Jack Delano Diner along U.S. Highway No. 1 near Berwyn, Maryland 1940
Sad sad day. Time to pray.
• WikiLeaks Says Assange to Be Expelled Within ‘Hours to Days’ (TeleSur)
Julian Assange will be expelled from the Ecuadorean embassy in London, England within “hours to days,” high-ranking Ecuadorean state officials told WikiLeaks. Acording to reports, an agreement between the United Kingdom and the South American nation has been reached regarding Assange’s imminent arrest. The Ina Papers offshore scandal will be used as a pretext, WikiLeaks says.Earlier this week, Ecuadorean President Lenin Moreno argued that WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, has “repeatedly violated” the terms of his asylum in the embassy and that he will “make a decision in the short term.”
Ecuador’s head of state, interviewed by the local Radio Broadcasters’ Association, said Assange does not have the right to “hack private accounts or phones” and cannot intervene in the politics of other countries, especially those that have friendly relations with Ecuador. The Wikileaks founder accepted political asylum in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden to face allegations of sex crimes, which have been dropped. However, in the last two years, ever since Moreno took office, a new set of draconian measures have reduced his fundamental rights, in regards to freedom of speech, visits and movement inside the diplomatic mission.
Assange, who was granted Ecuadoran citizenship in December 2017, legally cannot be extradited as Article 25 of Ecuador’s 2008 constitution forbids extradition of nationals. Yet he has denounced attempts, influenced by U.S. pressure, to strip him of this right. A United Nations Special Rapporteur on Privacy is due to visit Assange on Wednesday to investigate Ecuador’s spying on the activist. Ecuador filed a complaint with the rapporteur Monday denouncing WikiLeaks and others for reporting on the INA Papers offshore scandal engulfing its president.
Just because the losers are sore, he has to defend himself?
• Barr Defends His Summary Of Mueller Report, And The Delay (AP)
Attorney General William Barr on Thursday defended his handling of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on the Russia investigation, saying the confidential document contains sensitive grand jury material that prevented it from being immediately released to the public. The statement came as Barr confronts concerns that his four-page letter summarizing Mueller’s conclusions unduly sanitized the full report in President Donald Trump’s favor, including on the key question of whether the president obstructed justice. House Democrats on Wednesday approved subpoenas for Mueller’s entire report and any exhibits and other underlying evidence that the Justice Department might withhold.
The disparity in length between Barr’s letter and Mueller’s full report, which totals nearly 400 pages, raises the likelihood of additional significant information that was put forward by the special counsel’s office but not immediately shared by the attorney general. In Thursday’s statement, Barr defended the decision to release a brief summary letter two days after receiving the report on March 22. He has previously said he did not believe it would be in the public’s interest to release the full document in piecemeal or gradual fashion, and that he did not intend for his letter summarizing Mueller’s “principal conclusions” to be an “exhaustive recounting” of the special counsel’s investigation.
Barr is now expected to release the entire report, with redactions, by mid-April. “Given the extraordinary public interest in the matter, the Attorney General decided to release the report’s bottom-line findings and his conclusions immediately — without attempting to summarize the report — with the understanding that the report itself would be released after the redaction process,” the Justice Department statement said. The statement also said that every page of Mueller’s report was marked that it may contain grand jury material “and therefore could not immediately be released.”
Boeing wants you to believe it’s about software. The media helps. “It’s just a little coding error, and we’re real sorry for it, but we’ll fix it in no time.” It’s a narrative, carefully constructed.
• Boeing Admits ANOTHER Glitch In 737 MAX Software (RT)
After a report on the fatal crash of Ethiopian Airlines blamed a 737 MAX software error, Boeing reportedly revealed a second glitch. The “relatively minor” but still critical problem will delay 737s returning to service. In a report on last month’s crash that killed all 157 on board of the ill-fated airliner, Ethiopia blamed Boeing’s MCAS software that caused the jet to nosedive. On Thursday, Boeing confirmed to the Washington Post that it had found another software problem. The problem affects flaps and other flight stabilization hardware, according to two unnamed Federal Aviation Administration officials cited by the Post. The FAA has classified it as critical to flight safety and ordered a fix.
It will take weeks for the problem to be patched, meaning that the 737 Max fleet will remain grounded for the foreseeable future. Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 plunged into a field shortly after takeoff in early March. Indonesian Lion Air Flight 610 nosedived into the sea last October, killing all 189 passengers and crew. Investigators noted “clear similarities” between both accidents. On Thursday, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg offered condolences for “lives lost” and said the company was “relentlessly focused on safety to ensure tragedies like this never happen again.” The Ethiopian government report said the crew of Flight 302 “had performed all the procedures, repeatedly, provided by [Boeing], but was not able to control the aircraft.”
“.. the EU was also failing to stop its own illegal subsidies for Europe’s Airbus..”
• WTO Rules Against US And Boeing In Mammoth Trade Row With EU (DW)
US aerospace giant Boeing has received unfair tax breaks in the US state of Washington, an appellate panel in the WTO ruled on Thursday. The tax break of some $100 million annually harmed the sales of Boeing’s European rival Airbus, according to the WTO officials. The decision, which is not subject to appeal, opens the way for the EU to claim billions in damages. The damages are estimated based on the negative impact of the subsidies and not the subsidy itself. EU trade officials described the ruling as a “final victory” in the 15-year-long dispute. “The Appellate Body has now settled this case definitively, confirming our view the US has continued to subsidise Boeing despite WTO rulings to the contrary,” European Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said in a statement.
However, a 2018 ruling by the WTO already found that the EU was also failing to stop its own illegal subsidies for Europe’s Airbus. Washington has since claimed an unspecified amount in damages and a WTO mediator is still examining this claim. The EU and the US have traded accusations on illegally subsidizing their respective aircraft manufacturers since 2004. The alleged subsidies vary from tax breaks and government research and development funding, to state issued loans, as both sides seek to give their companies a leg up in the global rivalry. In 2011, the WTO found that Boeing received $5.3 billion in illegal subsidies between 1989 and 2006. The verdict was confirmed in 2012. In late 2016, the WTO found some US subsidies have continued despite the global body declaring them illegal, and the Thursday verdict confirmed this decision.
A China housing slump. Now that’s dangerous.
• Rising Risk Of US And China Housing Slump Causing Recession – IMF (G.)
A growing number of homes in the US and China are teetering on the brink of a price slump that would drag their economies into a recession, the International Monetary Fund has warned. Using the latest evidence from global housing markets, the Washington-based organisation said there was a clear increase in the risk of a housing price collapse in both countries after years of ultra-low interest rates and loose lending by financial institutions. Ahead of its annual meeting next week, the IMF’s research showed a strong connection between falling house prices and declines in activity across the economy between 1990 and 2017, illustrating the power of housing markets to trigger wider slumps in GDP growth.
It follows similar concerns from US economists that the global recovery has been running out of steam since 2008 and slowdowns in the US and Chinese economies are likely to undermine worldwide growth. Recent falls in housing activity and relatively high long-term borrowing rates have also been seen as signals of a recession, possibly as soon as next year, in the US. Blackrock, the world’s largest fund manager, told investors that traders were becoming increasingly worried about the potential for a recession in the US. Christine Lagarde, head of the IMF, said this week that rising trade tensions, concerns about Brexit and tougher financial conditions as central banks raised interest rates had “increasingly unsettled” the global economy over recent months.
• Theresa May To Make Written Brexit Offer To Jeremy Corbyn (G.)
Theresa May is expected to write to Jeremy Corbyn to set out the government’s offer on Brexit, with negotiations due to resume in Downing Street on Friday. With just five days to go before the prime minister must travel to Brussels to request a further Brexit delay from EU leaders, little progress appears to have been made on finding a compromise deal both Labour and the Conservatives can back. But after the government delegation reported back to May on Thursday, officials began drafting a letter setting out a way forward. One government source suggested that, in accordance with Labour’s demands, it would include the proposal that a confirmatory referendum on any Brexit deal be offered to MPs as an option in any vote next week.
After Thursday’s discussions in Downing Street, Corbyn sent a note to Labour MPs, saying: “Agenda items were customs arrangements, single market alignment including rights and protections, agencies and programmes, internal security, legal underpinning to any agreements and confirmatory vote.” Technical talks lasted four and a half hours, but both sides emerged cautious about how much progress had been made. [..] A deal including a customs union would be explosive in the Conservative party as the majority of Tory MPs oppose such a move. Hardline Eurosceptic MPs are still furious, with many plotting moves against the prime minister, despite there being no formal Conservative party mechanism to move a motion of no confidence in her until December.
They’re going to be in the European elections.
• EU’s Donald Tusk ‘Suggests Flexible Brexit Delay’ (BBC)
European Council President Donald Tusk is proposing to offer the UK a 12-month “flexible” extension to its Brexit date, according to a senior EU source. His plan would allow the UK to leave sooner if Parliament ratifies a deal, but it would need to be agreed by EU leaders at a summit next week. The UK’s Conservatives and Labour Party are set to continue Brexit talks later. Attorney General Geoffrey Cox has told the BBC that if they fail, the delay is “likely to be a long one”. The UK is due to leave the EU on 12 April and, as yet, no withdrawal deal has been approved by MPs. Downing Street said “technical” talks between Labour and the Conservatives on Thursday had been “productive” and would continue on Friday.
Prime Minister Theresa May has said a further postponement to the Brexit date is needed if the UK is to avoid leaving the EU without a deal, a scenario both EU leaders and many British MPs believe would create problems for businesses and cause difficulties at ports. However, the PM wants to keep any delay as short as possible. To do that, she and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn would need to agree a proposal for MPs to vote on before 10 April, when EU leaders are expected to consider any extension request at an emergency summit. If they cannot, Mrs May has said a number of options would be put to MPs “to determine which course to pursue”.
The de facto European president hasn’t said much for a long time.
• Angela Merkel Promises To Back Ireland In Avoiding Hard Border (G.)
Angela Merkel has pledged the European Union’s support for averting a hard border on the island of Ireland despite concern this could undermine the single market in the event of a no-deal Brexit. The German chancellor expressed solidarity with the Irish government in a visit to Dublin on Thursday and urged the UK to present a viable plan to avert crashing out of the EU next week. Asked if averting a border was compatible with protecting the single market, Merkel told a press conference: “Where there’s a will, there’s a way … we simply have to do this, we simply have to be successful.” The chancellor was speaking after meeting the Irish taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, and a group of people from Northern Ireland and the border area who told of lives and livelihoods lost during the Troubles.
Merkel said the stories moved her. “I lived behind the Iron Curtain, so I know only too well what it means once borders vanish … what I have heard here will encourage me to explore ways and means to continue the peaceful co-existence.” Speaking at a joint press conference with Varadkar, the chancellor said Germany and the EU would consider an extension request to help the UK avoid a no-deal departure. “We need to be patient and understanding of the predicament that they are in. But of course, any further extension must require and must have a credible and realistic way forward.” She said she hoped Theresa May would be able to table a proposal by next Wednesday at a special European Council meeting. “We want to stand together as 27. Until the very last hour – I can say this from the German side – we will do everything in order to prevent a no-deal Brexit.”
Brexit: Just like Waiting for Godot, but still faster than robots.
• Currency-Trading Algos “Flummoxed” by Rapid-Fire Brexit Headlines (WS)
The drama of Brexit with all its arcane details of UK parliamentary procedures and rarely noted characters that suddenly appear prominently on the global stage and utter market-moving words has turned into a complicated mess that is generating too many rapid-fire headlines per day, often in a whiplash manner, and news-reading currency-trading algos haven’t been programmed for this and are overwhelmed. Bloomberg has published more than 1,000 Brexit headlines a day “on some days,” and Reuters “up to 400” Brexit headlines a day, according to a Reuters report. Other news outlets and wire services together also publish hundreds of headlines a day.
News-reading FX algos are programmed to react to all that instantly, but they don’t know what the next 10 Brexit stories over the next few moments are going to be, and that might put the trade on the wrong side of the next headline. Artificial Intelligence isn’t quite ready yet to sort all this out. Reuters describes it this way: As a divided government battles a divided parliament over a way forward, the chorus of characters who can now influence events has grown, flummoxing news-reading algorithms, or ‘algos’, which are designed to parse phrases from recognized speakers before executing a trade. “The model signals are more quantitative driven and rely on historical data feeds,” said Neil Jones, head of hedge fund currency sales at Mizuho in London. “Brexit headlines have thrown a spanner in their works for the sheer number of characters moving the currency on a daily basis.”
Sounds like a nonsense number to me. Try a hundred times that for starters.
• Marine Plastic Pollution Costs The World Up To $2.5 Billion A Year (G.)
Plastic pollution in the world’s oceans costs society billions of dollars every year in damaged and lost resources, research has found. Fisheries, aquaculture, recreational activities and global wellbeing are all negatively affected by plastic pollution, with an estimated 1-5% decline in the benefit humans derive from oceans. The resulting cost in such benefits, known as marine ecosystem value, is up to $2.5bn a year, according to a study published this week in Marine Pollution Bulletin. Plastic waste is also believed to cost up to $33,000 per ton in reduced environmental value, the study found. An estimated 8m tons of plastic pollution enter the world’s oceans every year.
Dr Nicola Beaumont, an environmental economist at Plymouth Marine Laboratory, who led the study, said the investigation was the first of its kind to explore the social and economic impact of plastics in the sea. “Our calculations are a first stab at ‘putting a price on plastic’. We know we have to do more research to refine, but we are convinced that already they are an underestimate of the real costs to global human society,” said Beaumont. The estimates do not take into account the direct and indirect impacts on the tourism, transport and fisheries industries, or on human health, the authors warned.
Plastic waste can be found all over the world – from the most populated coastlines to the most remote – and its impact on zooplankton, invertebrates, fish, turtles, birds and mammals is all negative, the study found. But authors discovered that plastics – which can remain buoyant for decades or longer, travelling distances of more than 3,000km from origin – create new habitats for bacteria and algae. These “colonies” increase the biogeographical range of bacteria and algae, thereby risking the spread of invasive species and disease, the research found.
A crab stuck in plastic in Verde Island Passage, Batangas City, Philippines. Photograph: Noel Guevara/Greenpeace/EPA
No coral babies. Komodo island was closed to tourists, do the same for the Great Barrier.
• Great Barrier Reef Suffers 89% Collapse In New Coral (G.)
The number of new corals on the Great Barrier Reef crashed by 89% after the climate change-induced mass bleaching of 2016 and 2017. Scientists have measured how many adult corals survived along the length of the world’s largest reef system and how many new corals they produced in 2018 in the aftermath of severe heat stress and coral mortality.The results, published in Nature, show not only a dramatic reduction in new coral recruitment compared with historic levels, but also a change in the types of coral species produced.
The paper’s lead author, coral scientist Terry Hughes from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University, said the results paint an uncertain picture for the reef in years to come if further bleaching events occur before corals have time to sufficiently recover – which typically takes a decade. “We’ve told the story of coral dying, we’ve told the story of some being winners and losers. Now we’ve got the next phase where species have a chance to recover,” Hughes said. “But what we’re seeing is that it’s happening a lot slower because we only have 10% of the babies.”
Germans like their nature.
• Bavaria To Pass ‘Save The Bees’ Petition Into Law In Landmark Move (G.)
Bavaria has announced that it will pass into law a popular “save the bees” petition that promises drastic changes in farming practices – without putting it to a referendum first. The landmark move comes amid increasingly alarming warnings from scientists that nearly half of all insect species are in rapid decline – a third of the crucial pollinators threatened with extinction. The petition launched in February to seek better protection of plant and animal species had become the most successful in the southern German region’s history, garnering 1.75m signatures. The proposal set a target for 20% of agricultural land to meet organic farming standards by 2025, before reaching 30% by 2030. 10% of green spaces in Bavaria would have to be turned into flowering meadows, and rivers and streams better protected from pesticides and fertilisers.
Rather than putting the petition to a referendum, Bavaria’s state premier, Markus Söder, announced it would simply be written into law, passing through parliament. “We are taking the text of the referendum word for word,” said Söder, leader of the conservative CSU party which governs the state in a coalition majority. The farming industry, which had sometimes felt marginalised in the environmental debate, would have to be given support to carry out the transformation, he added. Scientists in Germany and worldwide have sounded the alarm about massive insect losses in terms of species diversity and total biomass, with dire consequences for the animals that feed on them and for plants that require them for pollination.
“..the herd we are watching is 70% smaller than it was 20 years ago.”
• Attenborough’s First Act As An Eco-Warrior (G.)
It looks as spectacular as you would expect. Vast aerial sweeps across the Peruvian coast as millions of cormorants and boobies gather to feast on anchovies and breed, or across frozen tundra to watch herds of wildebeest head for the shelter of the forest in temperatures 40 degrees below freezing take your breath away. Then it catches in your throat, as you watch an orchid bee, in search of perfume to attract a mate, fall into a flower’s buckety petal and squeeze out of a tiny tunnel that deposits two sacks of pollen on its back; just as God, or a million years of evolutionary adjustments, intended. On every scale, it is amazing. You can only boggle at the endless precision of the natural world, and of the people who devote themselves to capturing its wonders.
This is Netflix’s first foray into nature programming – Our Planet, an eight-part, multimillion-dollar series, filmed by more than 600 crew members over four years in 50 countries and narrated by our very own David Attenborough. Produced largely by the team behind the BBC’s Planet Earth and Blue Planet, it looks very much like what they might have done next for Auntie if the Natural History Unit had given them their druthers (and Netflix’s budget). As with Planet Earth, it takes a different landscape every episode and fills the screen with incredible scenes. Lesser flamingos building mud mounds for their eggs and hatching thousands of chicks in unison. Eagles in combat in the air. Three of the 60 species of manakin birds doing their mating dances, each more jaw-droppingly complex than the last.
Just as God, or a million years of evolutionary adjustments, intended … an orchid bee. Photograph: Warwick Sloss/Silverback/Netflix
The routine from the blue manakin – which involves four birds who practise beforehand, with a juvenile male standing in for the prospective lady – will have you revising your own sexual decision-making. You’ll not be charmed by a pint and a compliment again, I assure you. Where it differs from BBC shows is in no longer ignoring or minimising the threats facing all the environments and animals on display. Hamstrung by the idea that any mention of eco-problems would make audiences switch off, and the broadcasters’ preferred strategy of hoping that sharing incredible sights around the world would inspire people to save them, nature programming has been taken to task for avoiding the issue, and not using their power to raise awareness of the dangers facing us all. Contextless stories don’t inspire us to change, after all; they just allow us to continue in our comfortable, fatal state of denial.
[..] Netflix has stolen their thunder by procuring his first outing as an in-yer-face eco-warrior. Our Planet places clearer emphasis on the fragility and interconnectedness of all the species and eco-systems on display, and on the huge impact humanity has had on them in so short a time. “In one human lifetime,” says Attenborough in the opening minutes, “wildlife populations have fallen by an average of 60%. The stability of nature can no longer be taken for granted.” Towards the end of the wildebeest scenes, he cuts the ground from under us by noting that the herd we are watching is 70% smaller than it was 20 years ago.
TV that may leave you jackknifing in pain … the wildebeest migration in Tanzania. Photograph: Sophie Lanfear/Silverback/Netflix
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