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Climate change helped spawn East Africa’s locust crisis

An alien species visiting Earth in the year 2020 would be forgiven for assuming that humankind had succeeded in pissing off some kind of vengeful God. This month alone, mega-wildfires ripped through Australia, massive king tides swept California shorelines, and, now, billions of desert locusts have descended on East Africa in an insect storm of biblical proportions. But climate change, not an angry deity, is to blame.

East Africa had an unusually wet year in 2019 — warming waters in the Indian Ocean produced a high number of tropical cyclones, which doused the coast and created “exceptional” conditions for locust breeding, Nairobi-based climate scientist Abubakr Salih Babiker told the Associated Press. Now, swarms of hungry insects are feasting on crops in the Horn of Africa, where millions of people already lack reliable access to nutritious food.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) says a swarm the size of Paris can gobble up as much grub as half the population of France. To make matters worse, desert locusts can travel up to 80 miles a day and multiply at terrifying speeds. Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia, the FAO said, are dealing with swarms of “unprecedented size and destructive potential.” Kenya plans to spend $5 million to curtail the worst locust invasion it’s had in 70 years. Meanwhile, the FAO is asking wealthier nations to take urgent action and calling for $70 million in emergency funding. The problem, the organization says, could quickly spread to other parts of East Africa.

Pictures from the ground show the extent of the burgeoning crisis. If these desert locusts aren’t reined in soon, the FAO says, swarms could grow 400 times bigger by the beginning of summer.

Invading locusts spring into flight from ground vegetation as young girls in traditional Samburu-wear run past to their cattle at Larisoro village near Archers Post. TONY KARUMBA / AFP via Getty Images

Swarms of desert locusts fly above trees in Katitika village, Kitui county, Kenya. AP Photo / Ben Curtis

A swarm of locusts aggregates on the canopies of shrubs at Lerata village near Archers Post in Samburu county, approximately 186 miles north of kenyan capital, Nairobi. TONY KARUMBA / AFP via Getty Images

Locusts swarm from ground vegetation as people approach at Lerata village, near Archers Post in Samburu county. TONY KARUMBA / AFP via Getty Image

Locusts swarm across a highway at Lerata village, near Archers Post in Samburu county. TONY KARUMBA / AFP via Getty Images

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Climate change helped spawn East Africa’s locust crisis

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Red sky, flying embers: Australia’s fires are the first climate disaster of the decade

Wildfires scorched almost every continent in 2019, but the ongoing wildfires in Australia have caused unprecedented damage.

As fires have blanketed more than 12 million acres of land in Australia, killing at least 20 people and leveling more than 1,000 homes, tens of thousands of people have evacuated to safer ground while many are missing. On Thursday, the Australian state of New South Wales — which includes Sydney, the country’s largest city — declared its third state of emergency since November, and experts say the flames are getting worse. The New South Wales Rural Fire Service issued a fire spread prediction map that shows where the flames are projected to expand over the weekend as weather conditions deteriorate.

A record-breaking heatwave and ongoing drought caused by extreme temperature patterns in the Indian Ocean — all connected to climate change — created the conditions allowing these exceptionally intense wildfires to thrive. For those of us outside of Australia, photos of blood-orange skies, thick gray smoke, and people fleeing for their lives offer a small but devastating glimpse at the first major climate catastrophe of the 2020s.

Helicopters dump water on bushfires as they approach homes located on the outskirts of the town of Bargo on December 21, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. David Gray / Getty Images

This picture taken on December 31, 2019 shows firefighters struggling against the strong wind in an effort to secure nearby houses from bushfires near the town of Nowra in the Australian state of New South Wales. Saeed Khan / AFP via Getty Images

Smoke and flames rise from burning trees as bushfires hit the area around the town of Nowra in the Australian state of New South Wales on December 31, 2019. Saeed Khan / AFP via Getty Images

Cars line up to leave the town of Batemans Bay in New South Wales to head north on January 2, 2020. Peter Parks / AFP via Getty Images

Tourists walk with a dog through dense smoke from bushfires in front of the Batemans Bay bridge as cars line up to leave the town in New South Wales to head north on January 2, 2020. Peter Parks / AFP via Getty Images

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Red sky, flying embers: Australia’s fires are the first climate disaster of the decade

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Elizabeth Warren’s new climate plan uses wildfire wisdom from tribes

A number of Democratic candidates for president have released ambitious environmental plans that make the environmental platforms of yore look like yesterday’s lunch. And many of them include proposals aimed at correcting environmental injustices — protecting vulnerable communities that are often exposed to pollution or are on the frontline of climate change. Carbon tax, shmarbon tax, bring on the equity officers and resiliency projects.

Elizabeth Warren just became the latest candidate to unveil such a plan. It will direct at least $1 trillion to low-income communities on the frontlines of climate change, and contains similar themes to justice-centered proposals put out by the likes of Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, and Cory Booker. In at least one respect, however, the plan stands out: It contains a section on how Warren aims to rein in the rampant wildfires burning in the American West.

In addition to investing in wildfire prevention programs and improved mapping of active wildfires, Warren says she will prioritize land management in vulnerable communities by taking demographics into account as well as fire risk. But the most interesting part of Warren’s wildfire risk mitigation proposal is the portion on tribal governments.

As president, the senator says, she will collaborate with tribes in an effort to use traditional knowledge to stop wildfires before they start. She aims to incorporate “traditional ecological practices” and explore “co-management and the return of public resources to indigenous protection wherever possible.” Warren, whose effort to legitimize her Native American ancestry with a DNA test backfired last year, has incorporated tribes into her plans before, including in her public lands plan and, of course, her plan to empower Indian Country. Her latest effort is more than an attempt to atone for a campaign misstep — it’s an opportunity for tribes and government agencies to collaborate on addressing the climate crisis.

Before Europeans colonized this continent, indigenous Americans used fire in a variety of ways to clear land and keep forests healthy. Those traditions have been largely ignored by the federal government, to the nation’s detriment. And in many cases, prescribed burning — using fire to manage forests in a controlled way — is illegal unless conducted by a government or state agency. That means tribes are often prohibited from using their own traditions to maintain their lands. On top of that, one in five Native Americans in the U.S. lives in an area that’s at high risk for wildfires, but less than 18 percent of tribes have fire departments.

Warren’s plan doesn’t provide specifics on how she aims to implement indigenous knowledge at the federal level or whether her proposal will allow tribes to set prescribed fires without facing legal repercussions (a justice issue in and of itself). However, in an email to Grist, a Warren campaign staffer confirmed that the Massachusetts senator plans to partner with tribes to reduce the risk of wildfires on theirs and surrounding lands, if she’s elected president.

Wildfire prevention in the U.S. is complicated by a number of factors. Nearly 100 years of wildfire suppression has spawned dense, overgrown forests that are ripe for conflagration. Houses built in the middle of the woods, at the mouths of sweeping canyons, and in other fire-prone places prevent prescribed burning. When forests go up in flames, firefighter resources are spent protecting houses that should never have been built in the first place. Climate change is compounding the problem by creating ideal conditions for wildfires. The largest electric utility in the U.S., Pacific Gas & Electric, bankrupt from lawsuits related tp California wildfires, just shut off power to hundreds of thousands of people to avoid sparking a catastrophic fire this season. The move could cost the state’s economy upwards of $2 billion.

The Karuk tribe, located in northwest California, has long been waiting for the federal government to take notice of its wildfire prevention practices. In its climate change adaptation strategy published in July, the tribe says the fire crisis spurred by climate change is a strategic opportunity “for tribes to retain cultural practices and return traditional management practices to the landscape.” It notes that “there has been recent recognition of the validity of traditional ecological knowledge and the use of fire to manage for cultural resources, promote biodiversity, and to mitigate catastrophic wildfires.” That recognition, the tribe says, has created “an exciting political moment in which tribes are uniquely positioned to lead the way.” The Forest Service’s fire management goals, the tribe says, can be “best achieved through restoring Karuk tribal management.”

The moment hasn’t always been ripe for cross-collaboration. “They used to call us the ‘incendiary Indians,’” Lisa Hillman, a Karuk tribal member and environmental educator, told High Country News in March.  But prescribed burning, she said, is “the responsible thing to do.”

But restoring tribal management, something Warren says she will “explore,” not implement for certain, is easier said than done. Each state has its own rules around prescribed burning that need to be complied with, John Giller, fire and aviation director for the Forest Service, told Grist. And the landscape has changed since tribes had free reign over the land, he said. The biggest problem now is that non-indigenous Americans are building houses in the wrong places.

“Native Americans historically didn’t build houses up on hillsides, they didn’t invest in places where they knew it was a bad place to have a home because it will burn down,” Giller said. “It was common sense to them.” Common sense doesn’t seem to be very prevalent nowadays, he added. “The people who love the woods the most, who want to live out there in and amongst the trees are the ones causing the biggest problems.” Restoring prescribed burn rights to tribes would require maneuvering around existing homes near reservations, not to mention imposing restrictions on where new homes can be built.

The Democratic primary has thus far functioned as a big progressive policy brainstorm session. Warren’s plan to tap tribal knowledge to augment federal wildfire risk prevention strategies could pave the way for more candidates to make similar proposals. But if the candidates are serious about righting environmental injustices, one thing they’ll have to do is find ways to remove the legal and financial barriers to prescribed burning on and around reservations and also to disincentivize new construction in wooded areas. Otherwise, tribes won’t be able to actually use their own traditional knowledge.

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Elizabeth Warren’s new climate plan uses wildfire wisdom from tribes

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Six Degrees – Mark Lynas


Six Degrees

Our Future on a Hotter Planet

Mark Lynas

Genre: Nature

Price: $5.99

Publish Date: April 3, 2009

Publisher: Fourth Estate


An eye-opening and vital account of the future of our earth and our civilisation if current rates of global warming persist, by the highly acclaimed author of ‘High Tide’. Picture yourself a few decades from now, in a world in which average temperatures are three degrees higher than they are now. On the edge of Greenland, rivers ten times the size of the Amazon are gushing off the ice sheet into the north Atlantic. Displaced victims of North Africa's drought establish a new colony on Greenland's southern tip, one of the few inhabitable areas not already crowded with environmental refugees. Vast pumping systems keep the water out of most of Holland, but the residents of Bangladesh and the Nile Delta enjoy no such protection. Meanwhile, in New York, a Category 5-plus superstorm pushes through the narrows between Staten Island and Brooklyn, devastating waterside areas from Long Island to Manhattan. Pakistan, crippled by drought brought on by disappearing Himalayan glaciers, sees 27 million farmers flee to refugee camps in neighbouring India. Its desperate government prepares a last-ditch attempt to increase the flow of the Indus river by bombing half-constructed Indian dams in Kashmir. The Pakistani president authorises the use of nuclear weapons in the case of an Indian military counter-strike. But the biggest story of all comes from South America, where a conflagration of truly epic proportions has begun to consume the Amazon… Alien as it all sounds, Mark Lynas's incredible new book is not science-fiction; nor is it sensationalist. The six degrees of the title refer to the terrifying possibility that average temperatures will rise by up to six degrees within the next hundred years. This is the first time we have had a reliable picture of how the collapse of our civilisation will unfold unless urgent action is taken. Most vitally, Lynas's book serves to highlight the fact that the world of 2100 doesn't have to be one of horror and chaos. With a little foresight, some intelligent strategic planning, and a reasonable dose of good luck, we can at least halt the catastrophic trend into which we have fallen. But the time to act is now. Reviews ‘Scientists predict that global temperatures will rise by between one and six degrees over the course of this century and Mark Lynas paints a chilling, degree-by-degree picture of the devastation likely to ensue unless we act now…“Six Degrees” is a rousing and vivid plea to choose a different future.' Daily Mail 'Buy this book for everyone you know: if it makes them join the fight to stop the seemingly inexorable six degrees of warming and mass death, it might just save their lives.' New Statesman 'An apocalyptic primer of what to expect as the world heats up…it's sobering stuff and shaming too. Despite its sound scientific background, the book resembles one of those vivid medieval paintings depicting sinners getting their just desserts.' Financial Times 'The saga of how, in the world as imagined by thousands of computer-modelling studies, global warming kicks in degree by degree. “Six Degrees”, I tell you now, is terrifying.' The Sunday Times 'A chilling read.’ Socialist Review About the author Mark Lynas is an activist, journalist and traveller. He was editor of the website www.oneworld.net and has made many appearances in the press and TV as a commentator on environmental issues. He also throws custard pies at lunatics who pronounce global warming a fantasy. He is the author of ‘High Tide: News from a Warming World’. He lives in Oxford.


Six Degrees – Mark Lynas

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Ryan Zinke wants Trump to downsize even more national monuments.

Today, the president signed two proclamations drastically cutting land from two federal monuments, Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, by 80 percent and 45 percent, respectively.

When President Obama designated Bears Ears a national monument last year, it was a huge victory for five Utah tribes — the Navajo Nation, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Ute Indian Tribe, Hopi, and the Pueblo of Zuni — who came together in 2015 to push for the preservation of what they estimate are 100,000 cultural and ancestral sites, some dating back to 1300 AD, in the region.

“More than 150 years ago, the federal government removed our ancestors from Bears Ears at gunpoint and sent them on the Long Walk,” Navajo Nation Council Delegate Davis Filfred said in statement. “But we came back.”

The Antiquities Act of 1906 gives the president authority to establish national monuments, largely to thwart looting of archaeological sites. Trump is the first president to shrink a monument in decades.

The five tribes have said they will bring a legal case against the administration — the outcome could redefine the president’s powers to use the Antiquities Act. “We know how to fight and we will fight to defend Bears Ears,” Filfred said.

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Ryan Zinke wants Trump to downsize even more national monuments.

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We will never know how many people died in Puerto Rico because of Hurricane Maria.

Sure, the Arizona facility has been a significant source of funding for schools, infrastructure, and other public services. But the Sierra Club estimates that it has contributed to 16 premature deaths, 25 heart attacks, 300 asthma attacks, and 15 asthma emergency room visits each year. That adds up to total annual health costs of more than $127 million.

Beyond that, after natural gas prices fell, the coal-fired plant became unprofitable. So the owners of the Navajo Generating Station decided to close the plant by year’s end. Still, the Interior Department, which owns a 24-percent stake in the facility, has worked to extend a lease agreement through 2019 as it searches for another entity to operate it.

The closure won’t just shutter the plant, but also likely will close a nearby mine. Peabody, the largest coal-mining company in the U.S., began operating on Navajo land in the 1960s. Its Kayenta Mine’s biggest customer is the Navajo Generating Station.

But the mine’s demise might not be a bad thing, as it has depleted billions of gallons of water in the Navajo Aquifer and has led to water shortages for residents of the Navajo Indian Reservation.

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We will never know how many people died in Puerto Rico because of Hurricane Maria.

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The Wandering Gene and the Indian Princess: Race, Religion, and DNA – Jeff Wheelwright


The Wandering Gene and the Indian Princess: Race, Religion, and DNA
Jeff Wheelwright

Genre: Life Sciences

Price: $1.99

Publish Date: January 16, 2012

Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company

Seller: W. W. Norton

A brilliant and emotionally resonant exploration of science and family history. A vibrant young Hispano woman, Shonnie Medina, inherits a breast-cancer mutation known as BRCA1.185delAG. It is a genetic variant characteristic of Jews. The Medinas knew they were descended from Native Americans and Spanish Catholics, but they did not know that they had Jewish ancestry as well. The mutation most likely sprang from Sephardic Jews hounded by the Spanish Inquisition. The discovery of the gene leads to a fascinating investigation of cultural history and modern genetics by Dr. Harry Ostrer and other experts on the DNA of Jewish populations. Set in the isolated San Luis Valley of Colorado, this beautiful and harrowing book tells of the Medina family’s five-hundred-year passage from medieval Spain to the American Southwest and of their surprising conversion from Catholicism to the Jehovah’s Witnesses in the 1980s. Rejecting conventional therapies in her struggle against cancer, Shonnie Medina died in 1999. Her life embodies a story that could change the way we think about race and faith.

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The Wandering Gene and the Indian Princess: Race, Religion, and DNA – Jeff Wheelwright

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Slaughter of the Osage, Betrayal of the Sioux

Mother Jones

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Jason Holley

One cold November day last year, Chris Turley, a 28-year-old member of the Osage Nation, set out from the tribe’s northeast Oklahoma reservation upon a quest. He had a wool hat pulled down over his crisply cut black hair and wore military fatigues, just as he had done when he served in Afghanistan as a Scout in the US Army. He carried a rucksack filled with MREs—Meals, Ready-to-Eat—and bottled water, a tent, and a sleeping bag. Tucked away was also an emergency medical kit.

Departing on foot, he headed north through the tall prairie grass. He went past scattering herds of cattle and grinding oil pumps. Thirty miles later, around midnight, he stopped near the Kansas border and made camp in the darkness. He slept in his tent, curled in the cold. In the abruptness of dawn he woke, poured water into a container with premade eggs and quickly ate, and then set out again. The rucksack weighed 80 pounds and his right leg especially burned. In Afghanistan, shrapnel from a rocket-propelled grenade had shivved through his knee. (He received a Purple Heart and a Commendation with Valor, which said his “actions under intense enemy fire when wounded, and courage when facing the enemy in close proximity, not only eliminated and disrupted the enemy but saved the lives of his fellow Scouts.”) Doctors had predicted he’d never walk again without help, but after months of rehabilitation, he did.

Now he marched forward, day after day. He entered Kansas, passing through Greenwood County and Brown County—where members of the Kickapoo Tribe invited him to attend a round dance—and continued into Nebraska, until, after hiking for nearly three weeks, he hitched a ride to his final destination: the Standing Rock Sioux reservation. There, on the North Dakota plains, he joined forces with the Sioux who’d been protesting the proposed construction of an oil pipeline near the border of their reservation, fearing it would destroy their sacred burial sites and contaminate their water supply. “Anyone who knows me knows I am a warrior of this country, I love it with all my heart,” Turley wrote on his Facebook page. “I am also a Native of this country and I’m showing my support for Standing Rock.”

For Turley and many other Osage, the fight had a deep resonance, evoking memories of the tribe’s own struggle over oil and land rights during the early 20th century—a struggle that culminated in one of the most sinister crimes in American history. In 2012, when I first visited the Osage Nation Museum, its then-director, Kathryn Red Corn, told me about this mysterious and deadly plot. I was shocked that I had never learned about it in school or read about it in books, and over the next several years I began to try to uncover the depths of the wrongdoing.

Turley told me that when he was young he had heard about the killings from elder members of the tribe. “Every Osage knows about the murders,” he said. He learned that the Osage once laid claim to much of the Midwest (Thomas Jefferson described them as a “great nation”), but like so many American Indians, they were gradually forced off their ancestral lands. They were driven into Kansas in 1825 and were relocated during the 1870s to the reservation in northeast Oklahoma. By then, their population had dwindled to a few thousand because of massacres and disease and starvation. Although the new reservation was bigger than the state of Delaware, the land was rocky and presumed worthless.

Several years later, an Osage Indian pointed out to a white trader a rainbow sheen on the surface of a creek. It was oil. The reservation, it turned out, was sitting above some of the largest deposits of petroleum then known in America, and to extract that oil, prospectors had to pay the Osage for leases and royalties. In 1906, the tribe granted each of its 2,000 or so registered members a headright, essentially a share in the mineral trust. In 1923 alone, the tribe collected what would today amount to more than $400 million—the New York Times deemed them the wealthiest people per capita in the world. Belying long-standing stereotypes, they lived in mansions and had white servants and rode in chauffeured cars. “Lo and behold!” exclaimed the Outlook, a New York City magazine. “The Indian, instead of starving to death…enjoys a steady income that turns bankers green with envy.”

Then, one by one, the Osage with headrights began to be murdered off. During what became known as the Osage Reign of Terror, there were poisonings, shootings, and even a bombing. Several of those who tried to catch the killers were themselves killed, including one attorney who was thrown from a speeding train. As the death toll reached more than two dozen, the Justice Department’s Bureau of Investigation—later renamed the Federal Bureau of Investigation—took up the case. It became one of the FBI’s first major homicide investigations. But for two years, the bureau bungled the case, failing to make any arrests.

Fearing a scandal, the bureau’s new director, J. Edgar Hoover, turned to an old frontier lawman named Tom White, who assembled a team of undercover operatives, including an American Indian agent. In 1926, they captured one of the criminal masterminds—a prominent white settler who had orchestrated an intricate plot to steal the Osage’s headrights and fortune. But, as I discovered from my research, the extent of the killings was far greater than the bureau ever exposed, and there were scores, perhaps hundreds, of murders that went unsolved. The perpetrators absconded with much of the Osage’s fortune, which was further diminished by the Great Depression and the depletion of oil reserves.

Turley thought about the Osage murders during the demonstrations at Standing Rock. The Sioux weren’t looking to make money; they were just trying to protect the environment. And yet the struggles came down to the same fundamental issue: the right of American Indians to control their lands and resources. Which is why the Standing Rock demonstrations seemed to galvanize so many nations of American Indians, each with its own bloodstained history, its own saga of incursions upon its sovereignty. Native Americans made pilgrimages to Standing Rock from across the country—from the Round Valley Indian Tribes in California and the Blackfeet Nation in Montana to the Winnebago Tribe in Nebraska and the Navajo Nation in Arizona and New Mexico. Jim Gray, a former Osage chief, wrote on Facebook, “The principle of any tribe’s sovereign right to protect what’s important to them is why hundreds of tribes have sent food, supplies and money to their aid.”

Turley helped provide security for the protesters—or “water protectors”—including by guarding convoys headed off the reservation to resupply them. “It was kind of like a covert op,” he said. When the word came down, on December 4, that the Department of the Army had refused to allow the oil company to build the pipeline, “we all sang and danced,” Turley recalled.

Yet President Donald Trump—who until recently had an investment in the Dakota Access Pipeline—reversed the decision upon taking office. The Sioux are contesting Trump’s action in court, but their legal options are quickly dwindling, and it may become harder for demonstrators to gather in the future: A state legislator introduced a bill making it legal for a person to “unintentionally” run over protesters.

Many American Indian leaders fear that the pipeline is only the beginning of the Trump administration’s attempt to erode tribal sovereignty. Reuters reported that some of the president’s advisers even hope to “privatize” American Indian reservations, fulfilling the old dream of white settlers to open these lands to unfettered development.

Jim Gray says the Trump administration will confront an American Indian movement galvanized and united by Standing Rock. “In the old days, our people didn’t have much of a voice,” he told a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, last fall. “Now we do…The world is watching.” As for Chris Turley, he’s back at his home in Osage territory. But if summoned by the leaders of any tribe in need, he says he’s prepared to pack up his rucksack: “I can walk across America.”

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Slaughter of the Osage, Betrayal of the Sioux

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The Instant Pot Is a Phenomenon—and Indian Cooks Are Using It in the Most Creative Ways

Mother Jones

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Perhaps you’ve heard by now about the Instant Pot, a slow cooker, rice cooker, food warmer, pressure cooker, sauté pan, and yogurt maker all rolled into one slightly unwieldy programmable metal contraption. Over the last few months, this kitchen gadget has garnered a lot of attention. It’s a bestseller on Amazon. The New York Times took it for a spin, as did NPR’s The Salt. Bon Appétit claimed it “will change your life.”

But there’s one group that applies exceptional creativity to the Instant Pot: people who cook Indian food. On a private Facebook group called Instant Pot for Indian Cooking, home chefs adapt traditional dishes—dals, biryanis, curries, and more—and post the photos and recipes to 70,000 members. They also poll each other for advice—questions like “How much paneer do you get from a gallon of whole milk” in the Instant Pot? and “Has anyone used packaged fried onion from the store for Instant Pot biryani?”

These folks are devoted to their Instant Pots. Many members boast that they’ve thrown away their traditional Indian pressure cookers. Someone recently posted a photo of her Instant Pot overlooking a scenic mountain vista. Yes, the Instant Pot went camping.

So what makes the Instant Pot so good for Indian cuisine? On the last episode of Bite, our food politics podcast, I had a quick lesson with Pooja Verma, who cooks a lot of Indian food for her family in Fremont, California. (The segment starts at 02:28)

Pooja told me she now does an impressive 80 percent of her cooking in the Instant Pot. One reason she likes it, she says, is that it’s great for recipes that usually only work in India’s hot climate. Take idlis—dumplings made from fermented rice and lentil flour. The key to making great idlis, Pooja explained, is that the batter must ferment without the addition of yeast. “So some smart people have figured out that the yogurt function in the Instant Pot emanates just the right amount of heat to get the batter fermented overnight.” For more Instant Pot cooking tips from Pooja, listen to our latest episode of Bite.

Bite is Mother Jones‘ food politics podcast. Listen to all our episodes here, or by subscribing in iTunes or Stitcher or via RSS.

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The Instant Pot Is a Phenomenon—and Indian Cooks Are Using It in the Most Creative Ways

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The Washington Post Just Reported the Founder of Blackwater Tried to Set Up Trump-Putin Back-Channel

Mother Jones

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The Washington Post just published a story that, if corroborated, could be a pretty big deal:

The United Arab Emirates arranged a secret meeting in January between Blackwater founder Erik Prince and a Russian close to President Vladi­mir Putin as part of an apparent effort to establish a back-channel line of communication between Moscow and President-elect Donald Trump, according to US, European and Arab officials.

The meeting took place around Jan. 11—nine days before Trump’s inauguration—in the Seychelles islands in the Indian Ocean, officials said. Though the full agenda remains unclear, the UAE agreed to broker the meeting in part to explore whether Russia could be persuaded to curtail its relationship with Iran, including in Syria, a Trump administration objective that would likely require major concessions to Moscow on U.S. sanctions.

Though Prince had no formal role with the Trump campaign or transition team, he presented himself as an unofficial envoy for Trump to high-ranking Emiratis involved in setting up his meeting with the Putin confidant, according to the officials, who did not identify the Russian.

In addition to being the founder of Blackwater, Erik Prince is also the brother of Trump’s Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told the Post that the White House had no knowledge of any such meeting and reiterated that Prince was not on the transition team. A Prince spokesman denied the story in a statement to the Post:

“Erik had no role on the transition team. This is a complete fabrication,” said a spokesman for Prince in a statement. “The meeting had nothing to do with President Trump. Why is the so-called under-resourced intelligence community messing around with surveillance of American citizens when they should be hunting terrorists?”

After the Post published its story, NBC reported that two sources confirmed a meeting occurred but that one of those sources disputed the claim that the meeting was about Russia:

One US intelligence official confirmed the Post’s account to NBC News, saying the meeting was with a Russian envoy. A second source said he believed the meeting was not about Russia. That source, a former intelligence official with close ties to Prince and the UAE, said the subject of the meeting was Middle East policy, to cover Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Iran.

Read the whole story.

This story has been updated.

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The Washington Post Just Reported the Founder of Blackwater Tried to Set Up Trump-Putin Back-Channel

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