Las 335.479 mariposas monarcas que le echan el pulso al cambio climático

El último conteo registró un ligero aumento en la población con respecto al anterior. Sin embargo, el calentamiento y las lluvias torrenciales amenazan la especie

Miles de mariposas monarca vuelan sobre los bosques de la reserva en el Estado de Michoacán.
Miles de mariposas monarca vuelan sobre los bosques de la reserva en el Estado de Michoacán.HECTOR GUERRERO

Es la reina de las mariposas. La más icónica y viajera de todas. La mariposa monarca migratoria (Danaus plexippus plexippus) es la primera en el imaginario colectivo, de hermosas alas naranjas y un patrón atigrado que asusta a sus predadores. Pero lo que la convierte en la más conocida es el periplo que realiza el insecto, de apenas 0,4 gramos, desde Estados Unidos y Canadá hasta México. En esos 4.000 kilómetros los peligros que enfrentan son infinitos. Desde hace unos años, el cambio climático ha comprometido su aleteo. Aunque según el 26º Conteo Anual de Acción de Gracias de la Monarca Occidental, realizado por Xerces Society, en California, la población aumentó ligeramente a 335.479 ejemplares, los expertos encienden las alarmas ante las amenazas que acechan a los hábitats que transitan.

La migración de la mariposa a los bosques mexicanos.

Esta cifra representa un aumento con respecto al total del año pasado (en la que se contaron 247.237), pero está por debajo de la meta de un promedio anual de cinco años de 500.000 monarcas necesarias para la recuperación de la especie, que se encuentra en la Lista Roja de Especies Amenazadas en la categoría de en peligro (solo hay otras dos por encima: en peligro crítico y extinta).

“Los resultados de este recuento son motivo de celebración”, dijo en un comunicado Emma Pelton, bióloga conservacionista de Xerces Society. “Un segundo año consecutivo de números relativamente positivos nos da la esperanza de que aún hay tiempo para salvar su migración. Pero sabemos que aún nos queda un largo camino para alcanzar su recuperación y, con las últimas tormentas que azotaron la zona, significa que comenzaremos la primavera con mucho menos de este recuento total”.

La población de mariposa monarca migratoria se ha reducido entre un 22% y un 72% durante la última década, advierte la Unión Internacional para la Conservación de la Naturaleza (UICN). Rebeca Quiñonez-Piñón, estratega de recuperación de Mariposas Monarca de National Wildlife Federation, es incluso más precisa: “Hace dos años, esta cifra se redujo casi un 99%. Solo había 1.914 ejemplares. Había una gran preocupación por la tendencia tan alarmante. Pensamos que igual no repuntaría”. En 1997, había más de 1,2 millones de estos insectos.

Gonzalo Andrade, profesor y director del Instituto de Ciencias Naturales de la Universidad Nacional de Colombia, sitúa los primeros impactos del cambio climático en esta especie hace 15 años. Y, aunque detalla lo resistente de la mariposa en sí, apunta que la destrucción de sus ecosistemas dificulta su supervivencia. “Cuando se desatan lluvias torrenciales, cae más nieve de la que estaba estimada, se producen olas de calor… Todo ello cambia las condiciones que necesita la mariposa. No tiene dónde reproducirse ni dónde pasar el invierno”.

Según Xerces Society, el clima extremo que causó inundaciones en California dañó la base de los árboles que las monarcas utilizan para congregarse durante el invierno. Estos se desprendieron de sus raíces y las forzó a mudarse a otras zonas en busca de un nuevo refugio.

Para Quiñonez-Piñón, además de la destrucción de hábitats, que dificulta el acceso a zonas de reproducción o a néctar que precisan, el uso excesivo de pesticidas también ha sido clave en la pérdida de estos insectos. En México, un de las principales amenazas de la especie es la tala ilegal, que va diezmando los árboles en las que hibernan. De hecho, la Reserva de la Biosfera de la Mariposa Monarca reportó el año pasado una pérdida de cobertura forestal por tala clandestina de 13,9 hectáreas, por encima de las 13,3 de 2021.

Es por ello que los expertos coinciden en que las fuerzas se tienen que centrar en la conservación de ecosistemas. Quiñonez-Piñón celebra proyectos como ley Recovering America’s Wildlife Act y The Monarch Act 2021, que promueven la restauración y la mitigación de daños en áreas de paso. “No nos podemos relajar con la legislación”, zanja.

Para los ciudadanos también hay “deberes”. “Uno de los puntos claves es la sensibilización”, explica. “Muchas de las zonas donde hibernan en Canadá están ubicadas en lugares privados y hace falta que los particulares se sumen a la causa”. Además, invita a que los vecinos hagan una jardinería responsable, plantando algodoncillo nativo y plantas de néctar, necesarias para las orugas y los adultos de la monarca. Si desaparecen, advierte, “es una pérdida de todos”.

El Pais – February 4, 2023

Tortura y abuso psicológico: cómo funciona El Yunque, la organización secreta de ultraderecha

Un exmiembro y personas conocedoras de la secta mexicana relatan a EL PAÍS cómo fue el proceso para ingresar, la formación para ser un grupo de choque y las redes de la sociedad que ampararon el desarrollo de la organización en la sombra

AMANDINA CATRALA

México ha escuchado durante décadas hablar de El Yunque, pero nunca ha sido capaz de ponerle nombre ni rostro. Algunos se han atrevido a levantar el dedo acusatorio asegurando que tal persona es un miembro de la secta religiosa de corte ultraconservador y violento, que ha esparcido sus tentáculos en la política de América Latina y España, caso del PAN en México o Vox, en España. Pero ni en el lecho de muerte, quienes han sido parte, se animan a confesarlo. Apenas unas pocas voces admiten haber estado involucrados. El hermetismo se debe principalmente a una promesa hecha bajo tortura que realizan al ingresar: nunca se hablará en público del tema. Personajes cercanos y que estuvieron dentro de la secta mexicana relatan a EL PAÍS cómo fue el proceso para ingresar, la formación para ser un grupo de choque y las redes de la sociedad que ampararon el desarrollo en las sombras de esta organización, cuyo poder ha decaído en los últimos años.

Diego Gil ingresó en El Yunque en 2002, cuando tenía apenas 11 años. Ese no es su verdadero nombre, que prefiere mantener bajo reserva, sino el pseudónimo que le dieron en la organización por “cuestiones de seguridad”. A él, cuenta en una entrevista con este periódico, lo reclutaron cuando estaba en los Boys Scout, donde operaban miembros de la secta. Se acercaban a su aniversario 50 -fue fundado en 1953 en Puebla- y querían duplicar la cantidad de miembros. Su primer paso fue entrar a algo que llamaban “La Pre”: una especie de simulación de organización secreta en la que, si les iba bien, podían ingresar al Yunque. “Allí fue donde me pusieron una golpiza, donde me enseñaron a usar un arma, donde me enseñaron a torturar”, cuenta.

Gil pasó ocho años dentro de la organización secreta, la mitad de ellos dentro de “la rama radical” de una secta de por sí con valores ultraconservadores y de derecha. “La conclusión a la que llegué después de ocho años fue que lo que hacen contigo es abusar de tu mente. Te convierten en una máquina de guerra. Yo era una máquina de guerra que en nombre de Cristo podía hacer cualquier cosa. Hice cosas terribles. Cuando sales descubres que eres víctima y te descubres como una persona abusada, porque eso somos los orgánicos [como le llaman a los militantes], somos personas abusadas por una institución perversa”, dice en conversación por videollamada.

El fin del Yunque es “imponer el reinado de Cristo en la Sociedad por cualquier medio”. Para eso, les inculcan que toda la organización se basa en tres pilares: primordialidad, tienen que dejar su vida por Cristo; reserva, no pueden hablar en público de la organización; y disciplina, para llevar una vida estructurada y ejecutar entrenamientos físicos. “Algunos aprendimos a manejar los palos filipinos, otros en otras épocas manejaban muy bien los chacos para golpear comunistas”, cuenta Gil.

Para poder entrar al Yunque, tuvo que superar un curso de iniciación de tres días que consistía en una especie de ritual heredado del siglo XIX. “Es un curso en el que medio te secuestran, te mandan a un lugar, te ponen unas golpizas, no te dejan dormir, no comes, no tomas agua. De repente te apuntan con la pistola en la frente simulando que son enemigos de la organización”, recuerda el exmiembro de la secta.

Una vez dentro, les llamaban “monjes guerreros de combate”. Algunas de las órdenes que recibió Gil en los años que estuvo activo eran enfrentarse físicamente contra masones y miembros del Opus Dei, infiltrarse en los congresos estatal y federal para atacar a diferentes grupos o agredir a quienes eran considerados “enemigos”, como los gais, los socialistas o las organizaciones a favor del aborto. “Nunca me tocó que pidieran matar personas, ni torturar. Pero en otras épocas esas cosas sí pasaban”. El hombre recuerda que gran parte del trabajo que hacían eran tareas de inteligencia. Seguían a gente, iban a eventos a tomar fotografías, grababan reuniones y reportaban con quiénes se juntaban algunos objetivos del espionaje.

A los cuatro años de estar dentro, le hicieron ingresar en la “rama radical” del Yunque: los Cruzados de Cristo Rey, una organización religiosa de derecho diocesano que contaba con reconocimiento del Vaticano, que también estaba presente en España y continúa activa en México. Allí, Gil estuvo hasta 2010 preparándose para ser sacerdote mientras trabajaba para el Yunque. “Éramos delincuentes”, recuerda, “muchos de los actos de violencia y sabotajes que me tocó hacer, los hice como cruzado, colgábamos la sotana, íbamos al Congreso a armar pleito y ahí se olvidaba que éramos religiosos”.

Gil llegó a ser secretario de Interior, un cargo medio en la estructura interna de la secta. Manejaba información secreta, estaba a cargo de parte de la enseñanza que se dictaba, y organizaba las ceremonias de iniciación. El proceso de afiliación incluía, por ejemplo, controles del cuerpo desnudo del futuro miembro, para certificar que no fuera “un judío infiltrado”. La ceremonia era un evento secreto al que llevaban a los novatos con los ojos vendados, les hacían rezar el rosario y les lanzaban una serie de amenazas: “Entrabas y te decían: ‘Bienvenidos al recinto de la hermandad y la lucha. Si tu intención fuera traicionarnos, más te valiera no habernos conocido”.

El último año de Gil en El Yunque fue el más difícil. Varias cosas le hacían ruido y sus cuestionamientos a superiores le habían valido duros castigos. “Un día no pude más, hice mis maletas y desaparecí”. A pesar de todo los abusos físicos que sufrió, mantiene que lo peor fueron los abusos psicológicos. Desde entonces ha podido reconstruir su vida, pero le costó mucho trabajo dejar atrás esos ocho años. “Cuando tú sales de una organización secreta no tienes a quién acudir porque no puedes ir con tu vecino a decirle: ‘Oye, acabo de salir de una organización secreta radical que me enseñó a torturar. Ayúdame”, recuerda. “Estás solo con el mundo”.

El Yunque, en las sombras del poder

La secta mexicana actuó durante décadas en las sombras, pero muchos conocían y avalaban su existencia y sus actividades. Además de decenas de asociaciones civiles, creadas por ellos para usar de fachada, con las que operaban en contra del aborto, el feminismo o los derechos LGBT, se habían hecho espacio en universidades, confederaciones empresariales y partidos políticos. Entre las filas de El Yunque había militares, profesores, empresarios, obispos y periodistas, de acuerdo al relato de varias personas que estuvieron cerca de la organización.

En el escenario político se concentraban en su mayoría en el Partido Acción Nacional (PAN), donde actualmente operaba una franja de la secta. Al interior del partido impulsaron durante décadas a diferentes candidatos a lo largo y a lo ancho del país. Incluso llegaron a tener presidentes nacionales del PAN. La época en la que gozaron de más poder fue durante la presidencia de Vicente Fox, en la que tenían miembros dentro del Gabinete. El caso más sonado es el entonces secretario de Gobernación, Carlos Abascal, a quien tanto Gil como otras fuentes del partido que prefieren mantener el anonimato señalan como un miembro orgánico.

Luego, entre 2006 y 2012, llegaron a infiltrarse en los Gobiernos de tres Estados: Morelos, Guanajuato y Jalisco, señalan varias fuentes. Pero como los miembros de El Yunque no aceptan en público su pertenencia al grupo, incluso para los líderes del PAN era difícil distinguirlos dentro del partido.

Gil calcula que en ese entonces eran unos 10.000 miembros pasivos, como les llamaban a quienes ya habían dejado de militar. La mayoría de los militantes eran hijos de otros integrantes que estaban en las filas. Pero desde aquellos años la presencia y el poder de El Yunque ha ido en descenso. Los jóvenes de ahora “no aguantan mucho”, dice Gil, porque a diferencia de otras épocas “hay más acceso a la información para cuestionar lo que está mal”. Fuentes del PAN han explicado que la secta también se ha replegado dentro del partido después de que perdieran las elecciones presidenciales en 2012 y 2018 y se volvieran oposición.

La secta al descubierto

El investigador Luis Ángel Hurtado Razo, de la Facultad de Ciencias Políticas y Sociales de la Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM), especializado en sociedades secretas, señala que desde que este grupo de ultraderecha quedó en evidencia gracias a trabajos periodísticos no se caracteriza por una militancia en la clandestinidad. “El Yunque ha pasado a ser una agrupación más abierta y pública que detenta el poder mediante asociaciones civiles”, dice en entrevista. Ese radicalismo de derecha ahora “es bien visto por sector y eso se puede traducir en apoyo político”. Algunas de las organizaciones que operaban de fachada, como la asociación Provida o el Frente Nacional por la Familia, continuan muy activas en la actualidad.

Para Julián Cruzalta, de la cátedra UNESCO de Derechos Humanos de la UNAM y miembro de Iglesias por la Paz, El Yunque no ha desaparecido, sino que se ha transformado. La imagen que dan ahora, dice Cruzalta, es de jóvenes modernos con un alto nivel académico que se camuflan en diversas instituciones y asociaciones. “Hoy son más pragmáticos. Esta imagen de gente formal ya no aplica, es en el discurso donde le reconoce uno”. La retórica, sin embargo, sigue apelando a lo de siempre, asegura: la lucha contra el aborto y el matrimonio igualitario, y la defensa de los valores de la familia tradicional.

El Pais – February 5, 2023

Talk of resignation and retreat swirls in Ukraine as Bakhmut enters endgame

Speculation rife that Ukraine’s defence minister will be forced to resign as Russia steps up attacks on eastern side of city

 Ukrainian gunners fire at Russian positions in Bakhmut, 4 February 2023.
 Ukrainian gunners fire at Russian positions in Bakhmut, 4 February 2023. Photograph: Adrien Vautier/Le Pictorium Agency/ZUMA/REX/Shutterstock

Ukraine’s defence minister sought to dismiss speculation in Kyiv that he would be forced to resign or be reshuffled at a lengthy press conference where he also claimed that Russia was taking 500 casualties a day in Bakhmut.

Oleksii Reznikov, one of Ukraine’s better known figures internationally, has been under pressure after it emerged the defence ministry paid twice or three times the supermarket price of food to supply troops on the frontline.

“No one is in the chair for his whole life,” Reznikov said on Sunday, before stressing that any decision about his appointment “was up to President Volodymyr Zelenskiy of Ukraine in accordance with the constitution”.

Such generalised comments are unlikely to kill off the speculation of the last 24 hours, suggesting that Reznikov might quit or be moved by Zelenskiy, and replaced by Kyrylo Budanov, the head of Ukraine’s military intelligence.

On Saturday, an opposition MP, Oleskiy Honcharenko, said there was “a high probability” Rezniknov would be moved to work as the deputy to Andriy Yermak, Zelenskiy’s chief of staff. Similar speculation appeared in Ukrainian media on Sunday.

Reznikov used the press conference to highlight the weapons that Ukraine has gradually obtained from the west over the past year, from 155mm artillery to tanks, and argued that “therefore we can say today we are a de facto a Nato country”.

Last week, the Ukrainian minister met the French president, Emmanuel Macron, in Paris, underlying his seniority in Kyiv’s government. During his visit France announced it would supply 12 more Caesar howitzers to Ukraine.

But Reznikov faced a string of questions about corruption in the ministry from Ukrainian journalists, at a time when Zelenskiy has instituted a fresh anti-corruption drive to show the country can be ready for EU membership. Efforts to tackle corruption in his ministry needed to be “fully reloaded”, he added.

The defence minister said he believed that Ukraine would eventually obtain F-16s or other western fighter jets, but warned against slow decision making. “Procrastination with aircraft platforms,” Reznikov said, “will cost us more lives and blood of Ukrainians” and would eventually cost the west more in postwar reconstruction.

A future Russian offensive, the minister predicted, would come from “two directions of their priority, to try and break through our defence line in the east and south” in attempt to capture all the eastern Donbas and maintain a large land bridge between prewar Russia and Crimea, occupied since 2014.

The major attack would probably be timed to coincide with the first anniversary of the war, said Reznikov, adding that while “not all of the western weaponry will arrive in time” he believed Ukraine would be able to hold back a fresh assault.

Russia has gradually stepped up its attacks on the eastern city of Bakhmut, where the offence is led by the private military Wagner group, although the Ukrainians argued that Moscow was continuing to take heavy losses, mostly of prisoners, allowed out of jails and forced into battle.

Russia, Reznikov said, was losing “500 killed and wounded every day in Bakhmut” – a figure that it is not possible to verify – while Ukraine’s losses were “strictly less” in fierce winter fighting that has gradually seen Moscow’s forces come closer to enveloping the largely deserted city.skip past newsletter promotion

The casualty figure is likely to be on the high side, but reflective of the nature of urban warfare and a contest for a city, which has dragged on for several months, but is increasingly entering its endgame.

Britain’s Ministry of Defence said Bakhmut was “increasingly isolated”, in a morning intelligence assessment, which noted that Russia now had the two main roads into the city under threat from direct artillery fire, making it harder to supply the defending forces into the town.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of Wagner, said Ukrainian forces were continuing to contest the Russian advance, in a statement that described Bakhmut by its old name, which dates back to the Soviet era.

“In the northern quarters of Artemovsk, fierce battles are going on for every street, every house, every stairwell,” Prigozhin said. “The Ukrainian armed forces are fighting to the last,” he added.

Overnight, Zelenskiy himself acknowledged that the situation “is very difficult” at key points in the frontline, in Bakhmut, and also near further south Vuhledar, south-west of Donestsk city, and further north-east of the city of Lyman.

Any decision to stage a tactical retreat from Bakhmut, Reznikov said, would be made by Ukraine’s military leaders, led by Gen Valerii Zaluzhnyi, arguing it was not a matter that could be determined by politicians.

Five civilians were killed by Russian shelling, regional officials said, four of whom were in the eastern Donetsk province, including three in Bakhmut. Five were injured in Kharkiv, when missiles struck a residential building and a university block.

The Guardian – February 5, 2023

Returning From Africa, Pope Francis and Christian Leaders Condemn Anti-Gay Laws

In an in-flight news conference after six days in the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan, Francis also denounced conservative critics who he said had “instrumentalized” the death of Benedict XVI.

Pope Francis speaking with members of the news media on Sunday on the flight to Rome from Juba, South Sudan.
Pope Francis speaking with members of the news media on Sunday on the flight to Rome from Juba, South Sudan.Credit…Pool photo by Tiziana Fabi

ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE — Pope Francis on Sunday doubled down on his assertion that homosexuality should not be criminalized, saying on the papal plane returning from South Sudan, a country that penalizes homosexual acts, that “to condemn a person like this is a sin.”

But Francis, 86, also turned his attention back toward Rome, lacing into “unethical” conservative critics who he said had “instrumentalized” the death of his predecessor, Benedict XVI, and then told lies to promote their own ideological and partisan interests.

Francis made the comments in a remarkable joint in-flight news conference with the head of the Anglican Communion and Scotland’s top Presbyterian minister after spending six days in Africa, first in the Democratic Republic of Congo and then in South Sudan. During the trip, he used his global clout and moral authority to draw attention to and foster peace in the plundered and war-torn countries.

He also reiterated his condemnation of great powers exploiting Africa. The continent’s booming population and vibrant Roman Catholic Church make it critical to the faith’s future, as well as to Francis’ legacy as a pope trying to make the church more global and focused on the needs of its poor, hungry and downtrodden.

But Africa is also vehemently opposed to the more progressive aspects of Francis’ pontificate, especially an increased inclusion of gay people.

That tension is not unique to the Roman Catholic Church. While the Church of Scotland allows same-sex marriages, and its Presbyterian leader, the Rt. Rev. Iain Greenshields, said on the flight that Jesus never turned anyone away, the Anglican Church is struggling, like the Vatican, to navigate a tightrope. It has a conflict between its more liberal Western churches that are happy to bless same-sex civil marriages, and that want to allow such marriages in churches, and its conservative African bishops who consider recognizing gay marriage a red line that must not be crossed.

Along the main road in Bentiu, South Sudan, last week. While in Africa, Francis used his moral authority to call for peace in violence-plagued countries, like South Sudan.
Along the main road in Bentiu, South Sudan, last week. While in Africa, Francis used his moral authority to call for peace in violence-plagued countries, like South Sudan. Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

And so it was fitting that Francis was joined on the flight back to Rome by the Most Rev. Justin Welby, archbishop of Canterbury and the symbolic head of the global Anglican Communion, who acknowledged that the question of homosexuality — and the degree to which it is accepted and legitimized — had roiled his own church.

Archbishop Welby said on the plane that his church had issued multiple declarations against the criminalization of homosexuality, “but it has not really changed many people’s mind.”

That was apparent for both faiths during the pope’s six days in Africa, where the mere mention of gay people prompted immediate condemnation.

“For me, it’s like a witch,” said Phaneul Ladu, 37, a Catholic who joined a crowd of more than 70,000 faithful for Francis’ final event of the trip: an open-air Mass on Sunday morning in Juba, South Sudan’s capital.

“If you do a crime, you should be penalized,” Mr. Ladu said, but he added that it was not worth talking about whether or not homosexuality should be criminalized, “because it doesn’t exist.”

Abraham Duot, the Anglican bishop from Jonglei State, struck a similar note as he walked toward the stage and in front of the grandstand where the country’s political leaders, including South Sudan’s president, Salva Kiir, surveyed the crowd.

“South Sudan is different because of the culture,” said Archbishop Duot, who also said that he did not believe that the country criminalized homosexuality or that it was “in our Constitution.”

“It is better for you to get two wives than to become a gay or become a lesbian,” he said.

Members of the Roman Catholic Church on Saturday at the Cathedral of St. Therese in Juba. Many African church leaders are more conservative on the issue of homosexuality.
Members of the Roman Catholic Church on Saturday at the Cathedral of St. Therese in Juba. Many African church leaders are more conservative on the issue of homosexuality. Credit…Jim Huylebroek for The New York Times

On Friday evening at the presidential palace, where Francis and Mr. Kiir met to discuss steps toward peace, the archbishop of Juba, Stephen Ameyu Martin Mulla, argued that, while he believed in change, with all of the calamities facing the country — and Africa as a whole — the issue of homosexuality was not a priority.

“Change could be adopted in different stages. To some people, it’s not really necessary to make changes in that direction,” he said, adding that he himself had never seen anyone imprisoned “because of his being gay.” He said that the criminalization issue was entirely absent from public and private debate in South Sudan.

But he was skeptical of the West’s inflicting its views of sexuality on African cultures. “I believe that these situations cannot be equalized,” Archbishop Ameyu said. “It should be treated from country to country.” He added that Francis had made clear that it was most important to respect human dignity.

Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul, the former primate of the South Sudanese Episcopal Church, who took his seat of honor at the Presidential Palace, took a harder line when asked about whether African churches could shift their position on homosexuality to more closely align with those in Europe.

“We don’t accept that one because it’s not part of our life,” he said, stating, “We are against it” and “we don’t want it” and “the wickedness of a human cannot be considered as something to be discussed.”

Asked specifically about the pope’s call for governments not to criminalize homosexuality, he added, “That is the pope — but I’m telling you it is a sin.”

On the papal plane, a reporter asked Francis what he would say to families in Congo and South Sudan who rejected their gay children because they followed the teachings of their local churches, which held that homosexuality was an unacceptable sin, and what he would say to those priests and bishops.

A photograph provided by the Vatican of the archbishop of Juba, Stephen Ameyu Martin Mulla, with Pope Francis on Sunday during a Mass in Juba.
A photograph provided by the Vatican of the archbishop of Juba, Stephen Ameyu Martin Mulla, with Pope Francis on Sunday during a Mass in Juba.Credit…Vatican Media/via Reuters

Francis responded, reminding reporters that he had said in 2013 on a flight back from Brazil, “Who am I to judge” a faithful and gay person, and that in 2018 he had made it clear when returning from Ireland that families should not reject their gay children.

He also cited an interview last month with The Associated Press in which he acknowledged that some Catholic bishops around the world supported laws that criminalize or discriminate against homosexuality. He said at the time that bishops needed to recognize the dignity of every person, but that it would be a process.

On Sunday, Francis repeated that “criminalization of homosexuality is a problem to let pass.” Speaking of countries that do criminalize homosexuality, and especially those that apply the death penalty, he reiterated, “It is not just.”

Archbishop Welby then seized the moment to acknowledge that the issue had split his own church and would be “our main topic of discussion” at the Church of England’s bishops meeting this week.

On the plane, Francis also broached the issue of same-sex couples when he expressed frustration, and even anger, with the way Benedict XVI — who died on Dec. 31 and was a north star to conservatives, including in Africa, for upholding traditional church teaching — had been exploited by some acolytes in death.

Francis recalled that when he publicly recognized civil unions, someone tried to denigrate him to Benedict, who instead conferred with theologians and did nothing.

He said he brought it up to show the goodness of Benedict, who, he said, “I could talk with about anything” and who “was always by my side.” Francis rejected the notion, spread by conservative opponents, most prominently in a new tell-all book by Benedict’s former secretary, Archbishop Georg Gänswein, that Benedict was “embittered” on this and other occasions. “It’s bunk,” Francis said, using an Italianization of a Spanish expression.

“On the contrary,” he said, “I consulted Benedict on several decisions, and he agreed.”

“The death of Benedict, I believe, has been instrumentalized by people who are carrying their own water,” Francis added. “These are people of party politics, not of the church.”

He also repeated his condemnation of a mentality among great powers and financial interests that “Africa is for exploiting.” Vatican officials said on Sunday that China was one of the principal offenders of that mentality in Africa.

Mr. Ladu, one of the faithful who attended the Mass, agreed. “What China is doing is negative for Africa,” he said. “They feel that when a system is weak, they can cheat it.” He recalled how Francis, speaking in Kinshasa, Congo’s capital, had declared, “Hands off Africa.”

“I think he meant developed countries,” he said. “But I also think he meant China.”

New York Times – February 5, 2023

Some Homeless Encampments Can Stay, but the Underlying Issues Remain

Three court decisions have now ruled that the shelter system does not meet the needs of homeless people.

In many Canadians cities, one noticeable consequence of the pandemic has been a rise in the number of homeless people living in encampments. Now three separate court rulings in British Columbia and Ontario have upheld the right of their residents to not be removed.

Toronto has been aggressive when it comes to removing homeless people from encampments.
Toronto has been aggressive when it comes to removing homeless people from encampments.Credit…Ian Willms for The New York Times

There is a widespread housing affordability crisis in Canada right now for all but the wealthy. But as the situation for people at the bottom continues to worsen, much of the political response has focused on people with stable incomes and jobs who want to buy a home.

Unlike the United States, Canada does not officially count the number of homeless people in its streets, abandoned lots and parks. But the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness, which is based in Calgary, surveyed 14 cities. It found that from February 2020 until last October, the number of people who were chronically homeless rose 34 percent on average in three-quarters of those cities.

“People that I talk to who have been doing this work for 20 years are saying it’s never been this bad,” Tim Richter, the group’s president and chief executive, told me. “Not just in terms of numbers but in terms of the condition that people are in.”

Leilani Farha, the global director of Make The Shift, an international group that promotes the right to housing, told me that Canada has one of the worst records globally when it comes to homelessness.

“Something systemic is going on,” said Ms. Farha, who is based in Ottawa. “Our system is broken.”

The three court decisions, the oldest of which dates to 2020, involved attempts by a regional government, a port authority and a parks commission to remove encampments from lands they control.

But unlike many other judges in the past, the three who heard these cases accepted the evidence that there aren’t enough spots in shelters for the growing population of homeless people, and that existing shelters often don’t meet the needs of many of them or can be more dangerous than encampments.

In a decision issued just over a year ago, Justice F. Matthew Kirchner of the Supreme Court of British Columbia also noted that clearing out encampments without resolving housing issues creates something of a perpetual motion machine.

“Ministerial orders and court injunctions effectively clear out a camp from one location but have not been effective in preventing the re-establishment of camps in another location,” he wrote.

But aside from allowing people in the camps to remain, not one of the three decisions contains any orders to force governments to provide proper housing.

“The unique factors of this case make the issue of an appropriate remedy somewhat difficult,” Justice Michael J. Valente of the Superior Court of Justice of Ontario wrote in a decision released last month, in which he found the encampment bylaws covering Kitchener, Ontario, violated people’s constitutional right to “life, liberty, and security of the person.”

While Mr. Richter and Ms. Farha welcomed the courts’ recognition of the rights of homeless people, they both expressed concern that they could have unintended consequences. Ms. Farha said that some governments might read the decisions and conclude that “if we just had a more robust, barrier-free shelter system, all would be good.”

She added: “But we don’t want people living in shelters. Shelters are meant to be emergency services.”

Part of a homeless encampment in a Toronto park.
Part of a homeless encampment in a Toronto park.Credit…Ian Willms for The New York Times

What effect the cases will have on other cities’ efforts to remove camps is unclear. Toronto has been among the more aggressive cities with its legal efforts. Last year, as my colleague Catherine Porter reported, that included going after a man who built about 100 winter shelters for people living in camps.

[Read: The Carpenter Who Built Tiny Homes for Toronto’s Homeless]

While home buyers often receive more political attention than homeless people, there have been, and remain, efforts to deal with homelessness. Before the pandemic reversed everything, Alberta’s commitment to eliminate homelessness was in fact reducing the number of people without shelter in Edmonton, Mr. Richter said.

“That’s in the rearview mirror now,” he said. “The government stepped away from that.”

But generally the issue finds itself floating between different levels of government with little to no coordination and often insufficient funding.

The federal government’s 10-year National Housing Strategy, which was estimated to cost 78.5 billion Canadian dollars ($58.5 billion) when it was unveiled in 2017, includes a commitment to cut chronic homelessness by half by 2028. But as Vjosa Isai wrote last year in this newsletter, Karen Hogan, the auditor general of Canada, found that while various federal agencies and departments had spent more than 4.5 billion dollars, they had no idea how that money had affected levels of homelessness, nor did they see themselves as responsible for dealing with chronic homelessness.

[Read: Did Billions in Spending Make a Dent in Homelessness? Canada Doesn’t Know.]

“It’s a mess in Canada,” Ms. Farha said. “I work on this stuff globally and I keep coming back to the fact that I think Canada has one of the most difficult housing and homelessness situations in the developed world.”

New York Times – February 4, 2023

Life on the edge: meet the man who walked around the UK

Walk on: Christian Lewis with his lurcher cross Jet, who joined him on his travels, on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides.
Walk on: Christian Lewis with his lurcher cross Jet, who joined him on his travels, on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides

Facing financial ruin, Christian Lewis, a former paratrooper, set out on a six-year, 11,000-mile trek around our entire coastline. It changed his life in more ways than he could possibly imagine

Christian Lewis is sitting in the kitchen of a family home that is not his own, having only met the owners once before, near St Peter Port, Guernsey. He needed a reliable internet connection to do this interview and the family, who have followed his journey on social media, offered him their place. This, says Lewis over Zoom, is “not the first time things like this have happened”. That’s putting it mildly.

The Lewis I speak to today is a man totally transformed from the 37-year-old who first set out to walk the entire coastline of the UK back in August 2017. Then, he was living in Swansea and was too afraid even to answer his front door. “It really was as if there was a Russian spy at the door… It was ridiculous. I’d hide behind the cupboards,” he says. A former paratrooper, Lewis had struggled on his return to “civvy street”, trudging from one cash-in-hand job to another, his mental health spiralling, while also being a single parent to his daughter, Caitlin. “I fell behind on bills, debts, God knows what else… I didn’t want to leave the house.”

It was Caitlin’s decision to leave home, aged 16, which triggered his desire to change his life. With just weeks left on the tenancy of his flat and a deteriorating financial situation, Lewis realised he was facing homelessness. The day Caitlin left, he went down to Llangennith beach on the Gower Peninsula, where he had an epiphany. “I just said to myself, ‘Look, if you don’t do something now, you really are in trouble, mate!’ Because I knew that whether it’d be changing jobs, changing house, moving to another place, my problems would follow me,” he explains. “There and then, I made the split decision to walk.” Why he chose this walk in particular is a question Lewis can’t answer. “I don’t know. It very much just came into my head: the UK coastline.”

Man beside mountain

Owing to the effects of the tide, the exact length of the UK coastline is up for debate. One estimate puts the coast of England, Wales and Scotland – plus their islands, which Lewis has included in his expedition – at 11,023 miles. That figure excludes the coast of Northern Ireland, which he has also completed as part of his mission. Whatever the exact figure, it is an enormous endeavour and one which is the subject of Lewis’s exhilarating book, Finding Hildasay, which he wrote on an A4 pad while walking, and is named after the uninhabited Scottish island where he lived alone for three months during the first Covid-19 lockdown.

Within three days of his life-changing decision, Lewis had gathered the meagre supplies he needed for the trip. Most were donated to him by family and friends: gas stove, map, sleeping bag, two days’ rations, and a tent with a hole in the top. His sister helped set up a Facebook page for him to document his walk, which he decided to use to raise money for SSAFA, an armed forces charity that supported him during his hardships. His mum bought him a phone on eBay to take photos. With £10 in his pocket, Lewis set off. His main plan? To walk with the sea on his left.

His initial experiences were gruelling. Lewis quickly ran out of money, went days without eating and lost a lot of weight. His tent leaked whenever it rained, soaking all his kit. He had to limit himself to 10 minutes of torchlight a night, as he couldn’t afford new batteries. But giving up was never on the cards, he says. “Whether it be hunger, lack of sleep, or because my kit was just abysmal, I always reminded myself, ‘What would you rather be doing? Would you rather be doing this? Or would you rather be sat in your flat, with absolutely no light at the end of the tunnel?’”

Nice white dog

Gradually, Lewis’s fortunes improved. He learned to forage for limpets and mussels. He got better at talking to people, telling them of his charity walk; in turn, they offered help, with food and sometimes a place to stay. A person in the Lake District bought him a new set of walking boots, sleeping bag and cooking pots; he was greeted in Northern Ireland with a £380 envelope of cash, which he used to buy a proper, four-season tent before heading into the Scottish Highlands for the winter. Indeed, Lewis’s journey has often depended on the kindness of strangers. “There are,” says Lewis, “so many good people out there.”

And those following his journey grew and grew. At the time of writing, Lewis has more than 112,000 followers on Facebook, with more than £277,000 raised for SSAFA so far. It’s been about “forcing myself into a position where in order to make this grow, the walk, and getting the donations,” he says, “and meeting others and hearing their stories, and then realising that if I just opened up a little bit, we’re having a two-way interaction between people that need to chat to each other.”

Lewis with woolly hat and beard

A self-described “all-or-nothing kind of guy”, Lewis has added even more to his adventure, completing the Three Peaks challenge – climbing the mountains of Snowdon, Scafell Pike and Ben Nevis – along the way. Not only, he says, has it restored his faith in humanity, it’s also how he met Kate, the woman who is now his wife and with whom he has a son, and a pet dog, Jet – a lurcher cross.

Since setting off, Lewis has found his misfortunes have been turned on their heads – often remarkably quickly. He recalls his first Christmas, on the tiny Scottish island of Little Bernera, which he initially dreaded. Stuck on his own, with a menu consisting of foraged limpets, “which I was sick of eating at this point… I really remember just sort of telling myself: ‘Right, mate, you’ve got to batten down the hatches for Christmas and Boxing Day, everyone’s going to be doing stuff with their families, this is going to be tough.’” When suddenly, a family he’d met the day before arrived by boat, having spent all morning cooking a Christmas dinner to eat with him. “The weather stops and it becomes beautiful, and I’m sharing a roast dinner with a family in the most idyllic place in the world,” remembers Lewis. “And it’s those little points where things turn on a sixpence. One minute you’re thinking, ‘What the hell am I going to do?’ and the next something else has happened. I love that uncertainty.”

Dog in tent in snow

Physically, he’s muddled his way through some sticky situations. While walking on Islay, he slipped on some seaweed-coated rocks, injuring his ankle. “I ended up having to drag myself to the nearest road where I could seek some help, which was about 14 miles away,” he says. Another time, he cracked a tooth clean in half, and was forced to extract the part that was protruding into his gums with an old guitar string, after glugging some whisky from his hip flask. The pain, he says, was so excruciating he “spewed up everywhere”. Yet Lewis is remarkably positive about these incidents. “Things like that taught me a lot about myself and the importance of remaining calm.”

His “absolute highlight”, though, was the three months he spent on Hildasay, off the west coast of Shetland, during that first lockdown. “I felt it was a very, very calm place for me, while everyone else was rushing around for toilet rolls,” he says. Instead, he focused on staying fit and “working hard for the basic amenities, some heat, some food and making sure that Jet was warm, and I was warm, too.”

Dog in tin shack

His journey didn’t stop at Hildasay, which is where his book concludes. In fact, he’s still on his adventure (and may yet pen another book about the rest of it). When we speak, in mid-January, he is preparing to head to Jersey, where he’ll finish walking the Channel Islands, before sailing to Weymouth, then along to the southwestern tip of England. He estimates he has another five months left before crossing the finish line back in Swansea.

Not long after leaving Hildasay, in August 2020, Lewis was camping by the Whaligoe Steps, on the northeast coast of Scotland, when he met Kate, who was on an adventure of her own, the North Coast 500. “About 40 minutes after she left, she came back down with some fish and chips, two cans of good old Scottish Tennent’s,” recalls Lewis of their meeting. “And that was it, we hit it off. Six weeks later, she came and joined me.”

Odd artwork

Kate gave up a career training teachers and last spring the couple welcomed their newborn son, Magnus, with Kate having walked and wild camped throughout her pregnancy. “It’s been phenomenal,” she says. “I could never have expected when I joined that we would have had a baby on the way.” Since Magnus joined them, the couple have slowed in pace, using a van to carry their things and sleep in when needed.

But Lewis is intent on crossing that finishing line. He has, he says, learned so much when it comes to talking about mental health and how “the more I opened up, and the more honest I was, then actually, the more that would help people”. In turn, speaking to people has improved his own wellbeing. “I think, realising there are so many people out there like that, too, helped me to feel less shame in myself.” His journey has helped to restore his relationship with Caitlin, who has supported him throughout and to whom, along with Magnus, he has dedicated his book.

Dog on mound of stones

Lewis has reaped the benefits of being in nature, too. “It’s said, so many times, this connection with nature thing,” he says, particularly “being outside for long periods of time in places that make you feel so insignificant.” All of this, he says, puts things into perspective. “When you feel much smaller, it makes you realise how lucky you are. We have a very small possibility of living a life on this planet and you’ve just got to bloody make the most of it. End of.”

What has his journey given him so far? “I don’t need much if I’ve got this,” he says, gesturing around him. “As long as I’ve got Jet, Kate and Magnus, then I don’t need anything else to make me happy.” Then, with a shrug of his shoulders, he adds: “The simpler things in life: staying young and having fun – not getting too serious – are very important. And I love the outdoors.”

The Guardian – February 5, 2023

Navy Divers Work to Recover Debris From Chinese Spy Balloon

The effort off the coast of South Carolina is expected to take days. Navy and Coast Guard ships have been sent to the scene.

The white spy balloon falling after being shot down.
The shooting down of the spy balloon capped a remarkable week of high-stakes international drama.Credit…Randall Hill/Reuters

WASHINGTON — Navy divers were working to locate portions of the debris from the Chinese spy balloon that a U.S. fighter jet shot down six miles off the coast of South Carolina, defense officials said on Sunday.

The recovery effort, which is expected to take days, began not long after debris from the balloon hit the water, a defense official said. He added that a Navy ship arrived on the scene soon after the balloon was shot down, and that other Navy and Coast Guard ships, which had been put on alert, were also sent to the scene.

The shooting down of the balloon capped a remarkable week of high-stakes international drama, played out over the skies of the continental United States. While China has insisted that the balloon was not for surveillance, but rather a weather balloon that drifted off course, the Biden administration has stood firm that the balloon’s purpose was a somewhat hapless effort by China to spy on American military installations.

On Saturday, President Biden said that he had told Pentagon officials to shoot down the balloon, and that they “said to me, let’s wait until the safest place to do it.”

Pentagon officials said they took steps — without offering specifics — to make sure that the balloon did not yield much fruit as it hovered near Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana and other installations. They also said China could glean the same amount of intelligence from a spy satellite.

Nonetheless, the incident turned into a full fledged diplomatic quarrel between the world’s two great powers, with Biden administration officials calling their Chinese counterparts and Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken canceling what was to be the first trip to China by a Biden cabinet secretary.

Pentagon officials have made clear that they plan to collect every piece of debris that Navy divers can retrieve, for America’s own intelligence purposes. Because the balloon was shot down in relatively shallow water, they believe that the recovery effort will not be difficult.

Still, Navy divers will have to contend with cold water temperatures during the recovery effort. The defense official said that once all the debris is collected, the Pentagon will hand it over to be studied by various federal intelligence and law enforcement agencies.

New York Times – February 5, 2023

Corporate Lawyer’s Unlikely Mission: Defend and ‘Humanize’ a Hated Terrorist

Stanislas Eskenazi volunteered with Brussels’ legal aid service, typically helping petty criminals. But now he is representing Belgium’s most-wanted man.

Stanislas Eskenazi, right, the defense lawyer of Mohamed Abrini, with other defense lawyers, at the opening of the trial of those accused of carrying out the terrorist attacks in Brussels in March of 2016.
Stanislas Eskenazi, right, the defense lawyer of Mohamed Abrini, with other defense lawyers, at the opening of the trial of those accused of carrying out the terrorist attacks in Brussels in March of 2016. Credit…Pool photo by Stephanie Lecocq

BRUSSELS — The two men sitting in the Brussels courtroom have much in common.

They are almost the same age. They are both sons of immigrants, who grew up in rough neighborhoods of Brussels. As youths, they hung out in teahouses, smoking and watching images of the U.S. invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, and the large-scale deaths of civilians there, as well as the notorious abuses at Abu Ghraib prison.

But for all their similarities, their roles in the courtroom could hardly be more different.

Mohamed Abrini is sitting inside a glass cubicle, accused of organizing deadly terrorist attacks that shook Europe to its core. Stanislas Eskenazi is his silver-tongued lawyer, who has devoted the last six years of his life to defending his client during highly publicized trials, first in Paris, and now this one in Brussels.

“This is going to sound crazy,” said Mr. Eskenazi, 40, in an interview at his Brussels office. “But he could have been a friend.”

The assaults in Paris in November 2015 and in Brussels in March 2016 were the deadliest operations ever carried out by the Islamic State on European soil. The coordinated shootings and bombings killed 162 people and injured several hundred.

Responsibility for both attacks, whose targets included a concert hall, a soccer stadium, a rush-hour Metro stop and the Brussels airport, was claimed by an Islamic State cell that was linked to the Brussels neighborhood of Molenbeek, where both Mr. Eskenazi and Mr. Abrini spent a big part of their lives.

While their lives’ paths had circled around each other, they did not actually cross until a half-dozen years ago. Mr. Eskenazi, a successful corporate lawyer, was volunteering with the city’s legal service. When he got a call on April 8, 2016, he thought it would be a request to defend yet another petty offender caught shoplifting.

Instead, it was the police calling about Mr. Abrini.

Known as “Belgium’s most wanted man,” he had been on the run for two weeks. Before he was identified, he had been called the “man in the hat,” seen in surveillance video accompanying two suicide bombers who detonated their explosives at Brussels Airport on March 22.

Mohamed Abrini, left, was originally known as the “man in the hat.” His image was captured by surveillance video at the Brussels airport on the day of the terrorist attack there.
Mohamed Abrini, left, was originally known as the “man in the hat.” His image was captured by surveillance video at the Brussels airport on the day of the terrorist attack there.Credit…Belgian Federal Police, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The lawyer went to the police station and spent all night speaking with Mr. Abrini, who asked Mr. Eskenazi to represent him.

“I told him: ‘You need a heavyweight for this job,’” the lawyer recalled. “But he said: ‘I want you.’”

For Mr. Eskenazi, who is of Turkish-Jewish origins and is married to a Muslim Moroccan woman, the attacks hit close to home. When the two homemade bombs packed with nails exploded in the Brussels airport, he was supposed to be checking in with his family for a flight to New York. The trip was canceled only because his son’s appendix burst. His sister, a doctor, spent the whole night tending to victims in a Brussels hospital.

But the lawyer knew straight away he would represent Mr. Abrini, saying the more loathed an accused person is, the more interesting the case is.

As a young man, Mr. Eskenazi was “more than a rebel,” said a longtime friend and legal colleague, Jonathan De Taye. “He finds beauty in what everyone else despises.”

At the trial in Brussels, his client has no real chance at winning his freedom because Mr. Abrini has already been convicted in a French court and sentenced to life in prison over his participation in the Paris attacks.

So his mission at this trial, Mr. Eskenazi said, is to try to “humanize” his client.

“I want people to understand that the trajectory of Mohamed Abrini was not that different from other Brussels residents,” he said. “Sometimes one can get caught up in a torment.”

The trial began at the end of November after a long delay, in part over a dispute about the glass boxes designed to hold the defendants. Originally, each defendant was to be held in a small, constricted individual cube. Mr. Eskenazi, along with other defense lawyers, argued that these deprived their clients of dignity, and succeeded at having them replaced with one large glass cubicle, open at the top.

“I want them to be judged as human beings, and not as beasts,” Mr. Eskenazi said.

The 2016 attacks tore the fabric of Belgium’s multicultural society, exposing deep rifts that had been growing for years between a largely secular majority and the descendants of migrant workers, mainly Moroccan Muslims, who came to the country in the 1960s.

The Molenbeek neighborhood of Brussels, where Mr. Abrini grew up and where Mr. Eskenazi’s mother lives. The lawyer said he spent a lot of time there as a young man.
The Molenbeek neighborhood of Brussels, where Mr. Abrini grew up and where Mr. Eskenazi’s mother lives. The lawyer said he spent a lot of time there as a young man.Credit…Daniel Berehulak for The New York Times

After the attacks, a far-right anti-Muslim party, Vlaams Belang, saw a surge in support.

Many in Belgium, including surviving victims and the relatives of those who died, have been hoping the trial will provide more insight about the motivations of the attackers — many of whom, like Mr. Abrini, grew up in Brussels. But they are likely to be frustrated.

To protest what the lawyers described as inhumane treatment by the police, including daily strip searches, Mr. Abrini and others said they would refuse to speak during the proceedings.

Mr. Eskenazi himself said he has no good answers. After six years of conversations with Mr. Abrini — “I have never spent that much time with anyone else, including my wife,” Mr. Eskenazi said — the lawyer said he still struggles with what drove Mr. Abrini and the six other attackers who called the predominantly Muslim, working-class neighborhood of Molenbeek home.

Partly, Mr. Eskenazi blames what he describes as the hyper-individualistic capitalist system, which he said destroyed the importance of communities. But he also accuses the Belgian state of abandoning people like Mr. Abrini, who were struggling with issues of identity and belonging.

“We forgot that people want to be a part of a society,” he said. “And the Islamic State gave its members the sense of brotherhood. For people that feel lost, that is invaluable.”

With his sometimes blunt manner, a passion for boxing and multiple tattoos peeking out from underneath his rolled up sleeves, Mr. Eskenazi stands out in the universe of corporate law. He is known for brushing off convention, once showing up to close a 22-million-euro deal in jeans, sneakers and a sport jacket.

Mr. Eskenazi at the opening of the trial.
Mr. Eskenazi at the opening of the trial.Credit…Pool photo by Stephanie Lecocq

His path to the law was not straightforward. Born to journalist parents, he dropped out of high school, then later left Belgium for Morocco, where he ran an I.T. company. After returning to Belgium, he worked as a waiter and a security guard.

The prolonged periods of financial hardship he experienced, he said, left him with a sense of sympathy — and duty — toward those on the margins.

“I know what it is like to struggle with an empty fridge,” he said. “I am not saying it is good to steal, but it is easier to be shocked by it if your fridge is always full.”

Ultimately, it was a custody battle with a former partner over his eldest daughter, 5 at the time and now 20, that spurred him to finish high school and retrain as a lawyer.

“At that moment I realized the power of the legal system over our lives,” Mr. Eskenazi said. He decided the best way to resist it was to master the system himself.

The approach Mr. Eskenazi has taken with Mr. Abrini’s defense has drawn criticism.

Philippe Vansteenkiste, head of V-Europe, an association representing terrorist victims, said it seemed as if the defense team was “trying to divert the theme of the trial, from terrorism to the incapacity of the state.”

“We don’t have to be naïve,” Mr. Vansteenkiste said. “We all want a good society that respects human rights. But some of these people were already convicted as terrorists.”

For Mr. Eskenazi, representing a terrorist never created a moral dilemma. He was defending the rights of the man, he said, not the acts he committed.

But the 10-month-long Paris trial, which finished this summer with 20 convictions, took a heavy toll on him, both financially and psychologically. Mr. Eskenazi has his own law firm, and his lucrative corporate work was essentially on hold during that time.

Asked whether he would take the case again if he had the choice, he said no.

“I am exhausted, physically and mentally,” he said. “I spent months listening to the most awful stories. When a mother came and talked about her daughter who was killed in the concert hall, I could only think of my children,” added Mr. Eskenazi, who has four children.

“And then you turn around, and your responsibility is to defend the perpetrators,” he said. “It doesn’t leave you unchanged.”

New York Times – February 4, 2023

AB – He should have left this case – a clearly guilty person – to experienced criminal lawyers.

This Guide Can Help You Save Money and Fight Climate Change

Many American consumers are now eligible to save thousands of dollars when they buy an electric car, heat pump, solar panels or energy-efficient appliances.

Those savings kicked in this year as part of the Inflation Reduction Act, major legislation that aims to cut planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions. The law tackles two major sources of those emissions, transportation and housing, in part by helping Americans electrify their cars and homes, and by making the most energy efficient choices more affordable through tax credits and rebates.

Taking advantage of the new law will require some planning, experts said, especially when it comes to major purchases and renovations. It helps that many of the benefits will be around for a decade or more, though not all of them are available just yet: Federal tax credits took effect on Jan. 1, but rebates, which will offer billions of dollars in up-front discounts or partial refunds to consumers through state and tribal governments, won’t roll out until later this year.

Here’s how to access the savings:

Home Improvements

If you own your home, there are plenty of opportunities to save money through the new law when you make energy-saving renovations or upgrade to more efficient, electric appliances. Technically, many of the law’s provisions could apply to renters, too, but experts said there’s still some uncertainty about what is covered — for example, it isn’t clear right now whether the tax credits for heat pumps will apply to window units.

Get a home energy audit–

A room by room walk-through to evaluate your home’s energy use, conducted by a licensed professional, can help identify where your house is losing energy, what you can do to save money on your bills and how to best make energy efficiency upgrades.

How to save: A tax credit can cover 30 percent of the cost of an audit, up to $150.

Who qualifies? Everyone, but your savings will also depend on your tax bill. The credits can lower the amount you owe in federal taxes, but they won’t get you a refund if you don’t owe anything.

When is it available? Now through the end of 2032.

More information: U.S. Department of Energy

Install solar panels or other renewable energy options–

New clean energy technologies for your home, including rooftop solar panels, wind turbines and geothermal heat pumps, as well as standalone batteries to store electricity from renewable sources, qualify for tax credits.

How to save: A tax credit can cover 30 percent of qualifying purchases, with no cap on the total purchase price. The credit can also cover the cost of labor, permits and inspection. (The credit drops to 26 percent in 2033, and to 22 percent in 2034 before phasing out in 2035.)

Who qualifies? Everyone, but your savings will also depend on your tax bill. The credits can lower the amount you owe in federal taxes, but they won’t get you a refund if you don’t owe anything.

When is it available? Now through the end of 2034. Applies retroactively to projects completed in 2022, except for standalone battery storage.

More information: I.R.S. fact sheet (pdf)

Make energy-saving renovations and buy efficient appliances–

Purchases of highly energy-efficient home systems — including water heaters, central air conditioners and boilers — qualify for tax credits. So do energy-saving home improvements, like insulation, sealing air leaks and more energy-efficient exterior doors, windows and skylights.

How to save: A tax credit can cover 30 percent of the cost of certain appliances that meet energy certification requirements, up to $600 per item. It can also cover other home efficiency upgrades, up to a maximum of $1,200 for insulation, $500 for doors and $600 for windows and skylights. There’s an annual limit of $1,200 (which includes the $150 credit you can claim for a home energy assessment).

Who qualifies? Everyone, but your savings will also depend on your tax bill. The credits can lower the amount you owe in federal taxes, but they won’t get you a refund if you don’t owe anything.

When is it available? Now through the end of 2032. (Through the end of 2027 for hot water boilers.)

More information: I.R.S. fact sheet (pdf)

Install a heat pump–

New heat pumps (essentially two-way air conditioners that efficiently heat and cool your home) and heat pump water heaters qualify for tax credits.

How to save: A tax credit covers 30 percent of the costs of purchase and installation, up to $2,000 per year. (This is in addition to the $1,200 available in tax credits for other energy-saving renovations and appliances.)

Who qualifies? Everyone, but your savings will also depend on your tax bill. The credits can lower the amount you owe in federal taxes, but they won’t get you a refund if you don’t owe anything.

When is it available? Now through the end of 2032.

More information: I.R.S. fact sheet (pdf)

Get a rebate for renovations that reduce energy use

NOT YET AVAILABLE

You can get a rebate for making renovations that lower energy use throughout your home, like adding insulation and sealing air leaks, replacing exterior doors and windows and making ventilation improvements.

How to save: The rebate amount depends on two factors: your household income and how much energy you save with the renovations, which can be determined through modeling or measurements. If using the modeled energy savings route, the rebate amount ranges from $2,000 to $4,000, or 50 percent of project costs, with incentives doubled for low-income households, up to 80 percent of project costs. There is no maximum cap on savings through the measured savings route, where households use their utility bills to show evidence of the reduction in energy use.

Who qualifies? Everyone, but low-income households can receive more money back.

When is it available? The rebate is expected to be available later this year and last through Sept. 30, 2031, or until funding runs out. Implementation will vary from state to state.

More information: Rewiring America

Get discounts for energy-efficiency upgrades for lower-income households

NOT YET AVAILABLE

Low- and moderate-income households installing Energy Star-certified electric appliances, including electric stoves and heat pump heating and cooling systems, can get upfront rebates. The rebates apply to other home efficiency upgrades too, like adding insulation and electric wiring.

How to save: Upfront rebates are available for qualified purchases, with 100 percent of project costs covered for low-income households (up to the maximum rebate amount), and 50 percent of costs covered for moderate-income households. Maximum amounts vary by category: up to $840 for electric stoves and heat pump clothes dryers, $1,750 for heat pump water heaters and $8,000 for heat pump heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems. You can also get $1,600 for insulation and sealing air leaks, $2,500 for electric wiring and $4,000 for a breaker box.

Who qualifies? Low- and moderate-income households only.

When is it available? The rebate is expected to become available later this year and last through Sept. 30, 2031, or until funding runs out. Implementation will vary from state to state.

More information: U.S. Department of Energy and Rewiring America

Electric Vehicles

A renewed tax credit can help lower the cost of a new electric car, pickup truck or SUV for many buyers. And, for the first time, used electric automobiles qualify for a credit, too. But if you’re looking for savings on other types of vehicles, like e-bikes or motorcycles, you’re out of luck.

Buy a new electric car, pickup truck or SUV

Save money when purchasing a new electric vehicle from a qualified manufacturer. To qualify, the vehicle must also be assembled in North America and manufacturers must meet certain requirements regarding the components of the vehicle’s battery and where its critical minerals were sourced. (The U.S. Treasury Department and the I.R.S. will issue more guidance on those requirements this year.)

How to save: Claim a tax credit of up to $7,500 on eligible vehicles. There is a $55,000 price cap on new cars and sedans and a $80,000 price cap on trucks, SUVs and vans.

Who qualifies? A single taxpayer making $150,000 or less, heads of households making $225,000 or less, and joint taxpayers making $300,000 or less. Eligibility for the credit also depends on your tax bill. The credits can lower the amount you owe in federal taxes, but they won’t get you a refund if you don’t owe anything.

When is it available? Now through the end of 2032. Beginning in 2024, you can transfer the tax credit to car dealers for an upfront “cash on the hood” discount rather than waiting to get money back during tax season.

More information: I.R.S. fact sheet (pdf)

Buy a used electric car, pickup truck or SUV–

Save when purchasing a used electric vehicle from a licensed car dealer. The vehicle must be at least two years old to qualify, but, unlike new electric vehicles, it does not have to be assembled in North America.

How to save: Claim a tax credit of up to $4,000 or 30 percent of the vehicle price, whichever is lower, up to maximum vehicle price of $25,000.

Who qualifies? A single taxpayer making $75,000 or less, heads of households making $112,500 or less, and joint taxpayers making $150,000 or less. Eligibility for the credit also depends on your tax bill. The credits can lower the amount you owe in federal taxes, but they won’t get you a refund if you don’t owe anything.

When is it available? Now through the end of 2032. Beginning in 2024, you can transfer the tax credit to car dealers for an upfront “cash on the hood” discount rather than waiting to get money back during tax season.

More information: I.R.S. fact sheet (pdf)

Install an electric vehicle charger at home if you live in a rural or low-income area

Installing charging equipment at home for your electric vehicle, including for bikes and motorcycles, qualifies for a tax credit. Hardware and installation, including upgrades to your electrical panel that are needed as a result of the installation, are covered, too.

How to save: Claim the tax credit for up to 30 percent of the costs, up to $1,000.

Who qualifies? Households in rural and low-income census tracts. Eligibility for the credit also depends on your tax bill. The credits can lower the amount you owe in federal taxes, but they won’t get you a refund if you don’t owe anything.

When is it available? Now through the end of 2032.

More information: U.S. Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuels Data Center and the I.R.S.

More information on the Inflation Reduction Act’s consumer savings can be found through the White Housethe I.R.S. and the United States Department of Energy. Other federal, state, local and utility savings may also be available for energy-efficiency projects and electric vehicle purchases.

Other sources consulted for this guide: Rewiring AmericaNatural Resources Defense Council, and interviews with Sage Briscoe, a senior policy manager at Rewiring America, and with Stephen Walls, a building decarbonization advocate at the Natural Resources Defense Council

Many American consumers are now eligible to save thousands of dollars when they buy an electric car, heat pump, solar panels or energy-efficient appliances.

Those savings kicked in this year as part of the Inflation Reduction Act, major legislation that aims to cut planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions. The law tackles two major sources of those emissions, transportation and housing, in part by helping Americans electrify their cars and homes, and by making the most energy efficient choices more affordable through tax credits and rebates.

Taking advantage of the new law will require some planning, experts said, especially when it comes to major purchases and renovations. It helps that many of the benefits will be around for a decade or more, though not all of them are available just yet: Federal tax credits took effect on Jan. 1, but rebates, which will offer billions of dollars in up-front discounts or partial refunds to consumers through state and tribal governments, won’t roll out until later this year.

Here’s how to access the savings:

Home Improvements

If you own your home, there are plenty of opportunities to save money through the new law when you make energy-saving renovations or upgrade to more efficient, electric appliances. Technically, many of the law’s provisions could apply to renters, too, but experts said there’s still some uncertainty about what is covered — for example, it isn’t clear right now whether the tax credits for heat pumps will apply to window units.

Get a home energy audit–

A room by room walk-through to evaluate your home’s energy use, conducted by a licensed professional, can help identify where your house is losing energy, what you can do to save money on your bills and how to best make energy efficiency upgrades.

How to save: A tax credit can cover 30 percent of the cost of an audit, up to $150.

Who qualifies? Everyone, but your savings will also depend on your tax bill. The credits can lower the amount you owe in federal taxes, but they won’t get you a refund if you don’t owe anything.

When is it available? Now through the end of 2032.

More information: U.S. Department of Energy

Install solar panels or other renewable energy options–

New clean energy technologies for your home, including rooftop solar panels, wind turbines and geothermal heat pumps, as well as standalone batteries to store electricity from renewable sources, qualify for tax credits.

How to save: A tax credit can cover 30 percent of qualifying purchases, with no cap on the total purchase price. The credit can also cover the cost of labor, permits and inspection. (The credit drops to 26 percent in 2033, and to 22 percent in 2034 before phasing out in 2035.)

Who qualifies? Everyone, but your savings will also depend on your tax bill. The credits can lower the amount you owe in federal taxes, but they won’t get you a refund if you don’t owe anything.

When is it available? Now through the end of 2034. Applies retroactively to projects completed in 2022, except for standalone battery storage.

More information: I.R.S. fact sheet (pdf)

Make energy-saving renovations and buy efficient appliances–

Purchases of highly energy-efficient home systems — including water heaters, central air conditioners and boilers — qualify for tax credits. So do energy-saving home improvements, like insulation, sealing air leaks and more energy-efficient exterior doors, windows and skylights.

How to save: A tax credit can cover 30 percent of the cost of certain appliances that meet energy certification requirements, up to $600 per item. It can also cover other home efficiency upgrades, up to a maximum of $1,200 for insulation, $500 for doors and $600 for windows and skylights. There’s an annual limit of $1,200 (which includes the $150 credit you can claim for a home energy assessment).

Who qualifies? Everyone, but your savings will also depend on your tax bill. The credits can lower the amount you owe in federal taxes, but they won’t get you a refund if you don’t owe anything.

When is it available? Now through the end of 2032. (Through the end of 2027 for hot water boilers.)

More information: I.R.S. fact sheet (pdf)

Install a heat pump–

New heat pumps (essentially two-way air conditioners that efficiently heat and cool your home) and heat pump water heaters qualify for tax credits.

How to save: A tax credit covers 30 percent of the costs of purchase and installation, up to $2,000 per year. (This is in addition to the $1,200 available in tax credits for other energy-saving renovations and appliances.)

Who qualifies? Everyone, but your savings will also depend on your tax bill. The credits can lower the amount you owe in federal taxes, but they won’t get you a refund if you don’t owe anything.

When is it available? Now through the end of 2032.

More information: I.R.S. fact sheet (pdf)

Get a rebate for renovations that reduce energy use

NOT YET AVAILABLE

You can get a rebate for making renovations that lower energy use throughout your home, like adding insulation and sealing air leaks, replacing exterior doors and windows and making ventilation improvements.

How to save: The rebate amount depends on two factors: your household income and how much energy you save with the renovations, which can be determined through modeling or measurements. If using the modeled energy savings route, the rebate amount ranges from $2,000 to $4,000, or 50 percent of project costs, with incentives doubled for low-income households, up to 80 percent of project costs. There is no maximum cap on savings through the measured savings route, where households use their utility bills to show evidence of the reduction in energy use.

Who qualifies? Everyone, but low-income households can receive more money back.

When is it available? The rebate is expected to be available later this year and last through Sept. 30, 2031, or until funding runs out. Implementation will vary from state to state.

More information: Rewiring America

Get discounts for energy-efficiency upgrades for lower-income households

NOT YET AVAILABLE

Low- and moderate-income households installing Energy Star-certified electric appliances, including electric stoves and heat pump heating and cooling systems, can get upfront rebates. The rebates apply to other home efficiency upgrades too, like adding insulation and electric wiring.

How to save: Upfront rebates are available for qualified purchases, with 100 percent of project costs covered for low-income households (up to the maximum rebate amount), and 50 percent of costs covered for moderate-income households. Maximum amounts vary by category: up to $840 for electric stoves and heat pump clothes dryers, $1,750 for heat pump water heaters and $8,000 for heat pump heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems. You can also get $1,600 for insulation and sealing air leaks, $2,500 for electric wiring and $4,000 for a breaker box.

Who qualifies? Low- and moderate-income households only.

When is it available? The rebate is expected to become available later this year and last through Sept. 30, 2031, or until funding runs out. Implementation will vary from state to state.

More information: U.S. Department of Energy and Rewiring America

Electric Vehicles

A renewed tax credit can help lower the cost of a new electric car, pickup truck or SUV for many buyers. And, for the first time, used electric automobiles qualify for a credit, too. But if you’re looking for savings on other types of vehicles, like e-bikes or motorcycles, you’re out of luck.

Buy a new electric car, pickup truck or SUV–

Save money when purchasing a new electric vehicle from a qualified manufacturer. To qualify, the vehicle must also be assembled in North America and manufacturers must meet certain requirements regarding the components of the vehicle’s battery and where its critical minerals were sourced. (The U.S. Treasury Department and the I.R.S. will issue more guidance on those requirements this year.)

How to save: Claim a tax credit of up to $7,500 on eligible vehicles. There is a $55,000 price cap on new cars and sedans and a $80,000 price cap on trucks, SUVs and vans.

Who qualifies? A single taxpayer making $150,000 or less, heads of households making $225,000 or less, and joint taxpayers making $300,000 or less. Eligibility for the credit also depends on your tax bill. The credits can lower the amount you owe in federal taxes, but they won’t get you a refund if you don’t owe anything.

When is it available? Now through the end of 2032. Beginning in 2024, you can transfer the tax credit to car dealers for an upfront “cash on the hood” discount rather than waiting to get money back during tax season.

More information: I.R.S. fact sheet (pdf)

Buy a used electric car, pickup truck or SUV–

Save when purchasing a used electric vehicle from a licensed car dealer. The vehicle must be at least two years old to qualify, but, unlike new electric vehicles, it does not have to be assembled in North America.

How to save: Claim a tax credit of up to $4,000 or 30 percent of the vehicle price, whichever is lower, up to maximum vehicle price of $25,000.

Who qualifies? A single taxpayer making $75,000 or less, heads of households making $112,500 or less, and joint taxpayers making $150,000 or less. Eligibility for the credit also depends on your tax bill. The credits can lower the amount you owe in federal taxes, but they won’t get you a refund if you don’t owe anything.

When is it available? Now through the end of 2032. Beginning in 2024, you can transfer the tax credit to car dealers for an upfront “cash on the hood” discount rather than waiting to get money back during tax season.

More information: I.R.S. fact sheet (pdf)

Install an electric vehicle charger at home if you live in a rural or low-income area–

Installing charging equipment at home for your electric vehicle, including for bikes and motorcycles, qualifies for a tax credit. Hardware and installation, including upgrades to your electrical panel that are needed as a result of the installation, are covered, too.

How to save: Claim the tax credit for up to 30 percent of the costs, up to $1,000.

Who qualifies? Households in rural and low-income census tracts. Eligibility for the credit also depends on your tax bill. The credits can lower the amount you owe in federal taxes, but they won’t get you a refund if you don’t owe anything.

When is it available? Now through the end of 2032.

More information: U.S. Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuels Data Center and the I.R.S.

More information on the Inflation Reduction Act’s consumer savings can be found through the White Housethe I.R.S. and the United States Department of Energy. Other federal, state, local and utility savings may also be available for energy-efficiency projects and electric vehicle purchases.

Other sources consulted for this guide: Rewiring AmericaNatural Resources Defense Council, and interviews with Sage Briscoe, a senior policy manager at Rewiring America, and with Stephen Walls, a building decarbonization advocate at the Natural Resources Defense Council

New York Times – February 1, 2023

Artificial intelligence uncovers lost work by titan of Spain’s ‘Golden Age’

Discovery of Lope de Vega play could lead to other important finds, researchers say

The original manuscript of La francesa Laura
The original manuscript of La francesa Laura that artificial intelligence attributes to the Spanish classical author Lope de Vega at the National Library of Spain in Madrid. Photograph: Juan Medina/Reuters

Lost or misattributed works by some of the finest writers of Spain’s Golden Age could be discovered thanks to pioneering AI technology that has been used to identify a previously unknown play by the wildly prolific dramatist, poet, sailor and priest Lope de Vega.

This week Spain’s National Library announced that researchers trawling its massive archive had stumbled upon and verified a play that Lope is believed to have written a few years before his death in 1635.

Like many plays of the Spanish Golden Age – the 16th- and 17th-century cultural boom that accompanied Spain’s imperial growth and which birthed masterpieces by Lope, CervantesCalderón and Velázquez, among many others – La francesa Laura (The Frenchwoman Laura) is a tale of love, jealousy and social hierarchy in which suspicion demands an innocent woman be sacrificed on the altar of her husband’s honour. But, unlike many similar plays of the period, Laura survives and the third act ends happily.

Equally unusual was the manner of the play’s discovery. In 2017, Germán Vega, a Golden Age literature expert at the University of Valladolid, and Álvaro Cuéllar, now at the department of Romance studies at the University of Vienna, embarked on Etso, a project that uses AI analysis to determine the authorship of Golden Age plays, many of which are anonymous or believed misattributed.

As part of the project, 1,300 plays – most of them from Spain’s National Library – were digitally transcribed using a platform, Transkribus, trained to identify and understand 3m words.

Once transcription was complete, another program, Stylo, compared their language and style with the 2,800 digitised works by 350 authors in the Etso database.

Held by the library as an 18th-century manuscript copied from earlier texts, La francesa Laura had long been catalogued as an anonymous work, but Etso’s computer quickly came to its own conclusions.

“After it had transcribed the 1,300 texts, the computer noticed that one of them was similar to 100 or so works – almost all of which were by Lope,” says Vega.

“That really grabbed our attention – we didn’t think we’d find a Lope … [But] we then found a lot of expressions in La francesa Laura that fitted with those in other Lope plays. There were things in La francesa Laura that people in other Lope plays had said or would later say.”

More traditional analysis of the play – focusing on everything from plots and character names to metre, elisions and the pronunciation of diphthongs – corroborated the computer’s theory.

Its style fits with that of Lope’s later period, while its flattering treatment of France has led the researchers to believe that it was written at a particular moment in the thirty years’ war – probably between 1628 and 1630 – when Spain and France shelved their mutual distrust in the face of a common enemy in England.

“It had never attracted much interest at the National Library,” says Vega. “If it hadn’t been for this new technology, we wouldn’t have known about it unless someone had come across it and thought ‘this reminds me of Lope’.

“Plus the title – La francesa Laura – isn’t that attractive and even though I’ve pored over lots of bibliographies, I’d never come across any reference to this play except in the National Library’s catalogue.”

This was not the first time Etso had proved its worth. Almost four years ago, Vega used the database and Stylo to conclude that The Nun Lieutenant – a 17th-century play based on the staggering true story of Carolina de Erauso, who escaped a convent to become a cross-dressing soldier in the Americas – was written by a Mexican dramatist called Juan Ruiz de Alarcón.

Vega believes AI will turn up more lost treasures as it continues to revolutionise research in his field. When he was preparing his doctoral thesis back in the mid-1980s, “any attempt to try to justify an attribution was a massive amount of work that involved reading a thousand texts, taking notes and hitting various libraries and ordering up old manuscripts”. But today, he says, programs exist that can tell you that a play is written in a style closer to a particular playwright’s than to those of hundreds of his peers.

“That’s amazing. Given there’s such an attribution problem with Golden Age theatre – so many anonymous pieces or misattributed pieces, I think this new technology means we’ll see more of this. There are still things that need to be clarified.”

While Vega concedes that La francesa Laura is hardly the pinnacle of Lope’s achievements – the so-called Phoenix of Wits is thought to have written more than 1,000 plays – the academic would still be delighted to see it performed on stage one day under the name of its true author.

“It’s very entertaining and lively and I think it could do very well in the hands of the right theatre company,” he says. “It’s not a bad play but the thing is that Lope has four or five magnificent plays – and this one just can’t compare.”

The Guardian – February 5, 2023