News & analyses that matters
Most recent posts in bigger type–>
Prior 2 days are in smaller type.
We are destroying the world’s biodiversity. Yet debate has erupted over just what this means for the planet – and us.
....Even as the Permian-Triassic extinction event shows the fragility of life, it also proves its resilience in the long-term. The lessons of such mass extinctions – five to date and arguably a sixth happening as I write – inform science today. Given that extinction levels are currently 1,000 (some even say 10,000) times the background rate, researchers have long worried about our current destruction of biodiversity – and what that may mean for our future Earth and ourselves.
In 2009, a group of researchers identified nine global boundaries for the planet that if passed could theoretically push the Earth into an uninhabitable state for our species. These global boundaries include climate change, freshwater use, ocean acidification and, yes, biodiversity loss (among others). The group has since updated the terminology surrounding biodiversity, now calling it “biosphere integrity,” but that hasn’t spared it from critique.
A paper last year in Trends in Ecology & Evolution scathingly attacked the idea the idea of any global biodiversity boundary.
....Yes, life itself survived the Permian-Triassic mass extinction event – but most species did not. Believe me, humans probably wouldn’t have survived the tens-of-millions of years that followed the Great Dying: oxygen levels were dangerously low, food would have been scarce, and the world would have looked largely barren and wasted even as some species and ecosystems managed to survive. Outside the moral dilemma of extinction, there is no question that if humans push more-and-more species into oblivion there will be impacts on our society – and they could become catastrophic.
Humans evolved 248 million years later in an Earth that was far more biodiverse and rich, a kind of Eden of abundance and diversity. But our current actions risk all that – and perhaps ourselves.
Retailer outlines five-year aim to replace all plastic packaging with trays made of paper and pulp
....As it was technologically and practically possible to create less environmentally harmful alternatives, “there really is no excuse any more for excessive packaging that creates needless waste and damages our environment”, Walker added.
Iceland has already removed plastic disposable straws from its own label range and new food ranges in the next few months will use paper-based food trays.
The move, which has been welcomed by environmental campaigners, comes amid growing concern over plastic pollution in the world’s oceans, where it can harm and kill wildlife such as turtles and seabirds.
Greenpeace UK executive director John Sauven, called the announcement a “bold pledge” and that it was “now up to other retailers and food producers to respond to that challenge”.
Campaigners say London mayor has fudged a similar manifesto promise to divest the city’s remaining pension funds from fossil fuels
Campaigners say London mayor has fudged a similar manifesto promise to divest the city’s remaining pension funds from fossil fuels
Chickens for sale in Britain’s supermarkets are showing record levels of superbugs resistant to some of the strongest antibiotics, new research from the government has found.
The results are concerning because resistance to antibiotics among livestock can easily affect resistance among humans, rendering vital medicines ineffective against serious diseases.
The Food Standards Agency, which tested a large sample of fresh whole chickens from retailers, reported “significantly higher proportions” in the last 10 years in instances of campylobacter, a harmful pathogen, that were found to be resistant to the antibiotics commonly used to treat it.
The agency warned: “This survey provides evidence that AMR [anti-microbial resistant] campylobacter are to be found on whole fresh chickens sold at retail in the UK. It is therefore important to handle chicken hygienically and cook thoroughly to reduce the risk to public health.”
Administration’s policy allows states to impose work requirements for people on Medicaid, meaning sick or injured Americans ‘have to go to work, no matter what’
....This week, the Trump administration announced a new policy that allows states to require Medicaid patients to work.
Six in 10 already do.
“I work with Appalachian, salt-of-the-earth, ‘Rah! Rah! America’ individuals,” Leroy said. “To have them clumped into – ‘Well, these people just don’t want to work’ – well, of course they want to work. I have all these working poor people that are making minimum wages.”
....The politics of welfare are complex. In the 1990s, under Bill Clinton, reforms transformed “pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps” from an ethos to a matter of public policy. Now, the 10 states looking to implement work requirements for Medicaid coverage are all led by Republican governors or legislatures.
The changes allow states to require Medicaid recipients who are not children, elderly, disabled or pregnant to either work or perform “community engagement”, which can include going to school, looking for a job, volunteering or caregiving.
As many as 6.3 million people could lose Medicaid benefits as a result, an analysis by the left-leaning Center for American Progress found. About two-thirds of those individuals are believed to be students or caregivers who may not meet the strict requirements.
Unprofessional journalists are 'roasted'
In postindustrial Baltimore, low-income residents are treated as expendable — and public services are slashed accordingly.
....Since political officials, city planners, and economic elites began developing Baltimore’s Inner Harbor in the 1970s — kicking off the modern wave of downtown tourist development — at least $3.7 billion in public money (in the form of direct subsidies, tax write-offs, PILOTS or payments in lieu of taxes, and TIFs or tax increment financing) has been used for downtown development. More than Baltimore’s entire 2017 budget ($2.8 billion), this figure includes the recent decision to give Under Armour $600 million in TIFs, but also the construction of Camden Yards (home to the Orioles), M&T Bank Stadium (home to the Ravens), Harbor East, and dozens of other developments.
In each of these cases, supporters argued that the public would reap the benefits through job growth and consumer spending. Rarely (if ever) did these trickle-down effects appear. Baltimore schoolchildren in particular suffered (or will suffer) in three main ways. First, money that went to these projects could not, by definition, go to Baltimore schools. Second, it may decrease state aid to Baltimore schools because the new developments (which pay little to no taxes) are now worth millions. Third, we know that poor funding is one of the drivers of the “school to prison pipeline.”
In addition to using public funds for private purposes, the city has moved to privatize a range of public services. Again this has hit young residents especially hard. Over the past fifteen years Baltimore has transferred over two dozen recreation centers into private hands, and has outsourced much of its parks and recreation services to a nonprofit foundation. The successful push a few years ago by a coterie of activist teachers, parents, students, and residents to boost state spending on public school infrastructure has been the anomaly. Seemingly everywhere else there’s been decreased support for public goods and, on top of that, scant attention to accountability mechanisms and transparency — a phenomenon that partially explains charges of corruption in school spending....
The decisions that these zealots make will affect the lives of millions of women decades from now
Judges need to be fair-minded thinkers able to consider legal questions without bias, not narrow-minded ideologues working to curtail reproductive rights at any price. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo
....After years of this type of erosion, the Trump administration is now taking big and permanent swings at reproductive rights by nominating extreme anti-choice figures to serve as judges in lifetime positions.
The first attack came in the form of supreme court justice Neil Gorsuch, who has a disturbing record of ruling against women’s rights, but it goes far beyond the high court. For all levels of the federal judiciary, Republicans are pushing through Trump’s staunchly anti-abortion judges at a rapid clip and putting reproductive rights in jeopardy for generations to come.
....Judges need to be fair-minded thinkers able to consider legal questions without bias, not narrow-minded ideologues working to curtail reproductive rights at any price.
Other Trump nominees, including Howard Nielson and Kyle Duncan, have supported laws aimed at shutting down abortion clinics through medically unnecessary regulations. Another, Matthew Kacsmaryk, disputes the reasoning of the Roe decision and uses quotation marks when writing about the “fundamental right” to abortion, presumably to emphasize his disdain for such an outrageous characterization.
For these nominees, the Senate still can, and absolutely should, reject their nominations. But many of Trump’s disturbing picks have already been confirmed by the Senate – a fact that Trump likes to brag about during news conferences. John Bush, a Trump nominee who is now a judge on a powerful appeals court, has compared abortion to slavery, calling them “the two greatest tragedies in our country”.
Steven Grasz, now an appellate court judge, wrote a law review article on “Why There is No Constitutional Right to Kill a Partially-Born Human Being” and has argued that Medicaid coverage should be denied to women seeking abortions after surviving rape. He was confirmed by Republicans for a lifetime position as a federal judge despite being rated unanimously as “not qualified” by the American Bar Association. Taken together with the Trump nominee who memorably could not answer even the most basic legal questions during his Senate hearing, it’s clear that they are selling out our judicial system with embarrassingly unfit nominees to get the agenda they want...
Rising daycare costs have put the spotlight on Washington state in a country offering little support for parents seeking childcare
A minimum wage increase in Washington State added to parents’ struggle to afford childcare. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA
....In most other advanced economies, parents don’t pay for childcare by themselves but share the cost with the government, their employers, or labor unions. That’s usually not the case in the US, where in 2011, a typical two-income family paid more than twice their share of income toward childcare compared with families in other countries that belong to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.
While some state and federal programs subsidize daycare, they have failed to keep childcare costs low for a majority of US families, Malik said. Existing policies, such as the childcare tax credit and flex spending accounts for day care, disproportionately benefit parents who can afford childcare up front and pay substantial taxes. Proposals to extend help to more families have repeatedly died in Congress.
....On 1 January, the minimum wage rose again in Washington, to $11.50 an hour, and in 2020, it will make its last scheduled increase, to $13.50. Perry wonders how many families aren’t going to be able to afford the resulting costs without any additional help.
Over the past few years, natural gas has become the primary fuel that America uses to generate electricity, displacing the long-time king of fossil fuels, coal. In 2019, more than a third of America's electrical supply will come from natural gas, with coal falling to a second-ranked 28 percent, the Energy Information Administration predicted this month, marking the growing ascendency of gas in the American power market.
But new peer-reviewed research adds to the growing evidence that the shift from coal to gas isn't necessarily good news for the climate.
A team led by scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory confirmed that the oil and gas industry is responsible for the largest share of the world's rising methane emissions, which are a major factor in climate change—and in the process the researchers resolved one of the mysteries that has plagued climate scientists over the past several years.
Black students are 1.5 times more likely to drop out than their white and Asian counterparts. Understanding why is vital
10.3% of black students leave university early in England, compared with 6.9% for students overall. Photograph: Alamy
....Speaking to the Guardian in 2016, Britain’s first black studies professor, Kehinde Andrews, said he believed universities entrench racism rather than challenge it. “Are universities producing knowledge that challenges racism?” he asked. “I would argue they are not.”
....Understanding how and why race and ethnicity play a role in what the Social Market Foundation terms the higher education “completion gap” is as important for the UK’s economy as it is for reducing society’s ingrained structural inequalities. But while the SMF’s report calls for the government to create an “innovation challenge fund” to help improve retention of students from ethnic backgrounds, its recommendations for how the institutions themselves can help eradicate their own internal prejudices are less clear cut.
Operation targeting ‘terror nests’ would risk inflaming tensions between Trump administration and Ankara
Turkish military trucks carry armoured vehicles towards the Syrian border near Gaziantep on Tuesday. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Turkish troops and tanks near the Syrian border are making final plans to attack the US military’s Kurdish partners inside northern Syria as tensions between Ankara and Washington near unprecedented levels.
Ahead of a widely expected incursion, the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, threatened to “destroy all terror nests”, a reference to Kurdish forces that the US has used as proxies in the fight against Islamic State (Isis) and Turkey views as a subversive threat.
Tensions over the Kurds, which have tested relations between two nominal allies for the past three years, spiked over the weekend, when Washington announced it would raise a border force from the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Defence Force, which led the battle against Isis in north-east Syria.
Ankara views the Syrian Kurds as an extension of the Turkish Kurdish PKK, with whom it has fought a four decade insurgency inside its borders. It has vowed not to allow Kurdish groups to dominate its border with Syria.
Brussels targets single-use plastics in an urgent clean-up plan that aims to make all packaging reusable or recyclable by 2030
A Risso’s dolphin entagled in a fishing line and plastic bags in Sri Lanka. Brussels’ plan includes investing €350m in research to modernise plastics production and collection. Photograph: Andrew Sutton/eco2.com/Central Studio
The EU is waging war against plastic waste as part of an urgent plan to clean up Europe’s act and ensure that every piece of packaging on the continent is reusable or recyclable by 2030.
Following China’s decision to ban imports of foreign recyclable material, Brussels on Tuesday launched a plastics strategy designed to change minds in Europe, potentially tax damaging behaviour, and modernise plastics production and collection by investing €350m (#310m) in research.
Speaking to the Guardian and four other European newspapers, the vice-president of the commission, Frans Timmermans, said Brussels’ priority was to clamp down on “single-use plastics that take five seconds to produce, you use it for five minutes and it takes 500 years to break down again”.
In the EU’s sights, Timmermans said, were throw-away items such as drinking straws, “lively coloured” bottles that do not degrade, coffee cups, lids and stirrers, cutlery and takeaway packaging.
The former Dutch diplomat told the Guardian: “If we don’t do anything about this, 50 years down the road we will have more plastic than fish in the oceans ... we have all the seen the images, whether you watch [the BBC’s] Blue Planet, whether you watch the beaches in Asian countries after storms.
....For years, King had been troubled by the war in Vietnam and raised it privately in conversations with the Democratic President Lyndon Johnson. As the conflict dragged on, King felt he had no choice but to publicly denounce the war.
In an April 1967 speech at Riverside Church in New York City, the civil rights leader publicly denounced American involvement in Indochina.
....The Liberal Backlash
The backlash from a liberal establishment that had once praised King for his civil rights campaign came as hard and fast as his allies had feared.
The New York Times editorial board lambasted King for linking the war in Vietnam to the struggles of civil rights and poverty alleviation in the United States, saying it was “too facile a connection” and that he was doing a “disservice” to both causes. It concluded that there “are no simple answers to the war in Vietnam or to racial injustice in this country.” The Washington Post editorial board said King had “diminished his usefulness to his cause, his country and his people.”
Voters "want us to be on the side of ordinary people, not with the big special interests," said Sen. Ed Markey, who introduced the legislation
Open internet defenders are calling on Americans to continue "melting the phonelines" of their representatives following news on Monday that a bill aimed at overruling the Republican-controlled FCC's order to kill net neutrality is just one Republican vote shy of the 51 needed for passage.
"Your calls are working. Your pressure is working. Keep it up!"
—Craig Aaron, Free Press
Introduced by Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) in December, the legislation looks to make use of the Congressional Review Act (CRA), which allows lawmakers to pass a "resolution of disapproval" to nullify new regulations.
As Common Dreams has reported, more than a dozen Senate Democrats were slow to co-sponsor the legislation, but they ultimately signed on in the face of immense public pressure. Organizers are urging constituent voters nationwide to keep up the calls, letters, and emails urging members of Congress to support Markey's bill and take a stand against the FCC's attack on the open internet.
....Cardin has remarkably few achievements for being in Congress for so many years. One of his few distinctions is that he has become one of the Senate’s most reliable and loyal supporters of AIPAC’s agenda and the Israeli government, if not the single most loyal. In 2015, he joined with Lindsey Graham in kicking off the annual AIPAC conference, causing neocon columnist Jennifer Rubin to gush about how identical they sounded.
But Cardin’s crowning achievement came last year when he authored a bill that would have made it a felony to support a boycott of Israel – a bill that was such a profound assault on basic First Amendment freedoms that the ACLU instantly denounced it and multiple Senators who had co-sponsored Cardin’s bill (such as Senator Kirsten Gillibrand) announced that they were withdrawing their support.
Despite all of this, or perhaps because of it, establishment (a.k.a. neoliberal) Democrats wasted no time in mocking and denouncing Chelsea Manning’s bid to become the first ever trans woman in the Senate, instead quickly lining up in support behind the straight white male who has wielded power for decades. To demean Manning, many of these establishment Democrats invoked the primary tactic they now reflexively use against anyone they view as a political adversary: they depicted her as a tool of the Kremlin, whose candidacy is really just a disguised plot engineered by Moscow.
As the retail landscape undergoes a dramatic transformation, analysis finds 129,000 women lost jobs last year while men actually gained positions
The undeniable collapse of integrity, honesty and decency in our public and private life has fueled racial hatred and contempt
We need to address the questions raised by rapid automation, and find new ways to redistribute power
....So what might the progressive politics of the 2020s and 2030s look like? Clearly, our most glaring inequalities call for action that only a powerful central state can carry out. We should start, at long last, to move tax policy towards concentrations of wealth and assets, not least land and property. The line should be redrawn between what ought to be considered public services and utilities, and things best left to the private sector, a point underlined by the nightmarish collapse of the outsourcing giant Carillion. Investment needs to be forcibly pushed into places long deprived of it.
People who are flexible, original thinkers show signature forms of connectivity in their brains, study shows
....One of the barriers to creative thinking is the ease with which common, unoriginal thoughts swamp the mind. Some people in the study could not get past these. For example, when asked for creative uses for a sock, soap and chewing gum wrapper, less creative people gave answers such as “covering the feet”, “making bubbles” and “containing gum” respectively. For the same items, more original thinkers suggested a water filtration system, a seal for envelopes, and an antenna wire.
Reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the study found distinct patterns of brain activity in the most and least creative people. In the highly original thinkers, the scientists saw strong connectivity between three networks of the brain. One, known as the default mode network, is linked to spontaneous thinking and mind wandering, while a second, the executive control network, is engaged when people focus in on their thoughts. The third, called the salience network, helps to work out what best deserves our attention.
The first two of these three brain networks tend to work against one another, Beaty said, each dampening the other down. But the scans suggest that more creative people can better engage [the 2nd and 3rd networks] at once. “It might be easier for creative thinkers to bring these resources to bear simultaneously,” he said.
- Billionaire George Soros hit back against nationalist critics in an interview with the Financial Times.
- Soros said criticism and smear campaigns would not stop his Open Society Foundation's work promoting a liberal agenda.
- He said he believed Putin was behind many of the attacks against him.
The conflict has killed at least ten thousand civilians, and the country faces famine. Why are we still involved?
Without foreign assistance, it would be very difficult for the Saudis to wage war.
....Since the war began, at least ten thousand Yemeni civilians have been killed, though the number is potentially much higher, because few organizations on the ground have the resources to count the dead. Some three million people have been displaced, and hundreds of thousands have left the country. Before the war, Yemen was the Middle East’s poorest state, relying on imports to feed the population. Now, after effectively being blockaded by the Saudi coalition for more than two and a half years, it faces famine. More than a million people have cholera, and thousands have died from the disease. unicef, the World Food Program, and the World Health Organization have called the situation in Yemen the world’s largest humanitarian crisis.
President Erdogan urges US to support operation against Afrin enclave, which is intended to ‘purge terror’ from border
Republican tax cut will widen the trade and current-account deficits, the opposite of what was promised
....No matter how you look at it, the Republican tax cut, by widening the budget deficit, will fuel growth in the US current-account deficit. It’s the early 1980s all over again [when Reagan's tax-cuts tripled the national debt]. But it’s not morning in America.
If we stand together against powerful special interests we can eliminate poverty, increase life expectancy and tackle climate change
....A new and international progressive movement must commit itself to tackling structural inequality both between and within nations. Such a movement must overcome “the cult of money” and “survival of the fittest” mentalities that the pope warned against. It must support national and international policies aimed at raising standards of living for poor and working-class people – from full employment and a living wage to universal higher education, healthcare and fair trade agreements. In addition, we must rein in corporate power and prevent the environmental destruction of our planet as a result of climate change.
Here is just one example of what we have to do. Just a few years ago, the Tax Justice Network estimated that the wealthiest people and largest corporations throughout the world have been stashing at least $21tn-$32tn in offshore tax havens in order to avoid paying their fair share of taxes. If we work together to eliminate offshore tax abuse, the new revenue that would be generated could put an end to global hunger, create hundreds of millions of new jobs, and substantially reduce extreme income and wealth inequality. It could be used to move us aggressively toward sustainable agriculture and to accelerate the transformation of our energy system away from fossil fuels and towards renewable sources of power.
Taking on the greed of Wall Street, the power of gigantic multinational corporations and the influence of the global billionaire class is not only the moral thing to do – it is a strategic geopolitical imperative. Research by the United Nations development programme has shown that citizens’ perceptions of inequality, corruption and exclusion are among the most consistent predictors of whether communities will support rightwing extremism and violent groups. When people feel that the cards are stacked against them and see no way forward for legitimate recourse, they are more likely to turn to damaging solutions that only exacerbate the problem.
This is a pivotal moment in world history. With the explosion in advanced technology and the breakthroughs this has brought, we now have the capability to substantially increase global wealth fairly. The means are at our disposal to eliminate poverty, increase life expectancy and create an inexpensive and non-polluting global energy system.
This is what we can do...
The lending business is heavily stacked against student borrowers. Bigger players can borrow for almost nothing, and if their investments don’t work out, they can put their corporate shells through bankruptcy and walk away. Not so with students. Their loan rates are high and if they cannot pay, their debts are not normally dischargeable in bankruptcy. Rather, the debts compound and can dog them for life, compromising not only their own futures but the economy itself.
Copyright © 2017 The Baltimore Chronicle and the SENTINEL. All rights reserved.
Republication or redistribution of Baltimore Chronicle and Sentinel content is expressly prohibited without their prior written consent.