Category Archives: Government

Atmospheric Carbon Levels Are Reaching Dangerous Levels

By: Jon Queally of Common Dreams

Atmospheric levels of carbon registered 415 parts per million over the weekend at one of the world’s key measuring stations, a concentration level researchers say has not existed in more than 3 million years – before the dawn of human history.

Taken at the Mauno Loa Observatory in Hawaii by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, the measure continues the upward trend of atmospheric carbon concentration that lies at the heart of the global warming and climate crisis:

415.26 parts per million (ppm) CO2 in air 11-May-2019 http://scripps.ucsd.edu/programs/keelingcurve/  First daily baseline over 415ppm

Writing on his Informed Comment blog Monday, historian Juan Cole said that life on Earth in that pre-historic era, known as the Pliocene Period, is not a place humans would recognize:

In the Pliocene, it was much hotter.

In the Pliocene, oceans were much higher, maybe 90 feet higher.

That is our fate, folks. That is what 415ppm produces. It is only a matter of time, and some of the sea level rise will come quickly.

Amsterdam, New Orleans, Lisbon, Miami – the list of cities that will be submerged is enormous.

Elsewhere online, reaction to the unsettling milestone was met with a mix of frustration, alarm, and fresh demands for urgent action to address the crisis.

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Mexico Wants To Decriminalize Drugs With The Help of U.S.A

By: Jason Lemon of Newsweek

Mexico’s president released a new plan last week that called for radical reform to the nation’s drug laws and negotiating with the United States to take similar steps.

The plan put forward by the administration of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, often referred to by his initials as AMLO, calls for decriminalizing illegal drugs and transferring funding for combating the illicit substances to pay for treatment programs instead. It points to the failure of the decades-long international war on drugs, and calls for negotiating with the international community, and specifically the U.S., to ensure the new strategy’s success.

“The ‘war on drugs’ has escalated the public health problem posed by currently banned substances to a public safety crisis,” the policy proposal, which came as part of AMLO’s National Development Plan for 2019-2024, read. Mexico’s current “prohibitionist strategy is unsustainable,” it argued.

The document says that ending prohibition is “the only real possibility” to address the problem. “This should be pursued in a negotiated manner, both in the bilateral relationship with the United States and in the multilateral sphere, within the [United Nations] U.N.,” it explained.

Drug reform advocates have welcomed AMLO’s plan. Steve Hawkins, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project, told Newsweek that the Mexican president’s plan “reflects a shift in thinking on drug policy that is taking place around the world, including here in the U.S.”

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Sharing Economy Helping or Hurting?

By: Ephrat Livni of QZ

No kid ever dreamed of growing up and driving for Uber or styling for Stitch Fix. In part, that’s because none of those companies existed when most of today’s adults were young. It’s also because, besides its much-touted “flexibility,” the gig economy isn’t much of a place to build a career. Instead, over the course of less than a decade, the self-described “tech companies” that connect people to gig work have managed to erode hard-fought labor protections in place for a century.

In Hustle and Gig, to be published in March by University of California Press, sociologist Alexandrea Ravenelle interviews 80 gig workers who are struggling, striving, and succeeding. She analyzes their stories in the context of US employment history and concludes that “for all its app-enabled modernity, the gig economy resembles the early industrial age…the sharing economy is truly a movement forward to the past.”

Although gig work was initially seen as a way to maximize worker freedom and create opportunities, it has, in its short history, proven corrosive. Ravenelle notes that a small percentage of people are making lots of money via side hustles, but they tend to be those who need it least. For example, she speaks to independent hoteliers in New York renting out rooms and apartments via AirBnB, including a corporate lawyer and a man with a chain of laundromats. Because they already had capital, have steady sources of income apart from their side gigs, and are willing to skirt rental laws, these two individuals are able to invest heavily in their “gigs” and create lucrative businesses.

Sadly, those who most need to work can find themselves trapped in a cycle of struggle. Ravenelle interviewed men and women signed up to do tasks on Task Rabbit—prior to its acquisition by IKEA—and who drove for Uber, for example. They were not employees and so had no health insurance, workers’ compensation protections, employer contributions to Social Security and payroll taxes, paid time off, family leave protections, discrimination protections, or unemployment insurance benefits.

Sometimes, this gig work also requires an initial outlay of capital. (My own neighbor just traded in her old vehicle for a new car, taking on thousands of dollars in debt so that she can make extra money driving for Lyft.) At the very least, a potential worker needs a smartphone and wi-fi service. Ravanelle’s book boasts an image inside of a young man in a park panhandling for $30 to activate his phone service so that he can start picking up work.

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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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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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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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