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Established 1973 — Last updated: Monday, April 24, 2017, 5:13 PM
Aggregated news for a better world – we raise awareness of what corporate media suppresses
Today's posts in bigger type—>
Prior 2/3 days in little type.
Clarity requires effort
Obama's ACA didn't fix this:
The U.S. wastes $1.6 Trillion/yr on bloated health care spending compared with the 2013 OECD per capita average of advanced countries, which becomes extra cost overhead on U.S. exports—resulting in offshoring manufacturing and jobs. Let's end price gouging and adopt efficient practices instead of cutting Medicare and Medicaid coverage as part of some "Grand Bargain"
In 2015 US total per capita health care spending was $9451, $5044 more per person than in France without better results.

Lastly, importantly, health worker pay is NOT the problem.

....McPherson’s is the first survey to quantify and assess the big picture.

It’s not a pretty one.

His initial estimate is that just one particularly dangerous menace — the polyphagous shot hole borer beetle — could kill as many as 27 million trees in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties, including parts of the desert.

That’s roughly 38% of the 71 million trees in the 4,244 square mile urban region with a population of about 20 million people.

And that insect is just one of the imminent threats.

“Many of the trees we grow evolved in temperate climates and can’t tolerate the stress of drought, water restrictions, higher salinity levels in recycled water, wind and new pests that arrive almost daily via global trade and tourism, local transportation systems, nurseries and the movement of infected firewood,” he said.

If as many trees as projected die, the cost to remove and replace them could be about $36 billion, he said.

But Southern Californians would face many other costs.

“Catastrophic loss of our canopy,” McPherson said, “would have consequences for human health and well-being, property values, air-conditioning savings, carbon storage, the removal of pollutants from the air we breathe, and wildlife habitat.”

Jerrold Turney, plant pathologist for Los Angeles County, likened the surge in urban tree mortality to “watching a train wreck in slow motion.”

“It’s heartbreaking,” he said, “to see trees dying in such dramatic numbers in famously lush cities like Pasadena, Alhambra and Arcadia: sycamores, all the maples, olives, liquidambers, flower plums, myrtles, oleanders and oaks.”

Mark Hoddle, director of UC Riverside’s Center for Invasive Species, said that the tree loss is “starting to cascade across the urban landscape.”

“Without shade trees, water temperatures will rise and algae will bloom in riparian areas, for instance,” Hoddle said. “As a result, fish, frog and native insect populations will diminish, along with the pleasure of hiking, because there’ll be nothing to look at but dead boughs of trees.”

Louis Sahagun | LA Times
Electric flying car that takes off vertically could be future of transport [videos; new solid-state lithium battery technolgy—led? by Dr. Goodenough—may double performance and recharge speed while eliminating risk of lithium battery fire; but what about Trump's border wall?]
German company Lilium beats Google and Uber to successfully test a VTOL jet that could be used as a city taxi

....Munich-based Lilium, backed by investors who include Skype co-founder Niklas Zennström, said the planned five-seater jet, which will be capable of vertical take-off and landing, could be used for urban air-taxi and ride-sharing services.

In flight tests, a two-seat prototype executed manoeuvres that included a mid-air transition from hover mode – like a drone – to wing-borne flight - like a conventional aircraft, Lilium said.

....Lilium said its jet, with a range of 190 miles and cruising speed of 186mph, is the only electric aircraft capable of both vertical take-off and jet-powered flight.

The jet, whose power consumption is comparable to an electric car, could offer passenger flights at prices comparable to normal taxis but with speeds five times faster, Lilium said.

Staff and Reuters | The Guardian
Polar photographer Paul Nicklen is capturing some of Earth's most remote places before they disappear.
JOHN LIGHT | Moyers & Company
The astrophysicist says that when you have people who don't know much about science denying it and rising to power, it's a recipe for the complete dismantling of our democracy.
Bill Nye the Science Guy on Trump: 'We are in a dangerous place' [We need the opposite of Trump to advance the country and world]
Ahead of a massive March for Science in Washington, the popular TV educator attacked the Trump administration’s dismissal of ‘objective truths’

....Nye is an honorary co-chair of the March for Science, which will see thousands of scientists and their supporters gather in Washington DC on Saturday. More than 600 companion marches will also occur around the world.

Organizers have said that science is “under attack” and that the march, the first of its kind, will remind politicians and the public of the importance of evidence-based policymaking. Some scientists have, however, voiced concern about getting involved in a political fight with Trump.

The Trump administration has proposed cuts to science programs amounting to around $7bn, including cancer research, coastal resiliency work and climate research. This week, Jeff Sessions, the US attorney general, announced the dismantling of the National Commission on Forensic Science, a body that works to improve the accuracy of forensic evidence in criminal cases.

Scientists have also been alarmed by what many see as anti-science comments by Trump’s appointees. Scott Pruitt, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, has set about rewriting many of the agency’s pollution rules and has denied that carbon dioxide, a key greenhouse gas, is a primary cause of global warming. This is contrary to the advice of his own agency’s scientists.

“The arbitrary nature of the cuts are worrying,” Nye said. “When they say they are going to cut one regulation for every two, where do they get that number? Are we going to start driving on the other side of the street and not regulate air traffic?

“There is a technique of dismantling government from within, which is the thinking of (Trump adviser Steven) Bannon. They are hiring the least qualified people on the planet to run the agencies, such as Mr Pruitt at the EPA and Ms (Betty) DeVos at the department of education.

“The idea that regulations are inherently bad is misguided. We will be reminding politicians of the importance of science tomorrow.”

Oliver Milman | The Guardian
Tens of thousands rally across the world in a rebuke of Donald Trump’s dismissal of climate science

Tens of thousands of scientists are this weekend rallying around the world in a rebuke of Donald Trump’s dismissal of climate science and attempts to cut large areas of scientific research.

More than 600 marches, largely concentrated in the US, Europe, South America and Australia, began amid warnings from organisers that science is “under attack” from the Trump administration.

....Australian scientists and supporters flocked to 12 national events, including Brisbane, Canberra, Hobart, Adelaide, and Melbourne.

“It is very important that the March for Science is a community-led march; it’s a statement that is coming from the community,” professor Stuart Khan, an organiser of the Sydney march, told the ABC.

“It’s not led by the academics, it’s not led by eminent scientists because it’s not about them, it’s about the community saying: ‘This is what is important to us’.”

In Melbourne, immunologist and nobel laureate Prof Peter Doherty called for a price on carbon.

A preview of his speech on Friday said there were “major threats to the global culture of science” in today’s world.

“Why? A clear understanding of what is happening with, for example, the atmosphere, oceans and climate creates irreconcilable problems for powerful vested interests, particularly in the fossil fuel and coastal real estate sectors.”

Helen Davidson and Oliver Milman | The Guardian
Nearly 40 million people live in UK areas with illegal air pollution [rather than maximizing profit—and death—from fossil fuels, better policy embracing science could dramatically improve life on earth]
Exclusive: analysis commissioned by Labour reveals 59% of Britons live in areas where diesel pollution threatens health
Sandra Laville | The Guardian

Modern Water plc, the owner of world-leading technologies for water and wastewater treatment and for water quality monitoring, announces that it has secured a sale of its proprietary Forward Osmosis (“FO”) technology for seawater desalination to Hangzhou Water Treatment Technology Development Center Co. Ltd (“Hangzhou Water”) in China.

The Company will license its patented FO technology and provide its extensive engineering know-how to Hangzhou Water, for use in a new 500m3/day seawater desalination plant, to be built at the Shengsi Seawater Desalination Base on Sijiao Island.

Hangzhou Water is one of the region’s leading providers of water desalination and through its ultimate parent, the China National Chemical Corporation, is part-owned by the Chinese government.

Modern Water will receive licence fees in the short term; and commissioning fees for supervising commissioning of the plant; as well as selling Hangzhou Water specialised equipment and spares on a long term basis. Hangzhou Water anticipates that the new desalination plant will be completed and commissioned into service in early 2018.

This is the first example of Modern Water’s platform FO process being deployed in China. In this case, the innovative technology is being used to produce desalinated water, where, compared to conventional processes, it will reduce membrane fouling and as a result, require less energy consumption. The process inherently produces a high quality product water on a long term basis, with a double membrane barrier between the seawater and the desalinated water. These advantages reduce the operating costs for Hangzhou Water, as well as helping to mitigate any environmental impact of the operation.

SOURCE: Modern Water plc | Water Online
National Grid expects the UK to reach coal energy ‘watershed’ on Friday in what will also be the country’s first 24-hour coal-free period
Georgia Brown | The Guardian

With his upcoming visit to East Chicago, Indiana, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has a critical opportunity to make good on his confirmation statement—that EPA should have “acted faster” in Flint—by stepping in to ensure that residents throughout East Chicago have reliable access to drinking water that is not contaminated by lead.

Petition for Immediate Federal Response to Lead in Drinking Water

NRDC and a large coalition of local citizens, environmental clinics, state and national groups called for such action in an emergency petition submitted to EPA in early March. The petition highlights an EPA pilot study at East Chicago’s Superfund site that EPA has concluded indicates a system-wide problem with elevated lead in East Chicago’s drinking water. The petition invokes EPA’s authority under the Safe Drinking Water Act, asking the agency to immediately provide, among other things:

  • oversight of East Chicago’s ongoing attempts to improve its corrosion control treatment;
  • expanded blood lead level testing of children under age 7;
  • bottled water and home water filtration systems to residents throughout the city, with a preference for residents of the Superfund site; and
  • testing of the city’s drinking water to determine the extent of the contamination.
Meleah Geertsma | Common Dreams
How to Stop Drug Price Gouging [and why hasn't the U.S. Government done this?]
Tim Wu Op-Ed | The New York Times
Findings show that company's activities undermine basic human rights, victims of multinational corporations need better protective regulations and international courts should recognize ecocide as a crime

On Tuesday, the Monsanto Tribunal of international judges presented in The Hague their legal opinion after 6 months of analysing the testimonies of more than 30 witnesses, lawyers and experts. Their conclusions are that Monsanto’s practices undermine basic human rights and the right to a healthy environment, the right to food, the right to health, it calls for better protective regulations for victims of multinational corporations and concludes that International law should clearly assert the protection of the environment and ‘ecocide’ as a crime.

Ruchi Shroff | Common Dreams
The impact of diesel particulates and nitrogen oxides on our health has reached catastrophic levels. My bill will make the right to clean air a reality

Every weekday, millions of primary school children across the UK put their lives at risk. Break time brings relief for busy teachers and is often met with screams of delight as children run out onto the playground. But in many of our major cities, tens of thousands of children in hundreds of schools, nurseries and colleges are at risk as they inhale diesel pollution breaching EU air quality standards.

Across the UK, more than 40,000 people die prematurely from diesel pollution, at a cost of £20bn each year, according to the Royal Colleges of Physicians and of Paediatrics 2016 report. Now 50% of new cars are diesel, with each car producing many times more fumes than laboratory tests had previously indicated. The VW scandal has shown that the motor industry cannot be trusted and the royal colleges’ report finds that babies and children are particularly at risk. Foetuses in pregnant women exposed to air pollution are more likely to suffer effects to their lungs, heart and neurological development. Children in “clean air zones”, areas where the air quality problem is most serious, have a 10% reduced lung capacity and have more respiratory problems, together with effects on their nervous, immune and cardiovascular systems. This leads to physical and mental health problems in later life.

Geraint Davies | The Guardian

dryriver | SlashDot

....Researchers, Eicke Latz at the University of Bonn and colleagues, followed up on the 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.

Beth Mole | ars technica | Ref.
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
Ian Sample | Guardian | Ref.
JOE ROMM | Climate Progress | Ref. | Ref.
Green buildings and better infrastructure would not only spur economic growth but also cut carbon emissions equal to India’s annual output
Suzanne Goldenberg | Guardian | Ref.

A growing body of evidence suggests pollution can do a number on the brain. 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.

Gabrielle Canon | Mother Jones | Ref.
Janet Redman / Foreign Policy in Focus | Informed Comment | Ref.
Though Canada's system is the second most expensive in the world per capita, it would save America $1.3 Trillion/yr and cover everyone
OLGA KHAZAN | Atlantic | Ref.
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]
CBS News | Ref.
Elisabeth Rosenthal in New York Times | Ref.

Coca-Cola and Nestlé have recently closed facilities, and Starbucks is bracing for a global shortage of coffee – all due to effects from climate change. Climate change impacts every resource used by businesses: from agriculture, water, land and energy to workers and the economy. No business will be untouched.

As a researcher and professor of business management, I have found that sustainable business courses across the U.S. do not align with the scientific consensus that we need radical change to avert disastrous consequences of climate change.

These future business leaders are not being prepared for the climate change challenges their companies are certain to face.

Sustainability in business

The world’s climate scientists have determined that our best chance to avoid the most dangerous effects of climate change is to keep rising global temperatures to no more than 2 degrees Celsius. They also determined that the world needs dramatic reductions in greenhouse gases to hit that goal.

California, for instance, has imposed stringent laws on clean air, vehicle emissions and energy efficiency standards. The state also mandated a 40 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. California has proven that reductions are possible – while maintaining a healthy economy.

In the U.S. and worldwide, business and industry are the primary sources of greenhouse gas emissions – contributing anywhere from 6 percent for buildings to 25 percent for electricity production globally.

Reducing carbon emissions is the most common sustainability goal for companies. Many companies do this by becoming more energy efficient and reducing waste. But, as a whole, corporate sustainability efforts are best described as business as usual, with only small gradual improvements being made. Businesses are simply failing to grasp the deep change that is needed.

There is a huge gap between the path we are on and where the science shows we need to be....

Nancy E. Landrum | The Conversation


Unprofessional journalists are 'roasted'.
BOB SOMERBY in The Daily Howler | EVERY DAY
Three months in, the future is totally unpredictable. But a dramatic fightback is under way. Four activists tell us how they are adapting to the new normal

Linda Tirado:....Three months in, my neighbours who discuss politics in public and voted for Trump seem to be split between unreasonable partisan shills and people who voted for disruption because it was that or more of the same. It seems many people really were hoping that someone with no experience might – just maybe – do it differently. Only he’s turning out to be worse than anyone we’ve ever had so far and now discussion is turning to whether we even have a functioning government any more.

It’s a fight between what I know my country should be and what I see it turning into, which is the plaintive cry of all American millennials. I am 34 years old and I have watched my country poisoned by fear and hate, watched generations before me sell out my future and that of my children, watched us destroy the whole world’s economy and within months get back to business as usual and record highs in the markets. I do not have youthful hope for America, not now, and certainly not in Trump’s twisted version of freedom and progress where we hate and fear anyone who isn’t exactly like us and we have no charity for a fellow citizen. I was no fan of Hillary Clinton either, but at least she was only likely to enrich herself and her friends within reasonable limits. I can understand wanting power for power’s sake even if I wish leadership looked less like plutocracy. But I cannot, will not fathom the intentional hollowing of everything I have been taught to cherish.

Naomi Wolf, Alicia Garza, Linda Tirado and May Boeve | The Guardian
More than 600 marches held around the world, with organizers saying science ‘under attack’ from a White House that dismisses the threat of climate change

Hundreds of thousands of climate researchers, oceanographers, bird watchers and other supporters of science rallied in marches around the world on Saturday, in an attempt to bolster scientists’ increasingly precarious status with politicians.

The main March for Science event was held in Washington DC, where organizers made plans for up to 150,000 people to flock to the national mall, although somewhat fewer than that figure braved the rain to attend. Marchers held a range of signs. Some attacked Donald Trump, depicting the president as an ostrich with his head in the sand or bearing the words: “What do Trump and atoms have in common? They make up everything.”

More than 600 marches took place around the world, on every continent bar Antarctica, in events that coincided with Earth Day.

The marches, the first of their kind, were officially non-political. They were however conceived by three US-based researchers – Caroline Weinberg, Valorie Aquino and Jonathan Berman – after Trump’s inauguration. Organizers have said science is “under attack” from the Trump administration and many protesters excoriated the president with signs that likened him to a dangerous orange toxin or disparaged his now defunct university .

Oliver Milman | The Guardian
Says one former business partner, "The headline will be ‘The Kazakh Gangster and President Trump.'"

The words were positively polite, at least for a man convicted of assault and racketeering. It was the implied target of his blackmail threat that was unusual: the president of the United States.

The threat came from Felix Sater, a Russian-American businessman who partnered with Donald Trump in launching the Trump Soho, a hotel-condominium project in New York City. The building was funded by Sater’s boss, Tevfik Arif, a mogul from Kazakhstan. In 2007, Trump’s children, Donald Jr., Eric and Ivanka attended the unveiling ceremony for the 46-story luxury tower in Manhattan.

Trump, Arif and Sater were photographed standing next to one another at that event. Since then, the three men have parted ways in a haze of recriminations, lawsuits and amnesia.

The Threat

Sater’s attorney came right to the point in a February 2 letter to Arif’s attorney about $3.5 million in disputed legal fees, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.

“Clearly, if this matter between Mr. Sater and Mr. Arif escalates to public litigation, the media spotlight will be negatively cast on Mr. Arif and his past relationship with President Trump and the Republic of Kazakhstan,” the attorney wrote.

In the correspondence reviewed by the Journal, Sater warned he might file another lawsuit in which he would allege wrongdoing in Arif’s dealings in the post-Soviet metals business in Kazakhstan. “The headline will be, ‘The Kazakh Gangster and President Trump,’” Sater warned.

Group of Mental Health Professionals Warn Trump's State 'Putting Country in Danger' [the Goldwater Rule is excessive courtesy if it shields Trump from suspect mental health evaluation]
Despite professional rule barring them from doing so, psychological experts have argued that "too much is at stake to be silent any longer"

A group of mental health professionals gathered at Yale University Thursday to discuss what they believe is their duty to warn the public of the "danger" posed by President Donald Trump.

The "Duty to Warn" event was attended by roughly two dozen people and was organized Dr. Bandy Lee, assistant clinical professor in the Yale Department of Psychiatry, the CTPost writes. Lee called the mental health of the president "the elephant in the room," and said: "Colleagues are concerned about the repercussions of speaking."

"We do believe that Donald Trump's mental illness is putting the entire country, and indeed the entire world, in danger." —Dr. John Gartner, Duty to Warn

Yale did not sponsor the event, and said that conference-goers were expected to follow the Goldwater Rule. Enacted in 1973, it bars psychiatrists from giving their professional opinion on the mental health of a person they have not met. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) last month reaffirmed its support for the rule. In fact, the Duty to Warn group "has drawn considerable criticism from the psychiatric establishment" for flouting the rule, the Associated Press writes.

"Basically, one cannot speak of public figures under any circumstance," Lee said, according to NPR member station WSHU. "And to do that under this current climate of grave concern is, in my mind, is actually a political statement.”

"We do believe that Donald Trump's mental illness is putting the entire country, and indeed the entire world, in danger," argued Dr. John Gartner, a psychologist who used to teach at Johns Hopkins University, local WTNH writes. "As health professionals we have an ethical duty to warn the public about that danger," he said.

"Worse than just being a liar or a narcissist, in addition he is paranoid, delusional and grandiose thinking and he proved that to the country the first day he was President. If Donald Trump really believes he had the largest crowd size in history, that's delusional," Gartner added.

Andrea Germanos, staff writer | Common Dreams
Despite professional rule barring them from doing so, psychological experts have argued that "too much is at stake to be silent any longer"

House Republicans are apparently ready for yet another attempt to snatch health insurance away from constituents who need it. Someone should remind Speaker Paul Ryan of a saying often attributed to his legendary predecessor Sam Rayburn: “There’s no education in the second kick of the mule.”

Having failed miserably to win passage of an abomination of a bill — the American Health Care Act — Ryan (R-Wis.) and his minions are back with something even worse. A draft framework being circulated this week would pretend to keep the parts of Obamacare that people like, but allow states to take these benefits away. We see what you’re doing, folks.

"Ayn Rand would be so proud — but it is atrocious policy, even if you put aside considerations such as compassion and community."

This is getting silly. What part of “forget it” do Republicans not understand?

I realize there is great pressure to follow through on the GOP promise to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act. And I realize that President Trump, nearing the 100-day mark, sorely needs a legislative victory to tweet about. King Pyrrhus needed a win, too, but that didn’t work out too well for him.

Republicans don’t talk much about the practical reason for moving urgently on health care, which is to set the stage for tax reform: They want to take money now used to subsidize health care for low-income Americans and give it to the wealthy in the form of big tax cuts. Again, we can see you.

Calling Obamacare a "crisis," House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said that Republicans are "in the midst of negotiating finishing touches" on their new health-care plan on April 19. (Reuters)

I’m sure the crowds at GOP town halls will be understanding. Just be sure to check attendees at the door for tar and feathers.

The new proposal — brokered by Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.), of the moderate Tuesday Group, and Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), of the far-right Freedom Caucus — is like a parody, as if life-or-death access to health care were fodder for a “Saturday Night Live” sketch.

Eugene Robinson / Washington Post | Common Dreams
This time, judges found the statehouse maps to be intentional racial gerrymanders.

In March, a panel of federal judges ruled that Texas’s current congressional district maps had been intentionally drawn to “pack” and “dilute” minority votes in three districts in a way that constituted not only partisan advantage—which is legal—but racial discrimination. Earlier this month, a federal district court found that the Texas law requiring strict voter ID not only had racially disparate effects, but that “a discriminatory purpose was at least one of the substantial or motivating factors” in its creation.

Thursday, another three-judge federal panel completed the trifecta, issuing a 171-page ruling finding that Texas’s statehouse districts are also racial gerrymanders, were also intentionally drawn to dilute votes based on race, and also violate the “one person one vote” principle of equal-sized voting districts that is the core consideration of the Voting Rights Act.

For Texas Republicans, the three rulings represent a major blow to a package of party-favorable voting laws passed in 2011 under then-Governor Rick Perry. Then, all Texan voting laws and many of those across the post-Jim Crow South were still subject to “preclearance,” or oversight by the Department of Justice and federal courts, based on Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. The political maps were immediately caught up in judicial review and have been ever since. The voter-ID law, however, was blocked until the Supreme Court of the United States, in the 2013 case of Shelby County v. Holder, essentially struck down the preclearance requirement. After that decision, Texas immediately enacted the law, and the Department of Justice and several other voting-rights organizations sued to block it.

VANN R. NEWKIRK II | The Atlantic
Top two finishers from 11 candidates will advance to runoff on 7 May that will decide the country’s next president

....France’s overseas territories and French residents in the US and Canada voted on Saturday so as not to be influenced by the results of the election on the mainland, which will be known on Sunday evening from about 7pm BST.

French media reported that voters queued for up to three hours in Montreal in a queue that stretched for over 2km, suggesting an exceptionally high turnout after arguably the most remarkable election campaign in memory.

More than 50,000 police and 7,000 soldiers will be on duty for polling day in France, which has been in a state of emergency for more than 18 months after a wave of Islamist attacks that have killed 239 people since January 2015.

Analysts were divided on whether the shooting on Thursday night of officer Xavier Jugelé by Karim Cheurfi, who had served 14 years in prison for violent crimes including the attempted murder of two policemen, would affect the vote.

Le Pen moved swiftly to position herself as the hardline candidate on Islamist extremism, calling for France to take back control of its borders from the EU immediately and deport all foreigners on its terror watch list. “This war against us is ceaseless and merciless,” she said, accusing the Socialist government of a “cowardly” response to the threat. But the prime minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, angrily accused her of trying to exploit the killing.

Jon Henley | The Guardian
Europe and Britain wait to see which way France’s voters will turn

After months of political shocks, high-profile scandals and fraught campaigning, the outcome of France’s presidential election remains clouded in uncertainty, but the potentially momentous consequences of today’s first-round vote, for the French, for Europe and for Britain, are clear.

It is often said at election time that this or that country is at a crossroads. On this occasion, this platitude has the ring of truth. With voters apparently split four ways, and with up to one-third undecided on the eve of the poll, this divided country, crying out for change yet uncertain how to achieve it, is undoubtedly at a turning point.

There is no shortage of choices. On the far right stands Marine Le Pen, leader of the Front National, whose skilful drive to transform her father’s neo-fascist fringe group into a credible and respectable party may be about to bear fruit. Le Pen has focused on immigration, borders and sovereignty. Aping Donald Trump, she says she wants to put France first. In his usual arrogant way, the US president effectively endorsed Le Pen last week, calling her the “strongest” candidate. Such blatant interference is insufferable. His approval is as good a reason as any for not voting for her. There are plenty of others. Scrabbling for last-minute converts, Le Pen vows to close borders to immigrants. Last week’s terrorist attack in Paris, in which a gunman sympathetic to Islamic State killed a policeman and injured others, may help firm up support, although other terrorist outrages have not had a major impact on voter behaviour. The French have shown admirable resilience in the face of these horrors. But the attack will be exploited by those on the right who decry what they see as the dangers of Anglo-Saxon multiculturalism.

The threat represented by Le Pen stretches far beyond France’s borders. In a post-Brexit, post-Trump world of crude, populist reaction, Le Pen has become the European standard bearer for divisive nationalism, xenophobia and the fear of others. Her advance has encouraged like-minded emulators in Germany. Despite its leadership problems, the far-right Alternative für Deutschland is on the march. So, too, are other rightwing factions across Europe. If elected, Le Pen’s promised withdrawal from the euro and her possible championing of “Frexit” would be potentially fatal for the EU in a way that Brexit is not.

A Le Pen victory would be a disaster all round and there can be little doubt that Theresa May’s government, or its successor, would find either of the other two leading candidates a more congenial partner. Despite his faux-insurgent posturing, Emmanuel Macron, a former economy minister from an elite background, is the sort of French politician London is accustomed to dealing with. Macron is described as a centrist of the left, youthful, modernising, liberal on social issues, Anglophone, with a technocratic background. That makes him more of a Tony Blair than a Theresa May. He could be expected to take a rational, not overtly hostile approach to the Brexit negotiations.

François Fillon, the centre-right’s candidate, is harder to evaluate, if only because he has chopped and changed during the campaign. He has supposedly enjoyed a bit of a comeback since his low point this year over his alleged abuse of public funds, the subject of a criminal inquiry. In the process, he has modified his austerity agenda. As official candidate of the republican right, Fillon has the experience and the backing of an established parliamentary and electoral machine. As campaigning ended, Macron was ahead. But if Fillon can push him aside to reach the 7 May second round, two-candidate run-off, these advantages could make him a more effective opponent for Le Pen.

The fourth most prominent candidate, the hard-left Jean-Luc Mélenchon, is occupying space surrendered by the Socialist party, whose campaign has been lamentable. That surrender has much to do with the abject failure of the Socialist presidency of François Hollande. But the increase in support for Mélenchon also reflects a deep yearning across the country for a different, better, more equitable way of running things. How he fares will be closely watched by the Labour party. His performance will be taken as a possible indication of Jeremy Corbyn’s fate in June. In France, as in Britain, the desire for change is palpable. How that desire is expressed says a lot about the sort of countries we have become.

Observer editorial | The Guardian
Jason Burke reports from Baidoa in Somalia, where more than 6 million people need assistance after two years without rain

....Sadiye’s child was killed by cholera or a related bacterial infection, contracted because of poor sanitation. She suffered massive fluid loss leading to shock and organ failure. Cholera can kill a malnourished and dehydrated child in hours. It is easily treated, but only if the sick can get medical help fast. Endemic in Somali, cholera and other diseases are now spreading faster and further than anyone has seen for many years.

The drought too is the most severe in living memory. Aid agencies believe more than 6 million people in Somalia need assistance, of whom about half are threatened with famine. Two years have gone by without rain. Cattle are dead, wells dry and fields empty.

Jason Burke | The Guardian
Disaster insurance offers a new model for economic self-sufficiency. In African countries, every $1 invested saves $4.40 in the aftermath of an emergency
Assia Sidibe | The Guardian
With only a few days to go before the first round of voting, a systemic crisis is dominating the campaign in France. It is no longer inconceivable that a Euroskeptic radical leftist or a far-right populist could become the country's next president. This bodes poorly for the French, but also their neighbors in Europe.

It sounds like a political parody -- or like a badly overwritten European take on "West Wing." A right-wing populist party has spent months at the top of the polls, neck-and-neck with the former rising star of an entrenched party who decided to bolt and found his own political movement. Right on their heels is the far-left candidate who is experiencing a late surge and outpolling the centrist establishment. Meanwhile, the incumbent, having governed his way to historically low public opinion ratings, has decided not to run for re-election and his party is dead in the water. And the center-right candidate, who looked strong out of the gate, has become embroiled in multiple embarrassing affairs involving greed, his wife and more greed. But he has remained in the race anyway and still has a shot.

It is, of course, a completely unrealistic scenario, but it is the thrilling truth in France in April 2017. The main players are Marine Le Pen, Emmanuel Macron, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, François Hollande and François Fillon -- and together, they are illustrating a complete breakdown of established politics in France.

Like elsewhere in Europe, France has seen the erosion in stature in recent years of its two main political parties, which once set the course in the country but have diminished considerably compared to the prominence they enjoyed for decades. Populists on the far-right and far-left are gaining in popularity, offering voters the illusion of collective withdrawal: from Europe, from NATO, from globalization, from "the system" and, if they had their way, from the foreigners in our midst.

By Ullrich Fichtner and Julia Amalia Heyer | Der Spiegel
Birmingham is the city outside London with the most unused properties, followed by Bradford and Liverpool, new figures show

....Across London there were 19,845 homes sitting idle for over six months in 2016, which amounted to £9.4bn worth of property, based on the average price in London of £474,704.

In response squatters groups have sought to occupy empty homes, with one group in January taking over a £15m central London property purchased by a Russian oligarch in 2014 to open it as a homeless shelter.

....The trend for the world’s super-rich to invest in prime London property as a way to safeguard their wealth, without the need to secure a rental income, has meant the number of empty homes in Kensington and Chelsea rose 22.7% over the same period and 8.5% since 2015.

Property Partner said a large drop in the number of empty homes across England from 2006 stalled in 2015. The figures for 2016 showed little progress.

Phillip Inman | The Guardian
In a unanimous statement, the council condemned Pyongyang for its ‘highly destabilizing behavior’ as US ambassador Nikki Haley considered new sanctions
Source: AFP | The Guardian

....Something is wrong when Juicero and Theranos are in the headlines, and bad behavior from Uber executives overshadows actual innovation.

$120 million in venture funding from Google Ventures and Kleiner Perkins, for a juicer? And the founder, Doug Evans, calling himself himself Steve Jobs "in his pursuit of juicing perfection?" And how is Theranos's Elizabeth Holmes walking around freely?

These stories are embarrassing, yes. But there's something deeper going on here. Silicon Valley, an international treasure that birthed the technology of our age, is being destroyed.

Monopolies are now so powerful that they dictate the roll-out of new technology, and the only things left to invest in are the scraps that fall off the table.

Sometimes those scraps are Snapchat, which managed to keep alive, despite what Ben Thompson calls 'theft' by Facebook.

Sometimes it's, which was destroyed and bought out by Amazon through predatory pricing. And sometimes it's Juicero and Theranos.

It's not that Juicero and Theranos that are the problem. Mistakes — even really big, stupid ones — happen.

It's that there is increasingly less good stuff to offset the bad. was embarrassing in 2000, but that was also when Google was getting going. Today it's all scraps.

When platform monopolies dictate the roll-out of technology, there is less and less innovation, fewer places to invest, less to invent. Eventually, the rhetoric of innovation turns into DISRUPT, a quickly canceled show on MSNBC, and Juicero, a Google-backed punchline.

This moment of stagnating innovation and productivity is happening because Silicon Valley has turned its back on its most important political friend: antitrust. Instead, it's embraced what it should understand as the enemy of innovation: monopoly.

Matt Stoller | Business Insider
The capture of our regulatory and political system by big and powerful corporations is real. And it is a central and disturbing theme in the new book by Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts.
Orders signed Friday are 'nothing more than special favors for the same Wall Street banks that crashed our economy in 2008 and put millions of Americans out of work'

In yet another Wall Street giveaway, President Donald Trump on Friday afternoon took executive action to chip away at Dodd-Frank financial regulations and roll back rules aimed at reducing corporate tax avoidance.

"The biggest bailout in the financial crash went to insurance firm AIG, which fell through one such crack. An executive order that questions this oversight can signal to firms intent on high-risk financial ventures that playtime is back."
—Bartlett Naylor, Public Citizen

Lisa Gilbert, vice president of legislative affairs for watchdog group Public Citizen, described the orders signed Friday at the Treasury Department as "nothing more than special favors for the same Wall Street banks that crashed our economy in 2008 and put millions of Americans out of work."

According to ABC News, Trump signed "two presidential memoranda on the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010, which former President [Barack] Obama signed in response to the 2007-2008 financial crisis." They order two six-month reviews of what the Los Angeles Times called "pillars" of Dodd-Frank: the Orderly Liquidation Authority and the Financial Stability Oversight Council.

The first was established "to create a process for winding down a large, failing financial company in a way that protects taxpayers from large bailouts such as the ones paid out in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis," as the Washington Post explains. The second "called on federal regulators to identify which financial institutions were large enough to merit enhanced regulation, as their collapse could destabilize the economy as a whole," according to the Post.

"Republican Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson conceived the Financial Stability Oversight Council as a forum for catching financial risks that fall through the cracks between the various regulatory agencies," said Public Citizen financial policy advocate Bartlett Naylor on Friday. "The biggest bailout in the financial crash went to insurance firm AIG, which fell through one such crack. An executive order that questions this oversight can signal to firms intent on high-risk financial ventures that playtime is back."

Trump previously signed an order directing a roll-back of Dodd-Frank overall.

Trump also signed an executive order directing Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to review "all significant 2016 tax regulations to determine if they impose an undue financial burden on taxpayers, are needlessly complex, create unnecessary requirements, or exceed what's allowed under law."

Deirdre Fulton, staff writer | Common Dreams
Underlying the changes at the E.P.A. and the F.C.C. is a message to corporate America: the rules of the game are changing.

....Underlying all of these developments is a message from the Trump Administration to corporate America: the rules of the game are changing. The message has been heard, and the players are reacting to it accordingly. Dow Chemical, for example, is pressing the Administration to ignore scientific findings that some of its pesticides are harmful to endangered species. In letters addressed to the heads of three federal agencies, including the E.P.A., company lawyers “asked them ‘to set aside’ the results of government studies the companies contend are fundamentally flawed,” the Associated Press reported on Thursday.

Dow Chemical contributed a million dollars to the Trump Inauguration committee, and the company’s chairman, Andrew Liveris, is heading a White House working group on manufacturing. If that seems like blatant influence peddling, ExxonMobil has outdone it. The giant oil company, whose former C.E.O., Rex Tillerson, is now Secretary of State, is demanding an exemption from U.S. economic sanctions on Russia.

In 2012, Exxon reached a big exploration deal with Rosneft, an energy company owned by the Russian government. Following the invasion and annexation of Crimea, the Obama Administration imposed sanctions on Russia, which brought the deal to a halt. In July, 2015, Exxon applied to the Treasury Department for an exemption that would allow it to start drilling with Rosneft in the Black Sea, but this request was turned down. The company “renewed a push for approval in March, shortly after its most recent chief executive, Rex Tillerson, became secretary of state,” the Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday.

When Senator John McCain heard about Exxon’s renewed application for an exemption, he tweeted, “Are they crazy?” A State Department spokesperson told the Journal that Tillerson, who received a Russian Order of Friendship in recognition of his role in striking the exploration deal with Rosneft, won’t be involved in any decisions that involve his former firm. On Friday afternoon, the Treasury Department issued a one-sentence statement saying it would “not be issuing waivers to U.S. companies, including Exxon, authorizing drilling prohibited by current Russian sanctions.” Evidently, all the adverse publicity about Exxon’s request for special treatment had an impact. But it and other big companies won’t be put off. They know they have friends in the Administration, including the self-styled populist in the Oval Office.

Also on Friday, Trump signed another of his Presidential edicts, this one ordering a review of two reforms that Congress passed after the banking system almost collapsed in 2008. It is probably fair to say that most Americans don’t know what role the Financial Stability Oversight Council plays, or what powers Orderly Liquidation Authority grants to the federal government in the case of another crisis. But the big banks know all about them, and they don’t like either of them. Ergo, they are on the chopping block.

Whether or not fans of Ted Nugent and Kid Rock have realized it yet, that is how the Trump Administration works.

John Cassidy | The New Yorker

How to Hide $400 Million [("Ideal," thinks Trump.) Tax-shelters have evolved into a distributed, international system of deregulation loopholes that enable 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.
NICHOLAS CONFESSORE | The New York Times Magazine | Ref.

The Financial Times headline is uncharacteristically dramatic: America’s Middle Class Meltdown: core shrinks to half of US homes.

YVES SMITH | Naked Capitalism | Ref.
We're tracking where taxpayer money has gone in the ongoing bailout of the financial system. Our database accounts for both the broader $700 billion bill and the separate bailout of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
ProPublica | Ref.
SARAH ANDERSON in CounterPunch | Ref.
ANDREW HACKER in The New York Review of Books | Ref.
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