NPC National Service Co. front, 1610 14th Street N.W., Washington DC 1920
Best line in a while: “..I am normally introduced as someone who has predicted five of the last two crises.”
• The New Nothingness (Steen Jakobsen)
“The era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays, is coming to its close. In its place we are entering a period of consequences.” – Churchill
I have noticed a very troubling trend recently – everywhere I go, I’m the optimist. This concerns me and should concern you as well as I am normally introduced as someone who has predicted five of the last two crises. I write this on the Copenhagen-bound plane that brings me back from a visit to Slovenia and Croatia, where everyone has given up on the future. I found the same on a recent trip to Hong Kong and Australia, and on another occasion in Turkey before that. We have zero growth, zero inflation and zero hope. That combination has left the countries of this circumstance in total apathy as zero rates are being interpreted as meaning that no reforms are needed. No inflation means no new margins as well as no new wage bargaining, and zero hope means politics and elections may change the affiliation of countries’ leaders, but not their politics and certainly not their vision for the future.
This is one of the unintended consequences of zero-bound economies and policies. This apathy has, however, reached a zenith-point that needs to be addressed. Media and policymakers continue to talk about what we can’t do, leaving no room for talk of we can do and characterising dreams as mere fantasies, things best left to children. This new nothingness is creating a youth, a political system and an economic outlook which is based more in peoples’ heads and minds than it is in reality. Every country I visit has terrible macro policies, and features a political class who are mainly interested in maintaining the status quo (as well as a dynamic micro economy). There are always business people and students who are willing to do more and better – to go higher, longer and further – but they are drowned in this “nothingness reality”.
“These politicians also disregard the harm US foreign policy inflicts on Americans.”
• The Real War On The Middle Class (Ron Paul)
One of the great ironies of American politics is that most politicians who talk about helping the middle class support policies that, by expanding the welfare-warfare state, are harmful to middle-class Americans. Eliminating the welfare-warfare state would benefit middle-class Americans by freeing them from exorbitant federal taxes, including the Federal Reserve’s inflation tax. Politicians serious about helping middle-class Americans should allow individuals to opt out of Social Security and Medicare by not having to pay payroll taxes if they agree to never accept federal retirement or health care benefits. Individuals are quite capable of meeting their own unique retirement and health care needs if the government stops forcing them into one-size-fits-all plans.
Middle-class families with college-age children would benefit if government got out of the student loan business. Government involvement in higher education is the main reason tuition is skyrocketing and so many Americans are graduating with huge student loan debts. College graduates entering the job market would certainly benefit if Congress stopped imposing destructive regulations and taxes on the economy. Politicians who support an interventionist foreign policy are obviously not concerned with the harm inflicted on the middle-class populations of countries targeted for regime change. These politicians also disregard the harm US foreign policy inflicts on Americans. Middle- and working-class Americans, and their families, who join the military certainly suffer when they are maimed or killed fighting in unjust and unconstitutional wars.
Our interventionist foreign policy also contributes to the high tax burden imposed on middle-class Americans. Middle-class Americans also suffer from intrusions on their liberty and privacy, such as not being able to board an airplane unless they submit to invasive and humiliating searches. Even children and the physically disabled are not safe from the Transposition Security Administration. These assaults are justified by the threat of terrorism, a direct result of our interventionist foreign policy that fosters hatred and resentment of Americans.
So are their killers.
• Over Half Of Americans Killed By Police Each Year Are Mentally Ill (Economist)
To the sound of electric guitars, heavily armed police officers fire assault rifles, drive squad cars fast and pull their guns on fleeing crooks. “Are you qualified to join the thin blue line?” asks a narrator, in the sort of breathless voice you might expect in a trailer for “Fast & Furious 7”. The advert’s aim is not to sell movie tickets, however, but to recruit police officers in Gainesville, a city of 127,000 in Florida. Would-be cops who take this video seriously are likely to be disappointed. The reality of the job, as one officer from a large west-coast agency explains, is far less glamorous. “The public want us to come up and deal with a neighbour who is mowing their lawn at 3am. They want us to deal with their disruptive child. They want us to deal with the crazy person who is walking down the street shouting.”
As crime has fallen across America since the 1990s, policing has shifted more towards social work than the drama seen on TV. Police culture, however, has not caught up. The gap may help to explain why American police are so embattled. The latest controversy is the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old man from Baltimore who died on April 19th after being arrested (six officers have since been suspended). That followed the killing on April 4th in South Carolina of a 50-year-old man, Walter Scott, who was shot in the back by a police officer after running away from his car (the officer was charged with murder after a video of the killing emerged). In another case in Tulsa on April 2nd, a 73-year-old reserve police officer killed a man when he accidentally fired his gun instead of his taser. All three victims were black.
No one knows how many people die in contact with America’s roughly 18,000 law-enforcement agencies. The FBI publishes reports, but police forces are not required to submit data. The incomplete FBI figures show that at least 461 people died in “justifiable homicides” in 2013, an increase of 33% since 2005. Other sources suggest the true number could be as high as twice that. In Britain, by contrast, police shot and killed precisely no one in 2013. American police resort to violence more partly because they meet it more. “We’ve never had a population who are so well-armed,” points out Ron Teachman, the chief of police in South Bend, Indiana. Twenty-six police officers were killed with guns in the line of duty in 2013, far more than in any other rich country.
“When you go to a police academy, the first thing they say to you is that it’s dangerous and you could get killed out there,” says Jim Bueermann, a retired police chief and the head of the Police Foundation, a think-tank. Yet fewer police officers are killed now than in the past, and the number who are shot is less than the number who die in traffic accidents. Over time, suggests Mr Bueermann, a justified alertness to danger may have warped into a belief that the swift use of force is the only thing keeping cops safe. At its worst, this manifests itself in a fiercely defensive culture. For example, in Seattle last year more than 100 cops sued the Department of Justice to protest against a revised use-of-force policy, arguing that it would cripple morale and endanger cops (the case, which was not supported by the city’s police union, was thrown out).
The amounts are stunning. Democracy?
• Who Is Really Choosing America’s Next President? (ProPublica)
Super PACS that get nearly all of their money from one donor quadrupled their share of overall fund-raising in 2014. The wealthiest Americans can fly on their own jets, live in gated compounds and watch movies in their own theaters. More of them also are walling off their political contributions from other big and small players. A growing number of political committees known as super PACs have become instruments of single donors, according to a ProPublica analysis of federal records. During the 2014 election cycle, $113 million – 16% of money raised by all super PACs – went to committees dominated by one donor. That was quadruple their 2012 share. The rise of single-donor groups is a new example of how changes in campaign finance law are giving outsized influence to a handful of funders.
The trend may continue into 2016. Last week, National Review reported that Texas Senator Ted Cruz’s bid for the Republican presidential nomination would be boosted not by one anointed super PAC but four, each controlled by a single donor or donor family. The Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling helped usher in the era of super PACs. Unlike traditional political action committees, the independent groups can accept donations of any dollar size as long as they don’t coordinate with the campaign of any candidate. Previously, much of the focus in big-money fundraising was on “bundlers” – volunteers who tap friends and associates for maximum individual contributions of $5,400 to a candidate, then deliver big lump sums directly to the campaigns. Former president George W. Bush awarded his most prolific bundlers special titles such as “Ranger” and “Pioneer.”
While bundling intensified the impact of wealthy donors on campaigns, the dollar limits and the need to join with others diluted the influence of any one person. With a super PAC, a donor can single-handedly push a narrower agenda. Last year, National Journal profiled one such donor – a California vineyard owner who helped start the trend by launching his own super PAC and becoming a power player in a Senate race across the country. Beyond the single-donor groups, big donations are dominant across all kinds of super PACs, according to the analysis. Six-figure contributions from individuals or organizations accounted for almost 50% of all super PAC money raised during the last two cycles. “We are anointing an aristocracy that’s getting a stronger and stronger grip on democracy,” said Miles Rapoport, president of Common Cause, an advocacy group that seeks to reduce the influence of money on politics.
They can’t escape it.
• If Greece Falls, No One Wants Their Prints On The Murder Weapon (Reuters)
While Greece’s leaders insist Europe must heed and respect the democratic will of the Greek people, its creditors reply that they too have democratic mandates from their voters. In Varoufakis’ narrative, euro zone countries did not lend all that money to save Greece in the first place but to protect their own banks, which had imprudently lent Athens billions. Nonsense, say euro zone officials. Those banks took losses in 2012 when Greek debt to private bondholders was restructured. Varoufakis has widened the circle of blame to the ECB, accusing it of «asphyxiating» Greece by starving its banks of liquidity and severely limiting their short-term lending to the government.
That prompted an indignant response from ECB President Mario Draghi, who told the European Parliament the central bank’s support for Greece amounted to some €110 billion, but it was barred by treaty from monetary funding of governments. For weeks Greek officials have been telling their euro zone counterparts they have run out of money, only to find spare cash to make the next debt payment. “They have cried wolf so often that when they are really going bust, no one will believe them,” one EU negotiator said on condition of anonymity. Insiders say the ECB is determined that the central bank will not be the institution that pulls the plug. If it considers support for Greek banks is no longer tenable, it will seek a political decision by European Union governments. “This is not something unelected central bankers should decide,» a source in the Eurosystem of central banks said.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker is eager to hold Tsipras’ hand until the last minute in the hope that he will impose an unpalatable economic reform deal on left-wingers in his Syriza party before it is too late. For Juncker, one of the fathers of Europe’s single currency, the departure of a single member from the 19-nation euro zone would be a grievous blow to the bloc’s global standing and could set a dangerous precedent, encouraging investors to speculate against other member states in future crises. Even if it stayed in the euro zone, a Greek default on other European governments or the ECB would be one of the most acrimonious moments in the history of the EU. Amid mutual recrimination over ruined Greek savers and cheated European taxpayers, some fear demonstrations by Greek pensioners or hospital patients and violence in Athens. If it happens, there will be plenty of blame to go around, but no one to take responsibility.
Lot of goal-seeked mis-reporting on this.
• Greece Shakes Up EU-IMF Talks Team But Keeps Varoufakis (AFP)
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras shook up the team handling crucial talks with its creditors Monday after relations between his embattled finance minister and the EU hit a new low. A government statement said a “political negotiation team” would be formed under junior foreign minister Euclid Tsakalotos, a 55-year-old Dutch-born economics professor, to assist the troubled talks after months of fruitless discussions on Athens’ new loan deal. While some see the move as an attempt to sideline Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, whose negotiating style has infuriated Brussels, the radical left government insisted that it would continue to support the maverick economics professor against “manipulated” media attacks.
A government source claimed that the changes did not affect Varoufakis, who will be in charge of Tsakalotos’ “political team”. “This changes nothing as far as Varoufakis is concerned,” the official told AFP. “He will continue to represent Greece at Eurogroup meetings.” The move on Monday came after a stormy Eurogroup meeting in Riga last week where Varoufakis was reportedly “isolated” by his fellow finance European ministers. He reacted by quoting former American president Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR), who spurred major reforms in the United States after the Great Depression. “FDR, 1936: ‘They are unanimous in their hate for me; and I welcome their hatred,'” Varoufakis tweeted on Sunday.
Analysts saw Greece’s reshuffling of its negotiators, with another co-ordinating team to be formed to support talks with EU-IMF officials in Athens, as a bid to placate its creditors. “To bypass Varoufakis and make clear the seriousness of the situation to the Prime Minister directly following the Riga shouting match between finance ministers, Eurogroup chief Jeroen Dijsselbloem reportedly phoned Tsipras after the meeting,” Christian Schulz, a senior economist at Berenberg said. “Tsipras called German chancellor Merkel on Sunday, with German sources describing the tone of the talk as ‘positive’. However, as long as the institutions and Eurozone finance minister can’t certify that Greece is doing the requested reforms, Greece can’t get fresh money,” he added.
• Greece PM Leaves Referendum Option Open, Rules Out Elections (Reuters)
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Tuesday said he would have to resort to a popular referendum if lenders insist on demands that the government deems unacceptable but was confident of striking a deal to avoid such a scenario. Athens is weeks away from running out of cash, but talks with EU and IMF lenders on more aid have been deadlocked over reform measures including pension cuts and labour market liberalisation that Greece must implement. Speculation has grown that Tsipras could call elections or a referendum to break the impasse. In his first major television interview since being elected in January, Tsipras said he expected a deal with creditors by May 9, three days before a debt payment to the IMF of about €750 million falls due.
He ruled out a default but stressed that the government’s priority was to pay wages and pensions. Pressed on what the government’s options were if no deal was found, Tsipras ruled out snap elections, saying it had only been a few months since the government had been voted in. But he said the government did not have the right to accept demands from lenders that fell outside the limits of its mandate to end austerity cuts and would have to ask Greeks to decide. “If the solution falls outside our mandate, I will not have the right to violate it, so the solution to which we will come to will have to be approved by the Greek people,” Tsipras told Star television in the interview. “But I am certain we will not reach that point. Despite the difficulties, the possibilities to win in the negotiations are large. We should not give in to panic moves. Whoever gets scared in this game loses.” [..]
Some of his sharpest comments were reserved for the previous government and certain unnamed quarters in Europe, which he accused of laying a “trap” for his government when it took power in the hope of tripping it up. “They derive pleasure from the prospect of a failure in the talks,” he said, saying his government took over a “minefield” when it came to power in January. “We received a country that was in a situation of financial asphyxiation.” He also hit out at the ECB, calling its decision to place a cap on Treasury bill purchases by banks – which prevented banks from financing the government – a “politically and ethically unorthodox” decision.
“I’m sure it’ll get worse as the days go by..”
• Grexit, Grimbo, now Grexhaustion, Acropolis Now?
The standoff between Greece and its creditors has spawned another bit of rivalry: the battle among analysts to coin the latest buzzword for the painfully protracted drama. “There’s definitely an element of who can come up with the best word to fit the scenario,” said Chris Weston, chief market strategist at IG. Word play on Greece has been picking up this month. Last week brought the word “Grimbo,” or Greece in limbo, coined by a group of Citigroup economists – led by Chief Economist Willem Buiter. They are the same people responsible for the now widely-used “Grexit” term in February 2012, when the idea Greece might leave the euro zone first became a possibility. On Friday, economists at Bank of America-Merrill Lynch decided they wanted in on the game as well, coining “Grexhaustion.”
“There is always a deadline after the final deadline (contributing to the Grexhaustion),” economists Gilles Moec and Ruben Segura-Cayuela wrote, noting that the continual confrontation between Greece and its creditors has had one major casualty: the country’s economy. “Traders have gotten fairly comfortable with the idea of where Greece is, so there’s a bit of mocking and complacency,” said Weston, who suggested “Gretch” as a potential entrant. “Outside of the pain clearly evident in Greece, the rest of the world is quite happy to coin these great phrases as long as it doesn’t see a pickup in [market] volatility.” The Greece situation remains a Sisyphean mire. Over the weekend, media reports said the country’s colorful finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, faced a tough crowd and numerous snubs at a Latvian meeting with his euro zone counterparts.
The country is running out of cash and it needs a last tranche of bailout aid in order to meet debt repayments and to pay its domestic wages and pension bill this month. On Monday, Greece revamped its negotiating team, taking Varoufakis off the field and tapping Deputy Foreign Minister Euclid Tsakalotos, an economist well liked by officials representing creditors, as coordinator. Fresh entrants to the Greek vocabulary one-upsmanship are likely already lurking in the wings. “I’m sure it’ll get worse as the days go by,” said Richard Jerram, chief economist at Bank of Singapore, noting that the first two letters of the country’s name lend themselves well to word play. “A lot of countries couldn’t really do that,” Jerram noted, although he added that he finds other vocabulary plays more amusing than the ones that involve just “shoving ‘Gr’ in front,” such as “Acropolis Now,” a play on the movie title “Apocalypse Now.”
And next up, we have….
• Greek President Promises Repayment of all Debt (Spiegel)
Time is running out for Greece and its international creditors. If an agreement isn’t found by June, the country will face insolvency. The new Greek president, Prokopis Pavlopoulos, has now told SPIEGEL ONLINE his views on the conflict: He rules out the possibility of a Grexit and promises that all the loans made to Greece will be paid back, but he is also critical of past austerity programs. “Some of the measures imposed on us go beyond EU law,” Pavlopoulos said to SPIEGEL ONLINE at his official residence in Athens. “We want to be equal members of Europe. Among other things, the law professor feels that international lenders’ criticisms of the minimum wage and other labor rights in his country are problematic.
Pavlopoulos pointed out that in Germany, too, there is a minimum standard of living. “We are not asking for anything more than for the Greek people to enjoy what Germany’s Constitutional Court considers as an established social right for the German people,” Pavlopoulos said. He also claimed that parts of the austerity programs “were not at all growth friendly, but rather would lead the Greek economy to a recessionary course.” Pavlopoulos is a member of the conservative Nea Dimokratia party and has been in office since March. Earlier in his career, he served as an advisor to former Prime Minister Konstantinos Karamanlis, who led Greece as it transitioned from a military dictatorship to a European democracy. The comments mark the first time the new president has expressed his views on the euro debt dispute to any German media organization.
“Greece in the late 1970s fought a great battle to join Europe,” the president noted. For him, he said, it was “not conceivable to see Greece outside of Europe.” He also said that he views a Grexit, Greek’s possible exit from the euro zone, as unthinkable. “The thought of Grexit does not even enter my mind,” he said. Although Greece is under tremendous financial stress, with the government now forcing hospitals, universities and public agencies to hand over their savings to the central bank. Pavlopoulos stated that his country would fulfill all of its obligations. “We pay everything we owe to the last euro,” he said. “We need to keep a balanced budget and gradually decrease our debt.” The president also expressed optimism that the dispute over Greece’s debt can still be resolved. Pavlopoulos said negotiations for a new bailout program are “entering the home stretch.”
“..their only option is to try to squelch every voice except their own.”
• The Limits Of Propaganda (Dmitry Orlov)
As Paul Craig Roberts has recently reported, the US government is in the process of launching an all-out war on truth. Those who express views contrary to the party line out of Washington will be labeled a threat. Eventually they may find themselves carted to one of the concentration camps which Halliburton (Dick Cheney’s old company) has constructed for $385 million. But that may take a while. In the meantime, we can expect lots of other, less dramatic developments.
Indeed, some of these are already happening. Here they are, listed in order of severity.
1. Self-censorship. Those who have previously tried to get the truth out no matter out become more reticent and prone to equivocation when reporting on “hot” issues.
2. Topic-avoidance. They start avoiding certain “hot” issues that they feel are most likely to get them into trouble.
3. Response to harassment. A few incidents of mild official harassment cause certain blogs to start watering down their content, or pulling down content in response to harassment.
4. Blacklisting. The officials start censoring content on a case-by-case basis, blocking or shutting down certain internet sites that they consider seditious.
5. Blocking communications. The officials start dealing with the “hard cases” of uncooperative individuals who remain, shutting down their communications by disabling their cell phones, shutting down internet access, and by imposing travel restrictions so that the “hard cases” are forced to remain in places where they can be watched.
6. Detention. Those found to be truly uncooperative, who try to circumvent the restrictions, are rounded up and shipped off to the above-mentioned camps.
This may seem like a dire prognosis, but actually I just want to present a relatively complete list of public measures for your consideration. Yes, there will be a few “hard cases” who will insist on getting right in the face of Washington officialdom in futile hopes of somehow affecting the political process or winning over a few of their compatriots. But at some point such individuals become indistinguishable from people with mental problems. That is because if you live in the US, actually know how the political system there operates, and still think that the US is a democracy, then you DO have a mental problem. You can’t have it both ways: either you buy into the official propaganda, or you don’t.
Also, it bears pointing out that the vast majority of people in the US are quite happy listening to Washington’s propaganda, be it from Fox or NPR, don’t consider it propaganda, and have been conditioned to consider anyone who attempts to tell them the truth to be tin hat-wearing conspiracy theorist nut case. And that means that tin hat-wearing conspiracy theorist nut cases have a role to play. They are important to have, in the same way that a village idiot is important to have, so that children can learn what idiocy looks and sounds like. So, why bother sending them to a concentration camp? And so it seems likely that the village idiots… ahem, truth-tellers will remain free-range for the time being, unless they really lose it and start tilting at windmills. But then that becomes a bona fide mental health issue.
Unless, of course, full-on war hysteria breaks out. In that case, while the external goons are busy pretending to be “not winning, not losing” but somehow “keeping America safe” in yet another wretched part of the world, the internal goons have to be kept busy. Rounding up undesirables would give them something to do. That’s the state of affairs in the United States and its subservient territories: Canada, Europe, Australia and New Zealand and a few others. But Washington’s propaganda isn’t working at all well in the rest of the world, be it Russia or China or Latin America.
In all of these places, Washington’s message control has more or less failed. This is why the people in Washington are in a bit of a panic, and labeling internal dissidents as a “threat” is just them flailing in search of an answer. They can’t stop lying, and they can’t even pretend to rule the world if everyone knows that they are lying, so their only option is to try to squelch every voice except their own. They may succeed at this within the US (some would say they already have) but as far as the rest of the world—good luck!
Aint’ that the truth.
• Leaking CIA Secrets Leads To Severe Punishment, Unless You Are The Boss (RT)
The problem with the lenient treatment of former CIA Director, David Petraeus, isn’t that he was lightly punished for his leaks. It is that other whistleblowers are punished at all. It’s a tale of two CIA employees. The first, Jeffrey Sterling, has just been convicted of leaking information about a bungled agency sortie to James Risen, a reporter. The operation took place almost 20 years ago, around the time everyone was doing the Macarena and Tom Cruise’s first Mission Impossible movie was released. Federal prosecutors are calling for a 24-year prison sentence for Sterling. The second, David Petraeus, has already learned his fate. He received a $100,000 fine and two-years probation. The six-figure sum may seem like a lot to you, but it’s less than the former 4-star general earns for a single speech.
Petraeus was the boss, Sterling an underling. However, Sterling’s so-called misdemeanor pales into insignificance when compared to Petraeus’ actions. The latter handed his lover, Paula Broadwell, information on the identities of covert officers, diplomatic discussions, war strategy and even private chats with the current US President, Barack Obama. This is about as top-level as it gets. Petraeus’ apologists emphasize that the difference between the two cases is that the public never learned the information that Broadwell was given. They use this to justify the leniency shown to the almost four-decade military veteran. Nevertheless, the case of John Kiriakou rather knocks this defense on the head. In 2007, Kiriakou admitted that the CIA had a secret torture program.
The following year, authorities issued criminal charges against him for slipping a journalist the name of a covert agent. As in Petraeus’ case, this name wasn’t published. Regardless, in 2012 Kiriakou was handed a 30-month federal prison sentence. He was partially released in February. Kiriakou freely admitted to his mistakes and those of the CIA. It’s pretty certain that his honesty was his downfall. On the contrary, Petraeus initially lied to FBI officials when they quizzed him about his, probably inadvertent, whistleblowing activities. Lying to federal agents is a felony that carries a sentence of up to five years in prison. For reasons unknown, the former CIA Director wasn’t charged with lying.
Long time coming.
• Maryland Governor Declares State of Emergency, Activates National Guard (CBS)
Governor Larry Hogan has declared a state of emergency and activated the National Guard to address the growing violence and unrest in Baltimore City. “I have not made this decision lightly. The National Guard represents a last resort in order to restore order,” Hogan said during a news conference Monday night. “People have the right to protest and express their frustration, but Baltimore City families deserve peace and safety in their communities and these acts of violence and destruction of property cannot and will not be tolerated.” Hogan said he executed the request 30 seconds after it was made by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. “When the mayor called me, which quite frankly we were glad that she finally did, we signed the executive order,” he said.
“It’s obviously very disappointing to us as Marylanders and people who love the city of Baltimore. What started out as a peaceful protest … I would say 95% of the people involved were conducting themselves in a very peaceful manner, it was well under control. We had a lot of outside agitators come in from around the country, and we had some rogue gangs and young people that were just out looking to cause problems.” Major General Linda Singh, the adjutant general of the Maryland Army National Guard, said during the news conference that the guard would be out in activation beginning Monday night. Up to 5,000 troops were available to patrol the streets and protect property. Hogan said he spoke to President Obama at length about the violence.
Curious phenomenon. You’d need to check disease rates, though.
• The Hidden Lives Of Chernobyl’s Wildlife (BBC)
Automatic cameras in the Ukrainian side of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone have provided an insight into the previously unseen secret lives of wildlife that have made the contaminated landscape their home Throughout 2015, the cameras will be positioned at 84 locations, allowing a team of scientists to record the type of animals passing through the area and where they make their home. In the first four months since the cameras were deployed, the team has “trapped” more than 10,000 images of animals, suggesting the 30km zone, established shortly after the April 1986 disaster when a nuclear reactor exploded, ejecting radioactive material across the surrounding terrain and high into the atmosphere, is now home to a rich diversity of wildlife.
The network of cameras is gathering data that will help scientists choose the most appropriate species to fit with collars that will then record the level of radioactive exposure the animal receives as it travels across the zone. “We want an animal that moves over areas of different contamination – that’s the key thing we need,” explained project leader Mike Wood from the University of Salford, UK. “So we would consider some of the larger animals, such as wolves, because they would be ideal because the way the animal moves through the areas actually affects its contamination levels.” Commenting on the herds of Przewalski’s horses, Dr Wood observed: “They seem to have adapted quite well to life within the zone. “From the images from our cameras, they are clearly moving around in quite large groups,” he told BBC News.
“This is hardly a good starting point for a major transition.”
• Norway’s Shift From Oil Starts With Two Left Feet (Bloomberg)
Norway’s prime minister is fond of saying the nation is facing a “new normal” as a decade-long boom in its petroleum industry starts to fade. Erna Solberg has given little explanation of what that means, except to say that “knowledge is the next oil” and “fish will be Norway’s Ikea,” ideas she echoed in a speech on Friday at her party’s annual convention in Oslo. It’s no wonder then that economists are scratching their heads as to what will fill the gap in the economy once oil takes up less space. The biggest element crippling the oil and non-oil industry is the exorbitant price of labor. Average hourly wage costs in Norway were 47% higher than those in the European Union last year, according to government statistics.
“And that’s after taking into account the considerable weakening of the krone through 2013 and 2014,” said Kari Due-Andresen, chief economist at Svenska Handelsbanken. “This is hardly a good starting point for a major transition.” Rising oil and gas prices over the last 15 years kept Norway afloat, even during the financial crisis when the rest of the world was suffering. As western Europe’s biggest crude producer, the country relies on oil and gas for more than one-fifth of its gross domestic product. With oil investments set to drop and Brent crude stuck around $65 per barrel, politicians, economists and the central banker agree the nation’s economy needs some remodeling. So if the oil economy is slowing, what’s Norway left with?
There’ll be many.
• BP Oil Hunt Off Australia Coast Causes Fear of Another Deepwater Horizon (BBG)
Five years after the Gulf of Mexico oil spill poured millions of barrels of crude into the sea, BP Plc is being challenged over its hunt for oil in the pristine waters off southern Australia. Just over a year before the U.K.-based company has said it expects to start drilling, environmentalists say the company hasn’t yet disclosed its full emergency-response plans for a potential spill in the Great Australian Bight, home to about 18 threatened species from whales to turtles. BP’s initial models show a less than 10% chance that a worst-case incident would lead to oil threatening areas where whales are likely to feed. It’s clear the project will face significant scrutiny before drilling begins.
“The Gulf of Mexico scenario was an absolute disaster, but the stakes are much higher out here,” said Peter Owen, the Wilderness Society’s South Australia director. “This is an undeveloped, non-industrialized part of the world, and the risks are high. It’s very deep, very rough and very remote.” BP said that it has “the technological capability and expertise to safely explore the Great Australian Bight,” according to an e-mailed statement. The company had initially planned to begin drilling in early 2016 and pushed that out because of potential delays with the rig.
More than 85% of species in the Bight aren’t found anywhere else, according to Australia’s national science agency, the Commonwealth Scientific & Industrial Research Organization. Species in the Bight include the southern right, sperm and blue whales as well as sea lions and sharks. BP estimated last year it would spend more than A$1 billion ($785 million) to drill 400 kilometers (250 miles) west of Port Lincoln, in a region it describes as “pretty much the last big unexplored basin in the whole world.” About 250 kilometers to the north, endangered southern right whales gather to give birth, drawing visitors to cliff-top lookouts on the nearby coast.
Let’s get to number 1!
• East Australia 1 Of 11 Areas Good For 80% Of World Forest Loss (Guardian)
Eastern Australia is one of the world’s 11 deforestation hotspots that together will account for 80% of global forest loss by 2030, a new report has warned. Between 3m hectares and 6m hectares of rainforest and temperate forest, mainly stretching across New South Wales and Queensland, could be lost between 2010 and 2030 on current trends, according to the World Wildlife Fund’s Living Forests report. This deforestation is part of a wider loss that could reach 170m hectares of forest worldwide by 2030 in 11 key areas, including the Amazon, Borneo, Sumatra, the Congo Basin and East Africa. Ten of the 11 areas are found in the tropics and contain some of the greatest biodiversity in the world, including animals such as tigers, orangutans and gorillas, as well as Indigenous communities.
About 70% of the eastern forests of Australia have already been cleared or disturbed, with just 18% of the area under any sort of protection, the WWF report states. Australia’s forestry loss has primarily been caused by land clearing for livestock, with unsustainable logging and mining also blamed for tree felling. WWF said the watering down of environmental protections by the previous LNP government in Queensland led to a sharp rise in land clearing, with 275,000ha torn down in the past financial year – a tripling of vegetation loss rates since 2010.
While the new Labor state government has promised to reverse this loss, the New South Wales government is set to amend land-clearing protections, despite pledging $100m to protect the state’s threatened plants and animals. “We are deeply concerned about NSW,” said Dermot O’Gorman, chief executive of WWF Australia. “These are laws that have been shown to have been effective in saving hundreds of thousands of animals, so it’s important that biodiversity continues to be protected. “Maintaining forest protections is vital at state level. We’ve lost the large majority of the eastern Australian forest, which means the remaining forests are even more important to maintain. “If business as usual continues, we will see more Australian species disappear, as well as the continuing decline of our water, topsoil and local and regional climate.”
“Our universe, in contrast, is quite flat – and on astronomic distances, it has positive curvature..”
• Is The Universe Really A 2-D Hologram? (Science Daily)
At first glance, there is not the slightest doubt: to us, the universe looks three dimensional. But one of the most fruitful theories of theoretical physics in the last two decades is challenging this assumption. The “holographic principle” asserts that a mathematical description of the universe actually requires one fewer dimension than it seems. What we perceive as three dimensional may just be the image of two dimensional processes on a huge cosmic horizon. Up until now, this principle has only been studied in exotic spaces with negative curvature. This is interesting from a theoretical point of view, but such spaces are quite different from the space in our own universe. Results obtained by scientists at TU Wien (Vienna) now suggest that the holographic principle even holds in a flat spacetime.
Everybody knows holograms from credit cards or banknotes. They are two dimensional, but to us they appear three dimensional. Our universe could behave quite similarly: “In 1997, the physicist Juan Maldacena proposed the idea that there is a correspondence between gravitational theories in curved anti-de-sitter spaces on the one hand and quantum field theories in spaces with one fewer dimension on the other,” says Daniel Grumiller (TU Wien). Gravitational phenomena are described in a theory with three spatial dimensions, the behaviour of quantum particles is calculated in a theory with just two spatial dimensions – and the results of both calculations can be mapped onto each other.
Such a correspondence is quite surprising. It is like finding out that equations from an astronomy textbook can also be used to repair a CD-player. But this method has proven to be very successful. More than ten thousand scientific papers about Maldacena’s “AdS-CFT-correspondence” have been published to date. For theoretical physics, this is extremely important, but it does not seem to have much to do with our own universe. Apparently, we do not live in such an anti-de-sitter-space. These spaces have quite peculiar properties. They are negatively curved, any object thrown away on a straight line will eventually return. “Our universe, in contrast, is quite flat – and on astronomic distances, it has positive curvature,” says Daniel Grumiller.
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