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Pope visits Romania 20 years after John Paul’s historic trip
By NICOLE WINFIELD | Fri, May 31, 2019 12:50 EDT
VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis is heading to Romania for a three-day, cross-country pilgrimage that in many ways is completing the 1999 trip by St. John Paul II that marked the first-ever papal visit to a majority Orthodox country.
Francis’ visit starting Friday comes on the heels of the European Parliament elections that hollowed out the political middle in the bloc, and Francis is expected to speak about issues confronting the continent during the trip.
Key moments are Francis’ Mass for the largely Hungarian-speaking Roman Catholic faithful at the country’s most famous Marian shrine, Sumuleu Ciuc, in eastern Transylvania. He will also beatify seven Greek-Catholic bishops who were martyred during communist rule, when Catholics were brutally persecuted.
Francis will also meet with the patriarch of the Romanian Orthodox Church in the latest of his foreign trips to poor countries where Catholics are a minority. In Romania, they are a divided minority between two Catholic rites, Roman Catholic and Greek-Catholic.
“I’m coming to you to walk together,” Francis said in a videomessage released on the eve of his trip.
The visit begins Friday with a meeting with Prime Minister Prime Minister Viorica Dancila, whose Social Democratic Party, or PSD, was soundly defeated during the European Parliament elections.
While Francis’ trip is pastoral, “I imagine that there might be speeches by the Holy Father on this European dimension,” said Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti.
Later Friday, Francis and Patriarch Daniel, leader of the Romanian Orthodox Church, are to each recite the Our Father prayer in the Orthodox Cathedral, a towering new construction that was funded in part by a $200,000 donation by John Paul when he visited in 1999.
Gisotti stressed that while the two religious leaders would physically be praying in the same place, they would not pray together, an important distinction for many Orthodox. Ordinary faithful will be on hand, in sharp contrast to Francis’ recent visit to Bulgaria, when he was allowed to pray in the Orthodox cathedral in Sofia, but alone.
John Paul’s 1999 visit to Romania, just 10 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, was the first by a pope to a majority Orthodox country since the Great Schism divided Christianity in 1054.
It was marked by an extraordinary welcome for a Polish pope who helped bring down communism. During his Mass, shouts of “unity, unity” rose up from the crowd.
John Paul agreed to Orthodox demands that he visit only Bucharest and not Transylvania, where most of the country’s Catholics live. In many ways then, Francis is fulfilling the itinerary John Paul would have completed.
As then, the issue of confiscated property of the Catholic Church that was given to the Orthodox during communist rule remains a sore spot in relations. Gisotti said there were no plans for any public discussion of the dispute, but didn’t rule out private talks.
“We live times of peace and understanding, but we wish these relations (between churches) to become better,” said Francisc Dobos, spokesman for the Bucharaest arbishopric. “We should not be afraid of one another, we should trust one another. This visit should make us become better Catholics and better Orthodox and in the end, better citizens. “
EarthLink – News
Tornado rips through Kansas City suburbs as storms move east
By JULIE WRIGHT AND JOHN HANNA | Wed, May 29, 2019 10:54 EDT
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A vicious storm tore through the Kansas City area, spawning tornadoes that downed trees and power lines, damaged homes and injured at least a dozen people in the latest barrage of severe weather that saw tornado warnings as far east as New York City.
The latest round of damaging weather in the central U.S. came a day after violent storms killed one person and injured at least 130 in Indiana and Ohio.
Mark Duffin, 48, learned from his wife and a television report that the large tornado was headed toward his home in Linwood, Kansas, about 30 miles (48 kilometers) west of Kansas City.
The next thing he knew, the walls of his house were coming down.
Duffin told the Kansas City Star that he grabbed a mattress, followed his 13-year-old to the basement and protected the two of them with the mattress as the home crashed down around them.
“I’m just glad I found my two dogs alive,” he said. “Wife’s alive, family’s alive, I’m alive. So, that’s it.”
At least a dozen people were admitted to the hospital in Lawrence, Kansas, which is about 40 miles (64 kilometers) west of Kansas City, Missouri, and is home to the University of Kansas, hospital spokesman Janice Early said. Damage also was reported in the towns of Bonner Springs and Pleasant Grove.
The Douglas County (Kansas) Emergency Management agency said on Facebook that 15 people were hurt, including three seriously, during the storms, which spawned a twister that struck a neighborhood just outside of Lawrence.
The Kansas City metropolitan area of about 2.1 million people appeared to have been spared the direct hit that was feared earlier in the evening, when the weather service announced a tornado emergency.
Still, the storm forced evacuations at Kansas City International Airport. People took refuge in a tunnel leading to the parking garage for about an hour. Flights were delayed for more than five hours due to debris on the airfield. Airport spokesman Joe McBride said the debris included pots, wall panels and other items that apparently flew in the air nearly 50 miles (80 kilometers) from the Linwood tornado.
Flights finally resumed around 12:15 a.m.
Tuesday marked the 12th straight day that at least eight tornadoes were reported to the National Weather Service. The last such stretch was in 1980. The weather service website showed at least 27 reports of tornadoes on Tuesday, most in Kansas and Missouri but also in Pennsylvania and Illinois.
After several quiet years, the past couple of weeks have seen an explosion of tornado activity with no end to the pattern in sight.
Tornadoes also were confirmed in eastern Pennsylvania and the weather service issued a tornado warning for parts of New York City and northern New Jersey.
The winds peeled away roofs — leaving homes looking like giant dollhouses — knocked houses off their foundations, toppled trees, brought down power lines and churned up so much debris that it was visible on radar. Highway crews had to use snowplows to clear an Ohio interstate.
Some of the heaviest damage was reported just outside Dayton, Ohio.
“I just got down on all fours and covered my head with my hands,” said Francis Dutmers, who with his wife headed for the basement of their home in Vandalia, about 10 miles (16 kilometers) outside Dayton, when the storm hit with a “very loud roar” Monday night. The winds blew out windows around his house, filled rooms with debris and took down most of his trees.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine declared a state of emergency in three hard-hit counties, allowing the state to suspend normal purchasing procedures and quickly provide supplies like generators and water.
Tornadic winds weren’t the only problem. Several water rescues were reported in northern Missouri. In sparsely populated Putnam County, officials urged everyone to stay off roads because flooding was rampant after the county got 2 inches (5.1 centimeters) of rain in 20 minutes Tuesday night.
Hannibal, Missouri, officials were just beginning to assess damage Wednesday, hours after torrential rain proved too much for the storm sewers, causing a break that resulted in water damage to buildings in the historic downtown area.
Weather service meteorologist Mark Fuchs said parts of Holt County, Missouri, got 6 inches (15.2 centimeters) of rain, and a widespread area along the Iowa-Missouri border got at least 3 inches (7.6 centimeters). He said most of that water will drain into the swollen Missouri River and that some will join the Mississippi River, which is already approaching record highs in several Missouri and Illinois communities.
Outbreaks of 50 or more tornadoes are not uncommon, having happened 63 times in U.S. history, with three instances of more than 100 twisters, said Patrick Marsh, warning coordination meteorologist for the federal Storm Prediction Center. But Monday’s swarm was unusual because it happened over a particularly wide geographic area and came amid an especially active stretch, he said.
As for why it’s happening, Marsh said high pressure over the Southeast and an unusually cold trough over the Rockies are forcing warm, moist air into the central U.S., triggering repeated severe thunderstorms and tornadoes. And neither system is showing signs of moving, he said.
Scientists say climate change is responsible for more intense and more frequent extreme weather such as storms, droughts, floods and fires, but without extensive study they cannot directly link a single weather event to the changing climate.
Associated Press writer Jim Salter in St. Louis contributed to this report.
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In fear for their lives, activist Thai band lives in exile
By TASSANEE VEJPONGSA and GRANT PECK | Wed, May 29, 2019 06:11 EDT
BANGKOK (AP) — They are members of a folk music group living communally in the Southeast Asian nation of Laos, but they are in fear for their lives.
The musicians from the band Faiyen fled their homes in neighboring Thailand in 2014, afraid of arrest after a military coup overthrew their nation’s elected government.
Their music was their crime.
Drawn into the polarized politics of Thailand’s last decade, some of their songs mocked the monarchy, a sacred institution as far as many Thais — and the law — are concerned.
For their heresies, they now believe they may be kidnapped or killed. Their fears are not without justification.
Since last December, six fellow Thai exiles in Laos associated with anti-monarchist views have disappeared in suspicious circumstances and their families presume they are dead. The mutilated bodies of two washed up on the Thai side of the Mekong River. A veteran far-left activist who in the 1970s was in the jungle with the Communist Party of Thailand disappeared along with them.
Two other activists in Laos, rights groups say, disappeared in 2016 and 2017.
All of the exiles were associated with Thailand’s Red Shirt movement of democracy activists, many of whom are also supporters of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Thaksin was ousted by in a 2006 military coup that triggered a long and sometimes violent struggle for power between supporters of the populist billionaire and the army-backed royalist establishment.
That charged political atmosphere led some Red Shirt supporters to begin openly questioning the monarchy’s role in Thai society and politics, a grave taboo. Thai law mandates prison terms of three to 15 years for insulting the monarchy, and courts have proven to have broad interpretations of what constitutes an insult.
The junta that took power in the 2014 coup — and remains in place today — did so with a vow to crack down on anti-monarchists, even for a time moving all so-called lese majeste cases from civilian court to military courts.
While no evidence has been presented that the junta is involved in the disappearances in Laos — and even those in exile stop short of directly accusing the government — activists and rights groups say someone is seeking extrajudicial retribution.
The latest exiles to vanish were three activists who tried to flee Laos by crossing into Vietnam in January, but according to rights groups were arrested and secretly extradited to Thailand. The authorities in Vietnam and Thailand have denied any knowledge of the affair.
“When we heard the news, I realized, ‘OK, we are really in danger with all the people disappearing in previous years, and more this year,'” Faiyen member Romchalee Sombulrattanakul told The Associated Press by phone from Laos. “It seems they want to get us now. And, we are the only group left in this country.”
Romchalee is a 33-year-old former cellphone saleswoman who considered herself apolitical until she saw what she calls the unfair suppression of the Red Shirt movement, which she believed represented the interests of Thai workers and farmers.
When the bodies that washed up on the shore of the Mekong in December were identified as fellow activists, she said it became “clear that those who disappeared were turning up dead. No one was arrested or sent to be tried in Thailand.”
She’s not being paranoid, according to Human Rights Watch, whose senior researcher in Thailand, Sunai Phasuk, said that the New York-based group received credible warnings about the dangers facing Faiyen. All of those who disappeared were wanted by Thai authorities for alleged anti-monarchy activity, he said.
“Faiyen is the last remaining on the list that Thailand wants,” Sunai said. “Other names have been removed from the list for the fact that they have been disappeared.”
Thai Defense Ministry spokesman Kongcheep Tantravich said it would be “impossible” for the government to make activists like those in the Vietnam case disappear. He added that he wasn’t sure why the activists in Laos were so scared.
“If they are so afraid, they could return and enter the legal process,” he said. “Whether or not they will decide to come back is up to them.”
The fear in which Faiyen lives is beyond description, said Romchalee. The slightest sound in the night sends her frantically peering out through windows into the dark, praying that it isn’t someone trying to attack them. She is shaken by a mysterious man who keeps contacting her through social media and seems to know her every move — which restaurant she has eaten in and to where they have changed living quarters in search of safety.
“Each day you wonder whether or not you can go shop, or meet your friends, because you have no idea when you will be taken away,” said Worawut Theunkchaiphum, another band member, noting that those who previously went missing were taken from their homes or while traveling.
“We exist with no protection whatsoever. We are invisible. We are in a country where the Thai government could easily send in teams to take care of us,” he said.
Faiyen’s members were among scores of Thai activists who fled after the latest coup. Many had no travel documents and little money when they escaped to neighboring Laos and Cambodia.
According to the legal assistance group Thai Lawyers for Human Rights, at least 86 Thais left Thailand seeking asylum abroad.
Those who were well-connected or prepared with money and papers were able to move on to safer havens such as Japan and France.
Hardcore activist leaders received funds from sympathizers to keep them afloat, doling out portions to their loyalists in the exile community. Low-profile members, including farmers, workers and office employees, were often able to fade into the woodwork, giving up their activism for what local jobs they could find.
The scrappy members of Faiyen, poorly connected but politically engaged, decided to carry on with their activism. Along with several others in the small and cliquish exile community, they produced programs and songs in Thailand’s “luk thung” country music style that they posted online.
The activists who disappeared had also continued to put provocative programming online.
By refusing to change their approach, they had made themselves targets, said Benjamin Tausig, an assistant professor of music at New York’s Stony Brook University who has closely studied Thailand’s recent protest movements.
“We live in a moment of extraordinary visibility, which is simultaneously a platform for speech and a mode of surveillance,” he said. “Their songs move in an ecosystem that can spread the word fast, but that can also get you in trouble fast.”
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California approves power outages to prevent more wildfires
By DON THOMPSON | Fri, May 31, 2019 01:52 EDT
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California regulators on Thursday approved allowing utilities to cut off electricity to possibly hundreds of thousands of customers to avoid catastrophic wildfires like the one sparked by power lines last year that killed 85 people and largely destroyed the city of Paradise.
Utilities’ liability can reach billions of dollars, and after several years of devastating wildfires, they asked regulators to allow them to pull the plug when fire risk is extremely high. That’s mainly during periods of excessive winds and low humidity when vegetation is dried out and can easily ignite.
The California Public Utilities Commission gave the green light but said utilities must do a better job educating and notifying the public, particularly those with disabilities and others who are vulnerable, and ramp up preventive efforts, such as clearing brush and installing fire-resistant poles.
The plans could inconvenience hundreds of thousands of customers while endangering some who depend on electricity to keep them alive, like 56-year-old Kallithea Miller.
Although she lives far from wildfire danger near a shopping mall in Stockton, south of Sacramento, she relies on a refrigerator to cool her insulin and a machine to keep her breathing at night.
“I could die in my sleep,” she said. “It’s scaring the hell out of me.”
The precautionary outages could mean multiday blackouts for cities as large as San Francisco and San Jose, Northern California’s major power provider warned in a recent filing with the utilities commission.
Pacific Gas & Electric anticipates cutting the power only in “truly extreme fire danger weather” while recognizing that there “are safety risks on both sides of this issue,” vice president Aaron Johnson said.
PG&E initially planned to de-energize power lines in at-risk rural areas but has since expanded its plans to include high-voltage transmission lines like the one that sparked the nation’s deadliest wildfire in a century. The blaze last November killed 85 people while wiping out nearly 15,000 homes in and around Paradise.
“I know it inconveniences people, but it’s a small price to pay for not having the kind of devastation that we had in Paradise,” Mayor Jody Jones said. “Everyone I know in Paradise knew that PG&E might cut the power off. I didn’t see that as a problem. The problem was that they didn’t actually shut it off.”
Utility equipment has been blamed for many of California’s most destructive and deadly wildfires in recent years.
Other major California utilities have similar plans that commissioners unanimously approved Thursday, also warning that outages could extend into cities under some conditions.
“We’re worried about it because we could see people’s power shut off not for a day or two but potentially a week,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said as he recently called for California to spend $75 million to help communities prepare. “This is high winds, severe weather, turn off the electricity so it doesn’t ignite a fire. It’s a good thing — unless you’re impacted.”
California’s three largest investor-owned utilities serve more than 150,000 customers who rely on life-support equipment, many of whom are considered low income, state Sen. Bill Dodd said. The Democrat from Napa wants utilities to provide backup electricity or financial assistance so high-risk customers can buy generators or batteries.
The elderly, people with disabilities and language barriers, and poorer residents in remote areas with limited transportation or communication are also at greater risk. Cellphone networks can fail, computers and internet phone lines won’t work, traffic signals go dark and there can be problems with communication systems, water treatment facilities and emergency services.
Utility representatives said they are doing their best to work with emergency responders and community groups to warn vulnerable customers, as the Public Utilities Commission required.
“What the PUC can do is basically lay out the expectations for what the utilities need to do. Where the rubber meets the road is how the utilities operationalize, particularly on the notification,” said Mark Toney, executive director of the Utility Reform Network.
The option to pull the plug isn’t new, though state officials expect it to be used much more frequently.
San Diego Gas & Electric won permission to cut off power during high-risk conditions after its equipment ignited three big fires in 2007. State regulators expanded the shut-off requirements to other investor-owned utilities last year, after devastating fires in 2017.
Once power is shut off, the utilities must inspect every de-energized line before they restore power, a process that can keep the lights out for days even after conditions improve.
Both PG&E and Southern California Edison used their new authority last fall, with many residents and local officials upset that stores, businesses and schools had to close for lack of electricity.
Calistoga Mayor Chris Canning said his city of 5,200 residents in the Napa Valley was the first to experience a PG&E power outage, “so we learned firsthand how that goes — not well.”
He cited poor communication, which utility representatives said they are working to improve, but praised PG&E for now trying to keep makeshift power flowing to key areas of town in the next outage.
“They’re damned if they do, and damned if they don’t,” Canning said. “There’s only so much we can do as a city to protect you. Individual residents have to be prepared.”
Miller said her backup plan is a cat named Mojo who instinctively paws at her face whenever she stops breathing.
“It puts us in a dangerous situation and a stressful situation,” she said. “If they have a blackout that lasts for five days, I’m screwed.”
EarthLink – News
Alabama heralds ‘last slave ship’ discovery; ponders future
By KEVIN McGILL | Thu, May 30, 2019 07:07 EDT
MOBILE, Ala. (AP) — Dives into murky water, painstaking examinations of relics and technical data and rigorous peer review led historians and archaeologists to confirm last week that wreckage found in the Mobile River in 2018 was indeed the Clotilda, the last known ship to bring enslaved Africans to the United States.
An event heralding the discovery Thursday afternoon in the Mobile community of Africatown made clear that much work remains. The Alabama Historical Commission and others working on the project must decide how much can be salvaged, whether it can be brought ashore or if it should be left in place and protected.
Perhaps more important: How can the interest and publicity engendered by the discovery of the Clotilda be harnessed to foster economic and racial justice in the community?
Anderson Flen, a descendent of one of the Clotilda’s enslaved, believes the historic find can spark new discussions on those topics.
“Number one is talking and communicating honestly and transparently,” Flen said after a news conference on the effort to confirm the discovery. “The other thing is beginning to make some tangible things happen in this community.”
Another Clotilda survivor’s descendant, Darron Patterson, said Africatown residents “have to come together as a group to make sure we’re on one page, of one accord, to make sure this community survives.”
Thursday’s gathering at a community center drew roughly 300 people. Government officials taking part included U.S. Rep Bradly Byrne — who said he would work to help make Africatown “a place that people all over the world are going to want to come to” — and a representative from Sen. Doug Jones’ office. A statement celebrating the discovery from Gov. Kay Ivey was read by historic commission chairman Walter Givhan.
Officials credited Alabama journalist Ben Raines with renewing interest in locating the remains of the Clotilda. Raines had reported that he believed he had located the ship last year. Even though the ship he found turned out not to be the Clotilda, it led to the commission’s and other organizations’ efforts to locate the Clotilda’s wreckage.
A team of maritime archaeology experts conducted an assessment of a previously unsearched area of the Mobile River and historical research and an archaeological survey revealed up to two dozen 19th and 20th century vessels. One closely matched characteristics of the Clotilda and peer-reviewed findings led researchers to conclude that the wreckage is the Clotilda.
Officials have said they are working on a plan to preserve the site where the ship was located. Beyond that, the ship’s future is uncertain.
“This is the point where we pause,” Givhan told reporters. “We have to do our duty in protecting it. That’s job one right now.”
More experts will be brought in to determine the next move. “There are several options, obviously, as to whether you leave it in place, whether you bring up certain artifacts,” Givhan said.
James Delgado, a maritime archaeologist who helped lead the team that verified the wreck as the Clotilda, recently told The Associated Press that the ship’s remains are delicate but the potential for both research and inspiration are enormous.
Joycelyn Davis, a descendant of one of the Africans held captive aboard the ship, said she wants to somehow honor both the ship’s human cargo and the hard work of them and their descendants in forming Africatown .
Jerry Ward, an African American man who said he lives near Africatown, said he’d like to see the ship reconstructed as part of an effort to educate people about its history. “To know where you’re going, you’ve got to know where you come from,” Ward said.
The commission said organizations involved in the research and survey efforts include the Black Heritage Council, the National Geographic Society, the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture, the Slave Wrecks Project, Diving with a Purpose, SEARCH Inc. and the National Park Service.