Jan 222020

Jack Delano Repair and overhauling in Chicago & North Western Railroad locomotive shops, Chicago 1942


New Coronavirus Has Unusually High Ability To Bind To A Human Protein (SCMP)
Life After Putin (Dmitry Orlov)
Senate Votes Down Democrats’ Subpoena Proposals (G.)
Adam Schiff Caught ‘Fabricating’ Evidence (US24)
Hillary Clinton Kicks Off ‘Stop Sanders’ Movement. Will Obama Follow? (Y!)
Why Congress Must Keep Investigating Trump After the Impeachment Trial (Pol.)
Ukrainian Prosecutor Biden Pushed To Oust Heavily Investigated Burisma (RT)
Joe Biden’s ‘Conspiracy Theory’ Memo To Media Doesn’t Match The Facts (Solomon)
Brazil Charges Glenn Greenwald With Cybercrimes (ZH)
Boeing Has Officially Stopped Making 737 MAX Airplanes (CNN)
You Won’t Be Flying On A 737 MAX Anytime Soon (CNN)
General Strike Planned On Greek Aegean Islands Today Over Migration (K.)
US Drinking Water Widely Contaminated With ‘Forever Chemicals’ (R.)
People Still Want Plastic Bottles, Says Coca-Cola (BBC)



A pretty good description. of the virus. There are 11 million people living in Wuhan. Officials now suggest no-one should leave or enter the city. Cases in Thailand, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, US.

New Coronavirus Has Unusually High Ability To Bind To A Human Protein (SCMP)

The coronavirus discovered in Wuhan may share the same bat-related ancestor as Sars, according to the latest study by Chinese scientists, which said the strain was weaker than the devastating 2002-03 Sars outbreak but was still “highly infectious”. The new virus shares a common ancestor with severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars), in HKU9-1, a virus found in fruit bats, they found. The connection with wild animals was confirmed on Wednesday by Gao Fu, director general of China’s Centre for Disease Control and Prevention. According to Gao, the coronavirus, which has sickened more than 400 people across the country and led to nine deaths, originated from wild animals sold at a seafood market in Wuhan.

Gao warned that a major challenge was that the new strain was adapting and mutating. The scientists’ findings, published on Tuesday, suggested that the danger posed by the pneumonia-like virus may have been underestimated by the research community, and came a day after the Chinese government’s announcement of emergency measures to contain its spread. A joint research team from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the People’s Liberation Army and Institut Pasteur of Shanghai estimated how the viral strain would interact with cells in the human respiratory system using computer simulation based on released data. “The Wuhan coronavirus’ natural host could be bats … but between bats and humans there may be an unknown intermediate,” the researchers said in a statement released with the paper.

Previously, most scientists believed the new virus could not cause an epidemic as serious as that of Sars because its genes were quite different. According to their calculations, the binding-free energy between the virus and the protein would be minus 50.6 kcal per mol, five times what was “usually considered significant”. “Although comparably weaker [than Sars], the Wuhan CoV S-protein is regarded to have strong binding affinity to human ACE2,” they wrote in a paper published on China Science Bulletin. What surprised the scientists most, however, was that the virus could maintain the strong binding ability despite its significant structural differences from Sars. Of the virus’ five amino acids that play important roles in the binding process, four are different from those of Sars.

Further examination of the virus’ structure showed that overall its binding protein had a high resemblance to that of Sars. The researchers also traced the evolution of the new virus in a government coronavirus database. On the evolutionary tree, the new virus belonged to Betacoronavirus, on a close but different branch to Sars. The two shared about 70 to 80 per cent of genes, less than the similarity between pigs and humans. Meanwhile, a senior researcher at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which was not involved in the new study, told the South China Morning Post on Wednesday that the new strain was an RNA virus, meaning that its mutation speed was 100 times faster than that of a DNA virus such as smallpox. RNA (ribonucleic acid) molecules are simpler than DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) molecules.

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Always happy to see my view of Putin shared by others, and certainly when it’s Dmitry. Any major country on the planet could only wish they had Putin to lead it, and serve the best interests of its citizens. Of course we can’t get any real picture of this in the western press, who treat him as the bogey man, along with their governments.

Can you even imagine where the US would be if Putin had been its leader for the past 20 years? Try this stateside: “Proposed changes will insure that incomes and pensions are such that everybody has decent living conditions

Life After Putin (Dmitry Orlov)

[..] we need to draw a distinction between Putin the man and the system of governance he has built over the past 20 years. There is always plenty to complain about, but overall it has been quite effective. During Putin’s period in power, Russia has solved the problems of separatism and domestic terrorism, reigned in the predatory oligarchy, paid off virtually all of its foreign debts including ones it inherited from the USSR, grew its economy by a factor of six (vs. China’s five and USA’s one), regained Crimea (which had been part of Russia since 1783), rebuilt its armed forces to a point where international security is no longer a major concern, and achieved an overall level of societal well-being that is unparalleled in all of Russian history.

The system of governance he has built has worked well with him as the head of government, but it will require some adjustments in order to work well under future presidents, who may not be equally gifted. Recognizing this fact, on Wednesday Putin has launched a limited overhaul of the Russian Constitution. In addition to an entire raft of minor tweaks that will limit the powers of the President and give more powers to the Parliament, to provide for better checks and balances and a more democratically responsive system, there are a few proposed changes that stand out.

[..] Proposed changes will insure that incomes and pensions are such that everybody has decent living conditions. There are also proposed legislative changes to what’s called “maternal capital” to make having more than two children financially attractive. The demographic situation in Russia is not as dire as it was in the 1990s, and certainly a lot less dire than in Western Europe whose native populations are rapidly going extinct, but the fact remains that to achieve its stated goals Russia is going to need a lot more Russians. The Russian government has the money to spend on these initiatives, and getting the job done is largely a matter of lighting a fire under the federal and regional bureaucracies.

Spelling out the social guarantees right in the Constitution is a good way to make that happen. Putin proposed that the constitutional changes be voted for in a referendum. Beyond the procedural nicety and the legitimizing effect of this exercise, it is sure to stimulate a lot more public interest and civic participation, making it more likely that the ever foot-dragging Russian bureaucrats (in the more remote regions especially) will be prevailed upon to act swiftly to enact the changes.

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And this is just the beginning. God help us. More Adam Schiff show.

Senate Votes Down Democrats’ Subpoena Proposals (G.)

Democratic hopes that a moderate bloc of Senate Republicans would join their demand for witnesses and testimony at Donald Trump’s impeachment trial were temporarily disappointed, if not dashed, as arguments on the first proper day of the trial extended past midnight into Wednesday morning. In seven consecutive votes split precisely along party lines, the Senate voted down Democratic proposals to subpoena testimony from four potential witnesses and documents from multiple government agencies. An eighth vote defeated a proposal to prevent the selective admission of evidence. “I know it’s late, but it doesn’t have to be late,” Adam Schiff, the lead impeachment “manager”, or prosecutor in the case, said as the proceedings entered their 12th hour. “We don’t control the schedule. There is a reason why we are still here at five minutes till midnight, and that’s because they don’t want the American people to see what’s going on here.”

Democrats fruitlessly called for testimony and documents from the former national security adviser John Bolton; the acting White House chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney; Mulvaney’s aide Robert Blair; the budget official Michael Duffey; the White House; the state department; the defense department; and the budget office relevant to an alleged scheme by Trump to twist the powers of the presidency to extract personal political favors from Ukraine. Each of the proposed subpoenas was defeated by a 53-47 vote. Democrats accused Republicans of failing to commit to a fair impeachment trial and of engaging in a “cover-up” of misconduct by the president. “The president is engaged in this cover-up because he is guilty, and he knows it,” said Representative Val Demings of Florida, one of the impeachment managers .


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A bit sensational, but still you want to ask: Why?

Adam Schiff Caught ‘Fabricating’ Evidence (US24)

A bombshell new report is derailing the Democrats’ momentum against President Trump on Day One of the Senate impeachment trial. The article — in the left-leaning Politico of all places — on Tuesday night alleges that House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff appears to have “mischaracterized” evidence that was used in House Democrats’ impeachment investigation. But Republicans are ridiculing the report as an attempt to “soft-pedal” his actions, insisting that Schiff “fabricated evidence” in a naked attempt to “frame” Trump. Either way, the shocking late-night report has thrown the Democrats’ Senate plan into complete chaos.

The stunning report focuses on a letter that Schiff sent to House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) last week that summarizes “a trove of evidence from Lev Parnas, an indicted former associate of Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani,” Politico reported. “In one section of the letter, Schiff claims that Parnas ‘continued to try to arrange a meeting with President Zelensky,’ citing a specific text message exchange where Parnas tells Giuliani: ‘trying to get us mr Z.’ The remainder of the exchange — which was attached to Schiff’s letter — was redacted.”

Politico added, “But an unredacted version of the exchange shows that several days later, Parnas sent Giuliani a word document that appears to show notes from an interview with Mykola Zlochevsky, the founder of Burisma, followed by a text message to Giuliani that states: ‘mr Z answers my brother.’ That suggests Parnas was referring to Zlochevsky not Zelensky.” Democrat officials did not dispute the suggestion that Schiff’s claim was false. [..] one senior GOP aide told Politico: “[..] given the selective redactions and contextual clues, it seems as though Chairman Schiff sought to deliberately portray an innocuous meeting with Ukrainian oligarch Mykola Zlochevsky as an insidious one with the President of Ukraine simply because both of their surnames start with the letter Z.”

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As I said yesterday: “This week, Bernie is sexist. Stay tuned for next week, when we’ll find he’s racist too. If his numbers still don’t plummet then, he’ll be an anti-semitic Jew.”

Hillary Clinton Kicks Off ‘Stop Sanders’ Movement. Will Obama Follow? (Y!)

Nothing the Clintons do is accidental. And so when the news broke less than two weeks before the Iowa caucuses that in a forthcoming Hulu documentary, Hillary Clinton badmouths her 2016 rival Bernie Sanders as a “career politician” whom “nobody likes,” it didn’t just call attention to the ill feeling still lingering from that year’s bitter primary campaign. It also signaled that Clinton has thrown her weight behind the nascent “Stop Sanders” movement gaining steam among Democratic power brokers. The question now is whether Democratic voters will follow her lead — and whether Barack Obama himself might come out of semiretirement to join the cause. Asked by the Hollywood Reporter whether she would endorse and campaign for Sanders if he were to win the nomination, Clinton refused to commit. “I’m not going to go there yet,” she said.

Clinton immediately added, however, that her beef is “not only” with Sanders but with “the culture around him” — a culture she considers sexist. “It’s his leadership team,” Clinton said. “It’s his prominent supporters. It’s his online Bernie Bros and their relentless attacks on lots of his competitors, particularly the women. And I really hope people are paying attention to that because it should be worrisome that he has permitted this culture — not only permitted, [he] seems to really be very much supporting it. And I don’t think we want to go down that road again where you campaign by insult and attack and maybe you try to get some distance from it, but you either don’t know what your campaign and supporters are doing or you’re just giving them a wink and you want them to go after Kamala [Harris] or after Elizabeth [Warren].”

Then Clinton twisted the knife: “I think that that’s a pattern that people should take into account when they make their decisions.” Clinton’s timing is conspicuous. Since the start of the 2016 primary, pundits and mainstream Democrats have refused to consider Sanders a serious threat for the nomination. That’s changed in recent weeks as Sanders has surged to the top of the polls in Iowa and New Hampshire, cementing his status as the nearest competitor to frontrunner Joe Biden while also out-fundraising the entire field. Meanwhile, the headlines about Clinton’s remarks come on the heels of Sanders’s clash with Warren over the same subject: his (and his campaign’s) alleged sexism. In other words, this isn’t coming out of nowhere: Clinton is piggybacking on a fresh controversy at a pivotal moment.

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But of course. It must be perennial.

Why Congress Must Keep Investigating Trump After the Impeachment Trial (Pol.)

Unlike a typical trial, the upcoming impeachment trial of President Donald Trump won’t establish facts or put an end to investigations about the Ukraine scheme at the heart of this case. Given that new allegations and evidence continue to emerge, a new investigation will be necessary. Although we still don’t know exactly what the trial will look like, public statements by senators suggest that we won’t hear from many witnesses—and could hear from none at all. That’s exactly what Trump’s legal team is asking for, which comes as no surprise because lawyers rarely want to prolong trials if they think they’ve already got the jury on their side. As it stands now, there is little doubt that Republicans are prepared to vote against removing Trump from office—which is why Democrats want to shake things up with witnesses they haven’t had the opportunity to interview, like former National Security Advisor John Bolton, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney.

But the fact that months of Congressional inquiry into Trump’s pressure campaign on Ukraine is almost certain to end in acquittal does not mean that Congress’s work is done. So much of the story of the Ukraine scheme at the heart of Trump’s impeachment still is not public that Congress is obligated to resume its inquiry regardless of the outcome in the Senate. There can be no serious question that Trump held up military aid in order to pressure Ukraine to announce investigations that would help him politically, but many details of the scheme are still not known. How little we know about the Ukraine scheme headlined by Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani was underscored by public interviews given last week by Giuliani associate Lev Parnas, who currently faces a federal indictment in the Southern District of New York.

Parnas made sweeping claims, such as his assertion that Trump was “aware of all of my movements” and that Attorney General Bill Barr was “basically on the team.” These are provocative and damning assertions. But how exactly does Parnas claim to know all of this? [..] Parnas presented evidence that former Ukraine ambassador Marie Yovanovitch was under surveillance. The American people—and Yovanovitch—deserve to know whether that allegation is true and exactly why Trump’s associates were surveilling our own ambassador. After all, it is possible this scheme constituted a federal crime, such as a conspiracy to threaten or assault a federal official.

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We knew that already. But Biden is sending around a memo denying it.

Ukrainian Prosecutor Biden Pushed To Oust Heavily Investigated Burisma (RT)

The Ukrainian prosecutor who Joe Biden pushed to oust had six cases against Burisma but they fizzled out after he left, a new documentary shows challenging the narrative by the former vice president that the media failed to check. When Joe Biden lobbied Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to replace Viktor Shokin with Yuriy Lutsenko in 2015, his entourage claimed that Shokin had failed to thoroughly investigate corruption, and by pushing for his replacement “saint” Biden even acted against his family’s interests. But the second episode of the documentary series ‘UkraineGate: Inconvenient facts’ produced by French investigative journalist Olivier Berruyer, founder of popular anti-corruption and economics blog Les Crises, shows information that undermines this narrative.

The American media reported that Shokin’s case against Ukrainian energy company Burisma had gone “dormant,” and that by pressing for Lutsenko’s appointment, Biden was quashing corruption, even if that meant subjecting his own son to investigation in the process. Hunter Biden was on the company’s board from 2014 till 2019. However, documents collected by Berruyer show that Shokin’s Burisma probe was far from “dormant.” Shokin himself even told ABC News that his office had six investigations into Burisma open at the time of his resignation. Lutsenko, he said, “stopped all those cases.”

ABC didn’t air this part of the interview, and the American media – including the Washington Post and the New York Times – continue to label Shokin’s investigation “dormant,” despite a number of publicly available documents showing otherwise and presented in the documentary.

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John Solomon is back.

Joe Biden’s ‘Conspiracy Theory’ Memo To Media Doesn’t Match The Facts (Solomon)

Former vice president Joe Biden’s extraordinary campaign memo this week imploring U.S. news media to reject the allegations surrounding his son Hunter’s work for a Ukrainian natural gas company makes several bold declarations. The memo by Biden campaign aides Kate Bedingfield and Tony Blinken specifically warned reporters covering the impeachment trial they would be acting as “enablers of misinformation” if they repeated allegations that the former vice president forced the firing of Ukraine’s top prosecutor, who was investigating Burisma Holdings, where Hunter Biden worked as a highly compensated board member.

Biden’s memo argues there is no evidence that the former vice president’s or Hunter Biden’s conduct raised any concern, and that Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin’s investigation was “dormant” when the vice president forced the prosecutor to be fired in Ukraine. The memo calls the allegation a “conspiracy theory” (and, in full disclosure, blames my reporting for the allegations surfacing last year.) But the memo omits critical impeachment testimony and other evidence that paint a far different portrait than Biden’s there’s-nothing-to-talk-about-here rebuttal. Here are the facts, with links to public evidence, so you can decide for yourself.

Fact: Joe Biden admitted to forcing Shokin’s firing in March 2016.

Fact: Shokin’s prosecutors were actively investigating Burisma when he was fired.

Fact: Burisma’s lawyers in 2016 were pressing U.S. and Ukrainian authorities to end the corruption investigations.

Fact: There is substantial evidence Joe Biden and his office knew about the Burisma probe and his son’s role as a board member.

Fact: Federal Ethics rules requires government officials to avoid taking policy actions affecting close relatives.

Fact: Multiple State Department officials testified the Bidens’ dealings in Ukraine created the appearance of a conflict of interest.

Fact: Hunter Biden acknowleged he may have gotten his Burisma job solely because of his last name.

Fact: Ukraine law enforcement reopened the Burisma investigation in early 2019, well before President Trump mentioned the matter to Ukraine’s new president Vlodymyr Zelensky.

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Accused of “..hacking the cellphones of Brazilian prosecutors and public officials..”

Brazil Charges Glenn Greenwald With Cybercrimes (ZH)

Prosecutors in Brazil charged American journalist Glenn Greenwald with cybercrimes on Tuesday for his role in spreading embarrassing text messages that exposed corruption within the Brazilian judicial system, according to the New York Times. In a 91-page criminal complaint made public on Tuesday, Greenwald is accused of participating in a “criminal organization” that spread text messages which called into question the “integrity, professionalism and motives of key members of Brazil’s justice system — particularly of figures directly involved in the investigation of a vast corruption scheme that resulted in the imprisonment of powerful business and political figures.” Greenwald – who moved to Brazil in 2005 with his husband David Miranda – now a congressman, went beyond simply receiving the texts and publishing newsworthy information according to prosecutors.

“Citing intercepted messages between Mr. Greenwald and the hackers, prosecutors say the journalist played a “clear role in facilitating the commission of a crime.” For instance, prosecutors contend that Mr. Greenwald encouraged the hackers to delete archives that had already been shared with The Intercept Brasil, in order to cover their tracks. Prosecutors also say that Mr. Greenwald was communicating with the hackers while they were actively monitoring private chats on Telegram, a messaging app”. -New York Times. Greenwald – an attorney, rose to international prominence in 2013 for his role in the release of classified documents revealing America’s extensive NSA surveillance apparatus, after National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden leaked documents to Greenwald, who worked for The Guardian at the time.

In 2016, Greenwald launched The Intercept Brasil, which began publishing articles based on the leaked text exchanges last June. “The articles raised questions about the integrity, professionalism and motives of key members of Brazil’s justice system — particularly of figures directly involved in the investigation of a vast corruption scheme that resulted in the imprisonment of powerful business and political figures. Among the revelations in the articles, for instance, were chats in which Sérgio Moro, a former federal judge who handled the prosecution of former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in 2017, provided strategic guidance to prosecutors, in violation of legal and ethical norms. Mr. Moro is now Brazil’s justice minister. -New York Times.

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Someone lend them the $10 billion.

Boeing Has Officially Stopped Making 737 MAX Airplanes (CNN)

The Boeing 737 Max is officially on hold. The assembly line in Renton, Washington, has stopped building Boeing’s bestselling plane, the company confirmed late Monday. Boeing announced plans to temporarily halt production for an undetermined period in December, but it had not previously announced a precise day for the shutdown. Boeing will not furlough or lay off workers because of the shutdown, but pain will ripple through its supply chain and could hurt America’s economic growth. The shutdown will make restarting production and recovering from the crisis more difficult for Boeing once it finally gets permission for the plane to fly again. The 737 Max has been grounded since March..

Although Boeing couldn’t deliver the 737 Max planes to customers, the company continued to build the jets, albeit at a slightly reduced pace of 42 a month. It now has about 400 completed jets parked in Washington and Texas, waiting to be delivered to airlines around the world. But Boeing doesn’t get most of its money from the sale of the jets until they are delivered, and it could not indefinitely continue to incur the costs of building them without being able to deliver them. The company hoped that the plane would fly again before the end of 2019. But in December Stephen Dickson, administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, announced approval would not come until some time in 2020. Shutdown plans were announced a week later.

Boeing would not release a headcount for people who had been working on the plane. The company said the employees will be reassigned to other duties during the shutdown, and there are a number of reasons for that. First, under federal labor law, Boeing would have to pay them for 60 days following a layoff notice. Since Boeing is still hoping to resume work on the plane soon, it probably would have limited cost savings to go through the process of laying off the workers. And with unemployment in the Seattle metropolitan area at 2.9% – lower than the national unemployment rate that’s at a 50-year low – Boeing can’t risk losing the workers it needs once production resumes.

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All pilots in the US must now do simulator training. The exact issue that made Boeing screw around with the plane to make it appear like it was the same as with the much smaller engine, so no training was needed. Very dumb. When this thing started, there were lerss than a handful simulators available. Have they built a lot more since? I’d like to know. These things don’t come cheap.

You Won’t Be Flying On A 737 MAX Anytime Soon (CNN)

No one knows when the Boeing 737 Max will return to service. But it won’t be any time soon. Boeing eagerly awaits the US FAA’s approval to allow the grounded plane to fly again. But the FAA refuses to provide a specific timeframe, saying only that it will make a decision sometime this year. “We continue to work with other international aviation safety regulators to review the proposed changes to the aircraft,” said the FAA’s most recent statement on the plane, issued on January 9. “Our first priority is safety, and we have set no timeframe for when the work will be completed.” The plane has been grounded since March. Boeing had initially hoped a fix for the safety system, known as MCAS, could be approved in a matter of weeks after the second crash.

But it has missed target date after target date for completion of the process. Aerospace analysts believe regulatory approval could come in the spring. Cai von Rumohr of Cowen now forecasts March. Richard Aboulafia of the Teal Group says he’s thinking April or perhaps May. But they both say that is only their best guess at this point. [..] It’s also unclear whether aviation regulators around the world will follow the FAA’s lead and approve the plane to fly when it is cleared to fly in the United States. More than 80% of the planes are in foreign countries. One of the reasons the FAA has emphasized its work with other regulators is the agency hopes they will quickly follow its lead. But the process of getting that consensus is also causing delays, according to industry experts.

After the 737 Max is approved to return to service, it will be at least weeks, if not months, before any of them are carrying paying passengers once again. Boeing and the FAA have agreed that as part of the return to service 737 Max pilots will first complete simulator training. Pilots were previously permitted to fly the 737 Max without learning the specifics of the aircraft on a simulator. The new trainings won’t start until the certification process is complete. That will slow the time it will take to have the teams of pilots necessary to handle the flights. [..] Southwest and American Airlines have both announced they have canceled flights until early June, at the start of the summer travel season.

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The EU has done it. It’s turned the Greeks against immigrants.

General Strike Planned On Greek Aegean Islands Today Over Migration (K.)

The Greek government is under growing strain over immigration amid ongoing protests against plans to create at least 10 closed pre-departure centers across the country coupled with a delay in the disbursement of European Union funds for that purpose. Meanwhile tension at existing hotspots is brewing. A 17-year-old Afghan girl was hospitalized in serious condition on Monday after being stabbed by a 20-year-old fellow Afghan at Lesvos’ Moria camp. The attacker was arrested. On Sunday, newly installed Migration and Asylum Minister Notis Mitarakis was heckled by locals during visits to Lesvos and Samos.

During his trip, Mitarakis stressed that reducing immigration flows is a top priority of the government. However, a general strike is planned on the Aegean islands on Wednesday in response to its perceived failure to do so. Meanwhile, a survey by the diaNEOsis nonprofit think tank shows that most Greeks believe migrants and refugees have a negative impact on the country. The survey found that 85.2 percent of respondents said that the number of immigrants in Greece is “very or too high.” Just 12.1 percent said that the number is “normal.” At the same time, 79 percent disagreed with the statement that migrants are a solution to the country’s demographic problem.

Meanwhile, 56 percent said they believe that migrants have a negative impact on the economy, while 58 percent said that their presence is a “threat to our national identity.” However, 30 percent recognized the cultural enrichment brought by migrants. Asked about crime, 53 percent said they believe that migrants are responsible for soaring crime rates while 44 percent said that Greeks and non-Greeks were as likely to engage in criminal behavior.

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Oh well, overpopulation and things…

US Drinking Water Widely Contaminated With ‘Forever Chemicals’ (R.)

The contamination of U.S. drinking water with man-made “forever chemicals” is far worse than previously estimated with some of the highest levels found in Miami, Philadelphia and New Orleans, said a report on Wednesday by an environmental watchdog group. The chemicals, resistant to breaking down in the environment, are known as perfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS. Some have been linked to cancers, liver damage, low birth weight and other health problems. The findings here by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) show the group’s previous estimate in 2018, based on unpublished U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data, that 110 million Americans may be contaminated with PFAS, could be far too low.

“It’s nearly impossible to avoid contaminated drinking water from these chemicals,” said David Andrews, a senior scientist at EWG and co-author of the report. The chemicals were used in products like Teflon and Scotchguard and in firefighting foam. Some are used in a variety of other products and industrial processes, and their replacements also pose risks. Of tap water samples taken by EWG from 44 sites in 31 states and Washington D.C., only one location, Meridian, Mississippi, which relies on 700 foot (215 m) deep wells, had no detectable PFAS. Only Seattle and Tuscaloosa, Alabama had levels below 1 part per trillion (PPT), the limit EWG recommends.

In addition, EWG found that on average six to seven PFAS compounds were found at the tested sites, and the effects on health of the mixtures are little understood. “Everyone’s really exposed to a toxic soup of these PFAS chemicals,” Andrews said. In 34 places where EWG’s tests found PFAS, contamination had not been publicly reported by the EPA or state environmental agencies. The EPA has known since at least 2001 about the problem of PFAS in drinking water but has so far failed to set an enforceable, nationwide legal limit. The EPA said early last year it would begin the process to set limits on two of the chemicals, PFOA and PFOS.

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Stop drinking the poison.

People Still Want Plastic Bottles, Says Coca-Cola (BBC)

Coca-Cola will not ditch single-use plastic bottles because consumers still want them, the firm’s head of sustainability has told the BBC. Customers like them because they reseal and are lightweight, said Bea Perez. The firm, which is one of the biggest producers of plastic waste, has pledged to recycle as many plastic bottles as it uses by 2030. But environmental campaigners argue many Coke bottles would still go uncollected and end up in landfill. The drinks giant produces about three million tonnes of plastic packaging a year – equivalent to 200,000 bottles a minute. In 2019, it was found to be the most polluting brand in a global audit of plastic waste by the charity Break Free from Plastic.

But speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Ms Perez said the firm recognised it now had to be “part of the solution”. Coke has pledged to use at least 50% recycled material in its packaging by 2030. It is also partnering with NGOs around the world to help improve collection. However, Ms Perez said the firm could not ditch plastic outright, as some campaigners wanted, saying this could alienate customers and hit sales. She also said using only aluminium and glass packaging could push up the firm’s carbon footprint. “Business won’t be in business if we don’t accommodate consumers,” she said. “So as we change our bottling infrastructure, move into recycling and innovate, we also have to show the consumer what the opportunities are. They will change with us.”

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I know, it’s corny




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Jun 142015
 June 14, 2015  Posted by at 7:09 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  13 Responses »

Milton Greene “Actress Marilyn Monroe in bed” 1955

Through the last decades, as we have been getting ever more occupied trying to be what society tells us is defined as successful, we all missed out on a lot of changes in our world. Or perhaps we should be gentle to ourselves and say we’re simply slow to catch up.

Which is somewhat curious since we’ve also been getting bombarded with fast increasing amounts of what we’re told is information, so you’d think it might have become easier to keep up. It was not.

While we were busy being busy we for instance were largely oblivious to the fact the US is no longer a beneficial force in the world, and that it doesn’t spread democracy or freedom. Now you may argue to what extent that has ever been true, and you should, but the perception was arguably much closer to the truth 70 years ago, at the end of WWII, then it is today.

Another change we really can’t get our heads around is how the media have turned from a source of information to a source of – pre-fabricated – narratives. We’ll all say to some extent or another that we know our press feeds us propaganda, but, again arguably, few of us are capable of pinpointing to what extent that is true. Perhaps no big surprise given the overdose of what passes for information, but duly noted.

So far so good, you’re not as smart as you think. Bummer. But still an easy one to deny in the private space of your own head. If you get undressed and stand in front of the mirror, though, maybe not as easy.

What ails us is, I was going to say perfectly human, but let’s stick with just human, and leave perfection alone. What makes us human is that it feels good to be protected, safe, and prosperous. Protected from evil and from hard times, by a military force, by a monetary fund, by a monetary union. It feels so good in fact that we don’t notice when what’s supposed to keep us safe turns against us.

But it is what happens, time and again, and, once again arguably, ever more so. What we think the world looks like is increasingly shaped by fiction. Perhaps that means we live in dreamtime. Or nightmare time. Whatever you call it, it’s not real. Pinching yourself is not going to help. Reading Orwell might.

The Sunday Times ran a story today -which the entire world press parroted quasi verbatim- that claimed MI6 had felt compelled to call back some of its operatives from the ‘field’ because Russia and China had allegedly hacked into the encrypted files Edward Snowden allegedly carried with him to Russia (something Snowden denied on multiple occasions).

Glenn Greenwald’s take down of the whole thing is – for good reasons- far better than I could provide, and it’s blistering, it leaves not a single shred of the article. Problem is, the die’s been cast, and many more people read the Times and all the media who’ve reprinted its fiction, than do read Greenwald:

The Sunday Times’ Snowden Story Is Journalism At Its Worst

Western journalists claim that the big lesson they learned from their key role in selling the Iraq War to the public is that it’s hideous, corrupt and often dangerous journalism to give anonymity to government officials to let them propagandize the public, then uncritically accept those anonymously voiced claims as Truth. But they’ve learned no such lesson. That tactic continues to be the staple of how major US and British media outlets “report,” especially in the national security area. And journalists who read such reports continue to treat self-serving decrees by unnamed, unseen officials – laundered through their media – as gospel, no matter how dubious are the claims or factually false is the reporting.

We now have one of the purest examples of this dynamic. Last night, the Murdoch-owned Sunday Times published their lead front-page Sunday article, headlined “British Spies Betrayed to Russians and Chinese.” Just as the conventional media narrative was shifting to pro-Snowden sentiment in the wake of a key court ruling and a new surveillance law, the article claims in the first paragraph that these two adversaries “have cracked the top-secret cache of files stolen by the fugitive US whistleblower Edward Snowden, forcing MI6 to pull agents out of live operations in hostile countries, according to senior officials in Downing Street, the Home Office and the security services.”

Please read Greenwald’s piece. It’s excellent. Turns out the Times made it all up. At the same time, it’s just one example of something much more expansive: the entire world view of the vast majority of Americans and Europeans, and that means you too, is weaved together from a smorgasbord of made-up stories, narratives concocted to make you see what someone else wants you to see.

Last week, the Pew Research Center did a survey that was centered around the question what ‘we’ should do if a NATO ally were attacked by Russia. How Pew dare hold such a survey is for most people not even a valid question anymore, since the Putin as bogeyman tale, after a year and change, has taken root in 99% of western brains.

And so the Pew question, devoid of reality as it may be, appears more legit than the question about why the question is asked in the first place. NATO didn’t really like the results of the survey, but enough to thump some more chests. Here’s from an otherwise wholly forgettable NY Times piece:

Poles were most alarmed by Moscow’s muscle flexing, with 70% saying that Russia was a major military threat. Germany, a critical American ally in the effort to forge a Ukraine peace settlement, was at the other end of the spectrum. Only 38% of Germans said that Russia was a danger to neighboring countries aside from Ukraine, and only 29% blamed Russia for the violence in Ukraine. Consequently, 58% of Germans do not believe that their country should use force to defend another NATO ally. Just 19% of Germans say NATO weapons should be sent to the Ukrainian government to help it better contend with Russian and separatist attacks.

Do we need to repeat that Russia didn’t attack Ukraine? That if after all this time there is still zero proof for that, perhaps it’s time to let go of that idea?

Over the past week, there have been numerous reports of NATO ‘strengthening’ its presence in Eastern Europe and the Baltics. Supposedly to deter Russian aggression in the region. For which there is no evidence. But if you ask people if NATO should act if one of its allies were attacked, you put the idea in people’s heads that such an attack is a real risk. And that’s the whole idea.

This crazy piece from the Guardian provides a very good example of how the mood is manipulated:

US And Poland In Talks Over Weapons Deployment In Eastern Europe

The US and Poland are discussing the deployment of American heavy weapons in eastern Europe in response to Russian expansionism and sabre-rattling in the region in what represents a radical break with post-cold war military planning. The Polish defence ministry said on Sunday that Washington and Warsaw were in negotiations about the permanent stationing of US battle tanks and other heavy weaponry in Poland and other countries in the region as part of NATO’s plans to develop rapid deployment “Spearhead” forces aimed at deterring Kremlin attempts to destabilise former Soviet bloc countries now entrenched inside NATO and the EU.

Warsaw said that a decision whether to station heavy US equipment at warehouses in Poland would be taken soon. NATO’s former supreme commander in Europe, American admiral James Stavridis, said the decision marked “a very meaningful policy shift”, amid eastern European complaints that western Europe and the US were lukewarm about security guarantees for countries on the frontline with Russia following Vladimir Putin’s seizure of parts of Ukraine. “It provides a reasonable level of reassurance to jittery allies, although nothing is as good as troops stationed full time on the ground, of course,” the retired admiral told the New York Times.

NATO has been accused of complacency in recent years. The Russian president’s surprise attacks on Ukraine have shocked western military planners into action. An alliance summit in Wales last year agreed quick deployments of NATO forces in Poland and the Baltic states. German mechanised infantry crossed into Poland at the weekend after thousands of NATO forces inaugurated exercises as part of the new buildup in the east. Wary of antagonising Moscow’s fears of western “encirclement” and feeding its well-oiled propaganda effort, which regularly asserts that NATO agreed at the end of the cold war not to station forces in the former Warsaw Pact countries, NATO has declined to establish permanent bases in the east.

It’s downright borderline criminally tragic that NATO claims it’s building up its presence in the region as a response to Russian actions. What actions? Nothing was going on until ‘we’ supported a coup in Kiev, installed a puppet government and let them wage war on their own citizens. That war killed a lot of people. And if Kiev has any say in the matter, it ain’t over by a long shot. Poroshenko and Yats still want it all back. So does NATO.

When signing a post-cold war strategic cooperation pact with Russia in 1997, Nato pledged not to station ground forces permanently in eastern Europe “in the current and foreseeable security environment”. But that environment has been transformed by Putin’s decision to invade and annex parts of Ukraine and the 1997 agreement is now seen as obsolete.

Meanwhile, Russia re-took Crimea without a single shot being fired. But that is still what the western press calls aggression. Russia doesn’t even deem to respond to ‘our’ innuendo, they feel there’s nothing to be gained from that because ‘our’ stories have been pre-cooked and pre-chewed anyway. Something that we are going to greatly regret.

There are all these alphabet soup organizations that were once set up with, one last time, arguably, good intentions, and that now invent narratives because A) they can and B) they need a reason to continue to exist. That is true for NATO, which should have been dismantled 25 years ago.

It’s true for the IMF, which was always only a tool for US domination. It’s true for the CIA and FBI, which might keep you safe if that was their intent, but which really only function to keep themselves and their narrow group of paymasters safe.

It’s also true for political unions, like the US and EU. Let’s leave the former alone for now, though much could be said and written about the gaping distance between what the Founding Fathers once envisioned for the nation and what it has since descended into.

Still, that is a story for another day. When we can find our way through the web of narratives that holds it upright. Like the threat from Russia, the threat from China, the threat from all the factions in the Middle East the US itself (helped) set up.

The EU is much younger, though its bureaucrats seem eager to catch up with America in fictitious web weaving. We humans stink at anything supra-national. We can have our societies cooperate, but as soon as we invent ‘greater’ units to incorporate that cooperation, things run off the rails, the wrong people grab power, and the weaker among us get sacrificed. And that is what’s happening once again, entirely predictably, in Greece.

That Spain’s two largest cities, Barcelona and Madrid, have now sworn in far-left female mayors this week will only serve to make things harder for Athens. Brussels is under siege, and it will defend its territory as ‘best’ it can.

What might influence matters, and not a little bit, is that Syriza’s Audit Commission is poised to make public its findings on June 18, and that they yesterday revealed they have in their possession a 2010 IMF document that allegedly proves that the Fund knew back then, before the first bail-out, that the Memorandum would result in an increase in Greek debt.

That’s potentially incendiary information, because the Memorandum -and the bailout- were aimed specifically at decreasing the debt. That -again, allegedly- none of the EU nations have seen the document at the time -let’s see how the spin machine makes that look- doesn’t exactly make it any more acceptable.

Nor of course does the fact that Greece’s debt could and should have been restructured, according to the IMF’s own people and ‘standards’, but wasn’t until 2012, when the main European banks had been bailed out with what was subsequently shoved onto the shoulders of the Greek population, and had withdrawn their ‘assets’ from the country, a move that made Greece’s position that much harder.

The narrative being sold through the media in other eurozone nations is that Greece is to blame, that for instance German taxpayers are on the hook for Greek debts, while they’re really on the hook for German banks’ losing wagers (here’s looking at you, Deutsche!). And that is, no matter how you twist it, not the same story. It’s again just a narrative.

Once more, and we’ve said it many times before, Brussels is toxic -and so is the IMF- and Greece should leave as soon as possible, as should Italy, Spain, Portugal. And we should all resist the spin-induced attempts to demonize Putin, Athens and China any further, and instead focus on the rotten apples in our own basket(s).

In short, the propaganda we should be worried about is not Russia’s, it’s our own. And it comes from just about every news article we’re fed. We’re much less than six degrees removed from Orwell.