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Prayer. Bombs. Walls. Over the decades, people have tried all of them to stanch the flow of lava from Hawaii’s volcanoes as it lumbered toward roads, homes and infrastructure.

Now Mauna Loa — the world’s largest active volcano — is erupting again, and lava is slowly approaching a major thoroughfare connecting the Big Island’s east and west sides. And once more, people are asking if anything can be done to stop or divert the flow.

“It comes up every time there’s an eruption and there’s lava heading towards habited areas or highways,” said Scott Rowland, a geologist at the University of Hawaii. “Some people say, ‘Build a wall’ or ‘Board up,’ and other people say, ‘No, don’t!”

Humans have rarely had much success stopping lava and, despite the world’s technological advances, doing so is still difficult and dependent on the force of the flow and the terrain. But many in Hawaii also question the wisdom of interfering with nature and Pele, the Hawaiian deity of volcanoes and fire.

Prayers to Pele

Attempts to divert lava have a long history in Hawaii.

In 1881, the governor of Hawaii Island declared a day of prayer to stop lava from Mauna Loa as it headed for Hilo. The lava kept coming.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, Princess Regent Lili’uokalani and her department heads went to Hilo and considered ways to save the town. They developed plans to build barriers to divert the flow and place dynamite along a lava tube to drain the molten rock supply.

Princess Ruth Ke’elikōlani approached the flow, offered brandy and red scarves and chanted, asking Pele to stop the flow and go home. The flow stopped before the barriers were built.

More than 50 years later, Thomas A. Jaggar, the founder of the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory, asked U.S. Army Air Services to send planes to bomb a Mauna Loa vent to disrupt lava channels.

Lt. Col. George S. Patton, who later became famous as a general in Europe during World War II, directed planes to drop 20 272-kilogram demolition bombs, according to a National Park Service account of the campaign. The bombs each had 161 kilograms of TNT. The planes also dropped 20 smaller bombs that only had black powder charge.

Jagger said the bombing helped to “hasten the end of the flow,” but Howard Stearns, a U.S. Geological Survey geologist onboard the last bombing run, was doubtful. In his 1983 autobiography, he wrote: “I am sure it was a coincidence.”

According to the park service, geologists today also are doubtful the bombing stopped the lava flow, which didn’t end with the bombing. Instead, the flows waned over the next few days and didn’t change paths.

 

Local advises to go with the flow

Rowland said authorities could use a bulldozer to pile a big berm of broken rock in front of Daniel K. Inouye Highway. If the terrain is flat, then lava would pile up behind the wall. But the lava may flow over it, like it did when something similar was attempted in Kapoho town in 1960.

Rapidly moving lava flows, like those from Kilauea volcano in 2018, would be more difficult to stop, he said.

“It would have been really hard to build the walls fast enough for them. And they were heading towards groups of homes. And so you would perhaps be sacrificing some homes for others, which would just be a legal mess,” he said.

He said he believes most people in Hawaii wouldn’t want to build a wall to protect the highway because it would “mess with Pele.”

If lava crosses the highway, Rowland said officials could rebuild that section of the road like they did in 2018 when different routes were covered. There are no current plans to try to divert the flow, a county official said.

Thinking you should physically divert lava is a Western idea rooted in the notion that humans have to control everything, said Kealoha Pisciotta, a Native Hawaiian cultural practitioner. She said people need to adjust to the lava, not the other way around.

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The lava flowing from Hawaii’s Mauna Loa, which is the world’s largest active volcano and erupted this week, is edging closer to the Big Island’s main highway.

The U.S. Geological Survey’s Hawaiian Volcano Observatory reported Friday that the main front of the lava flow was 5.2 kilometers away from the Daniel K. Inouye Highway, also known as Saddle Road, and could possibly reach it in a week.

But the USGS also said that because of the unpredictable nature of lava flows, it’s “difficult to estimate when or if the flow will impact” the highway, which is the island’s main east-west road.

If the main highway is cut off, Hawaii county officials say, traffic will be forced onto coastal roads, crowding them and adding hours onto a trip from Hilo, the largest city on the Big Island, to Kona, a tourist magnet, which takes just 90 minutes on the Daniel K. Inouye Highway.

Talmadge Magno, administrator of Hawaii County’s Civil Defense Agency, told reporters this week that if lava flows onto the highway it would likely take the federal government a few months to get it passable again once the flows halt.

After the eruption on Sunday, the lava initially moved quickly down steep slopes. Over the past day, it reached a flatter area and slowed significantly, moving at just 40 meters per hour. The sight has attracted visitors to the “once in a lifetime” spectacle.

The USGS says many variables influence exactly where the lava will move and at what speed. On flatter ground, lava flows spread out and “inflate” — creating individual lobes that can advance quickly and then stall.

Mauna Loa rises 4,169 meters above the Pacific Ocean, part of a chain of volcanoes that formed the islands of Hawaii. It last erupted in 1984.

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The United States was able to quickly confirm the death of the Islamic State’s leader in southern Syria this past October because it had his DNA and other biometric data on file from an encounter with him from long before he took the helm of the terror group.

U.S. officials are still refusing to share the true identity of the man known to most of the world only by his nom-de-guerre, Abu al-Hassan al-Hashimi al-Qurashi.

But a U.S. military official told VOA that Abu al-Hassan was one of the last of the group’s legacy leaders, around since its founding, and that with his death, leadership of IS has passed to a new generation.

“The ideology is non-constraining, so there is a new team of leaders,” the official said on the condition of anonymity in order to discuss the intelligence.

IS’ new leader, Abu al-Hussein al-Husseini al-Qurashi, is “not from the original team,” the official added, warning that the group, despite its weakened state, has maintained its ability to prepare for leadership losses.

“As those [new] leaders are killed, there are people who are trained and ready to come behind them,” the official said.

That ability has been critical to IS’ survival, which has seen its forces whittled down from tens of thousands of fighters during the height of its self-proclaimed caliphate in Iraq and Syria, to as few as 6,000 now.

U.S. and coalition efforts have likewise removed a series of key IS officials from the battlefield through a series of airstrikes and arrests. 

Since last February, when a U.S. special forces raid led to the death of IS leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurashi, also known as Hajji ‘Abdallah, at least six other senior IS officials have been killed or detained.

Just this past September, U.S. National Counterterrorism Center Director Christine Abizaid described Islamic State as being forced to go into survival mode due to “major talent loss.”

“Given that two ISIS leaders have been killed in less than one year, the organization is at a nadir,” Colin Clarke, director of research at the global intelligence firm The Soufan Group, told VOA, using an acronym for the terror group.

“It remains dangerous, but nowhere near as capable as it was even just two or three years ago,” he added.

The success of the U.S. and its partner forces in targeting and eliminating IS leaders across northern Syria may be one reason Abu al-Hassan took refuge in southern Syria, where the terror group is thought to have just a few hundred fighters.

Still, Abu al-Hassan’s presence in Daraa took many by surprise.

U.S. officials tell VOA the Free Syrian Army contacted them through an intermediary because while its leaders knew they were going after senior IS officials, they were unsure of whom had actually been killed.

And there are some doubts about whether IS will continue to use southern Syria as a refuge.

U.S. officials “haven’t seen a widespread movement” of IS to that part of the country, the senior military official told VOA. “This is perhaps an anomaly.”

U.S. officials also have warned that the core group, weakened as it may be, remains a serious long-term threat. They point to the thousands of IS fighters languishing in prisons across northeastern Syria and to the group’s ability to spread its ideology at displaced persons camps like al-Hol and al-Roj, described by some as a “breeding ground” for the next generation of jihadi fighters.

“ISIS is able to continue to recruit and replace its leaders,” said Myles Caggins, a senior fellow at the Washington-based New Lines Institute and a former spokesperson for the U.S.-led coalition, using another acronym for the terror group.

Caggins told VOA that while the effectiveness of many of the IS leaders “has diminished greatly” since the height of its self-proclaimed caliphate, it has not diminished the overall zeal of the group’s followers.

“We have seen ISIS members in West Africa, as well as in Southwest Asia, pledge allegiance to the new caliphate,” he said. “This is just a sign that the world must continue to pay attention.”

Other analysts echo the concerns.

Islamic State is “not based off of sort of a charismatic leadership model,” Aaron Zelin, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy who specializes in jihadism, told VOA.

“It’s based off more of a legalistic leadership model meaning the leader itself doesn’t really matter,” Zelin said. “For them, it’s kind of irrelevant who it is so long as, you know, the central leadership in the Shura Council says that this is the guy and that he has the legitimate credentials, people will follow him.”

Others warn the new leadership should not be underestimated.

“Targeting leadership yields short-term benefits for counterterrorism and essentially manages the threat, but for a group like ISIS [it] will not be enough to end the threat, something the U.S. should have learned after nearly two decades targeting terrorist leaders in Iraq,” Katherine Zimmerman, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, told VOA via text.

“Killing off the so-called legacy leaders simply brings to power the next generation, who have learned the lessons of their predecessors and will carry the black flag forward,” she noted. 

 

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Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones filed for bankruptcy Friday, following a year in which juries ordered him and his company to pay nearly $1.5 billion in damages for spreading false claims that a 2012 elementary school shooting was a hoax.

 

A court filing in Houston, Texas indicated Jones filed for Chapter 11 protection from creditors with the U.S. bankruptcy court. The filing indicates Jones has between $1 million and $10 million in assets and between $1 billion and $10 billion in liabilities. The extent of Jones’ total personal wealth is unclear.

 

The filing comes less than two months after a jury in the northeastern U.S. state of Connecticut found Jones should pay $965 million to the families of eight people killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.   

In August, a jury in Texas ordered him to pay $50 million to the family of a child killed in the attack.

In both cases, relatives of the 20 children and six adults killed in the school shooting testified that they were threatened and harassed for years by followers of Jones’ online program who believed the lies he told.  

 

Jones was dismissive of both verdicts, and said the threats and harassment were never directly linked to him.

Some information for this report was provided by the Associated Press and Reuters. 

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US President Joe Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron agreed that they would never pressure Ukraine to negotiate an end to the war with Russia, saying the US and France stand as united as ever with their NATO allies against Moscow’s invasion. VOA’s senior diplomatic correspondent Cindy Saine reports.

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The Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday proposed increasing the amount of ethanol and other biofuels that must be blended into the nation’s fuel supplies over the next three years, a move welcomed by renewable fuel and farm groups but condemned by environmentalists and oil industry groups.

“This proposal supports low-carbon renewable fuels and seeks public input on ways to strengthen the program,” EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan said in a statement. “With this proposal, EPA seeks to provide consumers with more options while diversifying our nation’s energy mix.”

The proposal also includes new incentives to encourage the use of biogas from farms and landfills, and renewable biomass such as wood to generate electricity to charge electric vehicles. It’s the first time the EPA has set biofuel targets on its own instead of using numbers from Congress. The agency opened a public comment period and will hold a hearing in January.

Goal includes reducing fuel prices

The goal of the existing Renewable Fuel Standard is to reduce carbon emissions that contribute to climate change, expand the country’s fuel supply, strengthen energy security and reduce fuel prices for consumers. Ethanol is a key part of the economy in many Midwestern states, consuming about 40% of the nation’s corn supply.

But environmentalists argue it’s a net ecological and climate detriment because growing all that corn fosters unsustainable farming practices, while the oil industry says ethanol mandates constrain free market forces and limit consumer choice, and that higher blends can damage older vehicles.

Geoff Cooper, president and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association, told reporters on a conference call that the EPA’s plan creates a “clear pathway for sustainable growth for our industry when it comes to the production and use of low-carbon fuels like ethanol.” He said it also bolsters the industry’s push for year-round sales of gasoline with a 15% ethanol blend, as well as sales of the 85% ethanol blend E85.

“As the administration is working to address climate change, we’ve long known that biofuels will play an important role in reducing greenhouse gases while having the added benefit of providing expanded opportunities for farmers,” National Farmers Union President Rob Larew said in a statement.

Climate campaigner calls plan ‘toxic’

Environmental groups said the plan offers false solutions to climate change.

“This is a toxic plan directly at odds with the Biden Administration’s commitment to Environmental Justice,” Sarah Lutz, climate campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said in a statement. “Charging electric vehicles with forests and factory farms should be a non-starter.”

Geoff Moody, senior vice president of the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, said the Renewable Fuel Standard was meant to be a liquid fuels program, not an electric vehicle program. He urged the EPA to go back as it develops the final rule and reject “yet another massive regulatory subsidy for electric vehicle manufacturers.”

The EPA proposes to set the total target for all kinds of renewable fuels at 20.82 billion gallons for 2023, including 15 billion gallons from corn ethanol.

The target would grow to 22.68 billion gallons for 2025, including 15.25 billion gallons of corn ethanol. The plan also calls for growth in cellulosic biofuels — which are made from fibrous plant materials — biomass-based diesel and other advanced biofuels.

Republican Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, which is the top corn and ethanol producing state in the United States, said in a statement that the EPA should have gone further to require even more use of advanced biofuels to move freight, which he said would help lower prices for consumer goods.

Cooper said there’s probably no way to meet the proposed higher targets without more use of E15 and E85 instead of the conventional 10% ethanol mix. That makes it important to eliminate regulations that block summertime sales of E15, he said.

So, he predicted, the EPA’s proposal should bolster prospects for legislation introduced this week by Democratic U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and GOP Senator Deb Fischer of Nebraska to allow year-round sales of E15 nationwide. E15 sales are usually prohibited between June 1 and September 15 because of concerns that it adds to smog in high temperatures.

Eight Midwestern governors asked the EPA in April to allow year-round sales of E15 in their states. But Cooper said the new bill would provide a “nationwide fix” that even the American Petroleum Institute considers preferable to the current patchwork of temporary waivers and ad hoc solutions.

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Chinese citizens living abroad have been attending rallies across the U.S. this week in support of myriad protests that have been taking place throughout China. They are the first mass demonstrations in China since the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests for political freedom in Beijing.

The current demonstrators are seeking freedom from China’s “zero-COVID” policy.

In the U.S. cities of Los Angeles, Washington and New York, Chinese students and residents at rallies have been critical of the Chinese government and the country’s leader, Xi Jinping, chanting in Mandarin “the Chinese Communist Party, step down” and “Xi Jinping, step down.”

“People are dying in China,” said Han Wang, a Chinese student who organized a candlelight vigil in Los Angeles on Nov. 29.

People in the U.S. and China have been protesting China’s strict zero-COVID policy, which has prompted sporadic and lengthy lockdowns through the country, making it difficult to get food for some residents.

“Way more people are dying because of this. They’re starving to death,” said a Chinese citizen currently living in Los Angeles who asked to be identified as “Max.”

She and many other people attending demonstrations in the U.S. covered themselves from head to toe, with dark sunglasses and masks, because they fear their protests in the U.S. will cause the Chinese government to retaliate against their families in China.

“A lot of the workers are all sealed up at home and can’t go out and can’t pay their mortgages. I think the continued lockdowns are not scientific. It’s not right,” said Liu Xiaomei, a Chinese citizen living in New York and using an alias.

Tragic catalyst

The simmering discontent exploded throughout China after a deadly apartment fire on November 24 in the city of Urumqi, in northwest China. The region is home to China’s Uyghur Muslims.

One Urumqi resident told VOA that because of the zero-COVID policy, the doors to the fire escape were chained from the outside, trapping people inside the burning building. A fire department official said the residents were not aware of an alternate fire escape. Local hospital employees told a U.S.-based Uyghur news outlet that 44 people died in the fire, but the government puts the official death toll at 10.

“Indeed, on social media there are some forces with ulterior motives relating the fire with the local response to COVID-19. The Urumqi city government has already held a news conference to clarify what actually happened, and refuted the disinformation and smears,” Zhao Lijian, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, said Monday.

The vigil in Los Angeles was not only to commemorate the people who died in the fire, according to a student who wanted to be identified as “Kiki.”

“These 44 fellow citizens also represent every single person in China — could be you, could be me — we are actually inside the building, the big fire together. If we don’t speak out today, and don’t act, then no one in the world will hear. All the voices will be buried,” she said.

From Washington, Hamid Kerim has been following the protests in China and the rallies in the U.S. Originally from China, Kerim is Uyghur and owns two restaurants around the U.S. capital city. He said the protests are long overdue, given China’s repressive policy against Uyghurs, which he described as genocide and which China denies.

“The Urumqi fire ignited everyone’s heart. It made them, the people, stand up. I respect and support the protesters, but in my opinion it’s a little late. But it’s still not too late.”

Uyghur community

Some Uyghurs are encouraged the Chinese diaspora is recognizing what’s happening to their community in China.

“I hope the Chinese [living] around the world can stand together with the Uyghurs, and Uyghurs can also stand together with the Chinese. We can jointly realize our desire of having a peaceful and free country. That’s my hope,” Kerim said.

China has been rejecting criticism of its actions in the Xinjiang region, where many Uyghurs live. Beijing has said it is fighting against terrorism and has helped bring social stability and prosperity to the area.

“China is a country governed by the rule of law, and the various legal rights and freedoms enjoyed by Chinese citizens are fully guaranteed in accordance with the law. At the same time, any rights and freedoms must be exercised within the framework of the law,” Zhao Lijian, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson, said on Tuesday, regarding the protests against COVID-19 lockdowns in China that erupted after the fire.

Freedom quest

For some Chinese living in the U.S., the protests of China’s COVID control measures are transforming into a fight for additional freedoms.

“We are here to support them [people in China] to fight for freedom and democracy,” Chinese student Wang said. “The Chinese people, they don’t have the freedom to express themselves. They don’t have the freedom of publication. They don’t have the freedom of speech. Right now, they even lost their freedom to go out of their own house, so it’s so brutal.”

“No lockdown but freedom, no lies but dignity. We are tired of the party’s lies. I love China. I love my people, which is why I’m here. I, we don’t want the Cultural Revolution again. We want reform. We don’t want a dictator. We want to vote for our leaders,” Max said. “He [Xi] is a fascist leader. He is not a communist leader, he is a fascist leader and we need help.”

Even with protests in China and demonstrations in the U.S., a Los Angeles student who requested to be called “Kenneth” expressed doubt that change would happen.

“I think honestly it will do very little to stop China. China is way too powerful. And although we can fight here, although we could let our voice be spoken, we could do whatever we can, but at the end of the day, it’s a losing battle. But that does not mean that we should give up,” said Kenneth, who is a Hui Muslim from China.

He said China has been closing mosques and Islamic schools, and his community’s ability to practice their religion is being slowly wiped away.

Many overseas Chinese attending the rallies said they will continue to speak out for their friends and loved ones in China in hopes of a better life for them and the next generation.

Genia Dulot in Los Angeles and VOA Mandarin Service video journalists, Fang Bing and Jiu Dao in New York and Wang Ping in Washington, contributed to this report.

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The United States on Thursday imposed sanctions on three senior North Korean officials connected to the country’s weapons programs after Pyongyang’s latest and largest intercontinental ballistic missile test last month. 

The U.S. Treasury Department named the individuals as Jon Il Ho, Yu Jin, and Kim Su Gil, all of whom were designated for sanctions by the European Union in April. 

The latest sanctions follow a November 18 ICBM test by North Korea, part of a record-breaking spate of more than 60 missile launches this year, and amid concerns that it may be about to resume nuclear tests, which it hasn’t done since 2017. 

A Treasury statement said Jon Il Ho and Yu Jin played major roles in the development of weapons of mass destruction while serving as vice director and director, respectively, of the North Korea’s Munitions Industry Department. 

It said Kim Su Gil served as director of the Korean People’s Army General Political Bureau from 2018 to 2021 and oversaw implementation of decisions related to the WMD program. 

“Treasury is taking action in close trilateral coordination with the Republic of Korea and Japan against officials who have had leading roles in the DPRK’s unlawful WMD and ballistic missile programs,” said Brian Nelson, Treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, in the statement, using the initials of North Korea’s official name. 

“Recent launches demonstrate the need for all countries to fully implement U.N. Security Council resolutions, which are intended to prevent the DPRK from acquiring the technologies, materials, and revenue Pyongyang needs to develop its prohibited WMD and ballistic missile capabilities.” 

The sanctions freeze any U.S.-based assets of the individuals and bar dealings with them but appear largely symbolic. 

Decades of U.S.-led sanctions have failed to halt North Korea’s increasingly sophisticated missile and nuclear weapon programs, and China and Russia have blocked recent efforts to impose more United Nations sanctions, saying they should instead be eased to jumpstart talks and avoid humanitarian harm. 

“Targeting senior officials inside North Korea responsible for WMD and missile activities and working with South Korea and Japan are important, but it is an inadequate and symbolic response to 60+ missile tests, including 8 ICBM tests,” said Anthony Ruggiero, who headed North Korea sanctions efforts under former President Donald Trump.  

“The Biden administration should sanction Pyongyang’s revenue and force Kim Jong Un to make difficult decisions about his strategic priorities,” he said. 

U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan said earlier that Washington was committed to using pressure and diplomacy to entice North Korea into giving up its nuclear arsenal. 

He said the administration had no illusions about the challenges but remained committed to holding Pyongyang accountable. 

A spokesperson at the White House National Security Council said sanctions had been successful in “slowing down the development” of the weapons programs and Pyongyang had turned to “increasingly desperate ways to generate revenue like virtual currency heists and other cybercrime to fund its weapons programs.”  

“The DPRK’s decision to continue ignoring our outreach is not in their best interest, or in the interest of the people of the DPRK.” 

 

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