Beware the sharks, radiation, masses of garbage: Benoit Lecomte starts 9,000 km swim across Pacific
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- France's Benoit Lecomte begins his bid to be the first person to swim across the Pacific Ocean
- Rosemary Barton sits down with legendary U.S. lawyer and feminist Gloria Allred to talk about what motivates her to fight for the rights of women — including the right to be heard
- The U.S. government is readying two big bailouts for the struggling American coal industry
- Missed The National last night? Watch it here
A really, really long swim
If all goes well, the next six months will be the most monotonous of Benoit Lecomte's life.
For eight hours a day he'll be churning his limbs in the cold ocean currents, trying to stave off the boredom inherent to the challenge of becoming the first person to swim across the vast Pacific.
If anyone is prepared for such physical and mental extremes, it is probably the man who once front-crawled across the frigid Atlantic in just 73 days.
But that was 20 years ago, and that trip was some 2,400 kilometres shorter.
Lecomte's route will first take him up the coast of Japan, until he can join the eastbound North Pacific current.
Accompanied by a support crew of six, he will spend his nights aboard a 20-metre yacht dubbed Discovery. He'll reenter the water the next morning, using GPS positioning to make sure that it's at the exact spot where he got out.
In addition to his quest for the record books, there is a scientific purpose.
Lecomte and his team have partnered with 12 organizations, including NASA and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. More than 1,000 water samples will be taken along the route and checked for pollution levels and microscopic plant and animal life. And he is wearing a radiation monitor on his wetsuit to measure the lasting legacy of the Fukushima reactor disaster on the ocean.
After his successful Atlantic crossing, Lecomte had vowed that he would never put himself through such an ordeal again. But his resolve soon faded and he has been planning this marathon swim for years, training up to five hours a day in the water and on land.
Nutrition is a central concern. His doctors predict that he will need to ingest 8,000 calories a day, and the support boat is well-stocked with pasta and spam. He also plans brief pauses to suck down high-calorie shakes while in the water.
And there are dangers, of course. As Lecomte nears the California coast he will be crossing through a Great White Shark migration area — a serious test for the shark repellent bracelet he wears on his wrist.
Lecomte hopes his swim will raise awareness of climate change and environmental issues, most particularly the problem of plastics in the seas. At the midpoint of his route, he will spend several days swimming through what is known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a floating mass of fishing nets, plastic bags, straws, styrofoam and all sorts of other debris that now covers 1.6 million square kilometres — three times the size of his native France.
"I've been swimming for a long time and the change just in the last 30 years is troubling, that you can see so much degradation," he recently told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, referring to the state of the oceans.
Lecomte is scheduled to arrive is San Francisco around the beginning of December. His daily progress can be tracked here.
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Rosemary Barton on assignment
Rosemary Barton sat down with legendary U.S. lawyer and feminist Gloria Allred to talk about what motivates her to fight for the rights of women — including the right to be heard:
Gloria Allred's office is not what you'd expect — or not what I expected, anyway.
It is full of heavy, dark furniture from another time. The desk is also carved of dark wood, but there is no actual space on it to work — photos and tokens cover it entirely.
So instead of working at the desk, Allred has a computer set up on a glass table with a velvet chair tucked in beside it.
She is constantly moving, constantly travelling, constantly dragging a suitcase behind her from one legal case and one city to the next.
She will be 77 in July, but she doesn't consider slowing down and seems surprised to be asked when she finds time to rest, or nap, or take a break.
The answer is, she does not. Allred works weekends. She has not taken a holiday since the 1980s. Work is not just what she does, it is also who she is.
And the reason she does her work — defending women and minorities — is because, she says, of her belief in justice and in giving people a voice.
That comes with risks of defamation, unproven allegations, and counter-suits. But she is willing to take those risks. Her clients, often sexually assaulted women, are also willing to take them in order to find justice of any kind.
And within five minutes of meeting her, you begin to understand why women confide in Allred. She is tough, confident and unwilling to back down. She is a feminist of the first order, and she is a cheerleader of women.
It is hard to talk to her and not feel as though you, too, could take on the world.
- WATCH: Rosemary Barton's interview with Gloria Allred tonight on The National on CBC Television and streamed online
Coal industry bailout
The U.S. government is readying two big bailouts for the struggling American coal industry, as Donald Trump tries to make good on his pledge to bring back the "beautiful, clean" fossil fuel.
The White House ordered Energy Secretary Rick Perry to take "immediate steps" last Friday to halt further shutdowns of coal-fired and nuclear generating plants, on national security grounds.
According to a leaked memo, the policy will see power system operators ordered to buy electricity from "at-risk facilities" in order ensure a "strategic mix" of generating capacity in the event of extreme weather events or cyber attacks.
It's unclear what the cost of such an unprecedented intervention in the U.S. energy market would be. But there is a potential price tag for another looming bailout — as much as $15 billion US.
An investigation by the U.S. Government Accountability Office into the finances of a fund that helps coal miners suffering from black lung disease has identified a multibillion-dollar hole in its books as more claims roll in and the ailing industry seeks to duck its share of the bills.
The problem is expected to worsen, as the black lung levy on coal mines is set to be cut by 55 per cent at the end of 2018.
At present, more than 14,000 miners and former miners are drawing from the fund. The number of people diagnosed with black lung has been steadily increasing, with more than 2,300 new cases over the past decade and a half.
One recent study linked the resurgence of the disease to the industry's struggles, as the remaining miners work longer hours for smaller operators who invest less money in dust reduction systems.
Either way, the disability trust fund is currently on track to have to borrow a further $15 billion by 2050, in addition to its current $4.3 billion debt and the $6.5 billion in loans that the U.S. government has already forgiven.
Yesterday, Trump's Department of Labor issued a statement confirming that benefits will continue to be paid out in the future, "regardless of the Fund's financial condition."
But the jobs have been slow to materialize, with just 771 new coal miners hired in 2017.
Overall, U.S. coal companies employ around 55,000 people — less than a third of the number in the mid-1980s.
The American solar power industry, which employs 250,000 people, lost just over 10,000 jobs in 2017.
Quote of the moment
"This approach acknowledges that more survivors and family members want to share their experiences, while underscoring the urgency this government places in seeing the commission deliver concrete recommendations that will address systemic issues to help keep Indigenous women and girls safe."
- Carolyn Bennett, the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, explains Ottawa's decision to grant the national inquiry into murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls a six-month extension, rather than the two years and $50 million that commissioners had requested.
What The National is reading
- 112 Tunisian migrants thought dead in Mediterranean (CBC)
- Rob Ford's widow sues Doug Ford, alleging she's owed millions (Toronto Star)
- Harvey Weinstein pleads not guilty to rape, sex charges (CBC)
- A surge in neo-Nazi attacks terrifies refugees in Greece (LA Times)
- London Fire Brigade told Grenfell residents to stay put as deadly blaze spread (CBC)
- Apple jams Facebook's web-tracking tools (BBC)
- Ethiopia's parliament lifts state of emergency (Africanews)
- Cleaners find decade-old mummified corpse in hoarder's home (Sydney Morning Herald)
Today in history
June 5, 1985: Keanu Reeves is riding high
A year before he hit it big as Heaver in Youngblood, the 20-year-old Keanu Reeves was still busy hosting CBC's youth program Going Great. Here he interviews a 16-year-old who runs her own riding school in Woodstock, Ont., and then demonstrates why he was never cast in Young Guns. "I'd rather be with hot, sweaty, big horses than Jacqueline Bisset or Elizabeth Taylor," he proclaims. Really.
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