July 8, 2017 in 4,475 words

The Balbina dam on the Amazon: Dams can damage river systems irreparably.

Plans to dam the Amazon will cost the Earth

Even clean energy could devastate the Amazon, according to new research. A massive increase in hydropower from a series of planned Amazon dams could harm the world’s most important rainforest all the way from the slopes of the Andes to the Atlantic Ocean.

Altogether, 428 dams are being built or are under consideration along the network of rivers that drain — and nourish — 6 million square kilometers (2.3 million square miles) of forest spanning nine countries. Of these, around 140 are already finished or under construction.

The Amazon is home to four of the world’s 10 largest rivers. Of the 34 largest tropical rivers, 20 are in the Amazon region, and these rivers are the source of one-fifth of the planet’s fresh water.

That same flow delivers the nutrient-rich sediments to habitats downstream to support the teeming life of the region, including the canopy that shelters its shrubs, plants, insects, reptiles, amphibians, mammals and birds.

Widespread benefits

Those rivers exchange sediments and nourish a mosaic of wetlands, said Edgardo Latrubesse, a geographer at the University of Texas at Austin, who led a collaboration from 10 universities to assess the potential environmental damage, and report in the journal Nature.

“People say: ‘Oh another dam, another river.’ It’s not. It’s the Amazon,” Professor Latrubesse said. “We have to put the risks on the table and change the way people are looking at the problem. We are massively destroying our natural resources, and time urges us to find some rational alternatives for preservation and sustainable development.”

Dams conserve water, deliver irrigation in the dry season, reduce the threat of flooding and of course provide energy for hydropower. On the other hand, they impose an environmental cost: sediments vital downstream are trapped upriver and the floods they might prevent are an integral part of the forest’s long-term stability.

Do Americans Have a Right to Know If Their Government Is Incompetent?

A Senate report on Trump administration leaks overstates national security risks.

A new report put together by the staff of the Senate’s Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs warns of an “avalanche” of leaks from President Donald Trump’s administration. The report contends these leaks are threats to our country’s safety and security, but we should be very wary about accepting such assertions given how little evidence the report provides.

From Inauguration Day to May 25, the report notes, at least 125 stories have appeared in the news that are sourced from “leaked information potentially damaging national security.” That’s about a leak a day. The authors calculate this is seven times higher than the number of similar leaks in the early months of George W. Bush and Barack Obama’s administrations.

The report also argues that many of the leaks present Trump in a “harsh light” and were obviously intended to make him look bad, which was not the case for most early leaks under Bush and Obama. The implication is that people within the intelligence apparatus want to undermine Trump so much that they’re willing to compromise national security. The report concludes:

President Trump and his administration have faced apparent leaks on nearly a daily basis, potentially imperiling national security at a time of growing threats at home and abroad. The commander-in-chief needs to be able to effectively manage U.S. security, intelligence operations and foreign relations without worrying that his most private meetings, calls and deliberations will be outed for the entire world to see.

122 Nations Approve ‘Historic’ Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapons

While the treaty faces many barriers to implementation, it signifies a profound international statement.

Delegates give a standing ovation after approving the treaty on July 7, 2017.

More than 120 nations adopted the first international treaty banning nuclear weapons on Friday at the United Nations headquarters in New York City. The initiative—led by Austria, Brazil, Mexico, South Africa, and New Zealand—was approved by 122 votes, with only the Netherlands opposed, and Singapore abstaining. The nine countries generally recognized as possessing nuclear weapons—the U.S., Russia, Britain, China, France, India, Pakistan, North Korea, and Israel—were noticeably absent from the negotiations, as were most members of NATO.

Despite being a victim of atomic attacks in 1945, Japan also boycotted the meeting. Nevertheless, the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki informed Friday’s dialogue—and the conversation thereafter. “It’s been seven decades since the world knew the power of destruction of nuclear weapons,” the president of the UN conference, Elayne Whyte Gómez, told The Guardian. The agreement, she added, “is a very clear statement that the international community wants to move to a completely different security paradigm that does not include nuclear weapons.”

Friday’s ten-page treaty is extensive in its demands, prohibiting signatories from developing, testing, manufacturing, possessing, or threatening to use nuclear weapons. Nations are also prohibited from transferring nuclear weapons to one another. Having now been approved by the UN, the treaty will be open for signatures on September 20, at which point it will need to be ratified by 50 states before entering into international law.

‘Your life becomes like hell’: refugees fear drawn-out fight over Trump’s travel ban

The supreme court’s ruling that requires proof of a ‘bona fide relationship’ with someone in the US could split up families or result in a rejection of approved visa applicants ahead of the legal battle in the fall

Doris Sadiq, a Pakistani refugee arriving with her two daughters at Dulles international airport, is greeted by Kristen Kim Bart of the International Rescue Committee (IRC).

Walking toward the arrivals hall at Dulles international airport on a typically busy evening, the Sadiq family might easily have been lost in the crowd.

But the emotion that overcame the three women, a mother and her two adult daughters, was apparent as they saw the small crowd assembled to greet them, holding signs that read: “Welcome to America.”

Shaz Sadiq, 42, wept as she embraced an old friend. Her sister, Rahila, 40, doubled over at the symbolic finish line of a long, contentious journey. The pair’s 72-year-old mother, Doris, was wide-eyed as she scanned the terminal from her wheelchair, before offering a kiss to the advocates who waited.

Just one week ago, the Sadiq family thought their dreams of building a new life in the US had been dashed, perhaps for good.

It’s Disadvantaged Groups That Suffer Most When Free Speech Is Curtailed on Campus

If progressives are committed to protecting freedom of conscience and freedom of expression for women and minorities, then they need to protect free speech across the board.

A crowd gathers around speakers during a rally for free speech in April in Berkeley, California.

Harvard President Drew Faust gave a ringing endorsement of free speech in her recent commencement address. There was, however, one passage where Faust asserted that the price of Harvard’s commitment to free speech “is paid disproportionately by” those students who don’t fit the traditional profile of being “white, male, Protestant, and upper class.” That point has been illustrated by a few recent controversies over speakers whose words were deemed offensive by some members of those non-traditional groups of students. But focusing solely on those controversies, and on a handful of elite campuses, risks obscuring a larger point: Disadvantaged groups are also among the primary beneficiaries of vigorous free-speech protections.

Universities have often served as springboards for progressive social movements and helped to consolidate their gains. They have been able to fulfill these functions largely by serving as spaces where ideas—including radical and contrarian ideas—could be voiced and engaged with.

Today, many universities seem to be faltering in their commitment to this ideal, and it is the vulnerable and disenfranchised who stand to lose the most as a result. That’s particularly true beyond the world of elite private universities such as Harvard. The reality is that, as compared to white Americans, blacks and Latinos are much more likely to attend public universities and community colleges than elite private institutions. The same goes with those from low-income backgrounds as compared to the wealthy. This dynamic holds with regard to faculty as well: Female professors and professors of color are more likely than their white male counterparts to end up teaching at public universities as opposed to elite institutions like Harvard.

Paul Krugman: The GOP Is Never Returning to Reality

It’s not just Trump. The entire party has embraced post-truth politics.

Paul Krugman

Two years ago, New York Times Magazine asked whether the GOP could be a “party of ideas.” The answer, then and now, is a resounding no.

In his newest column, the New York Times’ Paul Krugman wonders what has become of the so-called “reformicons”—Republicans like Florida Senator Marco Rubio who were supposed to shed their party’s “mindless agenda of tax cuts for the rich and pain for the poor.” Just four years after Time Magazine anointed him the “Republican Savior,” Donald Trump is president, and the GOP is attempting to kick tens of millions of Americans off their health insurance while effectively gutting Medicaid.

“The rise of the reformicons never happened,” writes Krugman. “What we got instead was the (further) rise of the decepticons, not the evil robots from the movies, but conservatives who keep scaling new heights of dishonesty in their attempt to sell their reverse-Robin Hood agenda.”

Time for Republicans to Start From Scratch on Health Care

If the halting, messy debate over legislation to overhaul health care has taught us anything so far, it’s that when it comes to health care, Republicans don’t know what they want, much less how to get it.

After years of campaigning on the promise of repealing the Affordable Care Act, when it finally came time to act, Republicans put together a plan that looks like a stingier, skimpier version of Obamacare in the individual market, plus a rollback of the law’s Medicaid expansion (delayed until after the next presidential election — long enough that it might not happen).

When asked about the status of the health care bill this week, Senator Pat Toomey, Republican of Pennsylvania, responded, “I didn’t expect Donald Trump to win, I think most of my colleagues didn’t, so we didn’t expect to be in this situation.” In short, Republicans didn’t plan on having to follow through on their promises.

Democrats, on the other hand, share a distinct vision of robust universal coverage guaranteed by the government and paid for by a combination of delivery-system efficiencies and higher taxes.

We Reviewed 6 Of TV’s Grossest Foods And It Was… Yeah

The grownups always told me not to imitate what I see on TV. But if I’m not supposed to, say, make intentionally horrific food concoctions I saw in sitcoms, then why are all the ingredients available at the food store? Checkmate.

Plus, last time we found out that these supposedly wacky recipes have a good chance of being delicious. Remember that lots of history’s greatest ideas are just sarcastic suggestions someone else took seriously.

#6. Moon Waffles (From The Simpsons)

Ingredients: Waffle Batter, Caramels, Liquid Smoke, A Stick Of Butter

When, as a child, I saw Homer wrap a smoky caramel waffle around a stick of butter, I knew I was seeing my own destiny. “Some day, I will get to a place in my life where I am eating that exact thing!” Well, it took 25 years to get here. With excited, shaking hands, I opened 16 individually wrapped Kraft Caramels. I whipped up a batch of 47-cent waffle batter. I opened the bottle of liquid smoke and took a whiff. I think this is what they make smelling salts from.

With my waffle iron heated up, I threw the ingredients onto the sizzling plate in the same order that Homer does in The Simpsons. Caramels, batter, liquid smoke. Shut the machine, before someone sees what I have done.

God knows, though. And I’ll have to answer for it.

The liquid smoke, a substance apparently made from the runoff from an extinguished house fire, wafted into my eyes, burning them to tears. And just like in the TV show, the mass started oozing out of the sides. The caramels, in fact, started leaking into the mechanical components of the waffle iron, and I wondered for a minute if this was going to be my last time using that machine. Then the caramels started falling out of the waffle iron, jizzing all over my counter.

I took my first antidepressant this week. The effects were frightening.

The number of people with mental health problems is soaring, and the crisis-ridden NHS cannot cope

Popping my first Citalopram was quite a thing, not least because I dropped my pill about 90 minutes before curtain up for the RSC’s production of The Tempest at the Barbican.

Most people know about SSRIs, the antidepressant drugs that stop the brain from re-absorbing too much of the serotonin we produce, to regulate mood, anxiety and happiness. And a lot of people know about these drugs first hand, for the simple reason that they have used them. Last year, according to NHS Digital, no fewer than 64.7m antidepressant prescriptions were given in England alone. In a decade, the number of prescriptions has doubled.

On Tuesday I joined the throng, and popped my first Citalopram. It was quite a thing – not least because, like an idiot, I dropped my pill about 90 minutes before curtain up for the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of The Tempest at the Barbican. That’s right. This isn’t just mental illness: this is metropolitan-elite mental illness. It was a pretty overwhelming theatrical experience.

The first indication that something was up came as I approached my local tube station. I noticed that I was in a state of extreme dissociation, walking along looking as though I was entirely present in the world yet feeling completely detached from it. I had drifted into total mental autopilot.

Luckily, I was able to recognise my fugue. It’s a symptom of my condition, which, as I’ve written before, is complex post-traumatic stress disorder. The drug-induced dissociation was more intense than I’m used to when it’s happening naturally. I use the word advisedly. Much of what is thought of as illness is actually an extreme and sensible protective reaction to unbearable interventions from outside the self.

Elon Musk’s big battery brings reality crashing into a post-truth world

For months, politicians and fossil fuel industry have lied about the viability of renewables. Now Tesla’s big battery in South Australia will prove them wrong.
Tesla to build world’s biggest lithium ion battery in South Australia

South Australian premier Jay Weatherill listens to Tesla chief executive officer Elon Musk speak during an official ceremony in Adelaide to announce that Tesla will install the world’s largest grid-scale battery in the South Australian state.

Elon Musk’s agreement to build the world’s largest battery for South Australia isn’t just an extraordinary technological breakthrough that signs coal’s death warrant. It’s potentially a game changer in the way we do politics, reinserting the importance of basic reality into a debate which has been bereft of it for too long.

There’s been a lot written in recent years on the idea that we are living in a “post-truth” world. Climate writer David Roberts brought it to my attention around 2010, when I was grappling with the idea that dinosaur politicians and rent-seeking corporates not only weren’t telling the truth about climate change and energy: they were actively dismissive and destructive of the very idea of truth.

While we got a taste for it in Australia under Tony “don’t believe anything I haven’t written down” Abbott’s government, the idea sprang into the global mainstream last year with Donald Trump’s election campaign and the Brexit bus.

It seemed that truth no longer mattered. Facts were not just unimportant, but barriers to be smashed through with rhetoric. Demonstrating beyond reasonable doubt that a politician was lying no longer had any impact. Even when people agreed that he (usually) was lying, they still supported him, because he activated a frame or a value that drove their political decision-making.

Search Algorithms Kept Me From My Sister for 14 Years

It was because of the letter K that I found my youn­ger sister, but for 14 years, it was also the letter K that kept us apart.

I’d been ­­searching for her online under variations of the name Maria Christina Sugatan since we lost touch in 1997, after our mom refused to let me speak to her. She was Maria at school but Chris at home and, later, Chrissy. It became my ritual to search for variations of her name online.

Maria Christina, Maria, Chris, Chrissy.

It started on AltaVista, then Google, then MySpace. I figured it was only a matter of time before she was old enough to have an internet footprint. When Facebook came along and the whole world suddenly seemed on it, I was sure I would find her. But the years ticked by, and in my mind she finished high school, started college, and got a job. Still, my searches turned up nothing.

Then on the morning of January 9, 2011, I sat in my fourth-floor Manhattan walk-up, half a world away from where we’d lived together in working-class Chino, California. It was a new year and the sky had been gray for days, the lone tree outside my apartment stripped of leaves. I went on Facebook to look for her again.

We’ve been worrying about the end of work for 500 years

Broken Record, CD, MP3

Will machines take over jobs? We’ve been wondering for hundreds of years.

“The future of work” is suddenly everywhere—which is an interesting feat for a 500-year-old discussion.

Since the beginning of 2016, the topic has been featured in marketing campaigns by Walmart and GE, declared a priority by two widely respected global economics think tanks, and featured on the covers of myriad business and pop culture magazines.

The Atlantic, The Economist, and the New York Times have all hosted conferences during the last two years exploring work’s evolution, as have consultancies PwC, Deloitte, and McKinsey; the Aspen Institute and Brookings Institution; and Citrix, Xerox, and Adobe. Software companies Slack and Box have their own, similar events on the calendar.

Today many worry that strides in artificial intelligence—new machines that can parse legal documents, diagnose diseases, drive trucks, and complete other jobs once thought too complex to automate—will result in widespread unemployment, just as, in the late 16th century, Queen Elizabeth I denied a patent to the inventor of a new automated knitting machine because she feared it would take the jobs of “young maidens who obtain their daily bread by knitting.”

Technology has, of course, transformed the world since the 16th century. But the debate around how it will impact jobs in the future has evolved remarkably little in the process.

Two Giants of AI Team Up to Head Off the Robot Apocalypse

There’s nothing new about worrying that superintelligent machines may endanger humanity, but the idea has lately become hard to avoid.

A spurt of progress in artificial intelligence as well as comments by figures such as Bill Gates—who declared himself “in the camp that is concerned about superintelligence”—have given new traction to nightmare scenarios featuring supersmart software. Now two leading centers in the current AI boom are trying to bring discussion about the dangers of smart machines down to Earth. Google’s DeepMind, the unit behind the company’s artificial Go champion, and OpenAI, the nonprofit lab funded in part by Tesla’s Elon Musk, have teamed up to make practical progress on a problem they argue has attracted too many headlines and too few practical ideas: How do you make smart software that doesn’t go rogue?

“If you’re worried about bad things happening, the best thing we can do is study the relatively mundane things that go wrong in AI systems today,” says Dario Amodei, a curly-haired researcher on OpenAI’s small team working on AI safety. “That seems less scary and a lot saner than kind of saying, ‘You know, there’s this problem that we might have in 50 years.’” OpenAI and DeepMind contributed to a position paper last summer calling for more concrete work on near-term safety challenges in AI.

Can You Spot Fake News? A New Game Puts Your Knowledge to the Test

In 2017, misinformation is easier than ever to access. During the 2016 election, scammers—including hordes of Macedonian teens—raked in serious money by churning out deliberately fake stories about U.S. politics, with a very real impact. In a December 2016 Pew Research Center survey, 64 percent of U.S. adults said that fabricated news was sowing “a great deal of confusion” about current events.

It can be hard to determine what’s real and what’s fake in the viral news world. A new game—expected to launch for iPhone on July 10—will test your skills. Fake News, designed by the creative agency ISL, asks players to distinguish between headlines found on true stories and headlines drawn from fake news sites (as determined by fact-checking sites like Snopes, Politifact, FactCheck.org).

The simple, arcade-style game for iPhone asks you to swipe left on fake headlines and swipe right on true ones. You have 100 seconds to sort through as many headlines as you can, competing for the highest score with other users. For instance, did Arby’s really get its name because “RB” is another way of saying roast beef? (No, RB stands for Raffel Brothers, the founders.) Does Jeff Goldblum really have a food truck named Chef Goldblum’s? (Kind of. It was a film promotion stunt.)

Fake News also exists as a physical arcade game. The creators installed a table-top arcade game in a D.C. bar on July 5, and may install it elsewhere depending on demand.

Meanwhile, in Longmont…
Longmont’s ‘topless barber’ sentenced to 2 years in prison

Suzette Hall appeared in Boulder District Court in March.

A woman with more than 30 years of criminal history, including allegations of topless barbering and prostitution, was sentenced to two years in prison Friday — more time than what both the Boulder County probation department and Boulder District Attorney’s Office recommended.

Suzette Hall, 49, who is now a Wyoming resident, had pleaded guilty in May in an agreement with prosecutors to a second offense of unlicensed barbering/cosmetology and violation of a protection order.

Prosecutors dismissed two counts of violating bail bond conditions, a second offense of unauthorized practice of massage therapy and one felony count of bigamy.

Judge Ingrid Bakke said that even though Hall admitted to a low-level offense, she could not ignore Hall’s extensive record of victimizing people dating back to 1986.

“The history is just way too long and it’s just way too egregious,” she said.

DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY: “We charged her with bigamy not because we’re the morality police, but because she’s a con woman.”

Video Goodnesses
and not-so-goodnesses

The minute Michael Flynn walked off the stage at the Republican National Convention last July, he knew his speech hadn’t gone well, particularly the “Lock her up” part targeting the Democratic nominee. That’s what Flynn — who hasn’t spoken publicly since it emerged that he was under federal investigation — has been telling friends, VICE News has learned.

“He almost immediately wished that he had handled it differently,” said a source close to the former Army general. “He regrets it to this day. It was not at all in character for him.”

THANKS to HBO and VICE News for making this program available on YouTube.

Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin finally met face-to-face. Trump reportedly raised Russian interference in the election, but many experts say it appears the meeting was a victory for the Russians. David Filipov, Julianne Smith, and Michael McFaul join Ari Melber.

THANKS to MSNBC for making this program available on YouTube.

Fmr. Senior Associate General Counsel for the Director of National Intelligence Carrie Cordero reacts to Donald Trump’s meeting with Vladimir Putin at the G20 in Germany.

THANKS to MSNBC for making this program available on YouTube.

Apparently we’re supposed to believe everyone in Europe was talking about John Podesta. Yeah… Cenk Uygur, John Iadarola, and Francesca Fiorentini, hosts of The Young Turks, discuss.

A look into one of the deadliest drugs.

This is a Some News Special Report: A teleporting boar is terrorizing people all over the globe. People like to imagine that our eventual apocalypse will be brought on by sentient robots or flesh-hungry zombies or aliens that hate our treasured monuments. And those people are going to be the first to fall to our new swine overlords.

Bet you didn’t know Martin Luther King Jr. was Canadian.

THANKS to Comedy Network and The Beaverton for making this program available on YouTube.

Max putting his bird lips on anything and everything.


Reflections on Walmart’s exit from Boulder

In any community, everybody should have access to affordable, decent-quality necessities of life. At the same time, all companies involved in the production and distribution of those affordable essential goods should do business in ways that honor and care for people and the planet, not disrespect and damage them, and they should operate in ways that don’t destroy the local economies of the communities in which they operate.

For many years, there has been a national movement, comprising average citizens, small business owners, members of municipal governments, workers and a wide variety of organizations working for a better world, which has had as its aim to challenge and, when possible, help improve the policies and practices of the world’s largest retail corporation, Walmart. While there have also been efforts made, at times, to critique and alter the behaviors of other retail companies, the movement focused on Walmart has necessarily been more long-term and concerted due to the company’s gigantic size and its enormous, continuing levels of greed-driven, socially-environmentally irresponsible activity across the country and around the world.

Understanding well that Walmart’s always-trumpeted low prices (which, for many items, end up not being nearly as low as initially advertised) reflect a systematic cheating of their workers, their suppliers, their host communities and the environment, Boulder residents long opposed the mega-corporation’s moves to build a Supercenter here. That’s why Walmart used legal technicalities to hide its 2013 entry into the community. And once it was open for business, the Neighborhood Market and its controllers at the company’s Bentonville, Arkansas headquarters continued to do all they could to prevent Boulder from learning what was happening at the store and in the company as a whole. Specific information on store business volume wasn’t made public, we weren’t allowed to hear from associates working there who had complaints about their employment, and company management made little effort to genuinely converse with community members and respond to their concerns. Their strategy appeared to be one of waiting out negative publicity and hoping critics would eventually tire and go away. But we didn’t go away, and Boulder-area consumers didn’t spend enough at the store for it to remain open.

Ed. More tomorrow. Probably. Possibly. Maybe. Not?