Thursday, April 25, 2019

Statute requires IRS to furnish Congressional committe with Trump's tax returns

Doug Sword
April 23, 2019


Neal’s authority to seek the president’s tax returns stems from Section 6103 of the tax code, which states that upon “written request” from the chairman of either of the two tax-writing committees “the Secretary shall furnish such committee with any return or return information specified” in the request.

“The statute is very clear and seems like very strong support for what Mr. Neal is trying to do,” said Yin, who said he’d advise Mnuchin to proceed cautiously. “I think he obviously needs to think very seriously about that; now he might not care if he gets fired, but I think he would care if he gets sent to jail.”

The best route, to McDaniel’s thinking, is for the House to find Mnuchin in contempt of Congress.

The House “could then apply to a court to enforce that contempt order, by requiring him to turn it over or suffer some coercive penalty,” McDaniel said. “They fine somebody, or put them in jail until they comply.”

Issuing a subpoena for the returns, McDaniel said, would be a waste of time, since the statute clearly states Mnuchin “shall furnish” any tax return requested by the Ways and Means chairman. “This statute is good and it’s better than a subpoena,” said McDaniel, who said he’d advise Neal to pursue a standalone court case if the contempt of Congress route isn’t taken.


Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Microsoft workers decry grueling '996' working standard at Chinese tech firms

Kari Paul
Mon 22 Apr 2019 21.54 EDT

Microsoft employees have published a letter on the software development platform Github in solidarity with tech workers in China.

Workers at tech companies in the country have used the Microsoft-owned platform to complain about grueling working conditions and the “996” standard in the industry, a philosophy endorsed by the tech billionaire Jack Ma. The name is based on the idea of working from 9am to 9pm, six days a week.

Microsoft workers called on Chinese tech companies to comply with local labor laws, which limit their workers to 40 hours a week, with a maximum of 36 hours per month of overtime.

“These same issues permeate across full time and contingent jobs at Microsoft and the industry as a whole,” the workers said.


In November 2018, Google employees walked off the job over reports that a former executive who had been ousted for sexual harassment had received a $90m severance package. Workers involved in organizing that protest have reported internal backlash and demotions for their actions.

Sri Lanka

My heart goes out to the people of Sri Lanka

Friday, April 19, 2019

link to Mueller report

links to

Which links to

which contains both volumes 1 and 2

50-year low in jobless claims but not just from few layoffs

By CHRISTOPHER RUGABER | Associated Press |
Apr 15, 2019

The fewest people in nearly 50 years sought unemployment benefits last week, a sign of a strong job market and an unusually low level of layoffs.

Yet the decline in applications for jobless aid isn't due solely to a tight employment picture. Many states have imposed stricter rules on their unemployment insurance programs — from making it harder to qualify to reducing the duration of benefits to cutting payouts.

The combined effect has been to reduce the number of unemployed people who apply for and receive aid, economists say. Nationwide, just 30% of people out of work now receive unemployment insurance, down from about 40% before the Great Recession.


Another reason for the decline is that long-term unemployment remains much higher than in previous periods when the unemployment rate fell as low as last month's figure of 3.8%. People who have been out of work for 27 weeks or more aren't eligible for unemployment insurance.

In March, 21% of the unemployed were out of work for 27 weeks or more. The last time the unemployment rate fell below 4%, in 2000, the proportion was about half that. And in 1969, less than 5% of those out of work were long-term unemployed.


Thursday, April 18, 2019

Female space pioneer and member of the Mercury 13, Jerrie Cobb has died at 88 years old

Alex Stuckey April 18, 2019

Geraldyn "Jerrie" Cobb, the first woman to pass NASA's astronaut training, has died. She was 88.

Cobb, a pioneering female pilot, was a member of the Mercury 13, a group of women who were able to complete in the early 1960s the same, physically demanding astronaut training as male candidates.

NASA squashed the program before any of these women could fly in space, but Cobb remained a steadfast advocate for women pilots throughout her lifetime — even taking on revered Mercury 7 astronaut John Glenn in Congress to fight for a woman's right to be an astronaut.

When that didn't work, she changed course, spending much of her life as a missionary pilot in the Amazon jungle, delivering medicine, food and clothing to extremely isolated regions. This work earned her a Nobel Peace Prize nomination in 1981.


She died on March 18 in Florida, according to a statement from her family. The Associated Press reported that she died after a brief illness.


News of her death comes just one day after NASA announced Wednesday that astronaut Christina Koch will make the longest female spaceflight in history, at 328 days.


But Glenn stood in their way, telling Congress that "the fact that women are not in this field is a fact of our social order."

Russian cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova rocketed into space the following year. It would be another two decades before American women finally got their chance, when Sally Ride strapped into the Space Shuttle Challenger in June 1983. Ride died in 2012.


Facebook Says Instagram Password Breach Larger Than Initially Thought

By Denise Petski
April 18, 2019 1:52pm

Facebook now says millions of Instagram users’ passwords were accidentally stored in a readable format on its servers, not tens of thousands as it initially thought.

Facebook revealed the new information in an updated blog post Thursday morning.

“Since this post was published, we discovered additional logs of Instagram passwords being stored in a readable format,” Facebook said in its post. “We now estimate that this issue impacted millions of Instagram users. We will be notifying these users as we did the others. Our investigation has determined that these stored passwords were not internally abused or improperly accessed.”

In its March 21 blog post, Facebook said it found the user password issue as part of a routine security review in January, but stressed that the passwords were never visible to anyone outside of Facebook and that they had found no evidence that anyone internally abused or improperly accessed the passwords. “We have fixed these issues and as a precaution we will be notifying everyone whose passwords we have found were stored in this way,” Facebook said.


Alaska had April weather in March

University of Alaska Fairbanks
Sue Mitchell
April 2, 2019

In March, most of Alaska had weather normally expected in April.

“March was too warm,” said Martin Stuefer, Alaska’s state climatologist. “It was as if we didn’t have March this year. We had April instead.”

Stuefer is an associate research professor with the Alaska Climate Research Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute.


New monthly high temperature records were set in 10 of the selected 19 stations, especially in the Interior and in western and northern Alaska. Kotzebue’s average monthly temperature was 21.9 degrees Fahrenheit above normal. Utqiaġvik’s mean monthly temperature was 5.9, which is 5.5 degrees warmer than the previous record March, recorded in 1904. Other sites that recorded record high monthly temperatures were Bethel, Nome, Delta Junction, Bettles, Fairbanks, Homer, McGrath and Talkeetna.

Ten stations around the state departed from the monthly averages by double digits. Many daily temperature records were broken as well.

Fairbanks saw consecutive days with low temperatures above freezing during the last week of March, the first time this has ever been recorded in March.

The Bering Sea set a new record for lowest March sea ice extent, as did the Chukchi Sea. Sea ice in the Arctic Ocean was the seventh lowest since satellite records have been kept.


2018's Hemispheric Heat Wave Wasn't Possible Without Climate Change, Scientists Say

By Bob Berwyn, InsideClimate News
Apr 12, 2019


A study presented this week at a scientific conference in Vienna now shows that last summer's extreme heat was an "unprecedented" hemispheric event that would not have happened without heat-trapping greenhouse gas pollution, the researchers said, and that it lasted longer and was more widespread across the Northern Hemisphere than previously realized.

All summers will be like last year if the world warms 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, said the study's lead author Martha Vogel, an extreme-temperature researcher with ETH Zürich Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science. Even with 1.5 degrees Celsius warming, 25 percent of the Northern Hemisphere will experience a summer as hot as the summer of 2018 two out of every three years, she said.


From May to July, the heat waves affected 22 percent of the agricultural land and populated areas in the mid-latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere, from Canada and the United States to Russia, Japan and South Korea, killing hundreds of people, devastating crops and curtailing power production. On an average day during those heat waves, 5.2 million square kilometers (about 2 million square miles) were affected by extreme heat, Vogel said. At its peak extent in July, the affected area was twice as big.


The growing likelihood of widespread heat waves raises concerns about food security, as well as human health, and the impacts can ripple well beyond the affected countries, said co-author Sonia Seneviratne, a climate researcher with ETH Zürich.

The 2018 heat wave caused total losses of some crops in Germany and Austria, and spurred large-scale outbreaks of tree-killing bugs.

In the Scandinavian Arctic, temperatures soared to above 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit) for the first time on record, leading to unusual fires in the boreal forests of Sweden. Across Europe, river flows reached record lows in late summer and autumn, hampering commercial shipping and power generators that rely on rivers for cooling.


Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Glaciers are melting faster

Glaciers in the Americas Are Melting Faster

By Chelsea Harvey, E&E News on January 18, 2019


Glaciers in the snowy mountains of western Canada are melting faster than they were a decade ago, according to scientists.

New research suggests that ice loss in the southern Coast Mountains of British Columbia is happening at nearly five times the rate it was in the early 2000s.

Overall, glaciers in western North America—not including Alaska—have lost about 117 billion tons of ice since 2000; they are currently losing about 12 billion tons a year.


The vast ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica get the most global attention when it comes to melting glaciers, largely because of their immense potential to contribute to sea-level rise. Greenland is currently the biggest loser, pouring nearly 300 billion tons of ice into the ocean each year, by recent estimates. But Antarctica is a rising concern—research published this week finds that the Antarctic ice sheet is losing about 250 billion tons of ice annually, and the melt rate seems to be accelerating (Climatewire, Jan. 15).

Still, Greenland and Antarctica aren’t the only important frozen places on Earth. Glaciers exist in many regions, from the Americas to the Swiss Alps to the Himalayas. Scientists are finding that many of these glaciers are also melting and retreating, likely in response to rising temperatures.

And while most of them aren’t likely to make much of a dent in global sea-level rise—in part because many mountain glaciers don’t empty into the oceans—these losses are still important. Many are a critical source of fresh water, helping to feed the streams and rivers that wildlife and human communities depend on.

As the glaciers shrink, experts worry that these water supplies could begin to dry up. So keeping close tabs on melt rates, and the factors that influence them, can help communities plan for the future.


Greenland’s ice is melting four times faster than thought—what it means

By Stephen Leahy
PUBLISHED January 21, 2019


Greenland, the world’s biggest island, appears to have hit a tipping point around 2002-2003 when the ice loss rapidly accelerated, said lead author Michael Bevis, a geoscientist at Ohio State University. By 2012 the annual ice loss was “unprecedented” at nearly four times the rate in 2003, Bevis said in an interview.


By Chris Ciaccia | Fox News
Jan. 15, 2019

An alarming new study shows that ice in Antarctica is melting more than six times faster than it did in the 1980s, including areas that were thought to be relatively stable and resistant to change.

The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows that Antarctic ice melting between 1979 to 2017 raised global sea levels more than 1.4 centimeters and the ice loss is accelerating dramatically — a key indicator of human-caused climate change.


Pfizer CEO gets 61% pay raise—to $27.9 million—as drug prices continue to climb

Beth Mole - 3/16/2018, 11:45 AM

As drug giant Pfizer Inc. hiked the price of dozens of drugs in 2017, it also jacked up the compensation of CEO Ian Read by 61 percent, putting his total compensation at $27.9 million, according to financial filings reported by Bloomberg.


The 61 percent raise comes after a string of separate reports noting drug price increases by Pfizer. In January, FiercePharma reported an analysis finding that Pfizer implemented 116 price hikes just between this past December 15 and January 3 of this year. The list price increases ranged from 3 percent to 9.46 percent. The analysts noted that Pfizer increased the price of 20 drugs by 9.44 percent. Those included Viagra, Pristiq, Lipitor, and Zoloft, which are available as generics, as well as Chantix.

Additionally, Pfizer had increased the prices of 91 drugs by an average of 20 percent in just the first half of 2017, according to data first reported by Financial Times. That included two waves of price hikes, one in January and the other on June 1.

That echoes the pattern seen in 2016, 2015, and 2014, according to a report by STAT. In June of 2016, Pfizer raised the list prices of its medicines by an average of 8.8 percent. That followed an average 10.4 percent raise in list prices in January of that year.


The 61 percent raise comes after a string of separate reports noting drug price increases by Pfizer. In January, FiercePharma reported an analysis finding that Pfizer implemented 116 price hikes just between this past December 15 and January 3 of this year. The list price increases ranged from 3 percent to 9.46 percent. The analysts noted that Pfizer increased the price of 20 drugs by 9.44 percent. Those included Viagra, Pristiq, Lipitor, and Zoloft, which are available as generics, as well as Chantix.

Additionally, Pfizer had increased the prices of 91 drugs by an average of 20 percent in just the first half of 2017, according to data first reported by Financial Times. That included two waves of price hikes, one in January and the other on June 1.

That echoes the pattern seen in 2016, 2015, and 2014, according to a report by STAT. In June of 2016, Pfizer raised the list prices of its medicines by an average of 8.8 percent. That followed an average 10.4 percent raise in list prices in January of that year.

Cyclone Idai's death toll over 1,000, hundreds of thousands displaced

I have read of donations pouring in to repair Notre Dame. I hope those donating are also donating to organizations that help humans and other living things.

April 16, 2019

Hundreds of thousands of people are still in need of aid after Cyclone Idai battered Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi in March.

More than 1,000 people have been reported killed by the storm, the flooding it caused and heavy rains before it hit. The World Bank estimates the affected countries will need over $2 billion to recover.


Climate change to blame for Hurricane Maria's extreme rainfall

by American Geophysical Union
April 16, 2019

Hurricane Maria dropped more rain on Puerto Rico than any storm to hit the island since 1956, a feat due mostly to the effects of human-caused climate warming, new research finds.

A new study analyzing Puerto Rico's hurricane history finds 2017's Maria had the highest average rainfall of the 129 storms to have struck the island in the past 60 years. A storm of Maria's magnitude is nearly five times more likely to form now than during the 1950s, an increase due largely to the effects of human-induced warming, according to the study's authors.


Previous studies have attributed Hurricane Harvey's record rainfall to climate change


"Some things that are changing over the long-term are associated with climate change—like the atmosphere getting warmer, sea surface temperatures increasing, and more moisture being available in the atmosphere—together they make something like Maria more likely in terms of its magnitude of precipitation," Keellings said.


They found an extreme event like Maria was 4.85 times more likely to happen in the climate of 2017 than in 1956, and that change in probability can't be explained by natural climate cycles.



I feel some sadness about the damage to the Notre Dame by a fire. But Notre Dame is only important because humans value it for its beauty and history. We are currently choosing to destabilize the environment, which is already devastating nature, including humans, and will continue to get worse. That is what makes me extremely sad.

Pioneering golden eagle found poisoned in Yellowstone

Christine Peterson in Newcastle, Wyoming
Tue 16 Apr 2019 06.00 EDT

The pioneering golden eagle took to the skies above Yellowstone national park in the fall and flew north, to areas where humans were hunting game. A few months later it returned to the park and was found on the ground, dead.

Scientists performing a necropsy on the creature, the first to be tagged with a radio transmitter in the park, made an unhappy discovery: it had been poisoned by lead. They are now raising concerns over whether US national parks are as safe for wildlife as they seem.

“This bird had a substantial amount of lead put into its system in a very quick way,” said Todd Katzner, a research wildlife biologist with the US Geological Survey. “You don’t get that from breathing lead. It ingested something.”

The bird probably ingested lead ammunition fragments from big game carcasses. Lead bullets have been a source of controversy in the US hunting community for years. Conservationists argue for the use of alternatives such as copper bullets. Shooting sports advocates say non-lead ammunition is costly and that lead has been used for hundreds of years.

The topic has also become a flash point in national politics. In early 2017, the day before former president Barack Obama left office, his administration signed an order phasing out the use of lead ammunition and fishing tackle on most federal lands managed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The ban was overturned less than two months later by the former interior secretary Ryan Zinke.

It is the third time an eagle trapped for research in the northern Yellowstone region has died of lead poisoning in the last eight years.


Monday, April 15, 2019

Climate Change, the Growing Season, and America’s Allergies

March 27, 2019

Nearly 20 million Americans suffer from pollen allergies. Analysis of local temperature data by Climate Central and recent scientific research show that climate change is prolonging their season of suffering.

Global warming is extending the freeze-free season, giving plants more time to grow, flower, and produce pollen. And as atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) levels rise, laboratory experiments suggest, some plants that produce allergenic pollen produce even more of it.

These trends will worsen as humanity dumps more carbon into the atmosphere. Like global warming’s effects on heat waves and vector-borne diseases, climate change’s consequences for pollen allergies reveal how greenhouse gas emissions are already damaging Americans’ health.

Over the past few decades, the prevalence of allergies among Americans has skyrocketed. In 1970, about one in ten Americans suffered from hay fever, which is caused by airborne allergens, such as pollen and mold spores; by 2000, three in ten did.

Asthma—which often occurs alongside pollen allergies—has become more common, too. The proportion of Americans who suffer from asthma rose from 3.1 percent to 8.4 percent of the population between 1980 and 2010. Rates are even higher among African-Americans, low-income households, and children. Today, some 6.2 million Americans under the age of 18 suffer from the chronic disease.

These are expensive, dangerous problems. Overall, allergies cost the United States more than $18 billion per year. Asthma brought people to U.S. emergency rooms 1.7 million times in 2015; the next year, it killed about 3,500 Americans. And even the more manageable effects of pollen allergies remain inconvenient and uncomfortable.


To understand how the growing season has changed across the United States, Climate Central assessed temperature data for 201 cities. Of those cities, 83% saw their freeze-free seasons lengthen since 1970. In the average city, the amount of time between the last and first freeze of the year grew by just over two weeks.


If warming emissions continue to climb unchecked, by the end of the century, the growing season will lengthen by at least an additional month in most of the United States, relative to late-twentieth century averages. And as the climate warms, plants can move into new areas, exposing people to allergenic pollen that they previously did not encounter.


By trapping more heat in the atmosphere, humanity’s carbon emissions have made the growing season longer. But carbon emissions also directly spur pollen production in some allergenic plants, independent of changes in temperature.

Take ragweeds, which are the third-most common allergen in the United States. Roughly one in four Americans are sensitive to their pollen.

Scientists have conducted laboratory experiments to determine how ragweed responds to various concentrations of CO2. One study showed that, as CO2 concentrations rise from 280 to 370 parts per million—which is what actually occurred in the global atmosphere between about 1900 and 2000—ragweed pollen production more than doubles. Under a CO2 concentration of 600 parts per million, ragweed pollen production doubles again. Today, atmospheric CO2 stands around 410 parts per million; if emissions grow unchecked, we could reach 600 parts per million in about 40 years. Similar patterns hold for timothy grass pollen, another common allergenic plant that sends out pollen early in the summer.

And that’s not all. In 2005, a group of researchers led by Lewis Ziska of the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that higher CO2 levels also increased the potency of ragweed pollen for allergic people. If CO2 concentrations reach 600 parts per million, ragweed pollen could become not just more common, but also about 1.7 times more allergenic than it was in 2000.

US disaster aid won't cover lost crops in Midwest floods, farmers out millions of dollars

By Chaffin Mitchell,
April 11, 2019

Record flooding that has overwhelmed the midwestern United States this spring has taken a significant toll on farmers, and the U.S. disaster aid isn't covering crops lost by the floods.

The federal policy states that the grain damaged from flooded river water has to be destroyed, and according to Reuters there’s nothing the U.S. government can do about the millions of damaged crops under current laws or disaster-aid programs.

Reuters reports this is a problem the USDA has never seen on this scale before because U.S. farmers have never stored so much of their harvests.

Midwestern farmers have been storing their corn and soybeans in unprecedented amounts due to the U.S. and China trade war, according to the BBC.


“Flood-damaged grain is adulterated grain because of the potential for many contaminants to enter through the water. This grain should be destroyed, never blended. Contact local Department of Natural Resources officials for the best disposal process in your area. The recent Food Safety Modernization Act has increased public awareness of food and feed related hazards,” the ISU grain experts stated in the report.

On top of losing millions in crops, farmers are facing pricey facility damage. According to ISU experts, grains swell when wet, so bin damage is likely. Wood structures will be hard hit and may retain mold and contaminants.


Sunday, April 14, 2019

Does Empathy Have A Dark Side?

April 12, 201911:43 AM ET
Jonathan Lambert

Empathy seems like a good quality in human beings. Pure and simple.

It allows us to consider the perspective of others — to put ourselves in their shoes and imagine their experiences. From that empathetic vantage point, only good things can come, right?

Not necessarily, according to author Fritz Breithaupt. "Sometimes we commit atrocities not out of a failure of empathy but rather as a direct consequence of successful, even overly successful, empathy," he writes in his forthcoming book The Dark Sides of Empathy.


For a while neuroscientists thought there was an empathy center in the brain, some little spot somewhere. They thought we could understand this spot and then understand empathy.

But then they came to a much larger realization: Empathy is not in one place in our brains; it's everywhere. Imaging studies showed that we use every part of the brain both for our own actions, our own feelings, but also for the observation of other people. So basically the whole brain does empathy.

That changes a lot of things. It shows us that empathy affects all our thinking. It's with us every moment.

I think that means that empathy is so important to us that it's something we can't neglect. Yes, we're biologically primed for it, but we also have to cultivate it, and cultivation is something that can [be a] lifelong learning task. It never ends.


For a while neuroscientists thought there was an empathy center in the brain, some little spot somewhere. They thought we could understand this spot and then understand empathy.

But then they came to a much larger realization: Empathy is not in one place in our brains; it's everywhere. Imaging studies showed that we use every part of the brain both for our own actions, our own feelings, but also for the observation of other people. So basically the whole brain does empathy.

That changes a lot of things. It shows us that empathy affects all our thinking. It's with us every moment.

I think that means that empathy is so important to us that it's something we can't neglect. Yes, we're biologically primed for it, but we also have to cultivate it, and cultivation is something that can [be a] lifelong learning task. It never ends.


Beings without empathy live in their own world. They can't really understand that other beings are out there with minds of their own. But beings with empathy understand that there are all these different minds around [that] have different experiences and different feelings. They can participate in them. Someone with empathy lives more than one life. Of course, sometimes that means that you have to carry the suffering of others, but in many cases their joy becomes your joy. So it's a richer, much more complex life. And in that sense, of course empathy is wonderful for you.

But there's a flip side too, right? In your book you talk about something you call "vampiristic empathy." What do you mean by that?

Vampiristic empathy is a form of empathy where people want to manipulate the people they empathize with so that they can, through them, experience the world in such a way that they really enjoy it.

An extreme case of this is helicopter parenting. Helicopter parents are constantly trying to steer their kids in the directions they think are the right directions. Of course they want the best for their children. Very understandable; I have kids and I want what's best for them too.

But I think there's something else seeping in. There's this sort of living along with the kids, imagining how it must be like to have a life that's marked by successes, where obstacles disappear and life can be enjoyed. But that also means that the parents are co-experiencing that life, so they start taking over ... they basically want to use the child almost as a pawn.

In a sense, extreme helicopter parents are robbing their kids of a selfhood so that they can basically project their own self into these kids.

You write that empathy can actually make us more polarized instead of bringing us together. How can that happen?

People imagine that empathy can help resolve tensions in cases of conflict, but very often empathy is exactly that thing that leads to the extremes, that polarizes people even more.

It can happen this way, be it a family feud or something that escalates to a civil war. Humans are very quick to take sides. And when you take one side, you take the perspective of that side. You can see the painful parts of that perspective and empathize with them, and that empathy can fuel seeing the other side as darker and darker or more dubious.


The other case is that of terrorists. I think a lot of terrorists may not lack empathy. Rather, they see some plight of a group they identify with — they see them suffering and see it as something horrible, and that becomes more extreme and activates them to become active terrorists.

Are there other downsides to empathy?

[Empathizers] may overextend themselves. If you are a medical doctor who sees a lot of suffering and pain every day, it can very quickly become too much. Something like a third of medical doctors suffer from "empathy burnout" that is so severe that it affects their functioning as doctors and their personal life. They become the victim of feeling empathy.


My core argument here is that in many cases of altruistic help or humanitarian aid, people actually don't really empathize as much with the person in need. They identify more with the helper, the hero, the person who intervenes even if it's an imaginary helper.


I think we can learn to use empathy in a somewhat controlled way. We can learn when to block it, when to not allow empathy to be manipulated and when to fully turn it on.

Yes, we are born with empathy, but it needs constant practice [to know] when to use it and when not to use it. So the dark sides are so important to know because they teach us that in some cases you shouldn't empathize.

But when it's good, we should embrace empathy, because it can lead to such richer, fuller lives.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Duty to country

If there was reason to suspect that members of Trump's campaign were working with the Russians, it was their patriotic duty to investigate. Why do republicans think that they shouldn't have done their duty?

Monday, April 08, 2019

Wall Street loves socialism for bankers – but not for ordinary people

I suggest reading the whole article.

Robert Reich
April 8, 2019

In his annual letter to shareholders, distributed last week, JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon took aim at socialism, warning it would be “a disaster for our country,” because it produces “stagnation, corruption and often worse.”

Dimon should know. He was at the helm when JPMorgan received a $25bn socialist-like bailout in 2008, after it and other Wall Street banks almost tanked because of their reckless loans.

Dimon subsequently agreed to pay the government $13bn to settle charges that the bank overstated the quality of mortgages it was selling to investors in the run-up to the crisis. According to the Justice Department, JPMorgan acknowledged it had regularly and knowingly sold mortgages that should have never been sold. (Presumably this is where the “stagnation, corruption and often worse” comes in.)

The $13bn penalty was chicken feed to the biggest bank on Wall Street, whose profits last year alone amounted to $35bn. Besides, JPMorgan was able to deduct around $11bn of the settlement costs from its taxable income.

To state it another way, Dimon and other Wall Street CEOs helped trigger the 2008 financial crisis when the dangerous and irresponsible loans their banks were peddling – on which they made big money – finally went bust. But instead of letting the market punish the banks (which is what capitalism is supposed to do) the government bailed them out and eventually levied paltry fines which the banks treated as the cost of doing business.

If this isn’t socialism, what is it?

Yet it’s a particular form of socialism. Millions of homeowners who owed more on their homes than the homes became worth didn’t get bailed out. Millions of workers who lost their jobs or their savings, or both, didn’t get bailed out. No major banker went to jail.

Call it socialism for rich bankers.


More than 30 deaths associated with Fisher-Price Rock 'n Play Sleeper

By Heather Grubola
Monday, April 8th, 2019 5:57PM

Consumer Reports says last week's government warning about a popular Fisher-Price baby sleeper doesn't go far enough, saying there have been more deaths than previously reported.

Based on its investigation, Consumer Reports has advised parents to stop using infant inclined sleep products for unsupervised sleep altogether.

A Consumer Reports investigation revealed far more deaths linked to the Fisher-Price Rock 'n


But Fisher-Price has confirmed to Consumer Reports that they are aware of 32 infant fatalities associated with the Rock 'n Play Sleeper since the product was introduced in 2009. And Consumer Reports' review found fatalities involving children younger than three months.

"The danger goes beyond the risk of rollovers, and that's why medical experts explain that products like the Rock 'n Play Sleeper should not be used by any infant for unsupervised sleep. The American Academy of Pediatric's safe sleep guidelines state that babies should not be put to bed at an incline because it can increase the risk of suffocation," said Rachel Rabkin Peachman, Consumer Reports Deputy of Special Projects.


Friday, April 05, 2019

Free Tax Return Preparation for Qualifying Taxpayers

I volunteer with Tax-Aide.

We can file your taxes, but the IRS cannot send out tax refunds until the partial government shutdown is over.

See the following link for information on VITA, TCE, and Tax-Aide sites, and what info you need to bring with you.
Tax-Aide has the fewest restrictions on who can be served by the program.

Toxic air will shorten children's lives by 20 months, study reveals

Fiona Harvey Environment correspondent
Tue 2 Apr 2019 23.01 EDT

The life expectancy of children born today will be shortened by 20 months on average by breathing the toxic air that is widespread across the globe, with the greatest toll in south Asia, according to a major study.

Air pollution contributed to nearly one in every 10 deaths in 2017, making it a bigger killer than malaria and road accidents and comparable to smoking, according to the State of Global Air (SOGA) 2019 study published on Wednesday.

In south Asia, children can expect to have their lives cut short by 30 months, and in sub-Saharan Africa by 24 months, because of a combination of outdoor air pollution caused by traffic and industry, and dirty air indoors, largely from cooking fires. In east Asia, air pollution will shorten children’s lives by an estimated 23 months. However, the life expectancy burden is forecast to be less than five months for children in the developed world.


Evidence continues to mount showing a relationship between exposure to toxic air and low birthweight, reduced lung development and childhood asthma.


Although young children face particular threats, such as stunted lung development that will last throughout their lives, older adults are also at risk: nearly nine in 10 deaths attributable to air pollution were in the over-50s. Ageing populations in many parts of the world are likely to increase the death toll for years to come, said O’Keefe.

Air pollution accounts for 41% of global deaths from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, 20% from type 2 diabetes, 19% from lung cancer, 16% from ischaemic heart disease, and 11% of deaths from stroke, according to the report, described as the most systematic annual study of the health effects of global air pollution.


However, there are signs that actions taken by governments are working, including reducing forms of some particulate pollution in the developed world.

O’Keefe also pointed to China’s levels of air pollution, which have bucked the developing world trend by starting to fall in the last several years. China’s 2013 action plan set air quality targets and measures to reduce the reliance on coal and make industry cleaner, while controlling the number of vehicles in some cities and investing in clean energy.


Last year’s SOGA study found dirty air was nearly ubiquitous among the global population, with more than 90% of people worldwide breathing in dangerous air, the result of industrial expansion, increasing traffic and exposure to indoor pollution from solid-fuel cooking fires.

Air pollution is an increasing concern across the world, with studies linking it to a wide range of effects on health, from dementia to miscarriage, and it has been described as a global emergency.

O’Keefe said measures to take included investing in electric vehicles, and renewable energy. But he warned that investing in some infrastructure, such as coal-fired power, could “lock in” air pollution for years to come.

How Climate Change Is Fuelling the U.S. Border Crisis

By Jonathan Blitzer
April 3, 2019


Pérez, who is thirty-five, is short and lean, with dark, weathered skin and metal caps on his front teeth. He wore a baseball cap mottled in camouflage and emblazoned with the words “Proud Marine Dad.” “It was about six years ago that things started to change,” he said. Climentoro had always been poor. Residents depended on the few crops that could survive at an elevation of more than nine thousand feet, harvesting maize to feed their families and selling potatoes for a small profit. But, Pérez said, the changing climate was wiping out the region’s crops. “In the higher part of town, there have been more frosts than there used to be, and they kill an entire harvest in one fell swoop,” he said. “In the lower part of Climentoro, there’s been much less rain and new sorts of pests.” He added, “Farmers have been abandoning their land.”


Yarsinio Palacios, an expert on forestry in Guatemala, told me. “Maybe a family member is sick. Maybe they are trying to make up for losses from the previous year. But in every situation, it has something to do with climate change.”


In 2014, a group of agronomists and scientists, working on an initiative called Climate, Nature, and Communities of Guatemala, produced a report that cautioned lawmakers about the region’s susceptibility to a new threat. The highlands, they wrote, “was the most vulnerable area in the country to climate change.”

In the years before the report was published, three hurricanes had caused damage that cost more than the previous four decades’ worth of public and private investment in the national economy. Extreme-weather events were just the most obvious climate-related calamities. There were increasingly wide fluctuations in temperature—unexpected surges in heat followed by morning frosts—and unpredictable rainfall. Almost half a year’s worth of precipitation might fall in a single week, which would flood the soil and destroy crops. Grain and vegetable harvests that once produced enough food to feed a family for close to a year now lasted less than five months. “Inattention to these issues,” the report’s authors wrote, can drive “more migration to the United States” and “put at grave risk the already deteriorating viability of the country.”


Typically, maize is planted in April, prior to a period of extended rain; last year, however, both May and June were dry. “No one knows whether to plant their crops or not,” López told me. “When do you do it? If the rains don’t come at a predictable time, how do you know? These crops are for survival. If there aren’t crops, people leave.”

In recent years, U.S. immigration policy in Central America has largely relied on the idea that, in order to control the flow of immigrants heading north, the government should make it as painful as possible to cross the U.S.-Mexico border. “It’s always been about deterrence,” a former official at the Department of Homeland Security told me.


Even approaches that have accounted for the root causes of regional mass migration have underestimated the impact of climate change. The Obama Administration pledged roughly seven hundred and fifty million dollars to the northern triangle of Central America, an aid package known as the Alliance for Prosperity, which aimed to address mounting poverty, political corruption, and cycles of crime and violence. Little of that money dealt with issues of environmental sustainability, however, even though half of the Guatemalan workforce is in the agricultural sector. Sebastian Charchalac, an agronomist and environmental consultant who headed the Climate, Nature, and Communities project in the western highlands until 2017, told me, “It’s like the State Department is looking at the fire, but not the kindling.”


In another hamlet called Agua Alegre, fresh water for cooking and drinking was only available by a small communal tap. Some sixty families lived in the houses nearby, and long lines formed as the women filled plastic jugs to carry away. Five years ago, when local authorities started rationing the supply, residents were told that they could draw water at any time they wanted, but only on certain days of the week during the summer; three years ago, the schedule was limited to specific hours on consecutive days. Now water is only available on Wednesdays and Saturdays, between the hours of three in the afternoon and five in the morning. A middle-aged widow called Doña Gloria told me that she made about fifty trips to the tap on each of the days that water was available. Another resident, Ilda Ramirez, told me, “This isn’t even the worst time of year. The worst months for water are March, April, and May,” which were still weeks away.


In July, 2017, the Trump Administration ended funding for the Climate, Nature, and Communities program that covered the project in Paraje León. Although the President had been explicit in questioning the scientific consensus on climate change, there were no official announcements or press conferences; the funding simply petered out. “The reasoning wasn’t an official thing,” one N.G.O. director, who preferred to remain anonymous, told me. “Those who were associated with the U.S. Embassy had a way of communicating it. It was something that came up informally, that the climate-change work would no longer be a thing.” Advocates began noticing subtle changes in the language adopted by U.S.A.I.D. In grant proposals and project descriptions, “climate change” was replaced with phrases such as “resilience to environmental impacts.”


In most of the western highlands, the question is no longer whether someone will emigrate but when. “Extreme poverty may be the primary reason people leave,” Edwin Castellanos, a climate scientist at the Universidad del Valle, told me. “But climate change is intensifying all the existing factors.” Extended periods of heat and dryness, known as canículas, have increased in four of the last seven years, across the country. Yet even measurements of annual rainfall, which is projected to decline over the next fifty years, obscure the effects of its growing irregularity on agriculture. Farming, Castellanos has said, is “a trial-and-error exercise for the modification of the conditions of sowing and harvesting times in the face of a variable environment.” Climate change is outpacing the ability of growers to adapt. Based on models of shifting weather patterns in the region, Castellanos told me, “what was supposed to be happening fifty years from now is our present reality.”


Climate change: Warning from 'Antarctica's last forests'

I have seen people claim that since the earth has warmed in the past, it somehow means that our actions can't cause the same. This makes the same amount of sense as saying that since in the past, natural forces made the ground wet, it proves that watering the yard can't make it wet.

Greenhouse gases have the same effects whether they are created by nature or by human actions.

By Jonathan Amos BBC Science Correspondent

This plant material isn't much to look at, but scientists say it should serve as a warning to the world about where climate change could take us if carbon emissions go unchecked.

The time period is an epoch geologists call the Pliocene, 2.6-5.3 million years ago.

It was marked by temperatures that were significantly warmer than today, perhaps by 2-3 degrees globally.

These were conditions that permitted plant growth even in the middle of the White Continent.

Higher, too, were sea-levels. It's uncertain by how much, but possibly in the region of 10-20m above the modern ocean surface.

What's really significant, though, is that the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was very similar to what it is today - at around 400 CO2 molecules for every million molecules of air.

Indeed, the Pliocene was the last time in Earth history that the air carried this same concentration of the greenhouse gas.

And it tells you where we're heading if we don't get serious about addressing the climate problem, cautions Prof Martin Siegert from the Grantham Institute at Imperial College London.

Temperatures may currently be lower than in the Pliocene, but that's only because there is a lag in the system, he says.

"If you put your oven on at home and set it to 200C, the temperature doesn't get to that level immediately; it takes a bit of time," he told reporters.

"And it's the same with Earth's climate. If you ratchet up the level of CO2 at 400 parts per million (ppm), it won't suddenly get to an equilibrium overnight. It will take maybe 300 years or something.

"So, the question to us is: what is the equilibrium state; what is Earth's climate going to look like with 400ppm, all things being settled?"


Some in Mueller's team see report as more damaging to Trump than Barr summary

No surprise. What would be surprising would have been if Trump's attorney general had not tried to put the man who appointed him is a good light.

April 3, 2019

Some of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigators have told associates that the findings of their probe are more damaging for President Donald Trump than Attorney General William Barr indicated in his four-page summary, the New York Times reported on Wednesday.

Citing government officials and others familiar with the situation, the Times said some members of Mueller’s team believe Barr should have included more of their material in the summary he released on March 24 of the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign.


Cats know their names

AFP•April 4, 2019

Cats are able to distinguish their own names from other similar-sounding words, even when said by strangers, according to new research released Thursday.

While dogs' ability to respond to verbal commands from humans has been known for centuries, much less is understood about how cats react to spoken cues.

Researchers in Japan decided to test how well cats are able to distinguish the meanings of words that sound similar to each other.

They studied 78 cats from households and a cat cafe and found most were able to recognise their own names from other words that had the same length and stress -- even when an unfamiliar person was speaking.

"Many cat owners know that cats understand their own names," said Atsuko Saito, from Sophia University's Department of Psychology, told AFP.


Tuesday, April 02, 2019

Fueled by climate change, extreme weather disasters hit 62 million people in 2018, U.N. says

Doyle Rice, USA TODAY Published 6:43 a.m. ET March 29, 2019

Extreme weather events, supercharged by climate change, affected some 62 million people around the world in 2018, the United Nations' weather agency said Thursday.

In its yearly "State of the Climate" report, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said the planet's biggest weather woes last year were floods (which swamped some 35 million people), and droughts, which affected another 9 million.

Since 1998, about 4.5 billion around the world have been hurt by extreme weather.

“We have seen a growing amount of disasters because of climate change,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas.

Taalas said that in the past 25 years, climate science has improved dramatically. This has provided solid evidence of accelerating sea level rise, shrinking sea ice, increasingly acidic oceans, glacier retreat, shrinking polar ice, and extreme events such as heat waves.


The report said the Earth is almost 2 degrees (Fahrenheit) warmer than it was in the late 1800s, and that the past four years have been the warmest on record.


Levels of carbon dioxide in the Earth's atmosphere reached record levels in 2018.


The devastation shows no signs of letting up: “Extreme weather has continued in early 2019, most recently with Tropical Cyclone Idai, which caused devastating floods and tragic loss of life in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi," said Taalas. "It may turn out to be one of the deadliest weather-related disasters to hit the Southern Hemisphere.”

At least 750 people were killed in the storm. with millions more in need of urgent help.

tags: extreme weather, severe weather

More than 1 million acres of U.S. cropland ravaged by floods

Global warming is causing an increase in the number and severity of extreme precipitation events.

P.J. Huffstutter, Humeyra Pamuk
Mar. 29, 2019

At least 1 million acres (405,000 hectares) of U.S. farmland were flooded after the “bomb cyclone” storm left wide swaths of nine major grain producing states under water this month, satellite data analyzed by Gro Intelligence for Reuters showed.

Farms from the Dakotas to Missouri and beyond have been under water for a week or more, possibly impeding planting and damaging soil. The floods, which came just weeks before planting season starts in the Midwest, will likely reduce corn, wheat and soy production this year.

“There’s thousands of acres that won’t be able to be planted,” Ryan Sonderup, 36, of Fullerton, Nebraska, who has been farming for 18 years, said in a recent interview.

“If we had straight sunshine now until May and June, maybe it can be done, but I don’t see how that soil gets back with expected rainfall.”

Spring floods could yet impact an even bigger area of cropland. The U.S. government’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has warned of what could be an “unprecedented flood season” as it forecasts heavy spring rains. Rivers may swell further as a deep snow pack in northern growing areas melts.

The bomb cyclone of mid-March was the latest blow to farmers suffering from years of falling income and lower exports because of the U.S.-China trade war.


Gro Intelligence analysts cautioned the satellite imagery did not show the full extent of flooding in Nebraska, where officials declined to provide acreage estimates to Reuters, or in North Dakota. Nebraska’s governor has said the floods caused agricultural damage of $1 billion in his state.

Cloud cover or snow on the ground makes it difficult to identify the flood waters in NASA satellite data, said Sara Menker, chief executive of the agricultural artificial intelligence company.


tabs: extreme weather, severe weather

Scientists rate the world’s biggest peddlers of bull

Of course, these are group averages. I know females who are big liars.

Ian Sample Science editor
Sun 31 Mar 2019 19.01 EDT

The American philosopher Harry G Frankfurt opens his bestselling treatise, On Bullshit, with a heartfelt lament on the sheer quantity around. “There is so much bullshit,” the Princeton scholar wrote in 2005, before conceding that we are all to blame.

In new research, scientists claim to have identified the most common practitioners of the ignoble art. Their study of 40,000 teenagers reveals that boys; those from privileged backgrounds; and North Americans in particular, top the charts as the worst offenders.

The Scots and the Northern Irish are the least likely to indulge, with the English ranking mid-table, according to the study of 15-year-olds from Anglophone regions, including the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Ireland.


“Boys are bigger bullshitters than girls, children from higher socioeconomic backgrounds tend to bullshit more than those from lower ones, and North Americans bullshit the most,” Jerrim said. Those who ranked highest on the scale tended to see themselves as more self-confident, more persevering, and more popular at school, than those further down the scale.


Along the way, academics have devised a Bullshit Receptivity scale, which showed that believers in the supernatural may be more receptive to bullshit, and proposed an “ease of passing bullshit hypothesis”, which posits that people are more likely to commit the offence when they believe they can get away with it.
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“Some may do it more than others, but we all bullshit,” said John Petrocelli, a psychologist at Wake Forest University in North Carolina, who was not involved in the study. “People are social animals and we desire feelings of connection, belonging, and inclusion, so we try to participate when it is critical to build and maintain these relationships,” he said. “Such situations sometimes require us to talk about things we really know nothing about, and what comes out is bullshit.”


Jerrim said a major question is whether, and when, the art is beneficial. “Everyone gets a question in a job interview that they cannot answer. If you’re an effective bullshitter, it might help you get your foot in the door,” he said. “It might also help with academic grant proposals.”

Monday, April 01, 2019

Amazon’s $15 an hour a win? Not so, some veteran workers say

By JOSEPH PISANIOctober 4, 2018

Amazon’s announcement that it would raise its hourly minimum wage to $15 has been seen as a win for workers. But some longtime employees say they are losing out.

Those who already made $15 will get an extra dollar an hour when the change is made next month, but they will also lose two benefits they relied on: monthly bonuses that could top hundreds of dollars and a chance to own Amazon’s sky-rocketing stock, currently worth nearly $2,000 a share.

At least four longtime workers, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity for fear they would be fired, said the $1 an hour raise would not make up for the lost benefits. The employees, all of whom work in different warehouses around the country, said the $15 minimum wage was great for new workers, but the math didn’t work out for those who have worked at Amazon’s warehouses for a few years.


Measles cases hit second-highest level since elimination in 2000

John Bacon, USA TODAY Published 1:04 p.m. ET April 1, 2019 | Updated 3:26 p.m. ET April 1, 2019

Almost 400 cases of the measles have been confirmed in 15 states this year as the disease nears record numbers since being declared eliminated almost two decades ago.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 387 measles cases have been confirmed from Jan. 1 to March 28, an increase of 73 cases last week alone.

The surge has thrown a spotlight on the anti-vaccination movement. Most people who contract measles have not been vaccinated, the CDC said, and measles are extremely contagious.

"If one person has it, up to 90 percent of the people close to that person who are not immune will also become infected," the CDC said.


Almost 400 cases of the measles have been confirmed in 15 states this year as the disease nears record numbers since being declared eliminated almost two decades ago.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 387 measles cases have been confirmed from Jan. 1 to March 28, an increase of 73 cases last week alone.

The surge has thrown a spotlight on the anti-vaccination movement. Most people who contract measles have not been vaccinated, the CDC said, and measles are extremely contagious.

"If one person has it, up to 90 percent of the people close to that person who are not immune will also become infected," the CDC said.


Common measles symptoms include fever, runny nose, cough and a rash that can spread across the entire body. A very small number of those infected can develop pneumonia, swelling of the brain or other serious symptoms. Measles can cause pregnant women to deliver prematurely.


Climate change is already hurting fruit breeders, and consumers could soon feel the pain

By Adrian Higgins
March 28, 2019


Growing fruit trees in Appalachia has always been a high-wire act as peaches, plums, apples and pears race to flower in early spring while dodging a killing frost.

But researchers across the United States say the milder winters of a changing climate are inducing earlier flowering of temperate tree fruits, exposing the blooms and nascent fruit to increasingly erratic frosts, hail and other adverse weather.

The problem is not obvious to consumers, in part because a harvest collapse in one region can be masked by a bumper crop in another. But unless breeders can produce more climate-resilient varieties, fruit-growing regions of the United States will be seriously disrupted by future warming scenarios, scientists say.

Breeders are working to develop new varieties, said Katherine Jarvis-Shean, a University of California plant physiologist and farm adviser. But new trees typically take two decades of methodical breeding to create, exposing existing varieties to the vagaries of shifting winters and springs. “The consumer will begin to know it’s happening in the coming 10 to 20 years,” she said, and got a foretaste five years ago when the sweet cherry crop in California crashed after a winter that was too mild.


Spring blossom freezes in Kearneysville “would happen before, occasionally,” said Demuth, a research technician. “But to have it happen in back-to-back-to-back years, it’s never happened before in the 23 years I’ve been doing this here. To lose four years in a row? Yeah, heartbreaking.”

“There’s no question that the winters have become warmer and the spring weather more erratic,” said Michael Wisniewski, a plant pathologist at the research station, which is part of the Agricultural Research Service. “There’s great concern about the suitability of cultivars and adapting them to climate change.”


The obvious peril is of killing frosts to blossoms that have awaked too soon. Another major concern is fruit and nut trees with high chilling needs will not get enough accumulated cold to thrive after the winter. This is the greater worry in California’s Central Valley, the nation’s principal fruit and nut producing region.

Trees that are insufficiently chilled bloom poorly and sporadically. The fruit quality is compromised, and trees may become so stressed that they die, scientists say. Some long-winter varieties in South Carolina did not leaf out last year after two mild winters. “That was alarming to us and to growers because we hadn’t seen it before,” said Ksenija Gasic, a peach hybridizer at Clemson University.


She said an insufficiently cold winter used to occur every 15 years or so, but California has seen two in the past five winters, Jarvis-Shean said. In 2014 the sweet cherry crop fell by 63 percent as a result.

Some researchers say growers in the Central Valley eventually may have to consider moving farther north or to higher elevations to produce the same crops.

Lack of winter chilling and spring blossom freezes are obvious problems, but climate change is bringing a range of other difficulties for fruit growers. Pests and diseases may spread, warm nighttime temperatures in fall reduce fruit quality, hot days in winter cause sunburn to plant tissue, and extreme weather events such as floods pose other risks.

In the recent low-chill winters in California, male, pollen-bearing pistachio trees bloomed out of sync with the female nut-bearing varieties, reducing the crop, Jarvis-Shean said.


An underlying worry, he said, is that fruit breeding programs will not be able to keep pace with rapid climate change. It can take 15 to 30 years to create a new commercial apple or peach variety from scratch.

In New York, Brown said, the challenge facing breeders is not lack of winter chilling but how to create varieties that can deal with the roller-coaster warming period in the weeks leading up to bloom.