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Damascus Journal: They Stayed Put, but Their City Disappeared

World News (NY Times) - Tue, 21 Nov 2017 - 8:00am
In Syria’s capital, those who remain wonder why they’re still there when so many friends have packed up, died or vanished.

En France, la « révolte » contre le harcèlement sexuel se heurte aux résistances culturelles

World News (NY Times) - Tue, 21 Nov 2017 - 7:31am
De nombreuses personnes en France appellent à faire du harcèlement sexuel une urgence nationale, mais des obstacles légaux et culturels découragent les femmes qui souhaitent porter plainte pour harcèlement sexuel au travail.

Northern Ireland Is Sinking Into a ‘Profound Crisis’

World News (NY Times) - Tue, 21 Nov 2017 - 6:37am
A nearly yearlong standoff has paralyzed its institutions and is threatening a 1998 treaty that largely ended three decades of fighting.

How will 'box office Phil' play the Budget?

BBC News - Tue, 21 Nov 2017 - 4:41am
The economic uncertainty around Brexit and the slender government majority may constrain his options.

World’s Cheapest Solar Power in Mexico a Coal-Killer

Informed Comment - Tue, 21 Nov 2017 - 2:27am

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

China will have installed 54 gigawatts of new solar energy by the end of 2017, instead of the 15 gigawatts forecast last January or the 30 gigawatts forecast as late as last June.

As of last June, the US installed solar capacity was only 47 gigawatts, accounting for less than 2% of American electricity generation. That is, China is putting in more solar energy in 2017 than has ever been installed in the whole history of the United States. The US was installing an anemic 2.5 gigawatts a quarter this year, way down from the 20 gigs of new solar it did in 2016. Republican, dirty-oil politicians in many states have adopted punitive policies intended to hurt solar and help fossil fuels, at the sow-like teats of which their political campaigns suck.

Not only is the sheer amount of solar power generation increasing at blinding speed but the cost is plummeting in unrigged markets, as well. Mexico just accepted bids of 1.77 cents per kilowatt hour. That is, if you had 10 light bulbs with a brightness of 100 watts each, and you burned them for one hour using electricity generated by the solar farm to be built in Mexico by 2020, that would cost you 1.7 cents. In most states in the US it would now cost you 8 cents to 22 cents, if the electricity were generated by coal and natural gas.

Mexico has pledged to get 50% of its electricity from renewables by 2025, but unless they up their game, this goal seems unrealistic. Still, at these prices, it costs them a lot of money *not* to go solar by 2025.

How would you like your electricity bill to fall by 80% or 90%? (I have solar panels on my house in cloudy Michigan and my electricity bill since last May has been averaging $14 a month).

Moreover, in Mexico the cost of a kilowatt hour from solar is expected to fall yet again by 2019 to only 1 cent a KWh. Coal is generally estimated to generate electricity for 5 cents a kilowatt hour, so it is now 3 times as expensive as the cheaper solar, and it is headed toward being 5 times as expensive by the time Trump is running for reelection. Nuclear costs 12 cents a kilowatt hour. Of course those prices don’t count externalities. If you count the damage coal does to the environment, from producing pollution that causes heart attacks to producing heat trapping gases that cause global heating and hurricanes, then coal is more like a dollar per kilowatt hour. It isn’t even remotely in the same league with solar.

In a new Climate Change Performance Index, the top three positions have been left blank because no country is really doing what it needs to do in order to stop climate change.

But Lithuania is number 5, Morocco is 6, Norway is 7.

India ranks 14, mainly because so many hundreds of millions of Indians are still without electricity.

Germany is 24.

About the US, you don’t want to ask.

Nuclear Apocalypse by Accident? Age of Trump

Informed Comment - Tue, 21 Nov 2017 - 12:38am

By John Buell | (Informed Comment) | – –

Ironically, President Trump’s frequent nuclear blustering serves to hide one aspect of the nuclear risk. Focus on his instability and possible impetuous resort to the nuclear trigger may distract from equally significant dangers. Any discussion fo the threat posed by nuclear weapons should include recounting and further explanation of the multiple accidents with nuclear weaponry as well as the environmental dangers their manufacture and storage pose. In a review of Eric Schlosser’s book on nuclear weapons, Jenny Turner comments: “the effort to control nuclear weapons – to ensure that one doesn’t go off by accident” is undermined, over and over again, by demands from the military for bombs they can trust to explode.”

There is a long catalogue of near disastrous accidents with nuclear weapons. Details of an infamous 1961 incident involving the accidental drop of an H=Bomb over Greensboro NC are especially chilling, especially given President Trump’s decision similarly to arm B-52s today. These details also suggest we should place little reliance on the willingness of top level generals to restrain the president. Here is a summary from the Guardian:

“Further detail on what happened to the Mark 39 bomb when it fell over Goldsboro is given in a newly declassified document written in 1987 reviewing the US nuclear weapon safety programme. It records that as the B-52 broke up, the pin to arm the bomb that was normally manually operated was yanked out as it fell, thus arming it.

All the various stages of the bomb’s fall – the operation of the arming system, deployment of the parachute, timer operation, activation of its batteries, and delivery of the signal that would actually fire the bomb at impact – “all followed as a natural consequence of the bomb falling free”. Only the lack of engagement of the final ready-safe switch “prevented nuclear detonation of this bomb”.

Despite such expert awareness of the extremely tentative safeguards that stood between America and unthinkable disaster, successive US administrations kept up the line in public that the country’s nuclear arsenal was free from any risk of accidental detonation.” This incident, just like the Cuban Missile crisis soon to follow, was just one more case where political and military leaders put the preservation of state power ahead of genuine public safety.

Because they are so dangerous, access to them must be limited, and thus independent investigators cannot accumulate information that could inform a critical assessment of their domestic risks. In addition, because they are one of the central pillars in our collective identity as a power second to none, criticism of these weapons is often written off as enemy inspired and thus illegitimate. Add to this the economic boost nuclear arms provide to key military contractors and one has the makings of an almost invulnerable political machine. As Turner puts it, “Nuclear weapons are not like Wikipedia, on which anybody can spot a mistake and write in.” [Talk about the Progressive’s H bomb case?}

About the best argument I can think of for the safety of nuclear weaponry is that none has been accidentally detonated so far. From Schlosser’s description, this technological success is in large measure fortuitous. I will state it as a law: Complex systems are prone to unpredictable malfunctions. And as with many features of industrial life, there is more glory and economic reward in building the technologies than in maintaining them. Furthermore, in the grand scheme of human civilization, not to say of the planet, 72 years is but a trifle.

Donald Trump’s climate agenda is extraordinarily dangerous, but his posture on nuclear weapons is not as far out of the accepted strategic doctrines as his critics charge. Policy in both domains constitutes an imminent threat to the future of human civilization. Climate denialism has its parallel in those elites expecting to survive nuclear winter. Up until recently climate concerns have largely displaced the issues of nuclear weaponry. That must stop. Movements against nuclear power and nuclear weapons have a long history of facing repressive attacks and mounting cross- border collaboration. Enormous sums are already invested even in the shoddy maintenance of our nuclear arsenal, and many of Trump’s opponents are committed to dangerous modernization of that arsenal. Those funds might better go to meeting the long- term climate crisis. Intensifying climate deterioration risks exacerbating cross border tensions and provoking war, which will surely some day become nuclear. These issues and movements need each other.

John Buell has a PhD in political science, taught for 10 years at College of the Atlantic, and was an Associate Editor of The Progressive for ten years.


Related video added by Juan Cole:

MSNBC: “Senators Worry About Donald Trump And Nuclear Weapons | The Last Word | MSNBC”

R.I.P. The Internet, 1983-2017: End of Online Liberty

Informed Comment - Tue, 21 Nov 2017 - 12:27am

By Corynne McSherry and Elliot Harmon | ( Electronic Frontier Foundation) | – –

As the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) gets ready to abandon a decade of progress on net neutrality, some in Congress are considering how new legislation could fill the gap and protect users from unfair ISP practices. Unfortunately, too many lawmakers seem to be embracing the idea that they should allow ISPs to create Internet “fast lanes” — also known as “paid prioritization,” one of the harmful practices that violates net neutrality. They are also looking to re-assign the job of protecting customers from ISP abuses to the Federal Trade Commission.

These are both bad ideas. Let’s start with paid prioritization. In response to widespread public demand from across the political spectrum, the 2015 Open Internet Order expressly prohibited paid prioritization, along with other unfair practices like blocking and throttling. ISPs have operated under the threat or the reality of these prohibitions for at least a decade, and continue to be immensely profitable. But they’d like to make even more money by double-dipping: charging customers for access to the Internet, and then charging services for (better) access to customers. And some lawmakers seem keen to allow it.

That desire was all too evident in a recent hearing on the role of antitrust in defending net neutrality principles. Subcommittee Chairman Tom Marino gave a baffling defense of prioritization, suggesting that it’s necessary or even beneficial to users for ISPs to give preferential treatment to certain content sources. Rep. Marino said that users should be able to choose between a more expensive Internet experience and a cheaper one that prioritizes the ISPs preferred content sources. He likened Internet service to groceries, implying that by disallowing paid prioritization, the Open Internet Order forced more casual Internet users to waste their money: “Families who just want the basics or are on a limited income aren’t forced to subsidize the preferences of shoppers with higher-end preferences.”

Rep. Darrel Issa took the grocery metaphor a step further, saying that paid prioritization is the modern day equivalent of the practice of grocery stores selling prime placement to manufacturers: “Within Safeway, they’ve decided that each endcap is going to be sold to whoever is going to pay the most – Pepsi, Coke, whoever – that’s certainly a prioritization that’s paid for.”

That’s an absurd analogy. Unlike goods at a physical store, every bit of Internet traffic can get the best placement, and no one on a limited income is “subsidizing” their richer neighbors. When providers choose to slow down certain types of traffic, they’re not doing it because that traffic is somehow more burdensome; they’re doing it to push users toward the content and service the ISP favors (or has been paid to favor)—the very behavior the Open Internet Order was intended to prevent. ISPs become gatekeepers rather than conduit.

As ISPs and content companies have become increasingly intertwined, the dangers of ISPs giving preferential treatment to their own content sources—and locking out alternative sources—have become ever more pronounced. That’s why in 2016 the FCC launched a lengthy investigation into ISPs’ zero-rating practices and whether they violated the Open Internet Order. The FCC focused in particular on cases where an ISP has an obvious economic incentive to slow down competing content providers, as was the case with AT&T prioritizing its own DirecTV services. Some members of Congress fail to see the dangers to users of these “vertical integration” arrangements. Rep. Bob Goodlatte said in the hearing that “Blanket regulation… would deny consumers the potential benefits in cost savings and improved services that would result from vertical agreements.” But if zero-rating arrangements keep new edge providers from getting a fair playing field to compete for users’ attention, services won’t improve at all. Certainly, an entity with a monopoly could choose to turn every advantage into savings for its customers, but we know from history and common sense that monopolies gouge customers instead. It’s telling—and unfortunate—that one of Ajit Pai’s first actions as FCC Chairman was to shelve the Commission’s zero-rating investigation.

The other goal of the hearing was to consider whether to assign net neutrality enforcement power to the Federal Trade Commission instead of the FCC. This is a rehash of long-standing argument that the best way to defend the Internet is to have ISPs publicly promise to behave. If they break that promise or undermine competition, the FTC can go after them.

Federal Trade Commissioner Terrell McSweeny correctly explained why that approach won’t cut it: “a framework that relies solely on backward-looking consumer protection and antitrust enforcement” just cannot “provide the same assurances to innovators and consumers as the forward-looking rules contained in the FCC’s open internet order.”

For example, as McSweeny noted, large ISPs have a huge incentive to unfairly prioritize certain content sources: their own bottom line. Every major ISP also offers streaming media services, and these ISPs naturally will want to direct users to those offerings. Antitrust law alone can’t stop these practices because the threat that paid prioritization poses isn’t to competition between ISPs; it’s to the users themselves.

If the FCC abandons its commitment to net neutrality, Congress can and should step in to put it back on course. That means enacting real, forward-looking legislation that embraces all of the bright-line rules, not just the ones ISPs don’t mind. And it means forcing the FCC to its job, rather than handing it off to another agency that’s not well-positioned to do the work.

Electronic Frontier Foundation


Related video added by Juan Cole:

The Young Turks: “R.I.P. The Internet, 1983-2017”

'Get out of the way, bus!'

BBC News - Tue, 21 Nov 2017 - 12:09am
A cameraman is thwarted at the last moment after waiting 40 minutes to film a stadium demolition.

China Finds Lawyer Who Exposed Torture Allegations Guilty of Inciting Subversion

World News (NY Times) - Tue, 21 Nov 2017 - 12:08am
Jiang Tianyong got a two-year term after helping bring to light another lawyer’s claims of being brutalized in custody.

Israeli Policies eroding Rights of Palestinian children in Occupied West Bank

Informed Comment - Tue, 21 Nov 2017 - 12:07am

Ma’an News Agency | – –

BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — On the anniversary of Universal Children’s Day, international NGO Save the Children released a statement highlighting ongoing the rights violations of Palestinian children in the occupied territory by Israel.

Jennifer Moorehead, the country director of Save the Children in the occupied Palestinian territory called for greater protection of schools and children’s right to education, saying that “children’s most fundamental right to education is being eroded” in the territory.

Moorehead highlighted the cases of 55 Palestinian schools in Area C, the more than 60 percent of the West Bank under full Israeli civilian and security control, that are under threat of demolition by Israeli forces.

“Distance, risky roads, the presence of settlers or of military checkpoints had presented insurmountable challenges for many children to reach the nearest schools,” Moorhead said.

“The challenges in the education sector reflect the increasing protection risks we are seeing across the occupied Palestinian territory,” she said, adding “school demolitions, threats of violence and harassment, military presence in and around school premises and lack of adequate resources are all undermining children’s basic right to education.”

“These children are being denied a future in areas where unemployment has risen to among the highest in the world and restrictions on movement make it difficult to get to school or university or access vital healthcare.”

Save the Children called upon world leaders to take action to protect children’s “inalienable right” to safe access to a quality education and to guarantee the special protection afforded to children in areas of conflict.

“We call upon those with responsibility for upholding children’s rights in the oPt and world leaders to address the growing child protection risks in the education sector; to support and endorse the the Safe Schools Declaration and the related Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use; and to take concrete and immediate steps towards the demilitarisation of school spaces,” the statement concluded.

Via Ma’an News Agency


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Doctors of the World USA: “Hamzeh Discusses Life For Children In The West Bank”

'Outsourced' workers seek better deal in landmark case

BBC News - Tue, 21 Nov 2017 - 12:06am
Staff hired out by a facilities company are going to tribunal for better pay, holidays and pensions.

Protesting Coal Mining From a Treehouse

World News (NY Times) - Tue, 21 Nov 2017 - 12:01am
For years, activists have been protesting the expansion of coal mining in the Hambach Forest in Germany by living in treehouses. A court ruling may soon change that.

Atheists sue to halt annual blessing of the animals at shelter

The Raw Story - Mon, 20 Nov 2017 - 11:57pm
An atheist group has its hackles up over an annual event that it calls unconstitutional – the blessing of the animals at the Bergen County Animal Shelter. The group, American Atheists Inc. of Cranford, claims in a federal lawsuit that the Teterboro shelter’s event, in which animals are b...

Wake Up and Smell the Traffic? London Tries Coffee to Power Buses

World News (NY Times) - Mon, 20 Nov 2017 - 11:57pm
In an effort to curb toxic diesel fumes, oil from used grounds has been added to the fuel for the British capital’s iconic red double-deckers.

Here’s what it’s like covering Trump

The Raw Story - Mon, 20 Nov 2017 - 11:54pm
Remember that time Trump’s lawyer Marc Kasowitz emailed, “ Watch your back, bitch”? Or that time when Don Jr. and Ivanka were almost charged with felony fraud? You remember that because we found out. The day President Trump took office, our reporters laid out the topics they were going to cover. Now...

Brexit: Broad agreement to pay more as UK leaves, the BBC understands

BBC News - Mon, 20 Nov 2017 - 11:50pm
But only in return for the EU moving on to talks about future trade next month, the BBC understands.

Trump to shut charitable foundation: report

The Raw Story - Mon, 20 Nov 2017 - 11:42pm
President Donald Trump will dissolve his charitable foundation — which acknowledged breaking federal rules on “self-dealing” last year — once an investigation concludes, US media reported Monday. In December, Trump vowed to shutter the organization to avoid any conflicts of i...

Australia backpacker exploitation 'endemic', study finds

BBC News - Mon, 20 Nov 2017 - 11:41pm
A study of temporary workers' conditions finds extensive evidence of pay theft and other violations.

House Republicans lure donors with Trump hotel stay

The Raw Story - Mon, 20 Nov 2017 - 11:22pm
House Republicans are raffling off a weekend of “Christmas magic” in Washington, and that magic-filled place is—you guessed it—President Donald Trump’s hotel. “Want to experience The Trump Hotel during the holiday season in Washington, D.C.?...

Snoop Dogg sides with LaVar Ball in feud with Trump: ‘I wouldn’t have thanked the motherf*cker either’

The Raw Story - Mon, 20 Nov 2017 - 11:17pm
Untitled collage In an expletive-filled video, Snoop Dogg ripped into Donald Trump over his recent remarks about LaVar Ball and Marshawn Lynch. The rapper showed a news clip discussing Donald Trump’s tweets demanding that the NFL suspend the Oakland Raiders player, after which Snoop launched into hi...
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