Category Archives: Money

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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Instagram To Hide Likes

By: Hamza Shaban of Washington Post

Instagram will test hiding the number of likes and views that photos and videos receive — a central aspect of its platform — to rein in competitive tendencies and make the experience a little “less pressurized.”

Instagram’s head, Adam Mosseri, said the change is designed to minimize the stress of posting online, where users can fixate on how many likes their videos draw. “We want people to worry a little bit less about how many likes they’re getting on Instagram and spend a bit more time connecting with the people that they care about,” he said Tuesday during Facebook’s annual developer conference, F8.

In the test run, which will roll out in Canada this week, the Facebook-owned site will display user posts as it would normally, but people scrolling through the feed won’t see like counts. Account owners will still be able to check the tallies on their own photos and videos by clicking through a prompt.

Mosseri said the experiment is part of a broader effort to rethink the fundamentals of how Instagram works and create a more welcoming experience. The company also is testing a redesigned profile page that de-emphasizes follower counts. “We don’t want Instagram to feel like a competition, we want to make it a less pressurized environment,” he said.

The psychological drawbacks of social media use have gained more attention in recent years, with parents, consumer advocates and even tech companies pointing to its potential to increase anxiety and social isolation. Technologists also have taken issue with popular social media platforms that place engagement metrics at center stage, encouraging users to maximize those figures by spending more time on the site and perpetuating a feedback loop of notifications and social validation.

Though shielding like counts might curtail strategic efforts to punch up engagement numbers on Instagram, other troublesome aspects like social exclusion won’t be addressed with the change, said Karen North, a professor at the University of Southern California with expertise in social media and psychology. Young people might still feel left out, or worse, if they see their friends posting from parties and other social events without them, and then read the comments that follow. Neither is directly tied to likes, she said.

Hiding the counts could potentially introduce new problems for users, such as diminishing the feeling of camaraderie from liking a popular post tied to a social cause or a massive in-joke. “While we can focus on the negative side of comparing likes, it is also true that people enjoy the game of supporting a post, a friend or an influencer,” she said.

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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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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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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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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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