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05.01.2021 – The Baltic Word

NATO invented new threat in the Baltic States
(Image by The Baltic Word)

BY VIKTORS DOMBURS

It seems as if NATO has changed its priorities in the Baltic States.

It is well known that NATO member states agreed at the 2016 Summit in Warsaw to enhance NATO’s military presence in the eastern part of the Alliance.

So, the arrival of the multinational Allied battlegroup in Latvia in June 2017 concluded the deployment of forces under NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence in the Baltic States and Poland, thereby implementing the decisions made at the NATO’s Summits. Since than NATO has been actively enhancing its military capabilities in the Baltic States. It increased the number of troops and deployed heavy weapons including tanks, armoured vehicles and artillery. Canada is the framework nation for the battalion-size NATO battlegroup deployed to Latvia.

It was said that NATO’s enhanced forward presence is defensive, proportionate, and in line with international commitments.

Though it was absolutely evident that NATO pursues not only the stated goals, but some hidden ones. Among them are convincing of the need to increase defence budgets of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, political support at all levels, loyalty to all decisions made by leading NATO member states.

The more so, NATO invented new threat in the Baltic States. All of a sudden the Baltic States have been turned to the drone test site. In order to justify NATO new interests, it was said that unmanned aerial vehicles are an emerging threat to NATO soldiers deployed around the world, and especially in the Baltic region.

The leadership of the enhanced Forward Presence Battle Group in Latvia even held a symposium in Camp Adazi in November to talk about how to deal with the drone threat.

Latvia’s Battle Group Commanding Officer Lieutenant Colonel Trevor Norton said that NATO recognized this threat as they prepared to deploy to Latvia, and made it a priority to come up with solutions.

“When I was looking at our adversaries and the way in which they have conducted recent operations around the world, it was obvious that they used UAS to great effect,” he said. “I determined that if we were to continue to be successful in deterring foreign aggression, we must demonstrate the ability to counter the threat of UAS. This is what led me to the idea of running a counter-UAS symposium and exercise.” In his turn Latvian Minister of Defense Artis Pabriks acknowledged that “the Latvian Defence Department has taken into account the lessons learned from the use of drones in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.”

It should be said that this conclusion looks more than odd. Does Pabriks consider Armenia and Azerbadzan as adversaries?

The symposium combined presentations by experts from the United Kingdom and Canada with open discussion between members of all nine nations of the Battle Group as well as members of the Latvian National Armed Forces about the capabilities they have in Adazi, and how they could use them to minimize the UAS threat. Finally, they tested some of their weapon systems in shooting down target drones at the Camp Adazi range. And, probably, this was the main goal.

Major Matt Bentley, the organizer of the symposium, stressed that this is a complex problem that will not be solved with one symposium. He said it was an important first step in the process of developing practices and capabilities that can defend Allied soldiers from drones while defending Latvia. Following the symposium, the Battle Group drafted a service paper to send to all sending nations for each ally to consider as they develop ways to defeat this threat.

According to LCol Norton, as Allied nations develop ways and means to combat the threat posed by UAS, the Battle Group will be in a good position to test them in a multinational context. In the meantime, the Battle Group will continue to build and refine tactics, techniques and procedures using the tools at hand to mitigate the threat. So, NATO invented new threat in the Baltic States to convince these countries in need to pay more and to deploy more foreign troops on their territory. And all this against the backdrop of a pandemic and an acute shortage of funds for medicine in Latvia.

 The original article can be found on our partner’s website here

05.01.2021 – Global Voices Online

2020: The year of feminist struggles and political resistance in Latin America
2020 Protest in Dignity Plaza (Santiago, Chile) by Paulo Slachevsky (Image by (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0))

Activism did not disappear during quarantine

In Latin America and the Caribbean, the year 2020 was marked by the role of feminist and social movements that helped bring about immense political change despite the presence of the COVID-19 pandemic which dominated the headlines and became a global concern.

In a year when the decriminalisation of marijuana and controversies over the raffle of the presidential plane were topics of conversation, feminism and the perceived “anti-feminism” of the Mexican government also warranted attention. In March, a protest took place against the daily average of 10.5 femicide cases in Mexico. Further demonstrations followed seeking justice for individual cases, including for Ingrid EscamillaFatima Aldrighett and Jessica González Villaseñor.

Despite political repression during protests in Cancun, the campaign bore fruit with the introduction of the Olympia Law that sanctions digital harassment against women, the Ingrid Law against the dissemination of images of crime victims, the public registry of sex offenders in the Mexican capital, and the Amnesty Law for abortion.

In Argentina, there was a significant increase in calls to address gender-based violence and grooming during quarantine.

The blueprint for a law that legalised abortion, promised by the government in March 2020, was put on hold.

Faced with the initial setback, social media groups played a key role in strengthening women’s support networks throughout lockdown. Protests were organised against the alarming increase in femicides during the pandemic. Tweets from the grassroots organisation Ni Una Menos (Literally: “Not one [woman] less”) mobilized activists and thousands took part in a virtual handkerchief rally (waving of green scarves) to demand that the government of Argentina urgently address the voluntary abortion law.

The law, which would allow the voluntary interruption of pregnancy and access to post-abortion care, was sent to National Congress in November and officially passed in December.

In Venezuela, feminists used WhatsApp to continue to support women and provide virtual talks about feminism; and in Nicaragua, feminist groups denounced the neglect and lack of justice for the victims of gender-based violence and the victims’ families.

In January, before COVID-19 arrived in Trinidad and Tobago, a public ceremony was held to commemorate victims of femicide. Citizens demanded effective measures from the State to protect women and girls. In March, following another case of femicide, online users highlighted the link between gender-based violence and child abuse, particularly in instances when COVID-19 restrictions were accompanied by an increase in domestic violence.

In December, when news headlines reported on the femicides of a young mother and an adolescent, social media users expressed fatigue with the narrative that women “should take care of themselves”. Instead, users argued that the focus and responsibility should be removed from women and redirected towards the aggressor.

Political movements in Uruguay, Bolivia, Peru, and Chile

The greatest change in Uruguay occurred in the political arena with the departure of the Broad Front (Left-wing political coalition) and the 2019 election of Luis Lacalle Pou who is from the National Party which returned to power after thirty years as head of the government’s “multicolour coalition”.

The current opposition from the Broad Front, as well as other political groups, are critical of the government for the promulgation of the Law of Urgent Consideration (‘Ley de Urgente Consideración’), which they perceive to be a setback in freedom of expression. However, the Lacalle government’s successful control of the first wave of COVID-19, resulting in only a few dozen fatalities, positioned the country as a leader in crisis response.

In Bolivia, in October, after a year of polarisation exacerbated by racism and attacks on journalists, citizens peacefully headed to the polls. 55% of voters elected Luis Arce and David Choquehuana from the Movement Towards Socialism (Movimiento al Socialismo). The election of Arce was celebrated in major cities around the world.

Polarisation may continue during the run-up to the sub-national elections for mayors and governors scheduled for March 7, 2021.

Bicentennial generation chasing corruption.

International press understated the importance of the protests of the “bicentennial generation” in Peru primarily comprised of young people marking the 200th anniversary of Peru’s independence. Demonstrations took place within the context of a country troubled by the Congressional removal of President Martín Vizcarra, the resignation of an illegitimate government of Manuel Merino and the appointment of Francisco Sagasti as interim president. Both Merino and Sagasti used excessive police force against young protestors resulting in at least two fatalities. The chaotic political context this year was compounded by the COVID-19 health crisis as well as the implementation of extractivist policies in favour of large companies in indigenous areas.

Meanwhile, the pandemic did not prevent Chile from holding a historic referendum on October 25 when an overwhelming majority approved the changing of the Constitution promulgated by former dictator Augusto Pinochet in 1980. For a large section of the population, the Constitution was considered as “the mother of Chile’s inequalities”. The referendum was the primary demand that fueled the social uprising of October 2019, to which the government responded with repression, arrests, and numerous human rights violations.

From North to South: Violence, authoritarianism, disinformation, and protests

In Colombia, in addition to the high death toll from COVID-19, citizens highlighted their dissatisfaction with the absence of effective solutions to combat high levels of violence across the country. According to the Institute for Studies of Development and Peace, ninety massacres took place in 2020. However, President Ivan Duque insists on denying the seriousness of the homicide rate in the country.

Particularly disturbing was the increase in murders of social leaders and human rights defenders. It was revealed that the police were involved in the murder of Attorney Javier Ordóñez. This finding led to protests followed by police repression and the resulting deaths and injuries of at least ten individuals.

Death threats, assassinations, harassment, abuse and censorship against journalists and activists were constant throughout 2020, yet within this context alternative forms of digital media also emerged that helped activists evade censorship.

In Venezuela, after a year of relative economic normalisation, despite hyperinflation and the amplification of the humanitarian crisis, the pandemic resulted in a resurgence of the government’s authoritarian measures. Greater militarisation, control of state institutions and political persecution of journalists and humanitarian activists all characterised public policies. In addition, Nicolás Maduro’s government displaced dissident political representation through a questionable parliamentary election.

The pandemic exacerbated Venezuela’s migration crisis, already the most severe in the region with 5.4 million citizens already outside the country.  Reports have highlighted that many members of this community are unable to meet their basic needs in host countries, suffering from homelessness and food shortages.

In Jamaica, chaos and fear overwhelmed citizens. While the COVID-19 pandemic topped the list of concerns, an informal poll on Twitter revealed that it was closely followed by fears of a possible increase in crime, despite the fact that the Jamaica Police reported a slight decrease in reports of crime compared to the previous year.

Moreover, night curfews during the pandemic do not appear to have prevented hundreds of illegal parties and social activities from taking place, some of which (organised by people with criminal ties) resulted in acts of violence.

In Nicaragua, citizens have suffered a mixture of negative emotions caused by the public health crisis, concerns over the accuracy of data relating to COVID-19, the impact of the IOTA and ETA hurricanes, and the prospects for the 2021 elections in a country where police repression, the lack of freedom of the press and expression and violations of human rights persist on a daily basis.

Following the wave of protests in 2018, some 100,000 people fled the country, but many Nicaraguans in exile remain involved in political activism. Meanwhile, the government of Daniel Ortega is promoting a triad of laws to strengthen its apparatus of control over the population and prevent any attempt at grassroots opposition.

Further north in El Salvador, 2020 was a year rife with political conflict. President Nayib Bukele constantly confronts the other organs of the State: the Legislative Assembly and the Constitutional Chamber, and referred to the deputies and magistrates as “corrupt, criminals and thieves”. For many, his aggressive style reveals a political plan to control the country. Still, he maintains an approval rating of more than 75% despite accusations against him of corruption, negotiating with gangs and attacks on members of the press.

When Bukele wrote on Twitter about the impact of the pandemic in Ecuador, the Ecuadorian government denied it. Soon, the content circulating on social media made headlines around the world: bodies that no one collected, families searching for the body of a loved one, and alleged cremations of corpses in the streets.

The disinformation narrative was not enough for the government of Ecuador to explain what the city of Guayaquil experienced. Faced with an overwhelmed reality, a Joint Task Force was created to bury the corpses. The Guayaquil mayor’s office had to deliver cardboard coffins to the families. Responding to the crisis, the Indigenous peoples of the region organised to protect themselves from the coronavirus.

In short, the pandemic caught a region off guard that was already facing numerous problems, and it also tested the resilience of social movements which vigorously campaigned for human rights.

Despite this, some good news on gender issues in the region were highlighted: Ecuador had its first trans march, the government of Argentina approved the trans-transvestite labour quota in the public sector, Bolivia as well as the state of Puebla, Mexico recognized the free union between people of the same sex.

04.01.2021 – The Conversation

Six ways to ‘reboot your brain’ after a hard year of COVID-19 – according to science
It’s time to snap out of bad habits. (Image by Jolygon/Shutterstock, CC BY-SA)

There’s no doubt that 2020 was difficult for everyone and tragic for many. But now vaccines against COVID-19 are finally being administered – giving a much needed hope of a return to normality and a happy 2021.

However, months of anxiety, grief and loneliness can easily create a spiral of negativity that is hard to break out of. That’s because chronic stress changes the brain. And sometimes when we’re low we have no interest in doing the things that could actually make us feel better.

To enjoy our lives in 2021, we need to snap out of destructive habits and get our energy levels back. In some cases, that may initially mean forcing yourself to do the things that will gradually make you feel better. If you are experiencing more severe symptoms, however, you may want to speak to a professional about therapy or medication.

Here are six evidenced-based ways to change our brains for the better.

1. Be kind and helpful

Kindness, altruism and empathy can affect the brain. One study showed that making a charitable donation activated the brain’s reward system in a similar way to actually receiving money. This also applies to helping others who have been wronged.

Volunteering can also give a sense of meaning in life, promoting happiness, health and wellbeing. Older adults who volunteer regularly also exhibit greater life satisfaction and reduced depression and anxiety. In short, making others happy is a great way to make yourself happy.

2. Exercise

Exercise has been linked with both better physical and mental health, including improved cardiovascular health and reduced depression. In childhood, exercise is associated with better school performance, while it promotes better cognition and job performance in young adults. In older adults, exercise maintains cognitive performance and provides resilience against neurodegenerative disorders, such as dementia.

Image of people hiking in nature.
Exercise can lift us. Jacob Lund/Shutterstock free image

What’s more, studies have shown that individuals with higher levels of fitness have increased brain volume, which is associated with better cognitive performance in older adults. People who exercise also live longer. One of the very best things that you can do to reboot your brain is in fact to go out and get some fresh air during a brisk walk, run or cycling session. Do make sure to pick something you actually enjoy to ensure you keep doing it though.

3. Eat well

Nutrition can substantially influence the development and health of brain structure and function. It provides the proper building blocks for the brain to create and maintain connections, which is critical for improved cognition and academic performance. Previous evidence has shown that long-term lack of nutrients can lead to structural and functional damage to the brain, while a good quality diet is related to larger brain volume.

One study of 20,000 participants from the UK-Biobank showed that a higher intake of cereal was associated with the long-term beneficial effects of increased volume of grey matter (a key component of the central nervous system), which is linked to improved cognition. However, diets rich in sugar, saturated fats or calories can damage neural function. They can also reduce the brain’s ability to make new neural connections, which negatively affects cognition.

Therefore, whatever your age, remember to eat a well-balanced diet, including fruits, vegetables and cereal.

4. Keep socially connected

Loneliness and social isolation is prevalent across all ages, genders and cultures – further elevated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Robust scientific evidence has indicated that social isolation is detrimental to physical, cognitive and mental health.

One recent study showed that there were negative effects of COVID-19 isolation on emotional cognition, but that this effect was smaller in those that stayed connected with others during lockdown. Developing social connections and alleviating loneliness is also associated with decreased risk of mortality as well as a range of illnesses.

Therefore, loneliness and social isolation are increasingly recognised as critical public health issues, which require effective interventions. And social interaction is associated with positive feelings and increased activation in the brain’s reward system.

In 2021, be sure to keep up with family and friends, but also expand your horizons and make some new connections.

5. Learn something new

The brain changes during critical periods of development, but is also a lifelong process. Novel experiences, such as learning new skills, can modify both brain function and the underlying brain structure. For example juggling has been shown to increase white matter (tissue composed of nerve fibers) structures in the brain associated with visuo-motor performance.

Image of a man playing the guitar.
It’s never too late to learn how to play an instrumentRawpixel.com/Shutterstock free image

Similarly, musicians have been shown to have increased grey matter in the parts of the brain that process auditory information. Learning a new language can also change the structure of the human brain.

A large review of the literature suggested that mentally stimulating leisure activities increase brain-reserve, which can instil resilience and be protective of cognitive decline in older adults – be it chess or cognitive games.

6. Sleep properly

Sleep is an essential component of human life, yet many people do not understand the relationship between good brain health and the process of sleeping. During sleep, the brain reorganises and recharges itself and removes toxic waste byproducts, which helps to maintain normal brain functioning.

Sleep is very important for transforming experiences into our long-term memory, maintaining cognitive and emotional function and reducing mental fatigue. Studies of sleep deprivation have demonstrated deficits in memory and attention as well as changes in the reward system, which often disrupts emotional functioning. Sleep also exerts a strong regulatory influence on the immune system. If you have the optimal quantity and quality of sleep, you will find that you have more energy, better wellbeing and are able to develop your creativity and thinking.

So have a Happy New Year! And let’s make the most of ourselves in 2021 and help others to do the same.

 The original article can be found on our partner’s website here

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Dietrich Bonhoeffer

We must act and dare the appropiateness and not whatever comes to our mind not floating in the likelihood but grasp the reality as brave as we can be freedom lies in action not in the absence of mind obedience knows the essence of good and satisfies it, freedom dares to act and returns God the ultimate judgment of what is right and what is wrong, Obedience performs blindly but Freedom is wide awake Freedom wants to know why, Obedience has its hands tied, Freedom is inventive obedient man respects God’s commands and by virtu of his Freedom, he creats new commands. Both Obedience and Freedom come true in responsability (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

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