Big Pharma & The Overdosing of Mother Nature | No Taxation for Rich Representation | The Robots Are Coming!

APRIL 15, 2019  /   SUBSCRIBE


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“Income tax returns are the most imaginative fiction being written today.”

“Remember this, if you can–there is nothing, nothing more precious than time. You probably feel you have a measureless supply of it, but you haven’t. Wasted hours destroy your life just as surely at the beginning as at the end–only in the end it becomes more obvious.”

– Herman Wouk



Overdosing Mother Nature, Small Pond: Both scientific and anecdotal information about various drugs’ effects on human physiology bounds. But medicines also have an impact in the wild. Our bodies, homes, and factories are emitting pharmaceuticals that enter waterways and accumulate in fish, bugs, mollusks, crustaceans, birds, and warm-blooded animals. Areas around drug-manufacturing plants are hot spots for pharmaceutical pollution, as are waterways near hospitals and aging sewage infrastructure. Medicinal compounds have even been detected in remote environments, like surface waters in Antarctica. Traces of many drugs — antifungals, antimicrobials, and antibacterials — as well as ones for pain, fertility, mood, sleeplessness, and neurodegenerative diseases have been found in waterways.

While it is difficult to track medicines’ affect in the wild, toxicologists believe their influences on fauna can occur at low concentrations, and may be distinct from their impacts on humans. Lab studies of marine life have demonstrated a variety of symptoms. Amphetamines change the timing of aquatic insect development; antidepressants impede cuttlefish’s learning and memory, and cause marine and freshwater snails to peel off rocks. Drugs that affect serotonin levels in humans cause shore crabs to exhibit “risky behavior,” and female starlings to become less attractive to males, who in turn sing less. Shrimp dosed with Prozac are more likely to swim toward a light source, making them more vulnerable to predators hunting in sunlit areas. When Atlantic small salmon, called smolts, are exposed to anti-anxiety benzodiazepines they migrate nearly twice as quickly as their unmedicated counterparts, meaning the juvenile fish are likely to arrive at the sea in an underdeveloped state and before seasonal conditions are favorable.

Recent modeling shows that a platypus living in a contaminated stream in Melbourne is already likely to ingest more than half a recommended adult dose of antidepressants every day. If current trends persist, scientists estimate that by 2050 the volume of pharmaceuticals diffusing into fresh water could have increased by two-thirds. Humans can appreciate that they can affect the mental health of captive animals; now they should know they may also inadvertently be changing the mental health of wildlife.



A Climate Change Of Scenery: Migrants heading north from Central America aren’t all fleeing violence — many are fleeing climate change. Rising temperatures, more extreme weather events, and increasingly unpredictable weather patterns have disrupted growing cycles and invigorated pests, further worsening the plight of struggling farmers in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. Scientists say Central America is among the regions most vulnerable to climate change, and because a high percentage of the labor force works in agriculture, the livelihoods of millions of people are at stake. The US has allocated tens of millions of dollars in aid in recent years to help farmers across Central America cope with the changing climate. But President Trump said he will cut off all foreign aid to those states over what he says are their governments’ failure to curb the flow of migrants north. That plan, of course, would simply undermine the very efforts to alleviate the problems that are driving people to abandon their farms and strike out for America. (NYT) Additional read: How Climate Change Is Fuelling the U.S. Border Crisis: In the western highlands of Guatemala, the question is no longer whether someone will leave but when. (The New Yorker, $)

Coup Déjà vu: Sudan’s long-serving leader Omar al-Bashir was overthrown in a military coup last week after sustained civilian protests. Crowds gathered outside the Ministry of Defense had asked the army to help them topple Bashir. The trajectory of ouster seems to have exactly followed Egypt’s “Arab Spring” playbook. While those 2011 uprisings in Egypt and elsewhere raised hopes of political and economic reforms, the army was watching the unrest patiently from the sidelines. Military leaders then capitalized on the turmoil, stepping in and brushing President Hosni Mubarak aside. A military council took charge to oversee a chaotic transition during which Egypt’s first democratic elections took place. Two years later army chief Gen. Abdel al-Sisi led the overthrow of Egypt’s first freely elected president, Mohamed Mursi. Sisi then won elections in 2014 and 2018 with overwhelming percentages of the vote, and parliament has proposed constitutional reforms that could allow him to remain president until 2034. (Reuters) Additional read: Sudan and Algeria have ousted leaders, but revolutions rarely end happily: The North African nations face their hardest test: can they resist the trend towards authoritarian rule?(Guardian)

Additional World News:



Behind Enemy Lines: A Fox News poll in February showed almost half of registered Republican voters agreed with White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders that “God wanted Donald Trump to become president.” Over the weekend Sen. Bernie Sanders began a campaign speech in Wisconsin, a state that was key to President Trump’s 2016 victory, by launching a full-on attack against the president. Sanders called him a “pathological liar,” and said: “The biggest lie was that he was going to stand up for working families and take on the establishment.” Sanders’s blistering attacks reflect his developing, and arguably risky, strategy of reaching out to Trump’s voters. It’s a sharp contrast with other Democratic candidates who are focused on mobilizing Trump opponents. The most striking example of this strategy will play out Monday night when Sanders appears at a town hall meeting hosted by Fox News Channel. He says it’s important to talk to Fox viewers directly and tell them Trump misled them. (WaPo, $)

What Would Jesus and God Fearing Republicans Do? Bernie Sanders has taken on the GOP conviction that Donald Trump in the White House is part of God’s plan by questioning how it is they could juxtapose the most outwardly amoral man ever to occupy the office with divine power? But to the majority of Republican voters, secular snark is just a merit badge on the MAGA hat. Two other Democratic presidential hopefuls, Pete Buttugieg and Stacey Abrams, are approaching the conundrum differently. They are applying something like a “What Would Jesus Do?” test to rouse religious conscience on the political battlefield. (NYT)



Mo’ Money Less Taxes: In 2009 at the beginning of the Obama administration the IRS formed an elite team of specialists to try and unravel the tax dodges of the ultra rich. Wealth inequality was widening, and rich people were evading taxes through ever more sophisticated means. Obama’s IRS commissioner aimed to end the country’s revenue losses with what he proclaimed would be “a game-changing strategy.” In 2012 the elite tax team began an audit of the billionaire scion of a family-owned German manufacturer, Georg Schaeffler, who was working as a corporate lawyer in Dallas. After four contentious years Scheffler was advised in June 2016 the IRS had determined he had engaged in abusive tax maneuvers to mask about $5 billion in income; the government wanted $1.2 billion in back taxes and penalties. But after seven years of grinding bureaucratic combat, the IRS abandoned its campaign and informed Schaeffler’s lawyers it was willing to accept just tens of millions. So how, with a team of its finest experts working years on a signature mission, was the result for the IRS so piddling? The Schaeffler case offers a rare window into just how challenging it is to take on the ultrawealthy. And with President Trump in office, an Inspector General report said the IRS “appeared to no longer emphasize the collection of delinquent accounts of global high wealth taxpayers.” (ProPublica)

The Robots Are Here and The Robot Hordes Are Coming!Workers worry about robots stealing jobs, just not their jobs. They may be overconfident (CNBC) And The basics of modern AI—how does it work and will it destroy society this year?: Today’s AI is technically “weak”—but it’s complex and can have a great societal impact. (Ars Technica) And AI systems should be accountable, explainable, and unbiased, says EU: The European Union has published new guidelines on developing ethical AI(The Verge) Andrew Yang: the 2020 candidate warning of the rise of robots: The entrepreneur says Trump won the 2016 election because the US automated away jobs – so he wants to become president to do something about it. (Guardian)




“Technological progress has merely provided us with more efficient means for going backwards.” – Aldous Huxley

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