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Author Topic: ENVIRONMENT, CLIMATE, GLOBAL WARMING, AND CULTURE  (Read 1780640 times)
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Rad
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« on: Nov 22, 2015, 09:31 AM »

All,

We are going to restart our thread on the climate, our environment, and the consequences of global warming that we had to remove because of being threatened by The Guardian with legal actions because we had dared to post some of their articles on this subject in that thread.

This restart happened in 2015 and has been posting and accumulating articles since that time. Over time this has taken up lot's and lot's of space on our server that became way to much. So we will be now be adjusting how long we store articles posted to it to one year at most.

God Bless, Rad
« Last Edit: Oct 14, 2018, 09:05 AM by Rad » Logged
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« Reply #1 on: Apr 07, 2018, 06:28 AM »


Hungary's Orban seeks re-election on anti-migrant platform

New Europe
4/7/2018

BUDAPEST, Hungary  — Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban is betting that his relentless campaign against migration will keep his voter base united and motivated for Sunday's national election. Since 400,000 people passed through Hungary in 2015 on their way to Western Europe, Orban has made migration the near-exclusive focus of his government. Now, at most, a few people a day reach the country's borders.

Orban is seeking his third consecutive term and fourth overall since 1998. Most polls predict Orban's Fidesz party will get around 50 percent of the votes, far ahead of Jobbik, a nationalist right-wing party, the Socialist Party or several smaller left-wing or green groups.

According to Orban and his ministers, Hungary will descend into chaos should it become an "immigrant country" like France or Belgium. He claims that domestic and European Union funds meant for Hungarian families or the country's 800,000-strong Roma minority will be diverted to migrants, whose presence will weaken Hungary's security and increase its terror risk.

And if migrants settle in Hungary, Orban claims Hungary's economic development will end, its support for rural areas will dwindle, women and girls will be "hunted down" and Budapest, the capital, will become "unrecognizable."

After building razor-wire fences on the country's southern borders in 2015 to divert the migrant flow, Orban has constructed a grand conspiracy theory. He claims the EU, the U.N., Hungarian-American financier George Soros and the civic groups he sponsors are all conspiring to force Hungary to take in thousands of mainly Muslim migrants to weaken its independence and its Christian identity and culture.

He spoke last month about a "Soros mercenary army" with around 2,000 people "being paid to work toward bringing down the government" in Sunday's vote. Still, forecasts about the 199 parliamentary seats at stake are complicated. In Hungary's complex electoral system, voters cast two ballots — one for a candidate in their voting district and another for a party list. Fidesz should clearly win the party race, which allocates 93 seats, but there are many uncertainties about its performance in the 106 individual districts.

Although opposition candidates won only 10 individual districts in the 2014 vote, they are urging supporters to vote tactically for the opposition candidate in each district who has the best chance to prevent a Fidesz victory.

"People may not even vote for their favorite party or candidate but rather for the one with biggest chance" to defeat Fidesz, said Jobbik leader Gabor Vona. It's not clear how well the tactic will work.

"As long as the opposition is in a fragmented state ... this migrant/refugee campaign is sufficient to keep (Orban's) voting base united, to keep it mobilized," said Balazs Bocskei, political analyst at the Idea Institute, a Budapest think-tank.

Spokesman Zoltan Kovacs says the government's "Stop Soros" package, which has been submitted to parliament, aimed to close "legal loopholes." "So-called NGOs camouflaging themselves as philanthropic and human rights groups are basically going against the established rules of this country and the European Union, helping illegal immigration happen," Kovacs said.

The bill has yet to be passed but its effects are already being felt. "The 'Stop Soros' package ... already results in considerable self-censorship from our part. For reasons of safety, we don't work anymore the way that we used to," said Annastiina Kallius of the Migrant Solidarity Group of Hungary.

Opposition leaders reject Orban's claims that they are controlled by Soros and support mass immigration. "It's all a huge delusion," said Gergely Karacsony, the prime ministerial candidate of the Socialist Party and his own Dialogue party. "Since they can't govern, they are trying to hold on to power by deceiving the people."

Vona said Jobbik was strongly anti-migration "but we don't want to manipulate and scare people with this issue." Some experts say there is no alternative to Orban for Hungary's conservative voters. "Unfortunately, for those on the right who are disappointed with Orban, there is no democratic conservative alternative like Germany's CDU or a French Macron-type party," said Paul Lendvai, a journalist and author of "Orban: Hungary's Strongman." ''Someone who is angry with him can only show it by not going to the polls."

The one thing opposition parties do agree on is the need to reverse many of Orban's policies, which they call anti-democratic. They are vowing to restore the democratic system of checks and balances, expand press freedom, join the European Public Prosecutor's Office to enhance anti-corruption efforts and allocate more funds to education, health care and fighting poverty.

"The Orban regime is a hybrid regime between democracy and dictatorship," Karacsony said. "This isn't one election among many, where people vote about their judgment of a good or fairly good government. This is about the social model which has solidified in Hungary."


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« Reply #2 on: Apr 07, 2018, 06:29 AM »


Turkish spy agency has snatched 80 people from 18 countries

New Europe
4/7/2018

ANKARA, Turkey  — In covert operations in 18 countries, Turkey's intelligence agency has snatched around 80 Turkish citizens who the government wanted for alleged links to the country's 2016 failed coup, a top Turkish official said Thursday.

Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag's comments in an interview with Haberturk television came after Turkey secretly arranged the deportation from Kosovo of six Turkish men — five teachers and a doctor — accused of supporting the coup attempt.

The move angered Kosovo's prime minister, who fired the country's interior minister and intelligence chief for not telling him about it, and drew sharp criticism from human rights groups. Bozdag said the National Intelligence Agency had similarly "bundled up and brought back" suspects linked to U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen in covert operations in 18 countries. He did not name the countries but said such operations would continue.

Turkey has accused Gulen of being behind the failed coup attempt that resulted in more than 250 deaths, a claim that he denies. Presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin denied, however, that the suspects were abducted through illegal operations. He insisted the six men from Kosovo were brought back in agreement with the country's authorities.

"We have never engaged in any illegal act in our struggle against (Gulen's movement)," Kalin said. "The event in Kosovo took place ... within the framework of an agreement on the return of criminals."

Those deported from Kosovo worked in schools and clinics supported by Gulen's movement. At home, Turkey has arrested more than 38,000 people for alleged links to Gulen and fired some 110,000 public servants since the coup attempt. Many of those arrested or fired have proclaimed their innocence.


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« Reply #3 on: Apr 08, 2018, 06:22 AM »


Richest 1% on target to own two-thirds of all wealth by 2030

World leaders urged to act as anger over inequality reaches a ‘tipping point’

Michael Savage Policy editor
Guardian
8 Apr 2018 13.08 BST

The world’s richest 1% are on course to control as much as two-thirds of the world’s wealth by 2030, according to a shocking analysis that has lead to a cross-party call for action.

World leaders are being warned that the continued accumulation of wealth at the top will fuel growing distrust and anger over the coming decade unless action is taken to restore the balance.

An alarming projection produced by the House of Commons library suggests that if trends seen since the 2008 financial crash were to continue, then the top 1% will hold 64% of the world’s wealth by 2030. Even taking the financial crash into account, and measuring their assets over a longer period, they would still hold more than half of all wealth.

https://www.theguardian.com/info/2017/may/16/guardian-business-today-sign-up-financial-news-email

Since 2008, the wealth of the richest 1% has been growing at an average of 6% a year – much faster than the 3% growth in wealth of the remaining 99% of the world’s population. Should that continue, the top 1% would hold wealth equating to $305tn (£216.5tn) – up from $140tn today.

Analysts suggest wealth has become concentrated at the top because of recent income inequality, higher rates of saving among the wealthy, and the accumulation of assets. The wealthy also invested a large amount of equity in businesses, stocks and other financial assets, which have handed them disproportionate benefits.

New polling by Opinium suggests that voters perceive a major problem with the influence exerted by the very wealthy. Asked to select a group that would have the most power in 2030, most (34%) said the super-rich, while 28% opted for national governments. In a sign of falling levels of trust, those surveyed said they feared the consequences of wealth inequality would be rising levels of corruption (41%) or the “super-rich enjoying unfair influence on government policy” (43%).

The research was commissioned by Liam Byrne, the former Labour cabinet minister, as part of a gathering of MPs, academics, business leaders, trade unions and civil society leaders focused on addressing the problem.

The actor Michael Sheen, who has opted to scale back his Hollywood career to campaign against high-interest credit providers, was among those supporting the calls.

The hope is to create pressure for global action when leaders of the G20 group of nations gather for a summit in Buenos Aires in November. Byrne, who organised the first OECD global parliamentary conference on inclusive growth, said he believed global inequality was “now at a tipping point”.

“If we don’t take steps to rewrite the rules of how our economies work, then we condemn ourselves to a future that remains unequal for good,” he said. “That’s morally bad, and economically disastrous, risking a new explosion in instability, corruption and poverty.”

In a sign of the concern about the accumulation of wealth in the hands of so few, the move has gained support from across the political divide.

George Freeman, the Tory MP and former head of the prime minister’s policy board, said: “While mankind has never seen such income inequality, it is also true that mankind has never experienced such rapid increases in living standards. Around the world billions of people are being lifted out of poverty at a pace never seen before. But the extraordinary concentration of global wealth today – fuelled by the pace of technological innovation and globalisation – poses serious challenges.

“If the system of capitalist liberal democracy which has triumphed in the west is to pass the big test of globalisation – and the assault from radical Islam as well as its own internal pressures from post-crash austerity – we need some new thinking on ways to widen opportunity, share ownership and philanthropy. Fast.”

Demands for action from the group include improving productivity to ensure wages rise and reform of capital markets to promote greater equality.

Danny Dorling, professor of geography at the University of Oxford, said the scenario in which the super-rich accumulated even more wealth by 2030 was a realistic one.

“Even if the income of the wealthiest people in the world stops rising dramatically in the future, their wealth will still grow for some time,” he said. “The last peak of income inequality was in 1913. We are near that again, but even if we reduce inequality now it will continue to grow for one to two more decades.”


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« Reply #4 on: Apr 08, 2018, 08:57 AM »

How Democracy Became the Enemy: In Hungary and Poland, the liberal West used to be the promised land. Not anymore

By Roger Cohen
Mr. Cohen is an opinion columnist. He wrote this article after a recent visit to Poland and Hungary.
April 6, 2018
NY Times

Hungary had a horrendous 20th century of lost territory and freedom, but Budapest, a handsome city set on a broad sweep of the Danube, suggests its wounds have healed. Trams hum along boulevards lined with elegant cafes and clogged with the cars German companies manufacture here. The country has escaped what Milan Kundera, the Czech writer, called the “kidnapped West,” the great swath of Europe yielded to the Soviet empire after World War II, and has returned to the Western family.

Or so it seems, until you notice the posters of a smiling Hungarian-American Jew, his arms around opposition politicians who brandish wire-cutters and have cut through a fence.

The man in question is George Soros, the billionaire investor and philanthropist. He’s not on any ballot, but his international renown and funding of liberal causes has made him the chosen symbol, for Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his right-wing Fidesz party, of all they loathe: international speculators, sappers of nation and Christendom, facilitators of mass migration.

As a young man, Orban fought against Bolshevism. Western liberal democracy was the Promised Land. Now it has morphed into the enemy. The West is the site of European cultural suicide, the place where family, church, nation and traditional notions of marriage and gender go to die.

“The danger is threatening us from the West,” Orban, who has been in power for eight years and is seemingly headed for re-election Sunday, said in February. “This danger to us comes from politicians in Brussels, Berlin and Paris.”

To counter it, the Hungarian prime minister has established a template: Neutralize an independent judiciary. Subjugate much of the media. Demonize migrants. Create loyal new elites through crony capitalism. Energize a national narrative of victimhood and heroism through the manipulation of historical memory. Claim the “people’s will” overrides constitutional checks and balances.

And, lo, the new Promised Land: competitive authoritarianism, a form of European single-party rule that retains a veneer of democracy while skewing the contest sufficiently to ensure it is likely to yield only one result.

There’s no totalitarian secret police. Nobody disappears in the night. Foreign capital is welcome. Hungary is not unfree but it’s not free either. It’s the new semi-closed hybrid of Orban and Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the shadowy leader of the conservative governing Law and Justice Party in Poland, both of whom fought as youths for the liberty the West embodied.

Donald Trump’s election was part of a worldwide nationalist and autocratic lurch. A vigorous counterrevolution against the liberal-democratic orthodoxy of diversity and multiculturalism is underway. The fact that Trump reflects, and reinforces, this broad movement, exactly a half-century after the heady flowering of every liberty in 1968, suggests he will be much harder to dislodge than many liberals imagine. Orban was the first European leader to back Trump during his campaign and celebrated his victory as the end of “liberal non-democracy.” Trump called Orban “strong and brave” in a meeting with the Hungarian ambassador, according to the Hungarian magazine Figyelo.

The European nations most enamored of freedom — those released three decades ago from the withering grip of the Soviet empire — have transformed into those most skeptical that liberal democracy provides it. It’s an extraordinary turn. The Brussels-based European Union (of which Hungary has been a member and financial beneficiary since 2004) and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany are viewed in Hungary with greater suspicion than Vladimir Putin. Poland, the most populous Central European state, has so embraced the Hungarian model that Kaczynski calls it the “example.” The Czech Republic may not be far behind.

Orban, who attended Oxford as a young man on a Soros-funded scholarship, has hailed “a new era” reflecting a popular desire for democracies that are not open. Adam Bodnar, Poland’s embattled ombudsman in Warsaw, suggested to me that “Hungary has shown there’s no need to introduce a typical authoritarian system. You can control what happens without it.”

One of the politicians embraced by Soros in the election posters around Budapest is Bernadett Szel, a co-leader of the Green Party. She told me she has never met Soros. The image is a fake. According to Laura Silber, the spokeswoman for Soros’s Open Society Foundations, it has been “doctored to make Soros’s nose longer — right out of the Goebbels playbook.”

Szel, who is trying to unite Hungary’s chronically splintered opposition against Fidesz, said Orban “is poisoning Hungary day by day.” A member of the Parliament’s National Security Committee, she faces a smear campaign from Fidesz politicians determined to oust her. She fears for her country. “Orban,” she told me, “is becoming a pharaoh who wants to adopt the Russian, Turkish or Chinese model.”

For such a project, Orban needs enemies. Thousands of migrants, many fleeing the war in Syria, straggling through Hungary in the late summer of 2015, encamped for weeks at Budapest’s main railway station, provided them. Merkel’s decision to admit so many, made of German “Willkommenskultur,” or welcoming culture, the “surrender” Orban would define himself against. It was a pivotal European moment.

No universal human right to dignity, invoked by kale-eating Western liberals racked by colonial or war guilt, would be used to destroy Hungarian or Polish culture!

“Hungary First” is Orban’s election slogan. His relentless anti-immigrant campaign, including claims from a cabinet minister that migrants and refugees would force Hungarians to eat insects, has produced a startling level of fear. Csaba Toth, a political scientist, told me that “children in kindergarten have drawn Soros as the devil and migrants as evil figures who will take you away if you are not good.”

One gray afternoon, I went out to Orban’s home village of Felcsut, population 1,800, about an hour’s drive west of Budapest. His simple white house has a cross on its gabled roof. Opposite the house, a spaceship has landed. It takes the form of a giant soccer stadium, complete with turrets and vaulted wooden beams that can accommodate more than twice the population of the village.

Orban is passionate about soccer — and rewarding his cronies. Lorinc Meszaros, the mayor of the village and a former pipe fitter, has virtually overnight become one of Hungary’s richest men, the owner of several regional newspapers. In and around the stadium, where a couple of hundred people, including the prime minister, were watching a desultory match, I heard how Orban brings jobs, how Hungary does not need immigrants who “rob and murder,” how “1,000 percent he will win the election.” Later, at the Mediterranean Cafe, I met Andras Vigh, a childhood friend of Orban, who confessed to me that “we’ve never seen a migrant in our lives.” No matter: “I watch TV and I know. I don’t want any immigrants. Only an idiot would allow them in.”

The other face of fear is venom. In homogeneous societies like Hungary and Poland, it has proved easy to stoke fury against the unknown “other.” In October 2015, the month after the train station ordeal, Kaczynski’s Law and Justice Party swept to victory in Poland with an absolute majority. His blueprint would be the one Orban has developed since taking office in 2010.

I visited Poland and Hungary regularly in the early 1990s to chronicle their extraordinary post-Communist transformation. Nowhere was the passion for the liberty and security the West seemed to offer stronger than in Poland, heroic vanguard of the liberation of Europe in 1989 through the Solidarity movement of workers and intellectuals. Nowhere today is the turn against Western liberal democracy more startling or seemingly perverse.

European Union funds — some $90 billion between 2012 and 2016 alone — have fast-forwarded Polish modernization. (Hungary, with about a quarter of Poland’s population of 38 million, received close to $33 billion in the same period.) After traveling from Hungary to Poland, I boarded the high-speed train from the capital, Warsaw, to Krakow. Gazing out, I was confronted with a tableau of rapid change: orange-vested laborers, boxcars painted a reassuring blue, new suburbs, a church spire above drab five-story Communist-era apartment blocks, poplars and willows, storks’ nests suspended in wintry branches, crumbling farm buildings.

Poland: obliterated from the map for more than a century; restored and transformed; killing field par excellence of the Nazis; home to a burning Catholic faith, the “Christ of nations” in a collective subconscious brimming with persecution mania.

Membership of NATO and the European Union, attained like Hungary in 1999 and 2004, was supposed to confer normality and security. A market economy and the rule of law were intended to cement them. These objectives, through painful transformation, were reached.

So why, with the prize in hand, this nationalist, xenophobic stiffening, across Central Europe? The Polish economy, like the Hungarian, has been expanding briskly, attaining 4.6 percent growth last year, a rate Western Europe can only dream of.

Of course, growing inequality, perceptions of impunity, the arrogance of liberal elites and the disruptions of globalization have played a role, just as they have in the United States and Britain. But something more is at work. Perhaps, I thought, the tumultuous kaleidoscope seen through the train window provided a clue.

For three decades, Poland, like Hungary, has been going somewhere: The destinations were NATO, the European Union and a free market. Now that they are attained, a question arises: Was all the sacrifice, in this nation whose self-image is of heroes and martyrs, just for shopping malls and German cars? A burned-out generation has transformation fatigue. The point of comparison used to be Communist gray. Now it’s prosperous London and Berlin.

Kaczynski declares that immigrants carry “parasites and protozoa.” He turns the 2010 death in a plane crash in Smolensk, Russia, of his twin brother, the former president Lech Kaczynski, into a Russian plot, condoned by the centrist, pro-European Civic Platform party that was then in power. He promises a “Fourth Republic,” with a new Constitution, rid of Brussels and the lingering hand of Communists co-opted by Civic Platform. It’s not always clear what he means, but his conspiracy theories get the blood up. He has a project!

“In 1989, we all emigrated to the West,” Karolina Wigura, a sociologist based in Warsaw, told me. “We were all going somewhere in our souls, and, as you know, emigration is not an easy process. And then, when we finally thought we’d done it, we saw all these new people coming into Europe, and we couldn’t take the idea of immigrants, because that’s what we felt we’d been.”

Capitalism, in other words, was another country. The rallying cry throughout Central Europe in the early 1990s was “free-market democracy.” Get the all-controlling state out; let the market in. Nobody stopped to ask whether the market and liberal democracy were necessarily eternal twins. Turns out they’re not.

The “market” equaled globalization, good for the hyperconnected metropolis, less so for the hinterland. Poland and Hungary, too, have their Wisconsin and Ohio. Adam Bielan, a senator who is close to Kaczynski, told me that the difference in wages between his constituency in the provincial town of Radom and in Warsaw had doubled over the past dozen years.

The policy of Civic Platform, in power from 2007 to 2015, was “to concentrate European Union funds in the big cities,” Bielan argued. The result: “A huge part of Poland was forgotten.” These forgotten Poles voted overwhelmingly for Kaczynski, who has since rewarded them with a $150 monthly handout to all families with two or more children. If you don’t want immigrants, the only way you can offset an aging population in Poland or Hungary is with babies.

Kaczynski has set about undermining democracy guaranteed by constitutional checks and balances, the very thing Poland craved after 1989 as insurance against tyranny. In the name of the people’s will, using a false democratic mantle, he has taken relentless aim at what he once called “legal impossibilism” — the counterbalancing power vested in an independent constitutional judiciary. His ruling party has in effect commandeered the Constitutional Tribunal and the Supreme Court in a way that has led the Venice Commission, a panel of constitutional law experts, to declare that Polish judicial independence is “at serious risk.”

Marcin Matczak, a prominent Warsaw law professor, asked me: “What does this say about political transitions? It’s the Supreme Court that rules if an election is valid or not. This feels like some kind of preparatory stage for worse.”

Bolshevism, the cradle in which Orban and Kaczynski were rocked, was an ideology bent on force-marching society toward some higher ideal. In fact, the reality, as the Polish poet Zbigniew Herbert put it, was that it “poisons wells, destroys the structures of the mind, covers bread with mold.” Something of this urge, it seems, remained in the two men. It was not enough for them to succumb to the permissiveness of the West. They needed a mission. They have decided to save Christendom, no less — and to heck with open societies.

Witold Waszczykowski, the former Polish foreign minister, has said Poland must be cured of the onslaught of those who believe history is headed inevitably toward “a new mixture of cultures and races, a world made up of cyclists and vegetarians, who only use renewable energy and who battle all signs of religion.” He’s Trump’s kind of guy.

Of course, in this worldview, Muslims in Europe are a problem. Bielan, the senator close to Kaczynski, told me: “Integration has failed. I worked in Brussels and there were no-go zones. Poles don’t want the social problems of France or Belgium. Why would we be more successful than France in this?”

On that basis, Poland has refused to take the 7,000 asylum seekers it agreed to absorb under a decision taken by European Union member states during the refugee crisis of 2015. Hungary and the Czech Republic have also refused. They have shown contempt for European solidarity in the name of racial and religious purity.

A mood of high nationalist righteousness has taken hold. Poland recently passed an absurd “Death Camp” law that makes it a crime to accuse “the Polish nation” of complicity in any “Nazi crimes committed by the Third Reich.” Poles saved Jews; they also denounced and, in villages like Jedwabne, killed them. This by now is well known. It has become a crime in Poland to speak the truth.

Hungary and Poland are turning the clock back to Europe’s darkest hours. Today they are all about erecting borders — real and imagined — against Islam, migrants and refugees, Jews, the European Union, the United Nations, Soros and what they portray as a pluralistic international conspiracy. Hungary erected an actual barrier on its southern border following the refugee crisis of 2015, the fence Orban portrays the opposition as wanting to cut.

It was precisely the measures taken to construct and preserve a homogeneous society that lay at the core of the most heinous crimes of the last century. The illiberal trend represents a rejection of the core postwar insight that borders should be dismantled to save Europe from its repetitive suicides. Ever-closer union meant ever-expanding peace.

Taken to its end point, the new Hungarian and Polish authoritarianism means danger. It is more dangerous because Trump’s despot-coddling America has disappeared as a countervailing force. The president has ceased upholding the values that advance liberty.

In Warsaw last summer, Trump declared, “The fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive.” He continued, “Do we have enough respect for our citizens to protect our borders?”

There was no criticism of Kaczynski or his illiberal steps. I was told the Polish government feels empowered by Trump.

Nor have Poland or Hungary felt remotely threatened by the European Union, whose censure of the countries’ turn against liberal democracy has been prudent to the point of feebleness. The billions of dollars still going to Warsaw and Budapest from Brussels should be diverted elsewhere for now. The union rests, by treaty, on the principles of “democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights.”

The democratic West needs to awaken from its slumber. The forgotten people of the post-1989 decades have spoken. They have embraced disruption at any cost, declaring “Enough!” to the economic prescriptions (mainly austerity) and the smug impunity of globalizing elites. Europe cannot open its doors to everyone. It needs a shared immigration policy that works, economic policies that offset rather than accentuate inequality and a Brussels bureaucracy that delivers tangible results to a half-billion Europeans.

The worst is not inevitable. Orban could yet lose (Fidesz suffered a surprising local election defeat recently), but that is a long shot. Poland lags behind Hungary in the descent into authoritarianism. It is bigger, more diverse and more hostile to Putin’s Russia for historical reasons. It has a stronger civil society and retains a more vigorous independent media. These are important distinctions. They provide some hope.

But Europe’s drift is ominous. “I have the weird sense this is the future — it feels like the transition to something new,” Michael Ignatieff, the president of the Budapest-based and Soros-funded Central European University, told me of Orban’s ascendant illiberalism. The university, a symbol of academic freedom conceived to anchor Central Europe in the West by providing a liberal education, is under threat of closing by Orban.

When I asked Zoltan Kovacs, Orban’s spokesman, why the government uses anti-Semitic riffs against Soros, he said: “We’re not riffing on his Jewishness. We’re riffing on what he does as a speculator, spending dubious money for his cosmopolitan conception of the globe.”

This is the new-old language of Europe today. Marcin Matczak, the law professor I met in Poland, told me: “The young take liberty for granted. They never had to fight for it.”

****************

Will We Stop Trump: Before It’s Too Late?

Fascism poses a more serious threat now than at any time since the end of World War II.

By MADELEINE ALBRIGHT
APRIL 8, 2018
NY Times

On April 28, 1945 — 73 years ago — Italians hung the corpse of their former dictator Benito Mussolini upside down next to a gas station in Milan. Two days later, Adolf Hitler committed suicide in his bunker beneath the streets of war-ravaged Berlin. Fascism, it appeared, was dead.

To guard against a recurrence, the survivors of war and the Holocaust joined forces to create the United Nations, forge global financial institutions and — through the Universal Declaration of Human Rights — strengthen the rule of law. In 1989, the Berlin Wall came down and the honor roll of elected governments swelled not only in Central Europe, but also Latin America, Africa and Asia. Almost everywhere, it seemed, dictators were out and democrats were in. Freedom was ascendant.

Today, we are in a new era, testing whether the democratic banner can remain aloft amid terrorism, sectarian conflicts, vulnerable borders, rogue social media and the cynical schemes of ambitious men. The answer is not self-evident. We may be encouraged that most people in most countries still want to live freely and in peace, but there is no ignoring the storm clouds that have gathered. In fact, fascism — and the tendencies that lead toward fascism — pose a more serious threat now than at any time since the end of World War II.

Warning signs include the relentless grab for more authority by governing parties in Hungary, the Philippines, Poland and Turkey — all United States allies. The raw anger that feeds fascism is evident across the Atlantic in the growth of nativist movements opposed to the idea of a united Europe, including in Germany, where the right-wing Alternative für Deutschland has emerged as the principal opposition party. The danger of despotism is on display in the Russia of Vladimir Putin — invader of Ukraine, meddler in foreign democracies, accused political assassin, brazen liar and proud son of the K.G.B. Putin has just been re-elected to a new six-year term, while in Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, a ruthless ideologue, is poised to triumph in sham balloting next month. In China, Xi Jinping has persuaded a docile National People’s Congress to lift the constitutional limit on his tenure in power.

Around the Mediterranean, the once bright promise of the Arab Spring has been betrayed by autocratic leaders, such as Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt (also just re-elected), who use security to justify the jailing of reporters and political opponents. Thanks to allies in Moscow and Tehran, the tyrant Bashar al-Assad retains his stranglehold over much of Syria. In Africa, the presidents who serve longest are often the most corrupt, multiplying the harm they inflict with each passing year. Meanwhile, the possibility that fascism will be accorded a fresh chance to strut around the world stage is enhanced by the volatile presidency of Donald Trump.

If freedom is to prevail over the many challenges to it, American leadership is urgently required. This was among the indelible lessons of the 20th century. But by what he has said, done and failed to do, Mr. Trump has steadily diminished America’s positive clout in global councils.

Instead of mobilizing international coalitions to take on world problems, he touts the doctrine of “every nation for itself” and has led America into isolated positions on trade, climate change and Middle East peace. Instead of engaging in creative diplomacy, he has insulted United States neighbors and allies, walked away from key international agreements, mocked multilateral organizations and stripped the State Department of its resources and role. Instead of standing up for the values of a free society, Mr. Trump, with his oft-vented scorn for democracy’s building blocks, has strengthened the hands of dictators. No longer need they fear United States criticism regarding human rights or civil liberties. On the contrary, they can and do point to Mr. Trump’s own words to justify their repressive actions.

At one time or another, Mr. Trump has attacked the judiciary, ridiculed the media, defended torture, condoned police brutality, urged supporters to rough up hecklers and — jokingly or not — equated mere policy disagreements with treason. He tried to undermine faith in America’s electoral process through a bogus advisory commission on voter integrity. He routinely vilifies federal law enforcement institutions. He libels immigrants and the countries from which they come. His words are so often at odds with the truth that they can appear ignorant, yet are in fact calculated to exacerbate religious, social and racial divisions. Overseas, rather than stand up to bullies, Mr. Trump appears to like bullies, and they are delighted to have him represent the American brand. If one were to draft a script chronicling fascism’s resurrection, the abdication of America’s moral leadership would make a credible first scene.

Equally alarming is the chance that Mr. Trump will set in motion events that neither he nor anyone else can control. His policy toward North Korea changes by the day and might quickly return to saber-rattling should Pyongyang prove stubborn before or during talks. His threat to withdraw from the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement could unravel a pact that has made the world safer and could undermine America’s reputation for trustworthiness at a critical moment. His support of protectionist tariffs invites retaliation from major trading partners — creating unnecessary conflicts and putting at risk millions of export-dependent jobs. The recent purge of his national security team raises new questions about the quality of advice he will receive. John Bolton starts work in the White House on Monday.

What is to be done? First, defend the truth. A free press, for example, is not the enemy of the American people; it is the protector of the American people. Second, we must reinforce the principle that no one, not even the president, is above the law. Third, we should each do our part to energize the democratic process by registering new voters, listening respectfully to those with whom we disagree, knocking on doors for favored candidates, and ignoring the cynical counsel: “There’s nothing to be done.”

I’m 80 years old, but I can still be inspired when I see young people coming together to demand the right to study without having to wear a flak jacket.

We should also reflect on the definition of greatness. Can a nation merit that label by aligning itself with dictators and autocrats, ignoring human rights, declaring open season on the environment, and disdaining the use of diplomacy at a time when virtually every serious problem requires international cooperation?

To me, greatness goes a little deeper than how much marble we put in our hotel lobbies and whether we have a Soviet-style military parade. America at its best is a place where people from a multitude of backgrounds work together to safeguard the rights and enrich the lives of all. That’s the example we have always aspired to set and the model people around the world hunger to see. And no politician, not even one in the Oval Office, should be allowed to tarnish that dream.

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Fascism will be on our doorstep if we don’t act immediately: Yale historian

Steven Rosenfeld, AlterNet
08 Apr 2018 at 11:07 ET                   

How close is President Donald Trump to following the path blazed by last century’s tyrants? Could American democracy be replaced with totalitarian rule? There’s enough resemblance that Yale historian Timothy Snyder, who studies fascist and communist regime change and totalitarian rule, has written a book warning about the threat and offering lessons for resistance and survival. The author of On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century talked to AlterNet’s Steven Rosenfeld.

Steven Rosenfeld: Three weeks ago, you said that the country has perhaps a year ‘to defend American democracy.’ You said what happens in the next few weeks is crucial. Are you more concerned than ever that our political culture and institutions are evolving toward fascism, resembling key aspects of the early 20th-century European regimes you’ve studied?

Timothy Snyder: Let me answer you in three parts. The first thing is that the 20 lessons that I wrote, I wrote on November 15th. The book, On Tyranny, was done by Christmas. Which means if people read it now, and people are reading it, and it’s describing the world they are in, that means I’ve successfully made predictions based on history. We’re going to talk about what is going to come, but I want to point out that timeline—it was basically completely blind. But the book does describe what is going on now.

The year figure is there because we have to recognize that things move fast. Nazi Germany took about a year. Hungary took about two and a half years. Poland got rid of the top-level judiciary within a year. It’s a rough historical guess, but the point is because there is an outside limit, you therefore have to act now. You have to get started early. It’s just very practical advice. It’s the meta-advice of the past: That things slip out of reach for you, psychologically very quickly, and then legally almost as quickly. It’s hard for people to act when they feel other people won’t act. It’s hard for people to act when they feel like they have to break the law to do so. So it is important to get out in front before people face those psychological and legal barriers.

Am I more worried now? I realize that was your question. No, I’m exactly as worried as I was before, in November. I think that the people who inhabit the White House inhabit a different ideological world in which they would like for the United States not to be the constitutional system that it now is. I was concerned about that in November. I’m concerned about it now. Nothing that has happened since has changed the way I see things.

SR: Let’s talk about how this evolution takes place. You’ve written about how ‘post-truth is pre-fascism.’ You talk about leaders ignoring facts, law and history. How far along this progression are we? I’m wondering where you might see things going next.

TS: That’s tough because what history does is give you a whole bunch of cases where democratic republics become authoritarian regimes; sometimes fascist regimes, sometimes communist regimes. It doesn’t give you one storyline: A, B, C, D. It gives you a bunch of clusters of A, and a bunch of clusters of C. But factuality is really important and more important than people realize, because it’s the substructure of regime change.

We think about democracy, and that’s the word that Americans love to use, democracy, and that’s how we characterize our system. But if democracy just means going to vote, it’s pretty meaningless. Russia has democracy in that sense. Most authoritarian regimes have democracy in that sense. Nazi Germany had democracy in that sense, even after the system had fundamentally changed.

Democracy only has substance if there’s the rule of law. That is, if people believe that the votes are going to be counted and they are counted. If they believe that there’s a judiciary out there that will make sense of things if there’s some challenge. If there isn’t rule of law, people will be afraid to vote the way they want to vote. They’ll vote for their own safety as opposed to their convictions. So the thing we call democracy depends on the rule of law. And the things we call the rule of law depends upon trust. Law functions 99 percent of the time automatically. It functions because we think it’s out there. And that, in turn, depends on the sense of truth. So there’s a mechanism here. You can get right to heart of the matter if you can convince people that there is no truth. Which is why the stuff that we characterize as post-modern and might dismiss is actually really, really essential.

The second thing about ‘post-truth is pre-fascism’ is I’m trying to get people’s attention, because that is actually how fascism works. Fascism says, disregard the evidence of your senses, disregard observation, embolden deeds that can’t be proven, don’t have faith in god but have faith in leaders, take part in collective myth of an organic national unity, and so forth. Fascism was precisely about setting the whole Enlightenment aside and then selling what sort of myths emerged. Now those national]myths are pretty unpredictable, and contingent on different nations and different leaders and so on, but to just set facts aside is actually the fastest catalyst. So that part concerns me a lot.

Where we’re going? The classic thing to watch out for is the shift from one governing strategy to another. In the U.S. system, the typical governing strategy is you more or less have to follow your constituents with legislation because of the election cycle. That’s one pulse of politics. The other pulse of politics is emergency. There’s some kind of terrorist attack and then the leader tries to suspend basic constitutional rights. And then we get on a different rhythm, where the rhythm is not one electoral cycle to the next but one emergency to the next. That’s how regime changes take place. It’s a classic way since the Reichstag fire [when the Nazis burned their nation’s capitol building and blamed communist arsonists].

So in terms of what might happen next, or what people could look out for, some kind of event that the government claims is a terrorist incident, would be something to be prepared for. That’s why it’s one of the lessons in the book.

SR: You have talked before about that kind of emergency justification—and even with Vladimir Putin in Russia. Is that what you think would happen here? Because with the exception of the judiciary, a lot of American institutions, like Congress, are not really resisting. They’re going along.

TS: They’re going along… but my own intuition would be the emergency situation arises because going along isn’t going to be enough. Paradoxically, Congress is going along and is going to pass a bunch of stuff, which is not actually very popular. Right? It’s not going to be so popular to have millions of people lose health insurance, which is what’s going to happen. The ironic things about the Republican Congress is now it has the ability to do everything it wants to do, but none of what it wants to do is that popular. Except with the few big lobbies, of course. The freedom the Republicans have is the freedom to impose their agenda on down.

The same thing goes with Mr. Trump. The things that he might do that some people would like, like building a wall or driving all the immigrants out, those things are going to be difficult or slow. In the case of the wall, I personally don’t believe it will ever happen. It’s going to be very slow. So my suspicion is that it is much easier to have a dramatic negative event, than have a dramatic positive event. That is one of the reasons I am concerned about the Reichstag fire scenario. The other reason is that we are being mentally prepared for it by all the talk about terrorism and by the Muslim ban. Very often when leaders repeat things over and over they are preparing you for when that meme actually emerges in reality.

SR: I want to change the topic slightly. You cite many examples from Germany in 1933, the year Hitler consolidated power. So what did ordinary Germans miss that’s relevant for ordinary Americans now? I know some of this is the blurring of facts. But when I have talked to Holocaust survivors, they often say, nobody ever thought things would be that bad, or nobody thought the Germans would go as far as they did.

TS: The German Jews then, and people now, don’t understand how quick their neighbors will change; don’t understand how quickly society can change. They don’t understand the fact that a life that’s been predictable for a long time, doesn’t mean that it will be predictable tomorrow. And people like to think that their experience is exceptional. German Jews might have thought, ‘Well, there were pogroms [ethnic cleansing] in Russia, but surely nothing like that could happen here.’ That’s what many German Jews thought. So one issue is people need to realize how quickly things can change.

The second thing that German Jews were not aware of, or Germans were not aware of, was how new media can quickly change conversations. In that way, it’s not exactly the same, but radio at that time often ended up being a channel for propaganda. There are parallels with the internet now, where there were hopes that it would be [primarily] enlightening. But in fact, it turns out that with presidential tweets, or with bots, or isolated habits of viewing, it isn’t necessarily enlightening. It’s the opposite. A lot of us were blindsided by the internet in much the same way that people could be blindsided by radio in the 1930s.

But here’s the other view. The one that we have that German Jews didn’t have in 1933 is we have their experience. That’s the premise of the whole book; the premise is that the 20th century showed us what can happen, and there’s lots of wonderful scholarship by German historians and others, which breaks down what can happen and how. And so, one of the first things that we should be doing is taking advantage of the one opportunity that we really have that they didn’t, which is to learn from that history. And that’s the premise of the book.

SR: All of your book’s lessons are very personal: Don’t obey in advance. Believe in truth. Stand out. Defend institutions. Be calm but as courageous as you can be. Yet the change or oppression that you are talking about is systemic and institutional. What do you say to people who say, ‘I’ll try, but I may not have the power here.’ There’s that cliche, tilting at windmills. …

TS: Well, if everyone tilted against a windmill, the windmill would fall down, right? Party of the tragedy of Don Quixote is he’s tilting against the wrong thing. So that’s not our problem. We’re pretty sure what the problem is. But he was also alone except for his faithful companion. We’re not really alone. There are millions and millions of people who are looking for that thing to do. Just by sheer math, if everyone does a little thing, it will make a difference. And much of what I am recommending is—you’re right, they are things that people can do, but they also involve some kind of engagement. Whether it’s the small talk with those you disagree with or whether it’s the corporeal politics. And that little bit of engagement helps you realize that what you are doing has a kind of sense, even if it doesn’t immediately change the order.

And finally, a lot of the political theory that I am calling upon, which comes from the anti-Nazis and the anti-communists, makes the point that even though you don’t realize it, your own example matters a whole lot, whether it’s positively or negatively. There are times, and this is one of those times, where small gestures, or their absence, can make a huge difference. So the things that might not have mattered a year ago do matter now. The basic thing is we are making a difference whether we realize it or not, and the basic question is whether it is positive or negative.

Let me put it a different way. Except for really dramatic moments, most of the time authoritarianism depends on some kind of cycle involving a popular consent of some form. It really does matter how we behave. The danger is [if] we say, ‘Well, we don’t see how it matters, and so therefore we are going to just table the whole question.’ If we do that, then we start to slide along and start doing the things that the authorities expect of us. Which is why lesson number one is: Don’t obey in advance. You have to set the table differently. You have to say, ‘This is a situation in which I need to think for myself about all of the things that I am going to do and not just punt. Not just wait. Nor just see how things seems to me. Because if you do that, then you change and you actually become part of the regime change toward authoritarianism.’

SR: You cite in the book something I read in high school: Eugene Ionesco’s existential play about fascism, Rhinoceros, where people talk about their colleagues at work, in academia, saying stuff like, ‘Come on, I don’t agree with everything, but give him a chance.’ Ionesco’s point is that people join an unthinking herd before they know it.

What would you suggest people do, when they run into others who fall on this spectrum?

TS: There are a few questions here. One is how to keep yourself going. Another is how to energize other people who agree with you. And the third thing is not quite Rhinoceros stuff, but how to catch people who are slipping. Like that CNN coverage last week of the speech to Congress, where one of the CNN commentators said, ‘Oh, now this is presidential.’ That was a Rhinoceros moment, because there was nothing presidential—it was atrocious to parade the victims of crimes committed by one ethnicity. That was atrocious and there’s nothing presidential about it.

Catching Rhinoceros moments is one thing. I think it’s really important to think about. The example that Ionesco gives is people saying, ‘Yeah, on one hand, with the Jews, maybe they are right.’ With Trump, people will say something like, ‘Yeah, but on taxes, maybe he’s right.’ And the thing to catch is, ‘Yeah, but are you in favor of regime change? Are you in favor of the end of the American way of democracy and fair play?’ Because that’s what’s really at stake.

With people all the way over at the end of the spectrum who are now confident about Trump—that’s a different subject. I think it’s important to maintain impossible human relations across that divide, because some of those people are going to change their minds. It’s harsh. But some will change their minds, and if they have no one to talk to, it will be much harder for them to change their minds. At different points on the spectrum, you have to think in different ways. My own major concern right now is with self-confidence and the energy of the people who do have the deep—and, I think incorrect—conviction that something has gone wildly wrong.

SR: The people who have the conviction that something has gone wildly wrong—that can describe Trump supporters and Trump opponents.

TS: That’s a good point. So much of this is personal. In the book, I don’t actually mention anybody’s name, except the thinkers who I admire. So much of this is personal that people think, ‘Well, if you say anything critical, it is about you as a person, and how you don’t like anything about someone who likes Trump.’ That’s a way for there to be no political discussion.

I think it’s useful, even though you will never win the argument, when you are talking about people who support to the administration, to stay at the level of the Constitution. To stay at the level of freedom, or stay at the level of basic issues, like, is global warming really going to be so great, when the entire Pentagon says that it is a national security threat? Or, is it really such a good idea to treat Muslims like this? Or, is it really going to be so good when millions of people lose health insurance?

Keep it at the level of issues as much as possible, because what I’ve found is the pattern that people shift to is, ‘Why are you going to be so hard on this guy? Give him a chance.’ But the issues of what’s constitutional, what is actually American, and what’s going to be a policy that they are going to be proud of a year from now—keep the conversation closest to the Constitution. It’s easiest to be dismissed when it’s personal. And fundamentally, this is the trick. It isn’t personal. It doesn’t matter who’s in charge. What matters is the system, which people of very different convictions take for granted, is now under threat.

SR: You have said that the Muslims are being targeted as the Jews were targeted in Germany. But out here in California, it also feels like the deportation machinery is getting ready for undocumented immigrants. On Monday, Reuters reported that Homeland Security officials said they might separate mothers from kids when making arrests. Germany did that as it rounded up Jews. Don’t they face just as grave a threat?

TS: With the Muslims, the resemblance to anti-Semitic policy in Germany in ’33 is that if you can pick some group and make them stand in for some international threat, then you can change domestic politics, because domestic politics then is no longer about compromises and competing interests, domestic politics is about who inside the society should actually be seen and outside the society. Once you get the wedge in with the first group, them you essentially win. It could be the Muslims. It could be somebody else, is the point. The political logic is basically the same.

With undocumented immigrants, I think the logic might be a little bit different. I think the goal might be to get us used to seeing a certain kind of police power. And getting us used to seeing things happening to people in public. And then if we get used to that, then we might be more willing for the dial to turn a little bit further. It’s too soon for me to speculate confidently about all of this.

I think you’re right though, it could be the Muslims, but it doesn’t have to be the Muslims. The crucial thing is to get some kind of in [political opening] where people go along with or accept stigmatization. And the logic is there’s always some kind of threat that comes from beyond the country. And that we can fix that threat on a group of people inside the country. And if you go along with this, what else are you agreeing to go along with?

SR: To go back to your book, what you’re saying is that people should be vigilant, should know their values and participate at some level with making those values known, because that is what ordinary people can do.

TS: Yes. The point of the book is that we are facing a real crisis and a real moment of choice. The possibilities are much darker than Americans are used to considering. But at the same time, what we can do is much more important than we realize. The regime will only change if the gamble of the people in the White House is right: That many of us despise many others of us and that most of us are indifferent. If it turns out that there are emotions and values that are more numerous and more vibrant than indifference and hatred, things are going to be okay. That depends on us. That depends on us making certain realizations. It depends on us acting fast. In that sense it’s a test, not just collectively. Maybe there’s no such thing as a collective test. But it is a test for us individually.

Most Americans who haven’t been abroad haven’t been faced by something like this. And hopefully they won’t be faced with it again. But we are faced with it as citizens and as individuals. And I think, five or 10 years from now, no matter how things turn out, we’ll ask ourselves—or our children will ask us—how we behaved in 2017.


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« Reply #5 on: Apr 09, 2018, 04:10 AM »


Researchers develop device that can 'hear' your internal voice

New headset can listen to internal vocalisation and speak to the wearer while appearing silent to the outside world

Samuel Gibbs
Guardian
9 Apr 2018 13.15 BST

Researchers have created a wearable device that can read people’s minds when they use an internal voice, allowing them to control devices and ask queries without speaking.

The device, called AlterEgo, can transcribe words that wearers verbalise internally but do not say out loud, using electrodes attached to the skin.

“Our idea was: could we have a computing platform that’s more internal, that melds human and machine in some ways and that feels like an internal extension of our own cognition?” said Arnav Kapur, who led the development of the system at MIT’s Media Lab.

Kapur describes the headset as an “intelligence-augmentation” or IA device, and was presented at the Association for Computing Machinery’s Intelligent User Interface conference in Tokyo. It is worn around the jaw and chin, clipped over the top of the ear to hold it in place. Four electrodes under the white plastic device make contact with the skin and pick up the subtle neuromuscular signals that are triggered when a person verbalises internally. When someone says words inside their head, artificial intelligence within the device can match particular signals to particular words, feeding them into a computer.

Watch the AlterEgo being demonstrated – video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FyOjjIVFkws

The computer can then respond through the device using a bone conduction speaker that plays sound into the ear without the need for an earphone to be inserted, leaving the wearer free to hear the rest of the world at the same time. The idea is to create a outwardly silent computer interface that only the wearer of the AlterEgo device can speak to and hear.

“We basically can’t live without our cellphones, our digital devices. But at the moment, the use of those devices is very disruptive,” said Pattie Maes, a professor of media arts and sciences at MIT. “If I want to look something up that’s relevant to a conversation I’m having, I have to find my phone and type in the passcode and open an app and type in some search keyword, and the whole thing requires that I completely shift attention from my environment and the people that I’m with to the phone itself.”

Maes and her students, including Kapur, have been experimenting with new form factors and interfaces to provide the knowledge and services of smartphones without the intrusive disruption they currently cause to daily life.

The AlterEgo device managed an average of 92% transcription accuracy in a 10-person trial with about 15 minutes of customising to each person. That’s several percentage points below the 95%-plus accuracy rate that Google’s voice transcription service is capable of using a traditional microphone, but Kapur says the system will improve in accuracy over time. The human threshold for voice word accuracy is thought to be around 95%.

Kapur and team are currently working on collecting data to improve recognition and widen the number of words AlterEgo can detect. It can already be used to control a basic user interface such as the Roku streaming system, moving and selecting content, and can recognise numbers, play chess and perform other basic tasks.

The eventual goal is to make interfacing with AI assistants such as Google’s Assistant, Amazon’s Alexa or Apple’s Siri less embarrassing and more intimate, allowing people to communicate with them in a manner that appears to be silent to the outside world – a system that sounds like science fiction but appears entirely possible.

The only downside is that users will have to wear a device strapped to their face, a barrier smart glasses such as Google Glass failed to overcome. But experts think the technology has much potential, not only in the consumer space for activities such as dictation but also in industry.

“Wouldn’t it be great to communicate with voice in an environment where you normally wouldn’t be able to?” said Thad Starner, a computing professor at Georgia Tech. “You can imagine all these situations where you have a high-noise environment, like the flight deck of an aircraft carrier, or even places with a lot of machinery, like a power plant or a printing press.”

Starner also sees application in the military and for those with conditions that inhibit normal speech.


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« Reply #6 on: Apr 09, 2018, 04:25 AM »


Cement industry urged to reduce 'invisible' global emissions

Report warns carbon footprint of heavy emitter cement companies must be reduced sharply in order to meet Paris climate goals

Fiona Harvey Environment correspondent
Guardian
Mon 9 Apr 2018 09.31 BST

Greenhouse gas emissions from cement production must be reduced sharply if the world is to meet the climate change goals set out in the Paris agreement, a new report has suggested.

Making cement and concrete, which is the most consumed product in the world after water, entails substantial emissions of carbon dioxide, from the chemical processes involved. While manufacturers have for years been seeking ways to reduce this or capture the carbon produced, and to make cement production more energy efficient, the results have failed to keep pace with the need to cut carbon emissions.

The Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), which tracks greenhouse gas emissions from leading industries, found in a report published on Monday that Indian companies were performing best on reducing their carbon footprint, partly because they benefit from newer and more efficient manufacturing plants.

In Europe, emissions from cement production were supposed to be reduced under the EU’s emissions trading scheme, which has operated since 2005, under which heavy industries are awarded allowances for the carbon they produce, and if they need to emit more must buy spare permits from cleaner companies. But the price of permits repeatedly collapsed owing to over-allocation of allowances and the scheme does not operate to reduce emissions as much as intended.

Cement production, according to the CDP, accounts for 6% of global carbon emissions, making it the second biggest source of carbon emissions from global industry, after steel. Its wider effects are even more problematic, as the built environment accounts for more than a third of the world’s carbon emissions. The report found that leading cement companies would need to double their efforts to reduce emissions, in order to meet the Paris climate goals.

Paul Simpson, chief executive of CDP, said companies must seek new technologies to overcome the problem: “Cement is a heavy and largely invisible emitter, yet taken for granted as a necessary building block of basic civilisation. Cement companies need to invest and innovate in order to avoid impending risks to their operations and the wider world. There is a solution – cement companies just need to invest properly in finding it.”

He said companies would come under pressure from investors, customers and government regulations, and that delaying changes to their practices would cost companies more in the long term.

The report, entitled Building Pressure, analysed 13 of the world’s biggest publicly listed cement companies, representing 16% of global cement production and with a a total market capitalisation of $150bn.


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« Reply #7 on: Apr 09, 2018, 04:30 AM »


Antarctica Lost a London-Sized Area of Underwater Ice in Only 6 Years

Ecowatch
4/9/2018

Antarctica's ice sheet is retreating due to warm ocean water circulating beneath its floating edge, researchers from the UK Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling at the University of Leeds have found.

The study, published in Nature Geoscience, shows that the Southern Ocean melted 1,463 square kilometers of Antarctica's underwater ice between 2010 and 2016—an area roughly the size of Greater London.

"What's happening is that Antarctica is being melted away at its base. We can't see it, because it's happening below the sea surface," professor Andrew Shepherd, one of the authors of the paper, explained to The Guardian.

The team also produced the first complete map showing that the ice sheet's submarine edge, or "grounding line," is shifting.

Lead researcher Dr. Hannes Konrad and his team found "extreme" grounding line retreat at eight of the ice sheet's 65 biggest glaciers. The pace of deglaciation since the last ice age is roughly 25 meters per year. However, the grounding line at these glaciers has been retreating more than five times that rate, the authors determined.

According to the paper, "Although most of the grounding line is stable, we estimate that 3.3 percent, 21.7 percent and 9.5 percent of East Antarctica, West Antarctica and the Antarctic Peninsula, respectively, are measurably in a state of retreat."

This study could spell major implications for global sea level rise.

"The changes mean that very soon the sea-level contribution from Antarctica could outstrip that from Greenland," Shepherd added to The Guardian.

Konrad noted in a statement, "Our study provides clear evidence that retreat is happening across the ice sheet due to ocean melting at its base, and not just at the few spots that have been mapped before now. This retreat has had a huge impact on inland glaciers, because releasing them from the sea bed removes friction, causing them to speed up and contribute to global sea level rise."

Although the retreat of some glaciers has sped up, others such as the Pine Island Glacier have halted, the researchers found.

"These differences emphasize the complex nature of ice sheet instability across the continent, and being able to detect them helps us to pinpoint areas that deserve further investigation," Konrad said.


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« Reply #8 on: Apr 09, 2018, 04:32 AM »


How Does Solar Power Work, Anyway?

Ecowatch
4/9/2018

You've seen the panels. And now you know about solar's incredible potential. Which means you probably have some questions. So let's get to it.

How do solar panels work?

A solar panel "works by allowing photons, or particles of light, to knock electrons free from atoms, generating a flow of electricity," according to Live Science. That's a technical way of saying that the panel's photovoltaic cells convert the energy in sunlight to electricity (specifically, direct current (DC)). This DC electricity is then converted to alternating current (AC) by an inverter.

AC is the type of electrical current you typically use when you plug anything into a residential wall socket. If you have solar on your roof, the system's electrical panel sends power to your lights and appliances.

How long will solar panels last?

A long time. Like, a really long time.

Many home array solar panels are guaranteed for decades, thanks to warranties that typically cover 25-30 years. But because their parts do not wear out easily, solar arrays are well-known to continue producing clean electricity even beyond these lengthy timeframes.

"Unlike many other consumer goods, [solar panels] don't 'give up the ghost' at the end of their warranty period and need to be replaced, but continue to still produce clean electricity, although at a slightly less efficiency each year," Clean Technica reported.

"In fact, some decidedly old-school solar cells have been producing electricity daily for about 40 years or so, and are expected to continue to power homes and businesses for decades more."

A June 2012 NREL study investigating the "photovoltaic degradation" rates of about 2,000 solar installations over a period of 40 years found the median solar system lost just 0.5 percent of its efficiency per year. So, by the end of your 25-year warranty, the solar panels on your roof could still be operating at about 88 percent of their original capacity.

Is your '93 Camry still running near-perfect with very, very little maintenance (more on that below)?

(Psst … a quick note on the word "photovoltaic": It means "capable of producing a voltage, usually through photoemission, when exposed to radiant energy, especially light." Which is a very long way of saying "converts sunlight into electricity.")

What sort of maintenance is required?

Not too much, really. Your solar panels themselves can last for decades on end without much upkeep (maybe just remember to keep them free of debris, snow, etc.). But you will likely need to replace the inverter a few times throughout the life of your system.

Like the solar panels themselves, inverters typically come with a warranty—these can range from 5-15 years (and sometimes even longer). Unlike your panels, your inverter will not see its efficiency dwindle very slowly; instead, it may simply stop working and need to be replaced.

However, technological developments on this front are afoot! New "micro-inverters," which are installed or included with each solar panel, are quickly replacing the more-common central inverters that handle the output of all your panels at once. These micro-inverters can have a much longer lifespan (all the way up to 25 years) than a central inverter, and if one does fail, it won't shut your entire system down cold.

Do solar panels work on cloudy, rainy, or cold days?

We'll cut straight to the chase—solar panels work just fine when it's cloudy, rainy, and/or cold.

Are clouds and rain ideal for solar panels? Of course not. They are most effective in direct sunlight. But solar panels can still generate power when the sun is blocked by clouds—more than enough, in fact, to remain a viable source of electricity. Take Germany, for example. It's not particularly warm or sunny, but is nevertheless a world leader in solar energy.

As for winter, there's some even better news: Solar panels are powered by light, not heat, and because of the way the technology works, they're just as effective—if not more effective—in cooler temperatures as in hot ones.

How much does a solar energy system cost?

That depends.

"In 2018, most U.S. homeowners are paying between $2.71 and $3.57 per watt to install solar, and the average gross cost of solar panels before tax credits is $18,840," EnergySage estimated.

That may seem quite expensive, but it also doesn't take into account the many incentives available to solar customers and the multiple new forms of solar financing that have emerged in recent years that can allow customers to put solar on their rooftops at little or no cost up front.

In addition, in the U.S., a 30 percent federal investment tax credit is available until 2019 (stepping down in the years beyond) and can offset the cost of your investment substantially, and many states also offer their own tax breaks and incentives to encourage home solar panel installation.

And, of course, looking at the straight upfront cost of the system and its installation is far from the whole story, at least as far as your bank account is concerned. Which leads us to our next question …

Can people really save money with solar panels?

Yes. Not only does a solar energy system add substantial value to your home the minute it's up and running, it often pays for itself—and then some!

"Twenty-year electricity savings from solar can be significant, ranging from the low end of $10k to almost $30k," according to EnergySage.

If you follow that math—and please keep in mind your savings will vary, depending on factors like your typical electricity cost, average sunlight in your region, and the scale of your system you install—depending on the final cost of your system after federal, state, and local incentives, in as little as seven-and-a-half years, your system will have paid for itself.

Few major purchases can claim such an impressive return on investment.

Looking at these numbers, the conclusion is clear: Solar isn't just the right choice for the planet—it can also be the smart choice for your wallet. Whatever fossil fuel companies may claim.

The benefits of solar don't end with lower power bills. Cutting carbon pollution? Check. Empowering communities? Check. Creating good jobs? Check and check.

And all that's before we even get to solar's part in transitioning to a clean energy economy and avoiding some of the worst possibilities of climate change. Like increasing extreme weather and the terrible—and terribly expensive—destruction that can come with it.

Learn more about the benefits of renewable energies like solar by downloading our free new fact sheet, Climate 101: What Is Renewable Energy?


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« Reply #9 on: Apr 09, 2018, 04:34 AM »


Solar Capacity Exceeded All Other Fuel Sources Combined in 2017, Study Finds

Ecowatch
4/9/2018

In 2017, the world invested more in solar power than it did in any other energy technology and installed more new solar capacity than all other energy sources combined, including fossil fuels.

Those are the bright findings of a UN-backed report Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2018, published Thursday.

The report, a collaboration between the United Nations Environment Programme, Bloomberg New Energy Finance, and the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management, found that investors committed $279.8 billion to renewable energy overall, excluding large dams, and $160.8 billion to solar specifically.

"The extraordinary surge in solar investment shows how the global energy map is changing and, more importantly, what the economic benefits are of such a shift," UNEP head Erik Solheim said in a UN press release about the report.

Solheim added that those benefits included the creation of more better paying, higher quality jobs.

China was the decided leader in solar and renewable investment. It was responsible for more than half of the 98 gigawatts of solar capacity added last year and 45 percent of the dollars invested in renewables over all.

The U.S. followed China as No. 2 in the top 10 list of renewable-investing countries, but it lagged far behind. It invested $40.5 billion in renewable energy, down six percent from 2016. China, on the other hand, upped its investments by 30 percent to $126.1 billion.

Overall, 2017 continued a trend begun in 2015 of developing countries investing more in renewable energy than developed countries. Developing countries increased their investments by 20 percent to $177 billion, accounting for 63 percent of total investments, while developed countries decreased their investments by 19 percent to $103 billion.

Renewable energy investment in the UK, Germany and Japan all took major hits, falling by 65 percent, 35 percent and 28 percent, respectively. The countries still ranked seventh, fifth and third for overall investments.

Mexico, Australia and Sweden, meanwhile, increased their commitments by substantial amounts: 810 percent, 147 percent and 127 percent, in order. They were ranked ninth, tenth and sixth overall.

Rounding out the top 10 list were India at No. 4 and Brazil at No. 8. Together with China, the three emerging economies accounted for just over half of global renewable investments.

While they didn't make it onto the top ten, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates made impressive strides, increasing their renewable investments by six times and 29 times, respectively.

As solar investments rose, costs fell. The cost per megawatt-hour for a solar installation dropped by 15 percent to $86.

However, while the reported investments bode good things for the future, the report found that present energy use shows we still have a ways to go. The proportion of energy generated by renewable sources in 2017 was 12.1 percent, up from 11 percent the year before.

"Climate change is moving faster than we are," Solheim, UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa, and Frankfurt School President Nils Stieglitz wrote in the report's foreword. "Last year was the second hottest on record and carbon dioxide levels continue to rise. In electricity generation, new renewables still have a long way to go. While renewable generating costs have declined, and governments are phasing-out fossil fuel subsidies– they amounted to a total US$260 billion in 2016—the transition needs to accelerate and be complemented by strong private finance that can make sure this global momentum continues," they wrote.


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« Reply #10 on: Apr 09, 2018, 04:36 AM »


Oil Spill Now Larger Than Paris Ravages Indonesian Island, 5 Dead

By Basten Gokkon
Ecowatch
4/9/2018

An oil spill in Borneo that began over the past weekend has now spread across an area greater than the city of Paris and is heading out to the open ocean, the Indonesian government said.

The spill, first reported on March 31, stems from a pipeline operated by state-owned oil firm Pertamina in the city of Balikpapan, in East Kalimantan province. A report released April 4 by the Ministry of Environment and Forestry said the slick was spreading out from Balikpapan Bay and into the Strait of Makassar, covering some 130 square kilometers (50 square miles).

Pertamina, which for days had denied responsibility for the disaster, finally admitted on April 4 that one of its pipes used for transporting crude oil was the source of the slick.

"Our preliminary investigation had indicated that the oil was ship fuel, but it was only until [the evening of April 3] that we got confirmation that it was from us," Pertamina general manager Togar M.P. told reporters. "Ever since the incident was discovered, we have shut down the pipes."

A satellite image dated April 1 shows the extent of area that is covered with crude oil from an undersea pipe leakage in Balikpapan Bay.

The incident has been blamed for the deaths of five fishermen in a fire sparked by clean-up workers who were trying to clear the oil by burning it off the water's surface.

Some 84 acres of mangrove forests are covered in oil, the environment ministry report said. The slick is also believed to have led to the death of an endangered Irrawaddy dolphin (orcaella brevirostris), a protected species under Indonesian law, which was found washed up on the coast near the site of the spill.

Thousands of people in Balikpapan, a city of 700,000, have also complained about health problems from the toxic slick.

Authorities declared a state of emergency in the city on April 3, and warned residents not to light cigarettes in the area. They also distributed gas masks to protect against the acrid fumes and smoke.

"Dolphins have died from oil spills in Balikpapan Bay. The marine waters are polluted. Until now the impact of oil the spill can not be overcome," said Indonesian National Board for Disaster Management Sutopo Purwo Nugroho (via Google Translate).

The East Kalimantan police and Pertamina are investigating the cause of the leak, after divers from the company found the pipe had moved some 328 feet from its initial position on the seabed.

Togar suggested "an external heavy force" had caused the damage to the 20-year-old pipe. Balikpapan Bay sees heavy traffic, particularly of coal barges coming through from the Borneo hinterland.

The police said a criminal prosecution may follow.

Nearly 18,300 gallons of oil was collected as of Tuesday evening, and several oil booms have been deployed to contain the spill, the environment ministry said.

"We have told our teams and also Pertamina to prioritize cleaning up the spill near settlements, considering the strong smell and other potential risks [from the slick]," Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar said in a statement.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Mongabay.


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« Reply #11 on: Apr 09, 2018, 04:38 AM »


Why California Gets to Write Its Own Auto Emissions Standards: 5 Questions Answered

By Nicholas Bryner and Meredith Hankins
Ecowatch
4/9/2018

Editor's note: On April 2, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt announced that the Trump administration plans to revise tailpipe emissions standards negotiated by the Obama administration for motor vehicles built between 2022 and 2025, saying the standards were set "too high." Pruitt also said the EPA was re-examining California's historic ability to adopt standards that are more ambitious than the federal government's. Legal scholars Nicholas Bryner and Meredith Hankins explain why California has this authority—and what may happen if the EPA tries to curb it.

Where does California get this special authority?

The Clean Air Act empowers the EPA to regulate air pollution from motor vehicles. To promote uniformity, the law generally bars states from regulating car emissions.

But when the Clean Air Act was passed, California was already developing innovative laws and standards to address its unique air pollution problems. So Congress carved out an exemption. As long as California's standards protect public health and welfare at least as strictly as federal law, and are necessary "to meet compelling and extraordinary conditions," the law requires the EPA to grant California a waiver so it can continue to apply its own regulations. California has received numerous waivers as it has worked to reduce vehicle emissions by enacting ever more stringent standards since the 1960s.

Other states can't set their own standards, but they can opt to follow California's motor vehicle emission regulations. Currently, 12 states and the District of Columbia have adopted California's standards.

What are the "compelling and extraordinary conditions" that California's regulations are designed to address?

In the 1950s scientists recognized that the unique combination of enclosed topography, a rapidly growing population and a warm climate in the Los Angeles air basin was a recipe for dangerous smog. Dutch chemist Arie Jan Haagen-Smit discovered in 1952 that worsening Los Angeles smog episodes were caused by photochemical reactions between California's sunshine and nitrogen oxides and unburned hydrocarbons in motor vehicle exhaust.

California's Motor Vehicle Pollution Control Board issued regulations mandating use of the nation's first vehicle emissions control technology in 1961, and developed the nation's first vehicle emissions standards in 1966. Two years later the EPA adopted standards identical to California's for model year 1968 cars. UCLA Law scholar Ann Carlson calls this pattern, in which California innovates and federal regulators piggyback on the state's demonstrated success, "iterative federalism." This process has continued for decades.

California has set ambitious goals for slowing climate change. Is that part of this dispute with the EPA?

Yes. Transportation is now the largest source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the U.S. The tailpipe standards that the Obama EPA put in place were designed to limit GHG emissions from cars by improving average fuel efficiency.

These standards were developed jointly by the EPA, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and California, which have overlapping legal authority to regulate cars. EPA and California have the responsibility to control motor vehicle emissions of air pollutants, including GHGs. DOT is in charge of regulating fuel economy.

Congress began regulating fuel economy in response to the oil crisis in the 1970s. DOT sets the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standard that each auto manufacturer must meet. Under this program, average fuel economy in the U.S. improved in the late 1970s but stagnated from the 1980s to the early 2000s as customers shifted to purchasing larger vehicles, including SUVs, minivans and trucks.

In 2007 Congress responded with a new law that required DOT to set a standard of at least 35 miles per gallon by 2020, and the "maximum feasible average fuel economy" after that. That same year, the Supreme Court ruled that the Clean Air Act authorized the EPA to regulate GHG emissions from cars.

The Obama administration's tailpipe standard brought these overlapping mandates together. EPA's regulation sets how much carbon dioxide can be emitted per mile, which matches with DOT's increased standard for average fuel economy. It also includes a "midterm review" to assess progress. Administrator Scott Pruitt's new EPA review, released on April 2, overturned the Obama administration's midterm review and concluded that the 2022 to 2025 standard was not feasible.

The EPA now argues that earlier assumptions behind the rule were "optimistic" and can't be met. However, its review almost entirely ignored the purpose of the standards and the costs of continuing to emit GHGs at high levels. Although the document is 38 pages long, the word "climate" never appears, and "carbon" appears only once.

The EPA's decision does not yet have any legal impact. It leaves the current standards in place until the EPA and DOT decide on a less-stringent replacement.

Can the Trump administration take away California's authority to set stricter targets?

The EPA has never attempted to revoke an existing waiver. In 2007, under George W. Bush, the agency denied California's request for a waiver to regulate motor vehicle GHG emissions. California sued, but the EPA reversed course under President Obama and granted the state a waiver before the case was resolved.

California's current waiver was approved in 2013 as a part of a "grand bargain" between California, federal agencies and automakers. It covers the state's Advanced Clean Cars program and includes standards to reduce conventional air pollutants like carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter, as well as the GHG standards jointly developed with the EPA and DOT.

The Trump administration is threatening to revoke this waiver when it decouples the national GHG vehicle standards from California's standards. EPA Administrator Pruitt has said that the agency is re-examining the waiver, and that "cooperative federalism doesn't mean that one state can dictate standards for the rest of the country." In our view, this statement mischaracterizes how the Clean Air Act works. Other states have voluntarily chosen to follow California's rules because they see benefits in reducing air pollution.

How would California respond if the EPA revokes its waiver?

Gov. Jerry Brown, Attorney General Xavier Becerra and California Air Resources Board Chair Mary Nichols have all made clear that the state will push back. It's almost certain that any attempt to revoke or weaken California's waiver will immediately be challenged in court—and that this would be a major legal battle.


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« Reply #12 on: Apr 09, 2018, 04:44 AM »


EPA insiders bemoan low point in agency's history: 'People are so done'

As Scott Pruitt fights criticism over luxury spending, questionable pay raises and a lobbyist-linked condo, staffers faced a brutal week

Oliver Milman
Guardian
9 Apr 2018 12.00 BST

The week at the Environmental Protection Agency has been a brutal low point in what many staff members refer to as the most difficult year in its near half-century history. An avalanche of allegations of ethical misconduct by the EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, has heaped embarrassment upon a watchdog struggling to adapt to the industry obeisance demanded by the Trump administration.

“This sucks. It sucks big,” said a senior EPA official who asked not to be named. “People are so done with these folks. We wanted and waited for some adults to show up. But the relentless tide of bullshit from Pruitt and his cronies is tough to deal with.”

Pruitt was already attempting to swat away criticism over his penchant for luxury travel, having spent $105,000 on first-class flights in his first year in the job, and his unusual preoccupation with personal safety, having pulled a group of EPA staff from investigating environmental crimes to become his 24-hour security accompaniment. He had also spent more than $50,000 on sweeping his office for listening bugs, installing biometric locks and constructing a soundproof booth in which to take and receive calls.

A series of revelations over the past week have seemingly pushed Pruitt close to being fired. There was the Washington DC townhouse where he stayed last year, renting a room for just $50 a night from the wife of an energy lobbyist. Occasionally his daughter would join him, to help make eggs with avocado for breakfast.

This was followed by evidence that Pruitt had used an obscure provision of the Safe Drinking Water Act to give two favoured aides, the counsel Sarah Greenwalt and the scheduling director Millan Hupp, raises of almost $57,000 and $28,000 respectively, after the White House refused them.

    This sucks. It sucks big … the relentless tide of bullshit from Pruitt and his cronies is tough
    Senior EPA official

The pay issue is a “big sock in the gut” for EPA staff, according to an agency source, due to the departure of hundreds of employees and reduced bonuses for those who remain.

The alleged malfeasance then descended almost into farce: according to the New York Times, at least five EPA officials were reassigned or demoted after they raised concerns about Pruitt’s spending, including a request for a $100,000-a-month charter aircraft membership and $70,000 for two office desks, one of them bulletproof, as well as Pruitt’s desire to use sirens to sweep aside DC traffic so he could reach Le Diplomate, a French restaurant.

If the allegations are true then “this isn’t what taxpayer dollars are for”, said Janet McCabe, a former EPA assistant administrator.

“This isn’t the life I’m used to living as a government person,” McCabe said. “You have to be scrupulous about even any whiff of a financial relationship with anyone being regulated. How can you trust a regulatory system when people aren’t held to very strict standards of ethics?”

Pruitt rushed to sympathetic conservative media outlets to declare himself baffled by the storm of controversy, describing the townhouse arrangement as an “Airbnb situation” on which an EPA ethics official had signed off. The same official, Kevin Minoli, has since issued a memo stating that he lacked key facts when making that judgment. Pruitt also falsely claimed the clients of Steven Hart, the energy lobbyist linked to the condo, had no business before the EPA.

Describing Washington as “toxic”, Pruitt said opponents of his deregulatory policies “will resort to anything” to halt his progress.

Pruitt has perhaps been the most effective member of Donald Trump’s cabinet, attacking dozens of environmental regulations with the sort of zeal that saw him sue the EPA repeatedly while attorney general of Oklahoma.

While the White House spokeswoman, Sarah Sanders, said Trump was not happy with Pruitt’s controversies, the president himself said on Thursday that the EPA administrator was “a good man, he’s done a terrific job. But I’ll take a look at it.”

“You know, I just left coal and energy country,” the president told reporters on Air Force One after a trip to West Virginia. “They feel very strongly about Scott Pruitt. And they love Scott Pruitt.”

    How can you trust a regulatory system when people aren’t held to very strict standards of ethics?
    Janet McCabe, former EPA assistant administrator

The rollback of Obama administration efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from coal plants and vehicles, stem pollution from entering streams and rivers and ban chemicals linked to brain damage and other ailments in children has delighted industry groups and conservatives, who have rallied to Pruitt’s defence.

Senator Ted Cruz said that Trump would not fire Pruitt because he is “too cagey to be duped and bullied by the Obama groupies”. His fellow Republican senator Rand Paul called Pruitt the “bravest and most conservative member of Trump’s cabinet”.

This esteem, along with the aggressive agenda to eliminate any Obama-era legacy at the EPA, could save Pruitt even though Tom Price and David Shulkin, two cabinet members also caught up in taxpayer-funding scandals, were dismissed for seemingly far lighter misdemeanors.

Even in the midst of the scandals last week, Pruitt was continuing the rollbacks, launching an attempt to tear up new pollution standards for cars and trucks, handing himself more control over the regulation of activities near waterways and introducing “transparency” to EPA science by tossing aside research based on confidential data – the cornerstone of studies that show the harmful impacts of air pollution.

The pace of these reversals has left Pruitt open to legal attack, with the courts already halting some of the more legally careless maneuvers. But the legacy of the Kentucky-born lawyer is likely to linger longer than the spending scandals once the US decides it again wants to do something about climate change or cut the number of people dying from air pollution.

“I think morale at the EPA is at a very low ebb,” said McCabe. “The bigger concern is the environmental mission of the agency. Substantively, what has happened in the last year is a big a threat as the agency has ever faced.”

On Friday, it was reported that the White House chief of staff, John Kelly, urged Pruitt’s dismissal last week but was rebuffed. Trump reportedly met Pruitt at the White House, and tweeted that the administrator was “doing a great job but is TOTALLY under siege”. Sanders, his press secretary, then told reporters Pruitt’s actions were under review.


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« Reply #13 on: Apr 09, 2018, 04:52 AM »


The edible solutions to the plastic-packaging crisis

A UK startup making water containers from seaweed is one of many businesses thinking of food-based answers to the global problem of plastic. Can they catch on?

Christopher Beanland
Guardian
Mon 9 Apr 2018 06.00 BST

Who hasn’t occasionally considered whether you could just chomp on your water bottle once you have finished drinking from it? That is a reality with Ooho water pouches – from Skipping Rocks Lab, a UK-based “sustainable packaging” startup – made from seaweed for an esoteric post-beverage snack.

Of course, eating them is not really the point – the reason they received the thumbs up from French president Emmanuel Macron in December is that they offer a glimpse of a plastic-free future. With the tide turning against plastics and everyone from David Attenborough to the Queen seeking bans, these containers could help save the oceans. Ooho pouches encase a serving of water in a thin membrane made from brown algae. They were developed in London by Pierre-Yves Paslier and Rodrigo García González, who claim seaweed is safe to eat and regrows quickly, too.

“Ooho’s edible capsule and [another UK-made product] Herald’s edible straw have both been pitched as potential alternatives to plastic,” says Philip Chadwick, editor of Packaging News. “The ongoing plastics debate could mean that more edible packs will be developed.”

Plastic, it seems, could soon be past it. An all-out assault on human-made materials is under way. Alongside the UK government’s recently announced plan for a deposit scheme for bottles in the lead-up to eradicating disposable plastics by 2042, the Co-op and Starbucks are using recycled plastics in their bottles, while Selfridges will no longer sell drinks in plastic bottles. The National Trust is replacing plastic plant pots and trays.

Indonesia’s Evoware launched seaweed packaging in September that can wrap a burger or noodles. In New York, Loliware has come up with a cup you can eat, made from agar seaweed, and is working on an edible seaweed straw. Herald’s edible straw is made in Barking. It is a sweet proposition, made from sugar, corn starch and jelly, and lasts 40 minutes inside a mojito before it starts to fall apart. Meanwhile, in Hyderabad, Narayana Peesapaty designed an edible spoon made of millet flour that becomes a proxy dessert after dusting off a bowl of dahl. In Poland, there are Biotrem’s wheatbran plates you can scoff. Soon perhaps everything on the table could be eaten (maybe even the table, too). The questions is: will we want to?

“How comfortable will consumers be with eating packaging?” asks Chadwick. “Will it taste good? Would anyone want to eat packaging that has been handled by other shoppers?”

It is certainly a bold leap on from the last crop of hi-tech food fads – from Quorn and bleeding fake-meat burgers to insects and molecular gastronomy.


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« Reply #14 on: Apr 09, 2018, 04:55 AM »


Mainland Portugal Generated More Renewable Energy Than It Needed in March

Ecowwatch
4/9/2018

Renewable energy sources made up 103.6 percent of mainland Portugal's electricity use this March, according to industry information released Tuesday and reported by Reuters.

Portugal has been a leader in renewable energy since before 2016, when it broke records for running on renewable sources for 107 hours straight.

March's milestone indicates how far renewable technologies and capacity have come in two years.

The report, issued by the Portuguese Renewable Energy Association and the Sustainable Earth System Association, suggested March's feat is a sign of things to come.

"Last month's achievement is an example of what will happen more frequently in the near future. It is expected that by 2040 the production of renewable electricity will be able to guarantee, in a cost-effective way, the total annual electricity consumption of mainland Portugal," the report said, according to Reuters.

Portugal did still draw power from fossil fuel plants during the month to fill in between gaps in renewable supply, but those gaps were more than made up for by moments of increased renewable production.

55 percent of March's energy came from hydropower sources and 42 percent came from wind power. The month reduced the country's carbon dioxide emissions by 1.8 million tons.

"These data, besides indicating a historical milestone in the Portuguese electricity sector, demonstrate that renewable energy can be relied upon as a secure and viable source with which to completely meet the country's electricity demands," the report said.

Portugal was an early adapter and innovator in the renewable energy sector. In 2008, it switched on what was then Europe's largest onshore wind farm while continuing to construct what was then the world's largest solar farm, The Guardian reported.

According to data published by AlterNet in 2017, Portugal runs behind other European countries when it comes to renewable energy use. It is ranked No. 12 on the continent for the amount of energy it gets from renewable sources overall: 30.50 percent. Iceland, Europe's leader, meets 76.42 percent of its energy needs with renewables.

However, March's news means that Portugal is once again inspiring its neighbors. According to EURACTIV, Green European Member of Parliament Claude Turmes of Luxembourg used the milestone to argue that the EU should increase its 2030 renewable energy goal of 27 percent.

"Impressive news from Portugal: #renewables produced more than 100% of the country's electricity consumption throughout the month of March! That shows how ridiculous a 27% target for 2030 is. Who will be the next country to follow that path?" he tweeted.


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