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A new scheme aims to lighten the lives of millions who live without electricity, with the promise of a possible 6% return
....Currently 600 million people in sub-Saharan Africa live without access to electricity. For example, in Uganda, the figure is just 7% of rural families. Many use traditional energy sources such as kerosene lamps, candles and batteries for their energy needs – but these can be extremely hazardous, as well as costly. Lamps and candles have been responsible for many house fires, while soot and fumes can cause health problems. Having a solar system can transform people’s lives in so many ways – allowing children to read and study in the evening, enabling families to charge their mobile phones, or enabling a stallholder to install a fridge so they can sell cold drinks.
Energise Africa is an initiative that provides working capital to businesses that sell solar home systems, the result of a link-up between Ethex, a UK-based ethical investment platform, and Lendahand, a Dutch-based crowdfunding platform. It was “soft launched” in the summer and is also being backed by Virgin Unite, the non-profit foundation of the Virgin Group.
The unprecedented downpour and severe flooding was also 15% more intense due to climate change, which is making weather more violent around the world
....The researchers said their new work shows global warming is making extreme weather events worse right now and in the US. The cost of the damage caused by Hurricane Harvey has been estimated at $190bn (£140bn), which would make it the most costly weather disaster in US history, more than Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy combined.
....Hurricane Harvey made first landfall on 25 August and then stalled over Texas, with torrential downpours dumping a year’s worth of rain on Houston and surrounding areas in a few days. In east Harris County, a record 132cm (52 inches) of rain fell over six days, the highest storm total in US history.
The WWA scientists used both historical rainfall records and high-resolution climate models to determine the influence of global warming. “This multi-method analysis confirms that heavy rainfall events are increasing substantially across the Gulf Coast region because of human interference with our climate system,” said Geert Jan van Oldenborgh, at the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI) and lead author of the new study published in Environmental Research Letters.
“It was very a rare event – they were very unlucky,” said van Oldenborgh. But the research shows the chance of it happening was raised threefold by climate change.
The team also estimated that, even if the world limits warming to the internationally agreed 2C limit, the likelihood of such extreme downpours will triple again. “But, if we miss those targets, the increase in frequency and intensity could be much higher,” said Karin van der Wiel, also at KNMI.
“The link between global warming and more extreme weather is nowhere more obvious than in the US. Even if Donald Trump isn’t seeing the picture, many others are,” said Richard Black at the ECIU.
Fidel Sandi’s Achuar community has been plagued with oil contamination for decades – but he is now able to collect and gather evidence for his claims
Scientists have identified 2 million species of living things. No one knows how many more are out there, and tens of thousands may be vanishing before we have even had a chance to encounter them.
....Although insecticides have been blamed for the declines in Europe, Erwin thinks the ultimate culprit is climate change. The location he has been observing in Ecuador is pristine, virgin rainforest. “There’s no insecticides, nothing at all,” he said. But gradually, almost imperceptibly, in the time he has been there, something has changed in the balance of the forest. Studying the data, Erwin and his collaborators have found that over the past 35 years, the Amazon rainforest has been slowly dying out. And if the forest goes, Erwin tells me, “everything that lives in it will be affected”.
If this trend were to continue indefinitely, the consequences would be devastating. Insects have been on Earth 1,000 times longer than humans have. In many ways, they created the world we live in. They helped call the universe of flowering plants into being. They are to terrestrial food chains what plankton is to oceanic ones. Without insects and other land-based arthropods, EO Wilson, the renowned Harvard entomologist, and inventor of sociobiology, estimates that humanity would last all of a few months. After that, most of the amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals would go, along with the flowering plants. The planet would become an immense compost heap, covered in shoals of carcasses and dead trees that refused to rot. Briefly, fungi would bloom in untold numbers. Then, they too would die off. The Earth would revert to what it was like in the Silurian period, 440m years ago, when life was just beginning to colonise the soil – a spongy, silent place, filled with mosses and liverworts, waiting for the first shrimp brave enough to try its luck on land.
As America is battered by climate-intensified weather disasters, Republican politicians are trying to slash climate research funding
Click for bigger image.
Billion-dollar weather and climate disasters in the US in 2017. Illustration: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
....Extreme weather fueled by human carbon pollution is occurring around the world. But in the midst of this, President Trump and many Republican elected officials want to decrease our spending on climate science. In the United States, we have flagship organizations like Nasa and Noaa that are our eyes and ears on the climate. But throughout the year, Trump has worked to get Nasa to sharply reduce or even stop climate research. Nasa has two main missions. One mission is exploration – going to Mars, the moon, and sending exploration satellites that look outward. The other part of Nasa’s mission is to look inwards, at our own planet. To do this, they use many instruments, including satellites to measure what is happening on Earth.
Trump and his administration want to jettison the Earth research portion of Nasa’s mission. This obviously isn’t to save money; the amount we spend on Earth-focused missions is very small. Rather, it is to halt research into the Earth’s climate. The following chart compares the cost savings from budget cuts with the extreme weather costs just this year in the USA.
Climate scientists have won the war on the facts. We know it is warming, we know how fast it is warming. We know what is causing the warming. And, we know what to do about it. Since Trump (and sadly the Republican Party as a whole) have lost that battle, they have decided to blind us so we just won’t know what is happening.
We should be investing in science and the instruments that scientists need (satellites, airplanes, computers, other sensors). And we should invest in the people. Without funding and jobs in climate science, how will we encourage the next generation of bright minds to enter this field?
...It is so sad that an entire political party has become branded as anti-science. It is sad, but their actions justify the branding.
....A lack of regulation on drug sales can be owed to the influence of the pharmaceutical industry in U.S. politics. The pharmaceutical industry has reportedly spent $2.5 billion in the past decade lobbying politicians, the most of any industry. Only 3 U.S. Senators have not taken donations from “Big Pharma” and only 1 out of 10 members of the House; the industry also employs 2 lobbyists for every member of Congress to ensure they are protected from regulations. The Pain Care Forum, an industry-funded interest group, spent $740m over a decade lobbying state and federal lawmakers against enacting limits on painkiller prescriptions.
- Sea ice also melting at fastest pace in 1,500 years, US government scientists find
- ‘The Arctic is a very different place than it was even a decade ago’ – author
Neonicotinoids, banned on flowering crops, were found in nearly all rivers tested, increasing concerns over their impact on fish and birds
Evidence is growing that neonicotinoids – the world’s most widely used insecticide – harm other species, such as songbirds. Neonicotinoids have been in use since the early 1990s and now contaminate landscapes around the world. But very little monitoring of their concentration in soils or water is done, a failing recently condemned by a UK government chief scientific adviser.
The first systematic testing of neonicotinoids in rivers in Britain was mandated by EU water regulations and conducted in 2016. The results, obtained by the conservation charity Buglife, show that half of the 16 rivers tested in England had either chronic or acute levels of contamination. Of the 23 rivers tested across Britain, neonicotinoids were not detected in six.
Partners in Health wants to rebuild entire countries’ medical systems, and bring health care to some of the poorest people on earth.
....Recently, Ophelia Dahl was in Rwanda, speaking to a group of graduate students at the University of Global Health Equity, which was opened in 2015 by Partners in Health, an aid organization that Dahl co-founded when she was very young. “For the first time in a lecture like that, I included my father as an example of the suggestion that you can transcend your training. Don’t do this thing where you say, ‘Well, I don’t know that that can be done.’ You have to keep pushing. You don’t say, ‘I’m sorry, I’m not an inventor, I’m a writer.’ I think it’s connected to feeling entitled in the right way: ‘Fuck it. I’m not going to stand for that.’ You push. You push, push, push.”
In the final version of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” Willy Wonka exhorts Grandpa Joe, “You mustn’t despair! Nothing is impossible!” On the Partners in Health Web site, the organization’s stated purpose is to bring the benefits of modern medical science to some of the poorest people in the world. (The group operates in Haiti, Peru, Mexico, Siberia, the Navajo Nation, Sierra Leone, Malawi, Lesotho, and Liberia, in addition to Rwanda.) But Partners in Health also aspires to do something more amorphous, more imaginative, and more improbable: “to serve as an antidote to despair.”
....William Easterly, the economist, pointed to a fundamental difficulty with P.I.H.’s approach. “If you’ve said, ‘There’s a right to health care,’ you haven’t said whose obligation it is to provide it,” he told me. “From an economist’s point of view, that’s kind of fatal. That is the major flaw of positive rights: Who is to blame if they’re not met?” A moral imperative is not the same as a financial solution. Regan Marsh, who spent four weeks wearing spacesuit-like protective gear to treat Ebola patients, said that, as P.I.H. was getting involved in Sierra Leone, Dahl handled government agencies with trepidation: “Ophelia was sitting with people saying, ‘O.K., we will do this, but we are not a disaster-relief program. We will come only if you say that you are going to stay.’ Everyone said, ‘Yes, yes, we will be your partner to put a health system in here.’ And then, as soon as Ebola appeared to be stabilized, the money evaporated.” Dahl told me that you could “hear the sucking sound” as aid was pulled out of West Africa in the wake of the disease. “But, without an effective health-care system, it’s a matter of time before it resurfaces.”
It was crucial, Dahl said, that during crises people could count on organizations like Médecins Sans Frontières—“I mean, thank God for M.S.F.”—to set up self-contained triage units. But it was frustratingly difficult to persuade donors that long-term solutions are as necessary as emergency intervention. M.S.F. receives more than a billion dollars a year from donors, whereas P.I.H. takes in about seventy million. (Both organizations have four-star ratings, the highest, from Charity Navigator.) P.I.H. Sierra Leone started with an annual budget of seventeen million dollars, which has declined to five million, as donations have trailed off. “I wish we had more money,” Dahl said. “The idea that we’re constrained because we can’t find enough money, and not because we’ve failed to adapt. . . . But that’s what money forces you to do: make a series of terrible tradeoffs.”
Kittiwakes and gannets are among seabirds that have joined endangered species on IUCN red list as food stocks dwindle, says study
....“Birds are well studied and great indicators of the health of the wider environment. A species at higher risk of extinction is a worrying alarm call that action needs to be taken now.”
The study found that overfishing and changes in the Pacific and north Atlantic caused by climate change have affected the availability of sand eels which black-legged kittiwakes feed on during the breeding season.
This has caused “disastrous chick survival rates”, it says, with nesting kittiwake numbers plummeting by 87% since 2000 on the Orkney and Shetland Islands, and by 96% on the Hebridean island of St Kilda.
Globally, the species is thought to have declined by about 40% since the 1970s, justifying its move from the “least concern” category to “vulnerable” on the Red List.
“The alarming decline of the black-legged kittiwake and other North Atlantic and Arctic seabirds, such as the Atlantic puffin, provides a painful lesson in what happens when nations take an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ approach to conservation,” said Marguerite Tarzia, European marine conservation officer for BirdLife International.
"The internet has given ordinary people more power than ever before. We're going to fight tooth and nail to make sure no one takes that power away."
Unprofessional journalists are 'roasted'
Sexual violence against women of color in the 40s went largely unpunished and a new film aims to shed light on one of the most courageous figures from the era
Sister Nora Nash regularly meets with CEOs of big banks, arms makers, and tobacco giants, using her order’s position as a shareholder to fight for change
Sister Nora Nash uses her portfolio of stocks to pressure corporations to improve their business practices. Photograph: Mark Makela for the Guardian
....The Sisters of St Francis worked for decades in Catholic schools and hospitals in Philadelphia, and their missionary work abroad continues today, with latrine construction in Haiti and other projects. “We have a mission to be of service to all aspects and segments of society,” Nash says.
But Sister Nora Nash’s current path leads inside of some of the world’s most exclusive boardrooms. Supported by her partners at the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, Nash has met with CEOs including Jamie Dimon (JP Morgan Chase), Brian Moynihan (Bank of America), Lloyd Blankfein (Goldman Sachs), Marilyn Hewson (Lockheed Martin), John Christmann (Apache Corporation) and Thomas Fanning (Southern Company).
Nash and her deputy, Tom McCaney, average about 90 actions – company dialogues or shareholder resolutions – per year.
Her vow of poverty has not prevented Nash from mastering the subtleties of securities regulations
“I dialogue with Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Boeing,” said Nash. “With the tobacco people. We do a lot of work in the oil and gas industry, because of the fracking and pipelines. Tom does all the health work, healthier food. I do climate change and of course a lot with banks. We are spread in a lot of areas.”
In an age when corporations are first in line for tax cuts but seemingly unaccountable when an economy sinks or an election tilts, Nash has sought leverage by joining the one group that big companies still have to listen to: shareholders.
Owning shares gives Nash an audience where her message might otherwise be unwelcome: shareholders can confront executives at annual meetings. They can form voting blocs to demand transparency. And they can draw corporate leaders into dialogues that sometimes lead to change.
The existence of a list of reportedly banned words—including "vulnerable," "entitlement," "diversity," "transgender," "fetus," "evidence-based" and "science-based"—was described by Sen. Kamala Harris as "downright ridiculous."
Brenda Fitzgerald is the CDC Director appointed by President Donald Trump. Government watchdogs, women's health advocates, lawmakers, and scientists are up in arms on Saturday after it was reported that the CDC has created and distributed a list of seven "forbidden" words and phrases that include: "transgender," "science-based," "diversity," and "fetus." (Photo: Branden Camp/AP)
....NARAL Pro-Choice America was among those decrying the news, the latest evidence of the Trump administration's blatant disregard for scientific integrity. Kaylie Hanson Long, the group's national communications director, compared it to something out of Margaret Atwood's dystopian novel, A Handmaid's Tale, which Trump and Vice President Mike Pence were using...as "a playbook" in order to push their far-right ideologies.
"[CDC] banned from using 'science-based' and "evidence-based' terms. Are we now going to use Voodoo & leeches to treat diseases?"
—Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.)
"Forbidding scientists and researchers from using medically accurate terminology in order to push an extreme, ideological agenda is more 'dystopia' than 'United States of America,'" Long said in a statement. "This latest move from the Trump administration amounts to yet another backdoor tactic to curtail Americans' basic rights and freedoms, including the right to access abortion, and will put lives in real danger."
Dana Singiser, vice president of public policy and government relations for Planned Parenthood, described it as "unimaginably dangerous" for the CDC to forbid its scientists and staff "from speaking about things essential to Americans' health. This edict doesn't just mean a change in vocabulary. It means the Trump-Pence administration is trying to make a radical change in the focus of the entire agency."
The threat to serious independent journalism has never been greater than it is today. Whatever one thinks of the Russia-gate imbroglio, what is perhaps the most troubling part is that it has been exploited to justify a crackdown on journalism that doesn’t follow the West’s dominant groupthinks.
Journalist Robert Parry
We are seeing the U.S. Congress pressure Google, Facebook and other Internet giants to impose algorithms and other artificial intelligence to ferret out and marginalize information that a collection of mainstream media outlets, known as Google’s First Draft Coalition, deems “propaganda” or “fake news.” The fact that many of the coalition’s members have deep-seated biases as well as a checkered record of getting facts straight is ignored in this rush to somehow “protect” American and Western audiences from deviant points of view.
Don’t get me wrong: having spent my entire adult life in journalism, no one detests made-up stories and crackpot conspiracy theories more than I do.
Regular readers of Consortiumnews know how careful we try to be in presenting well-reported information that stands the test of time and indeed is so solid that it has at times helped change history (as occurred in early 2017 when our work documenting Richard Nixon’s 1968 sabotage of the Vietnam War’s Paris peace talks was finally – grudgingly – accepted by the major news media as true, no longer just a “rumor” as one New York Times columnist wrote).
But the current rush to create a kind of Orwellian Ministry of Truth – led by mainstream outlets that often accept whatever the State Department tells them as true – is a classic case of the cure being worse than the disease. The role of independent journalism should be to show skepticism at all times regardless of which government is telling you what, not to simply take sides based on what seems to be most popular at the moment – or safest for your career.
In our 22 years, Consortiumnews has sought to apply the highest journalistic standards and to do so evenhandedly, demanding proof, not just assertions or opinions, from powerful people. I know that has sometimes made us unpopular. Our skepticism about George W. Bush’s case for invading Iraq opened us to charges that we were “Saddam apologists.” But our skepticism proved to be well-founded.
Similarly, we have looked for real evidence regarding the Russian “meddling” accusations and tried to put whatever facts that are available in a reasonable perspective, not simply jump on the new bandwagon and roll blindly into a new cold war. We have tried to be as objective and fair in our journalism as possible, setting aside our personal feelings about the personalities involved as we evaluate evidence with care.
Some of this questioning approach toward “what everybody just knows to be true” comes from my work at The Associated Press and Newsweek during the 1980s when many of claims that the Reagan administration made about foreign enemies turned out to be flat wrong or wildly exaggerated. Back then, as now, many of my mainstream colleagues went with the flow, all the better for their careers but detrimental to the principles of journalism – and devastating for some populations on the receiving end of U.S. propaganda and war...
Abused and disadvantaged mothers and daughters are being honed into a squad of sharpshooters to save wildlife in the Zambezi valley
Tracey Basaroukwe, 19, takes aim with her AR-15 assault rifle during anti-poacher training in the Zambezi Valley. Photograph: Artist/All photographs by Adrian Steirn for Alliance Earth
.....This is Africa’s poaching frontline, and these are not just regular female game rangers. If the team behind Kumire’s new job have anything to do with it, these women are a growing squad of environmental shock troops for a new type of community development offensive.
According to conservation biologist Victor Muposhi of Chinhoyi University of Technology, the lower Zambezi Valley has lost 11,000 elephants in the past 10 years. But he believes that hiring and training female rangers such as Kumire directly from the local communities is a game-changer.
“Developing conservation skills in communities creates more than just jobs,” says Professor Muposhi. “It makes local people directly benefit from the preservation of wildlife.” And that, he says, can save not only landmark species such as elephants but entire ecosystems.
Women’s empowerment is at the core of the programme, named Akashinga, which means the brave ones. “This is a true empowerment programme,” says Muposhi, “because you are dealing with a highly vulnerable and damaged group of young ladies.” Sitting on a rock looking north over one of Africa’s last great wildernesses, Muposhi explains that his early research shows the five-month-old programme is helping change these formerly unemployed single mothers into community leaders.
In an era of environmental deregulation, groups like the American Petroleum Institute are focusing resources on the courts – and ‘time is on industry’s side’
Climate expert and activist James Hansen and his granddaughter Sophie Kivlehan. Photograph: Sean Gallup/Getty Images
....A Washington trade group with 300-plus employees, the American Petroleum Institute (API), a lobby group that spent millions to dispute the cancer-causing properties of benzene, has spent more than $40m to lobby Congress since 2013. But the courts have also been a focal point for API, which has spent the better part of a century helping the oil and gas industry pivot from being a prime antitrust target to being a proactive litigation force. The institute, along with other free-market trade groups, has routinely injected itself into cases in an attempt to shape policy or stall government initiatives. API officials did not grant interview requests from the Center for Public Integrity.
With a new era of environmental deregulation under way, issues ranging from the Obama administration’s clean power plan to offshore drilling in the Arctic are landing in the courts for final say. The stakes are enormous for the industry, which is simultaneously confronting a wave of lawsuits that seek billions of dollars in damages for climate-change impacts. Among the defendants are API members such as ExxonMobil.
Unlike government and the public, industry can afford to wait. “In many of these matters, litigation goes on decades and decades,” said Michael Gerrard, director of Columbia University’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law. “Time is on industry’s side.”
....The back-and-forth of politics can be dispiriting. For that reason, James Hansen has staked his family’s future – and the planet’s – on the courts. His granddaughter, Sophie Kivlehan, is one of 21 child and teenage plaintiffs in Juliana v United States, a 2015 lawsuit that faults the government for failing to address climate change over half a century.
“What we want is a plan – just for the government to have a plan,” said Hansen, a former Nasa scientist who now directs the Earth Institute at Columbia University and is acting as a scientific expert in the case. Last year, industry groups including API became parties to the case.
It was Hansen’s congressional testimony as director of Nasa’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in the sweltering summer of 1988 that elevated global warming from simmering concern to boiling reality. With “99%” certainty, Hansen explained that the trend was a side effect of fossil-fuel combustion that would worsen without swift action. Months later, a group that would come to include 170 scientists from 25 countries united to confront what it called “the greatest global environmental challenge facing mankind”.
When Hansen returned to Capitol Hill in 1989, he found his testimony heavily edited by the White House Office of Management and Budget under President George HW Bush. The office softened his conclusions, tacked on a paragraph qualifying his findings and otherwise stirred uncertainty about human causes of climate change.
‘We were just playing a game of Whac-a-Mole’
While many have focused on what, and when, companies such as ExxonMobil knew about climate change, Julia Olson – a lawyer with Our Children’s Trust, a legal aid group representing the Juliana plaintiffs – is making a case for government complicity.
After years of litigating environmental cases, Olson realized she was dealing with symptoms of a disease, not the disease itself. “We were just playing a game of Whac-a-Mole. One new part of our fossil fuel energy system would pop up, and we’d challenge it, and then it’d pop up somewhere else.”
She turned her attention to the government, which “chooses the winners and losers” and has long abetted fossil fuels, she said, allowing the industry to drill, mine and build. “Everyone wants Exxon to be the enemy,” Olson said, but “every administration has made that decision to perpetuate fossil fuels.”
Jie Jenny Zou and Chris Young / Center for Public Integrity | The Guardian
And they are not alone...
As the United States was fixated on the political upset in Alabama, there were several chunks of good news coming out of the Paris One Planet Summit—a conference designed to follow up on the Paris Climate Accord, with a specific focus on finance. Principal among these announcements, I think, was news that the World Bank will stop financing upstream oil and gas projects from 2019 onwards. (The bank did say rare exceptions may be made for gas in the poorest of countries.) Also worthy of note was insurance giant AXA announcing it would divest a further 3 billion euros from coal and tar sands projects, quadruple green investments to 12 billion euros by 2020, and also stop insuring new coal construction projects or oil sands businesses.
Alongside the many, many other such commitments from corporations, nation states and non-profits, it's fair to say that—regardless of what's happening in Washington, D.C.—strong messages are being sent about the direction of travel of the world's economy. Of course, it's also fair to say that this news comes at a time of record wildfires in California and unprecedented sea ice melt in the Arctic, so even the ambitious levels of commitment currently emerging will need to be ramped up further.
But let's not underestimate the significance.
Bowing to Israeli-Saudi desires, the Trump administration is abusing the U.S. intelligence process to whip up a war fever against Iran, much like George W. Bush did on Iraq, reports ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.
The most widely remembered episode of a U.S. administration using an intelligence-based public presentation to stir up hostility toward a country with which it was intent on picking a fight was Secretary of State Colin Powell’s presentation on Iraq to the United Nations Security Council in February 2003.
Nikki Haley, United States Permanent Representative to the UN (UN Photo)
That presentation and the Bush administration’s year-long campaign, of which Powell’s speech was a part, to sell the U.S. invasion of Iraq represented a misuse of intelligence — less because of the substance than because of the whole nature and purpose of the exercise. Instead of using intelligence for its proper purpose of informing policy decisions yet to be made, this campaign was instead a selective and tendentious use of intelligence to sell a decision already made.
There was substantive misrepresentation, to be sure. The portion of the speech about terrorist ties was designed to foment a belief about supposed alliances that was contrary to the judgments of the U.S. intelligence community.
But even if everything in the speech about weapons of mass destruction has been valid, the speech missed the most important questions about U.S. policy toward Iraq. These questions included what would warrant the launching by the United States of a major war of aggression, and what the ensuing mess and repercussions would be, in Iraq and in the region, after Saddam Hussein was ousted, WMD or no WMD.
Now Nikki Haley has provided the closest replication yet of the notorious show-and-tell from 2003. She has tendentiously and selectively brandished pieces, including physical pieces, of intelligence to stir up hostility toward Iran, with which the Trump administration seems intent on picking a fight.
The featured piece consisted of remnants of a missile fired from Yemen in the direction of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
Haley and the Trump administration have gone beyond Powell and the Bush administration in dragging U.S. intelligence agencies into their hostility-selling campaign.
- Prosecutors say police saved Amapá $30m worth of environmental damage
- Chinese entrepreneurs paid millions to company that bribed officials
Police became interested in the company after an anonymous tip off and began monitoring it. Photograph: LightRocket via Getty Images
Two Chinese entrepreneurs paid millions of dollars to a Brazilian company that bribed environment officials of an Amazon state to illegally export precious hardwoods to China. But in a rare success against rising deforestation in the Amazon, Brazilian police and prosecutors were able to stop the scheme before exports started in earnest and said they saved the state from $30m worth of potential environmental damage.
This week prosecutors presented details of two connected, year-long operations that have seen 31 people charged, including the two Chinese entrepreneurs, Brazilian businessmen, environment officials and the former head of the environmental licensing institute of the state of Amapá, on the eastern edge of the Brazilian Amazon.
They said that two Chinese citizens, businessman Xiaoliang Xu and his associate, interpreter and fellow investor Xie Ping had paid Brazilian company Pangea Mineração (Pangea Mining) $3m of $15m agreed for 50,000 sq metres of wood.
“There were Chinese investors who wanted to extract wood in large quantity from Brazil. They made contact with loggers,” said Everton Aguiar, a federal prosecutor in Amapá’s state capital, Macapá. “They were putting a scheme together and it was defeated.”
Already dismal poverty rates in the US are set to worsen under President Donald Trump, a top UN official has said. Currently, one in eight people in the US lives in poverty. Related:
A United Nations expert slammed the alarming levels of poverty in the US on Friday, saying that the situation is likely to get worse under US President Donald Trump.
Official US figures show that more than one in eight Americans live in poverty, but the UN official warned that the numbers are likely to rise under the Republican's new tax reform plan.
The downward spiral of poverty
Philip Alston, the UN's special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, undertook a two-week fact-finding visit to several US states and Puerto Rico. Alston detailed several examples of poverty he found during his tour, including:
- Hookworm, an intestinal parasite, has returned in several communities in the South
- Wal-Mart workers who rely on government-issued food stamps
- Children raised in poverty have little to no access to healthcare, quality nutrition or decent education
- Poor people are often in and out of prison, making many unable to vote due to their criminal records
'Inequality will skyrocket'
In a statement, Alston called out several Trump administration policies that will lead to an increase in poverty, saying:
- "The US Congress is trying desperately to pass a tax bill that, if adopted, would represent the single most dramatic increase in inequality that could be imagined."
- Trump's proposed cuts to social welfare programs will damage a safety net for the poor that is already "riddled with holes" and that should the cuts become reality, "inequality will skyrocket."
- "The American Dream is rapidly becoming the American Illusion, as the US now has the lowest rate of social mobility of any of the rich countries."
- "Poor people have no chance of having their voices heard, no chance of influencing public policy."
You can always count on Republicans to do two things: try to cut taxes for the rich and try to weaken the safety net for the poor and the middle class. That was true under George W. Bush, who sharply cut tax rates on the top 1 percent and tried to privatize Social Security. It has been equally true under President Trump; G.O.P. legislative proposals show not a hint of the populism Trump espoused on the campaign trail.
But as a terrible, no good, very bad tax bill heads for a final vote, something has been added to the mix. As usual, Republicans seek to afflict the afflicted and comfort the comfortable, but they don’t treat all Americans with a given income the same. Instead, their bill — on which we don’t have full details, but whose shape is clear — hugely privileges owners, whether of businesses or of financial assets, over those who simply work for a living.
He says Republicans may try to close the investigation by the end of the month.
....Schiff suggested in one tweet that the pressure to quickly wrap up the probe is coming from Ryan, who has himself faced pressure by President Trump and his supporters to end the Russia probe or investigate Hillary Clinton’s work as secretary of state instead. A Ryan spokeswoman did not respond to questions about whether he has pressed intelligence committee members to curtail their investigation.
Millions can no longer afford to retire, and may never be able when the GOP passes its tax bill
The U.S. has a retirement crisis on its hands, and with the far right controlling the executive branch and both houses of Congress, as well as dozens of state governments, things promise to grow immeasurably worse.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Past progressive presidents, notably Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lyndon B. Johnson, took important steps to make life more comfortable for aging Americans. FDR signed the Social Security Act of 1935 into law as part of his New Deal, and when LBJ passed Medicare in 1965, he established a universal health care program for those 65 and older. But the country has embraced a neoliberal economic model since the election of Ronald Reagan, and all too often, older Americans have been quick to vote for far-right Republicans antagonistic to the social safety net.
ALEX HENDERSON / ALTERNET | Salon
Democratic men are 31 points more likely to say that the “country has not gone far enough on women’s rights” than Republican women.
....This September, Leonie Huddy and Johanna Willmann of Stony Brook University presented a paper at the American Political Science Association. (The paper is not yet published, but Huddy sent me a copy.) In it, they charted the effects of feminism on partisanship over time. Holding other factors constant, they found that between 2004 and 2016, support for feminism—belief in the existence of “societal discrimination against women, and the need for greater female political power”—grew increasingly correlated with support for the Democratic Party. The correlation rose earlier among feminist women, but by 2016, it had also risen among feminist men. A key factor, the authors speculated, was Hillary Clinton. A liberal woman’s emergence as a serious presidential contender in 2008, and then as her party’s nominee eight years later, drove feminists of both genders toward the Democratic Party and anti-feminists of both genders toward the GOP.
The UN’s Philip Alston is an expert on deprivation – and he wants to know why 41m Americans are living in poverty. The Guardian joined him on a special two-week mission into the dark heart of the world’s richest nation
The nearly three-month funding lapse has raised the profile of a program that’s spent most of the year in the shadows of Republican efforts to overhaul the tax code .
Everyone in Congress claims to be a champion of children’s health.
But funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program ran out Sept. 30. And some lawmakers worry it might not be replenished until early next year.
Its government is virtual, borderless, blockchained, and secure. Has this tiny post-Soviet nation found the way of the future?
....Within this gated community lives a man, his family, and one vision of the future. Taavi Kotka, who spent four years as Estonia’s chief information officer, is one of the leading public faces of a project known as e-Estonia: a coördinated governmental effort to transform the country from a state into a digital society.
E-Estonia is the most ambitious project in technological statecraft today, for it includes all members of the government, and alters citizens’ daily lives. The normal services that government is involved with—legislation, voting, education, justice, health care, banking, taxes, policing, and so on—have been digitally linked across one platform, wiring up the nation. A lawn outside Kotka’s large house was being trimmed by a small robot, wheeling itself forward and nibbling the grass.
“Everything here is robots,” Kotka said. “Robots here, robots there.” He sometimes felt that the lawnmower had a soul. “At parties, it gets close to people,” he explained.
....“We had to set a goal that resonates, large enough for the society to believe in,” Kotka went on.
....It was during Kotka’s tenure that the e-Estonian goal reached its fruition. Today, citizens can vote from their laptops and challenge parking tickets from home. They do so through the “once only” policy, which dictates that no single piece of information should be entered twice. Instead of having to “prepare” a loan application, applicants have their data—income, debt, savings—pulled from elsewhere in the system. There’s nothing to fill out in doctors’ waiting rooms, because physicians can access their patients’ medical histories. Estonia’s system is keyed to a chip-I.D. card that reduces typically onerous, integrative processes—such as doing taxes—to quick work. “If a couple in love would like to marry, they still have to visit the government location and express their will,” Andrus Kaarelson, a director at the Estonian Information Systems Authority, says. But, apart from transfers of physical property, such as buying a house, all bureaucratic processes can be done online.
Estonia is a Baltic country of 1.3 million people and four million hectares, half of which is forest. Its government presents this digitization as a cost-saving efficiency and an equalizing force. Digitizing processes reportedly saves the state two per cent of its G.D.P. a year in salaries and expenses. Since that’s the same amount it pays to meet the nato threshold for protection (Estonia—which has a notably vexed relationship with Russia—has a comparatively small military), its former President Toomas Hendrik Ilves liked to joke that the country got its national security for free.
Footage shows officers posing as protesters before pulling out pistols and seizing stone throwers in West Bank
Of more than 50,000 killings of women since 1985, nearly a third took place in last six years, official report says
....The rise in such killings coincided with Mexico’s militarised offensive against drug cartels launched in late 2006 by then-president Felipe Calderón. It also roughly tracks overall homicide trends during the period.
About 12% of homicide victims in Mexico last year were women, compared with about 10% in 1985. That was down slightly from the early and mid-2000s.
“Violence against women and girls – which can result in death – is perpetrated, in most cases, to conserve and reproduce the submission and subordination of them derived from relationships of power,” the report said.
The tiny state of Colima registered the country’s highest femicide rate in 2016, with 16.3 per 100,000. It was followed by the states of Guerrero, Zacatecas, Chihuahua and Morelos.
....Most of those are states with a heavy presence of organized crime gangs. Guerrero, in particular, is a hotspot of cartel violence. The Pacific coast resort city of Acapulco in Guerrero registered more killings of women last year than any other municipality, with 107.
Under the constitution, our courts are obliged to provide equal justice regardless of wealth, status, or political connections. But in a new report, the latest in the series The Politics of Judicial Elections, we found that the integrity of our state supreme courts is increasingly under threat from a torrent of special interest money, often from secret sources. Using data from every state supreme court election in the most recent 2015-16 cycle, the report is the only comprehensive analysis of these and other trends, and includes examples of what big spenders hope to achieve, the kinds of ads the fund, and the threats they pose to the appearance and reality of evenhanded justice.
Although Americans are optimistic about the ordinary person's ability to help fight corruption, about 70 percent believe the U.S. government is failing at it
After passing their tax bill, Republicans plan to impose work requirements on safety net programs.
After decades of chastising the idle, Republicans are pushing a tax bill that specifically advantages rich people who don’t work. But they aren’t applying that standard for poor people. Once the tax bill passes, Republicans plan to make it easier for states to add work requirements for welfare recipients.
The Senate tax bill gives business owners nearly three times more benefits than workers with wages and salaries, according to a new analysis from the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center. Adam Looney, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, told The New York Times that if the bill becomes law it would be the first time that “wage earners were substantially penalized” by the tax code.
The diverging treatment comes from how the tax bill treats the 95 percent of businesses that are structured so that profits are taxed as individual income. Republicans portray these businesses, which are known as “pass-throughs,” as “ma and pa bakeries and family-owned salons.” In reality, most pass-through income goes to people in the top 1 percent—including the Trump family.
The House tax bill cuts the top income tax rate for pass-throughs from 39.6 percent to 25 percent, which would cost taxpayers nearly $600 billion over 10 years. About 86 percent of small business owners would not benefit because all of their income is already in the 25 percent tax bracket or lower. Republicans’ much-touted ma and pa shops usually don’t earn enough to be in the top tax brackets, which kick in at $153,000 of taxable income for couples.
A new report shows how the 1 percent have sucked up 39 percent of America’s wealth.
When it comes to income equality, Vladimir Putin’s Russia is probably not the company most Americans hope to keep. Nevertheless, both countries’ elites now capture roughly the same share of national wealth.
The new data comes from a comprehensive survey of global inequality released Thursday by the World Inequality Lab. The report, whose authors include renowned economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez, brings together the work of more than 100 researchers. Its findings come as Republicans prepare to pass a tax bill that follows the same trickle-down philosophy that the report says is responsible for much of the rise in inequality in the United States.
The United States and Europe once had similar level of inequality, the 2018 World Inequality Report finds. Today, the United States is closer to sub-Saharan Africa than Europe in the share of income that goes to the top 10 percent. The authors explain that America’s “massive educational inequalities,” tax cuts for the wealthy under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, and surging salaries for executives are largely to blame for the shift.
The share of wealth, which includes cash [and investments] accumulated over the years, held by the top 1 percent of Americans jumped from 22 percent in 1980 to almost 39 percent by 2014. In Russia, it increased from 22 percent to 43 percent between 1995 and 2015.
The top 0.1 percent of Americans are almost entirely responsible for the increasing concentration of wealth. Between 1978 and 2012, their wealth share tripled from 7 percent to 22 percent. They now have more wealth than at any point since the Gilded Age.
EU to force firms to reveal true owners in wake of Panama Papers [what are the chances oligarchy-controlled countries (esp. America and Russia) ever agree to fight tax evasion and money landering? International agencies must all mandate common regulations as a condition for UN membership, trade agreements, world bank loans, etc.]
Anti-corruption campaigners welcome move but criticise failure to include trusts in corporate ownership requirements
Companies across the EU will be forced to disclose their true owners under new legislation prompted by the release of the Panama Papers.
Anti-corruption campaigners applauded the agreement as a major step in the fight against tax evasion and money laundering, but expressed disappointment that trusts will mostly escape scrutiny.
The revised terms of the EU’s fourth anti-money laundering directive include:
- A requirement for companies to disclose their beneficial, or true, owners in a publicly available register.
- Data on the beneficial owners of trusts to be available to tax and law enforcement authorities, as well as sectors with an obligation to follow anti-money laundering rules, such as lawyers.
- A requirement for member states to verify beneficial ownership information submitted to their registers.
- Extending anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism regulations to apply to virtual currencies, provision of tax services and those dealing in works of art.
EU member states will have 18 months to transpose the new directive into domestic legislation. As a current member of the EU, the UK will implement the legislation.
Inequality report also shows UK’s 50,000 richest people have seen their share of the country’s wealth double since 1984
At the launch of their World Inequality Report, Thomas Piketty and colleagues explain the past, present and future trends of inequality around the world
Facundo Alvaredo, Lucas Chancel, Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman | The Guardian
With its assault on the estate tax, the GOP is demonstrating that it’s not even under the thumb of the 1 percent, but the 0.2 percent.
The closer Mueller gets to Trump, the likelier it is that Trump will act to try to end his investigation. That’s why he must be protected now
The authors of a new book argue that government regulations have been giving an unfair advantage to those already on top.
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