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Last updated: Monday, October 23, 2017, 2:30 PM
Aggregated Real News.
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Prior 2 days in smaller type.
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 2015 US total per capita health care spending was $9451 – $5044 more per person than in France without better results.

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

The deadliest wildfires in state history have raised questions about whether a repeat culprit might again be to blame for starting or spreading at least some of the Northern California blazes: utility companies and their equipment.

The explosive failure of power lines and other electrical equipment has regularly ranked among the top three singular sources of California wildfires for the last several years. In 2015, the last year of reported data, electrical power problems sparked the burning of 149,241 acres — more than twice the amount from any other cause.

And regulators have hit the state’s investor-owned utilities with tens of millions of dollars in fines related to wildfires, including $37 million for the 2007 Malibu fire (Southern California Edison); $14.4 million for the Witch, Rice and Guejito fires the same year (San Diego Gas & Electric); and $8.3 million for the September 2015 Butte Fire (Pacific Gas & Electric).

Investigators have yet to determine what sparked the Northern California fires.

But a review of emergency radio traffic recordings found that fire crews were dispatched to at least 10 spots in Sonoma County in response to reports of sparking electrical wires and exploding transformers as high winds pummeled the area on the night of Oct. 8, the San Jose Mercury News reported. The first fires were reported about the same time, the newspaper said.

....Utility critics blame lax regulation and enforcement for the continuing problem of wildfires caused by power equipment failures. They point to Gov. Jerry Brown’s decision last year to veto legislation that would have required the California Public Utilities Commission and the state Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire, to identify steps that cities must take to prevent fires from overhead electrical equipment.

“It takes a catastrophe like this to show how bad the problem is,” said Jamie Court, president of advocacy organization Consumer Watchdog. “We’ve seen no comprehensive attempts to change the system because it’s costly.”

Ivan Penn | Los Angeles Times
The story behind a devastating photo of human greed [where were Don Jr. and Eric at the time?]

The UK’s Natural History Museum announced the winner of its Wildlife Photographer of the Year on Tuesday night (Oct. 17). The recipient, Brent Stirton is a South African photographer who has spent years documenting the poaching trade, among other issues.

Originally taken on assignment for National Geographic Magazine, his image of a dead black rhinoceros with a giant pink gash in place of its horn is titled Memorial to a species. Taken in 2016 in South Africa’s Hluhluwe Umfolozi Game Reserve, the photo paints a bleak picture of the endangered species’ vulnerability to human greed.

Stirton wrote of his experience encountering the lifeless animal:

It is suspected that the killers came from a local community approximately five kilometers away, entering the park illegally, shooting the rhino at a water hole with a high-powered, silenced hunting rifle. An autopsy and postmortem carried out by members of the [wildlife conservation group] KZN Ezemvelo later revealed that the large calibre bullet went straight through this rhino, causing massive tissue damage. It was noted that he did not die immediately but ran a short distance, fell to his knees and a coup de grace shot was administered to the head from close range.

There are currently fewer than 5,000 black rhinoceroses in the wild, less than 90% of their population decades ago, according to the Natural History Museum. The illegal rhino horn trade is driven in part by increasing demand in Asia where they are used in traditional medicine.

“The Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition isn’t just about beautiful images and technical ability—it is also about provoking and stimulating debate,” said Richard Sabin, the NHM’s Principal Curator of Mammals, who notes that judgement should be placed on the criminal organizations that organize the poaching and sale of rhino horns, not on the end consumers.

‘This image is difficult to look at, but what it shows is an inescapable part of the human exploitation of the natural world.”

Johnny Simon | QUARTZ
Land use shifts could provide over a third of our needed emissions cuts.

....How much of a difference could efforts to save and regrow forests—together with conservation of other ecosystems—really do? That’s the question asked by a group led by Bronson Griscom, an ecologist at The Nature Conservancy. By including a broad set of possible reforestation actions, Griscom and his colleagues found a larger opportunity than we'd previously estimated.

Currently, land ecosystems (and human activities affecting them) are responsible for emitting the equivalent of about 1.5 billion tons of CO2 each year. (For comparison, total human-caused emissions are around 48 billion tons each year.) This is the balance of about 11 billion tons of emissions (caused by things like deforestation and agricultural practices) and the 9.5 billion tons of our CO2 emissions that land ecosystems helpfully soak up. It’s possible to change both of those numbers so that land ecosystems remove more CO2 from the atmosphere than they add.

Changing those numbers, however, could run into a number of logistical issues if doing so interferes with competing land uses. For example, reforestation efforts can’t reclaim so much agricultural land that we can’t feed the world’s still-growing human population. And high costs for particular conservation strategies could obviously be prohibitive.

To handle the economics, the researchers from The Nature Conservancy produce two estimates—one for a world where a weak price of $10 per ton has been placed on CO2 emissions, and one with a stronger price of $100. That sets the definition of “cost-effective” for conservation efforts.

Ignoring costs for a moment, they found a whopping theoretical maximum of almost 24 billion tons of CO2 per year through 2030 that could either be prevented from reaching the atmosphere or actively removed from it. At a carbon emissions price of $100 per ton, a little more than 11 billion tons of that maximum is cheap enough to save you money by avoiding some of the tax on net emissions. That’s fully 37 percent of the reductions needed to limit warming to no more than 2ºC—an international goal.

Half of this 11 billion tons per year of CO2 could be achieved by reducing emissions. That includes things like changes to agricultural practices and slowing the continued losses of forest and wetland area. The other half would be CO2 soaked up by actual expansion of forests or building up carbon in farmland soils, for example. About 40 percent of reforestation would depend on converting land currently used for raising livestock. That could partly be accomplished by increasing livestock density per acre of land, but it also requires average beef consumption to go down. Such a shift would not be massive—only about four percent of grazing land would be converted to forest—but it would mark a change from current trends.

In the less ambitious scenario, in which a price of $10 per ton is assessed to CO2 emissions, the CO2 savings falls from 11 billion tons to 4 billion tons per year—still 13 percent of the necessary cuts to stay below 2°C warming.

A selling point for these efforts, the researchers write, is that there is no need to wait for a new technology to mature. We don’t need to invent anything to halt deforestation or change some farming practices. We just need to do it. And while these actions don’t add up to 100 percent of what’s needed to limit the magnitude of climate change and its myriad impacts, 13 or 37 percent is a significant portion of comparatively low-hanging fruit.

SCOTT K. JOHNSON | ars Technica
Pressure Mounts on Insurance Companies to Consider Their Role in Opioid Epidemic [like Monsanto's practices to make captive agricultural consumers for more profit, non-addictive pain medication is less prescribed versus addictive opioids]
Another lawmaker is asking insurers whether their policies have made it easier for patients to access cheaper, more addictive drugs over less addictive alternatives. Meanwhile, the insurance industry trade group pledged additional steps to combat inappropriate prescribing.

A prominent Democratic lawmaker asked major health insurers today whether their policies and preferred prescription drug lists have made the nation’s opioid epidemic worse.

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, wrote to the companies after an article by ProPublica and The New York Times found that insurance companies sometimes favor cheaper, more addictive opioids over less addictive, but more expensive, alternatives.

“This is not a hypothetical problem,” Cummings wrote. “In my home state of Maryland, 550 people died of an overdose in the first three months of 2017 alone. Synthetic opioids like fentanyl are driving up the epidemic’s death toll, but prescription opioids contribute significantly to this crisis by fostering addiction and causing fatal overdoses.”

Cummings wrote that the industry has created financial incentives that may “steer beneficiaries to the very drugs that are fueling the opioid crisis.”

Cummings sent his letter to UnitedHealth Group, its subsidiary Optum, Humana, CVS Health, Aetna, Anthem, and Express Scripts, asking each company to respond to a host of questions. Express Scripts, CVS Health and Optum are pharmacy benefit managers, meaning they are hired by insurance companies and large employers to manage prescription drug benefits, set coverage rules and process medication claims.

....Cummings is the latest to ask questions following our story. Attorneys general for 37 states sent a letter to the insurance industry’s trade group, urging its members to reconsider coverage its policies. And days later, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., sent letters asking UnitedHealth and Anthem to remove barriers to non-opioid pain treatments.

Of the insurance companies that received Cummings’ letter, Anthem declined to comment. Express Scripts said it intends to cooperate. CVS Health noted that it rolled out a host of initiatives to stem opioid abuse last month, including limits on the number of days it will cover for first-time opioid prescriptions. CVS Health also said it does not require prior approval for medications to treat addiction for members in most employer-provided plans.

Aetna said that it, too, is taking steps to address the issue. For example, it ended its preauthorization requirements on all products containing the drug buprenorphine to treat opioid addiction. “Our goal with many of our initiatives is to prevent addiction, but if it happens, we also want to be an advocate to help with treatment,” the company said.

UnitedHealth Group and Humana did not reply before this article was published.

Charles Ornstein | ProPublica
Introducing Halo Top: the 'healthy' ice-cream taking over America [Uses Stevia as a sugar substitute (not an artificial sweetener) that has no carbohydrates, calories, or artificial ingredients.]
Marketed as ‘the low-calorie, high-protein and low-sugar’ alternative to ice-cream it is now outselling tubs from Ben & Jerry’s and Häagen-Dazs

....The Los Angeles-based company was founded at the start of the decade by Justin Woolverton, a former lawyer who suffered hypoglycemic episodes when he indulged his sweet tooth. So he bought a $20 ice-cream maker on Amazon and began trying to create healthier alternatives. “It was just something that I was making in my kitchen because I didn’t like sugar,” he told one interviewer about his Eureka moment.

While most ice-creams are a sugar and fat-laden treat, Halo Top bills itself as a “low-calorie, high-protein and low-sugar” alternative to mainstream brands, with flavours such as mochi green tea and rainbow swirls. Its recipe uses sugar substitute Stevia, which means a scoop of its Vanilla Ice contains 60 calories versus 250 in a similar sized dollop of Häagen-Dazs.

Reports in the US media have begun to question whether Halo Top is really as healthy as the marketing makes out, with some dieticians raising concerns about the use of artificial sweeteners.

Halo Top is now stocked in supermarkets across America, with the company shifting nearly $50m (£38m) worth of ice-cream in the US last year. Its sales accelerated in 2016 after GQ writer Shane Snow lived on Halo Top ice-cream for 10 days and the resulting article went viral.

The brand’s rise has been propelled by social media: it has 590,000 followers on Instagram and more than 700,000 on Facebook.

The social media buzz helped Halo Top chalk up another milestone in the summer when industry data showed its pint pots were outselling Unilever’s Ben & Jerry’s and Nestlé’s Häagen-Dazs in US grocery stores for the first time. Halo Top’s parent company, LA-based Eden Creamery, is seizing the day with one recent report suggesting it is exploring a sale that could value the company at up to $2bn.

Zoe Wood | The Guardian
Landmark study finds toxic air, water, soils and workplaces kill at least 9m people and cost trillions of dollars every year

....Toxic air, water, soils and workplaces are responsible for the diseases that kill one in every six people around the world, the landmark report found, and the true total could be millions higher because the impact of many pollutants are poorly understood. The deaths attributed to pollution are triple those from Aids, malaria and tuberculosis combined.

The vast majority of the pollution deaths occur in poorer nations and in some, such as India, Chad and Madagascar, pollution causes a quarter of all deaths. The international researchers said this burden is a hugely expensive drag on developing economies.

Rich nations still have work to do to tackle pollution: the US and Japan are in the top 10 for deaths from “modern” forms of pollution, ie fossil fuel-related air pollution and chemical pollution. But the scientists said that the big improvements that have been made in developed nations in recent decades show that beating pollution is a winnable battle if there is the political will.

Damian Carrington | The Guardian
The country lost most of its trees long ago. Despite years of replanting, it isn’t making much progress.

....When Iceland was first settled at the end of the ninth century, much of the land on or near the coast was covered in birch woodlands.

“The people that came here were Iron Age culture,” Dr. Halldorsson said. “And they did what Iron Age culture did.”

The settlers slashed and burned the forests to grow hay and barley, and to create grazing land. They used the timber for building and for charcoal for their forges. By most accounts, the island was largely deforested within three centuries.

“They removed the pillar out of the ecosystem,” Dr. Halldorsson said.

Eruptions over the ensuing centuries from some of Iceland’s many volcanoes deposited thick layers of volcanic material. The ash, while rich in nutrients, made for very fragile, poor soil that couldn’t hold water and moved around as the wind blew.

As a result, Iceland is a case study in desertification, with little or no vegetation, though the problem is not heat or drought. About 40 percent of the country is desert, Dr. Halldorsson said. “But there’s plenty of rainfall — we call it ‘wet desert.’” The situation is so bad that students from countries that are undergoing desertification come here to study the process.

....The work of planting saplings usually begins with an evaluation of the particular site. For Mr. Jonsson of the forestry association, that means looking at what vegetation is already growing there. “You can estimate the richness of the soil underneath,” he said.

Mr. Jonsson and his volunteers then plant the appropriate species for the plot — birch, Sitka spruce, lodgepole pine, Russian larch or other species. “We’d love to plant aspen,” he said. “But sheep really love aspen.”

For Saemundur Thorvaldsson, a government forester who works with volunteer groups and farmers in the Westfjords region of northern Iceland, the “right” tree about 30 percent of the time is birch, the same species that was dominant when Iceland was settled. Birch can tolerate poor soils, and although it grows very slowly it eventually provides shelter for other species.

Most of those other species — Sitka spruce, lodgepole pine, black cottonwood — originated in Alaska. They are now grown as saplings at greenhouses in Iceland, because importing live trees is prohibited.

HENRY FOUNTAIN | Photographs and video by JOSH HANER | The Guardian
A potent toxin that alters hormones and metabolism, sugar sets the stage for epidemic levels of obesity and diabetes
Gary Taubes, edited by Pam Weintraub | aeon

Recent years have seen outbreaks of preventable diseases once thought controlled, what is this backlash against vaccination all about?
dryriver | SlashDot

....Researchers, Eicke Latz at the University of Bonn and colleagues, followed up onthe 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 | ClimateProgress | Ref. | 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 thebrain. 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 percapita, 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 YorkTimes | Ref.
Facebook and Google's push to personalize the news is the latest seismic shift in tech giants’ influence on the information landscape.

We now get our news in real time, on demand, tailored to our interests, across multiple platforms, without knowing just how much is actually personalized [and what is being filtered out].

unprofessional journalists are 'roasted'.
BOB SOMERBY in The DailyHowler | EVERY DAY


Three families of fallen servicemembers received next-day UPS letters from President Trump after a turbulent week in which Trump

WHITE HOUSE CHIEF of Staff John Kelly’s gruesome defense Thursday of President Donald Trump’s call to the widow of Army Sgt. La David T. Johnson was shocking.

But it should not have been a surprise. Any examination of Kelly’s past public remarks makes clear he is not a sober professional, calculating that he must degrade himself in public so he can remain in place to rein in Trump’s worst instincts behind the scenes. Rather, Kelly honestly shares those instincts: He’s proudly ignorant, he’s a liar, and he’s a shameless bully and demagogue.

The chief of staff in an administration headed by any halfway-normal human being would have said: “The president is deeply concerned by news reports that he miscommunicated his condolences when speaking with Sgt. Johnson’s wife Myeshia. He hopes to talk to her again as soon as she feels able, to apologize and make this right. And while he would have preferred that Rep. Frederica Wilson had not spoken publicly about what he intended to be a private call, he appreciates her personal connection to Sgt. Johnson and that she is mourning his loss as well.”

Instead, Kelly did not express any concern for the well-being of Johnson’s widow and family. He did not acknowledge any possibility that Trump had done something wrong, even inadvertently. He engaged in a Trumpian scorched-earth attack against Wilson, claiming to be appalled that she had “listened in” on the conversation — when obviously she could not have avoided hearing it while in a car in which it was on speakerphone — and making up a story about her statements at a public appearance in 2015. He metaphorically dug up every body in Arlington National Cemetery to use them as human shields for Trump. And he interspersed all this with rambling, Strangelovian remarks about how women, life, and religion used to be “sacred” in America but are no longer – and hence “there’s nothing in our country anymore” that indicates that it’s worthy of sacrifice.

Wilson immediately responded that Kelly “is willing to say anything” because he’s “trying to keep his job.” But in fact all the evidence suggests that she is wrong, and Kelly said what he did because he believes it.

This can be seen most clearly in a celebrated speech Kelly delivered on Veterans Day in 2010 while still a Marine Corps general. It demonstrates conclusively that, long before Kelly and Trump ever met, they were on the same page when it comes to hysteria and venom. (Kelly’s son Robert had been killed in action in Afghanistan just days before, but Kelly said identical things both before and long after his son’s death.)

So here’s Kelly’s worldview, as expressed in 2010:...

Jon Schwarz | The Intercept
It’s easy to understand why some of President Trump’s senior advisers privately consider him a “moron,” with a limited vocabulary and stunning lack of normal human empathy, as William Blum explains at Anti-Empire Report.

Capturing the wisdom and the beauty of Donald J. Trump in just one statement escaping from his charming mouth: “Our military has never been stronger. Each day, new equipment is delivered; new and beautiful equipment, the best in the world – the best anywhere in the world, by far.” [Washington Post, Sept. 8, 2017]

Here the man thinks that everyone will be impressed that the American military has never been stronger. And that those who, for some unimaginable reason, are not impressed with that will at least be impressed that military equipment is being added EACH DAY. Ah yes, it’s long been a sore point with most Americans that new military equipment was being added only once a week.

And if that isn’t impressive enough, then surely the fact that the equipment is NEW will win people over. Indeed, the newness is important enough to mention twice. After all, no one likes USED military equipment. And if newness doesn’t win everyone’s heart, then BEAUTIFUL will definitely do it. Who likes UGLY military equipment? Even the people we slaughter all over the world insist upon good-looking guns and bombs.

And the best in the world. Of course. That’s what makes us all proud to be Americans. And what makes the rest of humanity just aching with jealousy. And in case you don’t fully appreciate that, notice that he adds that it’s the best ANYWHERE in the world.

And in case you still don’t fully appreciate that, notice that he specifies that our equipment is the best in the world BY FAR! That means that no other country is even close! Just imagine! Makes me choke up.

Lucky for the man ... his seeming incapacity for moral or intellectual embarrassment. He’s twice blessed. His fans like the idea that their president is no smarter than they are. This may well serve to get the man re-elected, as it did with George W. Bush.

William Blum | Consortium News
Is there room in EPA leadership for someone who cares about the environment and public health?

President Donald Trump has turned the Environmental Protection Agency into a department at war with its core mission. His pick to run the agency, Scott Pruitt, relentlessly sued the EPA as Oklahoma’s attorney general, has close ties with polluting companies, and denies climate science. Pruitt’s deputy is a former coal lobbyist. An official overseeing chemical safety was a chemical industry lobbyist; the person nominated to be her boss has been a consultant to chemical companies for many years. The person nominated to enforce anti-pollution laws was an attorney and lobbyist who defended polluters. The new Region 4 administrator was a lobbyist for business interests that fight against pollution regulations. The list goes on and on.

So it was slightly surprising when, earlier this month, the EPA announced that Pete Lopez, a Republican and former member of the New York State Assembly, would be the next administrator of Region 2, which covers New Jersey, New York, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and eight tribal nations. Unlike nearly all of Trump and Pruitt’s political appointees, Lopez has no personal interests in the success of fossil fuels or chemicals, according to his financial disclosures. He minored in environmental studies in college. He consistently gets around a 70 out of 100 on the New York State Environmental Scorecard, which tracks lawmakers’ voting records. He believes in environmental justice, the concept that minorities are disproportionately affected by pollution. And he led a coalition to implement flood prevention measures after his district was hammered by Hurricane Irene in 2011.

This is not to say that Lopez is an environmentalist. He hasn’t fully accepted that humans are the main drivers of climate change; he gives a tired excuse, “I’m not a scientist.” The Sierra Club notes that he has “a record of being pro-fracking and voted against major climate and electric vehicles bills,” but the group admitted that Pruitt could have chosen someone much worse. “For a Republican, he is sort of moderate, and he is better than most,” Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, said.

EMILY ATKIN / New Republic | Mother Jones
The Republican budget, declared Sen. Sanders after its passage, "is not a bad bill. It's a horrific bill."

Along strict party lines, the Republican-controlled Senate on Thursday night voted to pass a sweeping budget measure—one criticized as both "despicable" and "horrific" for providing massive giveaways to corporations and the super-rich while eviscerating funding for social programs, healthcare, education, and affordable housing.

"Another dark deed done: GOP passes obscene budget to slash Medicare/ Medicaid & explode the deficit – all in the name of tax cuts for the 1%."
—Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon)

The measure passed by 51-49 vote, with only one Republican, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, joining every Democrat and the chamber's two Independents who voted against it. Its approval now paves that way for massive tax giveaways to the wealthy and corporations envisioned by President Donald Trump and the GOP in both the House and the Senate.

"51 Republican Senators just voted to cut Medicaid by $1 trillion and Medicare by $500 billion so that millionaires and corporations can get a tax cut. It's immoral and despicable," said TJ Helmstetter, a spokesperson for Americans for Tax Fairness, in a statement immediately following the vote.

Though the budget resolution itself is nonbinding,'s Ben Wikler notes how the Senate passage on Thursday represents the "starting gun for what might be the most consequential legislative fight of the Trump era: the looting of the U.S. treasury to reward billionaire GOP donors and mega-corporations, at the expense of the rest of us." And with the Senate resolution now in place, a reconciliation process can begin with Republicans in the House, meaning the GOP can "shoot for a tax bill without a single Democratic vote."

Jon Queally, staff writer | Common Dreams
Progressive taxation curbs the power of the wealthy — and that's exactly why the Right hates it.

....So why, in the current era of high profits and low investment, is the same policy being tried once again? Because the point of conservative tax ideology was never to make the economy work better — it was to provide the pretext for a self-serving agenda that lets corporate shareholders (and the executives they deputize — very often, from among their number) milk the economy dry. And that’s exactly what will happen if Congress passes the current proposal to cut the corporate tax rate, “territorialize” the system to permanently exempt overseas profits, “repatriate” past overseas profits tax-free, and set a maximum rate for pass-through income.

The bill’s prospects now depend on a delicate political balancing act. Some Republicans in Congress have declared their unwillingness to vote for a bill that would increase federal debt. To assuage them, the current proposal includes some tax increases on the nonrich: raising the bottom tax bracket from 10 percent to 12 percent, for example, and eliminating the deduction for state and local taxes. That puts the total price tag within a range deemed acceptable to the deficit hawks.

I shadowed 40 volunteers while they stashed water along the border.

Border Angels is an immigrant-advocacy group that organizes hikes into the southern California desert to distribute water along various routes for migrants crossing the US-Mexico border. Last month, along with about 40 volunteers, I tagged along to film one of these “water drops.” After five hours working under the desert sun, a handful of the Border Angels crew hung around a gas station parking lot. Snacks and sodas in hand, they traded laughs and stories from the trek as the border wall loomed in the valley over their shoulders. Some had a close personal connection to someone who had previously crossed: a father, a grandfather, a girlfriend. But some did not.

I had wanted to put together a simple short film about their water drop operation. But like America’s immigration story, there wasn’t a single or simple story to craft out of this cast of characters. Instead I decided to feature the moments that stood out without forcing everything into one stand-alone narrative—and it seemed like Instagram, with its one-minute limit, provided just the right bite-size length for the scenes. But more than that, with “Instagram carousels” you can group smaller bits together to create experimental longer-form storytelling. The captions were then the final glue to hold it all together. The result is a documentary collage of my time spent with the Border Angels.

AL KAMALIZAD | Mother Jones
As Spain begins the process of suspending Catalonia’s autonomy, the European Union is watching events with an anxious eye. Is secessionism poised to become the next great threat to European unity?
Russia accused of supplying Taliban as power shifts create strange bedfellows [is it war profiteering/capitalism, or is there a political power objective? the US supplies arms to dubious countries and militia groups worldwide...]
An Afghan army commander is the latest to allege that Moscow is providing arms to the Islamist group that grew out of the 1980s anti-Soviet resistance

Afghan officials have called on Moscow to stop supporting the Taliban, as the militant group steps up attacks across the country, allegedly with the help of Russian weapons.

The plea is a sign of frustration with foreign powers, which are muscling in to fill the space left behind by the US troop drawdown and often hedging their bets on the conflict by supporting several factions – including the Taliban.

After weeks of intense battles in the western Farah province – in which Taliban fighters nearly overran the provincial capital for the third time in a year – the commander of the Afghan army’s 207th Corps, has become the latest official to point the finger at Russia

“Many large countries are involved in the Afghan war. We can name Russia, who is actively meddling in Farah, and we have seized Russian-made weapons, including night vision sniper scopes,” the commander, Brig Gen Mohammad Naser Hedayat, said this week. Speaking to local television, a local police chief asked the Kabul government to summon the Russian ambassador in protest.

Russia’s recent push for influence in Afghanistan follows a pattern across the region, where Moscow has challenged American influence in Libya, Turkey, Syria and the Gulf. But it also offers an echo of history for Afghans who since the 19th century have seen their country treated as a battleground for rival foreign powers.

The Taliban was originally founded on the back of the 1980s anti-Soviet resistance, but it has been forced to bury old enmities since the US-led coalition forced it from power in 2001.

Sune Engel Rasmussen | The Guardian
Tories under pressure over use of UK troops to sell arms to Gulf states [allowed war-profiteering enables capitalism to destroy humanity in all respects]
Labour says government is trying to avoid scrutiny of arms sales after portions of FoI request are redacted

....Barry Gardiner, Labour’s shadow international trade secretary, said: “This is another example of the government trying to avoid proper scrutiny of arms sales.

“It is concerning that the government has redacted so much in this freedom of information request, and raises questions on whether some countries may be facing allegations of human rights abuses.”

Gardiner added: “British taxpayers do not expect public money to be spent prepping arms sales to regimes whose identity the government is too embarrassed to reveal. It is profoundly depressing to find the secretary of state clearly so keen to prop up slumping trade figures by pushing arms sales that he doesn’t want anybody to find out about.”

Oxfam, which has also been campaigning against the use of British weapons in Yemen, said that the secrecy around the EST’s promotion of UK arms sales was very concerning and raised the question of what the government could be hiding.

“Some of the equipment listed here is in service with the United Arab Emirates, and may be used by the Saudi-led coalition forces in Yemen,” said Martin Butcher, Oxfam policy adviser.

“We know that the UK is fuelling the war in Yemen with arms sales in excess of #3.8bn to Saudi Arabia for its bombing campaign. The people of Yemen are in the grip of the world’s largest cholera epidemic since records began. Seven million people are just a step away from famine – and homes, hospitals and schools have been destroyed by the bombing and fighting.”

Ben Quinn | The Guardian
Under Trump, Brags Mike Pompeo, CIA Will Be 'Much More Vicious Agency' [imagine an administration made up of willfully ignorant sociopaths—oh, right]
Trump "has promised that he will have our backs," says CIA head

According to Mike Pompeo, the agency he leads—which has supported coups across the globe, engaged in targeted killings, and led a detention and torture program—has not been nasty enough.

Speaking Thursday at a Foundation for Defense of Democracies forum, the CIA director, who has signaled suport for torture, said "we've now laid out a strategy for how we're going to execute our strategy with incredible vigor. We're going to become a much more vicious agency in ensuring that we are delivering this work. We are going to go to the hardest places with some of the hardest people and of our organization to crush it."

President Donald Trump, he said, "has promised that he will have our backs and that he will resource us."

Addressing the threat posed by Kim Jong-un, Pompeo said the North Korean leader's "end-state... is the continued capacity to go to sleep in a really nice bed in Pyongyang every night."

He said "we ought to behave as if we are on the cusp of them achieving [their] objective" of hitting the U.S. with a nuclear capability. Pompeo also said there should be focus on "the enormous conventional weapon systems put in the hands of this man, and the other elements of their nuclear program and other delivery technologies of those nuclear weapon systems."

Asked by a Financial Times reporter what would happen if Kim Jong-un "kicked the bucket for whatever reason," Pompeo said, "you know, given the history of the CIA, I'm just not going to talk about that. Someone might think there was a coincidence if, you know, there was an accident," he said to laughter from the crowd. "It's just not fruitful. We have a clear U.S. policy. It is an effort to diplomatically and economically challenge the North Korean regime in such a way that they won't get to that end-state."

Andrea Germanos, staff writer | Common Dreams
A 9.7-million-year-old discovery has left a team of German scientists scratching their heads. The teeth seem to belong to a species only known to have appeared in Africa several million years later.

A team of German archaeologists discovered a puzzling set of teeth in the former riverbed of the Rhine, the Museum of Natural History in Mainz announced on Wednesday.

The teeth don't appear to belong to any species discovered in Europe or Asia. They most closely resemble those belonging to the early hominin skeletons of Lucy (Australopithecus afarensis) and Ardi (Ardipithecus ramidus), famously discovered in Ethiopia.

But these new teeth, found in the western German town of Eppelsheim near Mainz, are at least 4 million years older than the African skeletons, which has scientists so puzzled they held off publishing for a year.

A specialist team will be carrying out further tests on the teeth.

Read more: Unearthing the mysteries of the 'battle that created Germany'

Alistair Walsh | Deutsche Welle

Disintermediating nation-states
Marc Cherbonnier | The Baltimore Chronicle | Ref.
Insectageddon: farming is more catastrophic than climate breakdown [short-sighted capitalistic & monopolistic priorities have promoted ecocide]

....It is remarkable that we need to rely on a study in Germany to see what is likely to have been happening worldwide: long-term surveys of this kind simply do not exist elsewhere. This failure reflects distorted priorities in the funding of science. There is no end of grants for research on how to kill insects, but hardly any money for discovering what the impacts of this killing might be. Instead, the work has been left – as in the German case – to recordings by amateur naturalists.

....Insects, of course, are critical to the survival of the rest of the living world. Knowing what we now know, there is nothing surprising about the calamitous decline of insect-eating birds. Those flying insects – not just bees and hoverflies but species of many different families – are the pollinators without which a vast tract of the plant kingdom, both wild and cultivated, cannot survive. The wonders of the living planet are vanishing before our eyes.

Well, I hear you say, we have to feed the world. Yes, but not this way. As a UN report published in March explained, the notion that pesticide use is essential for feeding a growing population is a myth. A recent study in Nature Plants reveals that most farms would increase production if they cut their use of pesticides. A study in the journal Arthropod-Plant Interactions shows that the more neonicotinoid pesticides were used to treat rapeseed crops, the more their yield declines. Why? Because the pesticides harm or kill the pollinators on which the crop depends.

Farmers and governments have been comprehensively conned by the global pesticide industry. It has ensured its products should not be properly regulated or even, in real-world conditions, properly assessed. A massive media onslaught by this industry has bamboozled us all about its utility and its impacts on the health of both human beings and the natural world.

The profits of these companies depend on ecocide. Do we allow them to hold the world to ransom, or do we acknowledge that the survival of the living world is more important than returns to their shareholders? At the moment, shareholder value comes first. And it will count for nothing when we have lost the living systems on which our survival depends.

To save ourselves and the rest of the living world, here’s what we need to do:

  1. We need a global treaty to regulate pesticides, and put the manufacturers back in their box.
  2. We need environmental impact assessments for the farming and fishing industries. It is amazing that, while these sectors present the greatest threats to the living world, they are, uniquely in many nations, not subject to such oversight.
  3. We need firm rules based on the outcomes of these assessments, obliging those who use the land to protect and restore the ecosystems on which we all depend.
  4. We need to reduce the amount of land used by farming, while sustaining the production of food. The most obvious way is greatly to reduce our use of livestock: many of the crops we grow and all of the grazing land we use are deployed to feed them. One study in Britain suggests that, if we stopped using animal products, everyone in Britain could be fed on just 3m of our 18.5m hectares of current farmland (or on 7m hectares if all our farming were organic). This would allow us to create huge wildlife and soil refuges: an investment against a terrifying future.
  5. We should stop using land that should be growing food for people to grow maize for biogas and fuel for cars.

Then, at least, nature and people would have some respite from the global onslaught. And, I hope, a chance of getting through the century.

George Monbiot OPED | The Guardian

Socialism a century ago seemed to be the wave of the future. There were various schools of socialism, but the common ideal was to guarantee support for basic needs, and for state ownership to free society from landlords, predatory banking and monopolies. In the West these hopes are now much further away than they seemed in 1917. Land and natural resources, basic infrastructure monopolies, health care and pensions have been increasingly privatized and financialized.

....Proto-socialist reform in the leading industrial nations

Marx was by no means alone in expecting a widening range of economic activity to be shifted away from the market to the public sector. State socialism (basically, state-sponsored capitalism) subsidized pensions and public health, education and other basic needs so as to save industrial enterprise from having to bear these charges.

In the United States, Simon Patten – the first economics professor at the new Wharton business school at the University of Pennsylvania – defined public infrastructure as a “fourth factor of production” alongside labor, capital and land. The aim of public investment was not to make a profit, but to lower the cost of living and doing business so as to minimize industry’s wage and infrastructure bill. Public health, pensions, roads and other transportation, education, research and development were subsidized or provided freely.

The most advanced industrial economies seemed to be evolving toward some kind of socialism. Marx shared a Progressive Era optimism that expected industrial capitalism to evolve in the most logical way, by freeing economies from the landlordship and predatory banking inherited from Europe’s feudal era. That was above all the classical reform program of Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill and the intellectual mainstream.

Since 1980 the Western nations have reversed early optimistic hopes to reform market economies. Instead of the classical dream of taxing away the land rent that had supported Europe’s hereditary landed aristocracies, commercial real estate has been made virtually exempt from income taxation. Absentee owners avoid tax by a combination of tax-deductibility for interest payments (as if it is a necessary business expense) and fictitious over-depreciation tax credits that pretend that buildings and properties are losing value even when market prices for their land are soaring.

These tax breaks have made real estate the largest bank customers. The effect has been to financialize property rents into interest payments. Likewise in the industrial sphere, regulatory capture by lobbyists for the major monopolies has disabled public attempts to keep prices in line with the cost of production and prevent fraud by breaking up or regulating monopolies. These too have become major bank clients.

....Markets have not recovered for the products of American industry and labor since 2008. Industrial capitalism has been sacrificed to a form of finance capitalism that is looking more pre-capitalist (or simply oligarchic and neofeudal) with each passing year. The resulting polarization forces every economy – including China – to choose between saving its bankers and other creditors or freeing debtors and lowering the economy’s cost structure. Will the government enforce bank and bondholder claims, or will it give priority to the economy and its people? That is an eternal political question spanning pre-capitalist, capitalist and post-capitalist economies.

Michael Hudson / | SouthFront

A despot in disguise: one man’s mission to rip up democracy [BEST DESCRIPTION FOR THE WORLD'S PROBLEMS I'VE EVER SEEN! Treason is much too kind a word for this...]
James McGill Buchanan’s vision of totalitarian capitalism has infected public policy in the US. Now it’s being exported
George Monbiot | The Guardian | Ref.
How to Hide $400 Million [("Ideal," thinks Trump.) Tax-shelters have evolved into a distributed, international system of deregulation loopholes enabling 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 ofthe 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.
Trump could remake judiciary for ‘40 years’ — with controversial picks [America will become more like Malta; facilitating corporate/mafia criminality to the maximum]
Senate Republicans are rallying behind Trump’s judicial nominees, including those considered unqualified or with explosive views.
SEUNG MIN KIM | Politico

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