AuthorTopic: Knarf's Knewz Channel  (Read 1382683 times)

Offline RE

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Re: 7 Billion People, One Planet. Can Everyone’s Needs Be Met?
« Reply #11235 on: February 15, 2018, 06:59:49 AM »
While there are enough affordable fossil fuels, yes.  Besides the fertilizer, they're necessary to move the food from one part of the globe to another.  We'll also need to move people from neighborhoods short of water to places that have water.  When the affordable FFs run out, we get dead people.


Offline Surly1

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Re: Huge sinkhole swallows cars, prompts evacuations in Rome
« Reply #11236 on: February 15, 2018, 08:44:16 AM »

Are those PILLARS on the structure in the background of the photo? If so, the structure above is built on top of an ancient ruin.

"It is difficult to write a paradiso when all the superficial indications are that you ought to write an apocalypse." -Ezra Pound

Offline knarf

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Painkiller that once cost $138 is now $2,979
« Reply #11237 on: February 15, 2018, 04:02:15 PM »
An Irish drugmaker has jacked up the price of a painkiller to nearly $3,000 a bottle. The drug is 22 times more expensive than when the company acquired it in late 2013.

The sticker shock for Horizon Pharma's Vimovo drug is magnified by the fact that the painkiller's two main ingredients can be purchased separately -- for just $36.

Although patients typically pay just a fraction of the price for Vimovo, the dramatic price increase underlines what critics describe as a murky and wasteful system that ultimately leads to higher health care costs for all Americans.

A spokesman for Dublin-based Horizon said that the $2,979 wholesale price does not reflect "the cost to patients or the cost to the system." The company said it has programs to ensure that commercially-insured patients have access "at an affordable price" -- even if the patient's insurance refuses to cover the cost. Horizon estimates that 98% of all insured Vimovo patients pay $10 or less out of pocket.

The drug industry has come under increasing pressure from a series of scandals in recent years, including extreme price hikes on an AIDS drug by "pharma bro" Martin Shkreli and on lifesaving allergy treatment EpiPen by Mylan (MYL).

President Trump has repeatedly vowed to bring drug prices down. Just last month, Trump promised in during his State of the Union Address that his administration will work to fix the "injustice of high drug prices."

The day after Trump's speech, Horizon (HZNP) raised the average wholesale price on Vimovo by 9.9% to $2,979 per bottle. Horizon confirmed to CNNMoney the price increase, which was first reported by The Financial Times.

It's the latest in a series of about a dozen price hikes for Vimovo, which was listed at just $138 per 60-pill bottle in November 2013. That's when Horizon acquired the drug from AstraZeneca (AZN) and began raising prices. Today, the painkiller accounts for just over 10% of Horizon's annual sales, providing cash the company uses to develop treatments for rare diseases.

Related: How Trump plans to cut prescription drug prices

Vimovo is especially controversial because it was created by combining naproxen, which is sold under the brand name Aleve, and esomeprazole, a medicine that lowers the risk of stomach problems caused by pain relievers. Those ingredients can be purchased by patients very cheaply separately.

However, Horizon said that Vimovo is a special formulation that's not the same as simply combining the two main ingredients.

A Horizon spokesman noted there are no FDA-approved generic, over-the-counter or clinically "equivalent" medicines to Vimovo.

Still, Horizon warned investors in an SEC filing in November that the "higher cost" of Vimovo compared with generic or branded forms of their active ingredients "may limit adoption by physicians, patients and healthcare payers." The company said "we have faced challenges due to pharmacists increasingly switching a patient's intended prescription" from Vimovo to a generic or over-the-counter brand of its active ingredient.

The sticker shock led at least two large pharmacy benefit managers, which negotiate with drug makers on behalf of employers and health insurers, to balk. Express Scripts (ESRX) and CVS Caremark put Vimovo on their exclusion lists until last year.

To counter the pricing concerns, Horizon has entered into rebate agreements with pharmacy benefit managers that lower the cost.

An Express Scripts spokeswoman said that Vimovo is currently on its non-preferred list. "This simply means it is not excluded from coverage, but also is not preferred," she said.

CVS Caremark (CVS) did not respond to a request for comment.

Related: These states want to import cheaper drugs from Canada

Pricing in the pharmaceutical supply chain is notoriously-murky, despite the enormous consequences on the nation's bloated health care costs.

Confidential rebates and side deals between drug makers, PBMs and insurers make it almost impossible to determine who is really cashing in when drug prices go up.

"There is no transparency. It's a big black box," said Annabel Samimy, an analyst at Stifel Financial who covers Horizon.

Consider how Vimovo's net price -- the amount that Horizon makes after rebates -- has recently gone down. Horizon's filings indicate that Vimovo sales tumbled 54% through the first three quarters of 2017 due mostly to "lower net pricing."

"What you see between the gross price and net price is a big bubble -- and we don't know where the savings are passed on to," Samimy said. "You need to understand who's in the middle between the manufacturers and the patient."

Samimy noted that pharmacy benefit managers and insurers are extremely profitable even as patients grapple with higher premiums and some drug makers deal with lower net pricing.

"The system in the U.S. has created warped pricing. Everyone points fingers at each other and nothing gets fixed," said Samimy.

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Chloe Kim smiles during the women's halfpipe finals at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang

Program director Jeremiah Crowe of KNBR-AM said in a statement on Wednesday that host Patrick Connor has been fired after the comments he made on another radio station.

On Tuesday, on the Barstool Sports network on SiriusXM, Mr Connor made the vulgar comments about Ms Kim, then said "the countdown is on" until her 18th birthday.

Mr Connor apologised on Twitter, conceding that the comments were "more than inappropriate" and explaining they were "a weird attempt to make people laugh".

 Patrick Connor @pcon34

Yesterday in a weird attempt to make people laugh I failed. My comments about @chloekimsnow were more than inappropriate they were lame & gross. Im truly sorry Chloe. You’ve repped our country so brilliantly. I apologize to my colleagues & the listeners for being a total idiot.
6:36 AM - Feb 14, 2018

    807 people are talking about this

Without referring directly to Mr Connor, Barstool Sports founder Dave Portnoy said on Twitter that his network sometimes misses the mark with humour.

However he also appeared to hit back against the backlash, saying "cry babies and jealous people" will not dictate the station's actions.

 Dave Portnoy @stoolpresidente

Nothing is more important @barstoolsports than trying to bring humor to our fans lives. Occasionally we miss the mark. Most of the time we don’t. Regardless we won’t let advertisers, crybabies and jealous people dictate what we do. You don’t like us? Don’t listen, watch or read.
11:24 AM - Feb 14, 2018

    894 people are talking about this

Ms Kim, of Torrance, California, won gold in the women's halfpipe Tuesday at the Pyeongchang Olympics.
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Offline knarf

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Pro-Gun Russian Bots Flood Twitter After Parkland Shooting
« Reply #11239 on: February 15, 2018, 04:10:53 PM »
Each new breaking news situation is an opportunity for trolls to grab attention, provoke emotions, and spread propaganda. The Russian government knows this. Fake-news manufacturing teenagers in Macedonia know this. Twitter bot creators know this. And thanks to data-gathering operations from groups like the Alliance for Securing Democracy and RoBhat Labs, the world knows this.

In the wake of Wednesday’s Parkland, Florida school shooting, which resulted in 17 deaths, troll and bot-tracking sites reported an immediate uptick in related tweets from political propaganda bots and Russia-linked Twitter accounts. Hamilton 68, a website created by Alliance for Securing Democracy, tracks Twitter activity from accounts it has identified as linked to Russian influence campaigns. As of morning, shooting-related terms dominated the site’s trending hashtags and topics, including Parkland, guncontrolnow, Florida, guncontrol, and Nikolas Cruz, the name of the alleged shooter. Popular trending topics among the bot network include shooter, NRA, shooting, Nikolas, Florida, and teacher.

On RoBhat Labs', a website created by two Berkeley students to track 1500 political propaganda bots, all of the top two-word phrases used in the last 24 hours—excluding President Trump's name—are related to the tragedy: School shooting, gun control, high school, Florida school. The top hashtags from the last 24 hours include Parkland, guncontrol, and guncontrolnow.

Ash Bhat, one of the project’s creators, says the bots are able to respond quickly to breaking news because they’re ultimately controlled by humans. In contrast to the Russia-affiliated Hamilton 68 bots, Bhat would not speculate on who is behind the bots that RoBhat Labs tracks. In some cases, the bot creators come up with hashtags, and use their bots to amplify them until they’re adopted by human users. “Over time the hashtag moves out of the bot network to the general public,” he says. Once a hashtag is widely adopted by real users, it’s difficult for Twitter to police, Bhat says. RoBhat Labs’ data shows this happened with the hashtag MemoDay, which bubbled up when House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes’ controversial memo was released.

In other cases, the bots jump on existing hashtags to take control of the conversation and amplify a message. That’s likely what is happening with the Parkland shooting and the hashtag guncontrolnow, Bhat says.

While RoBhat Labs tracks general political bots, Hamilton 68 focuses specifically on those linked to the Russian government. According to the group's data, the top link shared by Russia-linked accounts in the last 48 hours is a 2014 Politifact article that looks critically at a statistic cited by pro-gun control group Everytown for Gun Safety. Twitter accounts tracked by the group have used the old link to try to debunk today’s stats about the frequency of school shootings.

Another top link shared by the network covers the “deranged” Instagram account of the shooter, showing images of him holding guns and knives, wearing army hats, and a screenshot of a Google search of the phrase “Allahu Akbar.” Characterizing shooters as deranged lone wolves with potential terrorist connections is a popular strategy of pro-gun groups because of the implication that new gun laws could not have prevented their actions. On Thursday President Trump tweeted as much: “So many signs that the Florida shooter was mentally disturbed, even expelled from school for bad and erratic behavior.”

Meanwhile, some accounts with large bot followings are already spreading misinformation about the shooter's ties to far-left group Antifa, even though the Associated Press reported that he was a member of a local white nationalist group. The Twitter account Education4Libs, which RoBhat Labs shows is one among the top accounts tweeted at by bots, is among the prominent disseminators of that idea:

 Educating Liberals @Education4Libs

The shooter was a registered Democrat and a member of Antifa.

Why does this not shock me at all?

Maybe because you have to be a total piece of shit to belong to either of those groups.

Rot in hell, loser.
9:47 PM - Feb 14, 2018

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Bret Schafer, a research analyst with the Alliance for Securing Democracy, says the spike in shooting-related posts from Russia-linked bots is in line with what his group observed after last year's shootings in Las Vegas and Texas. The Russia-linked bots weigh in on any attention-grabbing news event, but seize on shootings particularly. "Because of the politicized nature of them, they are perfect fodder to take an extreme position and start spreading memes that have a very distinct political position on gun control," he says.

The use of pro-gun control hashtags like #guncontrolnow, along with the spread of anti-gun control links like the Politifact article, appear at first to show the Russian strategy of promoting discord on both sides of a debate. Russian-linked Twitter accounts have attempted to spread confusion and angst on topics ranging from police violence against black people, to NFL player protests, to Al Franken’s sexual misconduct accusations. (On other topics, like special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation of Russia's attempts to influence the 2016 election, the bots have worked in concert to further the Kremlin's agenda.)

But in this case, Schafer suspects the use of pro-gun control hashtags like #guncontrolnow are being used sarcastically, particularly since they're often paired with the anti-gun control links. Since the Twitter accounts Hamilton 68 tracks often target right-wing audiences, Schafer believes the trolls are using the message to attract more eyeballs. "That allows them to then push content that is more directly related to the Kremlin’s geopolitical agenda," such as the Nunes memo, he says. "I don’t think the Kremlin cares one way or another whether we enact stricter gun control laws," he adds. "It's just being used as bait, basically."

Public awareness that antagonistic bots flood the Twitter debate hasn’t stopped them from achieving their goals of ratcheting up the vitriol—even amid a live tragedy like the Parkland shooting. The goal, after all, isn't to help one side or the other of the gun control debate win. It's to amplify the loudest voices in that fight, deepening the divisions between us.
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Leader of group seeking 'white ethno-state' had predicted 'an open, violent clash involving guns'

The suspect in a Florida school shooting was reportedly a member of a white supremacist group.

A representative of the Republic of Florida organisation told multiple outlets that suspect Nikolas Cruz was a member.

The group supports the establishment of a white ethno-state. Its leader Jordan Jereb told the Associated Press that Mr Cruz had participated in paramilitary drills.

The Southern Poverty Law Centre, which tracks extremists groups, included the Republic of Florida on its “Hate Watch” list. Tallahassee-based WTXL-TV reported last year that the white nationalist group was actively seeking more members and said the group was on the Leon County Sheriff’s Office’s radar.

“I do think civil war is a very real possibility in the next two years,” Mr Jereb told the Tallahassee Democrat, predicting “an open, violent clash involving guns and people stabbing and killing each other”.

Authorities have charged Mr Cruz with 17 counts of murder, and investigators are beginning to piece together information about the suspect.

The FBI confirmed that it had received a tip about an online commenter with the name “nikolas cruz” posting “Im going to be a professional school shooter” in 2017. The bureau ran database checks but could not confirm the poster’s identity.

An online trail left behind by Mr Cruz included some “very disturbing” material, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel told reporters.
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5 Culture Leaders On What Makes 'Black Panther' So Special
« Reply #11241 on: February 15, 2018, 04:24:44 PM »
Ahead of the official U.S. premiere of the Marvel blockbuster, we asked Black activists, educators, writers and entrepreneurs why they're so excited about this superhero movie.

Putting aside its very Black cast and crew, “Black Panther” is the ultimate Hollywood superhero flick. There are the requisite ripped bodies fighting for good or evil, buildings exploding, luxury cars speeding and superpowers tested. And yet, this film has become a major cultural moment, with recordbreaking pre-sales, community events, anticipatory hashtags, ticket donations to children, plans to wear special outfits and more. We checked in with five Black activists and creators to find out what makes “Black Panther” so important.
Ariell Johnson

Owner of Amalgam Comics & Coffeeshop in Philadelphia. Variant cover star of ”Invincible Iron Man #1” with RiRi Williams. Knight Cities Challenge grant recipient to develop aspiring comics creators.

What’s your connection to the Black Panther character?

It’s actually an angry geek girl rant. [Laughs.] I started reading “Black Panther” in the early ‘00s with Reggie Hudlin’s run on the book. I was really enjoying it up until the point where Black Panther and Storm got married. They make sense as a couple, but I had my own idea of who I wanted her to be with. She was actually with that person in the comics, up until they do the marriage stunt. They then dropped all the other storylines I’d invested in. Black Panther was, at the time, more of a B character, and Storm was on the A team. Their wedding pushed her to the background. I feel like Marvel made it more of a spectacle to get Black readership. Nothing about it made sense.

But are you excited for the movie?

[Laughs.] I was really excited when Black Panther showed up in “Captain America: Civil War.” His scenes were some of my favorites, and it renewed my love for the character. I am genuinely excited about this movie. I think “Black Panther” is going to smash every record, and not give any place for Hollywood executives to say, “Black movies don’t do well.” It’s a Black male-led film, but the Dora Milaje, his wives-in-waiting and imperial guard, are still going to be heavily prevalent. My hope is that we build on that momentum, and we get more action superhero movies with female leads—and specifically female leads of color. I hope that this movie’s place in history will open more doors for Hollywood.
Jamie Broadnax

Creator of Black Girl Nerds. Host of the Black Girl Nerds  and “Misty Knight’s Uninformed Afro“ podcasts. Co-creator the upcoming equity-focused fan convention Universal Fan Con.

You saw “Black Panther” at the purple carpet premiere in Hollywood. What was that like?

All of Black Hollywood was there. I’m in the Dolby Theater, and Donald Glover was behind me. Then I turn around, and I see Janelle Monáe. And then, Ava DuVernay’s walking past me. It was a pretty surreal experience. You could feel the energy in the room. It was lit. I’m planning to go again, to a third-day screening with my mom.

What relationship did you have with the Black Panther character before this film?

I started reading comics when I was 9 years old. I was mostly into the X-Men but I knew about Black Panther and his lore. I even remember the BET animated series. When the film was announced to the masses, I talked about it a great deal on not only the Black Girl Nerds podcast, but also “Misty Knight’s Uninformed Afro,” my other podcast that focuses on Black superheroines.

What are your hopes for the movie?

I hope that the momentum builds and is sustainable. I hope people do “Black Panther” syllabi, and continue to have podcast conversations and panels and events. There’s a lot to behold with this cinematic experience, and we’re seeing a lot of firsts. One of the things I’ve been mentioning to people: the Dora Milaje and Shuri are now action figures. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Black woman as an action figure. Dolls? Yes. But action figures? No.
Rashad Robinson

Executive director of Color of Change, which recently published “Race in the Writers’ Room: How Hollywood Whitewashes the Stories that Shape America.”

Did you have a connection with the Black Panther character before this movie?

I’m not a comics person, but I knew about what Reginald Hudlin did on the comics. I assumed that a solo movie was a goal, and hoped that they would do it right, with a Black director who would go for the spirit that Hudlin and others were trying to do with the writing.

Describe that “spirit.”

An unapologetically Black theme that didn’t play into the ways that Hollywood dealt with colorism in casting or the ways in which colonialism is dealt with in films. I also hoped that the movie would have the kind of budget and effects that the other Marvel movies get.

What’s your biggest hope for “Black Panther”?

I hope that Black kids and other kids of color are able to see themselves in a new way. From the Hollywood perspective, I hope that this movie is not seen as an anomaly. Seeing movies like “Get Out” and “Girls Trip” do so well in the last several months, I hope that Hollywood will recognize the importance of telling Black stories to their bottom line, and not go back to practices like casting White people in Asian roles, or setting movies in Egypt with all White people.
Juliana “Jewels” Smith

Oakland-based educator and author of “(H)afrocentric,” a comic series that tackles race, gentrification, class, gender and sexuality through the eyes of four millennial college students of color.

What was your first connection with the Black Panther character?

I didn’t grow up as a comic book head, but years ago, when I started writing “(H)afrocentric,” I looked toward the BET series, “Black Panther.” It gets a lot of flack, because the production value is really low, but I love the story.

What do you find most interesting about his story?

The thing I find most interesting is the ability to tell a story about a moment in African history where an African country wasn’t colonized. You have this technologically advanced country completely untouched by European colonization. That’s a fantasy a lot of us have had. That kind of resistance drew me—even though, of course, it was originally created by two Jewish men [Stan Lee and Jack Kirby].

What are your biggest hopes for the film?

I hope that this film makes a really clear case for all Black characters and leads. The fact that this film is most likely going to sell well shows that there’s clearly a viable market for this kind of film. There’s a resistance in telling stories that cut out hundreds of years of Black trauma. I really want to be able to tell more stories like that. It’s less about wanting to see more Black folks doing superhero movies. Instead, I just want there to be so much diversity in Blackness that we don’t have to beg to be in any genre.
Jesse J. Holland

Associated Press’ race, ethnicity and demographics reporter. Author of “Black Panther: Who is the Black Panther?,” a novel adaptation of the Marvel character in the modern era. Creative nonfiction instructor at Goucher College.

How did you come to collaborate with Marvel on the Black Panther novel?

After I wrote my first non-fiction book in 2016, an editor at Lucas Films asked me to write the history of one of their new [Star Wars] characters, Finn. After that was released, Marvel contacted me and said they had this character with a movie coming out in a couple of years and wanted a book that would reintroduce him to the literary crowd. The great thing is that, when Marvel approached me to do this novel, they offered to send me Black Panther comic books as reference. And I was able to say, “You know what, I don’t need them because I bought them the first time around.” I was able to apply that childhood enthusiasm to a project I was doing as an adult.

What was your first connection with the Black Panther character?

It goes back to when my dad started me on comic books when I was around 5 or 6. I was a huge Avengers fan, and Black Panther was a supporting character there. I’ve been following Black Panther ever since. Even as a small child, I wanted to see characters who looked like me. There were only a few in mainstream comics. You had the Falcon, Luke Cage, John Stewart over in “Green Lantern,” and Black Panther, who was probably the most prominent of those characters for a very long time. Unlike the Falcon, Black Panther wasn’t anybody’s sidekick. And Luke Cage was a walking stereotype back then, but Black Panther wasn’t that. He was a regal, powerful, smart, rich Black man, who was also a king and a superhero. He was everything a child wanted to be.
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Mass Shootings 'This Happens Nowhere Else Other Than the United States of America'
« Reply #11242 on: February 15, 2018, 04:29:30 PM »
Once again on today's BradCast, we must lead with breaking details of yet another mass shooting. This time, at a high school in South Florida where, by the end of today's show, authorities report that 17 had been killed, with a 19-year old former student in custody. [Audio link to show is posted below.]

The horrific tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL led Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) to take to the Senate floor to note, yet again, that these this "epidemic of mass slaughter...happen nowhere else other than the United States of America", where Republican officials, controlled by the funding of the massacre-enabling National Rifle Association, refuse to take even the slightest action, year after year, massacre after massacre, to try and curb the nation's gun violence epidemic.

Murphy, who represented Newtown, Connecticut as a U.S. House member during the 2012 Sandy Hook Massacre, where 20 elementary school children and 6 adults were killed by a 20-year old with an assault weapon, notes that the South Florida shooting was the 19th school shooting since the beginning of this year, which is not even two months old.

The Republican Party is, in fact, controlled from top to bottom by big money corporate donors. And, where many Democrats are similarly enthrall to corporate donations, at least a number of the leading Presidential hopefuls are finally beginning to swear off of corporate "dark money" PAC donations. As we have argued for years --- and do so again today, in light of this latest tragedy, get money out of politics, particularly anonymous "dark money" from corporate PACs like the NRA, and most of our nation's problems, including the 'American Carnage' from our worsening gun violence epidemic, can finally be dealt with.
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Polar ice is lost at sea
« Reply #11243 on: February 15, 2018, 04:33:14 PM »

Our planet reached another miserable milestone earlier this week: Sea ice fell to its lowest level since human civilization began more than 12,000 years ago.

That worrying development is just the latest sign that rising temperatures are inflicting lasting changes on the coldest corners of the globe. The new record low comes as the planet’s climate system shifts further from the relatively stable period that helped give rise to cities, commerce, and the way we live now.

So far, the new year has been remarkably warm on both poles. The past 30 days have averaged more than 21 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than normal in Svalbard, Norway — the northernmost permanently inhabited place in the world. Last month, a tanker ship completed the first wintertime crossing of the Arctic Ocean without the assistance of an icebreaker. Down south in the Antarctic, sea ice is all but gone for the third straight year as summer winds to a close.

The loss of Earth’s polar sea ice has long been considered one of the most important tipping points as the planet warms. That’s because as the bright white ice melts, it exposes less-reflective ocean water, which more easily absorbs heat. And that, sorry to say, kicks off a new cycle of further warming.

According to research published last fall, that cycle appears to be the primary driver of ice melt in the Arctic, effectively marking the beginning of the end of permanent ice cover there. The wide-ranging consequences of this transition, such as more extreme weather and ecosystem shifts, are already being felt far beyond the Arctic.

There is just 6.2 million square miles of sea ice on the planet right now, about a million square miles less than typical this time of year during the 1990s, and a few tens of thousands of square miles less than just last year, which had marked the previous record low. This level of detail about the remotest parts of the planet is available thanks to our relatively newfound vantage point from space. Satellites monitoring the poles gather sea-ice data, and records only go back to 1978. But it’s a near certainty that ice levels have not been this low in a long, long time.

Proxy evidence from microscopic fossils found on the floor of the Arctic Ocean provides proof that sea ice levels there are the lowest in centuries and perhaps much longer. There’s evidence from ancient plant material in far northern Canada that the Arctic has not been as warm as it currently is for at least 44,000 years. For the Antarctic, sea ice is more variable and no reliable ancient reconstructions currently exist — though there’s convincing evidence that there was less sea ice there about 128,000 years ago. For context, humans first mastered agriculture about 12,000 years ago in the Middle East, once temperatures stabilized near the end of the last ice age.

The middle of February is the usual time of the annual low for the planet’s sea ice (the Antarctic almost always has more ice than the Arctic, because there’s less land mass in the way); lately, however, the February lows have been much lower than normal on both poles. The Arctic and the Antarctic mostly operate as separate entities in the Earth’s climate system, but at the moment they’re in sync — a bit of a puzzle for researchers.

According to Zack Labe, a sea ice researcher at the University of California-Irvine, thinks there might be more than one cause. Arctic sea ice has been declining rapidly for decades, which Labe and other scientists are sure is the result of human-caused warming.

Antarctic ice, by contrast, began falling in 2016, which suggests the drop could be connected to natural swings in the climate. “It is too early to say whether losses in the Antarctic are representing a new declining trend,” says Labe.

Although the loss of sea ice is troubling, the overall pace of change is even worse. Global temperatures are rising at a rate far in excess of anything seen in recent Earth history. That means, in all likelihood, these latest records were made to be broken.
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To stop migration, stop the abuse of Africa's resources
« Reply #11244 on: February 15, 2018, 04:36:15 PM »

Migrants sit at a detention centre in Gharyan, Libya

On January 17, Italy's parliament approved the deployment of up to 470 troops in Niger to combat "irregular migrant flows" and the trafficking of people towards Libya, and, from there, to Europe. A number of other European countries are pursuing similar policies, including France, Germany, and Spain.

These policies have been preceded, in recent years and months, by a plethora of studies and articles. Many of them were focused on measures that differentiate between distinct migratory waves, with the purpose of "divert[ing] migration rather than attempting to stop it" (pdf). Others investigated the costs and benefits of "outsourcing" migration control, the European Union's strategy for "Sahel Security", and the "financial" cost of the "migration crisis" for European countries.

No less attention was given to the "lucrative business" of NGOs in relation to migratory waves, to the role of organised crime in the "smuggling of migrants" to Europe, and, last but not least, to the importance of "showing solidarity towards these desperate people".

But none of these claims or efforts, nor the related policies carried out by European countries in the region, offer long-term solutions to, and deep understanding of, the key structural conditions at the base of the ongoing migratory waves. These short-term policies and analyses speak to the "gut" of European public opinion but fail to provide structural answers to present and future generations.
Structural problems

The acronym OPL 245 means little, if anything, to most people. Yet, it is the name of the deal for the acquisition of the largest oil block (over 9 billion barrels of crude) in Africa. It is situated off the coast of Nigeria, from where, historically speaking, 12 million slaves were exported to European colonies in the Americas beginning in the 15th century. It is the most populous country in the continent and the one from which the largest number of migrants have arrived by sea to Italy in 2016.

The $1.1bn invested by European oil and gas companies in the acquisition of this oil block would have covered over 80 percent of Nigeria's entire health budget for 2015. The ordinary citizens of Nigeria did not see a penny from the deal. The acquisition, finalised through blackmail, benefitted only a very limited number of corrupt officials and money launderers.

OPL 245 is hardly an exceptional case. Indeed, the natural resources (fuel, gold, gas etc) of most, if not all, African countries and a number of the states in the Eastern Mediterranean are still being syphoned off through offshore companies that, to a large extent, are linked to European and American companies and businessmen. As the Panama Papers confirmed, anonymous companies (about 1400) and tax havens are used to exploit the natural wealth of some of the world's poorest countries.

    It is necessary to at least deconstruct the common image of a generous Europe committed to finding humanitarian solutions to 'millions of migrants', and that has to cope with the consequences of 'others' problems'.


Only by opening Europe to African products beyond raw materials - while guaranteeing an equal share of the benefits to African populations - and addressing the structural conditions that undermine the development capacity of millions of people, will the EU be able to implement a vision based on sustainable solutions.

The search for these solutions also involves the need to put pressure on rich Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE, Kuwait and others, to assume concrete responsibilities.

Some of these countries are among the major recipients of the almost $1.5bn in rifles, rocket launchers, heavy machine guns, mortar shells and anti-tank weapons currently exported from Europe (largely via the Balkans) to the Middle East: some of these arms are currently being in used in Syria and Yemen, contributing to the destabilisation of the region as a whole.

And "destabilisation" is indeed another key aspect to be considered when addressing the structural conditions that are fostering "migration and the trafficking of people". It is a story as old as the world: People tend to migrate when they feel unsafe or unable to fulfil their needs. In this context, it is enough to mention that, according to data provided by the US State Department, "incidents of terrorism" increased by 6500 percent (199 attacks in 2002, 13,500 in 2014) since George W Bush started the so-called "war on terror" in 2001.

Despite the fact that 15 out of 19 hijackers who flew passenger jets into the Twin Towers were Saudi citizens, the Bush administration decided to respond to the 9/11 attacks by striking Afghanistan and Iraq. It is not by chance that these two countries are the ones that suffered half of the total number of the "incidents of terrorism" mentioned above. The destabilisation of a large part of the Middle East and North Africa and the profound influence that this has had on the stability of neighbouring regions is partially, if not mainly, a direct result of decisions taken at the time.
The future ahead: structural solutions

How will migration affect Africa and Europe in the coming decades? The answer is to a large extent bound to demographics. The total population of Africa will grow from the current 1.2 billion to 2.5 billion by 2050, while some European countries will see their populations decline or stay relatively stagnant over the same period. For example, the EU predicts Italy's population to decline from nearly 61 million to under 59 million by 2050.

This further explains why tackling migration and the trafficking of people by deploying troops or diverting human flows is a red herring. Only structural solutions will enable the EU and other international players to turn the challenges that these numbers bring with them into opportunities. From the perspective of the EU, these structural solutions include five main policies:

1. Exposing and sanctioning the ongoing exploitation of Africa's natural resources by private and public European companies in order to tackle some of the structural causes of migration - those hindering the development of many countries in the region.

2. Overcoming the self-serving cliche of "investing in African countries", while opening Europe - including by involving multinational corporations - to African products and enabling local populations to sustain their economies.

3. Monitoring and stemming the flow of weapons produced in European countries and sold in African and Middle Eastern countries affected by wars (Yemen first and foremost).

4. Providing legal protection and opportunities - possibly using some of the 6bn euros ($7.5bln) allocated by the EU to strengthen Europe's external borders - for "climate migrants", that is those (millions of people) who flee African countries because of the effects of climate change.

5. Moving from crisis management to crisis prevention. This includes rejecting the policy of "outsourcing" migration management, a short-term "solution" that has created an economic boom in a number of centres, some located in desert areas, becoming an industry that profits off the most vulnerable.

It could be claimed that none of these policies is realistic, or fully feasible. If so, it is necessary to at least deconstruct the common image of a generous Europe committed to finding humanitarian solutions to "millions of migrants", and that has to cope with the consequences of "others' problems".

Indeed, too often we tend to approach the dramatic present of many Middle Eastern and African countries as something that pertains to peoples and contexts that are largely detached from our political, historical and economic past and present.

This mindset is often part of an ongoing medievalisation of these regions, that is, the tendency to juxtapose an allegedly "medieval" Middle East and Africa with a modern, secular, normative West.

It is necessary to overcome this segregated interpretation of "our history" and "their history", paving the way for a more humble approach towards the peoples' region and their sufferance. This new attitude will help to reshape the paradigmatic schemes through which to look at the "European Neighbourhood" and to realise Eric Hobsbawm's wish to rescue not only "the stockinger and the peasant, but also the nobleman and the king".
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Why did these dogs die after romping on the beach?
« Reply #11245 on: February 15, 2018, 04:46:51 PM »
DAVID LEAFE investigates the growing scandal of beloved pets who passed away after visiting beaches where cargo ships dumped palm oil

Little Kerry Crook’s most faithful companion used to be her family’s much-loved mongrel, Dave.

Today, five years after his death, her most precious memento of him is his dog collar, kept in pride of place around the neck of her favourite teddy bear.

Like the rest of her family, Kerry, who is now ten, misses Dave badly.

Elsewhere in their house on the outskirts of Plymouth, her mother Fiona has his ashes in an urn in a cupboard.

During their first walk on the beach in Caister, on the Norfolk coast, Carla noticed Wolfie (pictured with her son Lusionus) digging frantically in the sand. He later died in her arms

‘One day I’m going to buy a nice plant for the garden and sprinkle them around it,’ says 39-year-old Fiona.

But she admits that it might be a long time before she can face that task.

‘I give Dave a little thought every day and it’s still hard because of the circumstances of how he passed away.’

Those circumstances are the stuff of every pet owner’s nightmare.

One afternoon in February 2013, Fiona and her eldest daughter Lucy, who was then 13, took Dave for a walk on their local beach at Mothecombe in Devon.

A cross between a Staffordshire Terrier and a Lurcher who had been adopted from a local rescue centre, Dave was very much part of the family.

Fiona’s heating engineer husband Stephen sometimes took him to work, and Dave and Lucy had competed together in agility contests at local dog shows.

‘Dave had all the speed and bounce of a true lurcher with all the loyalties and friendship of a Staffy,’ says Fiona.

‘He was an unusual looking dog but gorgeous in every way.’

When they arrived on the beach, Dave was one of many dogs racing over the wet sand when, from a distance, Fiona noticed him stop to pick up a brick-sized lump of something wax-like and white.

‘I thought it was a gull and ran towards him shouting at him to drop it,’ she says.

‘I looked at it and wondered what it might be, then we continued on our walk.’

Although she gave it little thought as they enjoyed the rest of their day, she now believes Dave ate a lump of palm oil — a pollutant cargo ships dump into British waters with scandalous impunity.

This week, in response to a Freedom of Information request from a national newspaper, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) revealed that ships regularly release large quantities of it into our seas with no fear of prosecution.

In 2016 and 2017, there were seven instances of palm oil contaminating our waters.

Two oil slicks were each about 45 miles long.

But no action was taken because international law currently allows vessels to flush palm oil out of their tanks if they are more than 12 miles offshore, as all these vessels apparently were.

Ships sometimes sluice out their tanks after making a delivery to clean away any residue.

By washing liquid leftover palm oil out into the ocean, they save themselves the cost of having it properly dealt with by an onshore facility.

That it later coagulates into the solid lumps washing up on British beaches seems to give some ship owners little cause for concern.

Fiona Crook finds this unforgivable.

Understandably so, given what happened to her dog, Dave. The day after visiting the beach he started vomiting — the contents of his stomach, strangely, smelt strongly of diesel.

Within two days — despite being taken to a vet and referred to a specialist clinic in Somerset — Dave was dead.

‘His liver and kidneys had been horribly damaged,’ says Fiona.

‘They did everything they could for him but he didn’t make it. We were devastated then and still are.’

One afternoon in February 2013, Fiona and her eldest daughter Lucy, who was then 13, took Dave (pictured) for a walk on their local beach at Mothecombe in Devon. He picked up what Fiona believes was palm oil and was dead within two days

And the Crook family are far from alone in mourning a pet that died a needless death because of palm oil, which is the most widely consumed vegetable oil on the planet.

Made from the fruits of the widely grown African oil palms, it is found in about half of all packaged products in supermarkets, an ingredient in items from ice cream to instant noodles, and margarine to make-up.

The global market is booming; currently worth £47 billion annually, it’s expected to rise to £60 billion by 2022. However, there are concerns over its rapidly growing use.

Not least is the devastating impact on forests cleared to make way for palm oil plantations.

The World Wildlife Fund says an area equivalent to 300 football fields is destroyed for this purpose every hour.

There are particular worries about the environmental impact in Borneo and Sumatra, the South-East Asian islands that are home to the world’s only population of orangutans, a critically endangered species driven to the brink of extinction as its natural habitat is destroyed.

In itself, palm oil is not toxic, but it is naturally sticky and can become covered in contaminants while floating far out at sea.

These can be dangerous to dogs who find the smell and taste of the fat highly appealing and unwittingly consume the harmful ‘toppings’ too.

Among these is the diesel oil that international law also allows ships to release in small quantities. That explains the smell Fiona Crook noticed when Dave was first ill.

Seven months after Dave’s death, in September 2013, Lucy Garrett Peel from Warminster, Wiltshire, was on holiday in Cornwall with her husband Alexander and youngest daughter Cicely, then 14.

Lucy and Cicely were walking their miniature schnauzer Zanzi on Marazion beach, near Penzance, when they saw her swallowing a marble-sized ball of solidified oil.

‘She started being sick as soon as we got home,’ says Lucy.

Anti-vomiting medicine didn’t help so they took her back to the surgery where further examination revealed a hard white lump in her stomach, later identified as palm oil. Zanzi died that night.

Lucy recalls: ‘When you have a pet, you’re responsible for another living being and there’s the feeling that you have let it down. I turned away for a minute to look out to sea and that’s all it took.

‘It was terrible seeing Cicely so upset and it was awful for my other two girls who were away working and at university at the time.’

Such grief is something Carla Clark, of Baldock in Hertfordshire, is all too familiar with.

In September 2015, Carla, 36, who runs a business hiring out vintage china, went for a weekend away with her partner, Kevin Hensby, a 38-year-old bricklayer.

With them on that trip to Caister, on the Norfolk coast, were their sons Jake, Tiaran and Lusionus, then 13, eight and six.

So, too, were their dogs — Wolfie and his younger ‘brother’ Fury, both a rare wolf-like breed known as a Utonagan.

During their first walk on the beach, Carla noticed Wolfie digging frantically in the sand, something he never usually did.

On the way back, he was violently sick. Only then did Carla notice a sign warning about palm oil on the beach.

A local vet advised Carla to take Wolfie home to her own vet as soon as possible but he never made it.

Wolfie was on the back seat of the family car when Carla heard him making strange sounds.

‘I pulled over on the hard shoulder and that’s where Wolfie took his last breaths in my arms,’ she says. ‘It was a noise and a moment I won’t ever forget.’

Like Fiona Crook and Lucy Garrett Peel, Carla is keen to share her story to highlight the dangers posed by palm oil.

And anyone who doubts it is still a problem on Britain’s beaches only has to take a walk along some of the most beautiful stretches of our coastline to be convinced otherwise.

Take Formby, Merseyside, where the National Trust website boasts of ‘a glorious beach with dramatic sand dunes, surrounded by coastal pinewoods . . . home to a wealth of rare wildlife’.

Last November the beach was where more than six tons of palm oil washed up in a week, with two reported cases of dogs eating it.

One, a Labrador named Molly, belonged to Martin Beecroft, 61, from Northwich in Cheshire.

Lucy and Cicely were walking their miniature schnauzer Zanzi (pictured) on Marazion beach, near Penzance, when they saw her swallowing a marble-sized ball of solidified oil. She died that night

Although she survived, after they rushed her to a surgery run by Vets Now, which provides emergency care for pets, Martin has since taken to social media to spread the word about palm oil and they have not exercised Molly on any beaches since.

‘The fact that it’s being released legally is outrageous,’ he says.

This week, councils in Thanet and Sandwich in Kent, and Seaford, East Sussex, issued warnings about palm oil on their beaches.

And the death toll is still rising.

The Veterinary Poisons Information Service recently learnt of a dog that developed pneumonia after vomiting brought on by eating palm oil. The dog later died.

So what do the authorities intend to do about the problem?

Regulations in place already ensure that, after unloading, ships wash as much residual palm oil out of tanks into disposal facilities on land before setting back out to sea.

And this week the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) said the requirements for these washes are to be made more stringent, admitting they have not been strict enough in the past.

Good news, except the changes are unlikely to become law until 2021 — another three years in which dogs walked on British beaches run the risk of becoming poisoned pets.

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Gone with the wind: storms deepen Florida's beach sand crunch
« Reply #11246 on: February 16, 2018, 02:57:02 AM »
FLAGLER COUNTY, Fla (Reuters) - Down the palm tree-lined roads of northeast Florida’s Flagler County, a half-dozen dump trucks are shuttling back and forth along the Atlantic coast pouring thousands of tons of sand onto the local beach.

Replacing sand swept away by waves and wind is critical work to protect seaside homes and businesses as well as the tourism dollars brought by northerners seeking refuge from the cold in the Sunshine State.

Getting enough of it, for the right price and in time for the peak tourist season, has become much harder after a violent storm year that brought Irma, the most powerful hurricane to hit the state in over a decade, and saddled Florida with more than $50 billion in damage.

Costs of so-called beach renourishments are a fraction of the total, measured in hundreds of millions of dollars, but the effort is crucial for Florida's $67 billion tourism industry. And while sand needs are surging, there is not enough to go around. (

“It’s like the slow progression of tooth decay versus a fight where someone knocks out your teeth all at once,” Flagler County Administrator Craig Coffey said, referring to sand lost during Irma and Hurricane Matthew, which buffeted Florida’s coast in October 2016.

With the longest coastline of any mainland U.S. state, more money and time is spent fixing up Florida’s shores - widening and building dunes - than in any other state.

But after seven decades of rebuilding its beaches, the state is now struggling with sand shortages, rising costs and tight public funds even during calmer years. The quick succession of powerful storms makes the challenges even more daunting.

By one estimate, based on a sample of beaches, Irma knocked out four times the amount of sand Matthew displaced, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spokesman John Campbell said. Matthew was already considered one of the worst storms in recent memory.

As weather patterns change and coastal development increases, more states have rolled out programs to counter beach erosion over the past five years.

Other nations, including Mexico, Britain and Australia, also regularly fix up their shores. High demand for sand in the construction industry further strains global supply.

As needs and costs rise in Florida, communities are increasingly competing both for sand and funding, with some retaining “sand lobbyists” to represent them in state and federal legislatures.

Flagler County tried for more than a decade to get the federal sand funds used for popular beaches like Miami before turning to local tax dollars, private money and emergency aid to rebuild dunes and protect neighborhoods flooded in Matthew, Irma and several nor‘easters since. The estimated $26 million project began late last month.


That back-to-back strike of storms has pushed counties to reach for sand sources all at once, driving up prices.

South of Flagler, Brevard County wanted to expand a contract it awarded after Matthew to also cover post-Irma needs at the original price, but the contractor rejected the deal.

New bids came in 11 percent to 39 percent higher and the county settled for the lowest offer, said County Commissioner John Tobia, who wants some of the local tax money spent on sand to be used repairing the county’s damaged roads instead. 

Brevard, home to Kennedy Space Center, also has to worry about sea turtles.

Federally-protected sea turtles nest along Florida’s east coast and the laws prohibit any work during the nesting period from May through October.

Environmental rules also prescribe what type of sand can be used, since its color affects the temperature - the darker, the faster it warms - and that in turn can change the gender of the turtles before hatching.

As useable offshore sand sources get depleted and tapping into new sites involves lengthy permitting, more local governments are trucking sand from mines - instead of dredging it from the seabed and piping it onshore - even though it can cost five times more per cubic yard.

“With the shrinking sand supply, it leads to conflict,” said Dave Bullock, who retired last month as town manager for Florida’s western barrier island of Longboat Key, which used up the rest of its offshore reserves after Matthew.

In a recent example of that clash, two neighboring beach communities, Siesta Key and Lido Key are facing off in a lawsuit over which can claim 1.8 million tons of sand from a common boating channel.

Environmental advocates argue that beach erosion is primarily a natural phenomenon and efforts to reverse it create a vicious-circle by encouraging building along the shore.

That in turn puts more people and public resources at risk and calls for greater efforts and money to protect them.

The long-term, lasting solution would be to roll back coastal development, environmental activists argue.

Still, needs are likely to grow, says Derek Brockbank, executive director at the American Shore and Beach Preservation Association, which lobbies for coastal governments and businesses.

Climate change and coastal development have created an urgent need to protect the upland, Brockbank said, calling for $5 billion to be set aside over the next decade in any upcoming federal infrastructure bill.
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Black leopard soup brings trouble for Thai construction mogul
« Reply #11247 on: February 16, 2018, 03:06:34 AM »

Photo: Mr Premchai was also caught with carcasses of a rare black Indochinese leopard and a muntjac.

A prominent businessman in Thailand has been ordered to attend court next month, after being caught in a wildlife park with soup made from a freshly killed rare black leopard.

Premchai Karnasuta is the owner of Italian-Thai Development, a construction empire that built the Suvarnabhumni International Airport and Bangkok's Skytrain.

Mr Premchai has been ordered to appear in court on March 26.

He and three others were found in the Thungyai Naresuan Wildlife Sanctuary on February 4 with rifles, and the carcasses of a rare black Indochinese leopard, a muntjac (deer) and a pheasant.

"The subspecies of the Indochinese black leopard is rare, there is an estimation of about 900 to 2,500 still left in the wild, of which only 11 per cent are black," said Edwin Weik, founder of Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand.

So in the worst-case scenario, the black leopard that was skinned and eaten in the World Heritage-listed sanctuary was one of the last 99.

Premchai Karnasuta told police he had permission to be in the park, but rangers deny arrangements were made for an illegal hunting party.

The tycoon was released on bail, but a subsequent raid of his home found tusks suspected to be from African elephants, as well as 40 rifles.
Ranger hailed a hero

The case has outraged Thais.

University students donned black leopard masks and held a candlelit vigil.

An image of a black cat shot through the head and weeping was painted on an Italian-Thai Development sign, with similar pictures trending on Twitter.

"Most Thai people seriously care about their natural heritage, their national parks, their wildlife and are just generally pissed off with rich people getting away with ugly things like this," Edwin Weik told the ABC.

"This case is a bit different because some of the rangers were making photographs from the beginning, some of the rangers didn't know who Premchai was.

"By then the black leopard was already found, pictures were being shared and I think there was a point of no return."

The ranger in charge of the bust — Wichien Chinnawong — has been hailed a hero for following procedure, despite leaked audio suggesting bribes were offered.

"I didn't think he would be some famous big CEO … but after arresting him, I'm not worried or scared of someone interfering in my work," the ranger said, as quoted in Khaosod English.

    "When someone with money does something wrong and is arrested, they should be treated according to the law, the same as with any villager or any other citizens."

The lanky ranger has received support from high places.

"Fight on Khun Wichien Chinnawong" read an Instagram post from Princess Ubolratana, the eldest child of Queen Sirikit and the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
Echoes of 1973, when poaching felled a dictator

For older Thais, the case brought up memories of another incident in the same national park — one with huge political ramifications.

In 1973, during the dictatorship of Field Marshal Thanom Kittikachorn, there was a deadly helicopter crash in the Thungyai Naresuan park.

Six high-ranking soldiers and police died in the accident, but it was other corpses that sparked revolt.

"Dead bodies of endangered wildlife were scattered all over the area because they were all hunted, they fell down with the helicopter," Mr Weik said.

It emerged that 50 officers were on a hunting party, along with businessmen and an actress, although they tried to pass it off as a "secret mission".

"The scandal channelled resistance to the arrogant military government at the time, helping to stoke anger which led to the historical political uprising of October 14, 1973," wrote the Bangkok Post this week.

Junta's problems mushroom

Today, Thailand is once again ruled by a military junta and the generals are reeling from a scandal involving the deputy Prime Minister's 25 luxury watches and voters' disquiet about the annual postponement of elections.

Mr Premchai is part of the government-business-royal elite class that rules Thailand, making his fortune from government contracts.

It's those connections that make some people sceptical justice will be delivered.

"Only the naïve would think that someone like him would end up in jail," wrote Thitinan Pongsudhirak in the Bangkok Post opinion pages.

Many have compared the black leopard case to the infamous mushroom-picking case of 2015.

Udom Sirisorn, now 53, and his wife Daeng Sirisorn, 50, were sentenced to 15 years in jail for "illegal logging", after being caught taking mushrooms from a forest.

The couple were eventually released after 17 months in prison.

Mr Premchai could face 28 years in jail if he is convicted on the multiple charges against him.

The construction mogul hasn't been seen publicly since being released on bail last week and Thai newspapers reported rumours he had fled the country.

Police said they would seek an arrest warrant for Mr Premchai if he failed to show up at court in March.

For law enforcement, that would indeed be big game hunting.

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It's Getting Harder to Tell Banks From Tech Companies
« Reply #11248 on: February 16, 2018, 03:10:32 AM »
Just imagine the day that Goldman Sachs offers an Uber-for-mergers app.

You know, someone invented the XIV ETN. And someone invented the VIX, and VIX futures. And when you read the technical specifications for all of those things, it is clear that they are not trivial feats of engineering. Teams of marketers and traders and quants and technologists and lawyers put many hours into getting them just right, so that they would work as intended. They are technologies, highly engineered tools designed to help customers do things that they couldn't have done before. They are financial technologies, built not out of screens and circuit boards but out of formulas and hedging strategies and legal documents, but that is what you'd expect: Financial firms ought to innovate in financial technology.

Yesterday Goldman Sachs Group Inc. Chief Executive Officer Lloyd Blankfein presented at the Credit Suisse Financial Services Conference, and his presentation is kind of a weird read. The running theme is that Goldman is doing technology stuff to win business. "Engineering underpins our growth initiatives," says a summary page, and it doesn't mean financial engineering. In fixed income, currencies and commodities, engineers are 25 percent of headcount, and the presentation touts growth in Marquee (its client-facing software platform) and "systematic market making." In equities, Goldman touts its quant relationships. In consumer banking (now a thing!), the centerpiece is Marcus, Goldman's online savings and lending platform. And in investment banking, "Engineering enhances client engagement through apps, machine learning and big data analytics." Apps! I hope there is an Uber-for-mergers app: You put in your location and the enterprise value of your deal, and it tells you that a Goldman Sachs banker will be at your office within 7 minutes. Of course the dream is that one day she won't even need to show up, and the app will do the whole merger for you.

This is obviously good and sensible. Making finance more efficient is good, reaching out to customers with technology is good, a big investment bank is probably as well positioned to build banking and trading apps as anyone else. It is just different, though. Instead of developing new financial technologies, Goldman is developing new computer technologies for its financial clients. Financial technology itself, the business of engineering new tools of finance, is perhaps stagnating a bit. "People are -- not unreasonably -- skeptical of financial innovation that is actually financial innovation, that finds new ways to slice cash flows and allocate risks," I wrote a little while ago. Now the innovation is in apps.

(Disclosure: I used to work at Goldman designing derivatives, not apps. Also I have a Marcus savings account.)
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Amazon, EPA reach $1.2 million settlement over online sales of illegal pesticide
« Reply #11249 on: February 16, 2018, 03:16:17 AM »

Chad Schulze, an EPA enforcement officer speaking Thursday in Seattle, displays one of the banned pesticides that investigators say was listed for sale on Amazon.

The agreement settles allegations that Amazon committed nearly 4,000 violations of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act. Some of the pesticides could be easily mistaken for sidewalk chalk, the EPA says.

Seattle-based Amazon has agreed to pay more than $1.2 million in administrative penalties as part of an agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that the agency says will protect consumers from hazards of illegal and misbranded pesticides sold by the online retail giant.

In an announcement made Thursday, the EPA said the agreement settles allegations that over the past five years Amazon committed nearly 4,000 violations of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act by allowing third-parties to sell and distribute imported pesticide products from Amazon warehouses even though the pesticides were not licensed for sale in the United States.

“This agreement will dramatically reduce the online sale of illegal pesticides, which pose serious threats to public health in communities across America,” EPA Region 10 Administrator Chris Hladick said in a news statement.

The penalty was one of the largest ever of its kind by the agency, said Ed Kowalski, director of the office of compliance and enforcement at EPA Region 10. While agreeing to the settlement, Amazon neither admitted nor denied the specific facts alleged by the EPA.

But as a result of the settlement, Amazon has indicated it is now “committed to closely monitoring and removing illegal pesticides from its website,” Hladick said in the agency’s news release.

Among the most concerning products for sale were chalk products, used by customers to draw a pesticide-laden barrier on a surface the user does not want an insect to cross and survive.

Arriving in bright, cheery and easily opened packaging, the products look like sidewalk chalk, toys or even candy. Any child could easily open and play with them.

“A kid could get it in the mail, open it up, and have a large exposure,” said Chad Schulze, EPA Region 10 Pesticide Enforcement Team Lead. “The risk is very real.”

The packages involved in the sale were small, and therefore the total poundage of product that made its way into customers hands and homes is not large, Schulze said. However the toxicity of the illegal products and possible appeal to children make them especially dangerous.

EPA said investigation into the illegal products started with summer interns in the national office, searching the internet for unregistered pesticides offered by online retailers. Because of the enormous shift from brick-and-mortar retailers to online commerce, “This is a very difficult avenue of pesticides sales to get our hands around,” Schulze said. Asked how much illegal pesticide product he believes is still out there, he answered “a lot.”

“… that is why we wanted to take a strong stance on this,” Schulze said.

Amazon, in a prepared statement of its own, said regulatory compliance is a top priority at the company and that third-party sellers must comply with all relevant laws and regulations when listing items for sale on Amazon.

“When sellers don’t comply with our terms, we work quickly to take action on behalf of customers,” Amazon’s statement said. “We will continue to innovate on behalf of our customers and to work with brands, manufacturers, government agencies, law enforcement, and others to protect the integrity of our marketplace.”

Under the terms of the agreement, Amazon said it will develop an online training course about pesticide regulations and policies in an effort to reduce the number of illegal pesticides available through the online marketplace, the EPA said.

The training — which will be mandatory for all entities planning to sell pesticides on Amazon — will be available to the public and online marketers in English, Spanish and Chinese.

EPA began investigating the sale and distribution of online pesticides at the end of 2014, according to the news release.

The following year, the EPA inspected an Amazon facility in Lexington, Kentucky, and inspectors in EPA’s Region 10 office successfully ordered illegal pesticides from Amazon.

In August 2015, EPA issued an order to Amazon to prohibit the sale of the illegal pesticide products, including some that the regulatory agency said could be mistaken for blackboard or sidewalk chalk by children.

Another “Stop Sale Order” against Amazon was issued in January 2016 after the agency discovered that unregistered or misbranded insecticide bait products were also being offered for sale.

“Amazon immediately removed the products from the marketplace, prohibited foreign sellers from selling pesticides, and cooperated with EPA during its subsequent investigation,” the agency said in its news statement. “The orders, as well as EPA’s subsequent engagement with the company, prompted Amazon to more aggressively monitor its website for illegal pesticides. As a result, Amazon has created a robust compliance program comprised of a sophisticated computer-based screening system backed-up by numerous, trained staff.”

In October 2016, Amazon notified customers who had purchased the illegal pesticides between 2013 and 2016 about the safety concerns with these products and urged disposal. Amazon also refunded approximately $130,000 to those customers.

EPA managers cautioned that because many more illegal pesticides are surely in commerce online, and that customers should check for the EPA registration label on any product they buy. Any product lacking the number is not legal for sale in the US.

Another possible red flag is a product name in fractured or nonstandard English. Names on the illegal products that were the subject of the settlement include “Green Leaf Powder Fly Killing Bait” and “Cockroach Cockroaches Bugs Ants Roach Kills Chalk.”

Any customer who has purchased the products should stop using them immediately as the products, which attack the nervous system, can cause illness and even death, particularly for children. Dispose of the products in the trash, and do not flush in a toilet or put in the drain. Don’t open the package, and handle it with disposable gloves.

Call the National Pesticide Information Center at 1-800-858-7378 for more information.

The enforcement action came even as EPA continues to frustrate many consumer and public health advocates on pesticide safety, most recently by reversing direction on banning chlorpyrifos, a pesticide, from being sprayed on food. The EPA’s own scientists concluded that ingesting even tiny amounts of the chemical can interfere with the brain development of fetuses and infants.

EPA Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt canceled the ban on chlorpyrifos, ordered during the Obama administration, shortly after his appointment by President Donald Trump.

Thursday’s enforcement action against Amazon targeted pesticides already illegal to sell in the U.S.

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