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84 Charing Cross Road

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Miss Fiske would have loved this movie. And I would have loved seeing it with her, through her eyes. I almost even loved it myself, because “84 Charing Cross Road” is a movie made for people who love London and books. The only problem is that the heroine doesn’t get to London until it’s too late, and nobody ever seems to read in this movie.

The film is based on a hit London and New York play, which was based on a best-selling book. Given the thin and unlikely subject matter, that already is a series of miracles. And yet there are people who are pushovers for this material. I should know. I read the book and I saw the play and now I am reviewing the movie, and I still don’t think the basic idea is sound.

The story begins in the years right after World War II, when London was still gripped by food rationing and pocked by bomb craters.

A New York woman (Anne Bancroft), who loves books but cannot afford expensive ones, sees an ad in the Saturday Review for a London bookstore. She sends them her want list and is soon delighted to receive a package of used books – good readable editions, cheap. She begins a correspondence with the bookseller (Anthony Hopkins), and thus commences a relationship that lasts for years without the two people ever meeting each other.

There is not a lot of drama in this story. Most of the action takes place in the post office. The director, David Jones, does what he can. His previous film was Harold Pinter’s “Betrayal,” which was a love story told backward, beginning with the unhappy conclusion and ending with the lovers’ first kiss. Now he has a love story in which the lovers do not meet. What can he look forward to next: autoeroticism? Bancroft sends care packages of ham to postwar England. Hopkins sends precious editions of Boswell, Chesterton and Cardinal Newman (“Dear John Henry,” Bancroft calls him). Bancroft leads a lonely life in a New York apartment. Hopkins occupies a silent marriage in a London bedroom suburb. After many years, Hopkins dies and then Bancroft finally goes to London and visits the now-empty bookstore.

Sigh. Miss Fiske, who you may remember from the first paragraph of this review, was the librarian at the Urbana Free Library when I was growing up. She instilled such a love of books in me that I still search used bookstore for the adventures of the Melody Family, by Elizabeth Enright; those were the first “real books” I read. Miss Fiske ran the book club and the Saturday morning puppet shows and the book fairs and the story readings. She never had to talk to me about the love of books because she simply exuded it and I absorbed it.

She would have loved this movie. Sitting next to her, I suspect, I would have loved it, too. But Miss Fiske is gone now, and I found it pretty slow-going on my own. And for that matter, Miss Fiske had a sharp critical intelligence, and I suspect that after seeing this movie she would have nodded and said she enjoyed it, but then she might have added, “Why didn’t that silly woman get on the boat and go to London 10 years sooner and save herself all that postage?”

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Drunk man falls to his death from the third floor of a bar in Calcutta

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Drunk man falls to his death from the third floor of a bar in Calcutta
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Pradip Shaw, a 55-year-old man, fell from the third-floor elevator doors onto the roof of the elevator, which was waiting on the ground floor. The incident took place Wednesday night at a bar and the victim had reportedly consumed 10 large barrels of whiskey together with his employer.

 

STAND OUT

• A 55-year-old man died after falling from the third floor of a bar in Kolkata
• The incident occurred around 11 pm on Thursday.
• He had reportedly consumed 10 pins of whiskey with his employer

A 55-year-old man died after falling from third-floor elevator doors onto the ceiling of the elevator car he was waiting for on the ground floor of a bar in Kolkata. The incident took place in a pub under the confines of Harestreet Police Station at around 11 pm on Wednesday. The man was reportedly intoxicated.

Last night, the victim, identified as Pradip Shaw, 55, fell from the third-floor elevator door onto the ceiling of the elevator car that was parked on the ground floor.

An investigation revealed that the victim had gone to the Night Queen bar with his employer, Sumit Saraogi, around 8:15 p.m. m. The two had reportedly consumed 10 large barrels of whiskey in total, and the victim then left the scene with her bag and helmet.

He then fell from the third-floor elevator door. He was rescued by the elevator operator, Tapash Baidya, who was on the ground floor and taken to the Medical College Hospital by Sumit Saraogi, where he was pronounced dead.

The victim’s wife, Chanda Shaw, and her son, Ayush Shaw, were told about the incident. Further investigations are underway.

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GOP governors sent buses of migrants to D.C. and NYC — with no plan for what’s next

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For months now, the governors of Texas and Arizona have been sending charter buses full of migrants and refugees to Washington, D.C.’s Union Station, just a few blocks from the Capitol building.

When they disembark, they find neither the local nor federal government there to meet them.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott says he started sending the buses to D.C. because the Biden administration attempted to lift the pandemic-era emergency Title 42 order that allowed the U.S. to deny migrants entry.

According to Abbott’s office, more than 6,100 migrants have been bused to D.C. from Texas alone. They arrive six days a week, as early as 6 a.m. and as late as 11 p.m. — sometimes multiple buses each day.

 

“In addition to Washington, D.C., New York City is the ideal destination for these migrants, who can receive the abundance of city services and housing that Mayor Eric Adams has boasted about within the sanctuary city,” Abbott wrote in a statement. “I hope he follows through on his promise of welcoming all migrants with open arms so that our overrun and overwhelmed border towns can find relief.”

 

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser says this is a federal issue that demands a federal answer. She and other local government officials secured a FEMA grant in June for an international nonprofit to offer emergency services to migrants.

Many families arrived with little or no preparation for what came next.

Stefani Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

So far, only local volunteers and nonprofit staff have greeted these buses at Union Station. Abel Nuñez is head of CARECEN, the Central American Resource Center, which stepped in to help people being bussed to D.C. when this all started.

“It was really crazy because they were just leaving them on the street,” said Nuñez, who first showed up at the station on April 16 after getting a tip from the D.C. Mayor’s Office on Latino Affairs that a bus was on its way.

“We knew it was on its way so we were there since 5 a.m. just waiting for them along with mutual aid organizations,” he said, adding that the first bus didn’t arrive till 8 a.m. “And it was incredible how shell-shocked these people were coming out of the buses.”

The organization soon learned that the migrants had been let out of immigration detention centers at the border and spent very little time — sometimes less than a day — at a shelter or nonprofit at the border before being put on the bus for a 36-hour journey.

It has taken a community effort to help the migrants who arrived.

Stefani Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

Last week, Mayor Bowser requested that the federal government deploy D.C.’s National Guard to support the nonprofit staff helping migrants.

The federal government would have to call up the D.C. National Guard because the district isn’t a state, but it has not done so. Additionally, some volunteers disagree with what they call a “militarized response” to the humanitarian crisis.

“The governor of Texas has pushed the respite work up to D.C. We’re not a border town so we are not used to doing this type of work,” Nuñez said. His organization has been helping migrants getting off the bus with meals, hygiene kits and a safe place to rest.

“For them, it was just a free ride,” Nuñez said. “They didn’t really have any other options and were offered a bus to the East Coast — Washington, D.C. — which some of them understood was closer to their final destination … so they were happy.”

But he added that with only local volunteers and nonprofit staff greeting the buses, and with no government support to greet them, the migrants were confused at the disorder that they found once they got to D.C.

“We have to recognize that the immigrants coming in were primarily from Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba… some folks from Central Africa … so they had [final] destinations such as Miami, New Jersey, New York or Tennessee [in mind],” Nuñez said.

“We need a place where we can receive them, give them a meal, and actually help them plan their next step. Even if that means staying in the D.C. area.”

Volunteers have at times taken migrants into their own homes to help them.

Stefani Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

CARECEN has helped send some of the migrants to California or Texas, or wherever they have family or friends that can receive them. Still, aid volunteers say that about 10-15% of those who are dropped off by these buses have decided to stay in D.C. indefinitely.

One couple from Venezuela stayed at a volunteer’s home with their four children until their flight to Florida.

“Over there in Texas, when we were in the refugee camp, it was tougher because on the border there are military, so they treat the people like militants,” said Ronald, the husband. “I felt that we were in a better place. If we didn’t have her family I told her that we would stay here. We would stay in Washington.”

Critics — including some Republican state and local officials — have called Abbott’s plan to bus migrants to D.C. “political theater”. Still, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey joined Texas and started busing migrants to the nation’s capital in May.

“I felt that he truly wanted to get a media hit out of this,” said Nuñez of Abbott’s move. “And that eventually two or three weeks later when everything would die down, he would stop doing it.”

The federal government has not yet sent in the National Guard to help with the relief effort.

Stefani Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

When that didn’t happen, Nuñez said the community stepped in.

“I think this is an example where the local community rose up and said, ‘No, we are not going to have chaos in our city, we are going to be in solidarity with the people that are on the buses and help them to the best of our ability,'” Nuñez said. “Now we’re reaching our limit on that.”

But he added that resources from the city or from the federal government and other municipalities could really help. “I think we can do an amazing job of demonstrating to this nation what it is to really integrate newcomers into our communities.”

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Why I Stayed in a Marriage That Was Making Me Miserable

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Why I Stayed in a Marriage That Was Making Me Miserable
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In 2009, I married my boyfriend for health insurance. I was 24, and Aaron and I had been dating less than two years. Marriage had never even come up. I wasn’t even sure if I believed in it. But I’d recently gotten a reporting job that offered insurance—which, in my pre-Obamacare bartending days, sort of felt like winning the lottery. So in a gesture of love from one insured person to an uninsured one, we tied the knot at Chicago’s City Hall.

We went out of our way not to take it seriously. I wore black; he wore white. We posed for goofy photos and clinked champagne glasses at a rooftop bar. We texted all our friends that “hey, by the way, we got married, meet us at Gold Star,” the dive bar where Aaron worked. We drank Old Overholt for free all night and ate pulled-pork sandwiches crouching on the sidewalk. We fell into bed feeling happy and irreverent.

Everybody is tickled by this story, the broad strokes of which, I admit, are romantic and organic and quasi-unconventional. I told it for years, mostly because it was an opportunity to brag about how our insurance nuptials exposed the farce of traditional values. I framed my marriage of convenience as a defiant gesture, meant to make a mockery of outdated institutions—not only of sentimental matrimony, but of the cruelty of our failed health care system. It became key to shaping my identity as someone whose commitment was pure yet subject to change, unrelated to a binding contract, uncontaminated by cynical things like registries or honeymoons or financial security.

Unfortunately, marriages—even marriages like mine—have never been that simple. About two years in, I realized I wasn’t happy, that our sexual and intellectual connection was not strong enough to sustain a lifelong partnership. And yet I stayed. And stayed and stayed. Soon, I was eight years deep into a relationship that was making me miserable, but I couldn’t bring myself to end it. How did I, a self-sufficient progressive feminist, find myself loath to give up on an unhappy marriage that had started as a screw you to insurance companies?

The most iconoclastic among us think we’re impervious to marriage’s charms, so we consider it safe to buy in ironically, for the benefits and nothing else. I had assumed that since the institution meant nothing to me, I could bend it to my whims, rejecting and using aspects of it as I saw fit. But no matter how blasé I thought I felt about our transactional union, it managed to take on a life of its own. Because as I soon learned, there’s no easier way to defang a radical than the lure of a status bump.

When I was in college, my thoughts about marriage ranged somewhere between indifference and hostility. My classmates and I weren’t at all pressed to run to the altar after we graduated. We were doing things like waiting tables while nursing music careers or going to law school to avoid the recession. Then, starting in my late 20s, I began to receive wedding invites at an impressive clip from some of the same people whose jaws had dropped at my off-the-cuff wedding. Lots of those college drifters “got serious” with well-paying careers and paired up, often with each other. Virtually nobody in my inner circle opted for solo parenthood.

These friends married for love, surely. Theirs were what writer Emily Witt called “neo-marriages”: in most cases far from a “housewife-patriarch dynamic,” these couples acknowledged that some level of autonomy was to be retained. But their weddings also marked a consolidation of their money, power, and social capital.

Aaron’s social circles looked very different. He finally got his bachelor’s degree at 29, but his parents hadn’t finished college, and neither did many of his friends from his middle-class suburb or his service-industry jobs. For them, marriage was a distant goal they might consider once they started making good money or had a “real” job. A few who did get married got divorced within a few years. Some had kids and didn’t stay with their partners. Among his crowd, ours was an example of a stable and upwardly mobile partnership.

Matrimony has been tied to class for millennia. During the Victorian era, middle- and upper-class women were expected to pour every bit of their morally pristine energy into tending to their homes and families. People who were enslaved, or poor people of any race, needed not apply to wedded bliss. In fact, it was their very existence as farmers, domestic servants, wet nurses, and sweatshop workers that allowed rich white women to set aside grueling household tasks and concentrate on “uplifting” their homes. By 1850, there were twice as many servants per white household as there were just 50 years before.

 

Lower-class workers and formerly enslaved people could get married, technically, but their unions couldn’t hope to approach the ideals of the day. Mary White Ovington, a suffragist and early member of the NAACP, wrote in her 1911 study Half a Man that a Black woman in New York who did manage to marry also had to work outside the home, and thus “has no fear of leaving him since her marital relations are not welded by economic dependence.” And unwed women were financially on their own. As Jane Austen wrote in a letter to her niece while grudgingly defending marriage: “Single women have a dreadful propensity for being poor.”

Nineteen fifties America was a veritable marriage propaganda machine, one that can’t be separated from peak consumerism. After two decades of Depression and war, times were better than ever; by the mid-1950s almost 60% of the population were middle-class. Meanwhile, less than 10% of Americans in 1955 thought an unmarried person could be happy.

Of course, the breadwinner-housewife nuclear family wasn’t attainable for everyone. This perception of the “universal” norm put families who couldn’t achieve it—namely, the working class and virtually every person of color, who couldn’t afford to be a one-income household—in the position of having failed. Women who toiled at backbreaking jobs often envied housewives and viewed the home, not work, as the fulfilling aspect of their lives. The reaction of Black women to white feminists demanding to enter the workforce often was, “We want to have more time to share with family,” Black feminist bell hooks wrote in 1984. “We want to leave the world of alienated work.” When you’ve spent years improving other women’s domestic lives for little pay, inhabiting your own with a stable partner feels like a sacred privilege.

 

White, rich people have long used marriage’s supposed virtues as a way to denigrate low-income Black families under the guise of concern. Ovington, in the same 1911 study, wrote that most Black women in New York were beset with “sexual immorality” and deprived of their “full status as a woman” because they were not properly courted by male suitors. It was evident in 1965 that attitudes like these had staying power when Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then a Labor Department official in the Lyndon B. Johnson Administration, wrote in a much-criticized report that Black children with single mothers were doomed to fail. The government has continued to tout marriage as a cure-all for poverty. The George W. Bush Administration’s Healthy Marriage Initiative, which would continue funding programs for nearly two decades after its establishment, has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into promoting marriage rather than alleviating the poverty of families that already exist.

 

Despite this persistent messaging, the cultural narrative of the last few years has been about marriage’s decline. Last year, the Pew Research Center analyzed census data and found that in 2019, 38% of American adults ages 25 to 54 were neither married nor living with a partner—and that “all of the growth in the unpartnered population since 1990 has come” not from divorced people, but “from a rise in the number who have never been married.”

One would think that since singlehood is becoming more common, social acceptance would follow. But one consequence of fewer marriages is that they’ve become luxury items for the privileged. Nowadays, the college educated are more likely to be married than people with only a high school degree, and their marriages last longer. Educated people also wait longer to get married and have children—which not only affects their earning power but also improves the prognosis of their marriage. Pew’s report points out that Black adults are the least likely to be partnered, and that single people’s median incomes and education levels are lower. Like that of many status symbols, marriage’s power lies precisely in its exclusion: It’s an institution that remains desirable, yet more and more out of reach, for millions of marginalized Americans.

A 2013 study out of the University of Virginia and Harvard found that the shift from authoritarian marriage to “companionate” marriage among equals came at a price, literally. The couples who can throw money at their problems—from therapy to date nights to babysitters—have a better chance of surviving. Financially stable marrieds invest in each other by pooling their resources. The researchers also found that economic instability had a direct correlation with mistrust and instability in one’s relationships. Many of the working-class interviewees were focused on their own financial survival, not providing “materially and emotionally for others.”

Besides the tax breaks and the security of health insurance, marrying Aaron wasn’t exactly an investment. Our marriage occurred during the depths of the recession, when our bank accounts hovered in the mid–three figures on any given day. Even years later, we felt like we were still too broke to have kids or save up to buy property. But the announcement of our nuptials unlocked something more inscrutable, and therefore more insidious, than financial gain: an alluring social acceptance that would prove hard to resist.

 

I noticed the difference almost immediately. After I posted a few pictures from City Hall on social media, people who never had much to say to me were suddenly showering me with well wishes. My coworkers from the suburbs seemed relieved to have figured me out. Aaron’s family started treating me . . . well, like family. Acquaintances gushed with advice and marriage-proposal stories. I began to understand the appeal of weddings. Everybody is so happy for you!

Before long, I’d discovered the effectiveness of saying “husband” when dealing with bureaucrats. The word proved useful for my reporting job too: when I was interviewing senior citizens or Christians, using “husband” helped us find common ground. I now had an ironclad comeback for sleazy guys who wouldn’t stop hitting on me. (It hadn’t yet dawned on me how depressing it was that identifying myself as another man’s property was more convincing to a harasser than “I’m not interested.”)

But it wasn’t just these little sparks of social capital that I could reach for dispassionately and only when necessary. To my horror, I started to truly feel self-satisfied. Even though my marriage was never meant to be a happily ever after, I felt “settled” in a way I hadn’t before. Our partnership was perceived as validated, solidified. Elders went from treating me like a child to addressing me as an actual adult. Even in the privacy of our own home, Aaron and I talked about our relationship as a forward-moving entity that would eventually lead to children and a mortgage.

To be clear, a stable partnership isn’t bad in itself; the devotion and acceptance Aaron gave me during our marriage was profound. It’s more my own smugness that disturbs me in retrospect. For a woman, “the status marriage confers insulates her somewhat from rejection and humiliation,” my mom, early radical feminist Ellen Willis, wrote in 1969, recalling her first foray into wifehood. “At least one man has certified her Class A merchandise.” Forty years later, marriage was still offering me a ticket to acceptance. It reminded me of my intrinsic desire as a middle-school floater to be liked by the popular girls, even as I gossiped about them at sleepovers with my more offbeat friends.

 

Once it was obvious that Aaron’s and my relationship was breaking down, the smugness turned into fear. That fear smothered my doubts when the early limerence of our romance started to fade, when I realized that our connection wasn’t as strong as it needed to be, long after I knew that this was not a forever match. I’d gotten a taste of marital privilege, and I didn’t want to let it go.

I was ashamed of this reticence to end my marriage. What kind of confident, independent woman was petrified of being single? What person of integrity applauds the concept of “single at heart” in public, then secretly pities unattached women? What supposedly class-conscious leftist clings to a privilege semi-accidentally afforded to her, at the expense of her own happiness?

I was having these private feelings just as a cultural celebration welled up in praise of the single woman. The narrative of “smug marrieds” talking down to singles like Bridget Jones and Carrie Bradshaw had been replaced by cultural touchstones like Rebecca Traister’s All the Single Ladies, which made a convincing and exhaustive case for single women’s rising political power, and Kate Bolick’s Spinster, a paean that profiled modern-minded gentlewomen like Edna St. Vincent Millay and Charlotte Perkins Gilman. (It’s worth noting that all the “spinsters” featured in the book ultimately got married, as did Bridget and Carrie.) A woman’s earning power gets hurt the moment she gets married, studies discovered— even if she never has children. Especially if they were educated, single women were not only enviable; they were politically and often economically powerful.

Meanwhile, a fair number of my friends were single. Whether or not they wanted to wed, their lives were full, busy and pleasurable. They also had an autonomy I did not, even with a live-and-let-live partner like mine. Yet I seldom envied them, even though I publicly related to them more than to my married friends. Instead, I dreaded the uncertainty and the vulnerability of being an unpartnered woman in her 30s. I chose to ignore the joy of their spontaneous decisions and the blissful mornings they spent alone in bed, fixating instead on the moments when they’d explain what skin hunger and extreme loneliness felt like.

Finally, several years too late, I did get divorced. I decided that neither the promise of societal approval nor the culturally endorsed anxiety about loneliness and abandonment was worth suppressing my desire for a different relationship, a different life. But I also now understand why lots of people—including supposedly confident, autonomous women—choose to stay in unsatisfying unions. Even after all these years of tweaking it and dilating it to suit our modern world, marriage has remained a social and financial aspiration, a sort of bribe for getting society’s full benefits. It continues to stigmatize single people by promising entry into a certain club with seemingly endless perks, the extent of which aren’t fully obvious until you actually join.

Since the fall of Roe v. Wade, Congressional Democrats have been trying to shore up other rights that may be under threat, including the right to same-sex marriage granted by 2015’s Obergefell v. Hodges. The decision was a civil rights coup for the LGBTQ community, but also a win for the cult of matrimony. “No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family,” wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy.

Some of us—including queer people—pointed out that Kennedy’s ultrasentimental framing was a strike against alternative models of intimacy. Domestic partnerships and civil unions were “an opportunity to order our lives in ways that have given us greater freedom than can be found in the one-size-fits-all rules of marriage,” Katherine M. Franke wrote in the New York Times the day before gay marriage was passed in New York State. “Having our relationships sanctioned and regulated by the state is hardly something to celebrate.”

I’m grateful for Obergefell v. Hodges and hope the right of same-sex couples to marry is protected because discrimination is immoral. But correcting a wrong through expanding an oppressive institution still irks me. I wish instead for a world that respects all kinds of love and neutralizes the power of marriage altogether.

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Majority of babies born in England and Wales in 2021 were out of wedlock, new statistics reveal

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It is the first time since 1845, but the figures do coincide with the COVID lockdown when weddings and civil partnerships were impossible – and illegal. They also show an increase in stillbirths in the 2020 total.

 

“However, caution should be taken in interpreting today’s numbers, as we don’t yet know the full impact of the pandemic on marriage and civil partnership statistics,” he added.

Long-term trends

The figures also show the fertility rate rose for the first time since 2012 – to 1.61 children per woman in 2021 from 1.58 in 2020.

The 2021 rate still remained below that of 2019.

The 624,828 live births registered in 2021 was a rise of 1.8% from 2020.

It is the first annual increase in live births since 2015, although this remains below the number of births registered in 2019.

And the latest year “remains in line” with the long-term trend of falling live births since before the coronavirus pandemic, the ONS said.

The ONS figures are based on birth registrations, and delays mean some births in 2021 may not be covered.

It follows provisional data, based on NHS births notifications data, published by the ONS in March.

Within the overall increase in fertility, rates fell among younger groups and rose in older women.

The largest decrease was among women and girls under 20 years old (16%), while women aged 35 to 39 saw fertility rates increase by 5%.

Fertility rates increased across all regions of England in 2021, except for London and the West Midlands.

The figures also show there were 2,597 stillbirths in 2021, an increase of 226 from 2020.

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Woman who posed as girl set free but rearrested outside court

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On Friday a court in Brno passed down a not-guilty verdict against Barbora Škrlová, a 33-year-old woman who posed as a 13-year-old girl, went on the run, and reappeared months later posing as a 13-year-old boy…in Norway. Ms Škrlová is at the center of a horrific child abuse scandal allegedly involving a sinister cult founded by her father. She was immediately rearrested outside the court to stand trial for these more serious charges.

 

Barbora Škrlová,  photo: CTK 

Barbora Škrlová arrived at Brno’s Municipal Court on Friday to be met by a scrum of TV cameras and photographers. She looked bewildered and frightened, as prison guards brought her into court in handcuffs. She was accompanied by another woman – Kateřina Mauerová – who looked pale and gaunt. The two women are accused of deliberately deceiving staff at a Brno children’s home by presenting Barbora as a 13-year-old adopted girl called Anička. They had faced up to two years in prison, but after being freed both were immediately rearrested to stand trial on the more serious charges of child abuse. 

The deception occurred shortly after Kateřina Mauerová’s sister Klára was arrested at her home in the town of Kuřim, where Barbora lived along with Klára Mauerová and her two young sons. Police were called after it emerged that Klára was keeping one of her boys – an eight-year-old called Ondřej – naked and bound and locked in a broom cupboard. According to witnesses he was beaten and tortured and made to eat his own vomit.

Klára Mauerová was arrested and her two sons taken into custody. Barbora Škrlová – posing as 13-year-old Anička, Klára’s adopted daughter – was put into a children’s home by Kateřina Mauerová. Days later, she escaped and disappeared.

For months the Czech media were haunted by pictures of Barbora Škrlová in her various guises. First there was Anička, with her thick glasses and brown hair tied up in girlish ponytails. Then there was the shaved head and dark, sunken eyes of Adam, the 13-year-old Czech schoolboy who turned up in the Norwegian capital Oslo. And finally a pale, nervous-looking woman wearing a woolly hat and clutching a teddy bear, and being led away by police at Prague Airport.

This first trial only concerned the deception at the children’s home. But Barbora Škrlová, Kateřina Mauerová, Klára Mauerová and three others are all due to stand trial in June on charges of abusing the two young boys. All six adults are thought to be linked to a secretive cult, allegedly founded by Barbora’s father, whose whereabouts remain unknown. The question on everyone’s minds is whether Barbora Skrlova was, as she maintains, a victim of that abuse, or a willing participant in it.

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ECC likely to approve Rs1.6 increase in XWDISCOs tariff

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NEPRA may revise the schedule of tariffs for the third quarter of the current fiscal

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Biden eyes climate emergency declaration as Democrats demand swift action

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White House officials are scrambling to advance the president’s environmental agenda after talks with Sen. Joe Manchin III stalled

Some Democrats have held out hope they can still strike a deal with the moderate lawmaker, who has raised fiscal concerns about his party’s spending ambitions all along. But Manchin skipped a lunch for Democratic senators on Tuesday, where at least one member of his caucus delivered an impassioned plea for a congressional response to the fast-warming planet.

“If we leave here, go home, without having followed through … we’ve made a huge mistake,” said Sen. Thomas R. Carper (D-Del.), the leader of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. He told reporters he delivered that message to fellow Democrats and to Manchin privately.

The prospect of a national climate emergency in particular has come up in conversations among top administration officials, climate activists and Democratic lawmakers, some of whom expect Biden to outline other policy initiatives Wednesday aimed at curbing planet-warming emissions. The White House has billed the president’s address as one focused on “tackling the climate crisis and seizing the opportunity of a clean energy future to create jobs and lower costs for families.”

“Starting with an emergency declaration is a good place to start, but then you actually have to do the things to lower emissions,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) told reporters Tuesday, adding he is “looking forward to those steps.” Asked whether the White House had talked to members of Congress about issuing a climate emergency, Whitehouse merely replied: “Yes.”

The flurry of developments came on a day when the consequences of global warming appeared stark: Another punishing heat wave has descended on the central United States, and a similar weather pattern is sparking wildfires and breaking temperature records across Europe.

“Right now you’ve got Europe on fire, record temperatures in Great Britain. … They’re trying to have the Tour de France and they’re having problems keeping enough water to keep people going,” Carper said. “And we’re here talking about not doing climate before the end of this session. I think that’s an incredible mistake.”

People living in tents last month during a heat advisory in Atlanta. (Dustin Chambers/Bloomberg)

The president himself raised the prospect of executive action on climate change last week, as talks collapsed between Democratic leaders and Manchin over what might have been the largest infusion of climate-related spending in U.S. history.

Initially, Democrats had hoped to invest more than $500 billion in new programs to cut emissions and support new technologies, including electric vehicles, before Manchin raised objections to the Build Back Better Act. The West Virginian’s opposition proved politically fatal, since party lawmakers require his vote to advance any bill using the process known as reconciliation — a tactic that allows Democrats to sidestep a GOP filibuster in the narrowly divided chamber.

Democrats soon set about rethinking their plans, eyeing what might have been $300 billion in climate-focused investments in a bid to satisfy Manchin. But the moderate senator, who represents a coal-heavy state, last week said he could not support his party’s attempts to advance such spending this month amid record-high inflation.

Manchin later expressed an openness to tackling climate change but said he would do so only after seeing another round of indicators next month. But many Democrats said they did not want to take the risk, leaving them no choice but to shelve their plans entirely — and focus their attention instead on health-care proposals Manchin does support.

“Americans are getting mugged at the checkout counter … and that’s why we’ve got to get relief in this work period,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the leader of the tax-focused Senate Finance Committee, told reporters Tuesday.

It is unclear how, exactly, Biden plans to proceed if he opts to declare a climate emergency, which Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) urged him to do just days after the president took office last year.

Some climate activists have urged the White House in recent months to deploy an emergency declaration to maximum effect, arguing that it would allow the president to halt crude oil exports, limit oil and gas drilling in federal waters, and direct agencies including the Federal Emergency Management Agency to boost renewable-energy sources.

But the president faces a tough balancing act as he seeks to calibrate his response to a warming planet with the recent economic reality of high gas prices. The policies could aid in Biden’s quest to halve U.S. emissions by the end of the decade compared to 2005 levels, though they still fall short of what Biden aimed to enact through his earlier economic plan, known as Build Back Better.

Any new executive action on climate also could face a formidable court challenge, which could affect the future of environmental regulations. Last month, the Supreme Court cut back the federal government’s powers to regulate power plants’ carbon emissions.

Speaking to reporters Monday, Jared Bernstein, a top White House economic adviser, emphasized that Biden would work “aggressively fight to attack climate change.”

“I think realistically there is a lot he can do and there is a lot he will do,” Bernstein said.

Dino Grandoni contributed to this report.

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Shadow treasurer Angus Taylor says Labor has to address major environmental issues rather than rely on ‘political finger pointing’

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The shadow treasurer has lashed the Labor government for its “political finger pointing” over its response to the State of the Environment report.

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Biden ends trip with U.S; Saudi relations on the mend but few other wins

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Biden ends trip with U.S.-Saudi relations on the mend but few other wins
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JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia, July 16 (Reuters) – President Joe Biden and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman took a step to mending their troubled relationship with a fist bump, but the U.S. leader left the kingdom on Saturday with few big successes and doubts as to whether the visit was worth it.

Biden’s four-day trip to Israel and Saudi Arabia, his first to the Middle East as president, aimed to reset ties with the Gulf Arab oil giant, demonstrate U.S. commitment to the region and counter the rising influence of Iran, Russia and China.

But thorny optics overshadowed the Saudi leg as Biden avoided appearing to embrace a crown prince implicated by U.S. intelligence in the brutal 2018 murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a charge Saudi authorities deny.

Biden said he confronted Prince Mohammed, known as MbS, over the killing. MbS remained unbowed, telling Biden the United States had also made mistakes

Though Biden left the Middle East without securing an immediate pledge by Saudi Arabia to boost oil output or public support for U.S. efforts for a regional security axis that would include Israel, the trip was not a wash.

Biden’s fist bump with Prince Mohammed in front of the royal palace in Jeddah will serve as the defining image of the trip, but it was months in the making. White House officials were divided over rewarding MbS with a visit and agonized over how it would look.

In the end, they decided that keeping strategic ties with Saudi Arabia that have weathered 80 years was important for U.S. interests and would help the two sides turn the page.

Riyadh took several important steps to pave a path for the visit, including backing a U.N.-brokered truce in the Yemen conflict, a big victory for Biden, who pulled U.S support for Saudi-led offensive operations. It also helped accelerate already approved boosts in oil production through OPEC+.

“The summit of the nine Arab leaders is a clear accomplishment as is the backing for the truce in Yemen. But these accomplishments have come at the cost of the fist bump,” said Bruce Riedel, a foreign policy fellow at the Brookings Institution.

Biden came to Saudi Arabia hoping to convince the OPEC heavyweight to boost oil production, but the kingdom held firm on its strategy that it must operate within the framework of the OPEC+ alliance, which includes Russia, and not act unilaterally.

High gasoline prices have fueled a surge in inflation in the United States and globally, dragging down Biden’s poll numbers as he heads into critical congressional elections in November.

However, White House officials are confident their diplomatic efforts will help shape the conversation when OPEC+ members hold their next meeting.

“All eyes are on the August 3 OPEC+ meeting. If the Saudis and the UAE want to raise output, they will do it via OPEC+. But we have to keep in mind the demand picture is softening. I’m not sure these countries are convinced the market needs more crude supply,” said Ben Cahill, an energy analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

ISRAELI-SAUDI RELATIONS

The trip saw a small warming of relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel after Riyadh said it would open its airspace to all air carriers, paving the way for more overflights to and from Israel.

There was also a U.S.-brokered deal between Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia under which a small U.S.-led international peacekeeping contingent would quit the strategic island of Tiran, control of which was ceded to Riyadh by Cairo in 2017.

The United States and Israel hope those moves and the summit could help build momentum toward Israel’s further integration into the region, including with Saudi Arabia.

But the Saudi foreign minister poured cold water over any imminent normalization with Israel, saying this was not a precursor to further steps. He said Riyadh was not part of any discussions on a Gulf-Israeli defense alliance to counter Iran.

On Thursday, the U.S. and Israel signed a joint pledge on Thursday to deny nuclear arms to Iran, a show of unity by allies long divided over diplomacy with Tehran. The declaration was part of Biden’s efforts to rally regional allies around U.S. efforts to revive a 2015 nuclear pact with Iran.

Saudi Arabia and Israel were not happy with the original nuclear deal brokered by former President Barack Obama’s administration and celebrated when Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, quit the pact.

Now, Biden is asking for patience, assuring them that the United States is willing to use force as a last resort if talks fail and Iran continues what the West believes is a program to develop nuclear weapons. Tehran denies it is seeking a nuclear weapon.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE want regional concerns over Iran’s missile program and regional proxies to be addressed.

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In Major Gaffe; US President Joe Biden Points To ‘Selfishness; Of US Troops In Saudi Speech

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Major Gaffe US President Joe Biden Points To Selfishness Of US Troops In Saudi Speech
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The verbal gaffe came as Joe Biden delivered prepared remarks to leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on Saturday.

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