Leisure, Lifestyle & Wellness
In a first, Taj Mahal tweets happy New Year to Eiffel Tower
In a perfect New Year greeting, the Taj Mahal and Statue of Liberty warmly greeted the Eiffel Tower as the 126-year-old monument joined the micro-blogging site Twitter for the first time this week.
“Welcome to Twitter, my sister,” tweeted Statue of Liberty on its handle @LaTourEiffel, later joined by the Taj Mahal -- indisputably the most famous example of Mughal architecture and a Unesco heritage site, The Telegraph reported on Monday.
“Parisian since 1889, now I am sparkling on Twitter!” said one of the first tweets on the official account of the 1,063 ft-high tower nicknamed La Grande Dame by its creator Gustave Eiffel.
According to the officials, they decided to open the Twitter account to provide “news about the Tower, historical facts as well as practical information”.
The Taj Mahal joined New York’s Empire State Building in welcoming the tall Paris tower to the world of tweets.
Eiffel Tower attracts more than seven million visitors from across the globe annually.
It has nearly 1.7 million fans on its Facebook account.
By Monday, its Twitter account had 18,300 followers.
The Louvre, the world’s most visited museum also welcomed Eiffel Tower, accompanied by a photo of the tower on the distant horizon taken from the museum’s rooftop.
Constructed in 1889, Eiffel Tower has become a global cultural icon of France and one of the most recognisable structures in the world.
The tower is the tallest structure in Paris and the most-visited paid monument in the world.
It is 1,063 feet tall, about the same height as an 81-storey building.
During its construction, the Eiffel Tower surpassed the Washington Monument to become the tallest man-made structure in the world, a title it held for 41 years until the Chrysler Building in New York City was built in 1930.
The tower has three levels for visitors, with restaurants on the first and second.
Disclaimer: Information, facts or opinions expressed in this news article are presented as sourced from IANS and do not reflect views of Moneylife and hence Moneylife is not responsible or liable for the same. As a source and news provider, IANS is responsible for accuracy, completeness, suitability and validity of any information in this article. 


Soaring pollution, crippling floods, laws awaiting implementation: India's environment in a fix
Pollution surfaced in unexpected ways -- like a lake in Bengaluru turning toxic and frothy with the industrial pollutants being mixed with the water
Soaring pollution levels, crippling floods, quivering Richter notes to scores of environment laws awaiting their implementation - this, in short, was India's environmental standing this year. As alarming as the climatic challenges posed to the nation have been, India is still found struggling to find the right laws to fight climate change, experts say.
India witnessed a challenging year in terms of its environmental conditions, starting the year with a title its capital city New Delhi earned last year -- the world's most polluted city according to the World Health Organisation --- which it retained this year as well. Delhi and cities surrounding it have surpassed the pollution levels of Beijing, which was the most polluted in the world until Delhi took its spot.
Pollution surfaced in unexpected ways -- like a lake in Bengaluru turning toxic and frothy with the industrial pollutants being mixed with the water. This incident caught not just national attention but that of the whole world.
The country's northern part was known to have exceeded pollution levels at many times of the year, which should have triggered a 'red alert' had it been in another country, according to environment body Greenpeace. "If India had an air quality monitoring system as robust as that of Beijing, a large portion of north India would have been on red alert for as many as 33 days," the NGO said recently, pointing to the necessity to establish stronger air monitoring systems across the country.
Even before the start of winter, which usually greets the northern states with hazy skies and smog covered days, the entire belt of Punjab, Haryana, Delhi and Chandigarh choked in smoke due to the paddy field fires -- the smoke which affected the country's climate even later for weeks, according to environmentalists.
But, according to Delhi-based environmentalist Vikrant Tongad, the year also saw the issue of air pollution being heard on a national and global level.
"The year saw some initiatives which were much needed to be addressed: like methods of tackling air pollution, making clear India's stand to fight climate on a global level et al, but solutions for the issues still remain to be found," Tongad told IANS.
Tongad said India never had such an "active" stance at the crucial UN Climate Change Conference, in standing up for the developing countries, as it had this year at the 21st Conference of Parties (CoP 21) held in Paris, he said. There are however some gaps in the deal signed, he added.
India, which had committed to cut its greenhouse emissions up to 35 percent by 2030, also pioneered the alliance of 120-odd nations to form the grand solar alliance, a move to harness solar energy better. India also bore a stern face in saying that the developed nations must contribute their part to reducing emissions and raising $100 billion a year to help developing ones. 
Indian interlocutors, who have been holding pride for introducing the terms "sustainable lifestyle" and "climate justice" to the preamble through Prime Minister Narendra Modi, have received criticism from the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) and other environment bodies for having no operational parts of these terms in the text, and hence no commitments.
CSE also felt that India will be under constant pressure to take more of a burden for mitigating climate change by 2020 and beyond, especially when the next review of all the nationally-determined contributions of countries take place.
As India made these commitments in Paris, the country's northern states remained fighting smog, while a majority of southern ones battled extreme untimely torrential rains that led to huge floods.
These rains, which lasted for over a week, lashed Chennai and other areas of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. Besides drowning a major portion of Chennai in flood water, many parts of Tamil Nadu were severely affected due to flooding. These rains, which were the heaviest Tamil Nadu received in over a century left at least 169 people dead in the state, and 54 dead in Andhra Pradesh. With public transport, residences, office buildings and crops affected, Tamil Nadu has been struggling to get life back to normalcy.
Union Minister for Forests, Environment and Climate Change Prakash Javadekar termed the floods as "not a part of climate change" and said that they were a "localised event" and a "natural calamity", which the environmental groups rejected. According to CSE, "unregulated urbanisation and climate change-induced extreme weather" were the reason behind the flood crisis in Tamil Nadu and other states.
But this year it was quite commendable to see Indian courts taking active stand in pushing for cleaner air and to act against pollution, Tongad added, referring to the Delhi High Court asking the Delhi government to take stricter steps to battle the city's pollution. "It seems we are living in a gas chamber," the court had said, asking the Delhi government and the Centre to immediately act on reducing pollution in and around the capital.
The Supreme Court's recent decision to ban diesel vehicle registrations in the National Capital Region for three months and surrounding towns is also a much needed move, to fight a large amount of pollution caused by diesel vehicles, environment groups said.
This step has brought the whole nation's attention to fighting for a clean environment, he said. Following the Delhi High Court's orders, the Delhi government undertook the initiative in the capital to ration road space, allowing even and odd numbered vehicles to ply only on alternative days. But an initiative like this needs to be thought through, as it could lead to the people going for a second car, the National Green Tribunal said.
Instead of having laws which safeguard environment, the current government's attempt to amend the environment laws so as to allow better investments and bigger companies to be housed in the country is a scary move, environment activists said.
According to Environment Support Group (ESG), a Bengaluru-based trust which works to safeguard environment, the Draft Environment Laws (Amendment) Bill 2015, dated October 7, 2015 (which could perhaps be presented before parliament in the budget session) allows the government to "relax environment laws for better investments".
The draft, according to ESG, "pushes laws through the backdoor", and has been proposed by private firms Ernst and Young and Amarchand and Mangaldas and Company, whose interests are majorly "economical and environmental", said Bhargavi S. Rao, coordinator of the ESG.
"The country has been regressive in the past few years in terms of environment law amendments taking away right to participation from the communities. We have brought down our standards in terms of pollution tackling. Amendments which are being proposed could bring a disaster to the country. The amendments itself are violating environment principles in the name of development," Rao told IANS.
Disclaimer: Information, facts or opinions expressed in this news article are presented as sourced from IANS and do not reflect views of Moneylife and hence Moneylife is not responsible or liable for the same. As a source and news provider, IANS is responsible for accuracy, completeness, suitability and validity of any information in this article. 


The 10 Best 2015 Investigative Reports on Political Money

ProPublica picks for the year’s most notable in-depth stories on campaign finance, from newsrooms around the US



The millions of dollars being spent on the presidential race by super PACs, secretive nonprofits and the candidates themselves could again make this election cycle the most expensive to date. Huge sums are also flowing into state and local races. Here, in chronological order, are ten stories from other newsrooms that got behind the cash flow to describe the latest uses and abuses of money in politics.


1. Rahm Emanuel Counts on Big Donors, With Many Getting City Hall Benefits

Chicago Tribune, January 2015

Mayor Rahm Emanuel is building "the most potent political cash machine in Chicago history" and his donors have frequently received benefits from City Hall. The investigation by John Chase, Jeff Coen and Bill Ruthhart found that Emanuel's 103 donors were responsible for $14 million (or almost half) of his fundraising haul. Almost 60 percent of those donors enjoyed benefits from city government, including contracts, permits, appointments and personal endorsements.


2. Rapper-backed Group Illustrates Blind Spot in Political Transparency

Center for Public Integrity, March 2015

Super PACs, unlike other political committees, can accept donations of unlimited size, but the identities of the donors are still supposed to be publicly disclosed. Some donors, however, have remained anonymous by donating through limited liability corporations, Michael Beckel reported. In some states, LLCs don't have to register the names of the people behind them. One of the most flagrant users of the LLC loophole was Pras Michel, a founding member of the hip-hop group the Fugees.


3. The NRA's Brazen Shell Game With Donations

Yahoo News, April 2015

By making small donations to the National Rifle Association and tracking where they ended up, Alan Berlow discovered that the gun rights group was improperly diverting money to its PAC. Organizations soliciting donations for electoral purposes are required by law to disclose that they're doing so, but the NRA didn't. "An NRA member might contribute to the organization because she admires its work on behalf of hunters2026But this same donor may vehemently oppose the candidates endorsed in federal elections."


4. For-profit Colleges Flex Political Muscle

Miami Herald, April 2015

A review of Florida campaign records since 2008 found that for-profit colleges contributed more than $1.2 million to state legislators and parties. During the same period, the legislature passed 15 laws benefiting the industry, even as it faced fraud lawsuits and government investigations. Michael Vasquez found that legislators stripped quality standards and oversight, and the state's attorney general was less aggressive than those in other states in going after schools that skirted the law.


5. The New U.S. Office Politics: Funding Your Boss's Political Causes

Reuters, May 2015

Employers are increasingly tapping their workers to help them fundraise, lobby and campaign. Michelle Conlin and Lucas Iberico Lozada found that since the Supreme Court paved the way for unlimited political spending by corporations, the number of companies enlisting their workers for political efforts rose 45 percent. Employees who comply are sometimes given perks. At BP, for example, workers who donate at least 2.5 percent of their salary to the company's PAC get choice parking spots.


6. South Carolina Politicians Use Office to Pad Pockets

Charleston Post and Courier & Center for Public Integrity, September 2015

Elected officials and candidates in South Carolina are turning their campaign accounts, reimbursements from state government and gifts from special interests into "a personal ATM," Tony Bartelme and Rachel Baye reported. Among the unusual expenditures: car repairs, male enhancement pills and paying off parking tickets. One legislator paid his own company and his father's $105,000, making up almost 80 percent of the campaign expenditures.


7. The Families Funding the 2016 Presidential Election

New York Times, October 2015

An exhaustive analysis of campaign finance records found that just 158 families, along with the companies they own or control, gave nearly half of all the money supporting Democratic and Republican 2016 presidential candidates. The donors 2014 overwhelmingly rich, white older men 2014 contributed $176 million during the early phase of the campaign. "Not since before Watergate have so few people and businesses provided so much early money in a campaign," reported Nicholas Confessore, Sarah Cohen and Karen Yourish.


8. The Koch Intelligence Agency

Politico, November 2015

Though not strictly about campaign money, Kenneth Vogel's story describes a lesser-known leg of the Koch Brothers' political network, which for years has dispensed large donations to Republican and conservative causes. He describes a secretive operation with a staff of 25, including a former CIA analyst, charged with gathering "competitive intelligence" used to thwart liberal groups. The group also sends regular "intelligence briefing" e-mails tracking the campaign work of labor unions and environmental organizations.


9. Inside the Clinton Donor Network

Washington Post, November 2015

Bill and Hillary Clinton have amassed at least $3 billion in donations to their various political campaigns and the family's charitable foundation, according to an analysis by Matea Gold, Tom Hamburger and Anu Narayanswamy. More than 336,000 individuals, corporations, unions and foreign governments have given money. At least $69 million of their political contributions came from the employees and PACs of banks, insurance companies, and securities and investment firms. Unions donated at least $21 million to support their races.


10. Behind the Clinton Campaign: Dark Money Allies

Sunlight Foundation, December 2015

The Sunlight Foundation breaks down the dark money nonprofits and super PACs backing Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign. At the center of network is David Brock, a Clinton enemy-turned-ally who runs a number of groups that directly support Clinton or donate to groups that do. All are headquartered at the same Washington, D.C., address, reported Libby Watson and Melissa Yeager.


P.S.: We can't let you go without mentioning a couple of ProPublica's stories, too:


Super PAC Men: How Political Consultants Took a Texas Oilman on a Wild Ride

More than ever, wealthy donors are shunning established political groups and deciding to go it alone with their own super PACs. That strategy brings donors more control, but it also comes with risks. In one cautionary tale, a reclusive 89-year-old Texas oilman with little political experience launched one of the nation's highest-spending conservative super PACs. But much of his millions ended up going to entities run by the group's consultants or their close associates. The super PAC imploded as principals traded allegations of self-dealing, faked campaign events and a plot to siphon the PAC's money to a reality TV show.


Hacked Sony Emails Reveal Behind-the-Scenes Political Dealings in L.A.

Super PACs are not just tools for political influence on the federal level. E-mails stolen by hackers from Sony Pictures Entertainment revealed just that, showing how corporations can spend unlimited sums to influence local politics and advance their executives' pet projects. They showed that Sony's CEO courted a local Los Angeles politician, directing $25,000 to a PAC he founded. The politician then cast a crucial vote in favor of directing $125 million of public funding to a museum whose directors included the Sony CEO.


Related stories: Check out all ProPublica's work on politics and government at The Breakdown.


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