News & opinion that matter Most recent posts in bigger type–> Prior 2 days are in smaller type.
Health Care & Environment PROBLEMS: Corporate influence enables life-threatening pollution & highest-profit health care.
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"
As the United States was fixated on the political upset in Alabama, there were several chunks of good news coming out of the Paris One Planet Summit—a conference designed to follow up on the Paris Climate Accord, with a specific focus on finance. Principal among these announcements, I think, was news that the World Bank will stop financing upstream oil and gas projects from 2019 onwards. (The bank did say rare exceptions may be made for gas in the poorest of countries.) Also worthy of note was insurance giant AXA announcing it would divest a further 3 billion euros from coal and tar sands projects, quadruple green investments to 12 billion euros by 2020, and also stop insuring new coal construction projects or oil sands businesses.
Alongside the many, many other such commitments from corporations, nation states and non-profits, it's fair to say that—regardless of what's happening in Washington, D.C.—strong messages are being sent about the direction of travel of the world's economy. Of course, it's also fair to say that this news comes at a time of record wildfires in California and unprecedented sea ice melt in the Arctic, so even the ambitious levels of commitment currently emerging will need to be ramped up further.
Prosecutors say police saved Amapá $30m worth of environmental damage
Chinese entrepreneurs paid millions to company that bribed officials
Two Chinese entrepreneurs paid millions of dollars to a Brazilian company that bribed environment officials of an Amazon state to illegally export precious hardwoods to China. But in a rare success against rising deforestation in the Amazon, Brazilian police and prosecutors were able to stop the scheme before exports started in earnest and said they saved the state from $30m worth of potential environmental damage.
This week prosecutors presented details of two connected, year-long operations that have seen 31 people charged, including the two Chinese entrepreneurs, Brazilian businessmen, environment officials and the former head of the environmental licensing institute of the state of Amapá, on the eastern edge of the Brazilian Amazon.
They said that two Chinese citizens, businessman Xiaoliang Xu and his associate, interpreter and fellow investor Xie Ping had paid Brazilian company Pangea Mineração (Pangea Mining) $3m of $15m agreed for 50,000 sq metres of wood.
“There were Chinese investors who wanted to extract wood in large quantity from Brazil. They made contact with loggers,” said Everton Aguiar, a federal prosecutor in Amapá’s state capital, Macapá. “They were putting a scheme together and it was defeated.”
A new scheme aims to lighten the lives of millions who live without electricity, with the promise of a possible 6% return
....Currently 600 million people in sub-Saharan Africa live without access to electricity. For example, in Uganda, the figure is just 7% of rural families. Many use traditional energy sources such as kerosene lamps, candles and batteries for their energy needs – but these can be extremely hazardous, as well as costly. Lamps and candles have been responsible for many house fires, while soot and fumes can cause health problems. Having a solar system can transform people’s lives in so many ways – allowing children to read and study in the evening, enabling families to charge their mobile phones, or enabling a stallholder to install a fridge so they can sell cold drinks.
Energise Africa is an initiative that provides working capital to businesses that sell solar home systems, the result of a link-up between Ethex, a UK-based ethical investment platform, and Lendahand, a Dutch-based crowdfunding platform. It was “soft launched” in the summer and is also being backed by Virgin Unite, the non-profit foundation of the Virgin Group.
The unprecedented downpour and severe flooding was also 15% more intense due to climate change, which is making weather more violent around the world
....The researchers said their new work shows global warming is making extreme weather events worse right now and in the US. The cost of the damage caused by Hurricane Harvey has been estimated at $190bn (£140bn), which would make it the most costly weather disaster in US history, more than Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy combined.
....Hurricane Harvey made first landfall on 25 August and then stalled over Texas, with torrential downpours dumping a year’s worth of rain on Houston and surrounding areas in a few days. In east Harris County, a record 132cm (52 inches) of rain fell over six days, the highest storm total in US history.
The WWA scientists used both historical rainfall records and high-resolution climate models to determine the influence of global warming. “This multi-method analysis confirms that heavy rainfall events are increasing substantially across the Gulf Coast region because of human interference with our climate system,” said Geert Jan van Oldenborgh, at the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI) and lead author of the new study published in Environmental Research Letters.
“It was very a rare event – they were very unlucky,” said van Oldenborgh. But the research shows the chance of it happening was raised threefold by climate change.
The team also estimated that, even if the world limits warming to the internationally agreed 2C limit, the likelihood of such extreme downpours will triple again. “But, if we miss those targets, the increase in frequency and intensity could be much higher,” said Karin van der Wiel, also at KNMI.
“The link between global warming and more extreme weather is nowhere more obvious than in the US. Even if Donald Trump isn’t seeing the picture, many others are,” said Richard Black at the ECIU.
Scientists have identified 2 million species of living things. No one knows how many more are out there, and tens of thousands may be vanishing before we have even had a chance to encounter them.
....Although insecticides have been blamed for the declines in Europe, Erwin thinks the ultimate culprit is climate change. The location he has been observing in Ecuador is pristine, virgin rainforest. “There’s no insecticides, nothing at all,” he said. But gradually, almost imperceptibly, in the time he has been there, something has changed in the balance of the forest. Studying the data, Erwin and his collaborators have found that over the past 35 years, the Amazon rainforest has been slowly dying out. And if the forest goes, Erwin tells me, “everything that lives in it will be affected”.
If this trend were to continue indefinitely, the consequences would be devastating. Insects have been on Earth 1,000 times longer than humans have. In many ways, they created the world we live in. They helped call the universe of flowering plants into being. They are to terrestrial food chains what plankton is to oceanic ones. Without insects and other land-based arthropods, EO Wilson, the renowned Harvard entomologist, and inventor of sociobiology, estimates that humanity would last all of a few months. After that, most of the amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals would go, along with the flowering plants. The planet would become an immense compost heap, covered in shoals of carcasses and dead trees that refused to rot. Briefly, fungi would bloom in untold numbers. Then, they too would die off. The Earth would revert to what it was like in the Silurian period, 440m years ago, when life was just beginning to colonise the soil – a spongy, silent place, filled with mosses and liverworts, waiting for the first shrimp brave enough to try its luck on land.
As America is battered by climate-intensified weather disasters, Republican politicians are trying to slash climate research funding
Click for bigger image. Billion-dollar weather and climate disasters in the US in 2017. Illustration: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
....Extreme weather fueled by human carbon pollution is occurring around the world. But in the midst of this, President Trump and many Republican elected officials want to decrease our spending on climate science. In the United States, we have flagship organizations like Nasa and Noaa that are our eyes and ears on the climate. But throughout the year, Trump has worked to get Nasa to sharply reduce or even stop climate research. Nasa has two main missions. One mission is exploration – going to Mars, the moon, and sending exploration satellites that look outward. The other part of Nasa’s mission is to look inwards, at our own planet. To do this, they use many instruments, including satellites to measure what is happening on Earth.
Trump and his administration want to jettison the Earth research portion of Nasa’s mission. This obviously isn’t to save money; the amount we spend on Earth-focused missions is very small. Rather, it is to halt research into the Earth’s climate. The following chart compares the cost savings from budget cuts with the extreme weather costs just this year in the USA.
Climate scientists have won the war on the facts. We know it is warming, we know how fast it is warming. We know what is causing the warming. And, we know what to do about it. Since Trump (and sadly the Republican Party as a whole) have lost that battle, they have decided to blind us so we just won’t know what is happening.
We should be investing in science and the instruments that scientists need (satellites, airplanes, computers, other sensors). And we should invest in the people. Without funding and jobs in climate science, how will we encourage the next generation of bright minds to enter this field?
....A lack of regulation on drug sales can be owed to the influence of the pharmaceutical industry in U.S. politics. The pharmaceutical industry has reportedly spent $2.5 billion in the past decade lobbying politicians, the most of any industry. Only 3 U.S. Senators have not taken donations from “Big Pharma” and only 1 out of 10 members of the House; the industry also employs 2 lobbyists for every member of Congress to ensure they are protected from regulations. The Pain Care Forum, an industry-funded interest group, spent $740m over a decade lobbying state and federal lawmakers against enacting limits on painkiller prescriptions.
The first systematic testing of neonicotinoids in rivers in Britain was mandated by EU water regulations and conducted in 2016. The results, obtained by the conservation charity Buglife, show that half of the 16 rivers tested in England had either chronic or acute levels of contamination. Of the 23 rivers tested across Britain, neonicotinoids were not detected in six.
News Media Matters PROBLEM: Media suppresses and 'pences' facts to please/increase advertising markets. The Fairness Doctrine—ended under Reagan—must be reenacted or increasingly one-sided news sources will continue to purposely increase ignorance and hate.
The threat to serious independent journalism has never been greater than it is today. Whatever one thinks of the Russia-gate imbroglio, what is perhaps the most troubling part is that it has been exploited to justify a crackdown on journalism that doesn’t follow the West’s dominant groupthinks.
PROBLEM: Bribes gutting regulations often harm life on earth. OUR GOAL: Make corporations help life on earth. SOLUTION: Cap executive pay @ 100 x minimum wage and allow first 9% of business net profit tax-free, then tax the rest @ 90% tax-rate to suppress price-gouging and fund saving life.
The Republican tax bill is a travesty. But there‘s still plenty we can do to improve the daily lives of millions of Americans.
Illustration by Tim Peacock
....The Republican agenda on health care and taxes may be popular with wealthy campaign donors, but it is widely disliked by the American people. It’s no wonder why. Despite a booming stock market and record corporate profits, workers in this country are being squeezed by flat wages, soaring household expenses and declining savings. They want Washington to start working for them and to spend tax dollars investing in our future — not bankrupting it.
With a government funding deadline looming on Friday, congressional Republicans face a choice. Will they spend this week just trying to deliver partisan tax breaks for the rich? Or will they work with Democrats to pass a budget that supports working people?
Right now Congress’s to-do list is long. Before we even get to the budget, we must take care of several urgent, overdue responsibilities that Republicans have ignored. We must fulfill our promise to 800,000 Dreamers — aspiring young Americans who will lose their legal immigration status if we don’t act. We also need to renew expired funding for community health centers and the Children’s Health Insurance Program so that tens of millions of families and nine million children don’t lose access to affordable health care.
These are basic responsibilities and they cannot wait. But our vision is bigger. We must look beyond the bare minimum, to stop lurching from crisis to crisis trying desperately to keep the lights on. This is the moment to focus on our core values and to carefully choose what we will invest in.
At a time when the American economy is rigged in favor of the rich and giant corporations, the coming federal funding bill is a chance to show that our country still respects hard work. We recognize that we cannot do everything we’d like to do before the end of the year, but there is room in the budget to take real, immediate steps in this direction — by easing household costs for working parents and students, by protecting workers’ pensions and Social Security, and by improving access to health care for veterans and for people who need mental health services.
....The task in front of Congress over the coming week boils down to a basic question: Does Washington work for all of us or just for those at the top? Congress has a chance, right now, to take steps that will make life a bit better for millions of working people immediately and in the years to come. We should seize it.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren greets Ping Shen, a center employee, during a tour of East Boston Neighborhood Health Center, one of the largest community health centers in the country. NICHOLAS PFOSI FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE
I love community health centers. They do wonderful work and enjoy widespread support. But I’m worried because Republican leaders in Congress have held these centers hostage by halting federal funding while they focus on passing tax cuts for the wealthy. It’s past time to step up the fight for community health centers in my state of Massachusetts and across the country.
Community health centers are a big part of what’s working well in health care today — more coverage at lower cost. They are on the front lines of the opioid epidemic. They provide preventive services and chronic disease management. They are taking the stigma out of mental health treatment. And they save money by promoting disease prevention, providing care coordination, and reducing the use of hospital emergency rooms.
Part of why I love visiting these centers is because each one is unique. Every community has distinct needs, and their health centers adapt and respond to these distinctions. But their goal is always the same — to provide the best possible care to anyone who walks through their doors....
Donald Trump’s first legislative achievement is a monstrosity of doctrinaire conservatism that attacks education, healthcare and the lives of ordinary people
The Republican party has achieved something nobody thought possible. They have taken the broken, regressive, loophole-riddled US tax code, and made it worse.
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 has nothing to do with economics. It is pure politics. Economists struggling to understand the unwieldy legislation are like biochemists attempting to explain contemporary ballet. Nobody seriously believes that the bill will boost growth. Everybody knows that it will massively increase the deficit; the only argument is whether it will be by $1.5tn, or just $1tn. The legislation has been drafted at breakneck pace, with few opportunities for costings or analysis: a recipe for errors. Senator Elizabeth Warren joked that she spent more time choosing her new refrigerator than the Senate managed for tax reform.
But for Republican lawmakers, the bill hits some very sweet political spots. Corporations? Check. The wealthy? Check. Obamacare haters? Check? When the deficit balloons, as it must, Republicans will then use that to justify cutting spending, especially on pensions and healthcare. Their cynicism is breathtaking. Their ruthlessness is impressive. Wait for the new Alabama senator, Doug Jones, to take his seat before voting? Are you kidding? There will be no waiting. This is brute force politics.
It is a tragedy, too. The only potential silver lining of Trump’s presidency was that he might do something to help the struggling middle class, Main Street not Wall Street. He ran on this very promise. But this bill offers the working class and middle class little or nothing – crumbs from the table at best. It provides a huge boon, however, to corporations and to the wealthy. This is not a populist tax bill. It is a plutocrat one...
....The Republican tax bill is sloppily designed and economically reckless. It is certain to lead to more tax avoidance and certain to massively increase the deficit. It provides a massive boon to the rich and little or nothing to the middle class and working class.
As such, it also represents a huge political risk. The gamble Republicans are taking is that the voters who put Trump into the White House will fail to notice that they are not among the beneficiaries of the first major piece of legislation to bear his signature. Trump is not draining the swamp. He is watering it.
The disagreement between Coates and me is clear: his view of black America is narrow and dangerously misleading
‘Coates’ allegiance to Obama has produced an impoverished understanding of black history.’ Photograph: Robin Platzer/Robin Platzer/Twin Images
....[Coates] never connects this ugly legacy to the predatory capitalist practices, imperial policies (of war, occupation, detention, assassination) or the black elite’s refusal to confront poverty, patriarchy or transphobia.
In short, Coates fetishizes white supremacy. He makes it almighty, magical and unremovable. What concerns me is his narrative of “defiance”. For Coates, defiance is narrowly aesthetic – a personal commitment to writing with no connection to collective action. It generates crocodile tears of neoliberals who have no intention of sharing power or giving up privilege.
....Coates’ allegiance to Obama has produced an impoverished understanding of black history. He reveals this when he writes: “Ossie Davis famously eulogized Malcolm X as ‘our living, Black manhood’ and ‘our own Black shining prince.’ Only one man today could bear those twin honorifics: Barack Obama.”
This gross misunderstanding of who Malcolm X was – the greatest prophetic voice against the American Empire – and who Barack Obama is – the first black head of the American Empire – speaks volumes about Coates’ neoliberal view of the world.
Coates praises Obama as a “deeply moral human being” while remaining silent on the 563 drone strikes, the assassination of US citizens with no trial, the 26,171 bombs dropped on five Muslim-majority countries in 2016 and the 550 Palestinian children killed with US supported planes in 51 days, etc. He calls Obama “one of the greatest presidents in American history,” who for “eight years ... walked on ice and never fell.”
It is clear that his narrow racial tribalism and myopic political neoliberalism has no place for keeping track of Wall Street greed, US imperial crimes or black elite indifference to poverty. For example, there is no serious attention to the plight of the most vulnerable in our community, the LGBT people who are disproportionately affected by violence, poverty, neglect and disrespect...
Lawmakers and aides are consumed by one question: Who's next? The details change almost daily, but the rumor won’t die: A credible news organization is preparing to unmask at least 20 lawmakers in both parties for sexual misconduct.
It is perhaps understandable that people focus on the global impact of a reckless, petulant and ignorant president. North Korea, Iran, global warming, Jerusalem: there’s plenty to keep you awake at night if you’re at all concerned about the world burning.
But all that means we overlook the smaller fires that will burn for a lifetime, destroying communities and citizens closer to home.
Because it turns out that a boneheaded president has a remarkable ability to nominate boneheaded federal judges who will serve an unlimited term as they undermine public confidence in justice and government. Much like the man who put their names forward in the first place.
For now the focus is on the single most ill-prepared and inexperienced nominee for any federal position in recent times: Matthew Petersen.
Petersen is nominated for a lifetime’s job as a US district judge in Washington DC, where the courts regularly shape the conduct of the federal government.
This columnist may have no legal qualifications whatsoever. But having sat in the E Barrett Prettyman courthouse for months on end, it is our learned opinion that Petersen is an embarrassing fool who has no business wearing a judge’s robes.
Petersen wilted in the face of the simple and polite questioning by Senator John Kennedy, a Trump-supporting Republican from Louisiana, not previously known as a leader of the vast leftwing conspiracy.
Petersen has served as a commissioner on the Federal Election Commission, which explains a lot about the FEC’s reputation for almost complete uselessness. A campaign finance lawyer by experience, Petersen has far less of a claim to a job on the federal bench than Judge Judy. (Note to the White House: this is not a suggestion to nominate Judge Judy.)
How can we tell? Kennedy found his target as he addressed several nominees with an innocent question about whether anyone had not tried a case in a courtroom. Petersen raised his hand. It started to go downhill from there.
The Russia-backed campaign to link the volunteer rescuers with al-Qaida exposes how conspiracy theories take root: ‘It’s like a factory’
The Syrian volunteer rescue workers known as the White Helmets have become the target of an extraordinary disinformation campaign. Credit unspecified.
The Syrian volunteer rescue workers known as the White Helmets have become the target of an extraordinary disinformation campaign that positions them as an al-Qaida-linked terrorist organisation.
The Guardian has uncovered how this counter-narrative is propagated online by a network of anti-imperialist activists, conspiracy theorists and trolls with the support of the Russian government (which provides military support to the Syrian regime).
The White Helmets, officially known as the Syria Civil Defence, is a humanitarian organisation made up of 3,400 volunteers – former teachers, engineers, tailors and firefighters – who rush to pull people from the rubble when bombs rain down on Syrian civilians. They’ve been credited with saving thousands of civilians during the country’s continuing civil war.
They have also exposed, through first-hand video footage, war crimes including a chemical attack in April. Their work was the subject of an Oscar-winning Netflix documentary and the recipient of two Nobel peace prize nominations.
A domain network graph for “white helmets” tweets May-Aug 2017. These are websites connected by users (who tweet to both). Credit: Kate Starbird
In spite of this positive international recognition, there’s a counter-narrative pushed by a vocal network of individuals who write for alternative news sites countering the “MSM agenda”. Their views align with the positions of Syria and Russia and attract an enormous online audience, amplified by high-profile alt-right personalities, appearances on Russian state TV and an army of Twitter bots.
The way the Russian propaganda machine has targeted the White Helmets is a neat case study in the prevailing information wars. It exposes just how rumours, conspiracy theories and half-truths bubble to the top of YouTube, Google and Twitter search algorithms.
“This is the heart of Russian propaganda. In the old days they would try and portray the Soviet Union as a model society. Now it’s about confusing every issue with so many narratives that people can’t recognise the truth when they see it,” said David Patrikarakos, author of War in 140 Characters: How Social Media is Reshaping Conflict in the 21st Century.
When ruthless armed fighters descended on her district, Rosen Moseba lost everything. Now unable to support herself or her surviving children, she is among the countless victims of a crisis that may yet culminate in genocide
“Before the crisis I used to sell things, but now I have lost everything and I don’t have enough money to start another activity ... Because I am an orphan and I have no one to help me, it is very difficult. The future is very dark now.”: Rosen Moseba in Bangui. Photograph: Andy Hall for the Observer
....As Moseba and her family tried to escape, they were stopped by armed men. “There were a lot of rebels,” she remembers. “Three of them raped me, one by one. After they raped me some of the Seleka said, ‘Let’s kill her’. Others said, ‘No, no we are not going to kill her, we have already done what we want to do.’”
She was pregnant at the time. “I tried to resist but I couldn’t do anything because they had guns, and I had nothing,” says Moseba. They killed her brother in front of her and her children. She was forced to leave her brother’s body on the roadside. “I don’t know what happened after, I don’t know if someone buried my brother,” she says.
The capital is under government control today, but relations between Muslims and Christians remain tense. Many, like Moseba, have received little help to rebuild their livelihoods. Having lost everything in the crisis, she is unable to afford rent or pay for her children to go to school. Her husband left her after hearing that she had been raped.
Five years since conflict in CAR began, half the country’s population needs humanitarian assistance, while more than a million people have been uprooted by fighting. In many areas the crisis has deepened over the past 12 months.
Violence between armed groups, often competing for natural resources in a context of complete lawlessness, has overlapped with long-standing ethnic rivalries and distrust between the Christian majority and the Muslim minority. The UN’s emergency relief coordinator, Stephen O’Brien, has spoken of “the early warnings of genocide”.
Since the end of 2016, violence has erupted in almost every region outside the capital, according to a report by International Crisis Group. The centre and the east have been wracked by territorial conflict while, in the south-east, fighting has spiralled following the departure of American special forces and Ugandan troops assigned to fight the Lord’s Resistance Army.
United States PROBLEMS: Corporate and billionaire money—both before and especially after the Citizens United ruling—corrupts state and federal political parties and governments to the public's detriment.
The existence of a list of reportedly banned words—including "vulnerable," "entitlement," "diversity," "transgender," "fetus," "evidence-based" and "science-based"—was described by Sen. Kamala Harris as "downright ridiculous."
....NARAL Pro-Choice America was among those decrying the news, the latest evidence of the Trump administration's blatant disregard for scientific integrity. Kaylie Hanson Long, the group's national communications director, compared it to something out of Margaret Atwood's dystopian novel, A Handmaid's Tale, which Trump and Vice President Mike Pence were using...as "a playbook" in order to push their far-right ideologies.
"[CDC] banned from using 'science-based' and "evidence-based' terms. Are we now going to use Voodoo & leeches to treat diseases?" —Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.)
"Forbidding scientists and researchers from using medically accurate terminology in order to push an extreme, ideological agenda is more 'dystopia' than 'United States of America,'" Long said in a statement. "This latest move from the Trump administration amounts to yet another backdoor tactic to curtail Americans' basic rights and freedoms, including the right to access abortion, and will put lives in real danger."
Dana Singiser, vice president of public policy and government relations for Planned Parenthood, described it as "unimaginably dangerous" for the CDC to forbid its scientists and staff "from speaking about things essential to Americans' health. This edict doesn't just mean a change in vocabulary. It means the Trump-Pence administration is trying to make a radical change in the focus of the entire agency."
A United Nations expert slammed the alarming levels of poverty in the US on Friday, saying that the situation is likely to get worse under US President Donald Trump.
Official US figures show that more than one in eight Americans live in poverty, but the UN official warned that the numbers are likely to rise under the Republican's new tax reform plan.
The downward spiral of poverty
Philip Alston, the UN's special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, undertook a two-week fact-finding visit to several US states and Puerto Rico. Alston detailed several examples of poverty he found during his tour, including:
Hookworm, an intestinal parasite, has returned in several communities in the South
Wal-Mart workers who rely on government-issued food stamps
Children raised in poverty have little to no access to healthcare, quality nutrition or decent education
Poor people are often in and out of prison, making many unable to vote due to their criminal records
'Inequality will skyrocket'
In a statement, Alston called out several Trump administration policies that will lead to an increase in poverty, saying:
"The US Congress is trying desperately to pass a tax bill that, if adopted, would represent the single most dramatic increase in inequality that could be imagined."
Trump's proposed cuts to social welfare programs will damage a safety net for the poor that is already "riddled with holes" and that should the cuts become reality, "inequality will skyrocket."
"The American Dream is rapidly becoming the American Illusion, as the US now has the lowest rate of social mobility of any of the rich countries."
"Poor people have no chance of having their voices heard, no chance of influencing public policy."
You can always count on Republicans to do two things: try to cut taxes for the rich and try to weaken the safety net for the poor and the middle class. That was true under George W. Bush, who sharply cut tax rates on the top 1 percent and tried to privatize Social Security. It has been equally true under President Trump; G.O.P. legislative proposals show not a hint of the populism Trump espoused on the campaign trail.
But as a terrible, no good, very bad tax bill heads for a final vote, something has been added to the mix. As usual, Republicans seek to afflict the afflicted and comfort the comfortable, but they don’t treat all Americans with a given income the same. Instead, their bill — on which we don’t have full details, but whose shape is clear — hugely privileges owners, whether of businesses or of financial assets, over those who simply work for a living.
He says Republicans may try to close the investigation by the end of the month.
....Schiff suggested in one tweet that the pressure to quickly wrap up the probe is coming from Ryan, who has himself faced pressure by President Trump and his supporters to end the Russia probe or investigate Hillary Clinton’s work as secretary of state instead. A Ryan spokeswoman did not respond to questions about whether he has pressed intelligence committee members to curtail their investigation.
Millions can no longer afford to retire, and may never be able when the GOP passes its tax bill
The U.S. has a retirement crisis on its hands, and with the far right controlling the executive branch and both houses of Congress, as well as dozens of state governments, things promise to grow immeasurably worse.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Past progressive presidents, notably Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lyndon B. Johnson, took important steps to make life more comfortable for aging Americans. FDR signed the Social Security Act of 1935 into law as part of his New Deal, and when LBJ passed Medicare in 1965, he established a universal health care program for those 65 and older. But the country has embraced a neoliberal economic model since the election of Ronald Reagan, and all too often, older Americans have been quick to vote for far-right Republicans antagonistic to the social safety net.
.....This is Africa’s poaching frontline, and these are not just regular female game rangers. If the team behind Kumire’s new job have anything to do with it, these women are a growing squad of environmental shock troops for a new type of community development offensive.
According to conservation biologist Victor Muposhi of Chinhoyi University of Technology, the lower Zambezi Valley has lost 11,000 elephants in the past 10 years. But he believes that hiring and training female rangers such as Kumire directly from the local communities is a game-changer.
“Developing conservation skills in communities creates more than just jobs,” says Professor Muposhi. “It makes local people directly benefit from the preservation of wildlife.” And that, he says, can save not only landmark species such as elephants but entire ecosystems.
Women’s empowerment is at the core of the programme, named Akashinga, which means the brave ones. “This is a true empowerment programme,” says Muposhi, “because you are dealing with a highly vulnerable and damaged group of young ladies.” Sitting on a rock looking north over one of Africa’s last great wildernesses, Muposhi explains that his early research shows the five-month-old programme is helping change these formerly unemployed single mothers into community leaders.
Its government is virtual, borderless, blockchained, and secure. Has this tiny post-Soviet nation found the way of the future?
....Within this gated community lives a man, his family, and one vision of the future. Taavi Kotka, who spent four years as Estonia’s chief information officer, is one of the leading public faces of a project known as e-Estonia: a coördinated governmental effort to transform the country from a state into a digital society.
E-Estonia is the most ambitious project in technological statecraft today, for it includes all members of the government, and alters citizens’ daily lives. The normal services that government is involved with—legislation, voting, education, justice, health care, banking, taxes, policing, and so on—have been digitally linked across one platform, wiring up the nation. A lawn outside Kotka’s large house was being trimmed by a small robot, wheeling itself forward and nibbling the grass.
“Everything here is robots,” Kotka said. “Robots here, robots there.” He sometimes felt that the lawnmower had a soul. “At parties, it gets close to people,” he explained.
....“We had to set a goal that resonates, large enough for the society to believe in,” Kotka went on.
....It was during Kotka’s tenure that the e-Estonian goal reached its fruition. Today, citizens can vote from their laptops and challenge parking tickets from home. They do so through the “once only” policy, which dictates that no single piece of information should be entered twice. Instead of having to “prepare” a loan application, applicants have their data—income, debt, savings—pulled from elsewhere in the system. There’s nothing to fill out in doctors’ waiting rooms, because physicians can access their patients’ medical histories. Estonia’s system is keyed to a chip-I.D. card that reduces typically onerous, integrative processes—such as doing taxes—to quick work. “If a couple in love would like to marry, they still have to visit the government location and express their will,” Andrus Kaarelson, a director at the Estonian Information Systems Authority, says. But, apart from transfers of physical property, such as buying a house, all bureaucratic processes can be done online.
Estonia is a Baltic country of 1.3 million people and four million hectares, half of which is forest. Its government presents this digitization as a cost-saving efficiency and an equalizing force. Digitizing processes reportedly saves the state two per cent of its G.D.P. a year in salaries and expenses. Since that’s the same amount it pays to meet the nato threshold for protection (Estonia—which has a notably vexed relationship with Russia—has a comparatively small military), its former President Toomas Hendrik Ilves liked to joke that the country got its national security for free.
Justice Matters PROBLEMS: Political Judges and States Attorneys, too little enforcement of anti-trust laws and white-collar crimes, over-prosecution of the poor OPED: Commute death sentences and allow assisted suicide.
In an era of environmental deregulation, groups like the American Petroleum Institute are focusing resources on the courts – and ‘time is on industry’s side’
....‘We were just playing a game of Whac-a-Mole’
While many have focused on what, and when, companies such as ExxonMobil knew about climate change, Julia Olson – a lawyer with Our Children’s Trust, a legal aid group representing the Juliana plaintiffs – is making a case for government complicity.
After years of litigating environmental cases, Olson realized she was dealing with symptoms of a disease, not the disease itself. “We were just playing a game of Whac-a-Mole. One new part of our fossil fuel energy system would pop up, and we’d challenge it, and then it’d pop up somewhere else.”
She turned her attention to the government, which “chooses the winners and losers” and has long abetted fossil fuels, she said, allowing the industry to drill, mine and build. “Everyone wants Exxon to be the enemy,” Olson said, but “every administration has made that decision to perpetuate fossil fuels.”
Jie Jenny Zou and Chris Young / Center for Public Integrity | The Guardian
Under the constitution, our courts are obliged to provide equal justice regardless of wealth, status, or political connections. But in a new report, the latest in the series The Politics of Judicial Elections, we found that the integrity of our state supreme courts is increasingly under threat from a torrent of special interest money, often from secret sources. Using data from every state supreme court election in the most recent 2015-16 cycle, the report is the only comprehensive analysis of these and other trends, and includes examples of what big spenders hope to achieve, the kinds of ads the fund, and the threats they pose to the appearance and reality of evenhanded justice.
Sister Nora Nash regularly meets with CEOs of big banks, arms makers, and tobacco giants, using her order’s position as a shareholder to fight for change
....The Sisters of St Francis worked for decades in Catholic schools and hospitals in Philadelphia, and their missionary work abroad continues today, with latrine construction in Haiti and other projects. “We have a mission to be of service to all aspects and segments of society,” Nash says.
But Sister Nora Nash’s current path leads inside of some of the world’s most exclusive boardrooms. Supported by her partners at the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, Nash has met with CEOs including Jamie Dimon (JP Morgan Chase), Brian Moynihan (Bank of America), Lloyd Blankfein (Goldman Sachs), Marilyn Hewson (Lockheed Martin), John Christmann (Apache Corporation) and Thomas Fanning (Southern Company).
Nash and her deputy, Tom McCaney, average about 90 actions – company dialogues or shareholder resolutions – per year.
Her vow of poverty has not prevented Nash from mastering the subtleties of securities regulations
“I dialogue with Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Boeing,” said Nash. “With the tobacco people. We do a lot of work in the oil and gas industry, because of the fracking and pipelines. Tom does all the health work, healthier food. I do climate change and of course a lot with banks. We are spread in a lot of areas.”
In an age when corporations are first in line for tax cuts but seemingly unaccountable when an economy sinks or an election tilts, Nash has sought leverage by joining the one group that big companies still have to listen to: shareholders.
Owning shares gives Nash an audience where her message might otherwise be unwelcome: shareholders can confront executives at annual meetings. They can form voting blocs to demand transparency. And they can draw corporate leaders into dialogues that sometimes lead to change.
After passing their tax bill, Republicans plan to impose work requirements on safety net programs.
After decades of chastising the idle, Republicans are pushing a tax bill that specifically advantages rich people who don’t work. But they aren’t applying that standard for poor people. Once the tax bill passes, Republicans plan to make it easier for states to add work requirements for welfare recipients.
The Senate tax bill gives business owners nearly three times more benefits than workers with wages and salaries, according to a new analysis from the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center. Adam Looney, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, told The New York Times that if the bill becomes law it would be the first time that “wage earners were substantially penalized” by the tax code.
The diverging treatment comes from how the tax bill treats the 95 percent of businesses that are structured so that profits are taxed as individual income. Republicans portray these businesses, which are known as “pass-throughs,” as “ma and pa bakeries and family-owned salons.” In reality, most pass-through income goes to people in the top 1 percent—including the Trump family.
The House tax bill cuts the top income tax rate for pass-throughs from 39.6 percent to 25 percent, which would cost taxpayers nearly $600 billion over 10 years. About 86 percent of small business owners would not benefit because all of their income is already in the 25 percent tax bracket or lower. Republicans’ much-touted ma and pa shops usually don’t earn enough to be in the top tax brackets, which kick in at $153,000 of taxable income for couples.
A new report shows how the 1 percent have sucked up 39 percent of America’s wealth.
When it comes to income equality, Vladimir Putin’s Russia is probably not the company most Americans hope to keep. Nevertheless, both countries’ elites now capture roughly the same share of national wealth.
The new data comes from a comprehensive survey of global inequality released Thursday by the World Inequality Lab. The report, whose authors include renowned economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez, brings together the work of more than 100 researchers. Its findings come as Republicans prepare to pass a tax bill that follows the same trickle-down philosophy that the report says is responsible for much of the rise in inequality in the United States.
The United States and Europe once had similar level of inequality, the 2018 World Inequality Report finds. Today, the United States is closer to sub-Saharan Africa than Europe in the share of income that goes to the top 10 percent. The authors explain that America’s “massive educational inequalities,” tax cuts for the wealthy under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, and surging salaries for executives are largely to blame for the shift.
The share of wealth, which includes cash [and investments] accumulated over the years, held by the top 1 percent of Americans jumped from 22 percent in 1980 to almost 39 percent by 2014. In Russia, it increased from 22 percent to 43 percent between 1995 and 2015.
The top 0.1 percent of Americans are almost entirely responsible for the increasing concentration of wealth. Between 1978 and 2012, their wealth share tripled from 7 percent to 22 percent. They now have more wealth than at any point since the Gilded Age.
EU to force firms to reveal true owners in wake of Panama Papers[what are the chances oligarchy-controlled countries (esp. America and Russia) ever agree to fight tax evasion and money landering? International agencies must all mandate common regulations as a condition for UN membership, trade agreements, world bank loans, etc.]
Anti-corruption campaigners welcome move but criticise failure to include trusts in corporate ownership requirements
Companies across the EU will be forced to disclose their true owners under new legislation prompted by the release of the Panama Papers.
Anti-corruption campaigners applauded the agreement as a major step in the fight against tax evasion and money laundering, but expressed disappointment that trusts will mostly escape scrutiny.
The revised terms of the EU’s fourth anti-money laundering directive include:
A requirement for companies to disclose their beneficial, or true, owners in a publicly available register.
Data on the beneficial owners of trusts to be available to tax and law enforcement authorities, as well as sectors with an obligation to follow anti-money laundering rules, such as lawyers.
A requirement for member states to verify beneficial ownership information submitted to their registers.
Extending anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism regulations to apply to virtual currencies, provision of tax services and those dealing in works of art.
EU member states will have 18 months to transpose the new directive into domestic legislation. As a current member of the EU, the UK will implement the legislation.
Bowing to Israeli-Saudi desires, the Trump administration is abusing the U.S. intelligence process to whip up a war fever against Iran, much like George W. Bush did on Iraq, reports ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.