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« Reply #3600 on: Mar 22, 2019, 03:57 AM »

US judge halts hundreds of drilling projects in groundbreaking climate change ruling

In a rebuke of the Trump administration’s ‘energy-first’ agenda, a judge rules greenhouse gas emissions must be considered

Cassidy Randall in Missoula, Montana
22 Mar 2019 22.08 GMT

In the first significant check on the Trump administration’s “energy-first” agenda, a US judge has temporarily halted hundreds of drilling projects for failing to take climate change into account.

Drilling had been stalled on more than 300,000 acres of public land in Wyoming after it was ruled the Trump administration violated environmental laws by failing to consider greenhouse gas emissions. The federal judge has ordered the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which manages US public lands and issues leases to the energy industry, to redo its analysis.

The decision stems from an environmental lawsuit. WildEarth Guardians, Physicians for Social Responsibility, and the Western Environmental Law Center sued the BLM in 2016 for failing to calculate and limit the amount of greenhouse gas emissions from future oil and gas projects.

The agency “did not adequately quantify the climate change impacts of oil and gas leasing”, said Rudolph Contreras, a US district judge in Washington DC, in a ruling late on Tuesday. He added that the agency “must consider the cumulative impact of GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions” generated by past, present and future BLM leases across the country.

The decision is the first significant check on the climate impact of the Trump administration’s “energy-first” agenda that has opened up vast swaths of public land for mining and drilling. Environmental advocates are praising the move, with Jeremy Nichols, WildEarth Guardians’ Climate and Energy Program director, calling it a “triumph for our climate”.

“This ruling says that the entire oil & gas drilling program is off the rails, and moving forward illegally,” said Nichols.

Under Trump, the pace of leasing public lands for oil and gas development has surged. A recent study found the administration has made more than 13m onshore acres available for leasing, far more than any similar period under Obama. The vast majority are located in the western states of Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming. The administration also plans to make large portions of the Atlantic available for oil and gas development, and the interior department has been criticized for favoring the energy industry.

The BLM did not reply to a request for comment. The Western Energy Alliance, one of the defendants in the case, also did not respond to a request. Kathleen Sgamma, its president, told the Washington Post: “This judge has ignored decades of legal precedent in this ruling. The judge is basically asking BLM to take a wild guess on how many wells will be developed on leases, prematurely.”

Nichols predicts there will be implications for public lands across the west. His group is now poised to bring litigation to block drilling on hundreds of thousands of acres in other states.

“With the science mounting that we need to aggressively rein in greenhouse gases, this ruling is monumental,” said Kyle Tisdel, attorney and energy and communities program director for the Western Environmental Law Center. “Every acre of our public land sold to the oil and gas industry is another blow to the climate, making this ruling a powerful reality check on the Trump administration and a potent tool for reining in climate pollution.”

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« Reply #3601 on: Mar 22, 2019, 04:00 AM »

Plastic pollution: can the ocean really be cleaned up?

While the ultimate goal is to stop plastics from entering the water in the first place, cleanup projects play an important role

Joanna Khan

Somewhere in Hilo, on Hawaii’s Big Island, a team of scientists and engineers are tending to The Ocean Cleanup’s 600-metre-long rubbish-herding device, after its maiden voyage to the Great Pacific garbage patch was cut short in December 2018, because it fractured into two pieces.

The project has had its fair share of problems since it was unveiled in May 2017 and has been criticised by marine scientists and environmental groups for its potential negative environmental impact. However, some still herald The Ocean Cleanup for having a positive effect on plastic pollution.

Pete Ceglinski, the Australian co-founder and chief executive of the Seabin Project – plastic-cleaning devices deployed in harbours and marinas – is one. He credits Boyan Slat, the inventor behind The Ocean Cleanup, with increasing the global awareness of the ocean plastics issue over the past six years.

But marine biologist Dr Jennifer Lavers from the University of Tasmania says that argument is also the project’s downfall. “I think that’s really dangerous,” Lavers says. “It gives people a false sense of hope that this team of people have got [plastic pollution] covered, and that we just need to throw some money at the problem.”

Plastic pollution is a devastating problem for the world’s oceans and marine life. According to the UN, about 8m tonnes of plastic waste is dumped in the seas annually. It has been discovered at the deepest point of ocean, in Mariana Trench in the western Pacific Ocean, and in Australia, CSIRO scientists found microplastics in the sediment of the Great Australian Bight. Last year Guardian Australia reported that scientists now believe “plastic is literally everywhere.”

So the idea of attempting to “clean up” the ocean is a quixotic one. Can these projects really make a difference?

The answer is yes, but not as expected.

Smaller technical solutions can make an impact in a localised area. Two rubbish-sucking Seabins were recently installed in Sydney’s Darling Harbour. The devices suck in water, trapping rubbish in a mesh bag, and recirculate the water back into the environment. There are 450 Seabins in 26 countries around the world, in 60 harbours throughout the US, Europe, and now the Asia-Pacific, collecting on average around 4kg of marine litter a day – or about 1.4 tonnes a year, according to Ceglinski.

Another local installation, known as Mr Trash Wheel, is making a difference in Baltimore’s Inner Harbour, on the US’s north-east coast. As the wheel turns, it collects litter from the harbour and stores it in a barge for later removal. “It’s such a great idea,” says Lavers. “If we could get something like that in major cities that have suitable harbours, it would be transformational.”

Lavers, who has been studying ocean plastics for the past 15 years, says these are good examples of small-scale cleanups that can have a local impact.

However, she warns that can’t be extrapolated to the open ocean or the global plastic crisis. “We can’t technology our way out of this,” she says. “What we really need is policy change, and behavioural change, and that’s just starting to happen.”

“Things have changed rapidly in the last 12 to 18 months, it’s been really encouraging. We have the EU announcing enormous bans on single use plastics and microplastics – that’s the bold, meaningful change we need.”

Hobart city council recently announced it would ban single use plastics by 2020, while Launceston city council has pledged to do the same. The South Australian government is considering how to tackle single-use plastics and sought public comment on the issue earlier this year.

The Department of the Environment and Energy recently conducted an assessment of the voluntary phase-out of microbeads - and found it to be on track. Its Threat Abatement Plan for the impacts of marine debris on the vertebrate wildlife of Australia’s coasts and oceans was also updated. And while Woolworths and Coles were banning single-use plastic bags nationwide, fast-food giants McDonald’s committed to phasing out plastic straws in their Australian stores.

What those cleanup projects such as The Ocean Clean Up, Seabins and the Baltimore Water Wheel are good at is increasing awareness of the plastic problem. Says Ceglinski:“The real goal is to stop plastics from entering the water in the first place. And we can do that using the Seabin as a powerful communication tool.

He adds: “We don’t want people to be okay with throwing plastic in the water because the Seabin will pick it up for them. This was one of the main reasons we set out to attack it from an educational point of view – because it all boils back down to education.”

The plastic tsunami: pollution across Australia's coastlines – in pictures: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/apr/16/plastic-is-literally-everywhere-the-epidemic-attacking-australias-oceans

So, like Seabins quietly sucking away in harbours, community and individual cleanup action plays a role too. When you add up the numbers, at least in Australia – the potential impact of picking up rubbish on beaches is huge. “There’s around 50,000 volunteers across Australia who participate regularly in beach cleanups”, says Lavers.

“One single plastic bottle removed from a beach prevents it from making its way back into the ocean where it will eventually fragment into tens of thousands of micro- and nano-plastic particles. So there’s value in getting bigger items off the beach while we still can, because once they become tiny fragments in the marine environment, we have little to no hope of ever retrieving them, at least not with current technology.”

In Australia, Tangaroa Blue is one of the main groups that organises regular cleanups, along with Clean Up Australia, Seaside Scavenge, environmental conservation groups such as Sea Shepherd, while Ocean Conservancy organises global beach cleanups.

Heidi Taylor, co-founder and managing director of Tangaroa Blue Foundation, says cleanups must go hand in hand with reducing plastic consumption. “If all we do is clean up, then that’s all we’ll ever do. We have to stop debris and plastic ending up in the environment in the first place through source reduction.”

The data collected from beach cleanups give groups such as Tangaroa Blue the power to hold industry and producers accountable for their role in the plastic problem. “The cleanup is how we collect evidence,” says Taylor. “Volunteers don’t just pick up and count rubbish, they also record brands and barcodes – data which can be used to target the sources.”

Taylor noticed a difference in the beach cleanup data, after the single-use plastic bags ban came into force. “We’re just seeing more thicker bags, and now we know where they’re coming from because they’re branded, whereas before they were all grey. ”

On 4 March, the Australian Marine Debris Initiative (AMDI) ticked over 13 million data points – each representing an item of marine debris picked up from an Australian beach with its details logged by a volunteer.

Lavers is using the AMDI data to determine whether the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (Marpol) – which prevents the dumping of plastic and other waste from ships – has been effective since its ratification in 2013. “Asking this question is only possible because of Tangaroa Blue and other contributors to the AMDI. There’s no way we can write off beach cleanups as some small, meaningless contribution to the global plastic pollution problem.”

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« Reply #3602 on: Mar 22, 2019, 04:17 AM »

Offshore windfarm development: bigger, better, cheaper

Cost of offshore wind has fallen as turbines have improved, along with energy storage schemes

Paul Brown
22 Mar 2019 21.30 GMT

It is hard to keep up with how quickly offshore wind technology is developing. Turbines standing in shallow seas will soon cover hundreds of square miles of the UK’s coasts, providing one-third of Britain’s electricity.

Next it will be the turn of floating turbines. Admittedly, it took 15 years for Statoil to develop the first floating windfarm off Aberdeen, but its output has exceeded expectations. The Norwegian state oil company, renamed Equinor to make its image greener, has said more than half of the North Sea is suitable for deploying floating wind power. Electricity produced from these turbines anchored in deep water could provide all the EU’s electricity four times over.

The cost of offshore wind has tumbled as turbine designs have got better and bigger, with each machine providing 30 times the output of the first ones deployed 18 years ago. Perhaps the greatest boost to hopes of staving off the worst of climate change is that the coasts of the US, Japan and many maritime states are suitable for floating turbines and are as windy as the North Sea. If you worry about the wind ceasing to blow (which it rarely does at sea), schemes for storing energy in batteries and with hydrogen are advancing fast too.

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« Reply #3603 on: Mar 22, 2019, 04:18 AM »

School climate strikes: 1.4 million people took part, say campaigners

Activist Greta Thunberg, 16, says action proved ‘no one is too small to make a difference’

Damian Carrington Environment editor
22 Mar 2019 08.56 GMT

More than 1.4 million young people around the world took part in school strikes for climate action, according to environmental campaigners.

Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish student whose solo protest last August prompted the global movement, said: “We proved that it does matter what you do and that no one is too small to make a difference.”

Children walked out of schools on Friday in 2,233 cities and towns in 128 countries, with demonstrations held from Australia to India, the UK and the US, according to the Fridays for the Future website. Further strikes are planned for 12 April.

Eyal Weintraub, an 18-year-old from Argentina who took part in the protests, said: “We have reached a point in history when we have the technical capacities to solve poverty, malnutrition, inequality and of course global warming.

“The deciding factors for whether we take advantage of our potential will be our activism and our international unity.”

The strikes inspired by Thunberg drew widespread praise, with UN Women saying on Twitter: “She is proof that we need to listen to the young generation for a sustainable future.”

The executive director of Oxfam International, Winnie Byanyima, said: “Our children are walking out of school saying we have failed them. This is the kind of clarity and energy we need now.”

However, education ministers in the UK and Australia condemned the strikes and some commentators were critical. Madeline Grant, formerly of the Institute of Economic Affairs thinktank, asked: “Just how kind is it to shower praise on children who are fundamentally wrong?”

Thunberg posted a response on Facebook to “people who wants us to go back to school”. “The favourite argument here in Sweden, and everywhere else, is that it doesn’t matter what we do because we are all too small to make a difference. [But] Friday was the biggest day of global climate action ever, according to 350.org,” she said.

“People keep asking me ‘What is the solution to the climate crisis?’. They expect me to know the answer. That is beyond absurd, as there are no ‘solutions’ within our current systems.

“We need a whole new way of thinking. The political system that you [adults] have created is all about competition. You cheat when you can because all that matters is to win. That must come to an end.

“We need to start cooperating and sharing the remaining resources of this planet in a fair way. We are just passing on the words of the science. Our only demand is that you start listening to it, and then start acting.”

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« Reply #3604 on: Mar 22, 2019, 04:21 AM »

Kachin women from Myanmar 'raped until they get pregnant' in China

Women from Kachin minority are allowed to go home only if they leave baby behind, says HRW report

Emma Graham-Harrison
22 Mar 2019 14.26 GMT

Burmese and Chinese authorities are turning a blind eye to a growing trade in women from Myanmar’s Kachin minority, who are taken across the border, sold as wives to Chinese men and raped until they become pregnant, a report claims.

Some of the women are allowed to return home after they have given birth, but are forced to leave their children, according to an investigation by Human Rights Watch, titled Give Us a Baby and We’ll Let You Go.

One survivor said: “I gave birth, and after one year the Chinese man gave me a choice of what to do. I got permission to go back home, but not with the baby.”

China is grappling with a severe gender imbalance; the percentage of the population who are women has fallen every year since 1987. Researchers estimate that factors including sex-selective abortion, infanticide and neglect of female babies mean that there are 30 to 40 million “missing women” in China, who should be alive today but aren’t.

That means millions of men are now unable to find a wife, and there has been a rise in trafficking across the borders of neighbouring, poorer nations.

Many of the Kachin women are trafficked out of Myanmar by their relatives, friends or people they trust; in one case a woman was betrayed by someone from her bible study class. They are often promised jobs across the border in China, and discover only after they cross over that they have been sold into sexual slavery.

“My broker was my auntie, she persuaded me,” a woman who was trafficked aged 17 or 18 told Human Rights Watch. Over three years, HRW spoke to nearly 40 victims who had escaped, or been allowed to leave but without their children, many still struggling to deal with the emotional impact.

All came from, and had returned to, Myanmar’s northern Kachin state or neighbouring Shan state, where the ethnic Kachin have been fighting the government for decades. A 17-year ceasefire ended in 2011, and the renewed conflict has displaced more than 100,000 people and left many struggling to survive.

With men taking part in the fighting, women often become the only breadwinners for the families, and with jobs badly paid and hard to find, many feel that they have no choice but to pursue work in China where wages are higher even for illegal migrants.

“Myanmar and Chinese authorities are looking away while unscrupulous traffickers are selling Kachin women and girls into captivity and unspeakable abuse,” said Heather Barr, women’s rights co-director at Human Rights Watch.

“The dearth [of work or legal] protections have made these women easy prey for traffickers, who have little reason to fear law enforcement on either side of the border.”

Myanmar’s government reported 226 cases of trafficking in 2017, but experts told Human Rights Watch they believe that the real number is much higher.

There are few incentives for trafficked women or their relatives to seek official help. Families seeking police aid to track missing daughters, sisters and wives were turned away in Myanmar, or were asked for money, HRW found.

Many of the areas where the women are trafficked from are controlled not by authorities in the capital, Yangon, but by the opposition Kachin Independence Organisation, so the government has no record of what is happening there.

In China, when some survivors tried to seek help from security forces, they were jailed for immigration violations not supported as crime victims.

Those who were repatriated were often simply dumped at the border, stranded far from their community, the report found. And if they do make it back, they face social stigma, and little chance of getting justice, even if they tried to seek it.

“When Myanmar authorities did make arrests, they usually targeted only the initial brokers in Myanmar and not the rest of the networks in China,” the report found. “Police in China almost never to our knowledge arrested people that knowingly bought trafficked ‘brides’ and abused them.”

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« Reply #3605 on: Mar 22, 2019, 04:25 AM »

'It's a godsend': the healthcare scheme bringing hope to India's sick

In a country where treatment can cost two years’ wages, a new project could mean free medical care for 500 million people

Amrit Dhillon in Delhi and Haryana
22 Mar 2019 05.00 GMT

Rajiv Gupta has a distinct spring in his step. He has brought his mother to New Delhi from the northern state of Bihar for a hip replacement, for which he won’t have to pay. His mother qualified for free treatment under Ayushman Bharat, the government’s ambitious new health insurance scheme.

“I can’t quite believe this is happening. When the doctors in Bihar told me it would cost 200,000 rupees £2,180, I took mum home. That kind of money is impossible for me. I just run a tiny sari shop. And now she’s getting it done here free,” says Gupta. Then he hurries off as though scared he has got it wrong and someone is going to present him with a bill.

Millions of people in India live in fear of getting sick, and not just because of the physical symptoms. For some, the cost of treatment can be equivalent to two years’ wages.

Launched just under six months ago, Ayushman Bharat aims to provide 500 million Indian families with health insurance of 500,000 rupees (£5,450) a year for secondary and tertiary medical care. Those eligible are the most vulnerable sections of the population.

Rapid economic growth over two decades has improved the lives of millions of people, but medical care is still unaffordable for many. Though a doctor’s consultation in government hospitals is largely free, patients have to pay for implants or stents, along with medical consumables. The cost of hospital treatment can be catastrophic, pushing an already poor family into debt.

“It is early days, but this is a game-changer,” says Dr Randeep Guleria, pulmonologist and director of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in the Indian capital. “Hospital treatment is an impossible cost for the poor – even for sections of the middle class. It’s a godsend to those who would have been kept at home by their families and left to die.”

Finance minister Arun Jaitley said recently that 62% of the Indian population have to pay healthcare bills themselves and most find it unaffordable. On Wednesday he said it was fast becoming the world’s largest free healthcare scheme.

According to official data, more than 20.3 million Indians have so far qualified for the scheme. About 1.4 million people have received free treatment.

While the scheme is off to a good start, Guleria says challenges remain. The biggest is making people aware of it. Although almost 8 million people have checked on the Ayushman portal to see if they are eligible, some patients at Guleria’s hospital had no idea they could become part of the scheme.

Attempts are being made to inform the public, even in the remotest villages. Posters and banners are up at railway stations. When he drives to work, Guleria hears the radio station repeatedly playing a government jingle urging listeners to dial a number to check if they could benefit.

The national health authority, which runs the plan, is teaming up with Uber, Flipkart, Amazon and other companies to access their employee database. The scheme’s CEO, Indu Bhushan, believes many of their employees will be eligible and must be tracked down to be told of their rights.

“Currently, about 400,000 people are registering every month. We want to push this up to 1 million a month,” said Bhushan.

A second challenge is fraud, which Bhushan is anxious to prevent. “Abuse will not only be an extra financial burden, it will damage our reputation, so we need to clamp down firmly right away on fraud, on people falsely claiming this benefit, or on hospital and patient collusion to cheat the state,” he says.

A third issue is persuading more private hospitals to join the scheme. The free treatment is to be offered in government and independent hospitals, but the involvement of the latter is crucial.

Only a handful of government hospitals, such as AIIMS, offer specialist care for complex treatments and procedures, according to Girdhar J Gyani, director general of the Association of Healthcare Providers of India. “More than 80% of tertiary care in India is provided by private hospitals. But the reimbursement rates under Ayushman are irrational and far too low,” he says. “So, for example, the reimbursement for a knee replacement is nowhere near the cost incurred by a private hospital.”

If the scheme is to be implemented in letter and spirit, he added, the reimbursement rates have to be increased. The government has set up a committee to review the rates.

That said, about 6,000 private hospitals, mainly smaller ones, have joined the scheme. Some beneficiaries have been surprised to find themselves being treated at a private hospital, the exclusive enclave of the wealthy. About 60% of the scheme’s patients have been treated in private hospitals.

Shah Mohammed, 50, is recuperating at SGT hospital in Gurgaon, a large private institution in the middle of a deserted, dusty plain that caters to the surrounding villages. Mohammed suffered a fractured jaw and haematoma after his scooter crashed into another vehicle.

“I hadn’t heard of this Ayushman,” he says. “But when I was admitted here, the staff checked and found that I qualified. I can’t get over the fact that when I am discharged, I will walk out of a private hospital without paying a rupee.”

In another ward at SGT, Ramesh Kumar, a 50-year-old tailor, is recovering from respiratory failure. “My wife would have had to borrow money. We just don’t have that kind of cash at home. I knew it was going to be free but I didn’t expect to be treated at a private hospital,” he says.

Government or private, none of this matters to Sunny Kumar and his mother, Asha. Their father has been operated on for a hole in the heart at AIIMS and is doing well. “This is the first time the government has done something really concrete for the poor,” says Asha.

Nine-year-old Shiv Shankar Kumar suffers from a leaky heart valve. When his father, Mahesh Mandal, was told in his hometown of Bihar last month that treatment would cost 300,000 rupees, he took Shiv home. “My wife and I had no choice but to leave his fate to God,” says Mandal.

Later, he heard about Ayushman Bharat and registered. The day after he received his gold card, he picked his son up in his arms and boarded a train to AIIMS. Shiv has been successfully treated. Mandal swipes his phone to show his picture. “I can’t wait to take him home so that he can start his life again,” he says.

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« Reply #3606 on: Mar 22, 2019, 04:27 AM »

The global economy is a ticking time bomb waiting to explode

Marshall Auerback, Independent Media Institute - COMMENTARY
22 Mar 2019 at 10:11 ET                   

In the aftermath of the greatest financial calamity since the Great Depression, then–chief of staff for the Obama administration Rahm Emanuel made the call for aggressive action to prevent a recurrence of the meltdown of 2008.

Although the U.S. government’s system of checks and balances typically produces incremental reform, Emanuel suggested that during times of financial upheaval, the traditional levers of powers are often scrambled, thereby creating unique conditions whereby legislators could be pushed in the direction of more radical reform. That’s why he suggested that we should never let a crisis go to waste. Ironically, that might be the only pearl of wisdom we ever got from the soon-to-be ex-mayor of Chicago, one of those figures who otherwise embodied the worst Wall Street-centric instincts of the Democratic Party. But give Rahm props for this one useful insight.

But we did let the crisis of 2008 go to waste. Rather than reconstructing a new foundation out of the wreckage, we simply restored the status quo ante, and left the world’s elite financial engineers with a relatively free hand to create a wide range of new destructive financial instruments.

To cite some examples, consider the case of the UK, where England’s local councils have taken on significant risk via structural financial products known as “LOBO loans” (lender option borrower option). Financial blogger Rob Carver explains how they work:

“Let’s say I offer to lend you £40 and charge you 3% interest for 5 years. Some other guy comes along and offers you the same deal; but the twist is he will have the option to ask for his money back whenever he likes.

“You wouldn’t borrow money from him because it’s clearly a worse deal. …

“Suppose he sticks to his guns but as a concession he will lend you the money at only 2.9% interest. Would you take that? What about 2.5%? 2%?”

What Carver is describing here is the so-called “teaser”: a seductively low starting interest rate that is sufficiently attractive to induce the buyer to take on the LOBO in the first place. It’s designed to entice someone away from fixed interest rate borrowing (which at least has the virtue of being constant and therefore more readily predictable). The seductive quality of the teaser is that one’s borrowing costs might appear “cheaper” than the higher initial fixed-rate costs offered by the Public Works Loan Board (PWLB), a wing of the government. But the troubles become more apparent with the passage of time.

What happens if and when rates unexpectedly move up? In general, as Carver notes, having to suddenly repay your loan when interest rates have risen to 4 percent is the worst possible time for you. It’s akin to taking away the umbrella the minute it starts to pour. Worse, the authority is likely locked into a contract that typically has a lifespan of 40-70 years. (And who can forecast with any degree of certainty the trend of interest rates over that sort of time span? It makes the whole notion of buying an instrument on that premise to be speculative in the extreme.) Banks have the option of raising rates at their discretion, and although the councils are able to opt out of their contract, they will pay huge penalties if they seek to renegotiate or exercise that option to opt out.

So there’s a huge negotiating imbalance built into the contract, and the likely upshot is that the local council ends up paying more in interest charges over the course of the loan. How much more? According to an activist group, #NoLOBOs (created to help housing authorities combat the impact of these instruments), “a substantial number of housing councils are facing 7-9 % interest rates, which is more than twice the current rate of lending at the PWLB.” And in many instances, the municipalities have been burdened with these higher borrowing costs at a time when additional funding from the national government has been cut back, so they are confronted with a double whammy on both sides of the balance sheet.

What was initially sold as a means to manage risk, then, ultimately metamorphoses into a recipe for financial fragility, especially when it occurs at the municipal level with institutions that don’t have the capacity to create new currency (as a federal authority can do). The “teaser” becomes a poison pill. This means a local authority (or level of government that is a user, rather than issuer, of currency) can go bust.

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« Reply #3607 on: Mar 22, 2019, 04:30 AM »

EU shows united front on Brexit, loss of confidence in May

New Europe

BRUSSELS  — European Union leaders took back control of the Brexit process from British Prime Minister Theresa May, saying Friday they believe the risks were too great and that action was needed to protect the smooth running of the world's biggest trading bloc.

May's mantra since the Brexit referendum in 2016 has always been about "taking back control" of U.K. affairs from the EU. But leaders from the bloc showed at a Brussels summit that they too have a big say in how Brexit ends up, as the political tussle resumes in the British Parliament over how to proceed.

In a move that underlined their loss of confidence in May as she battles for her political survival, the leaders set two deadlines for Britain to leave or to take an entirely new path in considering its EU future.

At marathon late night talks in Brussels, they rejected May's request to extend the Brexit deadline from March 29 — just one week away — until June 30. Instead, the leaders agreed to extend the date until May 22, on the eve of EU elections, if she can persuade the British parliament to endorse the Brexit deal. Failing that, May would have until April 12 to choose a new path.

"British politicians are incapable of implementing what the people asked them," French President Emmanuel Macron told reporters. "This crisis is British. In no way must we (the EU) become stuck in this situation, so that is why we have given two deadlines. We are organized."

The aim of the EU move is to ensure that Britain doesn't take part in the May 23-26 elections if it is leaving. Candidates for the Europe-wide polls, being held amid deep concern that mainstream parties could lose seats to anti-immigrant groups and populists, must be enrolled by April 12.

"The U.K. government will still have a choice of a deal, no-deal, a long extension or revoking Article 50. The 12th of April is a key date," said EU Council President Donald Tusk, who chaired the summit.

The leaders seized hold of the Brexit process when May — after repeated questioning — proved unwilling, or perhaps unable, to tell them what she planned to do next week if she fails yet again to convince a skeptical British Parliament to endorse the deal, EU officials said.

"We have to move forward. Our citizens, our companies have to be able to understand what the choice of the British Parliament is. We hope that it will be a rational choice, that it will be a choice to maintain close economic and security links with the European Union," Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said Friday.

"We are now waiting for the British to say clearly to the European Union what they want for the future," he told reporters. The legally-binding Brexit agreement May sealed with her EU partners last November has been twice rejected by British legislators, once by a historic margin, and she has already angered the legislators by suggesting they are responsible the impasse.

"If Parliament does not agree a deal next week, the EU Council will extend Article 50 until 12 April," May said, referring to the EU treaty article governing Brexit. "At this point we would either leave with no deal, or put forward an alternative plan."

May also moved to heal the wounds caused by her televised speech to the public Wednesday evening — which some legislators slammed as "toxic" and a "low blow," saying that she had "expressed my frustration. I know that MPs are frustrated too. They have difficult jobs to do."

"I hope we can all agree, we are now at the moment of decision," May said. The Brexit battle now shifts back to Britain's Parliament. Pro-EU lawmakers said the bloc's decision showed that May needed to change course and consider alternatives to her rejected deal. They plan an attempt next week to force a change of direction by setting out a series of votes in Parliament on alternatives, including a plan to keep close economic ties with the EU.

"We need to open up this process because we have rejected her deal, we've rejected no-deal, the EU has decided to give us a little more time and we've really got to get on with it," said Labour Party lawmaker Hilary Benn, who chairs the House of Commons Brexit committee.

"This won't work if the prime minister is not prepared to move an inch," he said. "I'm afraid that's the story of the last two and three-quarter years."

Raf Casert and Jill Lawless in Brussels, and Danica Kirka in London, contributed to this report.

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« Reply #3608 on: Mar 22, 2019, 04:57 AM »

This is your Secretary Of State America ...... look at what it has come to..

Pompeo suggests Trump was put on Earth to save the Jews: ‘As a Christian, I believe it’s possible’

Bob Brigham
22 Mar 2019 at 19:30 ET                   

Secretary of State Mike 'just one more hamburger' Pompeo offered alarming views during an exclusive interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN News).

CBN News asked if President Donald Trump could be like a 2,500 year-old character in the Old Testament.

“Could it be, that President Trump right now has been sort of raised for such a time like this just like Queen Esther, to help save the Jewish people from an Iranian menace?” CBN News asked.

“As a Christian, I certainly believe that’s possible,” Pompeo replied.

“I am confident that the Lord is at work here,” he added.


‘My head is exploding’: CNN analyst bewildered as Trump abruptly overturns six decades of policy to help out Netanyahu

Raw Story

CNN global affairs analyst Aaron David Miller said on Thursday that his head was “exploding” over President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize the Golan Heights as Israeli territory. Trump, he said, was trying to “intercede” in Israeli elections on behalf of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which he said was motivated by domestic politics.

“I was part of the very small group of individuals that tried to facilitate at the request of Israeli prime ministers Rabin, Peres, and Barak an effort to negotiate with Bashar Assad’s father Hafez, and we came pretty close to actually concluding a deal which by Israel would have surrendered the Heights in exchange for normalized relation with Syria,” he said. “I’ve been around negotiations most of my professional life.”

“My head is exploding,” Miller said of the announcement. “The president of the United States in less than 280 characters presumably, I didn’t count them, basically overturns six decades of American policy.”

“And the reason? The logic? The rationale, the justification?” he continued. “To directly and willfully intercede in an Israeli election campaign, very close with the prime minister now under preliminary indictment, for the first time in his career facing a credible challenger.”

“This was an effort, and I would argue gratuitous to essentially do everything President Trump can to make sure that Benjamin Netanyahu becomes the next prime minister of Israel,” Miller went, on, admitting that the U.S. has “played favorites with respect to Israeli prime ministers” in the past.

“But re-electing Benjamin Netanyahu is not a compelling national interest of the United States,” he said. “I know why the president chose to do this. It’s pure and unadulterated domestic politics.”


The Trump family has dangerously blurred the lines between foreign lobbying and espionage: Ex-FBI agent

Raw Story

Former FBI special agent Clint Watts told MSNBC on Thursday that it almost didn’t really matter if sex spa owner Cindy Yang’s interactions with President Donald Trump amounted to espionage or lobbying — the real issue is that everyone, including foreign countries, sees the president and his family as “open for influence.”

“In this case, Ms. Yang, you can’t tell what’s influence, you can’t tell what’s espionage, you can’t tell what is just good political donations,” Watts said. Lobbying, he added, was traditionally a “very formalized” process. “But in this case, we just see open doors and access.”

“We’ve even seen reports of foreign countries saying ‘we should go at Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, they are open for influence, let’s try and nudge up to them,'” Watts continued. “Doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a spy. It’s a great way to advance your interest for a very low cost, and the doors seem to be wide open on this White House.”

That radical departure from established norms was the reason so many of Trump’s associates were running afoul of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), Watts said.

“I think that’s why you’re seeing from the Mueller investigation this reoccurring theme of going after the FARA act, and are we going to enforce it or not,” he said, adding that the “focus on Ms. Yang” was a dead end, and offering advice for Congress.

“I know that is a sensational story, but I think a better question Congress can be asking when it comes to counterintelligence is just go to the intelligence community and ask one simple question,” Watts said. “‘How many times since the Trump Administration started have we seen espionage targets that we believe are trying to penetrate the U.S. government show up at the White House, or Mar-a-Lago, with Trump campaign people.’ You don’t need to be specific on those but it will tell you the severity of the problem.”


Top Intel Dem warns the administration is ‘laying groundwork to withhold’ Mueller’s evidence — and blame Comey as an excuse

Cody Fenwick, AlterNet
22 Mar 2019 at 22:08 ET                   

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, has been at the forefront of Democratic and Congressional oversight of President Donald Trump’s ties to Russia and the ongoing special counsel investigation. And Thursday evening, he published an op-ed in USA Today warning that the Trump administration appears to be planning to withhold key parts of Robert Mueller’s final report from the American people.

“Last week, the House voted 420-0 to make special counsel Robert Mueller’s findings and report public,” he wrote. “With narrow redactions for classified information, we expect the public release not only of Barr’s report regarding Mueller’s activities but also of Mueller’s complete report to the attorney general.”

He noted that Attorney General William Barr, who under regulation has discretion about which parts, if any, of a final report he releases. Any substantial exercise of this authority, Schiff argued, is “completely unacceptable.”

He continued:

    The Justice Department and the intelligence community are obligated to share with the intelligence committees any counterintelligence findings and information related to the president or those in his orbit, including evidence collected by the special counsel’s office or ancillary investigations by the FBI. If the president or anyone around him has been compromised by a hostile foreign power — whether criminal or not — that compromise must be exposed to protect the country.

    Nevertheless, there are troubling suggestions that the attorney general may resist. In recent public remarks, the outgoing Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein cast doubt on the need for transparency. Last week, two anonymous sources described as senior department officials told ABC News that if Justice chose to withhold information from Mueller’s investigation, doing so would be consistent with past practices.

On Twitter, he said that DOJ is “laying the groundwork to withhold evidence from the American people” which “would pose a great danger to our country.”

When Democrats were in the minority of the House in 2017 and 2018, Schiff consistently pointed out that Republican efforts to obtain information about the Hillary Clinton email investigation from the department seemed to stretch accepted precedent — precedent that now means that Congress is entitled to extensive disclosures about the Mueller probe.

But in his op-ed, he said that the Justice Department plans to “blame” its disclosures in the Clinton email case on former FBI Director James Comey and the fact that he initially broke protocol by discussing his conclusions in that case openly and before Congress. Schiff pointed out that this is a ridiculous double standard, particularly when the subject of the Mueller probe is much more crucial to the integrity of the U.S. government and the security of the country. Schiff could also have noted, though he didn’t, that the “Comey factor” could also apply in this case, since he openly discussed the ongoing investigation, first in Congress and since then as a private citizen.

“Finally, the Justice Department’s policy that a sitting president cannot be indicted makes the need for transparency even more compelling,” Schiff concluded. “If the department holds that the president cannot be indicted, but at the same time withholds evidence of his wrongdoing from Congress and the public — that is a recipe for impunity.”


BUSTED: Jared Kushner has been using WhatsApp and his personal email to conduct White House business

Raw Story

Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner has been using the encrypted messaging service WhatsApp and his own personal email account to conduct official White House business, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) has revealed.

Politico reports that Cummings first learned about Kushner’s use of the app last December, when Kushner attorney Abbe Lowell informed him and former Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-NC) about it. Lowell said that Kushner’s use of WhatsApp for official government business was perfectly legal and added that “Kushner takes screenshots of his messages and forwards them to his White House email in order to comply with records preservation laws.”

Cummings is now demanding that the White House hand over documents related to Kushner’s use of the app, which he has reportedly used to communicate with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The congressman may issue subpoenas forcing the White House to comply if it doesn’t hand over the Kushner-related documents by April 4th.

Lowell also told Cummings that first daughter Ivanka Trump has been conducting official business through her personal email account and has not been forwarding all messages that she receives on it to her official White House account, which Cummings suggested was “a violation of the Presidential Records Act.”


‘Naive’ Kushner destroyed by CNN analyst for using an app ‘you download for free’ to share secret government business

Raw Story

On Thursday, CNN analyst Susan Hennessey railed against Senior White House aide and President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, after it was revealed that he used his personal WhatsApp account to conduct government business.

“Is there a national security concern if Jared Kushner communicates with foreign leaders over WhatsApp?” CNN host Wolf Blitzer asked.

“Of course. WhatsApp is not a secure communication channel,” Hennessey said. “The United States government spends millions of dollars every single year, some of the finest mathematicians in the entire world focused on providing secure communications for government officials. Jared Kushner has decided he wants to use an app you can download for free on your phone.”

She added, “The bigger security concern here isn’t just what foreign intelligence services might be looking at, certainly they’re all trying to get these messages. But the communications he is having. The U.S. Government is all on the same team.”

“They have to communicate with one another. The military has to talk to the State Department, and they have to talk to the Pentagon. They need to be able to be on the same page,” she explained.

“Kushner is freelancing, and that puts our government at a disadvantage. Now we have foreign adversaries in some cases who know more about U.S. policy than we do,” she said.

“It raises the question about whether or not Jared Kushner might be taken advantage of. We have seen foreign intelligence services reportedly think he is ripe for manipulation. He is naive and inexperienced, has a high level of access and complex business relationships. This is the perfect storm of a grave national security threat,” she said.


Jared and Ivanka are not moderates — these vacuous looters epitomize the corrupt Trump presidency

Heather Digby Parton, Salon - COMMENTARY
22 Mar 2019 at 09:28 ET                   

In the new book “Kushner, Inc.” by Vicky Ward, Jared and Ivanka — people so famous everyone refers to them by their first names — are revealed as exactly what one would expect: spoiled, arrogant, narcissistic, corrupt and recklessly overconfident. As tempting as it is to mock them, it would be a mistake. These two vacuous socialites are a perfect reflection of the inept celebrity president who sits in the White House where all three wield unimaginable power over the lives of every person on this planet.

For Donald Trump to bring his daughter and son-in-law into the White House at all is inappropriate. Everyone knows that nepotism is a poison in any organization but it becomes truly noxious in one as chaotic as the Trump administration. You can’t fire your own relatives if they screw up, and the hierarchy is always skewed by their special access to the top. It’s possible that a mature, seasoned, intelligent leader could handle such a situation with some finesse. Needless to say, President Trump is not that.

I think most people believed early on when he brought the two into the administration that it was more a security blanket than anything serious. He didn’t really understand how the government or the presidency worked and it was understandable that he would want some people around him to confide in and help him get his bearings. Nobody, however, expected that he would defy all logic and actually task them with anything important but he did. Apparently, they both were perfectly happy to take the ball and run the world with it, despite having virtually no experience doing anything but working in their family businesses and running from one disaster after another.

According to Ward, these two callow scions have no doubts about their abilities. She writes of Ivanka that “her father’s reign in Washington, D.C., is, she believes, the beginning of a great American dynasty.” Ivanka herself apparently told former White House economic adviser Gary Cohn that she expected to be president someday. (As I recall, it was reported at one time that she and Jared had chattered among friends about which one would be president first.) Did I mention they are arrogant?

Ward makes it clear that the image of “Javanka” being moderating influences in the administration is nothing more than hype. We’ve known from the beginning that the two are quite adept at playing the media but it appears that in reality they don’t just fail to moderate Donald Trump, they don’t believe they have to. Perhaps the most widely shared anecdote in the book happened after the president’s ghastly remarks about the neo-Nazis in Charlottesville. Her response to Cohn’s concerns was to say, “My dad’s not a racist; he didn’t mean any of it. That’s not what he said.”

Considering the president’s utter lack of concern over the international white nationalist movement that has inspired a number of horrific mass killings, including the shocking massacre last week in New Zealand, it’s pretty clear that Ivanka either doesn’t know her father or just doesn’t care. Either way, any sense that she’s “the empathetic one” can be put to rest.

As for Jared, he’s been given the portfolio for world peace. He seems to believe that he is preternaturally capable despite never having done much of anything aside from running a vanity newspaper and nearly running his family’s real estate empire into the ground. Much like his father-in-law, he does appear to be willing to go to any length to wriggle out of a jam. Being at the right hand of the president of the United States has offered him plenty of opportunities.

Even while serving in the White House, Kushner had no compunction about meeting with Chinese bankers and representatives for the sovereign wealth fund of Qatar to secure a loan for a white elephant building that was about to bankrupt his family business. The book describes former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson telling Kushner that his advice to the president to endorse Saudi Arabia’s aggressive diplomatic and strategic campaign against Qatar, an important American ally, “had endangered the US.” There is no evidence that Kushner cared. He got his loan.

It’s hardly surprising that every U.S. intelligence agency strongly urged that Kushner not be given a security clearance. According to the book, Tillerson had heard “chatter” between Kushner and his buddy, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, belittling Tillerson. Whatever Jared has been up to, the intelligence community probably knows about it. None of that mattered. The president overruled his intelligence chiefs and gave both Jared and Ivanka the top security clearances they shouldn’t have.

What comes through most clearly in the book is that these people do not understand the way the law or national security work. From barging into confidential meetings with attorneys to using their own email addresses — after pillorying Hillary Clinton for doing the same thing — to treating anyone and everyone with total disdain and disrespect, they wander through the White House at will, wrecking centuries of protocol and wreaking chaos, serving themselves above all. They’re not actually helping the president do the right thing, not that they would know how to. They don’t know what the right thing is. Neither do they care.

But like Donald Trump, his daughter and son-in-law seem to have a feral survival skill. Nearly everyone with any qualifications has butted heads with the two of them, and even the president apparently tried to figure out a way to get them to quit. But they have hung in there and outlasted virtually everyone else in Trump’s inner orbit.

These two people are recklessly messing with the world as if it’s just another con game, in which they’ll take their profits before moving on to the next chapter of their spoiled, mindless lives. It’s not at all obvious that the mess they are making will be fixable.


Rosenstein’s confidential letter to Senate Republicans offers road map for the remainder of the Mueller probe: report

Raw Story

A letter sent from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to Senate Republicans last June may provide a road map for the remainder of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

ABC News reported that the letter, which had not yet been publicized until Thursday, quotes now-Attorney General Bill Barr, who previously appointed three special counsels when he was attorney general under President George H.W. Bush.

In the letter, Rosenstein argued that the Justice Department cannot and should not include in a special counsel report “disparaging or incriminating information about anybody who has not been charged with a crime.”

“Punishing wrongdoers through judicial proceedings is only one part of the Department’s mission,” the deputy AG wrote. “We also have a duty to prevent the disclosure of information that would unfairly tarnish people who are not charged with crimes.”

“In fact, disclosing uncharged allegations against American citizens without a law-enforcement need is considered to be a violation of a prosecutor’s trust,” Rosenstein added.

Sources close to the Mueller investigation told ABC that they believe no more indictments will come down from the special counsel’s office before his investigation is over.


Trump’s own economists now agree: The GOP tax cuts are a failure

Igor Derysh, Salon
22 Mar 2019 at 22:43 ET     

President Trump’s hand-picked Federal Reserve chairman and White House economic advisers admitted this week that the Republican tax cuts are failing to deliver the economic growth the president promised.

Trump repeatedly claimed that the Republicans’ $1.5 trillion tax cut primarily aimed at corporations and the rich would pay for itself with annual economic growth above 3 percent. Trump went as far as to claiming the cuts might lead to a GDP growth of 6 percent.

Trump’s White House Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) released an analysis in 2017 showing that slashing corporate taxes by 15 percent would lead to GDP growth of 3 to 5 percent.

On Tuesday, the CEA released a revised report showing that the economic gains will fall far short of their initial forecast.

According to the CEA, growth is projected to slow to 2.5 percent by 2022 and then decline to 2 percent by 2026. Even that estimate is rosy, according to most economists, the Washington Post reports, who expect projected growth to fall to 2 percent well before 2026.

The CEA numbers are more optimistic than those of independent economists because the White House must assume that all of Trump’s policy proposals will be implemented, the New York Times reports, including his improbable call to make individual tax cuts permanent, an infrastructure package Trump has stopped mentioning, and a rollback of regulations that states themselves would have to implement, which is not under the control of the federal government.

The CEA estimate predicts a strong 3.2 percent growth in 2019, but that number was contradicted by Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell on Wednesday.

Powell said in a news conference that GDP growth is slower than expected and the Fed now projects 2.1 percent growth in 2019, well below the White House estimate, and just 1.9 percent growth in 2020.

Powell said that consumer spending and business investment “suggest that growth is slowing somewhat more than expected.” As a result, the Fed is not expected to raise interest rates at all this year over concerns about the slowed growth.

Kevin Hassett, Trump’s top economic adviser, told the Post that the analysis was wrong because the administration was able to achieve 3.1 percent growth over the last year.

“Everyone said we wouldn’t get 3.1 percent,” Hassett said. “We’re relying on the same analysis because nothing has come up which suggests to us it’s not going to happen.”

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