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Pioneering peer reviewed study measured methane emissions from oil and gas infrastructure in two regions in Alberta: ‘If we thought it was bad, it’s worse’
Alberta’s oil and gas industry – Canada’s largest producer of fossil fuel resources – could be emitting 25 to 50% more methane than previously believed, new research has suggested.
The pioneering peer reviewed study, published in Environmental Science & Technology on Tuesday, used airplane surveys to measure methane emissions from oil and gas infrastructure in two regions in Alberta. The results were then compared with industry-reported emissions and estimates of unreported sources of the powerful greenhouse gas, which warm the planet more than 20 times as much as similar volumes of carbon dioxide.
"The irony is that polluters don't even have to sue Pruitt to get what they want. They just pick up the phone and ask," says NRDC's John Walke
Trump's Environmental Protection Agency on Monday issued a directive that one environmental organization says targets nonexistent collusion and will make it easier for corporations to pollute.
The order from EPA Administrator [and former serial EPA suer] Scott Pruitt curbs "the type of legal agreements the EPA can reach with groups pressuring it to regulate," as the Washington Post sums up. Echoing language used by rightwing think tanks, Pruitt called them "sue and settle" practices and said, "The days of regulation through litigation are over."
Indeed, they've been in cross hairs of conservative groups, thus the Heritage Foundation praised Pruitt's directive as "hugely positive news."
"We will no longer go behind closed doors and use consent decrees and settlement agreements to resolve lawsuits filed against the Agency by special interest groups where doing so would circumvent the regulatory process set forth by Congress. Additionally, gone are the days of routinely paying tens of thousands of dollars in attorney's fees to these groups with which we swiftly settle," Pruitt said.
"The rule change," Talking Points Memo explains,
...could force environmental groups to spend much more time and effort on lawsuits aimed at making the EPA enforce its own rules and abide by agreed-upon timelines—spreading them thinner and making it harder for them to expend effort on other, more complicated cases. The EPA's decision to refuse to reimburse lawyers' fees also could be costly to environmental groups, as well as make it harder and less likely for average citizens and localities to undertake lawsuits to get the EPA to do what it's legally required to do.
The EPA's press statement says the "sue and settle" practices "effectively force the Agency to reach certain regulatory outcomes." A 2015 GAO report, however, stated "the impact of deadline suits on EPA's rulemaking is limited."
According to John Walke, director of Natural Resources Defense Council's Clean Air Project and Climate and Clean Air program, "Pruitt's doing nothing more than posturing about a non-existent problem and political fiction. His targeting of legal settlements, especially where EPA has no defense to breaking the law, will just allow violations to persist, along with harms to Americans."
Coal can’t compete with cheaper clean energy. The Trump administration can’t save expensive, dirty energy.
Last week, Trump’s EPA administrator Scott Pruitt announced, “the war on coal is over.” If there ever was a war on coal, the coal industry has lost. According to a new report from the Union of Concerned Scientists, many old American coal power plants are being retired or converted to natural gas, and new coal power plants aren’t being built because they’ve become more expensive than natural gas, wind, and solar energy:
The share of US electricity coming from coal fell from 51 percent in 2008 to 31 percent in 2016—an unprecedented change. New UCS analysis finds that, of the coal units that remain, roughly one in four plans to retire or convert to natural gas; another 17 percent are uneconomic and could face retirement soon.
Natural gas has now surpassed coal to supply 32% of US electricity (up from 21% in 2008), and solar and wind are up to 10% (from 3% in 2008).
The shift away from coal poses a challenge for regions in which the local economy depends on the fossil fuel, but the transition is inevitable. A wise economic policy would involve funding programs to help those regions adapt to the change (Hillary Clinton proposed one such plan during her presidential campaign). A recent study showed that Americans are willing to pay a carbon tax with some of the revenue going to assist displaced coal workers. The Trump administration has instead opted to try and slow coal’s inevitable decline.
South Australia's minimum power demand over the weekend was the lowest in history thanks to rooftop solar. The region set this record a single week after its last record low.
Leading researchers and campaigners express concern that geoengineering research could be used as an excuse not to reduce CO2 emissions
David Keith, a solar geoengineering (GE) expert at Harvard University:
“At best, climate engineering is a supplement, and it could be that we shouldn’t do it,” he insisted. “Our work is to inform better choices and it would actually be very useful to know for sure it didn’t work. Right now there are heads of state and others in leadership who are explicitly assuming it could work, that it’s there if we need it. But let’s say we found something deep in the climate models which suggested we were overoptimistic about solar geoengineering, then I would say ‘abandon it’. That would be great. I’d love to publish that.”
Federal payments underpinning healthcare scheme unlawful, says White House, in move that takes a further swipe at Democrats’ signature reform
Donald Trump has planted a timebomb under Obamacare, issuing a notice late on Thursday night that scraps vital federal subsidies underpinning the current healthcare system.
The late-night move caught critics off guard and brought immediate accusations that Trump was unilaterally destroying his predecessor’s signature legislation, the Affordable Care Act, after the Republican-controlled Congress failed to secure changes. The announcement stops federal support of up to $7bn (£5.27bn) to insurance companies to help them cover the medical needs of low-income Americans.
The Trump administration sought to lay the blame for the current crisis in healthcare on former president Barack Obama, claiming the federal subsidies, known as “cost-sharing reduction payments”, were unlawful and “yet another example of how the previous administration abused taxpayer dollars and skirted the law to prop up a broken system”.
Reaction from Democratic politicians and other Trump opponents was swift. Top officials on both coasts leapt to denounce the White House move and threaten legal action to stop the subsidies being revoked.
In California, the state attorney general Xavier Becerra said he was prepared to sue the Trump administration to protect the subsidies. Eric Schneiderman, the attorney general of New York state, followed suit, declaring he would “not allow President Trump to once again use New York families as political pawns in his dangerous, partisan campaign to eviscerate the Affordable Care Act at any cost”.
The attack on the federal subsidies came as a double blow to Obamacare, just hours after Trump had already lashed out at his predecessor’s healthcare reforms by issuing an executive order unilaterally weakening the system. In that order, the president opened the door to cheaper and less comprehensive insurance, which experts predict will result in health plans for the sick becoming more expensive.
Thursday night’s second blow could prove the more deadly of the two as it is targeted at the very foundations of the insurance structures created under Obamacare. A study by the Congressional Budget Office two months ago suggested that terminating the cost-sharing subsidies would lead to a dramatic 20% rise in the average cost of the most popular plans offered by the Affordable Care Act, as well as worsening the federal deficit by almost $200m.
Even moderate conservative voices were aghast by the move. Charlie Sykes, a prominent conservative talkshow host, said: “What we have now, for better or worse, is Trumpcare. Trump has said he wants Obamacare to implode. Is now taking steps to make it implode. Now owns all of the consequences.”
For 12,000 years, human agriculture has cultivated grains that are replanted every year, at enormous environmental cost. Kernza represents a new way forward.
On an August morning in Minneapolis, I sat at a wooden table inside the Birchwood Cafe, .a bright, cheerful restaurant a few blocks from the Mississippi River waterfront, tasting an éclair as attentively as I could. The flavor I wanted to detect was partly obscured by more conspicuous ingredients: a high-pitched, jammy blueberry glaze painted across the top of the pastry, and the sweet song of a yellow corn custard. But beneath that, there was a subtle and earthy background note: the grain. The pastry was made in part from wheat flour, but you could detect another ingredient as well—something that tasted like nuts and crackers, coffee and grass. That flavor came from Kernza, a grain almost entirely unknown to the human diet until a few years ago, when the Birchwood became one of the first places in the country to serve it, and the first to list it on the menu.
....While Kernza has the taste of a cereal, it has the habits of a prairie grass. It sinks 15-foot-long roots into the soil and banks nutrients and carbon as organic matter. It produces edible grain for five years [and is self re-seeding?], during which time it requires little or no tilling and less fertilizer than wheat does. To create and grow such a grain has been the dream of a group of scientists and sustainable-food advocates for four decades. According to its proponents, if Kernza succeeds as food, it could be the start of a revolution to save soil and fight climate change. But until recently, perennial crops seemed like an unimaginably distant prospect, requiring many generations of crossing and recrossing to arrive at anything that would function at the scale of modern agriculture. Then, a few years ago, Kernza breeding trials at the Land Institute in Kansas and the University of Minnesota began to make rapid progress, and the research caught the eye of big companies like the Minneapolis-based General Mills and Patagonia, which has a food division called Patagonia Provisions.
To make Kernza palatable to such corporations, the researchers needed trailblazers—people who understood the business of food and would try running Kernza from the farm, through the mill, into the kitchen, and onto the plate. Singleton likes a good story, and she found the tale of Kernza captivating. If there was going to be a movement to revolutionize food, she wanted to be a part of it.
....If more of the world’s daily bread came from perennials instead of annuals, there would be less need to clear (ploughing that leads to soil erosion) a path for seedlings every season. Perennial farming could build the soil year by year instead of tearing it apart. Starting as early as the 1920s, both American and Russian scientists tested a few lines of perennial wheat, hoping to save farmers the cost of replanting new seed every year. But the dream of a perennial grain revolution didn’t gather momentum until 50 years later. In 1977, Wes Jackson, co-founder of an agricultural-research organization called the Land Institute, was strolling through the Konza Prairie Biological Station in northeast Kansas—several thousand acres of grassland that look much like the Great Plains did before they were plowed up for agriculture. Jackson had just read a report from the US comptroller general showing that more than five tons of topsoil per acre were eroding from the average grain farm annually. And he wondered: Why couldn’t a farm look more like this prairie, with a motley collection of annuals and perennials growing side by side? The prairie didn’t need to be replanted year after year, and no one needed to till the soil to get the grasses to grow. But to make a farm modeled on a prairie, with food plants instead of wild ones, you’d have to rewrite agriculture basically from scratch. Jackson believed that his vision was possible, but he imagined it would take 50 to 100 years of plant breeding—ambitious when you consider how many millennia it took to create the grains we have now.
....Several millennia ago, wheat changed the course of civilization. Perhaps it’s time for another rewrite.
Malaysian farmers are watching changing weather patterns threaten their staple crops, and switching to other crops might be the only answer.
...."It's difficult to prepare for harvest when you cannot rely on rainwater, and you don't know its schedule," Abdulhamid said.
With social tensions high and unemployment rife, agriculture offers Tunisians a vital lifeline. But as vast swaths of countryside turn to desert, the race is on to ensure there is land left to cultivate
....Within Tunisia, desertification assumes different forms, ranging from the gradual encroachment of the Sahara from the country’s south, to the depletion of the land’s natural resources through over-farming in its north. On each front, Acacias for All is part of the pushback, helping local women form agricultural collectives that will allow them to plant new crops, such as the pea-like acacias that give the social enterprise its name.
For Toumi, who shares French and Tunisian nationality, the personal preceded the national. Six years ago, when she saw her grandparents’ date farm near the coastal city of Sfax succumbing to the effects of desertification, she fell back on the experience gained from her networking with environmental students in Paris. “In the beginning no one believed in me, except a few of the women. So, I started a crowdfunding campaign that raised €3,000 (£2,670). I used this to create a nursery to grow the acacia trees, which the women then agreed to plant.”
Now, in addition to growing acacias, Toumi’s team is involved in promoting a return to Tunisia’s environmentally neutral indigenous rose crop, as well as orchestrating the production of other crops including moringa, olives, almonds.
None of the new crops need artificial fertilisers and all, when fermented and mulched after harvesting, will help renew the soil that bore them. Acacias for All now has about 300 farmers across Tunisia participating in schemes that will help reverse the degradation of the soil that once provided imperial Rome with much of its bread basket.
For the women participating in Acacias for All’s work, the proposition is simple. In return for planting the new crops, the social enterprise will provide the trees, the training to grow and harvest them, and guarantee that whatever is produced will be sold in the shops with which Toumi and her five-strong team have negotiated contracts. Once established, the cooperative structure allows the women to buy further crops, the equipment to farm them and, critically, gain the financial independence that comes from participating in a successful business.
Ministers publish long-delayed blueprint for hitting target of cutting emissions by 57% in next 15 years
The UK’s draughtiest homes will be insulated and upgraded by 2035 to save families as much as £300 a year on their energy bills, under the government’s climate change masterplan.
The long-delayed blueprint for how the UK will hit its binding target of cutting emissions by 57% by 2032 majors on support for everything from low-carbon power, energy savings and electric vehicles to keeping food waste out of landfill.
Big winners in the 164-page Clean Growth Strategy include offshore windfarm developers, who will be guaranteed a further £550m of subsidies to build new turbines throughout the next decade.
Energy efficiency is at the heart of the strategy, which the government was required to publish under the Climate Change Act. All houses will be brought up to the minimum of energy band C by 2035, and existing schemes to improve insulation will be extended until 2028.
New nuclear power stations are encouraged, but prospective builders such as France’s EDF are told they will only go ahead if they can do so at competitive prices.
Council plans to start phasing out polluting vehicles including taxis, cars and buses from city centre area in 2020
Recent years have seen outbreaks of preventable diseases once thought controlled, what is this backlash against vaccination all about?
....Researchers, Eicke Latz at the University of Bonn and colleagues, followed up onthe parents’ hypothesis and found that in mice, cyclodextrin indeed blocked plaque formation, melted away plaques that had already formed in arteries, reduced atherosclerosis-associated inflammation, and revved up cholesterol metabolism—even in rodents fed cholesterol-rich diets.
Though it won't 'cure' Alzheimer's, tests show compound, similar to that found in energy drinks, clears amyloid beta plaques, which build up in the brain in early stages of Alzheimer’s
Green buildings and better infrastructure would not only spur economic growth but also cut carbon emissions equal to India’s annual output
A growing body of evidence suggests pollution can do a number on thebrain. The July/August Mother Jones cover story chronicled the research connecting neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's to the dirty air we breathe; studies have found that pollution may also age the brain prematurely. And according to new research from the University of Texas-El Paso, pollution's damage to the brain may start even sooner than was previously thought: Fourth and fifth graders exposed to exhaust emissions, researchers found, don't do as well in school as their peers who breathe cleaner air.
Though Canada's system is the second most expensive in the world percapita, it would save America $1.3 Trillion/yr and cover everyone
Lesley Stahl discovers the shock and anxiety of a cancer diagnosis can be followed by a second jolt: the astronomical price of cancer drugs[All the other OECD countries negotiate much lower drug & medical procedure costs]
Daphne Caruana Galizia, a blogger whose investigations focused on corruption, was described as a ‘one-woman WikiLeaks’
The journalist who led the Panama Papers investigation into corruption in Malta was killed on Monday in a car bomb near her home.
Daphne Caruana Galizia died on Monday afternoon when her car, a Peugeot 108, was destroyed by a powerful explosive device which blew the vehicle into several pieces and threw the debris into a nearby field.
A blogger whose posts often attracted more readers than the combined circulation of the country’s newspapers, Caruana Galizia was recently described by the Politico website as a “one-woman WikiLeaks”. Her blogs were a thorn in the side of both the establishment and underworld figures that hold sway in Europe’s smallest member state.
Her most recent revelations pointed the finger at Malta’s prime minister, Joseph Muscat, and two of his closest aides, connecting offshore companies linked to the three men with the sale of Maltese passports and payments from the government of Azerbaijan.
....According to local media reports, Caruana Galizia filed a police report 15 days ago to say that she had been receiving death threats.
The journalist posted her final blog on her Running Commentary website at 2.35pm on Monday, and the explosion, which occurred near her home, was reported to police just after 3pm. Officers said her body had not yet been identified. According to sources, one of her sons heard the blast from their home and rushed out to the scene.
The path ahead for real progressive change is becoming clearer and clearer.
unprofessional journalists are 'roasted'.
Contrary to what financial industry lobbyists claim, class action settlements work for consumers.
Senate Democrats discussed consumer protections in the wake of a massive data breach at Equifax and a scandal at Wells Fargo. (Photo: J. Scott/Applewhite/Associated Press/File)
The Equifax data breach and the Wells Fargo fake accounts scandal have given America a peek into business practices at some of America’s biggest financial institutions. In both companies, a related practice popped to the surface: forced arbitration clauses.
These little clauses, often buried in a fog of fine print, are a way for the companies to slither out of accountability when they cheat their customers. And Senate Republicans are on the verge of ramming through a resolution that will allow companies like Equifax and Wells Fargo to continue using these tricks to get away with even more misconduct.
Here’s how the trick works: Let’s say you discover an unexplained $20 fee on your credit card statement. You call, spend a long stretch on hold, get shuffled from person to person, and, finally, learn that your credit card company won’t remove the fee. What now? If your credit card company cheated you out of $20, there’s a good chance it cheated a lot of other customers out of $20. So you can join — or start —a class action, which gives you the chance to go to court and get your money back. It’s not a lot of money, but add up all the people in the class action, and the company feels some real heat if they cheat a lot of their customers.
But if your credit card contract contains a forced arbitration clause, you can’t go to court. Instead, your only option is to pony up $200 to file an arbitration claim. No one is going to pay $200 to try to recover a $20 fee — and your credit card company knows it. That means it can get away with cheating you on small fees forever. And it can juice its profit by cheating millions of its other customers too.
Forced arbitration is bad for consumers. That’s why the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) issued a new rule earlier this year that limits the use of forced arbitration clauses in financial contracts and lets consumers join class action lawsuits if they get cheated.
Bank lobbyists hate the CFPB’s new rule, and they’re pushing Congress hard to reverse it. So far, Republicans have been happy to oblige. While Democrats in the House of Representatives voted unanimously against a resolution to repeal the CFPB rule, House Republicans voted in lock step to pass it. If Senate Republicans follow suit, the rule — and protection for customers who get tricked — will disappear. The Senate vote on the resolution could happen this week.
Equifax, Wells Fargo and other giant financial institutions use forced arbitration clauses. But the new CFPB rule would stop them in their tracks. Any senators who vote to reverse the CFPB rule are saying loud and clear that they side with those companies instead of with their constituents.
There's a heist coming. Arm yourself with the facts!
For decades, writes Collins, "big corporations have made middle class taxpayers and small businesses pick up the slack for funding care for veterans, public infrastructure, cyber security, and hurricane mop-ups. Let’s not give them another tax break for their trouble." (Image: CD / CC BY 3.0)
For 40 years, tax cutters in Congress have told us, “we have a tax cut for you.” And each time, they count on us to suspend all judgment.
In exchange, we’ve gotten staggering inequality, collapsing public infrastructure, a fraying safety net, and exploding deficits. Meanwhile, a small segment of the richest one tenth of 1 percent have become fabulously wealthy at the expense of everyone else.
Ready for more?
Now, Trump and congressional Republicans have rolled out a tax plan that the independent Tax Policy Center estimates will give 80 percent of the benefits to the richest 1 percent of taxpayers.
The good news is the majority aren’t falling for it this time around. Recent polls indicate that over 62 percent of the public oppose additional tax cuts for the wealthy and 65 percent are against additional tax cuts to large corporations.
Here’s the independent thinker’s guide to the tax debate for people who aspire to be guided by facts, not magical thinking. When you hear congressional leaders utter these claims, take a closer look.
“Corporate tax cuts create jobs.”
You’ll hear that the U.S. has the “highest corporate taxes in the world.” While the legal rate is 35 percent, the effective rate — the percentage of income actually paid — is closer to 15 percent, thanks to loopholes and other deductions.
The Wall Street corporations pulling out their big lobbying guns have a lot of experience with lowering their tax bills this way, but they don’t use the extra cash to create jobs.
The evidence, as my Institute for Policy Studies colleague Sarah Anderson found, is that they more often buy back their stock, give their CEOs a massive bonus, pay their shareholders a dividend, and lay off workers.
“Bringing back offshore profits will create jobs.”
Enormously profitable corporations like Apple, Pfizer, and General Electric have an estimated $2.64 trillion in taxable income stashed offshore. Republicans like to say that if we give them a tax amnesty, they’ll bring this money home and create jobs.
Any parent understands the folly of rewarding bad behavior. Yet that’s what we’re being asked to do.
When Congress passed a “repatriation tax holiday” in 2004, these same companies gave raises to their CEOs, raised dividends, bought back their stock, and — you guessed it — laid off workers. The biggest 15 corporations that got the amnesty brought back $150 billion while cutting their U.S. workforces by 21,000 between 2004 and 2007.
For decades now, those big corporations have made middle class taxpayers and small businesses pick up the slack for funding care for veterans, public infrastructure, cyber security, and hurricane mop-ups. Let’s not give them another tax break for their trouble.
“Tax cuts pay for themselves.”
Members of Congress who consider themselves hard-nosed deficit hawks when it comes to helping hurricane victims or increasing college aid for middle class families are quick to suspend basic principles of math when it comes to tax cuts for the rich.
The long discredited theory of “trickledown economics” — the idea that tax cuts for the 1 percent will create sufficient economic growth to pay for themselves — is rising up like zombies at Halloween. As the economist Ha Joon Chang observed, “Once you realize that trickle-down economics does not work, you will see the excessive tax cuts for the rich as what they are — a simple upward redistribution of income.”
“Abolishing the estate tax will help ordinary people.”
This is the biggest whopper of them all. The estate tax is only paid by families with wealth starting at $11 million and individuals with $5.5 million and up. There is no credible economic argument that this will have any positive impact on the economy, but it would be a huge boon for billionaire families like the Trumps.
This tax cut plan is an unprecedented money grab. Whether the heist happens, is entirely up to the rest of us.
Tom Marino might have withdrawn from consideration
as Trump’s drug czar, but drug money is coursing through the veins of Congress – contributing directly to an epidemic that kills thousands of Americans each year
The pharmaceutical industry attempted to place blame for the crisis on the millions who have became addicted instead of the mass prescribing of powerful opioids. Photograph: Dominick Reuter/AFP/Getty Images
....Pharmaceutical companies spend far more than any other industry to influence politicians. Drugmakers have poured close to $2.5bn into lobbying and funding members of Congress over the past decade.
Hundreds of thousands of dollars have gone to McConnell – although he is hardly alone. Nine out of 10 members of the House of Representatives and all but three of the US’s 100 senators have taken campaign contributions from pharmaceutical companies seeking to affect legislation on everything from the cost of drugs to how new medicines are approved.
Trump’s nominee for drug czar, the US congressman Tom Marino, was forced to withdraw after a report by the Washington Post and CBS’s 60 Minutes highlighted his role in forging legislation that hinders the DEA’s ability to move against drug distributors or pharmacies recklessly dispensing the opioid painkillers at the heart of the epidemic, which claims more than 100 lives a day.
Marino’s acceptance of substantial donations from those same companies compromised his nomination to head the federal agency charged with tackling the opioid crisis.
But for Congress, the process was nothing unusual. Hundreds of millions of dollars flow to lobbyists and politicians on Capitol Hill each year to shape laws and policies that keep drug company profits growing. The pharmaceutical industry, which has about two lobbyists for every member of Congress, spent $152m on influencing legislation in 2016, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Drug companies also contributed more than $20m directly to political campaigns last year. About 60% went to Republicans. Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House of Representatives, was the single largest beneficiary, with donations from the industry totaling $228,670.
The impact of so much drug company money coursing through the veins of Congress is often incremental or largely unseen by the American public, such as the industry’s efforts to block competitors in India from making generic versions of HIV/Aids medicines that are more affordable to developing countries.
But on occasion it has a hugely visible impact.
In his comments alongside McConnell, Trump was vocal in his criticism of what he said were pharmaceutical manufacturers “getting away with murder” by charging much higher prices in the US than other countries. That is the result of a 2003 law, in effect written by the industry, preventing the federal government from seeking bids for the manufacture of drugs and medical devices – a process used in other areas, such as defence spending.
Instead, the pharmaceutical companies can charge whatever price they want for drugs bought for the publicly run Medicare and Medicaid programmes – and the federal government has no choice but to pay up.
They're veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and when they see a need, they just go. Red tape frustrates them, especially when people are hurting and they can help, so they deploy themselves -- for free.
Bill Weir and Rachel Clarke | CNN
He didn’t throw paper towels in Texas. Why Puerto Rico? AP Photo/Evan Vucci
The morning after Hurricane Maria blasted through Puerto Rico, I emailed my aunt to ask if she was safe. That was Sept. 21. I heard back from her on Oct. 10. She was fine, she assured me, but “Puerto Rico is destroyed.” After that, my tia and I again lost contact; her email had come through during a brief moment of cell service.
Nearly a month after the hurricane, Puerto Rico still is still struggling with a near-total information blackout. Some 85 percent of the island lacks electricity, and several remote mountain communities have yet to be visited by relief workers.
The death toll has risen from 16 to nearly 50 as lack of fuel, food shortages and infectious illnesses take their toll. Over 100 people are still missing.
The island is so crippled in part thanks to the federal government’s underwhelming early hurricane response. The historic storm played its role, of course, destroying homes, triggering mudslides and rendering roadways impassable.
But the Trump administration delayed dispatching military personnel and material relief until after the hurricane made landfall, and let the Jones Act waiver lapse, reducing the number of ships that can bring aid to the island. These actions have slowed recovery considerably.
Numerous commentators – including Ret. Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré, who ran the U.S. military’s 2005 Hurricane Katrina relief operation – have criticized the Trump administration’s Puerto Rico storm response. Others have contrasted it with the all-hands-on-deck support seen by Harvey and Irma victims in Texas and Florida.
Based on my experience researching equity and inclusion in U.S. policy, racial bias may explain these disparate relief efforts, at least in part. Environmental disasters lay bare existing inequalities like prejudice and poverty. So in a place like Puerto Rico, where nearly 99 percent of the population is Latino, discriminatory decision-making can hurt the community’s capacity to recover.
An unflattering comparison
In Texas and Florida, the president responded swiftly, visiting these southern states in a matter of days. In Puerto Rico, on the other hand, President Trump arrived to survey the wreckage two weeks after Maria struck.
Likewise, while the president vowed to stand with Texas and Florida “every single day” to help them “restore, recover and rebuild,” he seemed to mock Puerto Ricans’ plight at an Oct. 6 Hispanic Heritage Month event.
Most recently, Trump even threatened to withdraw federal aid from Puerto Rico altogether, even though some communities have yet to see a penny.
There is empirical evidence that skin color impacts federal assistance. A 2007 study performed by researchers at Stanford and UCLA found that Americans are less willing to support extensive taxpayer-funded disaster relief when the victim population is not white.
Signs of racial bias in the current federal relief efforts go beyond Puerto Rico. The U.S. Virgin Islands, where 98 percent of the population identifies as black or of African ancestry, were also battered by both Hurricanes Irma and Maria, leaving residents “in survival mode.” The Trump administration has also largely ignored their suffering.
Three-quarters of flying insects in nature reserves across Germany have vanished in 25 years, with serious implications for all life on Earth, scientists say
The abundance of flying insects has plunged by three-quarters over the past 25 years, according to a new study that has shocked scientists.
Insects are an integral part of life on Earth as both pollinators and prey for other wildlife and it was known that some species such as butterflies were declining. But the newly revealed scale of the losses to all insects has prompted warnings that the world is “on course for ecological Armageddon”, with profound impacts on human society.
The new data was gathered in nature reserves across Germany but has implications for all landscapes dominated by agriculture, the researchers said.
The cause of the huge decline is as yet unclear, although the destruction of wild areas and widespread use of pesticides are the most likely factors and climate change may play a role. The scientists were able to rule out weather and changes to landscape in the reserves as causes, but data on pesticide levels has not been collected.
Lake Baikal in Siberia holds one fifth of the world’s unfrozen fresh water, but its precious fish stocks are disappearing
Lake Baikal, a world heritage site, is under threat. Photograph: Oleg Timoshkin/AFP/Getty Images
Data from GP practices between 2001 and 2014 showed rates of self-harm for boys stayed roughly steady – but soared upwards for girls in recent years
Youngsters in deprived areas were less likely to be referred to mental health services within 12 months of their first incident. Photograph: Catchlight Visual Services/Alamy
....Writing in the British Medical Journal, Kapur and colleagues describe how they looked at data from 674 GP practices across the UK to explore the rates of self-harm among 10-19 year-olds.
The results reveal that annually between 2001 and 2014, on average across 10- to 19-year-olds, 37.4 girls per 10,000 and just over 12 boys per 10,000 reported their first episode of self-harm. Repeat episodes of self-harm were more common among girls.
The study also found self-harming to be more common among children and teenagers living in deprived areas. Such youngsters were less likely to be referred to mental health services within 12 months of their first incident than those in more affluent areas.
Further analysis using additional data revealed that youngsters who self-harmed were about nine times more likely to die an unnatural death than those who did not, 17 times more likely to die from suicide, and 34 times more likely to die from acute alcohol or drug poisoning.
Strikingly, the team found that, while the incidence of self-harm remained fairly constant between 2001 and 2014 among boys aged 10 to 19, as well as among girls aged 10 to 12, and 17 and older, incidence of reported self-harm among girls aged 13-16 increased 68% between 2011 and 2014.
Socialism a century ago seemed to be the wave of the future. There were various schools of socialism, but the common ideal was to guarantee support for basic needs, and for state ownership to free society from landlords, predatory banking and monopolies. In the West these hopes are now much further away than they seemed in 1917. Land and natural resources, basic infrastructure monopolies, health care and pensions have been increasingly privatized and financialized.
....Proto-socialist reform in the leading industrial nations
Marx was by no means alone in expecting a widening range of economic activity to be shifted away from the market to the public sector. State socialism (basically, state-sponsored capitalism) subsidized pensions and public health, education and other basic needs so as to save industrial enterprise from having to bear these charges.
In the United States, Simon Patten – the first economics professor at the new Wharton business school at the University of Pennsylvania – defined public infrastructure as a “fourth factor of production” alongside labor, capital and land. The aim of public investment was not to make a profit, but to lower the cost of living and doing business so as to minimize industry’s wage and infrastructure bill. Public health, pensions, roads and other transportation, education, research and development were subsidized or provided freely.
The most advanced industrial economies seemed to be evolving toward some kind of socialism. Marx shared a Progressive Era optimism that expected industrial capitalism to evolve in the most logical way, by freeing economies from the landlordship and predatory banking inherited from Europe’s feudal era. That was above all the classical reform program of Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill and the intellectual mainstream.
Since 1980 the Western nations have reversed early optimistic hopes to reform market economies. Instead of the classical dream of taxing away the land rent that had supported Europe’s hereditary landed aristocracies, commercial real estate has been made virtually exempt from income taxation. Absentee owners avoid tax by a combination of tax-deductibility for interest payments (as if it is a necessary business expense) and fictitious over-depreciation tax credits that pretend that buildings and properties are losing value even when market prices for their land are soaring.
These tax breaks have made real estate the largest bank customers. The effect has been to financialize property rents into interest payments. Likewise in the industrial sphere, regulatory capture by lobbyists for the major monopolies has disabled public attempts to keep prices in line with the cost of production and prevent fraud by breaking up or regulating monopolies. These too have become major bank clients.
....Markets have not recovered for the products of American industry and labor since 2008. Industrial capitalism has been sacrificed to a form of finance capitalism that is looking more pre-capitalist (or simply oligarchic and neofeudal) with each passing year. The resulting polarization forces every economy – including China – to choose between saving its bankers and other creditors or freeing debtors and lowering the economy’s cost structure. Will the government enforce bank and bondholder claims, or will it give priority to the economy and its people? That is an eternal political question spanning pre-capitalist, capitalist and post-capitalist economies.
DONALD TRUMP RESPONDS to the suffering of black and brown people in a radically different way than he does to that of white people. Puerto Ricans, in his mind, should have been grateful to him, and any Puerto Rican who complains is dirt. He can call John McCain a loser for getting shot down in Vietnam, but black athletes can’t exercise their First Amendment rights. Black athletes are sons of bitches, but the white shooter in Las Vegas is probably smart, according to Trump. This is a pattern that only the willfully ignorant can deny. And this isn’t just about Trump at home. He’s re-escalating the war in Afghanistan. He’s expanded a lethal spigot to Saudi Arabia to keep the bombs dropping on Yemen. He has eased the restrictions for the U.S. military on killing civilians. He’s considering authorizing increased CIA drone operations. And Trump is threatening to wipe North Korea, a country of 25 million people, off the map.
Part of the horrors emanating from Trump involves style, and some involve substance. President Obama was a belligerent war president. So was Bill Clinton. So was George W. Bush. So is Donald Trump. Trump is not really taking the war positions he is because he’s Donald Trump. He’s doing what American presidents do, albeit with some tweaks and differences here and there. But Trump says things that are horrifying. He openly lies. He deliberately chooses to inflame situations. So how much of Trump is who he is and what he believes and how much of it is how he does it and how he speaks?
Journalist and author Ta-Nehisi Coates recently wrote an article about Trump that has sparked a lot of discussion and debate. The title alone is very provocative: “The First White President.” It’s a fascinating read and it addresses the ways in which the eight-year presidency of the first black president, Barack Obama, was seized on by Trump trying to make his way to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
In the piece, Coates write, “It is often said that Trump has no real ideology, which is not true — his ideology is white supremacy, in all its truculent and sanctimonious power. To Trump, whiteness is neither notional nor symbolic but is the very core of his power. In this, Trump is not singular. But whereas his forebears carried whiteness like an ancestral talisman, Trump cracked the glowing amulet open, releasing its eldritch energies. The repercussions are striking: Trump is the first president to have served in no public capacity before ascending to his perch. But more telling, Trump is also the first president to have publicly affirmed that his daughter is a ‘piece of ass.’”
Coates continues: “That is the point of white supremacy — to ensure that that which all others achieve with maximal effort, white people (particularly white men) achieve with minimal qualification. Barack Obama delivered to black people the hoary message that if they work twice as hard as white people, anything is possible. But Trump’s counter is persuasive: Work half as hard as black people, and even more is possible. Trump truly is something new — the first president whose entire political existence hinges on the fact of a black president. And so, it will not suffice to say that Trump is a white man like all the others who rose to become president. He must be called by his rightful honorific — America’s first white president.”
Ta-Nehisi Coates has a new book that has just been released, it’s a collection of his writings, and it’s called, “We Were Eight Years in Power.”
According to a recent Quinnipiac poll, a majority of American voters now believe that Trump is not “fit to serve as President.”
On October 8th, the outgoing Republican senator Bob Corker sent a tweet calling the White House “ an adult day care center.” Corker then told the Times that President Trump’s recklessness could set the nation “on the path to World War III”; he said that most Senate Republicans shared his concerns, as should “anyone who cares about our nation.” Days later, Gabriel Sherman reported in Vanity Fair on the crisis-level discussions among Trump’s aides about how to contain a President who they fear is “unstable” and “unraveling.” According to Sherman’s reporting, the former chief strategist Steve Bannon warned Trump several months ago that “the risk to his presidency wasn’t impeachment, but the 25th Amendment.” That Amendment to the Constitution provides that the Vice-President and a majority of the Cabinet—or, alternatively, a congressionally appointed body—can determine that the President is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office” and remove him.
The removal of Trump using the Twenty-fifth Amendment is the aim of a newly launched social movement composed of mental-health professionals. The group, called Duty to Warn, claims that Donald Trump “suffers from an incurable malignant narcissism that makes him incapable of carrying out his presidential duties and poses a danger to the nation.” On Saturday, the organization held coördinated kickoff events in fourteen cities, where mental-health experts spoke out about Trump’s dangerousness and, in several, took to the streets in organized funereal marches, complete with drum corps.
Dr. John Gartner, the founder of Duty to Warn, told me that the event drew nearly a thousand participants across the country. At the Washington, D.C., event, the group presented an award to Representative Jamie Raskin, a Democrat from Maryland and the sponsor of a bill that the group endorses. H.R. 1987 proposes an “Oversight Commission on Presidential Capacity” that, under the Twenty-fifth Amendment, would serve as the congressionally appointed body for determining whether the President cannot execute the powers and duties of his office owing to mental illness or deficiency.
According to a recent Quinnipiac poll, a majority of American voters now believe that Trump is not “fit to serve as President.” While many lay members of the public have observed Trump’s increasingly erratic and unstable behavior, commentary from mental-health experts about Trump’s mental state was slow to gather steam because of the Goldwater Rule, an ethical principle of the American Psychiatric Association that says that psychiatrists cannot express professional opinions about public figures they have not personally examined. “Because we were silenced by the Goldwater Rule, we failed to warn the public that they were heading over the Niagara Falls,” Gartner said. The Duty to Warn movement now represents an outright rebellion against the yoke of the professional norm.
As I’ve written previously, the A.P.A. adopted the Goldwater Rule after members published harsh assessments of the Republican senator Barry Goldwater’s mental fitness to be President during his 1964 election campaign; the consensus was that these were little more than political opinions dressed up as authoritative psychiatric diagnoses. Earlier this year, in response to members’ questions and discontent about the Goldwater Rule’s application with respect to Trump, the A.P.A. debated the issue and announced that not just diagnoses but any “opinion about the affect, behavior, speech, or other presentation of an individual that draws on the skills, training, expertise, and/or knowledge inherent in the practice of psychiatry” was off limits.
Why cling to—and even expand—the rule in the age of Trump? A growing number of those affiliated with Duty to Warn believe that the Goldwater Rule, which is touted as an ethical rule to protect patients, really serves to protect the guild, even where it conflicts with society’s interests. The psychiatrist John Zinner, a participant in the Duty to Warn movement, thinks the rule is “utterly disingenuous.” He told me of a meeting he attended in March of the Washington Psychiatric Society, where a “high official” of the A.P.A. defended keeping the Goldwater Rule in place, on the theory that if psychiatrists spoke out against Trump the government would retaliate by reducing reimbursements to doctors for psychiatric treatment. “It was really not out of ethical concern,” Zinner said, but, rather, concern for “our pocketbooks.”
Trump’s critics yearn for his exit. But Mike Pence, the corporate right’s inside man, poses his own risks.
....The Kochs were delighted that one of their favorite politicians had joined the ticket, although, because of Trump’s stance against wealthy donors, Pence and the Kochs agreed to cancel a speech that he had been scheduled to give at their donor summit that August. The Kochs continued to withhold financial support from Trump, but Short, the former Koch operative, became a top adviser to Pence on the campaign. Some billionaires in the Kochs’ donor network—such as the hedge-fund manager Robert Mercer, who has also financed Bannon’s ventures—began backing Trump.
The Koch network gained even further sway after Trump won the Presidency. Three days after the election, Trump pushed aside Christie, who had been overseeing his transition team, and put Pence in charge, with Short as a top deputy. Trump had promised to “drain the swamp” in Washington, but he had no experience governing, and few political contacts. He was also superstitious, and during his campaign he had deflected discussions about post-election staffing, fearing that it would bring bad luck. Christie’s team had been quietly gathering résumés and making plans for months, but Pence’s team threw out the research, dumping thirty binders of material into the trash. “Donald Trump ran against the establishment, but there was a vacuum,” a member of the earlier transition team said. “Movement conservatives jumped in. There was strong think-tank participation from Heritage and others who saw the opportunity.”
Trump began to appoint an extraordinary number of officials with ties to the Kochs and to Pence, especially in positions that affected Koch Industries financially, such as those dealing with regulatory, environmental, and fiscal policy. Short, who a few months earlier had tried to enlist the Kochs to stop Trump, joined the White House as its director of legislative affairs. Scott Pruitt, the militantly anti-regulatory attorney general of Oklahoma, who had been heavily supported by the Kochs, was appointed director of the Environmental Protection Agency. Pruitt, in turn, placed Patrick Traylor, a lawyer for Koch Industries and other fossil-fuel companies, in charge of the E.P.A.’s enforcement of key anti-pollution laws. As the times has reported, a document called “A Roadmap to Repeal,” written by Koch operatives, has guided the E.P.A.’s reversal of Obama Administration clean-air and climate regulations. Don McGahn, who had done legal work for Freedom Partners, became White House counsel. Betsy DeVos, a billionaire heiress, who had been a major member of the Kochs’ donor network and a supporter of Pence, was named Secretary of Education. The new director of the C.I.A. was Mike Pompeo, the congressman who represented Charles Koch’s district, in Wichita, Kansas; before Pompeo ran for office, the Kochs had invested in his aerospace business. Pompeo, the former transition-team member said, “wasn’t even on Trump’s radar, but he was brought in to meet him and got appointed, like, the next day.” A recent analysis by the Checks & Balances Project found that sixteen high-ranking officials in the Trump White House had ties to the Kochs. The pattern continued among lower-level political appointees, including in Pence’s office, which was stocked with Koch alumni. Pence reportedly consulted with Charles Koch before hiring his speechwriter, Stephen Ford, who previously worked at Freedom Partners.
....There have been other evangelical Christians in the White House, including Carter and George W. Bush, but Pence’s fundamentalism exceeds theirs. In 2002, he declared that “educators around America must teach evolution not as fact but as theory,” alongside such theories as intelligent design, which argues that life on Earth is too complex to have emerged through random mutation. Pence has described intelligent design as the only “remotely rational explanation for the known universe.” At the White House, Pence has been hosting a Bible-study group for Cabinet officers, led by an evangelical pastor named Ralph Drollinger. In 2004, Drollinger, whose organization, Capitol Ministries, specializes in proselytizing to elected officials, stirred protests from female legislators in California, where he was then preaching, after he wrote, “Women with children at home, who either serve in public office, or are employed on the outside, pursue a path that contradicts God’s revealed design for them. It is a sin.” Drollinger describes Catholicism as “a false religion,” calls homosexuality “a sin,” and believes that a wife must “submit” to her husband. Several Trump Cabinet officials have reportedly attended the Bible-study group, including DeVos, Pompeo, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. In a recent interview with the Christian Broadcast Network, Drollinger said that Pence “has uncompromising Biblical tenacity” and “brings real value to the head of the nation.”
Georgetown mayor Dale Ross is ‘a good little Republican’ – but ever since his city weaned itself off fossil fuels, he has become a hero to environmentalists
....Georgetown makes headlines not only because so few US cities run entirely on renewables, but because it has a conservative mayor willing to make compromises and fraternise with high-profile Democrats in a hyper-partisan era where climate change is one of the most divisive subjects.
“How is anybody going to compete with wind and solar?” said Ross, who has ordered an electric-powered BMW scooter from California and plans to fit solar panels at his home and office.
All the same, he voted for coal’s biggest champion in last November’s presidential election – Trump was “like, my eighth or ninth choice” in the primary, he said – and went to his inauguration, which he said was “phenomenal”, even if it cost $700 for a basic hotel room. His support is not unquestioning, though.
“When Trump was campaigning he was talking about clean coal and we’re going to bring coal jobs back? That is a mirage, that is not going to happen,” he said. “Coal is one of the most expensive forms of fossil fuels to produce. And those jobs are never going to come back, ever. They’re done.”
As for any policies the federal government might enact to boost the coal industry, such as the decision announced on Tuesday to scrap the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan?
“Isn’t that sort of like putting a Band-Aid on somebody that has terminal cancer?” Ross said. “I’m not the smartest guy in the room but it’s not that complicated, OK? How’s fossil fuels going to compete in the next five years? They’re not going to be able to compete.”
....The Nevada bill, SB539, passed by a Democratic-controlled state legislature and signed by Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval was a second version of a bill he vetoed on June 2. The original bill, SB265, presented by Democrats in the state House, was supported by a coalition of labor unions, casino managers, and insurance companies, all of whom were united in outrage over skyrocketing drug prices. Unite Here, the largest labor union in Nevada with around 60,000 members, has a direct interest in lowering drug prices, especially for diabetics. America’s diabetes epidemic trends closely with America’s class and race divide. Working-class minorities are vastly over-represented among diabetics, and they make up the bulk of Unite Here’s membership.
Just as odd were the groups that did not join in advocating for the bill: the American Diabetes Association, the Nevada Diabetes Association, and the American Association of Retired Persons. The Eli Lilly Foundation donated $2.5 million to the American Diabetes Association in 2015.
The original bill not only sought to force pharmaceutical companies to reveal how they price diabetes drugs and what margins they earn on them, but also to require those companies to reimburse patients and insurers if the cost of certain essential diabetes-related drugs increased by more than a certain amount each year. But Gov. Sandoval sent back the bill, along with a three-page letter that repeated many of the same complaints of pharmaceutical lobbyists. A key pharmaceutical talking point, which Gov. Sandoval repeated in his veto letter, was that PBMs were mostly to blame for increasing costs and should therefore be the target of transparency legislation. Republican state senators had been working on their own bill that did exactly that and Democrats added in text from their bill that did not include components the governor specifically rejected, including reimbursing patients and insurers.
Daphne Caruana Galizia’s warnings that Malta was becoming a mafia state need to be taken seriously
What is striking about Mrs Caruana Galizia’s reporting is how rotten the state of Malta appears. The EU’s smallest country, with a population of around 420,000, Malta held the rotating European Union presidency until earlier this year. It has been labelled an EU “pirate tax haven”, helping multinationals avoid paying €14bn. A darker side is the 15 mafia-style shootings and bombings that have punctuated its last decade. Its main industries have been infiltrated by crime gangs. Earlier this month Europol detailed how the Calabrian organised crime syndicate, the ’Ndrangheta, ran a €2bn money-laundering operation through Maltese online betting companies. Internet gambling companies account for 10% of the island’s GDP. But Malta’s big money-spinner has been selling EU passports to the rich. More than 900 bought citizenship in 2016, which at €650,000 a pop means that they contributed nearly 16% of Malta’s budget revenues. Since many were taken up by Eurasian oligarchs, one can understand the accusation that Mrs Caruana Galizia was up against not a democracy but a mafia state.
The charge is that Malta is turning into a state run by, and resembling, organised crime – which does not govern but disposes of positions, wealth and troublesome persons. Malta cannot be a sham EU state where elections, the rule of law and the courts are just for show. The continent’s citizens accept EU governance because every member state is a functioning democracy. When one of its own backslides on democratic commitments, when a life is lost in the pursuit of truth, then the EU must take action.
Hungary-born financier’s donation makes his Open Society Foundations the third largest charitable foundation in the world
The donation makes Soros’s Open Society Foundations the third largest charitable foundation in the world, behind the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation and the Wellcome Trust.
Officials from the foundation told the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times that the Hungarian-born investor has increased the pace of donations from the proceeds of his successful hedge fund. The latest combined donations of $18bn represent the bulk of Soros’s estimated fortune of $23bn.
Open Society works globally to “build vibrant and tolerant democracies” and has given away nearly $14bn since it was founded in 1979.
Soros, who made huge profits betting against the British pound when it crashed out of the European exchange rate mechanism in 1992, is a vocal supporter of liberal causes.
Traders, prepare to adapt.
Wall Street is entering a new era. The fraternity of bond jockeys, derivatives mavens and stock pickers who've long personified the industry are giving way to algorithms, and soon, artificial intelligence.
Banks and investment funds have been tinkering for years, prompting anxiety for employees. Now, firms are rolling out machine-learning software to suggest bets, set prices and craft hedges. The tools will relieve staff of routine tasks and offer an edge to those who stay. But one day, machines may not need much help. It's no wonder most of the jobs Goldman Sachs Group Inc.'s securities business posted online in recent months were for tech talent. Billionaire trader Steven Cohen is experimenting with automating his top money managers. Venture capitalist Marc Andreessen has said 100,000 financial workers aren’t needed to keep money flowing.
This map of trading automation is based on interviews with about a dozen senior banking and investing executives on Wall Street, many of whom focus on adopting new tech. It offers a sense of their projects -- some of them just starting -- that will affect traders within big firms.
SELL SIDE / CREDIT
The art of dealing in bonds and more bespoke types of credit has proven far more challenging for computers than their much-faster takeover of stock exchanges. Infrequent or opaque trading left humans to negotiate prices, and banks must carefully juggle holdings to minimize the burden on balance sheets. Advancements in natural-language processing, data collection and machine learning are helping to overcome hurdles.
SELL SIDE / RATES AND FX
The long-running shift to electronic currency trading is getting an upgrade. Firms are tapping big data and machine learning to anticipate client demand and price swings. Software also is helping to design and manage banks' inventory of more complex rate swaps and currency derivatives.
SELL SIDE / EQUITIES
Equities trading, which shifted decades ago to electronic platforms, is one of the first testing grounds for using artificial intelligence to execute orders.
BUY SIDE / EQUITIES
Hedge funds and asset managers are using predictive analytics for tasks such as timing stock purchases and assessing risk based on market liquidity. Computers are also digesting vast data sets -- everything from car registrations to oil-drilling concessions -- to help predict how stocks will perform.
BUY SIDE / CREDIT
Vast spreadsheets, such as breakdowns of mortgages packed into bonds, are nothing new for credit funds. But some are teaching computers to scan and understand a much larger universe of bond covenants, legal documents and court rulings. Still, fully automating analysis of contract and illiquid assets underpinning securities in opaque markets remains a challenge, for now.
BUY SIDE / MACRO
Firms are trying to build economists. They're toying with natural-language processing to sift central bank commentary for clues on future monetary policy. They’re also experimenting with algorithms that scour far-flung data, like oil-tanker shipments from the Middle East or satellite images of Chinese industrial sites, to forecast growth.
Saijel Kishan, Hugh Son and Mira Rojanasakul | Bloomberg
By the most measures, China has passed the U.S. and is pulling away.
George Bernard Shaw knew that the rich are no better than the poor. But though the argument seemed settled then, it now rages more fiercely than ever
....Pygmalion [made into the movie My Fair Lady] is not just about Eliza’s transformation from flower girl to apparent duchess. It’s about her father’s transformation from a disreputable chancer to the epitome of propriety. And in this morality tale is one of Bernard Shaw’s most important arguments: people are not poor because they are immoral; they’re immoral because they are poor. Or, to put it in the terms of today’s assumptions about poverty: the problem with the poor isn’t their “culture” or their want of character. It’s just that they don’t have enough money.
By the time he died, in 1950, Bernard Shaw, as the most widely read socialist writer in the English-speaking world, had done as much as anyone to banish the fallacy that poverty is essentially a moral failing – and conversely that great riches are proof of moral worth. His most passionate concern was with poverty and its causes. He was haunted by the notorious Dublin slums of his childhood. As his spokesman Undershaft puts it in Major Barbara: “Poverty strikes dead the very souls of all who come within sight, sound or smell of it.”
The question – why are the poor poor? – has a number of possible answers in the 21st century, just as it had in the late 19th. A Eurobarometer report in 2010 examined attitudes to poverty in the European Union. The most popular explanation among Europeans (47%) for why people live in poverty was injustice in society.
But the other half of respondents opted for some other cause: 16% said people live in poverty because of laziness and lack of willpower, another 16% saw poverty as an inevitable part of progress, and 13% said people live in poverty because they have been unlucky. These arguments were also raging in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and Shaw was a crucial figure in making people understand that poverty is about the way society is organised, not about the failings or bad luck of the poor.
In the preface to Major Barbara, Shaw attacks “the stupid levity with which we tolerate poverty as if it were ... a wholesome tonic for lazy people”. His great political impulse was to de-moralise poverty, and his most radical argument about poverty was that it simply doesn’t matter whether those who are poor “deserve” their condition or not – the dire social consequences are the same either way. He assails the absurdity of the notion implicit in so much rightwing thought, that poverty is somehow more tolerable if it is a punishment for moral failings: “If a man is indolent, let him be poor. If he is drunken, let him be poor. If he is not a gentleman, let him be poor. If he is addicted to the fine arts or to pure science instead of to trade and finance, let him be poor ... Let nothing be done for ‘the undeserving’: let him be poor. Serve him right! Also – somewhat inconsistently – blessed are the poor!”
In an era when many on the left purported to despise money and romanticised poverty, Shaw argued that poverty is a crime and that money is a wonderful thing. He recognised that there is no relationship between poverty and a supposed lack of a work ethic: Eliza Doolittle is out selling her flowers late at night in the pouring rain but she is still dirt poor. (Conversely, when she is “idle” and being kept by Higgins, she leads a life of relative luxury.) And therefore the cure for poverty can never be found in moral judgments.
The cure for poverty is an adequate income. “The crying need of the nation,” he wrote, “is not for better morals, cheaper bread, temperance, liberty, culture, redemption of fallen sisters and erring brothers, nor the grace, love and fellowship of the Trinity, but simply for enough money. And the evil to be attacked is not sin, suffering, greed, priestcraft, kingcraft, demagogy, monopoly, ignorance, drink, war, pestilence, nor any other of the scapegoats which reformers sacrifice, but simply poverty.”
The solution he proposed was what he called a “universal pension for life”, or what we now call a universal basic income.
By the end of Shaw’s immensely long career, it seemed that these arguments had been won. They even seemed rather passé – what thinking person could ever revert to Victorian notions of poverty as a moral disease? But moralising about poverty returned with a vengeance. When, in January 1983, Margaret Thatcher declared in a television interview that “Victorian values were the values when our country became great”, it was clear that one of those values was the belief that poverty is fundamentally a question of character.
The rich are now as confident as they ever were that they deserve what they have. We have returned to what Shaw called the “absurdly unpractical notion that in some way a man’s income should be given to him, not to enable him to live, but as a sort of Sunday school prize for good behaviour ... Was ever so idiotic a project mooted as the estimation of virtue in money?”
We live again in a world where, as Shaw wrote of his own times, “we have million-dollar babies side-by-side with paupers worn out by a long life of unremitted drudgery”. We live again in a world where that unremitting drudgery is, for millions of people, no guarantee of being able to afford a decent and dignified life.
How a hashtag got its power
....For a long time, most women defined their own sexual harassment and assault in this way: as something unspoken, something private, something to be ashamed of acknowledging. Silence, although understandable, has its cost. A decade ago, I couldn’t have conceived of the fact that so many women had experienced sexual coercion or intimidation; now, I’d be surprised if I could find a single one who hadn’t. On Sunday afternoon, the actress Alyssa Milano used her Twitter account to encourage women who’d been sexually harassed or assaulted to tweet the words #MeToo. In the last 24 hours, a spokesperson from Twitter confirmed, the hashtag had been tweeted nearly half a million times.
#MeToo wasn’t just mushrooming on Twitter—when I checked Facebook Monday morning, my feed was filled with friends and acquaintances acknowledging publicly that they, too, had experienced harassment or assault. Some shared their stories, some simply posted the hashtag to add their voices to the fray. And it wasn’t just women: Men also spoke up about their experiences with assault. Actors including Anna Paquin, Debra Messing, Rosario Dawson, Gabrielle Union, and Evan Rachel Wood joined in. The writer Alexis Benveniste used it to remind people that the messages they were seeing were only the tip of the iceberg. For every woman stating her own experiences out loud, there were likely just as many choosing not to do so.
For all the frequent grumbles about the passivity of most forms of Twitter activism, this was a moment in which the form fit perfectly with the message: The goal of #MeToo, as Milano’s friend told her, was simply to give people a sense of “the magnitude of the problem.” Waking up to a feed dominated by women discussing their experiences of harassment and assault, it turns out, will do that. For more than a week, social media has been filled with stories told by women about their interactions with the producer Harvey Weinstein, accusations that range from verbal coercion to rape. But as horrifying as the allegations against Weinstein have been, more appalling still is the sense that his behavior isn’t uncommon. That in industries across the world, from media to music to modeling to academia, women have encountered their own Weinsteins and have deduced, for whatever reason, that nothing could be done about it and nobody cared.
The power of #MeToo, though, is that it takes something that women had long kept quiet about and transforms it into a movement. Unlike many kinds of social-media activism, it isn’t a call to action or the beginning of a campaign, culminating in a series of protests and speeches and events. It’s simply an attempt to get people to understand the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault in society. To get women, and men, to raise their hands. Recent revelations about the alleged abuses of Weinstein and Bill Cosby and Jimmy Savile and R. Kelly have proven that truth has power. There’s a monumental amount of work to be done in confronting a climate of serial sexual predation—one in which women are belittled and undermined and abused and sometimes pushed out of their industries altogether. But uncovering the colossal scale of the problem is revolutionary in its own right.
Senate Republicans are rallying behind Trump’s judicial nominees, including those considered unqualified or with explosive views.
And there could be far-reaching consequences for the national economy too.
....[U]niversity research is in trouble, and so is an economy more dependent on it than many people understand. Federal funding for basic research—more than half of it conducted on university campuses like this one—has effectively declined since 2008, failing to keep pace with inflation. This is before taking into account Trump administration proposals to slash the National Science Foundation (NSF) and National Institutes of Health (NIH) budgets by billions of dollars more.
Trump’s cuts would affect all research universities, but not equally. The problem is more pronounced at public universities than private ones, and especially at public institutions in the Midwest, which have historically conducted some of the nation’s most important research. These schools are desperately needed to diversify economies that rely disproportionately on manufacturing and agriculture and lack the wealthy private institutions that fuel the knowledge industries found in Silicon Valley or along Boston’s 128/I-95 corridor. Yet many flagship Midwestern research universities are being weakened by deep state budget cuts. Threats to pensions (in Illinois) and tenure (in Wisconsin) portend an exodus of faculty and their all-important research funding, and have already resulted in a frenzy of poaching by better-funded and higher-paying private institutions, industry, and international competitors.
While private institutions are better shielded from funding cuts by huge endowments, Midwestern public universities have much thinner buffers. The endowments of the universities of Iowa, Wisconsin, and Illinois and Ohio State, which together enroll nearly 190,000 students, add up to about $11 billion—less than a third of Harvard’s $37.6 billion. Together, Harvard, MIT, and Stanford, which enroll about 50,000 students combined, have more than $73 billion in the bank to help during lean times. They also have robust revenues from high tuitions, wealthy alumni donors, strong credit, and other support to fall back on. Compare that to the public university system in Illinois, which has cut its higher-education budget so deeply that Moody’s downgraded seven universities, including five to junk-bond status.
This ominous reality could widen regional inequality, as brainpower, talent, and jobs leave the Midwest and the Rust Belt—where existing economic decline may have contributed to the decisive shift of voters toward Donald Trump—for places with well-endowed private and better-funded public universities. Already, some Midwestern universities have had to spend millions from their battered budgets to hang on to research faculty being lured away by wealthier schools. A handful of faculty have already left, taking with them most if not all of their outside funding.
“We’re in the early stages of the stratification of public research universities,” said Dan Reed, the vice president for research and economic development at the University of Iowa. “The good ones will remain competitive. The rest may decline.” Those include the major public universities established since the 1860s, when a federal grant set aside land for them in every state. “We spent 150-plus years building a public higher-education system that was the envy of the world,” said Reed, who got his graduate degrees at Purdue, in Indiana. “And we could in a decade do so much damage that it could take us 30 years to recover.”
Pope Francis says addressing armed conflicts and the effects of climate change are "prerequisites" for ending global hunger
Pope Francis seemed to take a jab at the United States and President Donald Trump on Monday, while speaking at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization's Rome headquarters for World Food Day.
The pope called on the global community to work together to solve the related issues of hunger, climate change, and the refugee crisis.
"We see consequences of climate change every day," he said. "Thanks to scientific knowledge, we know how we have to confront the problem and the international community has also worked out the legal methods, such as the Paris Accord, which sadly, some have abandoned," he added, with an apparent reference to the Trump administration's commitment to withdrawing from the 2015 agreement.
"We are called to propose a change in lifestyle and the use of resources," he said. "We can't be satisfied by saying 'someone else will do it.'"
Pope Francis condemned "negligence toward the delicate equilibriums of the ecosystems, the presumption of manipulating and controlling the limited resources of the planet, and the greed for profit."
"The yoke of poverty caused by the often tragic movement of migrants can be removed by prevention," he declared, "consisting of development projects that create jobs and offer the capacity to respond to climactic and environmental changes."
He specifically emphasized that ending armed conflicts and limiting the effects of climate change are "prerequisites" for addressing global hunger. His comments align with a U.N. report published last month that found worldwide hunger, fueled by conflict and climate change, is on the rise for the first time in more than a decade.
The report found that in 2016, malnutrition and food insecurity affected 815 million people, or 11 percent of the global population, up from 777 million the previous year. It also raised concerns that the global communitiy will fail to reach the U.N. sustainable development goal of eradicating world hunger by 2030.
Like Reagan before him, Trump is deploying the infamous "welfare queen" myth to justify shredding the safety net
Rehashing a notorious Republican Party trope that accuses some Americans of cheating safety net programs, President Donald Trump on Monday said his administration is looking "very, very strongly" at "welfare reform."
"People are taking advantage of the system and then other people aren't receiving what they really need to live and we think it is very unfair to them," Trump said during a meeting with cabinet officials. "Some people are really taking advantage of our system from that standpoint."
The welfare system was last "reformed" during the administration of former President Bill Clinton, and the results were devastating.
According to research by sociologists Kathryn Edin and Luke Shaefer, extreme poverty more than doubled in the two decades following the passage in 1996 of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, which imposed draconian work requirements on welfare recipients and converted federal welfare funds into block grants.
Now, Trump appears to be preparing to shred what is left of the social safety net. And as Clio Chang of Splinter News points out, Trump is deploying the same rhetorical formula as his welfare-slashing predecessors.
"Reagan infamously spread the 'welfare queen' myth in the 1970s, a dog whistle that asserted black, single mothers were bilking the government's welfare system."
—Clio Chang, Splinter News
"It's not difficult to decode what Trump's saying," Chang notes. "It's the same tired line that politicians from Ronald Reagan to Bill Clinton have been using for decades: that some (read: mainly black) people are unfairly receiving welfare benefits and siphoning resources away from good, hard-working (read: mainly white) people. Reagan infamously spread the 'welfare queen' myth in the 1970s, a dog whistle that asserted black, single mothers were bilking the government's welfare system."
While Trump didn't propose any specific changes to the welfare system on Monday, previous reports—along with his administration's previous actions—have indicated that crucial safety net programs are squarely in the president's crosshairs.
In one of his first speeches as president, Trump asserted that the American welfare system is "out of control," and that people on welfare need to get "back to work"—despite the fact that most welfare recipients already have jobs.
And as Politico reported earlier this month, Trump is "mulling an executive order that would instruct federal agencies to review low-income assistance programs [as] part of a coming effort to make sweeping changes to the country's welfare system."
Trump's Republican allies in the Senate, meanwhile, are gearing up to vote on a budget that would make room for $1.5 trillion in tax cuts and over $5 trillion in non-defense spending cuts—including $470 billion from Medicare and $1 trillion from Medicaid over the next decade.
THE BILLIONAIRE BROTHERS Charles and David Koch spent much of the eight years of the Obama presidency stoking fears about the budget deficit. Their political network aired an unending cascade of campaign advertisements against Democratic politicians, sponsored several national bus tours, and paid organizers in communities across the country to mobilize public demonstrations, all focused on the dangers of increasing the deficit.
One such ad even warned that government debt would lead to a Chinese takeover of America — which, for many voters, is a concern linked to debt. Another effort, also quietly bankrolled by the Koch network, used Justin Bieber memes to try to reach millennials about too much government borrowing.
Now that Republicans control all levers of power in Washington and the Koch brothers are poised to reap a windfall of billions of dollars through tax cuts, they have a new message: Don’t worry about the deficit.
The Intercept obtained a messaging memo from the Koch brothers’ network on how to sell tax reform legislation. The memo went out to members of the network of likeminded Republican donors, which includes dozens of wealthy investors and business executives.
The talking points suggest that backers of the tax cuts feel vulnerable to the charge that the tax cuts will jack up the deficit.
“In case it is helpful to you in your own discussions with lawmakers and others,” the memo begins, “below is a list of talking points that address some of the key hurdles to passing tax reform this year.”
During his visit to hurricane-stricken Puerto Rico, President Donald Trump shocked the bond market when he told Geraldo Rivera of Fox News that he was going to wipe out the island’s bond debt. He said on October 3rd:
You know they owe a lot of money to your friends on Wall Street. We’re gonna have to wipe that out. That’s gonna have to be — you know, you can say goodbye to that. I don’t know if it’s Goldman Sachs but whoever it is, you can wave good-bye to that.
How did the president plan to pull this off? Pam Martens and Russ Martens, writing in Wall Street on Parade, note that the U.S. municipal bond market holds $3.8 trillion in debt, and it is not just owned by Wall Street banks. Mom and pop retail investors are exposed to billions of dollars of potential losses through their holdings of Puerto Rican municipal bonds, either directly or in mutual funds. Wiping out Puerto Rico’s debt, they warned, could undermine confidence in the municipal bond market, causing bond interest rates to rise, imposing an additional burden on already-struggling states and municipalities across the country.
True, but the president was just pointing out the obvious. As economist Michael Hudson says, “Debts that can’t be paid won’t be paid.” Puerto Rico is bankrupt, its economy destroyed. In fact it is currently in bankruptcy proceedings with its creditors. Which suggests its time for some more out-of-the-box thinking . . . .
Shifting the debt burden of bankrupt institutions onto the books of the central bank is not a new or radical idea. UK Prof. Richard Werner, who invented the term “quantitative easing” when he was advising the Japanese in the 1990s, says there is ample precedent for it. In 2012, he proposed a similar solution to the European banking crisis, citing three successful historical examples.
One was in Britain in 1914, when the British banking sector collapsed after the government declared war on Germany. This was not a good time for a banking crisis, so the Bank of England simply bought the banks’ NPLs. “There was no credit crunch,” wrote Werner, “and no recession. The problem was solved at zero cost to the tax payer.”
For a second example, he cited the Japanese banking crisis of 1945. The banks had totally collapsed, with NPLs that amounted to virtually 100 percent of their assets:
But in 1945 the Bank of Japan had no interest in creating a banking crisis and a credit crunch recession. Instead it wanted to ensure that bank credit would flow again, delivering economic growth. So the Bank of Japan bought the non-performing assets from the banks – not at market value (close to zero), but significantly above market value.
Werner’s third example was the US Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing program, in which it bought $1.7 trillion in mortgage-backed securities from the banks. These securities were widely understood to be “toxic” – Wall Street’s own burden of NPLs. Again the move worked: the banks did not collapse, the economy got back on its feet, and the much-feared inflation did not result.
In each of these cases, he wrote:
The operations were a complete success. No inflation resulted. The currency did not weaken. Despite massive non-performing assets wiping out the solvency and equity of the banking sector, the banks’ health was quickly restored. In the UK and Japanese case, bank credit started to recover quickly, so that there was virtually no recession at all as a result.
James McGill Buchanan’s vision of totalitarian capitalism has infected public policy in the US. Now it’s being exported
How to Hide $400 Million [("Ideal," thinks Trump.) Tax-shelters have evolved into a distributed, international system of deregulation loopholes enabling vast worldwide corruption]
When a wealthy businessman set out to divorce his wife, their fortune vanished. The quest to find it would reveal the depths of an offshore financial system bigger than the U.S. economy.
The Financial Times headline is uncharacteristically dramatic: America’s Middle Class Meltdown: core shrinks to half of US homes.
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