Massive tanker bomb kills 43 in Syria border town, most of them civilians

The rebels accused the Islamic State group of being behind that attack. Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said identification of the dead was being hampered by the fact that some bodies were completely burned in the blast. The truce came into effect on Dec. Rebels deny the jihadist group is in the region and say the mains supply was severed after government strikes hit pumping facilities in the area. A source close to the regime said a temporary ceasefire had been agreed to allow the repair crews to enter, though it could take days before the mains supply is restored. Fighting in the region has continued despite the truce, which does not apply to ISIS or former al-Qaeda affiliate Fateh al-Sham Front, known previously as al-Nusra Front. “They are the ones who target civilians and the cadres who are building this country,” he told AFP. But there was no official confirmation of a deal or the entry of the repair crews. But the ceasefire and the planned talks have been threatened by ongoing violence in the rebel-held Wadi Barada region outside Damascus, which is the main water source for the capital. 30, and is intended to pave the way for new peace talks in Kazakh capital Astana, which regime ally Iran is also helping organise. The attack appeared to be the deadliest yet in the town in northern Aleppo province, which has been hit regularly   by bombing targeting rebels and civilians. The fighting has displaced more than half the population, internally or abroad, and proved stubbornly resistant to international attempts to broker a political solution. Overnight, the Observatory said seven Syrian soldiers and two civilians were killed in clashes, though the fighting appeared to have calmed by late Saturday morning. A massive tanker truck bomb ripped through a market by a courthouse in the rebel-held Syrian town of Azaz on Saturday, killing 43 people and wounding dozens near the Turkish border. The dam is just 500 yards   from the town of Tabqa, where many senior ISIS commanders have been based. “These kinds of crimes are only committed by the terrorist group Daesh,” he said, using an Arabic acronym for ISIS. The blast comes during a fragile nationwide ceasefire brokered by government ally Russia and rebel backer Turkey. Elsewhere, an alliance of Arab and Kurdish fighters backed by US special forces moved to within four kilometres of the Tabqa dam held by ISIS, the Observatory said. Turkey and Russia want to convene negotiations in Astana later this month, but rebels have suspended participation in preparatory talks, blaming regime “violations” in Wadi Barada. ISIS suspected  
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Saturday’s attack, but Osama al-Merhi, a lawyer at the scene of the blast, pointed the finger at ISIS. The jihadist group is present elsewhere in Aleppo province and has sought to advance on Azaz in the past. More than 310,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict began in March 2011 with anti-government protests. Azaz has been repeatedly struck by bomb attacks, including in November when rebels said 25 people —   civilians and opposition fighters —   were killed in a car bombing of a rebel headquarters. The government says Fateh al-Sham is present in Wadi Barada, and blames rebels there for cutting water to Damascus since Dec. ‘Millions without water’
The damage has left 5.5 million people in Damascus and its suburbs without water, according to the UN. In October, at least 17 people were killed in a car bomb attack on a rebel checkpoint, the Observatory said. Civil defence workers, rebels and civilians picked through the rubble of a building, half of which had tumbled into the street. On Saturday, state media said maintenance teams had arrived in the area 10 miles   northwest of Damascus and were “prepared to enter” to begin repair work. Video from the scene showed huge clouds of smoke rising from a street filled with debris and twisted metal, which bulldozers were working to clear. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least six rebels were among the dead, but most of those killed were civilians. The monitor said the Syrian Democratic Forces had taken the last ISIS-held village between them and the dam on the Euphrates, which is the country’s largest. 22. Raging fires were burning in several vehicles, and the fire brigade was battling to put them out with a giant water tanker and hoses.

Let’s rewind for a moment. What is Obamacare?

Not public health insurance
Obamacare   did not create a public insurance program. But for the more than 10 million people who are expected to be insured in 2017 via the   Obamacare   exchanges, prices continue to rise unabated. The reforms also require insurers to cover costs for hospital admissions, emergency room visits or preventive care such as diabetes screening and some vaccines. For the insured
In exchange, the law requires all Americans to be insured, or pay a penalty. Medicaid expansion
Obamacare   has also boosted federal aid to states so they can expand the eligibility criteria for Medicaid, the government insurance program that covers the nation’s poorest. But the forced participation is an obligation strongly denounced by conservatives, who claim that it infringes on individual freedom. Depending on a person’s income, tax   subsidies can reduce the insurance costs. Results
Since   Obamacare   took effect, 20 million people have gained health coverage, according to the White House. It is a legal framework that imposed obligations on private insurers —   and individuals —   in order to better regulate the market and expand coverage. With millions more contributing to the system, the argument goes, premiums paid by healthy enrollees offset the costs of the sickest Americans. The Affordable Care Act — vast and often misunderstood — contains a multitude of components which, taken in sum, are aimed at sharply reducing the number of uninsured Americans while slowing the rapid growth in the nation’s health care spending. Only two US federal health insurance programs exist: Medicaid, for the lowest-income families and individuals; and Medicare, for those over 65. The process
For people whose employer does not provide insurance, the government has created online marketplaces, or “exchanges,” where individuals can sign up for ACA-compliant private insurance in each state. The number of people without insurance fell from 16 percent in 2010 to a historic low of 8.9 percent in 2016. Many Republican governors, opposed to the law, refused these expansion funds. In 2017 that fine, known as the individual mandate, is at least $695 per adult. President-elect Donald Trump and his Republican allies have vowed a swift repeal of President Barack Obama’s landmark reforms known as   Obamacare, a 2010 law which has had a dramatic impact on America’s health care system. Growth in health care spending has slowed. Nor can they refuse to insure patients who are too costly, or impose annual dollar limits   on health benefits, practices that had driven some Americans with serious illnesses to financial ruin. For insurers
Under   Obamacare, insurance companies are barred from determining coverage premiums based on medical history or gender, as they did previously. Republicans including Trump point to the premium hikes as proof the law has failed. But fewer insurers are participating in these exchanges, which have proven less profitable than expected for insurance companies, and there have been problems getting enough young people to sign up. Another popular provision: Children can remain on their parents’ insurance plans up to age 26. Most other Americans are insured in the private sector, usually through their employer. As a result, standard premiums will increase this year by an average of 25 percent.

Millennials are the new ‘fossil fuel freedom fighters’

My gut clenched every time, because I’m not that dumb. Those who would deny climate change are desperate and delusional for building these massive displays on the climate action that BP is trying to take credit for. Their sign said, “Save the Earth,” because they thought they could. I am 27. A new generation of nature writers is coming of age in America. We know that we must work for it. In fact, we are staking our very sense of self on it. My parents used to introduce me to their friends by offering with pride that I wanted to save the world. We can protect our home enough to protect the human lives and livelihoods that depend on it, and in seeking that salvation we might end up building something better than the status quo. Everything, because I have never known a time when our home didn’t have a man-made fever; and nothing, because we’ve done so little to stop stoking it. We are the fossil fuel freedom fighters and we’re on the move. After all, we’re aiming for an economy powered by energy that doesn’t blow up, innovations that require tons of new jobs, and a democracy disinfected from the desperate campaign donations of fossil fuel fat cats afraid of the future. The planet we have all known is over. So, the sort of derangement of climate denial comes off as so dishonest; whereas, by contrast, those of us who are fighting climate change are honest with the facts — the brutal facts of chemistry and physics that are warming our home — but also honest with ourselves that we cannot solve the problem anymore.”  
“Today’s pollution has locked us in for 100 years of warming. “I was in Doha, Quatar, right around the time I was writing this essay,” Hemphill says. But unlike our parents, we who have come of age at the end of nature have grown past that naïveté about the planet’s durability. I can’t save the world from climate change, but I can help take the edge off it. Anyone who’s got everything to lose should not be trusted. “It was for the UN climate conference there. But we can prevent collapse. I have no illusions that we will save the planet from the fossil fuel binge of recent centuries. “Global warming is all we’ve ever known,” Ben Lowe, a founder of Young Evangelicals for Climate Action, explained to the Wall Street Journal. My parents’ generation then fought for social and environmental action, but they thought they could fully succeed. We know that we cannot stop the climate from destabilizing. This conundrum makes Bill McKibben’s 1989 book, “The End of Nature,” into Cassandra and a time capsule — prescient, ignored and almost buried. They are beginning to understand   how much of the pristine landscape their parents and grandparents enjoyed is now gone.Player utilitiesPopout
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downloadListen to the Story. You drive a car so you must be disingenuous.’   I think that’s answering the wrong question. Like my grandmothers, we twenty-somethings don’t assume climate justice will be done. They’re in denial. My generation is hopeful, practical, strategic and muscular — and not naïve. PRI.org

Some of the work of these new writers is collected in the book, “Coming of Age at the End of Nature.” Activist Bonnie Frye Hemphill wrote one of the essays, titled “Fossil Fuel Freedom Fighters.” In it, she explains why, despite difficult odds, her generation is working toward   a transition away from fossil fuels. I think there are some stages of grief going on. Offering freedom from fossil-fuel-only choices is what we’re all about.”  
“There is real anger here. We’re now locked into the crazy weather that is on the news every night. One of the most meaningful parts of that visit was checking out the convention center, where different groups could [present] displays on what they’re doing to solve climate change. I’m angry at those who would prevent us — me — from solving their problem.”  
This essay first appeared in audio form on PRI’s Living on Earth with Steve Curwood. [We hear] a common theme [from] those who would want to keep us on fossil fuels forever: ‘Well, there’s no other way. The whole thing was such a farce.”
“I kept coming back to a theme of honesty. My grandmothers have told me stories of the World War II years, when Americans knew they had to work together and hard, because justice was not a given. The difference is Bangladesh, the difference is Florida.”  
“I’ve been working on this theme of freedom from fossil fuels for quite a while in my own mind. We want history to write us as the ones who got to work. There’s a very big difference between rising seas that come up a couple of feet or come up 10 feet. I think the right question is not that I want to drive my car on gasoline. Below is an excerpt and some of her comments about what motivated her to write it:  
Everything and nothing about the planet has changed in my lifetime. Several of the world’s largest oil producers had literally acres-wide displays that were ‘bleachy’ and gleaming and pastel-colored and utterly deserted. I’m certainly not angry at those of previous generations who are doing their part for climate action. It’s that I want to get from point A to point B.

How Pittsburgh remembers a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright

“Many people hated the civic arena, and hated the hockey games that brought white patrons from the suburbs to watch their hockey games in the park … and then leave to go back to their homes in the suburbs.”
Mindy Fullilove wrote a book, “Root Shock,” about the impact of urban renewal programs on black communities. For actor Wali Jamal, who’s been in nine of Wilson’s plays, the production of “Seven Guitars” was a return to a sort of sacred ground. “All of that was set back by the urban renewal project.”
The Hill District was set back again by riots in April 1968, after the assassination of Martin Luther King   Jr. But in the city’s comeback story, the historically black Hill District has in many ways been left out. “I equated this experience to being a Shakespearean actor performing at [Stratford-upon-Avon],” he says. There’s a play for each decade of the 20th   century, and all but one is set against the backdrop of Pittsburgh, where Wilson grew up.Player utilitiesPopout
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downloadListen to the Story. “Blacks were on board with the idea of urban renewal,” said historian Larry Glasco. The planned redevelopment around the arena, where the Pittsburgh Penguins played, never materialized. “Fences” is one of 10 plays in what the late playwright called his “Century Cycle,” about African American life. In its new life, the house will be a performance space and café. The three-story apartment building he lived in, on Bedford Avenue, is nestled beside two vacant lots, and the place, now owned by a local nonprofit, was condemned years ago. The first film adaptation of August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Fences” hit theaters around the country on Christmas Day. The old Seventh Street Bridge is now named in Warhol’s honor, and visitors flock to the Andy Warhol Museum in the city’s North Shore neighborhood, which houses thousands of his paintings, videos   and papers. In fact, they wanted it. Forty percent of Hill residents are below the poverty level, and crime rates are higher there than elsewhere in the city. “The black community supported it, [the] black political establishment, The Pittsburgh Courier, were all very excited about it. And the city of Pittsburgh has wrestled with how to pay its respects to Wilson. “To me, it’s the same, because he’s our Shakespeare.”
This article is based on a story that aired on PRI’s   Studio 360. Aerial news footage from the days following King’s murder shows blocks of burning buildings. But I think the city considered August its native stepson.”
Andy Warhol, another Pittsburgh-born creative icon, has fared differently in the city’s memory. She called the Hill District the “poster child of the horrors of urban renewal.”
“Not only was it vibrant, it was politically powerful, culturally powerful, socially powerful, and it was becoming economically powerful,” she said. And remarkably, last summer’s production took place in the exact setting Wilson referred to when he wrote the script: The backyard of his boyhood home in Pittsburgh’s Hill District. “Same thing that’s happened to most black communities,” Wilson told Moyers. It’s the buildings and what used to be at one time a very thriving community, albeit a depressed community. But money problems and mismanagement plagued the center, and it closed just a few years later. “[They] were in part a response to the empty promises of urban renewal.”
In the 1980s, journalist Bill Moyers asked Wilson about what had happened to his old neighborhood. For three decades, the neighborhood did not have a supermarket. But when August Wilson was born in 1945, the Hill was a flourishing community. “Seven Guitars” sold out most of its run, and the nonprofit that owns the house is restoring its interior. Legends like Charles Mingus, Miles Davis   and John Coltrane played the neighborhood’s jazz clubs. But the same can’t be said for the neighborhood where Wilson grew up. Pittsburgh has transformed itself since its big steel mills closed in the 1980s. Now reopened with foundation money, the center’s legacy is not the bright one Udin had hoped for. “It’s exactly like it’s described in the play,” said Mark Clayton Southers, the play’s director. “It’s painful to watch the newspaper stories of the ‘failed August Wilson Center’ — the foreclosure, the this, the that, the taxes … “When we had to go in the house after it started to get dark, we would put pillows in the windowsill so that we could look out and watch the parade of activity and people dressed up, going up and down the street, going in and out of the clubs, talking smack,” Udin remembered. and compare that against what we all hoped we were building by calling it the August Wilson Center for African American Culture,” Udin said. In the decades after the time period of the play — 1948 —   the Hill District has struggled. “Most of it is no longer there. In the weeks before opening night last August, workers hammered away, reconnecting electricity and building bleacher seating. “There are no signs of life ever having been there,” Udin added. According to Fullilove, the riots weren’t just about King’s assassination. Then came “urban renewal” — projects that promised to strip away outdated structures in bulk, replacing them with new ones. Set in 1948, “Seven Guitars” revolves around seven characters, before and after a funeral. “I would think that the way a city would honor a white artist of August Wilson’s standing would have been much larger,” said Sala Udin, a former Pittsburgh city council member who grew up with Wilson (and originated the lead role in Pittsburgh’s premiere of “Jitney”). “The idea of a whole neighborhood having to move was completely new and perplexing, and had never been heard of.”
The arena was demolished five years ago. They are not there anymore.”
After Wilson died in 2005, Sala Udin helped found the August Wilson Center for African American Culture, built downtown at a cost of $42 million. But still, there were stores and shops all along the avenue. “It was devastating,” Udin said. “The city always considered August Wilson its native son. But you have to be careful what you hope for.”
In the mid-1950s, 95 acres of the Hill District were razed to make room for a civic arena and parking lots. PRI.org

As “Fences” wrapped up filming in the city last summer, a local staging of another play in the Century Cycle was about to get underway. But Wilson’s childhood home is undergoing its own kind of renaissance. News reports from that week estimated that over 4,500 families in the area were in need of food and clothing. Sala Udin’s home went under the bulldozer, and so did the school he attended with August Wilson. But he said when the arena still stood, it was a symbol of destruction and demolition. For now, at least, the site is serving as a parking lot.

For Teju Cole, John Berger was a kindred spirit

… [They] are always with us, actually supporting us.”
It’s a support that Cole says he is beginning to feel now. “The time before the curtain rises and one goes on stage is a very special species of time”, Cole remembers Berger telling him. You may never have heard of John Berger.Player utilitiesPopout
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downloadThis story is based on a radio interview.  
“Part of the storytelling is about memory,” Cole explains, “but part of it is about how the dead have not gone away. “Where everything is still held in abeyance, and the moment is still full of potential.”
“And I thought to myself I might be the luckiest human being alive,” Cole says, “because John Berger is unfolding an unwritten essay for me, in real time. His 1972 television series and book ”Ways of Seeing” was designed to upend traditional, and what he termed elitist, ways of evaluating art work. “I felt rather bereft this week,” says Cole, “but as the days passed, I realized that all our encounters — in person, a little bit in correspondence, and huge, two decades long in his writing — all of that will always remain vivid and visible to me.” For author Teju Cole, who also writes novels, art criticism, and political treatises, Berger was a kind of role model. He was also a novelist. But Berger wasn’t just an art critic. When I started to read him I realized those were the kinds of things I very much cared about.”
Cole says he and Berger wrestle with many of the same questions:   “How do you write about photographs?’’ “How do you think about drawing and about art?” “How do you bring the energies of poetry into prose?”
“I was already on a path,” says Cole. We’re sitting, just the two of us, backstage, with no audience, and his mind, which was so avid for what could be interesting about the world, big moments as well as tiny moments, never stops.”
And that, says Cole, kind of sums up the kind of person Berger was. Read more: Teju Cole considers why racism is not someone calling him the ‘n word’
“It wasn’t just a gathering of many different kinds of things together that made his work influential on me,” says Cole, “it was the particular kinds of things that he gravitated towards. PRI.org

But the English writer and artist, who died this week at   90, changed how countless art students thought about art and maybe even the world. His book, “G,”, a non-linear account of a man travelling around Europe before World War One, won the Booker Prize. “Then I saw, here was this master, who had actually cleared the road.”
In 2014, Cole and Berger even hosted an event together in Ferrara, Italy, called “What We Have In Common.”
Cole fondly remembers sharing a several bottles of wine with Berger that trip. But he says that one moment that felt especially important to him was when they were sitting backstage together, in the dark, waiting to be called up for their event. Lately, Cole has been thinking a lot about one of Berger’s books —   in particular   a collection of short stories called “Here is Where We Meet.”
In this collection, which came out in 2005, Berger has conversations with friends and relatives who have died. Berger turned to Cole, and made a kind of observation. Listen to the full interview. This is one of Cole’s favorite books. And on top of his novels, he also wrote essays, about everything from his springtime tradition of cleaning out his outhouse, to the lives of migrant workers in Europe.