Category Archives: Alerts

Plastic To Fuel

By: Luke Dormehl of Digital Trends

To achieve this, they have pioneered a new chemical conversion process, capable of converting more than 90 percent of polyolefin waste — the polymer behind widely used plastic polyethylene — into high-quality gasoline or diesel-like fuel. The results could be a game-changer.

“We have developed a method to convert polyolefin waste, which include Type 2 (HDPE), Type 4 (LDPE and LLDPE), and Type 5 (PP), into various useful products,” Nien-Hwa Linda Wang, a professor in Purdue’s Davidson School of Chemical Engineering, told Digital Trends. “The conversion is achieved using subcritical or supercritical water, which can convert plastic waste into oil, fuels, or gas, depending on the processing conditions. Some impurities in the plastic waste is converted into oil or extracted into the processing water. Both conversion and extraction are achieved in the same process.”

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Opportunity Stop Answering and Now We May Lowe It Forever

By: Eric Berger of Arstechnica

Late Tuesday night, scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory sent their final data uplink to the Opportunity rover on Mars. Over this connection, via the Deep Space Network, the American jazz singer Billie Holiday crooned “I’ll Be Seeing You,” a song that closes with the lines:

I’ll find you in the morning sun
And when the night is new
I’ll be looking at the moon
But I’ll be seeing you

The scientists waited to hear some response from their long-silent rover, which had been engulfed in a global dust storm last June, likely coating its solar panels in a fatal layer of dust. Since then, the team of scientists and engineers has sent more than 835 commands, hoping the rover will wake up from its long slumber—that perhaps winds on Mars might have blown off some of the dust that covered the panels.

So on Tuesday night, they listened. They reminisced. But in the end, no response came. Opportunity would finally be declared dead on Sol 5352, as in five thousand, three hundred, and fifty-two days on Mars. NASA is expected to make it official at 2pm ET Wednesday, when NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and the chief of the agency’s science division, Thomas Zurbuchen, convene a news conference.

Opportunity landed on Mars more than 15 Earth years ago, on January 25, 2004. So much time has passed since then. Facebook would not be created until a month later. YouTube would not get its first video upload for more than a year. George W. Bush was still in his first presidential term. NASA’s Cassini spacecraft had not yet even arrived in the Saturn system.

And yet from that moment on, Opportunity and its sister rover Spirit began plugging along the surface of Mars. Originally designed for 90-day lifetimes, the rovers persisted. Spirit lasted until 2010, when its batteries were unable to keep the spacecraft’s critical components from freezing.

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Trump Finances and Foreign Influence To Be Investigated

By: Jeremy Herb and Manu Rahul of CNN

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff announced Wednesday a broad investigation his committee would undertake “beyond Russia” into whether President Donald Trump’s financial interests are driving his actions.
Schiff said the investigation would “allow us to investigate any credible allegation that financial interests or other interests are driving decision-making of the President or anyone in the administration.”
“That pertains to any credible allegations of leverage by the Russians or the Saudis or anyone else,” Schiff told reporters after the House Intelligence Committee’s first meeting in the new Congress.
In a statement, Schiff said the investigation would include a continued probe into Russia’s actions during the 2016 election and contacts between the Russia and Trump’s team, as well as an examination of “whether any foreign actor has sought to compromise or holds leverage, financial or otherwise, over Donald Trump, his family, his business, or his associates.”
Schiff said the investigation, which could involve additional congressional committees, would also look at whether Trump or his associates have “sought to influence US government policy in service of foreign interests” and any potential obstruction into the various investigations.
Schiff’s announcement is the most detailed look yet into how congressional Democrats will investigate Trump’s finances and possible ties to foreign entities, and how Democrats are sure to continue probing Trump and his team well after special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation had concluded.
Trump reacted Wednesday to Schiff’s announcement by slamming the California Democrat and saying Schiff has “no basis to do that.”

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Canada Supreme Court Says Clean Up Old Oil Gas Wells Before You Pay Your Creditors

By: Emma McIntosh of Calgary

When energy companies go bankrupt, the cleanup of their old oil and gas wells must take priority over paying off creditors, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled Thursday.

Though centred in Alberta, the 5-2 decision sets a precedent across Canada, empowering provincial governments to stop defunct companies from off-loading their messes onto other companies or the public. The judgment is expected to resonate across the western provinces, where the number of companies walking away from old wells has skyrocketed amid low oil prices.

“Bankruptcy is not a licence to ignore rules,” wrote Chief Justice Richard Wagner in the court’s decision.

Though the Alberta government, the province’s energy regulator and environmental groups hailed the court’s decision as a victory, critics noted the underlying problems that led to the Redwater case remain. In some bases, a company’s assets may not be enough to cover cleanup costs. 

“The fact of the matter is that when these companies go bankrupt, they have very little resources left,” said Daryl Bennett, director of Action Surface Rights, a group that helps farmers with inactive wells on their land. Such wells can cause safety issues and contamination for the people living around them, Bennett added.

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FDA linked to Opioid Crisis

By: Chris McGreal of the Guardian

The Food and Drug Administration is sacrificing American lives by continuing to approve new high-strength opioidpainkillers, and manipulating the process in favor of big pharma, according to the chair of the agency’s own opioid advisory committee.

Dr Raeford Brown told the Guardian there is “a war” within the FDA as officials in charge of opioid policy have “failed to learn the lessons” of the epidemic that has killed hundreds of thousands of people over the past 20 years and continues to claim about 150 lives a day.

Brown accused the agency of putting the interests of narcotics manufacturers ahead of public health, most recently by approving a “terrible drug”, Dsuvia, in a process he alleged was manipulated.

“They should stop considering any new opioid evaluation,” said Brown. “For every day and every week and every month that the FDA don’t do the right thing, people drop dead on the streets. What they do has a direct impact on the mortality rate from opioids in this country.”

Brown, an anesthesiologist who chairs the FDA committee of specialists advising the agency on whether to approve new opioid painkillers, said he no longer had confidence in repeated assurances by the FDA leadership that it was taking the epidemic seriously and prepared to put public health above the commercial interests of drug makers.

“I think that the FDA has learned nothing. The modus operandi of the agency is that they talk a good game and then nothing happens. Working directly with the agency for the last five years, as I sit and listen to them in meetings, all I can think about is the clock ticking and how many people are dying every moment that they’re not doing anything,” he said. “The lack of insight that continues to be exhibited by the agency is in many ways a willful blindness that borders on the criminal.”

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Wealth Inequality Widens Exponentially

By: Casey QuackenBush

Global wealth inequality widened last year as billionaires increased their fortunes by $2.5 billion per day, anti-poverty campaigner Oxfam said in a new report.

While the poorest half of humanity saw their wealth dwindle by 11%, billionaires’ riches increased by 12%. The mega-wealthy have also become a more concentrated bunch. Last year, the top 26 wealthiest people owned $1.4 trillion, or as much as the 3.8 billion poorest people. The year before, it was the top 43 people.

Oxfam’s annual study, released as political and business leaders prepare to descend on Davos for the World Economic Forum, emphasized that this growing inequality is compromising the fight against poverty.

“The size of your bank account should not dictate how many years your children spend in school, or how long you live – yet this is the reality in too many countries across the globe,”said Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam International.

Since the financial crisis almost a decade ago, the number of billionaires has nearly doubled, with a new one created every two days between 2017 and 2018. At the same time, the mega-rich and wealthy corporations are enjoying lower tax rates than they have in decades, the report said.

“Governments are exacerbating inequality by underfunding public services, such as healthcare and education, on the one hand, while under taxing corporations and the wealthy,” Oxfam said.

Women and girls are hit hardest by the growing wealth gap, according to Oxfam. “Girls are pulled out of school first when the money isn’t available to pay fees, and women clock up hours of unpaid work looking after sick relatives when healthcare systems fail,” it said.

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Mueller’s Office Denies Buzzfeed Claims

By: Katelyn Polantz and Caroline Kelly

Of CNN

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s office disputed an explosive story from BuzzFeed News as “not accurate” Friday night, after the news outlet reported the President had directed his personal attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress, for which Cohen was later prosecuted.
“BuzzFeed’s description of specific statements to the Special Counsel’s Office, and characterization of documents and testimony obtained by this office, regarding Michael Cohen’s Congressional testimony are not accurate,” said Peter Carr, a spokesman for Mueller’s office, in a statement.
It’s highly unusual for the special counsel’s office to provide a statement to the media — outside of court filings and judicial hearings — about any of its ongoing investigative activities. 
In response, BuzzFeed said in its own statement, “We are continuing to report and determine what the special counsel is disputing. We remain confident in the accuracy of our report.”
Ben Smith, the editor-in-chief at Buzzfeed, echoed similar sentiments. 
“We stand by our reporting and the sources who informed it, and we urge the Special Counsel to make clear what he’s disputing,” he tweeted.
But following the story’s publication late Thursday night, Democratic members of Congress began pointing to the report as grounds for the President’s impeachment. The clamor grew throughout the day and into Friday night.
The BuzzFeed story, by reporters Jason Leopold and Anthony Cormier, asserted that Cohen had told special counsel investigators that “after the election, the president personally instructed him to lie — by claiming that negotiations [for a Trump development project in Moscow] ended months earlier than they actually did — in order to obscure Trump’s involvement,” BuzzFeed wrote, attributing its assertion to two law enforcement sources. 
The sources also said the special counsel’s office had corroborating Trump company emails, text messages and other documents, though the BuzzFeed reporters were unclear Friday in television interviews about whether they had seen the documents described in their story.
The special counsel’s office did not go into detail about which parts of the BuzzFeed story they were calling untrue. The BuzzFeed story made several other claims that remain uncorroborated by other media outlets regarding Cohen’s lies to Congress and communications with Mueller.

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Judge Rules Feds Can’t Force Anyone to Open Their Phones With Their Faces or Fingers

By: Thomas Brewster

A California judge has ruled that American cops can’t force people to unlock a mobile phone with their face or finger. The ruling goes further to protect people’s private lives from government searches than any before and is being hailed as a potentially landmark decision.

Previously, U.S. judges had ruled that police were allowed to force unlock devices like Apple’s iPhone with biometrics, such as fingerprints, faces or irises. That was despite the fact feds weren’t permitted to force a suspect to divulge a passcode. But according to a ruling uncovered by Forbes, all logins are equal.

The order came from the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in the denial of a search warrant for an unspecified property in Oakland. The warrant was filed as part of an investigation into a Facebook extortion crime, in which a victim was asked to pay up or have an “embarassing” video of them publicly released. The cops had some suspects in mind and wanted to raid their property. In doing so, the feds also wanted to open up any phone on the premises via facial recognition, a fingerprint or an iris.

While the judge agreed that investigators had shown probable cause to search the property, they didn’t have the right to open all devices inside by forcing unlocks with biometric features.

On the one hand, magistrate judge Kandis Westmore ruled the request was “overbroad” as it was “neither limited to a particular person nor a particular device.” 

But in a more significant part of the ruling, Judge Westmore declared that the government did not have the right, even with a warrant, to force suspects to incriminate themselves by unlocking their devices with their biological features. Previously, courts had decided biometric features, unlike passcodes, were not “testimonial.” That was because a suspect would have to willingly and verbally give up a passcode, which is not the case with biometrics. A password was therefore deemed testimony, but body parts were not, and so not granted Fifth Amendment protections against self-incrimination.

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Bigger Issues Revealed From Government Shutdown

By: Emmie Martin

The partial government shutdown, which began Dec. 22, has now stretched well into the new year. President Donald Trump said Friday that it would continue for “months or even years” until he receives the requested $5 billion in funding for a border wall.

The shutdown has left approximately 800,000 federal workers in financial limbo. Around 420,000 “essential” employees are working without pay, while another 380,000 have been ordered to stay home, according to calculations provided to CNBC by Paul Light, a professor of public service at New York University.

In some cases, the furloughs have forced government employees to tap into their savings, rely on credit cards or crowdsource funds to make ends meet.

Government workers are far from alone in feeling stressed about not getting paid. Nearly 80 percent of American workers (78 percent) say they’re living paycheck to paycheck, according to a 2017 report by employment website CareerBuilder. Women are particularly vulnerable: 81 percent of them report living paycheck to paycheck, compared with 75 percent of men.

Tony Reardon, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, tells CNBCthat the group has heard from hundreds of frantic federal employees. “They’re scared,” he says. “They don’t know how they’re going to put food on the table.”

Various #ShutdownStories making that point have gone viral on Twitter.

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Gene Editing The Next Social Divide

By: Emma Court

Gene editing is one of the most promising new approaches to treating human diseases today. 

It also raises “enormous” ethical questions, Bill Gates recently warned, and “could make inequity worse, especially if it is available only for wealthy people.” 

“I am surprised that these issues haven’t generated more attention from the general public,” he said in a December blog post, adding that “this might be the most important public debate we haven’t been having widely enough.” 

Gene editing allows scientists to make powerful, precise changes to a person’s DNA, typically to fix a defective gene.

Ethical concerns about what the approach might be used for have long existed, but it came to a boil recently when a Chinese researcher said he had played a role in creating the first genetically edited babies. 

Gene editing has already taken place in humans in the US as a one-time treatment for disease. But unlike those efforts, the Chinese scientist’s work would allow genetic changes to be passed down to other generations. It quickly sparked backlash, with many researchers describing the project as concerning and unethical. 

Gates’ warning, released as part of the billionaire philanthropist’s 2018 wrap-up, appears to have been prompted by that recent news. 

“I agree with those who say this scientist went too far,” Gates said. “But something good can come from his work if it encourages more people to learn and talk about gene editing.”

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