AuthorTopic: The Surlynewz Channel  (Read 463512 times)

Offline Surly1

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Re: If Trump Falls, The Entire Republican Party Falls With Him
« Reply #3000 on: January 07, 2018, 06:01:56 AM »
It's going to take massive turnout to swamp the drain.

So you think there will be a massive turnout?  You believe Trumpovetsy's insanity is enough to get the Demodope voters out of their apathy chairs and over to the polling booths next November?

RE

Who knows? If the election were held on Tuesday, I'd say yes. But there is a lot of water between here and November. The Rs have demonstrated themselves duplicitous enough to throw Trump over the side the SECOND he threatens their re-election efforts. One of the reasons Trump rage-tweets every day, the better to keep his phalanx of infinitely reprogrammable meat puppets ANGRY and resentful, is to maintain his public support @ 35 per cent. Fall below that, and all bets are off.

One of the reasons they have gone all-in about Michael Wolff's book, whatever its faults. It's an existential threat.
"It is difficult to write a paradiso when all the superficial indications are that you ought to write an apocalypse." -Ezra Pound

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Re: If Trump Falls, The Entire Republican Party Falls With Him
« Reply #3001 on: January 07, 2018, 06:31:12 AM »
It's going to take massive turnout to swamp the drain.

So you think there will be a massive turnout?  You believe Trumpovetsy's insanity is enough to get the Demodope voters out of their apathy chairs and over to the polling booths next November?

RE

Who knows? If the election were held on Tuesday, I'd say yes. But there is a lot of water between here and November. The Rs have demonstrated themselves duplicitous enough to throw Trump over the side the SECOND he threatens their re-election efforts. One of the reasons Trump rage-tweets every day, the better to keep his phalanx of infinitely reprogrammable meat puppets ANGRY and resentful, is to maintain his public support @ 35 per cent. Fall below that, and all bets are off.

One of the reasons they have gone all-in about Michael Wolff's book, whatever its faults. It's an existential threat.

8 more months to the elections is a LOT of time for Trumpsky to dig a bigger Tweet Hole.  I suppose we just have to wait and see and enjoy the show. :happy1:

RE
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Offline Surly1

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Re: If Trump Falls, The Entire Republican Party Falls With Him
« Reply #3002 on: January 07, 2018, 06:34:27 AM »
It's going to take massive turnout to swamp the drain.

So you think there will be a massive turnout?  You believe Trumpovetsy's insanity is enough to get the Demodope voters out of their apathy chairs and over to the polling booths next November?

RE

Who knows? If the election were held on Tuesday, I'd say yes. But there is a lot of water between here and November. The Rs have demonstrated themselves duplicitous enough to throw Trump over the side the SECOND he threatens their re-election efforts. One of the reasons Trump rage-tweets every day, the better to keep his phalanx of infinitely reprogrammable meat puppets ANGRY and resentful, is to maintain his public support @ 35 per cent. Fall below that, and all bets are off.

One of the reasons they have gone all-in about Michael Wolff's book, whatever its faults. It's an existential threat.

8 more months to the elections is a LOT of time for Trumpsky to dig a bigger Tweet Hole.  I suppose we just have to wait and see and enjoy the show. :happy1:

RE

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

Offline jdwheeler42

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Re: If Trump Falls, The Entire Republican Party Falls With Him
« Reply #3003 on: January 08, 2018, 07:28:31 AM »
It's going to take massive turnout to swamp the drain.

So you think there will be a massive turnout?  You believe Trumpovetsy's insanity is enough to get the Demodope voters out of their apathy chairs and over to the polling booths next November?
It was enough for the Alabama special election for Senator in December....
Making pigs fly is easy... that is, of course, after you have built the catapult....

Offline Surly1

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170 MILLION IN U.S. DRINK RADIOACTIVE TAP WATER. TRUMP NOMINEE FAKED DATA
« Reply #3004 on: January 12, 2018, 01:44:18 AM »
170 MILLION IN U.S. DRINK RADIOACTIVE TAP WATER. TRUMP NOMINEE FAKED DATA TO HIDE CANCER RISK

THURSDAY, JANUARY 11, 2018

By Bill Walker, Editor in Chief, and Wicitra Mahotama, Environmental Analyst

170 MILLION IN U.S. DRINK RADIOACTIVE TAP WATER. TRUMP NOMINEE FAKED DATA TO HIDE CANCER RISK.

Drinking water for more than 170 million Americans contains radioactive elements at levels that may increase the risk of cancer, according to an EWG analysis of 2010 to 2015 test results from public water systems nationwide.

Radiation in tap water is a serious health threat, especially during pregnancy. But the Environmental Protection Agency’s legal limits for several types of radioactive elements in tap water are badly outdated. And President Trump’s nominee to be the White House environment czar rejects the need for water systems to comply even with those outdated and inadequate standards.

The nominee, Kathleen Hartnett White, former chair of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, admitted in a 2011 interview that the commission falsified data to make it appear that communities with excessive radiation levels were below the EPA's limit. She said she did not "believe the science of health effects" to which the EPA subscribes, placing "far more trust" in the work of the TCEQ, which has a reputation of setting polluter-friendly state standards and casually enforcing federal standards.

Last month, after Hartnett White again admitted to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee she knew the TCEQ had ignored the EPA’s radiation regulations, her nomination was sent back to the White House. But on Jan. 8, the White House renominated her, setting up another confirmation vote before the committee, and then by the full Senate.

EWG's Tap Water Database compiles results of water quality tests for almost 50,000 utilities nationwide. EWG also mapped the nationwide occurrence of radium, the most common radioactive element found in tap water. From 2010 to 2015, more than 22,000 utilities serving over 170 million people in all 50 states reported the presence of radium in their water. 

To see radium and other contaminants in your water system

Search EWG's National Drinking Water Database using your zipcode:


Radioactive elements enter groundwater from natural deposits in the earth’s crust, and the levels can be higher when uranium mining or oil and gas drilling unearth these elements from the rock and soil. They produce radiation called “ionizing” because it can release electrons from atoms and molecules, and turn them into ions.

The EPA has classified all ionizing radiation as carcinogenic. There is clear evidence that high doses of radiation cause cancer in various organs. The probability of developing cancer decreases with lower doses of radiation, but it does not go away.

The developing fetus is especially sensitive to ionizing radiation. At doses higher than are typically found in drinking water, radiation has been shown to impair fetal growth, cause birth defects and damage brain development. But there is no evidence of a dose threshold below which a fetus would be safe from these effects.

Six radioactive contaminants were included in EWG’s Tap Water Database, including radium, radon and uranium. By far the most widespread are two isotopes of radium known as radium-226 and radium-228, which contaminate tap water in every state. The EPA does not have a separate legal limit for each isotope, only for the combined level of the two.

From 2010 to 2015, 158 public water systems serving 276,000 Americans in 27 states reported radium in amounts that exceeded the federal legal limit for combined radium-226 and radium-228.

But federal drinking water standards are based on the cost and feasibility of removing contaminants, not scientific determinations of what is necessary to fully protect human health. And like many EPA tap water standards, the radium limits are based on decades-old research rather than the latest science.

The EPA’s tap water limits on the combined level of the radium isotopes and the combined level of alpha and beta particles were set in 1976. They were retained in 2000, when the uranium standard was established.

To more accurately assess the current threat of radiation in U.S. tap water, we compared levels of the contaminants detected by local utilities not to the EPA’s 41-year-old legal limits, but to the public health goals set in 2006 by the respected and influential California Office of Environmental Hazard Assessment.

California public health goals are not legally enforceable limits, but guidelines for levels of contaminants that pose only a minimal risk – usually defined as no more than one expected case of cancer in every million people who drink the water for a lifetime.

California has separate public health goals for radium-226 and radium-228 that are hundreds of times more stringent than the EPA limit for the two isotopes combined. The EPA standard for radium-226 plus radium-228 is 5 picocuries per liter of water. The California public health goal for radium-226 is 0.05 picocuries per liter, and for radium-228 it is just 0.019 picocuries per liter. The lifetime increased cancer risk at the EPA’s level is 70 cases per 1 million people.

California has the most residents affected by radiation in drinking water. Almost 800 systems serving more than 25 million people – about 64 percent of the state’s population – reported detectable levels of radium-226 and radium-228 combined.

Texas has the most widespread contamination. More than 3,500 utilities serving more than 22 million people – about 80 percent of the state’s population – reported detectable levels of radium-226 and radium-228 combined.

See states with the most widespread contamination and cities with the highest levels of radium in drinking water.

But while Kathleen Hartnett White was chair of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality from 2003 to 2007, the state regularly and deliberately lowered the levels of radiation in tap water it reported to the EPA.

A 2011 investigation by KHOU-TV of Houston unearthed TCEQ emails documenting the deception. Instead of reporting the levels measured in laboratory tests, TCEQ would first subtract the test's margin of error. Because TCEQ’s falsifying of data made it appear that the system met EPA standards, the system did not have to inform its customers that their tap water contained dangerous levels of radiation.

How dangerous?

In 2001, TCEQ reported to top state officials – including Hartnett White and then-Gov. Rick Perry, now Trump's energy secretary – that some types of radiation in the tap water of some Texas communities posed an increased lifetime cancer risk of 1 in 400. The EPA’s increased lifetime cancer risk for five types of radioactive elements ranges from 2 to 7 in 100,000. But the practice continued until 2008, after an EPA audit caught the state cooking the books.

In a 2011 interview with KHOU-TV, Hartnett White defended the deception, saying the EPA's standards were too protective and that it would cost small communities millions of dollars to comply. She said TCEQ continued its practice instead of challenging the federal rules in court because it would be "almost impossible" for the state to win:

As my memory serves me, [subtracting the margin of error] made incredibly good sense … We did not believe the science of health effects justified EPA setting the standard where they did … I have far more trust in the vigor of the science by which TCEQ assesses, than I do EPA.

KHOU investigative reporter Mark Greenblatt pressed Hartnett White: "But what if you're wrong? What if you're wrong and EPA's right about there being a danger?"

"It would be . . . it would be regrettable," she replied.

In October, Trump nominated Hartnett White, now a fellow at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, to head the White House Council on Environmental Quality, which coordinates environmental policy for all federal agencies. One of its major responsibilities is "to develop and recommend national policies to the President that promote the improvement of environmental quality and meet the Nation's goals."

In November, in her confirmation hearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, she characterized TCEQ's falsification of data as "one of these technical issues" and declared: "I would never, ever tell staff to underreport health hazards."

In her written responses to follow-up questions from the committee, Hartnett White said she was “aware of the EPA’s interpretation of its rule,” but that she did not "recall EPA telling TCEQ during my tenure there that TCEQ’s methodology was not legal." But KHOU's investigation documented that in June 2004 the EPA warned the TCEQ if it did not stop the falsification, the federal agency could take over regulation of the state's water systems.

The Environment and Public Works Committee voted along party lines to send Hartnett White’s nomination to the full Senate. But on Dec. 21, Senate Democrats refused to vote on the nomination before the end of the 2017 legislative session. On Jan. 8 the White House renominated her without comment. She will now face a second confirmation vote before the committee before a vote by the full Senate.

Installing a head of the Council for Environmental Quality who deliberately falsified data to get around federal regulations is an egregious betrayal of public trust. The fact that her deception left people at a serious risk of cancer makes it even more alarming.

The Senate should reject Hartnett White’s nomination. The EPA must also tighten its legal limits for radioactive contaminants and require more extensive radiation testing and better disclosure – including making sure that rogue state regulators like Hartnett White don’t try to hide risks.

You can read more about the health risks posed by radioactivity in drinking water in EWG’s Tap Water Database radiation report.

---------------------------------------------------------

EWG Tips: Protecting Your Water from Radioactivity

  1. EWG’s Tap Water Database displays the results of utility tests for radioactivity between 2010 and 2015. Small water systems aren’t required to test for radioactivity as frequently. If your water provider is not listed, contact the utility for records of recent testing. If you drink well water, your county health department should be able to inform you if they detect radioactive elements in any wells in your area. Get your well water tested if there is any indication of radioactivity in your region.
  2. If radiation is detected in your water, consider buying a water filter. Radiation can be difficult to remove, and the type of filter you need will depend on the form of radioactivity detected. Radon and tritium volatilize from hot water, making bathing a greater source of exposure than drinking water. EWG’s water filter guide includes filters certified to remove radium. Activated carbon technology works best to reduce radon and strontium, and reverse osmosis may be the most effective technology for uranium.
  3. Check on radon. If you live in a region with radon in soil or rock, you likely have greater exposure to radon from indoor air than drinking water. A simple multiple-day air sampler kit can help you identify whether or not you have elevated levels of radon in your house. If so, consider installing a mitigation system in your basement or crawl space. The EPA’s radon program offers advice about regions of the country with elevated radon levels, and mitigation strategies.

Interactive map link here:
https://www.ewg.org/interactive-maps/2018-radium/?utm_source=201801RadiationRelease&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=201801RadiationReleaseEE#.WliCpiOZNYh
"It is difficult to write a paradiso when all the superficial indications are that you ought to write an apocalypse." -Ezra Pound

Offline Surly1

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What did the men with Donald Trump do when he spoke of ‘shithole countries’?
« Reply #3005 on: January 13, 2018, 04:33:25 AM »
What did the men with Donald Trump do when he spoke of ‘shithole countries’?

What did the men with Donald Trump do when he spoke of ‘shithole countries’?

2:09
'Hate-filled, vile and racist': Lawmakers react to Trump's 'shithole' remarks
By Philip Kennicott January 12 at 3:24 PM

Over the past year, as our political culture has grown more coarse and corrupt, I’ve felt different things: sometimes, anger; often, bitter resignation; and occasionally, a bemused sense of pure absurdity. But the past two nights I have actually wept. Why now? Why in response to these particular prompts? A confused and ailing woman in a thin medical gown was tossed to the roadside in freezing weather by security guards from the University of Maryland Medical Center Midtown Campus in Baltimore. Who orders such a thing, and why would anyone carry out that order? Then, the president of the United States calls Haiti, El Salvador and African nations “shithole” countries. Who says that kind of thing? Who thinks it? Who listens to it without reflexive outrage?

According to a few of the president’s defenders, this is what we all really think. “This is how the forgotten men and women of America talk at the bar,” said a Fox News host, imputing to ordinary Americans sentiments they wouldn’t suffer to be said at their own dinner tables. There was the usual talk about “tough” language, as if using racist language was merely candor or an admirable impatience with euphemism.

His defenders seemed to say that if the president says things that we would be ashamed even to think, he is somehow speaking a kind of truth. But while there may be countries that are poor and suffer from civil discord, there are no “shithole” countries, not one, anywhere on Earth. The very idea of “shithole” countries is designed to short-circuit our capacity for empathy on a global scale.

These two incidents, in Baltimore and in the Oval Office, seem related — inhumane indifference from a hospital and blatant bigotry from the president — which is even more troubling. They are about who is on what side of the door, or the wall, or any other barrier that defines the primal “us and them” that governs so much of the worst of our human-made world. When Trump called disfavored countries “shitholes,” he was indulging the most lethal and persistent tribalism of all: pure, unabashed racism. After a candidacy and now a presidency marked by implications of racism, the president has grown more comfortable with speaking in overtly racist terms, condemning whole countries and their people for not being more like “Norway,” one of the whitest countries on Earth.

 

The Fix’s Eugene Scott explains how Trump’s “shithole countries” comment is the latest example of his history of demeaning statements on nonwhite immigrants. (Video: Bastien Inzaurralde/Photo: Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

Remarks like these from the president are still shocking but hardly surprising, given the frequency with which they occur. What I want to know is how the men in the room with him reacted. This is the dinner table test: When you are sitting and socializing with a bigot, what do you do when he reveals his bigotry? I’ve seen it happen, once, when I was a young man, and I learned an invaluable lesson. An older guest at a formal dinner said something blatantly anti-Semitic. I was shocked and laughed nervously. Another friend stared at his plate silently. Another excused himself and fled to the bathroom. And then there was the professor, an accomplished and erudite man, who paused for a moment, then slammed his fist on the table and said, “I will never listen to that kind of language, so either you will leave, or I will leave.” The offender looked around the table, found no allies and left the gathering. I don’t know if he felt any shame upon expulsion.

Did Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) threaten to leave the Oval Office? Did Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) speak sharply to the president, saying no one should speak like that, not in the White House, not in the United States, not in decent society? (He did, at least the next morning when speaking to the media.) Did anyone suggest that perhaps the president should wash his mouth out with soap and take a time out to think about what he just did?

I suspect none of that happened and that no matter how awkward everyone felt, the usual deference to the president remained intact.

And just so, when someone at the University of Maryland Medical Center ordered the security guards to dump a frail and confused patient out in the cold, they didn’t say no. They didn’t say: We cannot do that, because it is wrong. It took a passerby with a camera, Imamu Baraka, to see the wrongness of the act in its fullness, and confront not just the guards but the nation’s conscience.

I weep, not because I doubt the goodness of most of the people among whom I live in this country. There must be more Imamu Barakas than Donald Trumps in this land. Rather, I weep because the training in moral and civic corruption has already begun, it will inevitably continue, and it is gathering speed. The attack is aimed at the very thing we think should preserve us, our instincts to be kind, to welcome, protect and provide.

The use of terms like “shithole” imputes personal and moral failure to people who by mere chance live in troubled countries. It extinguishes their humanity and with it, any concern we might have for their well-being.

The deference shown by hospital security guards to their employers is of a different order than that shown by members of Congress to a racist president. The hospital’s president, Mohan Suntha, has promised a full investigation and said, “We firmly believe what occurred Tuesday night does not reflect who we are.” Of course, what occurred defines who they are, though they may think they are better than that. “We are trying to understand the points of failure that led to what we witnessed on that video.”

This is bureaucratic cant and drivel. Worse, it frames the problem in the wrong way. We already know we have a medical system that incentivizes dumping poor patients, excluding the uninsured and pushing intractable cases out the door. What matters more is the moral climate of the institution. Who made it possible, necessary and apparently easy for those security guards to “just do our jobs”? Who made complicity in cruelty part of the daily function of the place?

And now, we must ask a few simple questions of the men who sat in the room with a president denigrating predominantly black and brown countries as “shitholes”: What did you say back to the man? And why didn’t you leave? Their answers are fundamental to what we need to know about their character and fitness for office.

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

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They all laughed and nodded politely while thinking how they could best use this to their advantage.

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Offline Eddie

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Re: The Surlynewz Channel
« Reply #3007 on: January 13, 2018, 01:08:56 PM »
You are such a cynic. But....BINGO!!!!
What makes the desert beautiful is that somewhere it hides a well.

Offline Surly1

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Re: The Surlynewz Channel
« Reply #3008 on: January 15, 2018, 02:58:19 AM »
And if you've had it, you know that you are afraid you won't die.

The Perfect Storm Behind This Year's Nasty Flu Season

A strong virus, a less-than-effective vaccine, and an IV bag shortage that goes back to Hurricane Maria.

Man in hospital with face mask

Gregory Bull / AP

Every winter brings cautionary tales that the flu—just the regular old flu—can kill. And the cautionary tales this year are hard to beat. Twenty-one-year-old Kyler Baughman, for example, a fitness buff who liked to show off his six-pack, recently died a few days after getting a runny nose.

According to the numbers, this year’s flu season is in fact worse than usual. It got started early, and it’s been more severe. Twenty kids have died of the flu since October. And in the week ending January 6, 22.7 out of every 100,000 hospitalizations in the U.S. were for flu—twice the number of the previous week.

"Flu is everywhere in the U.S. right now," Dan Jernigan, director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s influenza branch, said during a Friday press briefing. “This is the first year we've had the entire continental U.S. be the same same color”—referring to a map of state-by-state estimate of flu activity. That color is brown, meaning the flu is “widespread” everywhere in the U.S. except for Hawaii and the District of Columbia.

Several factors have come together make this year’s flu worse for patients who get sick and for hospitals trying to treat them.

First, the virus. Fears of a bad flu season first began in the early fall, after public health officials noticed a worse-than-average flu season in the southern hemisphere. The dominant circulating strain this year is H3N2, which hits humans harder than other strains. Scientists don’t really know why, but flu seasons where H3N2 have dominated in the past have tended to be worse. STAT reporter Helen Branswell called it the “problem child of seasonal flu.”


H3N2 (red) makes up the majority of lab-confirmed cases of flu this season. (CDC)

Second, the vaccine. This year’s vaccine was only 10 percent effective against the problematic H3N2 strain in Australia.

Flu experts have the unenviable task of predicting circulating flu strains several months in advance—so that vaccine manufacturers have the time it takes to grow millions of doses in chicken eggs. This year, they got the dominant strain right. But even when flu experts do a decent job with their predictions, the other problem is the chicken eggs. Flu viruses can pick up mutations and evolve as they grow in bird cells, which are not their preferred environment. (After all, they want to infect humans.) So in the end, the flu viruses that end up in vaccines look a little different than the ones circulating out in the world. The H3N2 strain is especially prone to significant egg-induced mutations.

In recent years, researchers have tried to stop relying on chicken eggs. This flu season, for the first time, the H3N2 component of one type of vaccine, Flucelvax, was made in dog cells rather than chicken eggs. However, Flucelvax is more expensive and less widely available; most people who got the vaccine this year likely got the ones grown in chicken eggs. Researchers also are pursuing a universal flu vaccine that works against all strains.

This does not mean that the flu vaccine this year is useless. It still protects against other strains of flu such as H1N1 and B virus, and it provides at least some immunity to H3N2.

Hospitals are dealing with more flu patients at the same that they’re running out of IV bags—basic equipment that is in distressingly short supply across much of the country these days. IV bags, along with a lot of other medical equipment, are manufactured in Puerto Rico. The blackout after Hurricane Maria massively disrupted manufacturing on the island. The plants making IV bags have reconnected to the power grid, but hospitals are still not getting a reliable supply.

Normally, a hospital can go through hundreds of IV bags a day to replenish fluids for patients and to give drugs like antibiotics and painkillers. Some have resorted to directly injecting drugs into the vein via a procedure called “IV push.”

“If we can’t support patients coming in emergency rooms who have the flu, more people are going to die,” Deborah Pasko, director of medication safety and quality at the American Society of Health System Pharmacists, told the Associated Press. “I see it as a crisis.”

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

Offline Surly1

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CES Shows That the Future Will Not Work
« Reply #3009 on: January 15, 2018, 03:03:44 AM »
CES Shows That the Future Will Not Work--

A new article by Taylor Lorenz in the Daily Beast, CES Was Full of Useless Robots and Machines That Don’t Work, by virtue of doing what tech writers are never supposed to do, namely report as opposed to cheerlead, is being buried despite its importance.

Lorenz went to the what is the biggest, most important consumer tech trade show in the US, and arguably the world, and found that tons of the great new gotta-have-them wares in the pipeline don’t work. As in unabashedly, obviously don’t work or are so ludicrously not fit for purpose as to be the functional equivalent of not work.

This inability to even credibly fake next gen products, and worse, not even be embarrassed that they aren’t performing, is proof that the tech industry has gone past an event horizon into a state of obvious collective impotence and not one cares ore even seems to regard it as unusual. Broken companion robots for the elderly? Why not? A “tell you what to wear and how to take care of it” device….that depends on everything you own having RFID chips in them, which isn’t here, many never get here, and in any event excludes all those nice things you own now?

How about an idea that would seem a lot easier to implement: wheelie suitcases that follow you around? Nope:

90Fun’s Puppy 1 self-driving rollaway, which uses Segway technology to roll behind you, couldn’t go 10 feet without falling on its face. A Chinese competitor I observed in action kept losing its owner and was abysmally slow. I couldn’t imagine running late for a flight and trying to keep any of these in tow.

With all the outrages in the world, it may seem hard to get up in arms about a big trade show gone massively pear shaped. But you need to see this as proof of degeneracy and narcissism among our supposed best and brightest. When sports teams are trounced by opponents or score own goals, they have the decency to act upset and mortified. Here we have Silicon Valley exhibiting grotesque loserdom on a large-scale basis…and that’s somehow normal and OK? Did these people all go to schools where everyone got a prize for just showing up? This looks like the result of decades of overprotective parenting, of building self esteem matters more than teaching skills, finally coming home to roost.

It was bad enough a few years back when the Silicon Valley rage was apps, when they were generally trivial to build, trivial in utility, or worse, embodied degradation or sheer idiocy. Remember eShaver, a shaving app that didn’t shave but just made shaver noises? How about Birth Buddy, that allowed pregnant women to time their contractions and e-mail the results to friends and family?

Another anchor fad has been the Internet of Things, otherwise known as the Internet of Shit, or devices that are going to talk to each other and spy on you whether you like it or not. After being told how great it will be to give orders to your thermostat, or direct your oven to turn on remotely (since when are you going to leave food out at room temperature waiting for you to eventually turn cooking devices on), or the supposed killer app, having your fridge order milk when you are running low, which really looked like an excuse to sell people smart locks to let Amazon Man come into your house, we learn that IoT is full of bugs, not secure, will never be secure (that was before factoring in Meltdown and Spectre) and makes you hostage to firmware providers, both in the event of them failing or succeeding. For instance, as Malwarebytes pointed out:

Setting aside poor security design and implementation, “smart” devices like these tend to come with fuzzy legal boundaries surrounding ownership and maintenance. Last year, a home automation hub company called Revolv was shut down during acquisition. Rather than simply failing to provide updates, the devices were disabled.

This was an inconvenience for users, but what if it was your front door? Given the current state of mobile OS fragmentation, would it be that much of a surprise if a lock company simply declined to provide security updates? We couldn’t find any information on the means by which the new Amazon compatible locks are updated, how authorized delivery personnel will interact with the locks, and if any third party has access to data communicated by the lock and/or accompanying phone apps.

So this year, the hot new thing is robots. But while it appears that software engineers can get away with peddling vaporware and buggy products, hardware that does not work is more obvious. But no one seemed to regard that as an impediment.

This episode proves that Silicon Valley is no longer about products. It’s about VC hype and pump and dump. One has to assume that investors don’t bother looking to see whether things work. Offering memoranda, glossy sites, and the ability to foist paper onto greater fools is the dominant business model. How vulnerable is this to the end of QE? To China and the Asian tigers seeing we are going to be their lunch? To all of this crap tech collapsing so quickly that it won’t even last long enough to be called “planned obsolescence” and will lead to consumer revulsion against NewTech? Time will tell, and the implication of CES is that that time is coming sooner rather than later.

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

Offline Surly1

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Martin Luther King Jr.'s 'Letter From Birmingham Jail'
« Reply #3010 on: January 15, 2018, 08:28:23 AM »
Martin Luther King Jr.'s 'Letter From Birmingham Jail'

Fifty years ago today, Martin Luther King wrote this landmark missive. It was republished several months later in The Atlantic.

Martin Luther King Jr. and Ralph Abernathy (background) leave Birmingham City Jail following their release on April 20, 1963, after eight days of imprisonment. AP
 
 
 

Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous "Letter from Birmingham Jail," published in The Atlantic as "The Negro Is Your Brother" and excerpted below, was written in response to a public statement of concern and caution issued by eight white religious leaders of the South. It stands as one of the classic documents of the civil-rights movement.

While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling our present activities "unwise and untimely." Seldom, if ever, do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas. If I sought to answer all of the criticisms that cross my desk, my secretaries would be engaged in little else in the course of the day, and I would have no time for constructive work. But since I feel that you are men of genuine good will and your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I would like to answer your statement in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms.

I think I should give the reason for my being in Birmingham, since you have been influenced by the argument of "outsiders coming in"

I am in Birmingham because injustice is here ...I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial "outside agitator" idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider ...

We have waited for more than three hundred and forty years for our God-given and constitutional rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward the goal of political independence, and we still creep at horse-and-buggy pace toward the gaining of a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. I guess it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say "wait." But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick, brutalize, and even kill your black brothers and sisters with impunity; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she cannot go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her little eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see the depressing clouds of inferiority begin to form in her little mental sky, and see her begin to distort her little personality by unconsciously developing a bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son asking in agonizing pathos, "Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?"; when you take a cross-country drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading "white" and "colored"; when your first name becomes "nigger" and your middle name becomes "boy" (however old you are) and your last name becomes "John," and when your wife and mother are never given the respected title "Mrs."; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of "nobodyness"--then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over and men are no longer willing to be plunged into an abyss of injustice where they experience the bleakness of corroding despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience ...

You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court's decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, it is rather strange and paradoxical to find us consciously breaking laws. One may well ask, "How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?" The answer is found in the fact that there are two types of laws: there are just laws, and there are unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that "An unjust law is no law at all."

Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine when a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law, or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas, an unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality ...

There are some instances when a law is just on its face and unjust in its application. For instance, I was arrested Friday on a charge of parading without a permit. Now, there is nothing wrong with an ordinance which requires a permit for a parade, but when the ordinance is used to preserve segregation and to deny citizens the First Amendment privilege of peaceful assembly and peaceful protest, then it becomes unjust.

Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. It was seen sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar because a higher moral law was involved. It was practiced superbly by the early Christians, who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks before submitting to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire. To a degree, academic freedom is a reality today because Socrates practiced civil disobedience.

We can never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was "legal" and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was "illegal." It was "illegal" to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler's Germany. But I am sure that if I had lived in Germany during that time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers even though it was illegal. If I lived in a Communist country today where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I believe I would openly advocate disobeying these anti-religious laws ...

I have no fear about the outcome of our struggle in Birmingham, even if our motives are presently misunderstood. We will reach the goal of freedom in Birmingham and all over the nation, because the goal of America is freedom. Abused and scorned though we may be, our destiny is tied up with the destiny of America. Before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth, we were here. Before the pen of Jefferson scratched across the pages of history the majestic word of the Declaration of Independence, we were here ...If the inexpressible cruelties of slavery could not stop us, the opposition we now face will surely fail. We will win our freedom because the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of God are embodied in our echoing demands ...

Never before have I written a letter this long--or should I say a book? I'm afraid that it is much too long to take your precious time. I can assure you that it would have been much shorter if I had been writing from a comfortable desk, but what else is there to do when you are alone for days in the dull monotony of a narrow jail cell other than write long letters, think strange thoughts, and pray long prayers?

If I have said anything in this letter that is an overstatement of the truth and is indicative of an unreasonable impatience, I beg you to forgive me. If I have said anything in this letter that is an understatement of the truth and is indicative of my having a patience that makes me patient with anything less than brotherhood, I beg God to forgive me.

Yours for the cause of Peace and Brotherhood,
MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.

Volume 212, Number 2, pp. 78-88

King’s letter appeared in the August 1963 issue of the magazine. The full text is not available on The Atlantic's site but can be found here.

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

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Know-Nothings for the 21st Century
« Reply #3011 on: January 16, 2018, 09:25:14 AM »
Know-Nothings for the 21st Century

Know-Nothings for the 21st Century

Paul Krugman

These days calling someone a “know-nothing” could mean one of two things.

If you’re a student of history, you might be comparing that person to a member of the Know Nothing party of the 1850s, a bigoted, xenophobic, anti-immigrant group that at its peak included more than a hundred members of Congress and eight governors. More likely, however, you’re suggesting that said person is willfully ignorant, someone who rejects facts that might conflict with his or her prejudices.

The sad thing is that America is currently ruled by people who fit both definitions. And the know-nothings in power are doing all they can to undermine the very foundations of American greatness.

The parallels between anti-immigrant agitation in the mid-19th century and Trumpism are obvious. Only the identities of the maligned nationalities have changed.

After all, Ireland and Germany, the main sources of that era’s immigration wave, were the shithole countries of the day. Half of Ireland’s population emigrated in the face of famine, while Germans were fleeing both economic and political turmoil. Immigrants from both countries, but the Irish in particular, were portrayed as drunken criminals if not subhuman. They were also seen as subversives: Catholics whose first loyalty was to the pope. A few decades later, the next great immigration wave — of Italians, Jews and many other peoples — inspired similar prejudice.

Photo
Portrait of a young man, circa 1864, representing the nativist ideal of the Know Nothing party. CreditLibrary of Congress

And here we are again. Anti-Irish prejudice, anti-German prejudice, anti-Italian prejudice are mostly things of the past (although anti-Semitism springs eternal), but there are always new groups to hate.

But today’s Republicans — for this isn’t just about Donald Trump, it’s about a whole party — aren’t just Know-Nothings, they’re also know-nothings. The range of issues on which conservatives insist that the facts have a well-known liberal bias just keeps widening.

 

One result of this embrace of ignorance is a remarkable estrangementbetween modern conservatives and highly educated Americans, especially but not only college faculty. The right insists that the scarcity of self-identified conservatives in the academy is evidence of discrimination against their views, of political correctness run wild.

Yet conservative professors are rare even in hard sciences like physics and biology, and it’s not difficult to see why. When the more or less official position of your party is that climate change is a hoax and evolution never happened, you won’t get much support from people who take evidence seriously.

But conservatives don’t see the rejection of their orthodoxies by people who know what they’re talking about as a sign that they might need to rethink. Instead, they’ve soured on scholarship and education in general. Remarkably, a clear majority of Republicans now say that colleges and universities have a negative effect on America.

So the party that currently controls all three branches of the federal government is increasingly for bigotry and against education. That should disturb you for multiple reasons, one of which is that the G.O.P. has rejected the very values that made America great.

Think of where we’d be as a nation if we hadn’t experienced those great waves of immigrants driven by the dream of a better life. Think of where we’d be if we hadn’t led the world, first in universal basic education, then in the creation of great institutions of higher education. Surely we’d be a shrunken, stagnant, second-rate society.

And that’s what we’ll become if modern know-nothingism prevails.

I’ve been rereading an important 2012 book, Enrico Moretti’s “The New Geography of Jobs,” about the growing divergence of regional fortuneswithin the United States. Until around 1980, America seemed on the path toward broadly spread prosperity, with poor regions like the Deep South rapidly catching up with the rest. Since then, however, the gaps have widened again, with incomes in some parts of the nation surging while other parts fall behind.

Moretti argues, rightly in the view of many economists, that this new divergence reflects the growing importance of clusters of highly skilled workers — many of them immigrants — often centered on great universities, that create virtuous circles of growth and innovation. And as it happens, the 2016 election largely pitted these rising regions against those left behind, which is why counties carried by Hillary Clinton, who won only a narrow majority of the popular vote, account for a remarkable 64 percent of U.S. G.D.P., almost twice as much as Trump counties.

Clearly, we need policies to spread the benefits of growth and innovation more widely. But one way to think of Trumpism is as an attempt to narrow regional disparities, not by bringing the lagging regions up, but by cutting the growing regions down. For that’s what attacks on education and immigration, key drivers of the new economy’s success stories, would do.

So will our modern know-nothings prevail? I have no idea. What’s clear, however, is that if they do, they won’t make America great again — they’ll kill the very things that made it great.

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

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Re: Know-Nothings for the 21st Century
« Reply #3012 on: January 16, 2018, 10:13:47 AM »
Know-Nothings for the 21st Century

Know-Nothings for the 21st Century

Paul Krugman

These days calling someone a “know-nothing” could mean one of two things.

If you’re a student of history, you might be comparing that person to a member of the Know Nothing party of the 1850s, a bigoted, xenophobic, anti-immigrant group that at its peak included more than a hundred members of Congress and eight governors. More likely, however, you’re suggesting that said person is willfully ignorant, someone who rejects facts that might conflict with his or her prejudices.

The sad thing is that America is currently ruled by people who fit both definitions. And the know-nothings in power are doing all they can to undermine the very foundations of American greatness.

The parallels between anti-immigrant agitation in the mid-19th century and Trumpism are obvious. Only the identities of the maligned nationalities have changed.

After all, Ireland and Germany, the main sources of that era’s immigration wave, were the shithole countries of the day. Half of Ireland’s population emigrated in the face of famine, while Germans were fleeing both economic and political turmoil. Immigrants from both countries, but the Irish in particular, were portrayed as drunken criminals if not subhuman. They were also seen as subversives: Catholics whose first loyalty was to the pope. A few decades later, the next great immigration wave — of Italians, Jews and many other peoples — inspired similar prejudice.

Photo
Portrait of a young man, circa 1864, representing the nativist ideal of the Know Nothing party. CreditLibrary of Congress

And here we are again. Anti-Irish prejudice, anti-German prejudice, anti-Italian prejudice are mostly things of the past (although anti-Semitism springs eternal), but there are always new groups to hate.

But today’s Republicans — for this isn’t just about Donald Trump, it’s about a whole party — aren’t just Know-Nothings, they’re also know-nothings. The range of issues on which conservatives insist that the facts have a well-known liberal bias just keeps widening.

One result of this embrace of ignorance is a remarkable estrangementbetween modern conservatives and highly educated Americans, especially but not only college faculty. The right insists that the scarcity of self-identified conservatives in the academy is evidence of discrimination against their views, of political correctness run wild.

Yet conservative professors are rare even in hard sciences like physics and biology, and it’s not difficult to see why. When the more or less official position of your party is that climate change is a hoax and evolution never happened, you won’t get much support from people who take evidence seriously.

But conservatives don’t see the rejection of their orthodoxies by people who know what they’re talking about as a sign that they might need to rethink. Instead, they’ve soured on scholarship and education in general. Remarkably, a clear majority of Republicans now say that colleges and universities have a negative effect on America.

So the party that currently controls all three branches of the federal government is increasingly for bigotry and against education. That should disturb you for multiple reasons, one of which is that the G.O.P. has rejected the very values that made America great.

Think of where we’d be as a nation if we hadn’t experienced those great waves of immigrants driven by the dream of a better life. Think of where we’d be if we hadn’t led the world, first in universal basic education, then in the creation of great institutions of higher education. Surely we’d be a shrunken, stagnant, second-rate society.

And that’s what we’ll become if modern know-nothingism prevails.

I’ve been rereading an important 2012 book, Enrico Moretti’s “The New Geography of Jobs,” about the growing divergence of regional fortuneswithin the United States. Until around 1980, America seemed on the path toward broadly spread prosperity, with poor regions like the Deep South rapidly catching up with the rest. Since then, however, the gaps have widened again, with incomes in some parts of the nation surging while other parts fall behind.

Moretti argues, rightly in the view of many economists, that this new divergence reflects the growing importance of clusters of highly skilled workers — many of them immigrants — often centered on great universities, that create virtuous circles of growth and innovation. And as it happens, the 2016 election largely pitted these rising regions against those left behind, which is why counties carried by Hillary Clinton, who won only a narrow majority of the popular vote, account for a remarkable 64 percent of U.S. G.D.P., almost twice as much as Trump counties.

Clearly, we need policies to spread the benefits of growth and innovation more widely. But one way to think of Trumpism is as an attempt to narrow regional disparities, not by bringing the lagging regions up, but by cutting the growing regions down. For that’s what attacks on education and immigration, key drivers of the new economy’s success stories, would do.

So will our modern know-nothings prevail? I have no idea. What’s clear, however, is that if they do, they won’t make America great again — they’ll kill the very things that made it great.


Am I agreeing with Paul "Nobel Prize" Krugman? I think I am. I hate that.
What makes the desert beautiful is that somewhere it hides a well.

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How a Trump SoHo Partner Ended Up With Toxic Mining Riches From Kazakhstan
« Reply #3013 on: January 17, 2018, 04:16:28 AM »
Follow the money.

How a Trump SoHo Partner Ended Up With Toxic Mining Riches From Kazakhstan

How a Trump SoHo Partner Ended Up With Toxic Mining Riches From Kazakhstan

The long road from the old Soviet republic to the offshore financial centers of the Caribbean to London—and all the way to a partner in Midtown Manhattan's Trump SoHo.
 

A winter view of the Aktyubinsk Chromium Chemicals Plant on the outskirts of Aktobe, Kazakhstan.

Photographer: Konstantin Salomatin for Bloomberg
By
Marc Champion

Green smoke paints the landscape on the outskirts of Aktobe, the hub of a Central Asian mining empire that produces a third of the world’s chromium — the essential ingredient in stainless steel.

Locals say that the air gets so bad in summer it’s hard to breathe. Industrial waste contaminates the groundwater.

All of this starts at the Aktyubinsk Chromium Chemicals Plant (AZXS), a Nikita Khrushchev-era complex. It shares an industrial zone with a vast smelting plant; together, they have yielded lavish private wealth since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

In one sense, it’s a familiar snapshot of post-Soviet capitalism: state assets bought for a song, workers saying they were cheated out of shares and connected businessmen getting wildly rich.

Workers at the entrance of AZXS at the end of a shift, with a Soviet-era statue looming overhead.
Photographer: Konstantin Salomatin for Bloomberg

This story, however, carves a path from near Kazakhstan’s northern border with Russia to the offshore financial centers of the Caribbean, to London and all the way to Trump property in Midtown Manhattan.

How and why funds from former Soviet states flowed into Trump-branded real estate has been the focus of speculation since the start of the 2016 presidential campaign. One theory, propounded by opponents of President Donald Trump is that his admiration for Russia’s Vladimir Putin comes down to money, a suggestion Trump has forcefully denied.

Still, Special Counsel Robert Mueller is digging into Trump’s business dealings, and the scramble for Kazakhstan’s chromium riches may fill in a piece of that puzzle. Company records, court filings and interviews in Kazakhstan and London suggest millions of dollars from the Aktobe plant wound their way to the U.S. and a development company with which Trump partnered to build a controversial Trump SoHo hotel-condominium complex in Manhattan.

There’s no suggestion that the Kazakh money ties Trump to Putin. But the funds tell an important story of the future president’s insouciance toward due diligence and business partner choices at a time when unmonitored cash was flooding out of Russia and other former Soviet states.

It was on the 24th floor of Trump Tower that Kazakh businessman Tevfik Arif, a key figure in Aktobe chromium, established Bayrock Group LLC. The plant passed millions of dollars to Bayrock, which organized financing for the Trump SoHo high-rise that Trump once hailed as a “work of art.” Earlier last month, Trump Soho’s new owner bought the Trump Organization out of its management contract for the project.

(From left) Eric Trump, Tevfik Arif, Donald Trump Jr., Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump attend the Trump SoHo press conference at the construction site on Sept. 19, 2007.
Photographer: Clint Spaulding/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

It’s unclear precisely how much money from the refinery might have coursed through Bayrock and to Trump SoHo and other Trump-branded projects that Bayrock planned or undertook, in Miami and Phoenix. A 2016 complaint for breach of contract against Arif said that in two years alone, at least $10 million arrived at Bayrock from the Kazakh plant. Jody Kriss, the Bayrock finance director who brought the suit, said in the complaint that he became convinced the company was a front for Russian and Kazakh money laundering. The case, approved in December 2016 to proceed to trial under a racketeering statute, is ongoing.

Arif, through a Bayrock spokeswoman, declined to comment on the case or a list of other questions.

In Aktobe, workers leaving their shift on a recent morning said they didn’t know who owned the chromium chemicals plant which exports the ingredients for anti-corrosive paints to about 30 countries and is known here by its Russian initials, AZXS. Inspirational Soviet-era statues of workers clutching a book and hardhat still stand over the entrance, 27 years after Kazakhstan declared its independence. Ruslan Kim, a smartly suited young ethnic Korean with a briefcase, who described himself as an AZXS representative, said he didn’t know, or ask, who owned the place.

Scrap metal collectors in Aktobe. 
Photographer: Konstantin Salomatin for Bloomberg

There’s little doubt that Arif’s brother Refik has owned a controlling share of the plant since the early 1990s, when the pair started doing business with three men known collectively in Kazakhstan as the Troika, or trio. Today, the Troika own much of Kazakhstan’s metals industry, including the chromium smelter next to AZXS.

Audited 2016 accounts for AZXS show four shell companies as the plant’s main shareholders. According to the Panama Papers leak of offshore holdings, three of these were established in the British Virgin Islands and in turn were owned by shell companies, including one that shares a name with Tevfik Arif’s nephew, Polat Ali.

A 2011 leaked letter from Hamels Consultants, the London-based firm that organized the Arifs’ offshore holdings, said the annual profits from the chromium chemicals plant flowed into a further BVI entity, belonging to Refik Arif. In 2008, the most recent year cited in the letter, that profit was $44 million. (A spokeswoman for Hamels said the company could not comment on the affairs of its clients.)

Part of the chromium plant’s profits were then directed to Bayrock by issuing loans from a U.K. company registered in London as dormant. In one June 2005 instance, Tevfik Arif authorized Bayrock to borrow $2 million from the company at 6 percent a year. It isn’t clear whether the loan was repaid. The Bayrock spokeswoman declined to comment.

According to a 2007 Bayrock presentation, Arif was just one channel through which Kazakhstan’s chromium industry funded Bayrock. The other was the Troika’s multibillion-dollar metals empire and its chairman, Alexander Mashkevich.

Mashkevich and his two partners —Patokh Chodiev and Alijan Ibragimov— arrived in Kazakhstan in the early 1990s, securing control over exports from a swathe of metals industries. When those assets were then put up for privatization auction, the Troika were well-placed to win.

As early as 1996, Belgian prosecutors accused the trio of laundering a $55 million bribe by purchasing property outside Brussels. The case was since settled for an undisclosed fine and no admission of fault.

By 2007, their holding company, Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation Plc, went public in London. It soon became embroiled in one of the biggest scandals the City had seen in years. Allegations ranged from corruption in Kazakhstan to hundreds of millions of dollars in potential bribes paid to acquire mines in Africa. A U.K. Serious Fraud Office investigation is still under way. A member of the ENRC board, Ken Olisa, characterized the company’s practices at the time as “more Soviet than City.”

Residential apartment blocks in Aktobe.
Photographer: Konstantin Salomatin for Bloomberg

ENRC denied all wrongdoing and said it had “a zero-tolerance policy to bribery.” But the adverse publicity crashed the company’s share price and in 2013 — just six years after listing — the Troika took their company private again. Now based in Luxembourg, Eurasian Resources Group Sarl., or ERG, accounts for 4 percent of Kazakhstan’s economy.

How did so much of Kazakhstan’s natural-resources wealth end up in the hands of a few businessmen?

That question troubles Yerzhan Dosmukhamedov, a former Kazakhstani politician who has railed against what he sees as endemic corruption in his country. A critic of Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev and his regime, Dosmukhamedov lives in self-imposed exile in London.

“No civilized financial institution should even shake hands with them,” Dosmukhamedov said of the Troika.

The Troika, in a letter from ERG’s lawyers, declined to comment on a list of queries the letter described as “a patchwork of stale matters.” When listed on the London Stock Exchange, the letter said, ENRC’s “assets (including Kazchrome), and its founders, including Mr. Machkevitch, were subject to the detailed level of scrutiny to be expected of such a business, at the time of flotation and since.”

Bayrock spokeswoman Angela Pruitt said Mashkevich was never a partner or investor in the firm. She did not explain why Bayrock had named him, backed by ENRC, as a strategic investor in 2007.

Mashkevitch’s 91-meter (299-foot) yacht, among the word’s largest, off the coast of Mugla, Turkey on July 16, 2017. 
Photographer: Ali Balli/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

In many ways, Mashkevich makes an unlikely tycoon. During the Soviet era, he was a professor of philology and mixed with some of Central Asia’s best-known writers. His brother became a globe-trotting orchestral conductor.

“He was a really nice kid” from a family of intellectuals, recalls Zamira Sydykova, who grew up with Mashkevich in Kyrgyzstan. Once he became rich, he was generous to friends back home, she said, placing them into jobs in his business in Kazakhstan and funding a Jewish school in Bishkek, the Kyrgyz capital.

Sydykova, a prominent journalist and former Kyrgyz ambassador to the United States, declined to comment on Mashkevich’s business dealings because she knows little about them. Speaking broadly, however, she said influence peddling was endemic in Central Asia. “What is the problem?” she asked of the focus on Mashkevich’s reportedly close ties to Nazarbayev, a relationship he has denied. “You can’t do business here without connections in the government.”

Today Tevfik Arif and Mashkevich enjoy the trappings of extreme wealth. Arif lives in Port Washington on Long Island’s North Shore. Mashkevich, an Israeli national since the 1990s, has homes in several countries including London, as well as a $30 million property near Buckingham Palace. He keeps a 300-foot-long superyacht, the Lady Lara. Mashkevich is worth at least $1 billion, according to Bloomberg data.

An old, non-functioning opencast mine in Xromtau, Kazakhstan.
Photographer: Konstantin Salomatin for Bloomberg

Others haven’t been so lucky.

In Xromtau, a dusty mining settlement 60 miles east of Aktobe, Natalya Ivanova recalls how in July 1999 she was ordered to sell her small stake in Kazakhstan’s lucrative chromium industry.

Under a state voucher privatization program, 10 percent of the shares in Kazchrome, a company that included the Troika’s chromium mine and two smelters, were earmarked for employees.

“My boss came and said, ‘Do you want to keep working here? If you do, you have to give up your shares,” Ivanova says.

Several of her neighbors, standing outside their drab concrete apartment blocks, tell similar stories. They say they were given three days; buses took them to Kazchrome’s headquarters in Aktobe; they were ordered to sign away their stock rights.

On the outskirts of Xromtau, children collect well water.
Photographer: Konstantin Salomatin for Bloomberg

Ivanova kept her signed copy of the sale agreement. It shows she transferred her stock to a company registered in the British Virgin Islands. The price she was paid — the equivalent of $4 per share, or $316 in all — would have valued Kazchrome’s entire share issue at about $2.25 million.

It isn’t clear who owned the now-defunct BVI company, Essex Commercial Corporation. Given that the mine’s management worked for the Troika at the time, the workers assume it was one of them. When ENRC floated on the London Stock Exchange eight years later, it was valued at 6.8 billion pounds (then $13 billion). At the time, more than half of ENRC’s total revenue came from Kazchrome, suggesting a valuation in the billions.

Xromtau’s mine workers noticed. Hundreds combined to hire a lawyer, Bakhtygul Kanatov. He says government officials tried to bribe him to back off the class action suit he filed to seek redress. When he declined, police arrested him over a faked hit-and-run accident in a parking lot, and told him things would get worse if he didn’t drop the case, he says. 

Kanatov, at his office in Aktobe.
Photographer: Konstantin Salomatin for Bloomberg

Kanatov dug a hole in the ground, buried his files and walked away. “One of the unhappiest times of my life,” he says.

What Kazakh shareholders and tax payers lost, Bayrock and other, much larger foreign recipients of funds extracted from the nation’s rich natural resource industry gained. According to one study, more than a quarter of Kazakh economic output slipped out of the country each year from 1995 to 2005.

There is no indication that the Trump Organization broke laws by working with Bayrock. Still, said former Kazakh Deputy Prime Minister Baltash Tursunbayev, it was a mistake. Sitting in the lobby of Almaty’s Rixos hotel, a chain Arif also listed among Bayrock’s projects, Tursunbayev said that in the interest of transparency, Trump should order an inquiry into his former business associates.

“Who were these people?” Tursunbayev asked. “Who were you dealing with?”

–With assistance by Mark Hollingsworth

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

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The World Has Never Seen an Oil Spill Like This
« Reply #3014 on: January 19, 2018, 02:46:44 AM »
The World Has Never Seen an Oil Spill Like This

A tanker that sank off the Chinese coast was carrying “condensate,” a mix of molecules with radically different properties than crude.

An oil tanker engulfed in flame
The Sanchi engulfed in flame on January 13China Daily via Reuters

Over the last two weeks, the maritime world has watched with horror as a tragedy has unfolded in the East China Sea. A massive Iranian tanker, the Sanchi, collided with a Chinese freighter carrying grain. Damaged and adrift, the tanker caught on fire, burned for more than a week, and sank. All 32 crew members are presumed dead.

Meanwhile, Chinese authorities and environmental groups have been trying to understand the environmental threat posed by the million barrels of hydrocarbons that the tanker was carrying. Because the Sanchi was not carrying crude oil, but rather condensate, a liquid by-product of natural gas and some kinds of oil production. According to Alex Hunt, a technical manager at the London-based International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation, which assists with oil spills across the world, there has never been a condensate spill like this.

“It’s typical for us to attend approximately 20 shipping incidents a year and we’ve been doing this for 50 years,” Hunt says. “There have been other condensate spills, but this is the first condensate spill of this magnitude that we’ve dealt with, which gives you an impression of how rare cases like this are.” A 2016 Canadian environmental risk report on condensates also noted “the small size and low frequency of spills to marine water.”

While it might seem that all oil spills would at least be similar, in this case that is not true. Underground, crude is a liquid you can pump. Condensate, on the other hand, is a gas amid the heat and pressure down there. Bring it up to the surface and it condenses into liquid. This liquid is made of hydrocarbons like crude—and is sometimes classed as a form of it—but contains a different mix of molecules than other crude oils.

That mix is substantially lighter, containing more small, simple molecules and fewer large, complex molecules. This composition—and the composition of any form of petroleum—is highly significant for the refiners who turn raw petroleum products into refined fuels and chemicals that they sell. But, in this case, the properties are salient to the disaster and the environmental aftermath.

In technical terms, condensate is primarily made up of alkanes, which you’ve probably encountered a few of in the past when you’re looking for something to burn: methane, propane, butane, and the octane of high-octane gasoline.

Condensate, as you might expect, is highly flammable, which explains the towering flames that are visible in some photographs and video of the incident. It’s also very low-density. It has a specific gravity that is much, much lower than water, which means that it almost certainly is going to rise to the surface after it is leaked, Hunt says.

“[There is] the classic image of a spill at sea—black oil floating on the water, people attempting to use booms and skimmers or to use dispersants,” he says. “In a case like this, a product like this, those techniques would not be recommended. It’s flammable so you wouldn’t want to contain it, or use a skimmer to recover it, because then you are risking a fire.” There have also been some reports that the condensate might dissolve in water and travel vast distances. Hunt does not think that is likely, saying the substance’s water solubility is very low.

While studies of condensate’s environmental effects are limited, one lab study found that its toxicity to corals, for example, was greater than expected based on its molecular components.

In the best-case scenario, the fuel will come to the surface in a slick that is massive but thousandths-of-millimeters thin. From there, it would evaporate into the atmosphere. However, as Richard Steiner, an Alaska-based environmental consultant, told BuzzFeed News, “there’s a lot we don’t know about a major condensate spill since we’ve never seen one.” He described a scenario where there was an “invisible, subsurface toxic plume that is spreading outward from the site.”

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

 

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