Category Archives: Alerts

Billionaires Send Money To Rebuild Notre Dame

By: Katy Clifton and Harriet Brewis of Evening Standard

It comes after billionaire Bernard Arnault’s family and his LVMH luxury goods group said they were donating 200 million euros to “show their solidarity at this time of national tragedy”.

The iconic tourist spot was engulfed by a raging fire on Monday night that caused its main spire and roof to collapse.

A statement from the Arnault family said: “The Arnault family and the LVMH group would like to show their solidarity at this time of national tragedy, and are joining up to help rebuild this extraordinary cathedral, which is a symbol of France, of its heritage and of French unity.”

The donation brings the total amount raised to more than 600 million euros, after French billionaire Francois-Henri Pinault and major French oil and gas company Total both pledged 100 million towards the reconstruction. 

Mr Pinault, married to actress Salma Hayek, is quoted in French media as saying he and his father, Francois, decided to donate to help with the “complete reconstruction” of Notre Dame.

The younger Mr Pinault is chief executive of international luxury group Kering, which owns brands such as Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent, and is the president of French holding company Groupe Artemis, which owns the Christie’s auction house.

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Millennials Losing Place In Middle Class

By: Richard Partington of The Guardian

Millennials in advanced economies around the world are being squeezed out of the ranks of the middle class, including in Britain, as pay growth stalls and house prices skyrocket, according to the OECD.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) said that for every every generation since the baby boom of the 1940s, across 40 major countries, the middle-income group had shrunk and its economic influence weakened.

The Paris-based organisation, which represents 36 wealthy nations around the world, but also included South Africa, China, Russia and Brazil in its analysis, said there had also been a noticeable decline in the living standards of middle-income families over the past three decades.

It said there were 15 countries where the middle class was now a smaller group than before the financial crisis; the group was defined as people whose earnings are between 75% and 200% of median national income. It also found that the top 10% of earners held almost half of the total wealth, with the bottom 40% accounting for only 3%.

The snapshot of modern life for middle class households around the world suggests that younger generations are increasingly being denied similar opportunities to their parents.

As many as 70% of the baby boomers – born between 1942 and 1964 – were part of the middle class in their 20s, compared with 60% of millennials – born between 1983 and 2002 – at the same point in life, the OECD said.

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Europe Passes Article 13

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European politicians have voted to pass Article 13 and Article 11 as part of sweeping changes to regulation around online copyright. The European Parliament passed the legislation by 348 votes to 274.

Opponents had hoped for last-minute amendments to be made to the legislation, but failed to garner enough votes. Julia Reda, a German MEP representing the Pirate Party who opposes the copyright directive, said it was a “dark day for internet freedom”. Margrethe Vestager, European Commissioner for Competition, said the result was “great news”.

A vote on debating amendments – including an amendment to remove Article 13 and the Article 11 ‘link tax’ from the broader copyright legislation – was rejected by just five votes. EU member states now have two years to pass their own laws that put the Copyright Directive into effect.

Rapporteur Axel Voss, a member of the Christian Democratic Union of Germany, said the directive was “an important step towards correcting a situation which has allowed a few companies to earn huge sums of money without properly remunerating the thousands of creatives and journalists whose work they depend on”.

In a statement, YouTube said the final version of the directive was “an improvement” but that it remained “concerned” that Article 13 could have “unintended consequences that may harm Europe’s creative and digital economy”.

The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, which represents the global record industry, welcomed the outcome of the vote. “This world-first legislation confirms that user-upload content platforms perform an act of communication to the public,” said CEO Frances Moore.

Robert Ashcroft, chief executive of PRS for Music, which collects royalties for artists, said the new rules are “about creating a fair and functioning market for creative works of all kinds on the internet”.

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Would You Delete Facebook?

By: Ryan Mac

WhatsApp cofounder Brian Acton defended his decision to sell his company to Facebook for $19 billion and encouraged students to delete their accounts from the social network in a rare public appearance at Stanford University on Wednesday.

As one of the guest speakers for Computer Science 181, an undergraduate class focused on technology companies’ social impact and ethical responsibilities, Acton, a 47-year-old Stanford alum, explained the principles behind founding WhatsApp and his fateful decision to sell it to Facebook in 2014. In doing so, he also criticized the profit models driving today’s tech behemoths, including Facebook and Google, as well as the Silicon Valley ecosystem in which entrepreneurs are pressured to chase venture capital and large exits to satisfy employees and shareholders.

“You go back to this Silicon Valley culture and people say, ‘Well, could you have not sold?’ and the answer is no,” he said, referring to his decision to make the “rational choice” to take “a boatload of money.”

“I had 50 employees, and I had to think about them and the money they would make from this sale. I had to think about our investors and I had to think about my minority stake. I didn’t have the full clout to say no if I wanted to,” he continued.

Despite selling WhatsApp in a deal that made him a billionaire several times over, Acton’s negative feelings about Facebook are no secret. He departed in November 2017 after more than three years at the company following tensions surrounding the introduction of ads onto the messaging platform, something he and fellow cofounder Jan Koum vehemently opposed. (Koum announced he was leaving Facebook last April, amid reports he disagreed with the company’s plans for monetizing WhatsApp and its approach to user data and privacy.)

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Shooting in New Zealand Mosque

By: Stuff National

A 28-year-old man has been charged with murder and two others are in custody after 49 people were killed in shootings at two Christchurch mosques.

Police Commissioner Mike Bush said as of 9pm 49 people had lost their lives in the shootings at the Masjid Al Noor on Deans Ave and the Linwood Masjid on Linwood Ave on Friday.

Forty-one people had died at the Deans Ave mosque, while seven had died at Linwood and one in hospital.

“It is clear that this can now only be described as a terrorist attack,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said.

It appeared to have been “well-planned”, she said.

Canterbury District Health Board chief executive David Meates said 48 people with gunshot wounds were also being treated at Christchurch Hospital, and others had presented to other health facilities around the city.

The patients ranged from young children to adults and their injuries ranged from critical to minor. Some would need multiple surgeries and some had been taken to other health facilities around the country.

People have been asked to stay away from Christchurch Hospital unless it was essential. There is no access to the hospital from Riccarton Ave.

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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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