Category Archives: Perverts In History | Thatcher Reagan Bush Trump

Trump’s wall is big, beautiful and dumb — here’s a better way to control the border – LA Times

If the goal is to stop illegal immigration, I’ve got some advice for President Trump from here in California, which used to be part of Mexico and now has turned itself into a kind of sanctuary state.

For starters, the promised “big, beautiful wall” along the southern border of the United States doesn’t make much sense. If Trump doesn’t trust me, he should go to El Centro — as I did in March — and talk to Albert Garcia, the retired Border Patrol welder who spent 25 years fixing holes in the fence.

Continue reading Trump’s wall is big, beautiful and dumb — here’s a better way to control the border – LA Times

Who’s the world’s leading eco-vandal? It’s Angela Merkel | George Monbiot | Opinion | The Guardian

Protesters dressed as Italian prime minister Paolo Gentiloni, Donald Trump and Angela Merkel, Sicily, May 2017
‘Her performance has been a planetary disaster.’ Protesters dressed as Italian prime minister Paolo Gentiloni, Donald Trump and Angela Merkel, Sicily, May 2017.
Photograph: Angelo Carconi/EPA

Which living person has done most to destroy the natural world and the future wellbeing of humanity? Donald Trump will soon be the correct answer, when the full force of his havoc has been felt. But for now I would place another name in the frame: Angela Merkel.

Continue reading Who’s the world’s leading eco-vandal? It’s Angela Merkel | George Monbiot | Opinion | The Guardian

Migration in Motion: Visualizing Species Movements Due to Climate Change – Cool Green Science

Migration in Motion: Visualizing Species Movements Due to Climate Change

As climate change alters 
habitats and disrupts ecosystems, where will
 animals move to survive?
 And will human development prevent them from getting there?

Now you can see those migrations in motion.

New research from Conservancy and university scientists revealed that only 41 percent of the natural land area in the United States retains enough connectivity to facilitate species tracking their preferred climate conditions as the global climate changes. As part of that study, scientists modeled the distribution and habitat needs of 2,903 vertebrate species in the Western hemisphere against land use and projected climate patterns.

Previous work mapped the geographic areas in the western hemisphere through which species will likely need to move to track their suitable climates. That study identified that the Amazon Basin, southeastern United States and southeastern Brazil are three areas with projected high densities of climate-driven movements.

Conservancy cartographer and analyst Dan Majka brought this data to life in a series of maps that show what corridors mammals, amphibians, and other animals will use as they move to new habitats under projected climate change. Inspired by wind maps of the United States, and using code from Earth global wind map, adapted by Chris Helm, Majka’s dynamic map allows scientists and the public to see the continent-wide impact of climate change on animals and visualize corridors they will need to move.

Check out the map above, and use the navigation tools in the upper-right to investigate migration patterns in both North and South America.

Apple’s Tim Cook Barnstorms for ‘Moral Responsibility’ – The New York Times

Apple’s Tim Cook Barnstorms for ‘Moral Responsibility’

Tim Cook, center, the chief executive of Apple, visiting Capital Factory, a tech incubator in Austin, Tex., last week. Austin’s community college is the latest to offer a new curriculum that Apple developed for creating apps. Brooks Kraft/Apple

AUSTIN, Tex. — “The reality is that government, for a long period of time, has for whatever set of reasons become less functional and isn’t working at the speed that it once was. And so it does fall, I think, not just on business but on all other areas of society to step up.”

That was Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive, across the table from me over breakfast here in downtown Austin late last week at the end of a mini-tour across the country during which he focused on topics usually reserved for politicians: manufacturing, jobs and education.

He had just spent the prior day in Ohio, where he toured CTS, a technology company that produces the equipment that Apple uses to test water resistance and dust protection for the iPhone and the Apple Watch. He then flew to Des Moines, where he announced plans to make a $1.3 billion investment in a 400,000-square-foot data center in nearby Waukee to help store and move giant amounts of information for its services like iCloud and FaceTime. And he arrived here to announce that Austin Community College will begin offering its 74,000 students a curriculum that Apple developed to teach them how to write code to create apps for iPhones. Austin is one of 30 community colleges that will offer the curriculum.

As Mr. Cook’s breakfast arrived — two scrambled egg whites, crispy bacon (they didn’t have his preferred turkey bacon), sugar-free cereal with unsweetened almond milk — he described his week, punctuated by a visit the night before to the L.B.J. Presidential Library, the museum of President Lyndon B. Johnson.

“One of the things that hits you,” he said, is “all of the major acts, legislation, that happened during just his presidency.” His eyes widened as he listed some: “You have the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Act, you have Medicare, you have Medicaid, you have several national parks, you have Head Start, you have housing discrimination, you have jury discrimination.”

“Regardless of your politics,” he continued, “you look at it and say, ‘My gosh.’”

Mr. Cook’s comments weren’t a dig at President Trump so much as they were a critique of Washington’s seemingly perpetual state of gridlock.

And now Mr. Cook is one of the many business leaders in the country who appear to be filling the void, using his platform at Apple to wade into larger social issues that typically fell beyond the mandate of executives in past generations.

He said he had never set out to do so, but he feels he has been thrust into the role as virtually every large American company has had to stake out a domestic policy.

He was vocal, for example, in criticizing Mr. Trump after Charlottesville in a memo to his staff: “I disagree with the president and others who believe that there is a moral equivalence between white supremacists and Nazis, and those who oppose them by standing up for human rights. Equating the two runs counter to our ideals as Americans.”

Watching Mr. Cook over the years, I’ve been fascinated to see how he has become as animated when talking about big issues like education and climate change as he is when talking about Apple.

“I think we have a moral responsibility to help grow the economy, to help grow jobs, to contribute to this country and to contribute to the other countries that we do business in,” he said.

He added, “I think there’s still probably a more significant group that feels my sole responsibility is to Wall Street.”

His critics will, of course, say all this happy talk is a P.R. ploy for a company that makes its most popular products on the other side of the world and keeps nearly a quarter-trillion dollars abroad, untaxed by Uncle Sam. In fairness, Apple is one of the largest taxpayers in the country, paying $28 billion in federal taxes between 2014 and 2016 at an average rate of 26 percent, which is in the middle for big multinational American corporations.

And Mr. Cook is paid handsomely: On Thursday, as a result of the company’s financial outperformance compared with its peers, Mr. Cook was given nearly $90 million of stock as part of his previously agreed upon compensation plan. (He has said he plans to give away all of his wealth.)

But there’s a more nuanced version of Apple’s story — and Mr. Cook’s transformation of the company after taking over as its chief executive in 2011 — that has been lost amid the din of nonstop chatter about the company in Silicon Valley and Washington.

When Mr. Cook announced, for example, the new data facility in Waukee, he said it would run fully on renewable energy. But he slipped in another fact that has largely gone unnoticed: Over the past several years, Mr. Cook has gotten all of the company’s corporate facilities in the United States to run on wind and solar energy — in their entirety.

“We’re running Apple a hundred percent on renewable energy today” in the United States, he said over breakfast, “and we’ve now hit that in 23 other countries around the world.”

That’s not to say Mr. Cook, 56, is running an altruistic institution. Apple received $208 million in tax breaks from Iowa to locate its data center there. The state has aggressively recruited technology companies, including Facebook and Microsoft, with deep subsidies. A Los Angeles Times columnist criticized the state as a “first-class patsy” for making the deal with Apple, which will create 1,700 construction jobs but only about 50 long-term jobs. Apple agreed to donate “up to $100 million” for local infrastructure, including a youth sports complex, offsetting part of the tax break.

Mr. Cook is most passionate when he talks about education, which led the company to create the curriculum for developing apps, estimated to be a $1.3 trillion part of the global economy.

He is hoping the curriculum turns into jobs. Last year, according to Apple, 150,000 new jobs were created through the App Store. Apple paid out $5 billion directly to app makers.

He said he had chosen to focus on getting the curriculum to community colleges, rather than four-year colleges, because “as it turns out, the community college system is much more diverse than the four-year schools, particularly the four-year schools that are known for comp sci.” He noted that “there is a definite diversity issue in tech, in particular in coding and computer scientists.”

Apple has already rolled out the curriculum in Alabama, Ohio and Pennsylvania, among other states. “You want it to increase the diversity of people that are in there, both racial diversity, gender diversity, but also geographic diversity,” Mr. Cook said. “Right now, the benefits of tech are too lopsided to certain states.” (Like California.)

Students who take the classes learn the Swift language, which is used to make apps on Apple’s iPhone and iPad. Admittedly, Mr. Cook is not helping students learn how to code in languages for his competitors, but he said, “I think it’s significantly transferable.”

He continued, with a laugh: “We know that people making a mobile app, many of them are going to make iOS apps and Android apps. And I wish they wouldn’t, but they’re probably going to.”

He added: “It’s not like I’m trying to make money on it. It’s a gift.”

As for Mr. Cook’s coding skills? “I might fail a little bit on that.”

As we finished up breakfast before we headed over to Austin’s Capital Factory, an incubator for tech start-ups where he would announce the new curriculum, I mentioned a question that some in Silicon Valley and elsewhere have asked: Is his focus on jobs and speeches in front of American flags a hint at something bigger? After all, Mark Zuckerberg’s name is now regularly bandied about in discussions of potential presidential candidates.

“I have a full-time job,” Mr. Cook said. “I appreciate the compliment,” he added with a wry look, “if it is a compliment.”

Whatever Will The Terrorists Do Without A Country To Host Their Monkey Bars? The Biggest Afghanistan Lie Of All, Repeated Now By Trump.

We took a break in our Afghanistan analysis, having shared with you 2 parts out of 3, to comment on Trump’s escalation of his endorsement of lawlessness, by pardoning someone with total and unrepentant contempt for the law. This will be the most important and 3rd of the Afghanistan speech break down.
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OK, we had already pointed out the hypocrisy, which has certainly not escaped anybody else on the continent, of complaining about Pakistan allowing foreign fighters to operate from their territory and attack Afghanistan, while at the same time WE have bases everywhere, launching strikes in EVERY other neighboring country, including Pakistan.
But this truth still does not fully reach the biggest lie of all, the lie they told us day one to even get us to invade Afghanistan in the first place, namely that the terrorists even need a safe haven country from which to plot their attacks.
Remember the grainy video of training camps with monkey bars?
Terrorists no longer need to work out on monkey bars, presuming they ever did. Nor do they need a place to set them up.
All the training they need now is about how to rent a truck and point the steering wheel at as many pedestrians they can run down, or how to hit a gun show in the US to buy freely available assault weapons, courtesy of the militant 2nd Amendment purist fanatics with the NRA. With information widely propagated over the internet any hate-filled, disgruntled person can set up a bomb factory in their apartment, with or without a special traveling bomb-making trainer there in person.
Our occupation of Afghanistan in all of 16 years has not impeded or stopped a single terrorist attack here at home. Not one.
Instead, all it has done is put our own people there at constant risk of LOCAL terrorist attacks and IED ambushes, with a steady stream of casualties directly proportional to the number of people we have there, including so-called “friendly fire” from inductees into the army we are supposed to be getting to stand up so we can stand down.
In 2001, there was a handful of bin Laden’s people in Afghanistan. Now there are, by the words out of Trump’s own mouth in his big speech last week, 20 terrorist groups operating there. That’s not progress, that’s a slippery slope configured as a sheer cliff.
Morever, if you bought into the lunacy that we had to invade Afghanistan because there were terrorists hiding there, then you must also be advocating for invading Pakistan now, for the same exact reason, as if they could do something our own cruise missiles have not already accomplished there.
We cannot bomb our way to regional stability. It’s about as strategically effective as bombing cockroaches with food garbage. They just keep multiplying.
And tomorrow, we will return to critical domestic policy, and break down why buying health insurance across state lines, which the Republicans keep pushing as the magic cure for our health care problems, is nothing but snake oil.
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FBI pushes private sector to cut ties with Kaspersky

FBI pushes private sector to cut ties with Kaspersky

The FBI has been briefing private sector companies on intelligence claiming to show that the Moscow-based cybersecurity company Kaspersky Lab is an unacceptable threat to national security, current and former senior U.S. officials familiar with the matter tell CyberScoop.

The briefings are one part of an escalating conflict between the U.S. government and Kaspersky amid long-running suspicions among U.S. intelligence officials that Russian spy agencies use the company as an intelligence-gathering tool of global proportions.

The FBI’s goal is to have U.S. firms push Kaspersky out of their systems as soon as possible or refrain from using them in new products or other efforts, the current and former officials say.

The FBI’s counterintelligence section has been giving briefings since beginning of the year on a priority basis, prioritizing companies in the energy sector and those that use industrial control (ICS) and Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems.

In light of successive cyberattacks against the electric grid in Ukraine, the FBI has focused on this sector due to the critical infrastructure designation assigned to it by the Department of Homeland Security.

Additionally, the FBI has briefed large U.S. tech companies that have working partnerships or business arrangements with Kaspersky on products — from routers to virtual machines — that touch a wide range of American businesses and civilians.

In the briefings, FBI officials give companies a high-level overview of the threat assessment, including what the U.S. intelligence community says are the Kaspersky’s deep and active relationships with Russian intelligence. FBI officials point to multiple specific accusations of wrongdoing by Kaspersky, such as a well-known instance of allegedly faking malware.

In a statement to CyberScoop, a Kaspersky spokesperson blamed those particular accusations on “disgruntled, former company employees, whose accusations are meritless” while FBI officials say, in private and away from public scrutiny, they know the incident took place and was blessed by the company’s leadership.

The FBI’s briefings have seen mixed results. Companies that utilize ISC and SCADA systems have been relatively cooperative, one government official told CyberScoop, due in large part to what’s described as exceptional sense of urgency that dwarfs most other industries. Several of these companies have quietly moved forward on the FBI’s recommendations against Kaspersky by, for example, signing deals with Kaspersky competitors.

The firms the FBI have briefed include those that deal with nuclear power, a predictable target given the way the electric grid is increasingly at the center of catastrophic cybersecurity concerns.

The traditional tech giants have been less receptive and cooperative to the FBI’s pitch.

Earlier this year, a U.S. congressional panel asked federal government agencies to share documents on Kaspersky Lab because the firm’s products could be used to carry out “nefarious activities against the United States,” Reuters reported. That followed the General Services Administration removing Kaspersky from an approved-vendors list in early July and a congressional push to pass a law that would ban Kaspersky from being used by the Department of Defense.

Kaspersky, which has long denied ever helping any government with cyber-espionage efforts, reiterated those denials.

“If these briefings are actually occurring, it’s extremely disappointing that a government agency would take such actions against a law-abiding and ethical company like Kaspersky Lab,” a company representative told CyberScoop. “The company doesn’t have inappropriate ties with any government, which is why no credible evidence has been presented publicly by anyone or any organization to back up the false allegations made against Kaspersky Lab. The only conclusion seems to be that Kaspersky Lab, a private company, is caught in the middle of a geopolitical fight, and it’s being treated unfairly, even though the company has never helped, nor will help, any government in the world with its cyber-espionage or offensive cyber efforts.”

The U.S. government’s actions come as Russia is engaged in its own push to stamp American tech giants like Microsoft out of that country’s systems.

Russia’s Quid Pro Quo

In the briefings, FBI officials also raise the issue of Russia’s increasingly expansive surveillance laws and what they charge is a distinct culture wherein powerful Russian intelligence agencies are easily able to reach into private sector firms like Kaspersky with little check on government power.

Of particular interest are the Yarovaya laws and the System for Operative Investigative Activities (SORM), among others, which mandate broad, legally vague and permissive Russian intelligence agency access to data moving inside Russia with retention periods extending to three years. Companies have little course to fight back. U.S officials point to the FSB, the KGB’s successor, as the cryptography regulator in Russia, and say it puts an office of active agents inside Russian companies.

A Kaspersky spokesperson emphasized that all information received by the company is “is protected in accordance with legal requirements and stringent industry standards, including encryption, digital certificates, firewalls and more” and insisted that “the company is not subject to these laws and other government tools” like SORM.

The law unquestionably does, however, impact Russian internet and communications providers, which Kaspersky uses. And, after all, it’s the Russian “legal requirements” that raise so many eyebrows.

“If it comes to the case of Kaspersky being induced to do something which is undocumented and illegal, it’s only then we’re in a slightly different domain [than in the West] and yes, you can assume the Russian government would have ways to induce private industry to do what it wants,” Keir Giles, a Russia expert with the British think tank Chatham House, told CyberScoop. “This is extremely hard to pin down because by this very nature this official encouragement is clandestine.”

They show up, say ‘You’re already breaking the law, now what are you going to do for me?’”

By design, there is little visibility and public understanding of this opaque world. Many of the accusations pointed at Russia are met — by Kaspersky’s defenders as well as by civil liberties activists and technologists critical of what they view as gross U.S. government overreach — with fingers pointed right back at U.S. military and spy agencies.

Eva Galperin, the director of cybersecurity at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, believes Western intelligence agencies are engaged in many of the same tactics and must be similarly criticized but that “the legal and political landscape in Russia is very different.”

“The Yarovaya laws and many of the other internet-related laws in Russia were never meant to be implementable,” she told CyberScoop. “They were always meant to be overbroad, overreaching and impossible to comply with because this gives the Russian government a place to start whenever they come calling for your data. They show up, say ‘you’re already breaking the law, now what are you going to do for me?’”

Galperin’s observations on the Russian legal and political landscape mirrors what U.S. officials say in private about intentionally vague laws allowing intelligence officers to have broad abilities and authorities to conduct what U.S. officials see as malicious activity.

Throughout Kaspersky’s leadership ranks, including CEO and founder Eugene Kaspersky, the company is populated with Russian former intelligence officials, some of whom are accused by Western intelligence agencies of continuing in all but name to work for the Kremlin. This is a major point of contention, because Western cybersecurity firms are largely populated by ex-intelligence community employees as well.

While much of the public focus has understandably been on Eugene Kaspersky, the U.S. intelligence community places great focus on other executives, including Chief Legal Officer Igor Chekunov. Prior to joining the company, Chekunov was a KGB officer. A Kaspersky spokesperson stressed that Chekunov’s time was “obligatory military service” equivalent to “working for customs and border protection (CBP), which is under the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).” U.S intelligence officials say in briefings they believe the list of individuals within Kaspersky cooperating with Russian intelligence is far longer, but they’ve offered no public evidence as proof.

“Once you serve in the [Russian] intelligence services, you’re always kind of linked to them,” Zachary Witlin, a Russia analyst at the Eurasia Group, told CyberScoop. “Kaspersky is an interesting case though. Eugene built this entire company there, he and plenty of other Russians want it to succeed as a global cybersecurity company because it showcases that Russia does have the talent to have world-class software products. I don’t think they would be immune from the same sorts of oversight that incredibly powerful Russian intelligence agencies have on the rest of the country, but they would have to make a calculation about whether or not they would be putting a major company like that at irreparable risk. In a situation like this, I’m not so sure.”

Purely Political?

In closed congressional hearings, senators have responded with some punch to the FBI’s work. The chief criticism from Congress, which is anxious to take legislative action, is that the U.S. intelligence community didn’t speak up sooner about the problem. Earlier this year, senior U.S. intelligence officials slammed Kaspersky in an open congressional hearing; Eugene Kaspersky blamed it on “political reasons” rather than any wrongdoing by his own company.

In the years since suspicion has crept up against Kaspersky, the firm has repeatedly denied that it poses a threat to U.S. security or that it cooperates with Russia or any other government to spy on users. Efforts to reach out to American authorities have repeatedly been ignored or dismissed, the company told CyberScoop.

“CEO Eugene Kaspersky has repeatedly offered to meet with government officials, testify before the U.S. Congress and provide the company’s source code for an official audit to help address any questions the U.S. government has about the company, but unfortunately, Kaspersky Lab has not received a response to those offers,” a company spokesperson said.

“The company simply wants the opportunity to answer any questions and assist all concerned government organizations with any investigations, as Kaspersky Lab ardently believes a deeper examination of the company will confirm that these allegations are completely unfounded.”

The issue of a code audit was dismissed as a “publicity stunt” earlier this year by Jake Williams, an ex-NSA employee who has called the U.S. government’s efforts against Kaspersky “purely political.”

Beyond Kaspersky, U.S. intelligence officials see a problem that encompasses all of Russia and which, more broadly, impacts relations with tech firms from other countries, most notably China. As with so many other Washington, D.C., conversations of late, however, Russia has taken nearly sole possession of the spotlight that might otherwise be spread more globally.

Update: A Kaspersky spokesperson’s comments on the nature of Chief Legal Officer Igor Chekunov’s KGB service was added.

Lives of Women and Children at RISK – Union Rescue Mission

Lives of Women and Children at RISK

For nearly 18 months, Union Rescue Mission has experienced an unexpected, unprecedented spike in need on Skid Row and throughout Los Angeles County.

To be exact, Union Rescue Mission is serving 55% more women than this time last year. They’ve stepped up to the need, determined to keep their promise to the community to never turn away a woman or a family with children.

But the severe hit on an already shoestring budget is backing them into a corner—where the only solution is budget cuts to services.

Union Rescue Mission CEO, Andy Bales, says, “We’re the only organization in downtown Los Angeles providing immediate emergency shelter for single men, single women, moms with kids, dads with kids, and two-parent families with children. If we can’t raise $1.75 million by September 30, we’ll be forced to shut down our year-round shelter for single women and men, and put a cap on the number of families with children we serve.”

Continue reading Lives of Women and Children at RISK – Union Rescue Mission

This is the real story behind the economic crisis unfolding in Qatar | The Independent

This is the real story behind the economic crisis unfolding in Qatar

The Qatar crisis proves two things: the continued infantilisation of the Arab states, and the total collapse of the Sunni Muslim unity supposedly created by Donald Trump’s preposterous attendance at the Saudi summit two weeks ago.

After promising to fight to the death against Shia Iranian “terror,” Saudi Arabia and its closest chums have now ganged up on one of the wealthiest of their neighbours, Qatar, for being a fountainhead of “terror”. Only Shakespeare’s plays could come close to describing such treachery. Shakespeare’s comedies, of course.

Continue reading This is the real story behind the economic crisis unfolding in Qatar | The Independent

Trump’s claim that a general dipped bullets in pigs’ blood is fake news – but the US massacre of Moro Muslims isn’t | The Independent

Trump’s claim that a general dipped bullets in pigs’ blood is fake news – but the US massacre of Moro Muslims isn’t

Pershing had left the islands and the Philippine-US war was officially over when the Americans slaughtered the Moro Muslims in their hundreds – men, women and children. With Trump-like enthusiasm, Republican President Theodore Roosevelt congratulated the US commanders on their ‘brilliant feat of arms’

Continue reading Trump’s claim that a general dipped bullets in pigs’ blood is fake news – but the US massacre of Moro Muslims isn’t | The Independent

Massacre in sanctuary | The Independent

More Blast from the Past – What got us here

Massacre in sanctuary

Qana, southern Lebanon – It was a massacre. Not since Sabra and Chatila had I seen the innocent slaughtered like this. The Lebanese refugee women and children and men lay in heaps, their hands or arms or legs missing, beheaded or disembowelled. There were well over a hundred of them. A baby lay without a head. The Israeli shells had scythed through them as they lay in the United Nations shelter, believing that they were safe under the world’s protection. Like the Muslims of Srebrenica, the Muslims of Qana were wrong.

Continue reading Massacre in sanctuary | The Independent

A Tiny Revolution: Report: Top Israeli Politician Naftali Bennett Played Key Role in 1996 Massacre That Motivated Bin Laden and Al Qaeda to Attack U.S. on 9/11

Blast from the Past…so to speak…to coin a phrase…

Report: Top Israeli Politician Naftali Bennett Played Key Role in 1996 Massacre That Motivated Bin Laden and Al Qaeda to Attack U.S. on 9/11

Naftali Bennett is Israel’s Minister of the Economy and leader of the ultra-right wing religious party Jewish Home. He’s also a leading candidate to be Israel’s next Defense Minister, and as the New Yorker describes it, his ambition to one day become Prime Minister is “as plump and glaring as a harvest moon.” Continue reading A Tiny Revolution: Report: Top Israeli Politician Naftali Bennett Played Key Role in 1996 Massacre That Motivated Bin Laden and Al Qaeda to Attack U.S. on 9/11

Capitalist Economies Create Waste, Not Social Value

Capitalist Economies Create Waste, Not Social Value

In this excerpt, Magdoff and Williams show the immense levels of waste created by capitalism today, including by the prison-industrial complex, food system and housing in the United States — not to mention the horrendous expensive and wasteful US military.

More production means more waste: more waste means more production. Waste is a sign of capitalism’s success. Continue reading Capitalist Economies Create Waste, Not Social Value

Poison once flowed in America’s waters. With Trump, it might again | Peter Gleick | Opinion | The Guardian

Poison once flowed in America’s waters. With Trump, it might again

'I remember not being able to swim at beaches polluted with raw sewage.'
trumpwater Illustration: Rob Dobi

As a scientist working for decades on national and global water and climate challenges, I must speak out against what I see as an assault on America’s water resources.

I grew up in New York in the 1960s hearing about massive Polychlorinated Biphenyl – a toxic chemical used as a coolant – contamination in the Hudson River and the threatened extinction of bald eagles and ospreys from eating contaminated fish.<!–more–>

I remember watching on television Ohio’s Cuyahoga River burning. I remember scientists warning about the death of the Great Lakes and Chesapeake Bay from uncontrolled industrial pollution. I remember not being able to swim at beaches polluted with raw sewage.

And I remember the public debate and bipartisan enthusiasm for federal action to clean up our waters – enthusiasm that led to passage of one of the nation’s foundational environmental laws, the Clean Water Act, signed into law by Richard Nixon in 1972.

This law and the related federal regulations reduced water pollution and protected some of the nation’s rivers and lakes, but they are incomplete, only partially implemented, and increasingly outdated in the face of new threats from unregulated contaminants, worsening climatic changes, failing water infrastructure and direct political assault.

Donald Trump claimed he’d work to promote clean water. This claim has proven to be hollow. Since taking office, the president, administration officials, and the Republican-led Congress have moved aggressively to roll back decades of water-quality protections put in place by previous Republican and Democratic administrations.

These moves benefit industrial polluters rather than local communities, hinder progress toward cleaning up contaminated water and deteriorating ecosystems and worsen public health risks.

To address these problems, the Obama administration developed new rules to remove mercury from municipal sewage; impose limits on the amount of toxic and bioaccumulative water pollutants such as arsenic, lead, mercury, and cadmium that can be released from power plants; control previously unregulated pesticides; stop the dumping of coal wastes into streams and clarified authority for the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Army Corps of Engineers to extend protections to around 60% of the water bodies in the United States – the so-called Waters of the United States, or WOTUS, rule, also known as the Clean Water Rule.

The Trump administration and Congress have moved to rescind every one of these environmental protections.

Immediately after Trump’s inauguration, the EPA announced the agency’s intention to cancel the new regulation to cut mercury pollution in urban wastewater.

Mercury is a persistent neurotoxin affecting the brain and nervous system and scientists estimate that more than 75,000 infants in the US each year have an increased risk of learning disabilities associated with prenatal exposure to methylmercury. The largest single source of mercury contamination in urban wastewater comes from dental offices and the new rule required dental offices to install inexpensive and effective equipment to capture rather than dump mercury.

In April, EPA administrator Scott Pruitt proposed to postpone the compliance dates for meeting the new limits on toxic water pollutants from power plants. This rule would have reduced pollutant releases by 1.4bn pounds a year – including chemicals that lead to cancer and other illnesses in humans, lowered IQ in children, and deformities and reproductive damage in fish and wildlife.

The Clean Water Rule was published in June 2015 after years of scientific study, more than 400 public hearings, and literally a million public comments. It provides a critical tool for tackling persistent pollution problems from pesticides, fertilizers and industrial chemicals in water that previously lacked regulations.

Eliminating the Waters of the United States rule was an explicit objective of the Republican platform, and Trump signed an executive order in February 2017 asking the EPA and US Army Corps of Engineers to review and either rescind or revise it. In late June, the EPA announced it would move to completely replace it, removing protections from vast areas of the country.

Finally, Trump’s proposed budget imposes massive cuts to federal water-quality protections. The EPA office that develops standards for pollution in drinking water, already years behind in setting limits for unregulated pollutants, would have its budget cut in half.

The Superfund program, responsible for cleaning up severely polluted industrial sites, including many contaminating or threatening groundwater, would be cut 25% and enforcement would be cut 40%.

Programs that support environmental cleanup in Long Island Sound, Chesapeake Bay, the Great Lakes, San Francisco Bay, and other waterways would be cut to zero. The EPA’s office for scientific research and development would be cut in half.

Federal grants to states to identify and prevent leaks from underground storage tanks and programs to reduce lead exposure, like that seen recently in Flint, Michigan, would be eliminated. If we do nothing, undrinkable water could be one of Trump’s most poisonous legacies.

The good news is that the Americans cares enormously about clean water. The annual Gallup Poll on the environment ranks worries about water pollution above any other environmental issue, now higher than they’ve been since 2001. Scientists, public health officials, and environmental groups are also fighting back.

Lawsuits have been filed in federal court arguing that the Trump administration doesn’t have the legal authority to delay these protections, hasn’t given public notice or allowed public debate, is ignoring proven science and has acted to prioritize the interests of the coal and chemical industries over public health.

And there has been some success: in early June, in the face of a lawsuit by the Natural Resources Defense Council, the EPA agreed to let the mercury rule go forward. Some Republican members of Congress have publicly expressed concern over the severity of the proposed federal budget cuts to environmental protection.

We’ve come a long way from the era of unregulated dumping of chemicals in our streams, burning rivers, and dying ecosystems. I’m optimistic that the goal of clean, fishable, swimmable waters nationwide is achievable. But the Republican party is moving rapidly to become the party of dirty water. That’s not in their interest and it’s not in the interest of the nation. It’s time scientists and the public speak out.

Peter Gleick is a member of the US National Academy of Science and the president-emeritus of Pacific Institute

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Ten years on: Anatomy of the global financial meltdown

Ten years on: Anatomy of the global financial meltdown

Ten years on: Anatomy of the global financial meltdown

Reflecting on the 10th anniversary of the crisis helps to distil its essentials 500w, 300w” sizes=”(min-width: 76.25em) 700px, (min-width: 61.25em) 620px, (min-width: 46.25em) 700px, calc(100vw – 20px)” class=”” style=”max-width: 100%; margin: 0.5em auto; display: block; height: auto;” src=”cid:”>
© Reuters

For some, today marks the 10th anniversary of the start of the global financial crisis. August 9 2007 was the day when BNP Paribas, the French bank, froze three investment funds. Investors whose money was placed in suddenly toxic securities linked to US real estate, were no longer permitted to cash out their investments. The FT marks the anniversary with a chart-rich series on what the crisis did to the global economy, starting this week.

Admittedly, such dating is always a little arbitrary. Some swear by June 22 2007, which was when Bear Stearns had to bail out two hedge funds it had marketed, which were making big losses on mortgage-backed securities. As my colleagues John Authers and Alan Smith point out in their contribution to the FT series, the summer months of 2007 saw a rapid deterioration of the market values of many financial products — a sign that the Bear Stearns episode raised broader fears in the market leading up to the BNP event.

But we should keep both dates in mind, because jointly they outline a useful basic anatomy of the financial crisis. They do so even better when coupled with one more date: April 2006, when US house prices peaked, and an unprecedented — and unexpected — nationwide decline began. 315w” sizes=”(min-width: 46.25em) 400px, calc(100vw – 20px)” class=”” src=”cid:” style=”max-width: 100%; margin: 0.5em auto; display: block; height: auto;”>

The effect of the falling value of houses on the quality of the loans that had paid for them is what pre-determined the June 22 event. Bear Stearns’ move was the first clear admission that the assets its funds had invested in were worth much less than almost everyone had thought. It was the first clear sign of unrealised losses in the US and, by extension, the global financial system. In short, it was the first clear exposure of a solvency problem.

The August 9 event marked the next phase, where doubts about solvency turned into a liquidity problem. As Stephen Cecchetti and Kermit Schoenholtz nicely show, BNP’s halting of redemptions was followed by an immediate tightening of lending between financial institutions. Below is their graph of the Libor-OIS spread, which measures the difference between the rate at which big banks reported to be lending to one another over a measure of the safest market interest rate. From almost zero this spread suddenly shot up 10 years ago today. The European Central Bank reacted with an immediate liquidity injection into the banking system.… 315w” sizes=”(min-width: 46.25em) 400px, calc(100vw – 20px)” class=”” src=”cid:” style=”max-width: 100%; margin: 0.5em auto; display: block; height: auto;”>

This three-point timeline — summer 2006, June 2007 and August 2007 — and the chain of events it represents forms a schema of debt crises generally. First, the value appreciation fuelled by a credit boom fizzles out and goes into reverse. Second, the absence of the value investors had expected to find becomes exposed (the solvency problem). And third, the presence of solvency problems, whose exact magnitude and location are uncertain, leads to a liquidity crisis, as each nervous investor tries to be the first to reach safety before the money runs out.

The June 22 solvency event can thus be seen as the forerunner of Bear Stearns’ total collapse in March 2008. The August 9 liquidity event can be seen as the forerunner of the bank run on Northern Rock in the UK a month later. And together they presage the demise of Lehman Brothers and Washington Mutual in September 2008, with the chain reaction that followed for financial institutions of all stripes around the world.

So there is use in reflecting on anniversaries. Not just because of the storytelling thrill of going through the fast-paced events of 10 years ago, for which Cecchetti and Schoenholtz’s timeline is very useful, as is the retrospective live-tweeting on the Real Time Crisis account. But also because it helps to distil the essentials of a crisis.

These essentials are twofold. First is the readjustment of expectations about how much economic value there is to go around, and in particular the realisation by market participants that it is insufficient to honour all the claims racked up in the boom. Second is the proliferation of uncertainty through the web of short-term liquid funds that financial institutions provide one another with, a story that is well told by Adam Tooze in a recent essay.

There is also an inkling here of what it takes to handle a crisis well. The dawning certainty that losses will have to happen, combined with rising uncertainty about where the losses will fall, are what can paralyse the system. The lesson is that the sooner losses can be crystallised in full, the better. That requires difficult political decisions — but as the past 10 years have surely shown, indecision ultimately imposes a much greater cost.

Numbers news

  • The eurozone recovery continues apace: unemployment in Portugal tumbled in the second quarter and is now lower than the average for monetary union countries.×4351… 315w” sizes=”(min-width: 46.25em) 400px, calc(100vw – 20px)” class=”” src=”cid:” style=”max-width: 100%; margin: 0.5em auto; display: block; height: auto;”>

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