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Established 1973 — Last updated: Saturday, February 25, 2017, 9:29 AM
Aggregated news for a better world – we raise awareness of what corporate media stifles
Today's posts in bigger type—>
Prior 2/3 days in little type.
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Obama's ACA didn't fix this:
The U.S. wastes $1.6 Trillion/yr on bloated health care spending compared with the 2013 OECD per capita average of advanced countries, which becomes extra cost overhead on U.S. exports—resulting in offshoring manufacturing and jobs. Let's end price gouging and adopt efficient practices instead of cutting Medicare and Medicaid coverage as part of some "Grand Bargain"
In 2013 US total per capita health care spending was $8713, $4589 more per person than in France—acclaimed as having the 'best' healthcare—and $5260 above the OECD average without better results. (Ref. 2011, 2009, 2007, selected 2007 with avg. doctor visits showing we're least cared for for the money, 2003 and 1998.)

Lastly, importantly, health worker pay is NOT the problem.

Twenty countries aim to raise $600m to fill gap left by Donald Trump’s ban on funding for pro-abortion NGOs in developing world

The Dutch government has voiced hope that the UK will join 20 countries to set up a safe abortion fund to fill the gap left by Donald Trump’s “global gag rule”.

Lilianne Ploumen, the Dutch international development minister, is leading an international campaign to raise $600m (#480m) to compensate for the Trump administration’s ban on funding for NGOs that provide abortion or information on the procedure to women in developing countries.

Belgium, Denmark and Norway have joined the Netherlands in pledging $10m each, while at least 15 other countries are preparing to join the scheme, including Canada, Cape Verde, Estonia, Finland and Luxembourg.

The British government has yet to declare whether it will sign up to the initiative, prompting concerns from British Labour MPs that Trump’s ban could undermine the Department for International Development’s work in promoting the health and education of poor women around the world.

Jennifer Rankin | The Guardian
The Oceans Melting Greenland project is taking important measurements to determine how fast sea levels will rise
John Abraham | The Guardian
Gas drilling will not be the economic bonanza that supporters claim.
Some 4,100 complaint filings—all told, one official complaint for nearly every well drilled—were filed against fracking in Pennsylvania, nearly one official complaint per well drilled, yet it appears that the vast majority of complaints were never investigated.

Next week, on Feb. 28, the Health, Education and Environmental Affairs Committee in the Maryland Senate will take up legislation dealing with shale-gas drilling (fracking). For public safety, economic, and environmental reasons, we believe the technology should not be allowed in Maryland.

Nearly three out of four senators have indicated a willingness to extend the current fracking moratorium, set to expire in October. This suggests they recognize that gas-drilling will not be the economic bonanza that supporters have claimed since 2011, when the mountains above Marcellus Shale deposits in Western Maryland were first targeted.

Paul Roberts and Mike Tidwell / Bay Journal News Service | Baltimore Chronicle
Researchers will have to deal with attacks from a range of powerful foes in the coming years – and for many, it has already started

A little less than seven years ago, the climate scientist Michael Mann ambled into his office at Penn State University with a wedge of mail tucked under his arm. As he tore into one of the envelopes, which was hand-addressed to him, white powder tumbled from the folds of the letter. Mann recoiled from the grainy plume and rushed to the bathroom to scrub his hands.

Fortunately for Mann, the FBI confirmed the powder was cornstarch rather than anthrax. It was perhaps the nadir of the vituperation hurled at Mann by often anonymous critics who accuse him and others of fabricating or exaggerating the dangers of climate change.

“Michael has most certainly become a lightning rod,” said Kerry Emanuel, an MIT climate scientist, although this doesn’t mean others have been shielded.

Emanuel himself has previously received emails threatening him and his family. The Texas Tech University professor Katharine Hayhoe, who has gathered a healthy following for her Facebook posts that mix climate science with evangelism, has opened her inbox to missives including “Nazi Bitch Whore Climatebecile” and a request that she “stop using Jesus to justify your wacko ideas about global warming”.

Threats and badgering of climate scientists peaked after the theft and release of the “Climategate” emails – a 2009 scandal that was painfully thin on scandal. But the organized effort to pry open cracks in the overwhelming edifice of proof that humans are slowly baking the planet never went away. Scientists are now concerned that the election of Donald Trump has revitalized those who believe climate researchers are cosseted fraudsters.

Mann said climate scientists “fear an era of McCarthyist attacks on our work and our integrity”. The odd unfulfilled threat may be perturbing but a more morale-sapping fear is that the White House and Congress will dig up and parade seemingly unflattering emails, sideline or scrap research and attempt to hush the scientific community.

Oliver Milman | The Guardian

ExxonMobil Corporation will admit this week that it can no longer profitably develop up to 3.6 billion barrels of its Alberta tar sands/oil sands reserves unless oil prices rise, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The formal acknowledgement, forced on Exxon by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, followed a quarterly report last fall in which Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s former employer admitted that up to 4.6 billion barrels of its reserves might have to stay in the ground.

The move comes after Exxon burned through $20 billion to “put the oil sands at the centre of its growth plans” through its Kearl project, about 70 kilometres north of Fort McMurray, and “highlights how dramatically the prospects of the region have dimmed,” the Journal reports [sub req’d]. “Once considered a safe bet, Canada’s vast deposits are emerging as a prominent case of reserves being stranded by a combination of high costs, low prices, and tough new environmental rules.”

Sarah Kent, Bradley Olson, and Georgi Kantchev | The Energy Mix

The highly-respected medical publication, The Lancet, released an important new study yesterday, Future life expectancy in 35 industrialised countries: projections with a Bayesian model ensemble (hat tip Emma). To the extent it was noticed by the media, this Google News search show that coverage focused on how life expectancies are expected to continue to rise, to the degree that the projected best performer, South Korea, will have better than 50% odds an expected lifespan of 90 years for women.

However, the focus on the high performers, which after South Korea are, in order, France, Spain, and Japan, gives short shrift to the continuing fall in the relative performance of the US, which Lancet projects as landing solidly in third world terrain in terms of women’s life expectancies. Men show better relative results and do well now by global standards, but they show a much bigger expected relative fall in the upcoming decade plus.

If you look at the data charts, the big reason is that the researchers project the US to show very little in the way of improvement, while they anticipate many other countries to register big gains, to the degree that they leapfrog the US. Japan is even more stagnant, but it now ranks so high that the relative fall is not as dramatic.

This is the high resolution version of analysis of life expectancy at birth as of 2010 and projected to 2030; you can see view it at Lancet here.

Even with the microtype, you can see that in the 2010 chart, the US has ten countries with lower life expectancies, such as the Czech Republic, Poland Cratia, Serbia, Mexico, and Macedonia. By 2030, the US is forecast to have slipped further, with Poland and the Czech Republic having pulled ahead.

By contrast, men in the US do well by global standards, and one wonders if that reflects biases in treatment. The press has recently started to discuss how certain conditions are chronically underdiagnosed in women, such as heart disease (this was a pet peeve of my first MD, who was a cardiologist). Similarly, most non-psychiatric clinical trials, unless they are of women-only ailments, are conducted on male-only subjects, meaning the efficacy and typical dosages may not translate well to women. Another well-documented bias in the US (and query whether this is less true elsewhere) is that women complaining of pain or sub-clinical conditions are regularly seen as being hypochondriacs, and doctors push antidepressants as the remedy (I’ve had this happen even after making clear I have high pain tolerance and my medical history shows I rarely seek treatment), while this is apparently less common for men.

Even so, you can see the Lancet team also anticipates a big fall in relative standards for US men:

Posted by YVES SMITH | Naked Capitalism
Plans put forth by House Speaker Paul Ryan and HHS Secretary Tom Price are 'unlikely' to fulfill President Donald Trump's campaign promises—'but single payer could'

Cut the bureaucratic mess.

Reduce costs.

Expand coverage.

Make it great.

President Donald Trump put forth a good number of lofty promises on healthcare on the 2016 campaign trail. A new analysis released Tuesday reveals there's only one way to achieve them: Enact a single-payer, Medicare-for-All system.

In their paper, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, health policy experts Drs. Steffie Woolhandler and David Himmelstein show that plans put forth by House Speaker Paul Ryan or Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price are "unlikely" to meet Trump's campaign promises of more coverage, better benefits, and lower costs. (Indeed, even administrative tweaks announced last week by the Trump administration appeared to undercut those promises, as Common Dreams reported.)

But "single-payer reform could," write the co-founders of Physicians for a National Healthcare Program (PNHP). "Such reform would replace the current welter of insurance plans with a single, public plan covering everyone for all medically necessary care—in essence, an expanded and upgraded version of the traditional Medicare program."

Such reform, also known as Medicare-for-all, could save $504 billion annually on healthcare bureaucracy, they say, plus an additional $113 billion "could come from adopting the negotiating strategies that most nations with national health insurance use, which pay approximately one half what we do for prescription drugs."

These savings would offset the cost of expanding insurance to the 26 million who remain uninsured despite the Affordable Care Act (ACA), as well as "plugging the gaps in existing coverage—abolishing co-payments and deductibles [and] covering such services as dental and long-term care that many policies exclude."

"We're wasting hundreds of billions of healthcare dollars on insurance paperwork and profits," said Woolhandler on Tuesday. "Private insurers take more than 12 cents of every premium dollar for their overhead and profit, as compared to just over two cents in Medicare. Meanwhile, 26 million are still uninsured and millions more with coverage can't afford care. It's time we make our healthcare system cater to patients instead of bending over backward to help insurance companies."

Deirdre Fulton, staff writer | Common Dreams

On Tuesday, a federal judge blocked Texas from withholding Medicaid funds from Planned Parenthood, ruling that the state had not provided sufficient evidence in support of its claim that the health care provider traffics in baby parts.

According to the Associated Press, U.S. District Court Judge Sam Sparks of Austin, Texas, reasoned that, in continuing to lean on those doctored 2015 sting videos as proof that Planned Parenthood is operating nefariously and illegally, Texas failed to offer credible evidence that the health care provider had actually done anything wrong.

Claire Lampen | Mic
From New York to Frankfurt, readers shared their experiences of renewable energy projects in cities around the world

This apartment building in Frankfurt/Germany is its own power plant. Solar panels on the roof and in the façade generate more than enough electricity for its residents. Tenants can track how much power the energy-plus-house is making through smart panels in each unit. They can also use a community fleet of E-cars powered with electricity generated by the house.

Tess Riley | The Guardian
A complex range of factors is shaping how and why cities adopt renewable energy, from costs to the need for stable power supplies

In an increasing number of cities around the world, businesses are switching to rooftop solar. The trend started in rich countries, where solar has been subsidised, but as the cost of solar has come down it has become cost-competitive in sunny cities from Rio de Janeiro to Delhi to Nairobi.

Companies with large energy demand and available roof space are making the switch not just because it’s greener but also because it’s cheaper than the alternatives. Where the grid is unreliable, it also reduces reliance on expensive diesel generators.

Tess Riley | The Guardian
"At a time when [women's health] has come under pressure, a joint effort is particularly important"
Nadia Prupis, staff writer | Common Dreams

Reference:
dryriver | SlashDot

....Researchers, Eicke Latz at the University of Bonn and colleagues, followed up on the parents’ hypothesis and found that in mice, cyclodextrin indeed blocked plaque formation, melted away plaques that had already formed in arteries, reduced atherosclerosis-associated inflammation, and revved up cholesterol metabolism—even in rodents fed cholesterol-rich diets.

Beth Mole | ars technica | Ref.
Though it won't 'cure' Alzheimer's, tests show compound, similar to that found in energy drinks, clears amyloid beta plaques, which build up in the brain in early stages of Alzheimer’s
Ian Sample | Guardian | Ref.
JOE ROMM | Climate Progress | Ref.
Phys.org | Ref.
Green buildings and better infrastructure would not only spur economic growth but also cut carbon emissions equal to India’s annual output
Suzanne Goldenberg | Guardian | Ref.

A growing body of evidence suggests pollution can do a number on the brain. The July/August Mother Jones cover story chronicled the research connecting neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's to the dirty air we breathe; studies have found that pollution may also age the brain prematurely. And according to new research from the University of Texas-El Paso, pollution's damage to the brain may start even sooner than was previously thought: Fourth and fifth graders exposed to exhaust emissions, researchers found, don't do as well in school as their peers who breathe cleaner air.

Gabrielle Canon | Mother Jones | Ref.
Janet Redman / Foreign Policy in Focus | Informed Comment | Ref.
Though Canada's system is the second most expensive in the world per capita, it would save America $1.3 Trillion/yr and cover everyone
OLGA KHAZAN | Atlantic | Ref.
Lesley Stahl discovers the shock and anxiety of a cancer diagnosis can be followed by a second jolt: the astronomical price of cancer drugs
[All the other OECD countries negotiate much lower drug & medical procedure costs]
CBS News | Ref.
Elisabeth Rosenthal in New York Times | Ref.
To solve its pension crisis, Maryland should change how its funds are invested [as California and other states have discovered...]

Regarding the Feb. 9 editorial “A return to pension gimmickry”:

One of the most effective ways to solve Maryland’s pension crisis is to change how pension funds are invested.

Our research estimates that Maryland pays up to $590 million in fees to money managers and gets subpar returns in exchange for these fees. The state’s pension fund earned an average 4.85 percent return over the past 10 years – well short of the fund’s 7.55 percent target.

Maryland should shift at least a portion of its pension fund to passive, low-cost index funds to reduce exorbitant active-management fees and to more closely mirror appropriate market benchmarks.

With a $20 billion cumulative shortfall in our pension system, we truly cannot afford the status quo.

Christopher B. Summer’s Letter to the Editor | Washington Post
Baltimore public schools face $129 million budget deficit, plan mass layoffs [the city needs more help from businesses and the public!]

The head of Baltimore public schools announced last month massive budget cuts and layoffs intended to offset the $129 million deficit facing the school district in the fiscal year starting July 1.

“Baltimore city public schools will look drastically different on July 2,” said Sonja Santelises, CEO of Baltimore Public Schools, stated in the announcement. “This is going to hit everything kids love about coming to school,” she said.

The current deficit amounts to 10 percent of the entire budget for the Baltimore City school system, which has an enrollment of around 82,000 students.

The plan calls for $80 million in cuts in funding for individual schools and laying off 1,000 teachers and staff. A cost-cutting measure last May laid off 171 support staff, but spared teachers and principals.

Santelises said that individual schools can expect to see a “dramatic increase in class size.” The current proposal could increase class sizes by as many as 10 students in some schools.

Ron Barzel and Brad Dixon | World Socialist Web Site




Donald Trump wants Americans to be very afraid of Muslim immigrants and refugees. He will warp reality to do so if needed
Opinion: Christian Christensen | The Guardian
Support for the media is falling among the American public and the courts have not always protected reporters. So what is the press to do about it?
Opinion: Austin Sarat | The Guardian
Trump’s attacks on the free press don’t just threaten the media—they undermine the public’s capacity to think, act, and defend democracy.
JAMES FALLOWS | The Atlantic
Unprofessional journalists are 'roasted'.
BOB SOMERBY in The Daily Howler | EVERY DAY
In recognition of the dangers inherent in the consolidation of mainstream corporate media The Baltimore Chronicle & Sentinel (formerly a newspaper) advances awareness of important ignored news and opinion.
The kindness of your donation would be appreciated
Subscribe for only $2.00/mo. Set low on purpose—we know we're not your main news source.

The meeting of a far-right group in Kernersville has stirred fears across the state as Muslim leaders call on authorities to take action

Tom Jones, a soft-spoken man with white hair and wearing a slate-gray jacket, held up a copy of The Terrorist Next Door by the conservative author Erick Stakelbeck in the private dining room of a seafood restaurant in Kernersville, North Carolina, on a recent Thursday evening.

The presentation marked a coming-out of sorts for Jones, who had announced the event a month earlier at a regular weekly luncheon in nearby Winston-Salem that features different conservative speakers and Republican elected officials. About 20 people attended, representing professional conservative activists, GOP volunteers and militia types.

Reading from the text, Jones recited to about 20 of his fellow hard-right activists: “Brotherhood-linked organizations are establishing networks throughout the Bible belt.” Turning his head from right to left, he paused for dramatic effect and remarked: “I think that’s where we live.”

The Muslim Brotherhood, a culturally conservative organization founded in 1928 that briefly took power in Egypt after the Arab Spring, is the focal point of paranoid rightwing fears about a supposed Islamic plot to infiltrate and subvert American institutions from within and impose sharia law.

“A tactic that the Brotherhood has established over the years is establishing the presence of Islamic centers or mosques, which for them means a recruitment center for jihad, and forming a permanent foundation wherever they’re allowed to exist,” Jones said, continuing to read from Stakelbeck’s book.

Jones’s presentation was repeatedly interrupted by comments about killing Muslims from Frank del Valle, a staunchly anticommunist Cuban immigrant, with little or no pushback from the others in the room.

“Can we not kill them all?” Del Valle asked, about 15 minutes into the presentation, during a discussion about the differences between the Sunni and Shia sects of Islam.

Jordan Green | The Guardian
'I was naive': after losing healthcare battle, factory workers fear next blow [4:38 video; sociopathic CEOs don't care about workers]
After 105 days on strike, the billionaires – including Donald Trump’s ‘jobs czar’ – won, leaving many Momentive workers unhappy and worried about their futures

....Joe Mack is not a Trump supporter, the president has lived his life “as if he’s playing Monopoly”, he says. But many of his colleagues, he estimates 80%, including Hohn, are and remain so. For them, this is just the latest erosion of workers’ rights at Momentive since GE sold it. It hasn’t much mattered whether a Democrat or a Republican was in the White House – the common denominator has been that each time, management won and the workers lost.

Workers complain that successive CEOs have negotiated worse contracts and left shortly after with a big bonus. In 2008, Momentive slashed production workers’ wages by 25%-50%. In 2013 the company froze pensions for workers younger than 50. This time they came after healthcare, especially retiree healthcare.

Even the union sounds resigned to losing. “I know some of the guys were hoping that we would get a super-duper contract. But we did make gains, in that we didn’t lose some of the things that the company initially wanted to take from us,” Patrignani told the Times Union after the deal was struck.

In the meantime, the fortunes of Momentive’s owners and senior management have grown. The current CEO, the aptly named John Boss, took home $5.4m in salary and other compensation in 2015. His 2016 salary will be disclosed shortly; no one is expecting him to take a pay cut.

Dominic Rushe | The Guardian
Police remove last Standing Rock protesters in military-style takeover [our government supports polluter rights over the public rights]
Armed occupation brought an anticlimactic and forlorn end to the camp, which had been home to thousands of activists opposing the Dakota Access pipeline

Dozens of national guard and law enforcement officers marched into the Dakota Access pipeline protest encampment on Thursday in a military-style takeover, one day after a deadline for the camp’s eviction.

The armed occupation of the largely abandoned plain brought an anticlimactic and forlorn end to the sprawling Oceti Sakowin camp, which had been home to thousands of indigenous and environmental activists since last August.

The Native American-led movement, which rose up in opposition to the pipeline being built just north of the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, captured the world’s attention and achieved a stunning – if short-lived – victory against the fossil fuel industry. The tribe argued that the pipeline route, which passes under the Missouri river, violated its treaty rights, threatened its water source, and damaged sacred sites.

Julia Carrie Wong | The Guardian
The trend of Republican legislators receiving grief from their constituents continues with Tom Cotton

On Wednesday night, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, joined the growing list of Republican legislators who have faced hostility from their constituents when returning for town hall meetings.

Perhaps the most memorable moment was Cotton’s exchange with a 7-year-old about President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall.

“So Donald Trump thinks a wall is more important than kids’ [unintelligible] and stuff, but for kids it’s more important. Donald Trump makes Mexicans not important to people who are in Arkansas who aren’t Mexicans, like me and my grandma and all my people,” asked 7-year-old Toby Smith. After a rousing applause, he continued, saying Trump is “deleting all the parts in PBS Kids just to make a wall. He shouldn’t do that.”

Smith’s question referenced both allegations of racism in Trump’s border wall pledge and concerns that Trump will cut funding to public television in order to pay for his proposed border wall.

“I just want to say that, whatever your background, whatever your heritage, whatever your race or ethnicity or religious belief, part of the fabric of America is that we’re a melting pot and we are all one people,” Cotton replied. “And we want Mexico to be a healthy strong partner. We want to help them to deal with the problems they’ve got with drug cartels and crime and grow their economy. And we also have to protect our own citizens from that. And that’s where the wall comes in. So Toby you can still have one and have the other.”

As Cotton responded, the crowd began to boo for his failure to address Smith’s question about PBS funding.

On another occasion, a woman whose “family has been in the Ozarks since the 1800s” told Cotton that “aside from inheriting their patriotism and their work ethic, I unfortunately inherited an incurable genetic connective tissue disorder. I qualify for Medicare but unfortunately it’s useless for me, since only two of my doctors — who are the only doctors in over a 500 mile radius who are familiar with my condition — accept Medicare. Without the coverage for preexisting conditions, I will die. Will you commit to replacements in the same way that you have committed to the repeal?”

When Cotton seemingly tried to deflect by asking to take “a couple more” comments or questions on health care reform, the crowd burst into outraged jeering. Eventually Cotton replied by telling the woman, named Katie, that “what I am committed to is making sure that people with conditions as serious as yours, or young healthy people, all have access to affordable, quality, personalized care.”

MATTHEW ROZSA | Salon
Why Kansas' Fiscal Implosion Is Bad News for Trump ["Stupid is as stupid does." – Forrest Gump]
The state was supposed to offer a model for trickle-down economics. Instead—because of economic problems Republicans have self-inflicted—Republicans are raising taxes.

....Shortly after he became governor of Kansas in 2011, Sam Brownback went to work on rewriting the state's tax code. Together with the Republican-dominated legislature, he eliminated the top income tax bracket, lowered everyone else's income tax rate, and created a loophole that allowed some business owners to pay no state income taxes at all.

Brownback sold the cuts as a way to jolt the Kansas economy to life, promising major job growth thanks to the lower tax rates. To pass these tax measures, Brownback worked to replace moderate Republicans in the legislature who opposed his ideas with true-believer conservatives. He helped knock off nine moderate Republican incumbents, and the effort paid off when his tax reform passed in 2012.

But instead of the miracle growth that Brownback promised, the tax cuts have left a widening crater in the state budget. State economic growth has lagged behind the national pace, and job growth has stagnated. Lawmakers have been left scrambling each year to pass unpleasant spending cuts when tax revenue comes in below expected levels, leading to contentious fights in the legislature and state courts over reduced public school funding. When the state legislature convened last month, it faced a $320 million budget shortfall that needed to be closed before the end of the current fiscal year in June—and a projected additional $500 million shortfall for the next fiscal year.

....So what's all of this got to do with Trump? Brownback's failures could complicate national tax-reform efforts, which have been high on the Trump administration's agenda. "Lowering the overall tax burden on American business is big league," Trump told airline executives earlier this month. "That's coming along very well. We're way ahead of schedule, I believe. And we're going to announce something I would say over the next two or three weeks that will be phenomenal in terms of tax."

Like many of Trump's policy plans, his tax agenda remains largely a mystery. But the proposal he outlined during the presidential campaign shared many features with Brownback's experiment. It would slash personal income tax rates and reduce the number of brackets. It wouldn't eliminate business income taxes, but it would lower them to 15 percent, allowing many super-wealthy Americans to avoid paying high tax rates by funneling their income through their businesses.

That's not entirely coincidental. Trump and Brownback share a tax guide: Reaganomics guru Art Laffer. Laffer is best known for the Laffer curve, a diagram of his hypothesis that lowering tax rates could increase tax revenue by boosting economic output. Kansas paid $75,000 for Laffer to spend three days consulting with lawmakers on the state's tax plans. Laffer also visited Trump Tower to consult on tax reform last year, and in December he called Trump's campaign tax plans "terrific."

PATRICK CALDWELL | Mother Jones
Stolen texts appear to show threats to expose relations between Russia-friendly forces, Trump and his former campaign chairman.

A purported cyber hack of the daughter of political consultant Paul Manafort suggests that he was the victim of a blackmail attempt while he was serving as Donald Trump’s presidential campaign chairman last summer.

KENNETH P. VOGEL, DAVID STERN and JOSH MEYER | Politico
UN chief Antonio Guterres says more than 20 million people face starvation in South Sudan, Nigeria, Somalia and Yemen.

More than 20 million people face starvation in the four countries and action is needed now to avert a humanitarian disaster, Guterres told a news conference at UN headquarters on Wednesday.

"We need $4.4 billion by the end of March to avert a catastrophe," he said.

So far, the UN has raised just $90m.

Source: News agencies | Al Jazeera
While the far right is on the march globally, there are signs progressives are stirring from their slumber.

Let’s hope that Donald Trump is the political version of syrup of ipecac.

The American system has been sick to its stomach for some time. Then along comes Donald Trump, America swallows him (hook, line, and sinker), and the system experiences gut-churning convulsions ever since. According to the most hopeful medical prognosis, America will eventually expel Trump from its system and feel so much better afterwards.

Reminder: The whole world is watching. How we deal with this president’s fundamentally anti-American policies will have tremendous international ramifications. In fact, the rest of the world is already dealing with the “Trump effect.”

"Trump is a whiff of something evil-smelling that jolts progressive politics all over the world out of its swoon."

After all, while Trump is our emetic, he’s the rest of the world’s smelling salts. Some key countries around the world are already coming to their senses about the threat of dangerous populists. The test cases will be France and Germany. But a progressive backlash appears to be building elsewhere as well.

John Feffer | Common Dreams
Kuala Lumpur airport terminal to be decontaminated after deadly attack on North Korean leader’s half-brother

....The findings follow a preliminary analysis of swabs taken from the face and eyes of the victim, who is the half-brother of the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un. More items linked to the attack at Kuala Lumpur airport were still being analysed and the terminal would be decontaminated, police said.

VX – also known as ethyl N-2-Diisopropylaminoethyl Methylphosphonothiolate – is classified by the United Nations as a weapon of mass destruction.

....Saddam Hussein was accused of using VX during the Iran-Iraq war and there are concerns that stockpiles exist in Syria. Only the US and Russia have said they possess VX or a similar agent.

North Korea is thought to have one of the world’s largest stockpiles of chemical weapons, and is one of six countries not to have signed or acceded to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), according to the US non-profit organisation the Nuclear Threat Initiative. Defectors have accused North Korea of testing its chemical agents on people.

Oliver Holmes, Tom Phillips and agencies | The Guardian
The 1949 armistice border underpins the international community’s refusal to legalise Israel’s occupation. We must hold any changes to it accountable

Donald Trump’s remarks at his press conference with Binyamin Netanyahu that he could “like” whatever solution Israel and Palestine come up with put the international community in an uncomfortable position. Until then, the world could pretend that a two-state solution was doable, despite Israel’s relentless settlement building, and offer the occasional protest, such as Trump’s own: “Hold off on settlements for a bit.”

All this Israel could, and did, disregard. Indeed, things have gone so far that four key ministers in Netanyahu’s government are able to say they don’t want a Palestinian state at all. Netanyahu himself insists on security control west of the Jordan river. In fact, the late former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, hailed as the great peacemaker, also wanted security control west of the Jordan, which would have placed serious limits to such a state’s sovereignty.

That raises the question: why want a state at all? As a minimum, a sovereign state should be able to guarantee the security of its citizens within its borders.

When Palestinians accepted the two-state solution to the conflict, as advocated by the late chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), Yasser Arafat, at the Palestinian National Council in 1988, that meant accepting reality. It meant recognising Israel’s existence and accepting a state on just 22% of Mandatory Palestine. It also brought the promise of freedom from occupation, a place in the community of nations, a capital in cherished Jerusalem, and an end to the misery and dispossession of Palestinian refugees and exiles.

Instead, the dispossession continued. When Israel and the PLO signed the first Oslo accord, in 1993, the number of Israeli settlers in the occupied territory was around 260,000. By now it has nearly trebled. Worse, none of the versions of statehood on the table since the Israeli occupation began in 1967 – 50 years ago this June – have reached anything near a truly sovereign Palestinian state.

Whatever Trump, his son-in-law Jared Kushner and David Friedman, the fervently pro-settlement US ambassador to Israel, have planned, it will be much further from a sovereign Palestine than ever – and likely to consist of autonomous enclaves under Israel’s control . The Israeli settler movement is by now too strong and too intent on colonising the whole of Palestine.

Opinion: Nadia Hijab | The Guardian
EUROPE’S CHILD-REFUGEE CRISIS [We mustn't let fear trump morality]

....Among the 1.3 million people who sought asylum in Europe in 2015 were nearly a hundred thousand unaccompanied children. Most were from Afghanistan and Syria. Thirteen per cent were younger than fourteen years old. The data for 2016 are incomplete, but the situation is comparable. Experts estimate that for every child who claims asylum one enters Europe without seeking legal protection. (The number of unaccompanied minors attempting to enter the United States, most of them from Central America, has also increased dramatically in recent years. President Trump’s executive order on immigration, in addition to barring refugees, targets asylum seekers, many of whom are unaccompanied children.) At an age at which most kids need supervision to complete their homework, these children cross continents alone.

....The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which all E.U. member states are signatories, mandates that the “best interests” of children govern every aspect of their treatment. Once they arrive in Europe, they have a right to medical care, psychological counselling, and legal aid, but many of them aren’t getting any of those services. They have a right to education, but often they aren’t getting that, either. “The problem is that E.U. law does not supply any real, clear explanation of how ‘best interests’ should be implemented,” Helen Stalford, who studies European children’s rights at the University of Liverpool, said. “When it comes down to the practical application, there are so many different actors that they’re not necessarily doing this in a way that is transparent, consistent, or rigorous.” As a result, refugee children are sleeping on sidewalks and in traffic medians. They are stuck in unofficial settlements like the Jungle, whose conditions have been described as “dreadful” (the British Red Cross), “deplorable” (Save the Children), “totally inappropriate” (the European Council on Refugees and Exiles), and “diabolical” (Doctors of the World), or in holding centers such as Amygdaleza, in Greece, where, according to Human Rights Watch, “the detention of children in crowded and unsanitary conditions, without appropriate sleeping or hygiene arrangements, sometimes together with adults and without privacy, constitutes inhumane and degrading treatment.” The children at such places confront a number of dangers: vermin, feces-contaminated water, bullying, petty crime, violence, sexual abuse, and diseases ranging from scabies to tuberculosis.

According to Europol, the law-enforcement agency of the E.U., more than ten thousand migrant and refugee children have gone missing in Europe since 2014. They are obvious prey for human-trafficking groups, who exploit them for sex and slavery. A team of Italian doctors examining unaccompanied children found that fifty per cent of them suffered from sexually transmitted diseases. According to a report by Refugees Deeply, in one Athens park the going rate for a sexual encounter with an Afghan teen-ager is between five and ten euros.

Lauren Collins | The New Yorker
New discoveries about the human mind show the limitations of reason.

....Surveys on many other issues have yielded similarly dismaying results. “As a rule, strong feelings about issues do not emerge from deep understanding,” Sloman and Fernbach write. And here our dependence on other minds reinforces the problem. If your position on, say, the Affordable Care Act is baseless and I rely on it, then my opinion is also baseless. When I talk to Tom and he decides he agrees with me, his opinion is also baseless, but now that the three of us concur we feel that much more smug about our views. If we all now dismiss as unconvincing any information that contradicts our opinion, you get, well, the Trump Administration.

“This is how a community [false belief] of knowledge can become dangerous,” Sloman and Fernbach observe. The two have performed their own version of the toilet experiment, substituting public policy for household gadgets. In a study conducted in 2012, they asked people for their stance on questions like: Should there be a single-payer health-care system? Or merit-based pay for teachers? Participants were asked to rate their positions depending on how strongly they agreed or disagreed with the proposals. Next, they were instructed to explain, in as much detail as they could, the impacts of implementing each one. Most people at this point ran into trouble. Asked once again to rate their views, they ratcheted down the intensity, so that they either agreed or disagreed less vehemently.

Sloman and Fernbach see in this result a little candle for a dark world. If we—or our friends or the pundits on CNN—spent less time pontificating and more trying to work through the implications of [data and] policy proposals, we’d realize how clueless we are and moderate our views. This, they write, “may be the only form of thinking that will shatter the illusion of explanatory depth and change people’s attitudes.”

Elizabeth Kolbert | The New Yorker

BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — After being found guilty of manslaughter for the filmed, execution-style shooting of 21-year-old Abd al-Fattah al-Sharif, 20-year-old Israeli soldier Elor Azarya was sentenced to 18 months in prison, a year’s probation, and a demotion in his military rank on Tuesday.

....The lenient sentence came after judges gave a wholesale endorsement of the prosecution’s arguments against Azarya while refuting nearly every claim presented by the defense when he was convicted in January.

Members of al-Sharif’s family and Palestinian leadership have called the case a “show trial” for handing down a lenient manslaughter conviction for the soldier, while focusing on the case to distract from a wider culture of impunity for Israeli forces.

Following the announcement of the 18-month sentence, the family said they were “not surprised.”

Source: Ma’aN News Agency | Informed Comment
Alphabet-owned company Waymo says former employee Anthony Levandowski stole secrets before founding Otto, Uber’s self-driving truck brand

Waymo, the self-driving car company owned by Google’s parent Alphabet, filed a suit against Uber on Thursday alleging that the ride-share company engaged in the “calculated theft” of its self-driving technology.

The suit is the latest setback for Uber, which is still reeling from the viral #DeleteUber campaign and which this week launched an “urgent investigation” into claims of sexual harassment.

The lawsuit, filed in US district court in San Francisco, contains explosive allegations that a former Waymo employee, Anthony Levandowski, plotted to steal Waymo’s technology and trade secrets before leaving to start his own self-driving truck company, Otto. Uber acquired Otto in August 2016, reportedly for $680m.

At the center of the suit is Waymo’s proprietary LiDAR system – the “eyes” that self-driving cars use to see other vehicles, the road and pedestrians. Waymo says that it spent seven years and significant amounts of money developing its LiDAR – and alleges that Uber’s recent advances in self-driving technology are due to its theft of the Waymo LiDAR design.

Julia Carrie Wong and Olivia Solon | The Guardian

Attorney General Jeff Sessions sent a memo Thursday to the Bureau of Prisons rescinding the Obama administration's Aug. 16 order advising the bureau not to renew any contracts with private prisons, according to a copy of the letter.

Then-Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates had instructed officials to either not renew private prison contracts or substantially reduce the scope of such contracts to ultimately end the department's use of privately operated prisons altogether.

In a brief memo Thursday, Sessions said Yates’s order "changed the long-standing policy and practice, and impaired the Bureau’s ability to meet the future needs of the federal correctional system....Therefore, I direct the Bureau to return to its previous approach.”

In a statement to The Hill, a Justice Department spokesperson said the new memo directs the bureau to continue to use private prisons.

....The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) responded in a statement from David C. Fathi, director of its National Prison Project, “Handing control of prisons over to for-profit companies is a recipe for abuse and neglect....The memo from Attorney General Sessions ignores this fact. Additionally, this memo is a further sign that under President Trump and Attorney General Sessions, the United States may be headed for a new federal prison boom, fueled in part by criminal prosecutions of immigrants for entering the country."

LYDIA WHEELER | The Hill
The Republican-dominated Arizona Senate voted to expand racketeering laws to include protesters and protest organizers, meaning police could arrest demonstrators and seize their assets
Nika Knight, staff writer | Common Dreams
Report finds exceptional powers imposed after Isis' Paris attacks are restricting fundamental rights

Parliament has voted to extend the country’s ongoing state of emergency five times since 130 people were massacred by militants in Paris in November 2015.

....Mr Shetty said Amnesty was very worried about ongoing security crackdown, which has seen more than 4,000 houses searched without a judge’s order and at least 400 people handed assigned residence orders.

“The world is watching France,” he added.

Lizzie Dearden | Independent
Excerpts:

From Babylonian times people owed debts for fees owed to the palace. We might call them taxes, but they actually were fees for public services. And for beer, for instance. The palace would supply beer and you would run up a tab over the year, to be paid at harvest time on the threshing floor. You also would pay for the boatmen, if you needed to get your harvest delivered by boat. You would pay for draught cattle if you needed them. You’d pay for water. Cornelia Wunsch did one study and found that 75% of the debts, even in neo-Babylonian times around the 5th or 4th century BC, were arrears.

Sometimes the harvest failed. And when the harvest failed, obviously they couldn’t pay their fees and other debts. Hammurabi canceled debts four or five times during his reign. He did this because either the harvest failed or there was a war and people couldn’t pay.

What do you do if you’re a ruler and people can’t pay? One reason they would cancel debts is that most debts were owed to the palace or to the temples, which were under the control of the palace. So you’re canceling debts that are owed to yourself.

These Clean Slates [jubilee years] had three elements: Number one, they would cancel the personal debts – not the business debts, not the debts denominated in silver among merchants and other rich people. These debts were business contracts, and they remained in place. It was the petty debts, the consumer debts, that were canceled. Number two, lands that had been forfeited were restored: the crop rights, if they’d been pledged to creditors. And three, all the human beings who had been pledged as bondservants would be free to return to their families.

Rulers had a good reason for doing this. If they didn’t cancel the debts, then people who owed money would become bondservants to the tax collector or the wealthy creditors, or whoever they owed money to. If they were bondservants, they couldn’t serve in the army.

The choice was: either you’re going to have economic renewal and restore people’s ability to support themselves; or you’re going to have feudalism.

Well we’re going into a similar situation today, where I think we’re going into a kind of neo-feudalism. The strain of today’s society is as much a debt strain as it was back then.

What has caused this basic shift away from debt cancellation is the privatization of credit. In Sumer and Babylonia the temples and the palace were the source of credit. In medieval Japan it also was the temples that were the creditors. Most people ran up debts, in Japan, to the temples for sake – the temples were also sake-makers. There were revolts against the sake-makers to cancel the debts, and they were successful.

The problem is the privatization of credit. The government today could cancel the student debts that are owed to the government. But they can’t cancel the debts that are owed, say, to David Rockefeller or to other banks – to somebody else.

The banks should be a public option, just like health care should be a public option. Even the University of Chicago right-wingers, in the 1930s, proposed a 100% reserve. The idea is that banks should not be able to create credit, meaning create debt. When you create credit, you’re creating somebody’s debt. That should be a government function, because the government can relieve the debts.

The bankruptcy law was re-written in 2005. It made it almost impossible to declare bankruptcy. It used to be you could declare bankruptcy and have a clean slate, on an individual basis, not a social basis, but now even that has been closed here. And for student loans you can’t have bankruptcy at all.

Michael Hudson | Naked Capitalism
Donald Trump's Mystery $50 Million (or More) Loan [will our nation's bookkeeping become more like Trump's?]
The president of the United States might have a secret creditor.

....The financial disclosure form Donald Trump filed last year did note more than a dozen loans totaling at least $713 million. But the full amount could be more. And buried in the paperwork is a puzzling debt that ethics experts say could suggest that Trump has a major creditor he has not publicly identified.

According to the disclosure, in 2012, Trump borrowed more than $50 million from a company called Chicago Unit Acquisition LLC. (The true value of the loan could be much higher; the form requires Trump only to state the range of the loan's value, and he selected the top range, "over $50,000,000.") Elsewhere in the same document, Trump notes that he owns this LLC. That is, he made the loan to himself. There's nothing necessarily unusual about that.

Here's where the situation gets odd. With Trump owning the Chicago Unit Acquisition LLC—and the LLC being owed $50 million or more by Trump—this company should be listed on Trump's disclosure as worth at least that much, unless it has debt offsetting this amount. Yet on Trump's latest disclosure form, Chicago Unit Acquisition is not listed at all. The disclosure rules say that any asset worth more than $1,000 must be noted. So this is the mystery: Why is this Trump-owned firm that holds a $50 million-plus note from Trump not worth anything?

RUSS CHOMA | Mother Jones

Reference:
How to Hide $400 Million [("Ideal," thinks Trump.) Tax-shelters have evolved into a distributed, international system of deregulation loopholes that enable vast worldwide corruption]
When a wealthy businessman set out to divorce his wife, their fortune vanished. The quest to find it would reveal the depths of an offshore financial system bigger than the U.S. economy.
NICHOLAS CONFESSORE | The New York Times Magazine | Ref.

The Financial Times headline is uncharacteristically dramatic: America’s Middle Class Meltdown: core shrinks to half of US homes.

YVES SMITH | Naked Capitalism | Ref.
We're tracking where taxpayer money has gone in the ongoing bailout of the financial system. Our database accounts for both the broader $700 billion bill and the separate bailout of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
ProPublica | Ref.
SARAH ANDERSON in CounterPunch | Ref.
ANDREW HACKER in The New York Review of Books | Ref.
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