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A journey through a land of extreme poverty: welcome to America

The UNs Philip Alston is an expert on deprivation and he wants to know why 41m Americans are living in poverty. The Guardian joined him on a special two-week mission into the dark heart of the worlds richest nation

Los Angeles, California, 5 December

You got a choice to make, man. You could go straight on to heaven. Or you could turn right, into that.

We are in Los Angeles, in the heart of one of Americas wealthiest cities, and General Dogon, dressed in black, is our tour guide. Alongside him strolls another tall man, grey-haired and sprucely decked out in jeans and suit jacket. Professor Philip Alston is an Australian academic with a formal title: UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights.

General Dogon, himself a veteran of these Skid Row streets, strides along, stepping over a dead rat without comment and skirting round a body wrapped in a worn orange blanket lying on the sidewalk.

The two men carry on for block after block after block of tatty tents and improvised tarpaulin shelters. Men and women are gathered outside the structures, squatting or sleeping, some in groups, most alone like extras in a low-budget dystopian movie.

We come to an intersection, which is when General Dogon stops and presents his guest with the choice. He points straight ahead to the end of the street, where the glistening skyscrapers of downtown LA rise up in a promise of divine riches.

Heaven.

Then he turns to the right, revealing the black power tattoo on his neck, and leads our gaze back into Skid Row bang in the center of LAs downtown. That way lies 50 blocks of concentrated human humiliation. A nightmare in plain view, in the city of dreams.

Alston turns right.

Philip
Philip Alston in downtown LA. Photograph: Dan Tuffs for the Guardian

So begins a two-week journey into the dark side of the American Dream. The spotlight of the UN monitor, an independent arbiter of human rights standards across the globe, has fallen on this occasion on the US, culminating on Friday with the release of his initial report in Washington.

His fact-finding mission into the richest nation the world has ever known has led him to investigate the tragedy at its core: the 41 million people who officially live in poverty.

Of those, nine million have zero cash income they do not receive a cent in sustenance.

Alstons epic journey has taken him from coast to coast, deprivation to deprivation. Starting in LA and San Francisco, sweeping through the Deep South, traveling on to the colonial stain of Puerto Rico then back to the stricken coal country of West Virginia, he has explored the collateral damage of Americas reliance on private enterprise to the exclusion of public help.

The Guardian had unprecedented access to the UN envoy, following him as he crossed the country, attending all his main stops and witnessing the extreme poverty he is investigating firsthand.

Think of it as payback time. As the UN special rapporteur himself put it: Washington is very keen for me to point out the poverty and human rights failings in other countries. This time Im in the US.

David
David Busch, who is currently homeless on Venice beach, in Los Angeles. Photograph: Dan Tuffs for the Guardian


The tour comes at a critical moment for America and the world. It began on the day that Republicans in the US Senate voted for sweeping tax cuts that will deliver a bonanza for the super wealthy while in time raising taxes on many lower-income families. The changes will exacerbate wealth inequality that is already the most extreme in any industrialized nation, with three men Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos and Warren Buffet owning as much as half of the entire American people.

A few days into the UN visit, Republican leaders took a giant leap further. They announced plans to slash key social programs in what amounts to an assault on the already threadbare welfare state.

Look up! Look at those banks, the cranes, the luxury condos going up, exclaimed General Dogon, who used to be homeless on Skid Row and now works as a local activist with Lacan. Down here, theres nothing. You see the tents back to back, theres no place for folks to go.

California made a suitable starting point for the UN visit. It epitomizes both the vast wealth generated in the tech boom for the 0.001%, and the resulting surge in housing costs that has sent homelessness soaring. Los Angeles, the city with by far the largest population of street dwellers in the country, is grappling with crisis numbers that increased 25% this past year to 55,000.

Ressy Finley, 41, was busy sterilizing the white bucket she uses to slop out in her tent in which she has lived on and off for more than a decade. She keeps her living area, a mass of worn mattresses and blankets and a few motley possessions, as clean as she can in a losing battle against rats and cockroaches. She also endures waves of bed bugs, and has large welts on her shoulder to prove it.

She receives no formal income, and what she makes on recycling bottles and cans is no way enough to afford the average rents of $1,400 a month for a tiny one-bedroom. A friend brings her food every couple of days, the rest of the time she relies on nearby missions.

She cried twice in the course of our short conversation, once when she recalled how her infant son was taken from her arms by social workers because of her drug habit (he is now 14; she has never seen him again). The second time was when she alluded to the sexual abuse that set her as a child on the path towards drugs and homelessness.

Given all that, its remarkable how positive Finley remains. What does she think of the American Dream, the idea that everyone can make it if they try hard enough? She replies instantly: I know Im going to make it.

A 41-year-old woman living on the sidewalk in Skid Row going to make it?

Sure I will, so long as I keep the faith.

What does making it mean to her?

I want to be a writer, a poet, an entrepreneur, a therapist.

Ressy
Ressy Finley, who lives in a tent on 6th Street in Downtown LA. Photograph: Dan Tuffs for the Guardian

Robert Chambers occupies the next patch of sidewalk along from Finleys. Hes created an area around his tent out of wooden pallets, what passes in Skid Row for a cottage garden.

He has a sign up saying Homeless Writers Coalition, the name of a group he runs to give homeless people dignity against what he calls the animalistic aspects of their lives. Hes referring not least to the lack of public bathrooms that forces people to relieve themselves on the streets.

LA authorities have promised to provide more access to toilets, a critical issue given the deadly outbreak of Hepatitis A that began in San Diego and is spreading on the west coast claiming 21 lives mainly through lack of sanitation in homeless encampments. At night local parks and amenities are closed specifically to keep homeless people out.

Skid Row has had the use of nine toilets at night for 1,800 street-faring people. Thats a ratio well below that mandated by the UN in its camps for Syrian refugees.

Its inhuman actually, and eventually in the end you will acquire animalistic psychology, Chambers said.

He has been living on the streets for almost a year, having violated his parole terms for drug possession and in turn being turfed out of his low-cost apartment. Theres no help for him now, he said, no question of making it.

The safety net? It has too many holes in it for me.

Of all the people who crossed paths with the UN monitor, Chambers was the most dismissive of the American Dream. People dont realize its never getting better, theres no recovery for people like us. Im 67, I have a heart condition, I shouldnt be out here. I might not be too much longer.

That was a lot of bad karma to absorb on day one, and it rattled even as seasoned a student of hardship as Alston. As UN special rapporteur, hes reported on dire poverty and its impact on human rights in Saudi Arabia and China among other places. But Skid Row?

I was feeling pretty depressed, he told the Guardian later. The endless drumbeat of horror stories. At a certain point you do wonder what can anyone do about this, let alone me.

And then he took a flight up to San Francisco, to the Tenderloin district where homeless people congregate, and walked into St Boniface church.

What he saw there was an analgesic for his soul.

San Francisco, California, 6 December

The
The Gubbio project at St Boniface in San Francisco. The church opens its doors every weekday at 6am to allow homeless people to rest until 3pm. Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian


About 70 homeless people were quietly sleeping in pews at the back of the church, as they are allowed to do every weekday morning, with worshippers praying harmoniously in front of them. The church welcomes them in as part of the Catholic concept of extending the helping hand.

I found the church surprisingly uplifting, Alston said. It was such a simple scene and such an obvious idea. It struck me Christianity, what the hell is it about if its not this?

It was a rare drop of altruism on the west coast, competing against a sea of hostility. More than 500 anti-homeless laws have been passed in Californian cities in recent years. At a federal level, Ben Carson, the neurosurgeon who Donald Trump appointed US housing secretary, is decimating government spending on affordable housing.

Perhaps the most telling detail: apart from St Boniface and its sister church, no other place of worship in San Francisco welcomes homeless people. In fact, many have begun, even at this season of goodwill, to lock their doors to all comers simply so as to exclude homeless people.

As Tiny Gray-Garcia, herself on the streets, described it to Alston, there is a prevailing attitude that she and her peers have to contend with every day. She called it the violence of looking away.

Coy
Coy Catley, 63, in her homeless box made of cardboard sheets on a sidewalk of Tenderloin, San Francisco. Photograph: Ed Pilkington for the Guardian


That cruel streak the violence of looking away has been a feature of American life since the nations founding. The casting off the yoke of overweening government (the British monarchy) came to be equated in the minds of many Americans with states rights and the individualistic idea of making it on your own a view that is fine for those fortunate enough to do so, less happy if youre born on the wrong side of the tracks.

Countering that has been the conviction that society must protect its own against the vagaries of hunger or unemployment that informed Franklin Roosevelts New Deal and the Great Society of Lyndon Johnson. But in recent times the prevailing winds have blown strongly in the youre on your own, buddy direction. Ronald Reagan set the trend with his 1980s tax cuts, followed by Bill Clinton, whose 1996 decision to scrap welfare payments for low-income families is still punishing millions of Americans.

The cumulative attack has left struggling families, including the 15 million children who are officially in poverty, with dramatically less support than in any other industrialized economy. Now they face perhaps the greatest threat of all.

As Alston himself has written in an essay on Trumps populism and the aggressive challenge it poses to human rights: These are extraordinarily dangerous times. Almost anything seems possible.

Lowndes County, Alabama, 9 December

Aaron
Aaron Thigpen discusses the poor sewage conditions in Butler County. Improper treatment has put the population at risk of diseases long believed to be extinct in the US. Photograph: Bob Miller for the Guardian


Trumps undermining of human rights, combined with the Republican threat to pare back welfare programs next year in order to pay for some of the tax cuts for the rich they are rushing through Congress, will hurt African Americans disproportionately.

Black people are 13% of the US population, but 23% of those officially in poverty and 39% of the homeless.

The racial element of Americas poverty crisis is seen nowhere more clearly than in the Deep South, where the open wounds of slavery continue to bleed. The UN special rapporteur chose as his next stop the Black Belt, the term that originally referred to the rich dark soil that exists in a band across Alabama but over time came to describe its majority African American population.

The link between soil type and demographics was not coincidental. Cotton was found to thrive in this fertile land, and that in turn spawned a trade in slaves to pick the crop. Their descendants still live in the Black Belt, still mired in poverty among the worst in the union.

You can trace the history of Americas shame, from slave times to the present day, in a set of simple graphs. The first shows the cotton-friendly soil of the Black Belt, then the slave population, followed by modern black residence and todays extreme poverty they all occupy the exact same half-moon across Alabama.

There are numerous ways you could parse the present parlous state of Alabamas black community. Perhaps the starkest is the fact that in the Black Belt so many families still have no access to sanitation. Thousands of people continue to live among open sewers of the sort normally associated with the developing world.

The crisis was revealed by the Guardian earlier this year to have led to an ongoing endemic of hookworm, an intestinal parasite that is transmitted through human waste. It is found in Africa and South Asia, but had been assumed eradicated in the US years ago.

Yet here the worm still is, sucking the blood of poor people, in the home state of Trumps US attorney general Jeff Sessions.

A disease of the developing world thriving in the worlds richest country.

The open sewerage problem is especially acute in Lowndes County, a majority black community that was an epicenter of the civil rights movement having been the setting of Martin Luther Kings Selma to Montgomery voting rights march in 1965.

Philp
Philp Alston talks to a resident. Many families in Butler and Lowndes counties choose to live with open sewer systems made from PVC pipe. Photograph: Bob Miller for the Guardian

Despite its proud history, Catherine Flowers estimates that 70% of households in the area either straight pipe their waste directly onto open ground, or have defective septic tanks incapable of dealing with heavy rains.

When her group, Alabama Center for Rural Enterprise (Acre), pressed local authorities to do something about it, officials invested $6m in extending waste treatment systems to primarily white-owned businesses while bypassing overwhelmingly black households.

Thats a glaring example of injustice, Flowers said. People who cannot afford their own systems are left to their own devices while businesses who do have the money are given public services.

Walter, a Lowndes County resident who asked not to give his last name for fear that his water supply would be cut off as a reprisal for speaking out, lives with the daily consequences of such public neglect. You get a good hard rain and it backs up into the house.

Thats a polite way of saying that sewage gurgles up into his kitchen sink, hand basin and bath, filling the house with a sickly-sweet stench.

Given these circumstances, what does he think of the ideology that anyone can make it if they try?

I suppose they could if they had the chance, Walter said. He paused, then added: Folks arent given the chance.

Had he been born white, would his sewerage problems have been fixed by now?

After another pause, he said: Not being racist, but yeah, they would.

Round the back of Walters house the true iniquity of the situation reveals itself. The yard is laced with small channels running from neighboring houses along which dark liquid flows. It congregates in viscous pools directly underneath the mobile home in which Walters son, daughter-in-law and 16-year-old granddaughter live.

It is the ultimate image of the lot of Alabamas impoverished rural black community. As American citizens they are as fully entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Its just that they are surrounded by pools of excrement.

This week, the Black Belt bit back. On Tuesday a new line was added to that simple graphic, showing exactly the same half-moon across Alabama except this time it was not black but blue.

blue belt south

It depicted the army of African American voters who turned out against the odds to send Doug Jones to the US Senate, the first Democrat from Alabama to do so in a generation. It delivered a bloody nose to his opponent, the alleged child molester Roy Moore, and his puppetmasters Steve Bannon and Donald Trump.

It was arguably the most important expression of black political muscle in the region since Kings 1965 march. If the previous entries in the graphic could be labeled soil, slavery and poverty, this one should be captioned empowerment.

Guayama, Puerto Rico, 10 December

So how does Alston view the role of UN rapporteur and his visit? His full report on the US will be released next May before being presented to the UN human rights council in Geneva.

Nobody expects much to come of that: the world body has no teeth with which to enforce good behavior on recalcitrant governments. But Alston hopes that his visit will have an impact by shaming the US into reflecting on its values.

My role is to hold governments to account, he said. If the US administration doesnt want to talk about the right to housing, healthcare or food, then there are still basic human rights standards that have to be met. Its my job to point that out.

Alstons previous investigations into extreme poverty in places like Mauritania pulled no punches. We can expect the same tough love when it comes to his analysis of Puerto Rico, the next stop on his journey into Americas dark side.

Three months after Maria, the devastation wrought by the hurricane has been well documented. It tore 70,000 homes to shreds, brought industry to a standstill and caused a total blackout of the island that continues to cause havoc.

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The Gambia bans female genital mutilation

President Yahya Jammeh outlaws practice that affects three-quarters of women in west African country

The Gambia has announced it will ban female genital mutilation (FGM) after the Guardian launched a global campaign to end the practice.

The president, Yahya Jammeh, said last night that the controversial surgical intervention would be outlawed. He said the ban would come into effect immediately, though it was not clear when the government would draft legislation to enforce it.

FGM involves cutting female genitalia often when girls are young to remove their labia and clitoris, which often leads to lifelong health complications, including bleeding, infections, vaginal pain and infertility. More than 130 million women worldwide are subjected to the procedure in Africa and the Middle East.

The practice is widespread in many African countries, including the Gambia, where 76% of females have been subjected to it. The age at which FGM takes place in the Gambia is not recorded, but it is reported that the trend of practicing FGM on infant girls is increasing. By the age of 14, 56% of female children in the country have had the procedure.

Highlights of the Guardians global media campaign to help end FGM

Jaha Dukureh, an anti-FGM activist whose campaign to end the practice in the country has been supported by the Guardian, spent the past week meeting cabinet ministers in the Gambia and sent them articles from the newspaper to inform them about the issue.

Im really amazed that the president did this. I didnt expect this in a million years. Im just really proud of my country and Im really, really happy, she told the Guardian. I think the president cared about the issue, it was just something that was never brought to his attention.

Jammehs announcement came late last night, as the president was visiting his home village on Kanilai as part of a nationwide tour. The announcement was unexpected for both campaigners and public.

The amazing thing is its election season. This could cost the president the election. He put women and girls first, this could negatively affect him, but this shows he cares more about women than losing peoples votes, said Dukureh.

Dukureh will return to the Gambia on Tuesday to thank Jammeh for the ban and to help with drafting the legislation that will enforce it.

A ban on FGM would be a significant development on an issue that has proved controversial and divisive in the Gambia, with some arguing that FGM is permitted in Islam, the major religion in the country.

Senior Muslim clerics in the Gambia have previously denied the existence of FGM in the Gambia saying instead that was is practiced is female circumcision. In 2014, state house imam, Alhaji Abdoulie Fatty told Kibaaro News, I have never heard of anyone who died as a result of female genital mutilation (FGM)… If you know what FGM means, you know that we do not practice that here. We do not mutilate our children.

Jaha Dukureh: Im really amazed that the president did this. I didnt expect this in a million years. Photograph: Mae Ryan for the Guardian

Mary Wandia, the FGM programme manager at womens rights campaign group Equality Now said: The ban is an essential first step towards ending FGM and we commend President Jammeh on finally announcing it.

A law must now be enacted and properly implemented to ensure that every girl at risk is properly protected. The government needs to show strong commitment and prioritise this issue in a country where three quarters of women have been affected and reductions in prevalence have been slow to materialise.

Though support for FGM is widespread in the Gambia, reports have shown that public support for the practice has dropped in recent decades among women across all age groups.

Support for the continuation of the practice is strongest among the countrys richest women and varies dramatically in different ethnic communities, with 84% of Mandinka women supporting the continuation of FGM compared with 12% of Wolof women.

This year FGM was banned in Nigeria, which joined 18 other African countries that have outlawed the practice, including Central African Republic, Egypt and South Africa.

Somalia, which has the highest prevalence of FGM in the world, has indicated it would like to end the practice, with a spokeswoman for the ministry for womens affairs saying it was committed to make this happen despite significant resistance in the country. Currently, 98% of girls aged between four and 11 are subjected to FGM in Somalia.

The Guardian launched a major campaign to end FGM around the world in 2014, with the support of the campaign petition website, Change.org.

The Guardian Global Media campaign works closely with local activists in the Gambia, Kenya and Nigeria to help them provide education and awareness on the issue and hope to expand the campaign to Sierra Leone, Senegal and Uganda next year.

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/nov/24/the-gambia-bans-female-genital-mutilation

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Teenage boys wear skirts to school to protest against ‘no shorts’ policy

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Dozens of pupils at Isca academy in Exeter stage uniform protest after school insists they wear trousers despite heatwave

Some had borrowed from girlfriends, others from sisters. A few had gone the extra mile and shaved their legs. When the Isca academy in Devon opened on Thursday morning, an estimated 30 boys arrived for lessons, heads held high, in fetching tartan-patterned skirts. The hottest June days since 1976 had led to a bare-legged revolution at the secondary school in Exeter.

As the temperature soared past 30C earlier this week, the teenage boys had asked their teachers if they could swap their long trousers for shorts. They were told no shorts werent permitted under the schools uniform policy.

When they protested that the girls were allowed bare legs, the school no doubt joking said the boys were free to wear skirts too if they chose. So on Wednesday, a handful braved the giggles and did so. The scale of the rebellion increased on Thurday, when at least 30 boys opted for the attire.

Quite refreshing was how one of the boys described the experience, pointing out that if even Royal Ascot had allowed racegoers in the royal enclosure to remove their jackets, then the school ought to relax its dress code. Another said he rather enjoyed the nice breeze his skirt had afforded him.

A third, tall boy said he was told his short skirt exposed too much hairy leg. Some of the boys visited a shop on their way to Isca the name the Romans gave to Exeter to pick up razors to make sure they did not fall foul of any beauty police.

Ironically, the temperature had dropped in Exeter to a more manageable 20C, but some boys said they had enjoyed the freedom afforded by the skirts and that they might continue.

The school said it was prepared to think again in the long term. The headteacher, Aimee Mitchell, said: We recognise that the last few days have been exceptionally hot and we are doing our utmost to enable both students and staff to remain as comfortable as possible.

Shorts are not currently part of our uniform for boys, and I would not want to make any changes without consulting both students and their families. However, with hotter weather becoming more normal, I would be happy to consider a change for the future.

It was too late. The revolution was picked up by media organisations across the globe, and Devon county council was forced to help the school out with inquiries. A spokesperson said: About 30 boys arrived at school this morning wearing school skirts. None of the boys have been penalised no one was put in isolation or detention for wearing a skirt.

The mother of one of the boys who began the protest said she was proud of him. Claire Lambeth, 43, said her son Ryan, 15, had come home earlier in the week complaining about the heat. He said it was unbearable. I spoke to a teacher to ask about shorts and she said it was school policy [that they could not be worn]. I did say this was exceptional weather, but they were having none of it. If girls can wear skirts, why cant boys wear shorts?

Ryan came up with the idea of wearing a skirt, so that evening we borrowed one. He wore it the next day as did five other boys. Then this morning I didnt expect it to take off like that. The school is being silly really this is exceptional weather. I was very proud of Ryan. I think it was a great idea.

Another mother said: My 14-year-old son wanted to wear shorts. The headteacher told them: Well, you can wear a skirt if you like but I think she was being sarcastic. However, children tend to take you literally, and because she told them it was OK, there was nothing she could do as long as they were school skirts.

A third mother said: Children also dont like injustice. The boys see the female teachers in sandals and nice cool skirts and tops while they are wearing long trousers and shoes and the older boys have to wear blazers. They just think its unfair that they cant wear shorts in this heat.

There were signs that the revolution might be spreading. The Guardian has heard of at least one more school in Wiltshire where one boy turned up in a skirt, although it did not go down quite so well with his friends.

And schoolboys were not the only ones making controversial dress choices because of the heat. Michael Wood, who works as a porter at Watford general hospital, claimed he was facing disciplinary action from his employers Medirest for rolling his trousers up to try to cool down. A spokesperson for the company declined to comment on the case, but said: The health and safety of our colleagues is always our number one priority.

What happened to summer school uniforms? Matthew Easter, managing director of the schoolwear supplier Trutex, said they had become less popular for reasons of economy. Its really up to the individual school to decide, but the headteacher is in a difficult position. A decade or so ago, summer wear was more popular, but theres been a change recently to try to make uniforms as economical as possible. Summer uniforms are only worn for a matter of weeks.

If parents havent bought uniform shorts, then some children may feel disadvantaged, so perhaps the decision in this case is simply down to fairness.

It may be that the weather will solve the problem for the school. The Exeter-based Met Office situated up the road from the school predicts pleasant, but not searing, temperatures over the coming week.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2017/jun/22/teenage-boys-wear-skirts-to-school-protest-no-shorts-uniform-policy

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A moment that changed me: finding out that my dad was an Auschwitz baby | Namalee Bolle

The discovery that my real grandparents died in the Holocaust helped me understand my father and made me determined to help others, says artist and writer Namalee Bolle

Mum was sombre as she spoke, so I knew it was serious. Shes not the kind of mother who is unsmiling very often so when she is, its deeply unsettling. Her kind almond eyes were intense as she became the storyteller of the kind of drama you go to the movies for.

Oma is not your real grandmother. In 1943 she pretended Dad was her own baby that she lost in a miscarriage. She risked her life and saved your dad from the Nazis. Her voice became quieter as she told the family secret.

Your grandad handed Dad to her in the middle of the night with tears streaming down his face and never returned. Your real grandparents were Jews who died in Auschwitz.

As a 16-year-old teenager I was at my wits end about my erratic, volatile dad but suddenly it all made perfect sense. His rages, panic attacks and severe depression only seemed to worsen as the years went by, and he had an awful debilitating lung condition from which he struggled to breathe. Sometimes he was lovely comedic with a weird Dutch sense of humour that had us in stitches, but fun Dad didnt last long before he became gloomy Dad again.

Intuitively I knew in my heart he loved us and I tried to reach out to him, but it was monumentally challenging because I was still a child, and he was psychologically abusive to me and my younger sister whom I was ferociously protective of. Our home felt like a war zone where Shirani and I were fighting for our own survival, against our father.

My grandparents names were Leo and Hildegard Denneboom. My dads name was originally Leo too, but he was renamed Hans Bolle and grew up in Amsterdam. Jacoba Bolle, Dads heroic second mother, was married to Max Bolle, but he died of a heart attack when Dad was only 17.

Years later I would discover psychosomatic connections between unhealed grief and respiratory problems, but I know Dad wouldnt have listened. He was in denial of the root cause of his problems and refused help. It was as if he felt he deserved to suffer for still being alive. I believe this survivors guilt is what eventually led to his own death five years ago this summer, four years after his adoptive mother Jacoba died at 96.

Hans
Intuitively I knew in my heart he loved us . Hans Bolle. Photograph: Namalee Bolle

What dad really needed was a therapist like Dr Viktor Frankl, inventor of logotherapy, who was a Holocaust survivor himself, as documented in his brilliant book Mans Search for Meaning. Frankls existential method was highly relatable to our situation and he inspired me to train as a psychotherapist myself.

I didnt start to fully acknowledge I was a second generation Holocaust survivor until I was in my late 20s and well into my fashion career, having cofounded my own magazine SUPERSUPER! The ultra-bright, relentlessly positive tone and hyper-colourful styling were in fact born of coping mechanisms of growing up with the overarching burden of death and my dads colossal pessimism about his past. I also became aware of epigenetic inheritance the transferral of trauma through DNA that makes it more likely for me to be affected by stress so I learned mindfulness meditation and reiki to self-soothe and protect myself.

Dad simply did not know how to stop the pain spilling out of him and into us. He was tortured by his past and had no tools for dealing with it as emotional difficulties and mental health problems were not something a man felt comfortable admitting to at the time. Without the unconditional love of my incredible mother I do not believe he would have lasted as long as he did. I have thought endlessly about my grandmothers altruism in helping a baby in need while putting herself in grave danger. Thanks to her I would not think twice about adopting a child.

The discovery of my true background has given me the deepest awareness to search with tremendous empathy when determining the link between PTSD and the mental and physical symptoms it creates. Now I am going to honour my family and our bittersweet tale by helping others with their healing too.

Namalee Bolle is an artist and writer with a background in fashion and creative direction. Winner of the Guardian Jackie Moore award for fashion journalism, she was also fashion director for Sleazenation, co-founder of SUPERSUPER! magazine and has contributed to I-D, the Evening Standard and Vogue

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/aug/11/a-moment-that-changed-me-mum-dad-auschwitz-baby

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Canary Island tourists warned to avoid toxic ‘sea sawdust’ algae

Global warming helping spread of micro-algae, forcing the closure of several beaches including popular Teresitas at Santa Cruz de Tenerife.

Tourists have been warned to avoid blooms of toxic micro-algae that have been proliferating in hot weather in the sea off Spains Canary Islands.

Tenerife in particular is awash with visitors at this time of year but some of those having a dip in the Atlantic ocean have come out scratching themselves after brushing up against the tiny algae.

The spreading algae have produced a greenish-brown hue in the waters off some beaches in the tourist haven.

Since the end of June we have seen episodes of massive efflorescence, or bloom, of microalgae, sometimes reaching as far as bathing beaches, said Jose Juan Aleman, director of public health for the Canaries.

The algae are a type of bacteria, trichodesmium erythraeum, also known as sea sawdust, said Aleman.

Its proliferation is a natural, temporary phenomenon which is going to disappear in due course, he added, suggesting global warming was helping the algae spread.

The bacterium contains a toxin which can lead to skin irritation, dermatitis, hence one must avoid coming into contact with it in the water and on the sand.

With the islands last year welcoming more than 13 million foreign tourists, local authorities were keen to reassure sun-seekers.

Generally it has not been necessary to close the beaches, said Aleman.

Bill Entwistle (@bemahague)

No swimming, algae alert @playasanjuan @tenerife pic.twitter.com/0sqIeAblqu

July 22, 2017

However, AFP found that several have been closed to swimmers over recent weeks, including the popular Teresitas beach at Santa Cruz de Tenerife.

Marta Sanson, professor of plant biology at Tenerifes La Laguna university, said that ideal conditions are allowing proliferation of these micro-algae.

Those include an increase in water temperature as well as a dust cloud sweeping in off the Sahara which is rich in iron, a nutrient which micro-organisms like.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/aug/08/canary-island-tourists-warned-to-avoid-toxic-sea-sawdust-algae

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John McCain had the chance to do the right thing on healthcare. He failed | Lucia Graves

There are many reasons to respect the Arizona senator, but his remarkable stoicism and service cant excuse his yes vote in the Senate

John McCain often gets cast as a truth-teller to Donald Trump, but his voting record says otherwise. And nowhere was that more clear than on Tuesday when, despite his own ill health, when it came to the decision of whether to take other peoples healthcare away, he cast a decisive vote in the wrong direction.

Addressing his fellow lawmakers, McCain called passionately for a return to regular order, and for senators to work constructively across the aisle. Why dont we try the old way of legislating in the Senate, the way our rules and customs encourage us to act, he said in his Tuesday speech. If this process ends in failure, which seems likely, then lets return to regular order!

Though he has often railed against Trump as if he cant actually affect what he is complaining about, McCain isnt a helpless observer hes an influential senator. And on Tuesday, as the country draws closer than ever before to the death of the Affordable Care Act, he was a pivotal one.

Had McCain simply voted no to the question of whether the Senate should begin debate on a repeal or replacement of Obamacare, which squeaked by in the Senate with a vote of 51-50, the chambers leader Mitch McConnell might well have been forced to do the very thing McCain claimed to want: restore the chamber to order.

Instead, McCain, who was recently and tragically diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer, and who returned to DC explicitly to help save the GOP healthcare bill, voted yes.

To put it another way, faced with a rare opportunity to make a real tangible difference, he risked traveling amid failing health to make possible the very thing he decried.

More damningly, he voted yes to take away healthcare from millions of Americans including an untold number of other cancer patients even as he continues to access benefits of the quality care afforded him as a senator, care subsidized by American taxpayers.

Never mind that at this point in time Republicans have little idea what the bill they would replace Obamacare with will contain. Never mind that we have arrived at this point through a secretive process devoid of public hearings, or even that Republicans would have the healthcare of millions of American women dreamed up entirely by men.

Politics appears to have triumphed over logic. Sadly, the politics that won out today are is not even a sort personally dear to John McCain that much was made clear in his floor speech. Its not even his own electoral politics that won out, either; after a tough re-election battle, he wont be up again until 2022, freeing him up as much as electorally possible to act solely with his moral compass as the guide.

Instead, McCain did the very thing he had just railed against, acting out of partisan loyalty.

There are many reasons to respect McCain, a former prisoner of war who endured torture in the five and a half years he spent captive in North Vietnam, and has campaigned against torture by the US. His 2008 campaign against Barack Obama now looks like the very model of civility in the wake of Trump.

But even his remarkable stoicism and service cant excuse what he just did.

The grim reality is that health insurance is of the utmost importance when it comes to surviving cancer, the second leading killer in America after heart disease. Put simply, the uninsured are much more likely to die than those with insurance and sooner.

A recent study in the journal Cancer found the uninsured were 88% more likely to die of testicular cancer than those with insurance. For patients with Medicaid, the number dropped to a 58% greater chance of dying than privately insured patients like McCain.

The study found the same trend held true for patients with glioblastoma, the malignant brain cancer McCain was recently diagnosed with. Its a terribly disease with a median life expectancy with his type of just 15 months, and thats as true for McCain as anyone, but the uninsured still die faster than anyone.

Voting to subject any one of millions of Americans to go to meet such a fate without even the benefit of the best tools medicine has to fight it is cruel, given McCains new-found appreciation of the benefit.

The estimated cost of McCains recent surgery to remove the cancer above his eye is a sum that would bankrupt many Americans, using the Medicare rates for which McCain qualifies.

Theres a way to fix the fact that many Americans under the age of 65 dont have access to any such care: let everyone under it buy in, a scheme for which many on the left have argued. But on Tuesday, McCain helped move the country in precisely the opposite direction.

We still dont know which of several bills Republicans will bring up for a vote, but all of them involve millions of Americans losing the very sort of health insurance upon which McCain depends.

The only question is whether its a matter of 22, 32, or just 15 million people who will lose access. What we can say with confidence is whatever version moves forward, McCains lost more than his good health hes lost his decency.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jul/25/john-mccain-healthcare-senate-vote-republicans

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Trump to rally: GOP senators who oppose health bill ‘will have a lot of problems’

Trump speaks for an hour at campaign-style rally in Youngstown, Ohio, and boasts of accomplishments while pledging once again to build that wall

Donald Trump warned that Republican senators who dont support legislation repealing and replacing Obamacare will have a lot of problems.

Speaking for an hour at a campaign-style rally in Youngstown, Ohio, Trump took a victory lap after the Senate voted to begin debate on legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act. We are now one step closer to liberating our citizens from this Obamacare nightmare, he said.

Before a raucous crowd in the blue-collar city, Trump went on to warn that any senator who votes against repeal and replace tells America that they are fine with the Obamacare nightmare, and I predict theyll have a lot of problems.

However, Trump spent comparatively little time discussing healthcare. Instead, he returned to familiar themes from his freewheeling presidential campaign, deriding fake news and pledging once again to build that wall on the border between the United States and Mexico. He also returned to familiar boasts about how, with the exception of Abraham Lincoln, he can be more presidential than any president thats ever held this office and taunted protesters, saying about one: Hes going back home to mommy.

He spent much of the rally boasting about his accomplishments since taking office: I think, with few exceptions, no president has done anywhere near what we have done in his first six months.

In particular, Trump dwelled on his efforts to curb illegal immigration and deport undocumented migrants from the United States. Trump claimed that in doing so we are liberating our towns and cities and warned darkly of immigrants in gangs committing crimes.

They dont want to use guns because its too fast and its not painful enough, claimed Trump. So theyll take a young, beautiful girl, 16, 15 and others, and they slice them and dice them with a knife because they want them to go through excruciating pain before they die, and these are the animals that weve been protecting for so long.

Trump though did not address the investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 election or his growing displeasure with Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, for recusing himself from the justice departments investigation into the 2016 campaign.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jul/25/trump-republicans-healthcare-bill-rally-ohio

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Turkish activists decry attack on press freedom as journalists stand trial

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Charges include claims that Cumhuriyet journalists helped the separatist Kurdistan Workers party and Glen movement

The trial of 17 reporters and executives from Cumhuriyet, one of Turkeys last standing opposition newspapers, is set to begin on Monday with rights activists decrying the continuing muzzling of free speech in one of the worlds largest jailers of journalists.

The charges include accusations that the newspapers journalists aided the separatist Kurdistan Workers party (PKK) and the Fethullah Glen movement, which is widely believed in Turkey to have orchestrated last years coup attempt, and complaints of irregularities in the elections of the organisations board of executives.

Rights activists say the trial is an assault on freedom of expression and the accusations are absurd, because Cumhuriyet, the countrys newspaper of record that is committed to secularism, has long warned of the dangers of the Glen movement, which itself has long been at odds with the PKK.

They argue that the other charges are an attempt at replacing the newspapers board of directors with government appointees more pliable to the ruling partys influence.

I have been a journalist for a long time and have dealt with this for a long time, said Aydn Engin, a veteran journalist with Cumhuriyet who is also standing trial on Monday, but had been released for health reasons. I will say that I am ashamed and in agony for my country because of these irrational accusations, he said.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoan and his ruling Justice and Development (AK) party have, for years worked to dismantle or co-opt Turkeys free press. That crackdown has accelerated in the year since last Julys coup, with more than 150 journalists believed to be behind bars in Turkey, the highest in the world ahead of China and Egypt.

As of March this year, 173 media outlets had been shut down, including newspapers, magazines, radio stations, websites and news agencies. More than 2,500 journalists have been laid off as part of the closures and 800 have had their press cards revoked, according to the Republican Peoples party (CHP), the main opposition bloc.

The government has also exerted pressure on media outlets that do not toe the official line by pressuring advertisers not to do business with them and pursuing cases of defamation, or by slapping them with large, unpayable fines. After media outlets that once belonged to the Glen movement were seized, the government-appointed trustee boards that have transformed those newspapers and TV stations into a loyalist press.

These loyalist media outlets are often referred to as penguin media because a TV station that was fearful of antagonising the government during the Gezi protests of 2013 aired a documentary about penguins instead of broadcasting the protests.

That threat of a trustee board hangs over Cumhuriyet, a newspaper that was founded in 1924 and is the only serious newspaper in circulation that is vehemently opposed to government policies. It has described the crackdown after the coup in which the government dismissed or detained tens of thousands of civil servants, police and military officers, academics, judges and journalists as a witch-hunt, and has repeatedly criticised Erdoan as an authoritarian attempting to destroy democracy.

Erdoan has described democracy as a train before, said Engin, referring to a quote by the president that described democracy as a train that one can get off from once you reach you destination. Its going to be worse for Cumhuriyet. Maybe it will be a shut down, a quick and painless death, or we will suffocate slowly.

The newspaper has also joined calls for a ceasefire and peaceful resolution to the conflict with the PKK at a time when the government had opted for a security-focused response amid heightened tensions. The former editor-in-chief, Can Dundar, is in exile after being prosecuted for a 2014 article that revealed the National Intelligence Organisation (MIT) was sending weapons across the border into Syria under the guise of humanitarian aid, a story that the authorities say was leaked by Glenist conspirators.

On Monday, a week of hearings is expected to begin in the Cumhuriyet case against 17 of the newspapers journalists and executives. The case will commence with a reading out of the indictment and opening defense statements, and they expect for the presiding judge to decide whether to release the defendants on bail by Friday.

This trial offers the government another opportunity to change course in its campaign against Turkeys independent media, said Tobias Garnett, a human rights lawyer with P24, an organisation that advocates for press freedom and supports Turkish journalists on trial. Journalism is not a crime. Prosecutors should stop dressing up legitimate criticism as terrorism and harassing journalists through the courts.

Blent zdoan, the managing editor of Cumhuriyet, said in an interview with the Guardian that the trial was not just about press freedom, but about the governments campaign in the aftermath of the coup more broadly.

Its not just a struggle for free press, he said. Our arrested colleagues are people of a high moral and intellectual calibre. Its for everyone who lost their jobs, those who have been on hunger strike. Theyre struggling for both of us. Thats why I believe its a new start.

The arrest of journalists has earned Ankara criticism from abroad. Late last month, the UN human rights councils working group on arbitrary detentions issued a legal opinion arguing that the arrest of the Cumhuriyet staff contravened the universal declaration of human rights and was arbitrary. The panel of experts called on the Turkish government to release the journalists.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jul/24/turkish-activists-decry-attack-press-freedom-journalists-stand-trial

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John McCain predicts Republican healthcare bill will fail

Unpopular bill further imperilled after senators returned to their states and faced constituents strongly opposed to it

A senior US Republican senator has predicted that the bill to roll back Obamacare would probably fail, adding to growing signs that the bill is in trouble.

My view is that its probably going to be dead, John McCain said on the CBS program Face the Nation.

The Senate bill, which faces unified Democratic opposition, has been further imperilled during a week-long recess where several Republican senators have had to return to their states and face constituents strongly opposed to it. Senators return to Washington on Monday.

The Senate bill keeps much of Obamacare intact but strips away most of its funding. It repeals most Obamacare taxes, overhauls the laws tax credits and ends its Medicaid expansion. It also goes beyond repealing Obamacare by cutting funding for the Medicaid program beginning in 2025.

The White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus, said on Sunday on Fox News that President Donald Trump expected Congress to pass a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare.

The Republican senator Ted Cruz on Sunday said failure to pass the bill was not an option and the Senate effort had to focus on lowering premiums. He pointed to an amendment he offered that is being scored by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, which assesses the impact of legislation.

Cruzs amendment would allow insurers to offer plans that do not comply with Obamacares mandate that they charge sick and healthy people the same rates and that they cover a set of essential health benefits, such as maternity care and prescription drugs, as long as they also offer plans that do comply with the regulations.

The amendment has drawn the support of conservative senators and groups, who say the it will help lower premiums. But moderate Republicans and outside critics say it will erode protections for people with pre-existing conditions and make their insurance unaffordable.

The Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, aims to hold a vote on the legislation, which needs the support of at least 50 of the Senates 52 Republicans, before a six-week recess that begins on 29 July.

Yet even McConnell cast doubt on the bills prospects for passage last week.

Speaking at a luncheon in his home state of Kentucky, McConnell said if Congress failed to follow through on a seven-year pledge to repeal Obamacare then it must act to shore up private health insurance markets, comments seen as providing a pathway to a bipartisan deal to fix the health system.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jul/10/john-mccain-predicts-republican-healthcare-bill-will-fail

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‘The system’s violating everyone’: the Canadian trans parent fighting to keep gender off cards

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Baby Searyl has a health card with no gender marked but for trans parent Kori Doty it is a small win in a broader battle

A parent whose baby has been given a health card that does not specify a gender believed to be a world first has said the aim is to allow the child to discover their gender on their own.

I think were starting to understand that gender identity is not directly attached to genitals, Kori Doty, a non-binary trans person who does not identify as male or female, told the Guardian in an interview.

I dont want to put them in a box where they only get to wear pink and ruffles or they only get to wear blue and trucks. Im just trying to leave that space open, so that when they can say who they are, that they dont have to say your guess was wrong.

Canadian authorities have issued baby Searyl Atli a health card that does not specify male or female in what campaigners describe as a victory in the fight to have gender omitted from government documents.

But since giving birth to Searyl at a friends home in November, Doty is still fighting to have the babys gender kept off the birth certificate. The fight is part of a broader, years-long push. Doty is one of eight trans and intersex individuals who have filed a human rights complaint against their home province of British Columbia, pointing to their personal experiences to allege that it is discriminatory to publish gender markers on birth certificates.

At the heart of their complaint is the presumption that only two genders exist and that babies must be slotted into one of these at birth, regardless of what gender identity they might develop later in life. Doing so leaves some struggling to contend with incorrect assumptions made about them at birth while others face a logistical nightmare of carrying identification that fails to accurately reflect who they are. In 2015, the human rights tribunal of British Columbia agreed to hear their complaint.

I think really this is about recognising a structure, or a system, that is violating everyone, said Doty, 31. The binary gender system causes problems for everyone, including people that find ways to fit and conform in it. It is a disservice to all.

Doty would instead like to have gender seen as part of a spectrum a view that would not only benefit trans and intersex people but also every boy who is cut off from their emotional wellbeing and told to suck it up and not cry and enculturated into toxic masculinity, said Doty. It also serves every girl who is told she shouldnt want to make things or be good at math or be strong.

After Searyl was born, the province refused to issue the child a birth certificate, pointing to the requirement that gender be noted on the document. In response Doty filed a legal challenge, citing the protection of gender expression in the provincial human rights code as well as in the Canadian Human Rights Act.

Recently the province issued Searyl a health card marked with a U for gender assumed by Doty to mean undetermined or unassigned allowing the child access medical care. Despite the card arriving without explanation or comment from the ministry, Doty described it as a victory but noted: Its just not the end of the game.

Without a birth certificate, Searyl is listed as a non-citizen in the provinces system. The court case is expected to be heard in late autumn, said barbara findlay, a human rights lawyer who chooses to spell her name without capital letters and is working with Doty on the court challenge.

There used to be a reason to put sex on birth certificates. You used to need to know that because only men could vote, only men could own property, only men could sit in the Senate, and so on. Those days are long gone, said findlay. And just as we used to have race on birth certificates, but we dont any more, its time to take sex off birth certificates and treat it, like race, as a private matter.

As Doty pushes forward with the case, the parent has heard from both supporters and detractors. I know that Im being discussed in mens rights activist forums, I know that there are articles written about me and the way that my parenting practices are tantamount to abuse.

But the cost of doing nothing is too high, said Doty, pointing to polls that suggest as many as 40% of transgender people in the US have attempted suicide at some point in their lives. I want to raise my kid in such a way that whatever their gender is, it doesnt have to give them angst.

While the health card was a step forward, the ultimate goal is to have gender markers taken off all government documents, said Doty. Were talking about what is essentially a large-scale systemic change. Not just in the way that offices that issue documents function, but also in the way that our culture understands who we are, to ourselves and to each other, Doty added. That kind of change, it isnt a one-step game.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jul/06/the-systems-violating-everyone-the-canadian-trans-parent-fighting-to-keep-gender-off-cards

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