October 2013 to September 2016. The National System for Integral Family Development, which oversees children’s shelters, did not respond to inquiries for this story. “They started to admonish me and they said that since I like being with adults, they’ll put me back there. “I very much appreciate Mexico’s efforts in addressing the unaccompanied children who we saw spiking during the summer. In practice, that’s not what happened. “Afterwards immigration officials came for me and told me, ‘Why did you tell them that?’” Carlos says in Spanish. When you wake up in the morning you will have your guts out,’” Carlos recalls. Carlos is afraid of being found by gangs, so he asked not to use his last name in this report. They were headed to Tijuana, Mexico, where Carla’s mother lives. “I wish I could be in my country. Credit:

Juan Manuel /Reuters

After the holding facility, Carlos spent 10 days sleeping on cement beds in an immigration detention center meant for adults in Tapachula, Chiapas, near the Guatemalan border. He was at Siglo XXI, one of the largest government-run detention facilities for migrants in Mexico. The center can hold up to 960 people at a time. Obama praised the collaboration with Mexico during a meeting with Peña Nieto in January 2015. “I was going to ask for asylum but I instead asked for my deportation.”
He says he was beaten inside the station by a gang member, and that he complained to officers who didn’t do anything. Mexican immigration officials also turned down an interview request; they said most personnel were busy dealing with an influx of Haitians. Mexico too is being criticized for the incarceration of thousands of children crossing the border to escape violence in Central America. In Texas this month,   immigration officials released 500 women and children from detention after a federal judge ruled their facilities couldn’t be licensed to provide childcare. But human rights advocates say the US is putting political pressure on Mexico to intersect and deport US-bound minors. They should, instead, be moved to a shelter that cares for children. “We’re conscious here that the responsibility when it comes to immigration policies comes from the US and descends toward Mexico and Central America,” says Espinoza of the Córdova Human Rights Center. On a humid and hot afternoon, I meet Carlos and Carla’s newborn, Carlos Steven. According to government policy, when Carlos was apprehended seven months ago, he should have been transferred to a children’s shelter, where he could have received services and likely would have told authorities that he was seeking protection from violence. According to a Congressional Research Services report released last March, the State Department contributed $20 million, mostly in the form of equipment and immigration enforcement training, as part of Plan Frontera Sur. “If a wall is built, it will be a challenge for Mexico because its southern border remains permeable,” says Espinoza. This would have allowed him to begin the process of seeking asylum. The US has condoned Mexico’s immigration strategy. ICE recognizes that UAC [unaccompanied alien children] are a particularly vulnerable population and must be repatriated with special consideration and care,” ICE said in statement. Guards at the small station put him in a separate room when the human rights commission staff came to interview him on one of their regular monitoring visits. Journalists are not allowed in the facility and our requests for a tour were turned down. I met him and his 19-year-old girlfriend, Carla, then nine months pregnant, in mid-July at a privately-run shelter for underage youth in Tapachula, Chiapas, near the border with Guatemala. They had travelled by small shuttles or by foot, sleeping on the street or hiding in the jungle to avoid immigration checkpoints. The first four days, he was held in a humid and cramped cell in a temporary holding facility near Veracruz. Instead, he spent 14 days detained with adult men. But it does allow for children to be placed in detention in “exceptional circumstances,” when children’s shelters are at full capacity. Carlos looks his age. From January through October of 2016, at least 12,000 unaccompanied minors were detained in immigration stations for adults in Mexico, while another 4,749 received attention in children shelters, according to a public records request in Mexico. Mexican law makes it clear that children’s best interests need to be protected regardless of their country of origin. “Unaccompanied children should not enter, much less be detained at any point at an immigration station,” says Edgar Corzo Soza, general inspector for Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission. He is among more than 15,000 children who were detained after crossing the border into Mexico in the first 10 months of 2016. They are housed in shelters under the oversight of the Office of Refugee Resettlement; the facilities are only for children. Because their son was born a Mexican citizen, they can apply for residency in Mexico, where they plan to stay. But we can’t.”
Valeria Fernández is a fellow of “Bringing Home the World,” a program from the International Center for Journalists, which helped make this report possible. They will no longer pursue asylum. His tiny wrist has a red bead bracelet to protect him from the evil eye. Carlos was deported in June after two weeks in detention. The nonprofit has some access to children and detainees at the Siglo XXI detention station. Each shelter operates independently, sometimes under state or municipal authority.  

Policemen stand outside the facilities of the Siglo XXI immigration facilities in Tapachula, in the Mexican state of Chiapas October 29, 2014. Unlike the great majority of Central American youth who cross alone into Mexico, Carla and Carlos are not trying to reach the US. Carla had faced similar hardships in women’s immigration detention facilities. This was their third time trying to cross, and this time they managed to evade authorities and find shelter on their own. Their National Human Rights Commission issued a 250-page report this October denouncing conditions and treatment of children in detention centers, like the one where Carlos was held. Carlos was so scared inside the Mexican immigration detention center that instead of telling officers he was fleeing El Salvador after gang threats, the 16-year-old asked to be deported back to his country. On July 7, 2014, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto launched a new southern border strategy called “Plan Integral Frontera Sur.” The Mexican president emphasized that the plan included increased protections for migrants and that unaccompanied minors would have a special place to be processed before being repatriated. Carla gave birth about 10 days after they arrived at the privately-run shelter. “We’re going to start seeing Mexico as a destination country because many people will be trapped here.”
And that could mean more children in detention on their way to deportation. As a result of its new border enforcement initiative, Mexico has deported more than 36,000 unaccompanied Central American children, toddlers to 17-year-olds, from July 2014 to October 2016. In the US, immigration officials are facing increased scrutiny about the conditions in which they hold Central American minors. And they did.”
That experience solidified his distrust of Mexico’s immigration authorities. The food, he says, was so bad that he became ill and vomited. Most of them were 18-year olds by the time they were deported, but some were minors, according to an ICE spokesperson. She lays in bed with her baby, who is covered in a white cotton blanket. Some view the exchange as positive cooperation between countries. In part because of strong efforts by Mexico, including at its southern border, we’ve seen those numbers reduced back to much more manageable levels,” Obama said. But he didn’t take long to return to Mexico. The cell had a clogged toilet that smelled terrible. “It is a disappointment to have an experience like the one we had,” Carlos says. “He told me, ‘I’ll kill you at night, you’ll see. He told them anyway. She spent a lot of time resting on a patio, ready to give birth at any minute. He says they slept on dirty pads with bugs. “It’s not normal that an institution dedicated to detain and deport minors at the same time is the institution that protects them. Credit:

Jorge Dan Lopez/Reuters

In 2015, Mexico’s Human Rights Commission found that 36,174 minors, unaccompanied or not, were detained by the National Institute of Migration, the country’s immigration enforcement agency. “If an immigration judge orders an unaccompanied child removed from the United States, or grants voluntary departure, ICE arranges for the child’s safe return to his or her country of nationality according to agency policy and procedures. Stretches of the wild, tropical and largely uninhabited Guatemalan border with Mexico are as porous as ever. Children play in the Suchiate River near Tecun Uman on August 7, 2014. Carla has dark skin and deep black eyes. Credit:

Valeria Fernández/PRI

As the number of Central American children escaping violence alone or with families continues to spike, the campaign promises of US President-elect Donald Trump are also a concern for advocates. There’s something counterintuitive in this situation,” says Corzo Soza from the human rights commission. In the US, there is a separate agency that takes custody of unaccompanied minors while they go through immigration proceedings for their deportation or to gain some form of asylum or humanitarian relief. Their son was born after they arrived at a privately-run shelter. Inside there was a marero (gang member) who threatened his life for supposedly being part of a rival gang, which he wasn’t. The US and Mexico have cooperated to try to handle the increased numbers of families and children who are alone and crossing the borders to escape violence and poverty in Central America. Many of those children have a right to apply for refugee status under Mexican law. “That’s why it’s so important for them to have specialized attention for children and not for them to be locked in an immigration station,” says Gerardo Espinoza, an investigator at the Fray Matías de Córdova Human Rights Center. He is light skinned with tiny baby curls in his hair.