South American River on Fire | A Murder in the Courtroom | Trump’s Vote of No Confidence
July 31, 2020
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The Good News
- Why We’re a Lot Better at Fighting Cancer Than We Realized (Nautilus). Scientists are finding smarter ways to test drugs to fight the emperor of all maladies.
- Kentucky town hires social workers instead of more officers – and the results are surprising (Wave 3 News). Everybody wins: the city saves money, police have more time to fight crime, and vulnerable people get the specialized help they really need.
- NASA Mars Launch 2020: Highlights From Perseverance Rover’s Journey (NYT, $). The last launch of this summer’s Mars missions.
“Our safety, our liberty, depends upon preserving the Constitution of the United States as our fathers made it inviolate. The people of the United States are the rightful masters of both Congress and the courts, not to overthrow the Constitution, but to overthrow the men who pervert the Constitution.” ― Abraham Lincoln
“Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.” ― Franklin D. Roosevelt
South America’s River of Fire
The Paraná is a river in south-central South America running through Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina. Over 3,000 miles long, it covers almost a million square miles. It is South America’s second largest river system after the Amazon, and the world’s eighth longest river. The river’s giant delta is clearly visible in satellite imagery as a dark green wedge on the northern margin of the Paraná, from the port city of Rosario, to Buenos Aires 186 miles northwest. The delta begins northeast of Rosario and is one of South America’s major wetland ecosystems.
Most locals depended on the wetlands for fishing and farming, but deforestation, infrastructure development, large-scale corporate agriculture, and cattle-ranching — combined with drought — have turned grasslands into tinder. Since February, thousands of fires have been raging through the delta’s grasslands, covering the streets of Rosario with giant plumes of smoke and leaving a layer of ash from scorched plants and animals. The air in the city has been unbreathable for weeks at a time.
Unregulated expansion of cattle ranching is the main culprit for the expanding fires. “The delta has always been used by livestock farmers to graze their cattle, but the number of cattle grew 500 percent between 2000 and 2010,” one ecologist said, adding: “…ranchers continue burning the dead winter grass as if they were still in the 19th century….”
So far, 2020 is one of the driest years on record, and the dead grass has become highly flammable. Without rain, parched canals cannot act as buffers to stop fires from expanding, threatening animals and wildlife. Environmentalists say the COVID-19 pandemic has made it almost impossible to see the terrain first hand. “We can’t go, but cattle ranchers, tourists and illegal hunters are still getting there.”
Occupants of Rosario’s riverfront homes and luxury condos once had a spectacular view of endless green grasslands — now it’s a wall of flames. “Everything is burning, it’s completely out of control,” said a Greenpeace Argentina spokesperson. “Once a fire reaches that scale, it becomes virtually impossible to stop.”
China Says No to the BNO
(Tolga Akmen via Getty Images)
- Earlier this month, the British government announced it would offer a pathway to citizenship for millions of overseas nationals in Hong Kong wanting to flee growing control exerted by Beijing in the semi-autonomous city. The announcement angered the Chinese government and fueled concerns that even those with British citizenship were now at greater risk.
- In an online press conference Thursday, China’s ambassador to the UK, Liu Xiaoming, said China will not recognize the British National Overseas passport (BNO) as a legal travel document, furthering concerns that the 3 million Hong Kong citizens eligible for the passport will be banned from leaving Hong Kong by the Chinese government. Liu said the offer breached the 1984 Memorandum of Agreement that promised the UK would not provide a permanent right of abode to BNO passport-holders.
- “Since the UK have violated their commitment, we have to let them know that we have to take measures not to recognise the BNO passport as a valid travel document,” the ambassador warned. Liu brought up Britain’s decision to ban Huawei’s products from 5G mobile networks, suggesting it could mean the loss of several billions in investment dollars. He also defended the disqualification of 12 pro-democracy candidates from this fall’s legislative elections in Hong Kong, saying the new security laws had nothing to do with free speech and only targeted a few criminals.
- Liu, who has been China’s ambassador to the UK for a decade, punctuated his press conference with videos seeking to debunk reports that Uighur Muslims have been suppressed in Xinjiang province. (Guardian)
- American national Tahir Ahmed Naseem was shot multiple times at close range after he appeared in a Pakistani courtroom for arraignment on charges of blasphemy. The assassination occurred Wednesday in the northwestern city of Peshawar; the shooter was immediately taken into custody.
- According to his charge sheet, Naseem had a dialogue on Facebook with a student at an Islamic school in Pakistan where he told the student he was a messiah sent by God, and later met the student in Peshawar. Police arrested Naseem and charged him with numerous crimes including insulting the Prophet Muhammad, which in Pakistan can be punishable by death. The head of the Peshawar High Court Bar Association said the shooter had no remorse and felt he was defending his religion.
- When asked how the killer got a gun into court past three different checkpoints, the lawyer said someone likely handed him a gun after he entered the building. On Thursday the US State Department tweeted: “We urge Pakistan to take immediate action and pursue reforms that will prevent such a shameful tragedy from happening again.” (Reuters)
Additional World News
- Justin Trudeau tells MPs he did not intervene to award contract to charity (Guardian)
- Ghislaine Maxwell: court unseals documents related to dealings with Epstein (Guardian)
- The Dictator Who Waged War on Darfur Is Gone, but the Killing Goes On (NYT, $)
- Belarus says it’s arrested Russian mercenaries, as rift grows between strongmen Putin and Lukashenko (CNN)
- China Uses Quarantines as Cover to Detain Dissidents, Activists Say (NYT, $)
- China Tries Its Favorite Economic Cure: More Construction (NYT, $)
- ‘This Is a New Phase’: Europe Shifts Tactics to Limit Tech’s Power (NYT, $)
- Poverty Is a Choice: Extreme poverty has declined, but the line is very low. (Politico)
- Theoretical Physicists Say 90% Chance of Societal Collapse Within Several Decades (Vice)
- The odd, growing list of Covid-19 symptoms, explained (Vox)
- A Viral Epidemic Splintering Into Deadly Pieces (NYT)
- Russian Intelligence Agencies Push Disinformation on Coronavirus Pandemic (NYT)
- Anthony Fauci Explains Why the US Still Hasn’t Beaten Covid (Wired)
- More Than 6,600 Coronavirus Cases Have Been Linked to U.S. Colleges (NYT)
- Louie Gohmert Tests Positive for Coronavirus After Refusing to Wear A Mask (NYT)
- Texas Republicans Spar Over Virus Response (NYT)
- Aboard the Diamond Princess, a Case Study in Aerosol Transmission (NYT)
- Mounting poisonings, blindness, deaths as toxic hand sanitizers flood market (Ars Technica)
- Some scientists are taking a DIY coronavirus vaccine, and nobody knows if it’s legal or if it works (Technology Review)
- The death of the city: Teleworking, not the coronavirus, is making urban living obsolete. (Politico)
Trump’s Vote of No Confidence
(Chip Somodevilla via Getty Images)
- On Thursday it was announced that the US economy had its worst drop on record, shrinking one-third in the second quarter of 2020. This GDP drop was nearly four times worse than during the peak of the financial crisis, when the economy contracted at an annual rate of 8.4 percent in the fourth quarter of 2008. The bad economic news coincides with a push for universal mail-in voting and falling approval numbers for President Trump.
- Trump’s waning approval ratings likely explain his tweet earlier Thursday: “With Universal Mail-In Voting (not Absentee Voting, which is good), 2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history. It will be a great embarrassment to the USA. Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???” Not only is there no real distinction between absentee and mail-in voting, and no widespread fraud in US elections, only Congress has the authority to set the date for voting.
- The tweet is the latest example of Trump making incendiary comments on Twitter and putting Republicans in an awkward spot when dealing with the fallout. An array of congressional Republicans were quick to openly strike down the suggestion, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell insisting the election will go on as planned: “Never in the history of the country, through wars, depressions and the Civil War, have we ever not had a federally-scheduled election on time. We’ll find a way to do that again this November 3rd.”
- Despite Trump’s lack of authority to change the voting date, his tweet reinforces something Democrats have long feared — that both the president and his supporters could refuse to accept the results of November’s election. (CNN)
Unemployment Isn’t So Cut and Dry
- As Congress works through its current stimulus stalemate, the defining issue of the economic revival package has become the continuation of enhanced unemployment benefits. The extra $600 provided by the federal government to supplement state benefit systems has now become a partisan line in the sand.
- Republicans claim the excess money discourages furloughed workers from returning to their jobs, while Democrats argue those jobs aren’t available to begin with. Mitch McConnell and company believe that federal benefits should be based on an unemployed worker’s previous salary, rather than offering a standard sum to everyone. According to a recent study from a progressive think tank, this new structure would shrink average weekly payments from $920.68 to $520.68 nationwide. Economists predict this 55% decrease in spending could cause significant changes to America’s economic landscape if the Republican agenda comes to pass.
- Mark Zandi, the chief economist at Moody Analytics, forebodes a “meaningful hit to the economy” if enhanced benefits are slashed. If the current $600 figure is cut to $200, he estimates a loss of over 1 million jobs and a 0.6% raise in the unemployment rate. The rationale behind such skepticism is that a decrease in average spending power leads to precipitous drop in demand, causing a spiral into further job loss.
- To combat this, congressional Republicans are instead touting another round of stimulus checks to keep demand up. However, policy analysts criticize this strategy’s lack of specificity: while unemployment benefits go directly to those most harmed by the pandemic — those who lost their jobs — stimulus checks are given to everyone, and could lead to a gross misallocation of dwindling resources. (Politico)
Additional USA News
- Time and time again, it’s been proven that communities of color are disproportionately affected by pollution and climate change. These communities have less resources to deal with health problems associated with pollution, but the larger environmental movement and the US government largely ignore them: Pollution Is Killing Black Americans. This Community Fought Back. (NYT, $)
- How Brett Kavanaugh tried to sidestep abortion and Trump financial docs cases (CNN)
- ‘I failed my fellow Americans’: the white women defecting from Trump (Guardian)
- Trump Is Dog-Whistling. Are ‘Suburban Housewives’ Listening? (NYT, $)
- Michigan Threatens to Slip From Trump as He Goes Quiet on Airwaves (NYT, $)
- In Portland, Trump Hijacked Homeland Security (NYT, $)
- Armed civilian groups surge into local politics in the Pacific Northwest (WaPo, $)
- Federal Tactical Teams to Withdraw From Portland, Governor Says (NYT, $)
- Help Me Find Trump’s ‘Anarchists’ in Portland (NYT, $)
- This Republican implosion has been a long time coming (WaPo, $)
- Jeff Bezos Just Published a 4,000 Word Statement to Congress. It’s a Master Class in Emotional Intelligence (Inc.)
- Survivors Urge Facebook to Remove Holocaust Denial Posts (Time)
- How to Fight Against Big Tech’s Power (NYT, $)
Rage Against the Machine (Learning)
- While constant coverage of companies like Google, Amazon, and TikTok may lead you to believe that artificial intelligence has officially arrived on the corporate scene, many companies are hesitant to buy into the hype. While large conglomerates consistently use machine learning to increase efficiency and augment the consumer experience, a recent study from the US Census Bureau found that smaller businesses have been thoroughly excluded from the AI craze.
- Surprisingly, only 8.9% of American firms utilize any type of artificial intelligence, ranging anywhere from voice recognition to autonomous vehicles. Machine learning — the system which allows computers to automatically improve through experience — is only present in 2.8% of US businesses.
- The key determinant of AI adoption is scale, as larger firms with more employees and data sets tend to depend on computerized labor to manage their operations. Smaller, more local businesses tend to ignore or reject the notion that AI can help them expand with efficiency.
- This may change, however, as in-person labor becomes more untenable due to COVID-19. The prospect of supplementing, or even replacing, human decision making with a supersmart computer should only become more and more appetizing for small businesses looking to survive this treacherous economic period.
- With so much of our corporate AI innovation occurring in America’s largest firms, some experts fear that technology will allow for long-established firms to become monopolies. Boston University economist Pascual Restrepo offered this anecdote when considering the study’s findings: “As a general principle, when technology adoption concentrates amongst a handful of firms, the gains will not be fully passed to consumers.” (Wired)
- Researchers Figure Out How To Genetically Alter Squid (NPR)
- How the Ultimate Live-in Boyfriend Evolved His Way Around Rejection (NYT, $)
- 1,000-year-old medieval remedy could be potential antibiotic, scientists say (CNN)
- How to Use Breathing to Improve Your Health, With Journalist James Nestor (Lifehacker)
- Is Your Blood Sugar Undermining Your Workouts? (NYT, $). As we learn more and more about health and fitness, one thing becomes increasingly apparent: diet is the most important factor in health.
- Why Success Won’t Make You Happy (Atlantic, $). Success can be an addiction: in workaholic American society, people are screwing up relationships and personal health for that next hit of work-related dopamine.
- A landmark study shows what makes a successful relationship (CNN)
- There’s No Such Thing as Family Secrets in the Age of 23andMe (Wired, $)
- Take a break from Eurocentric history: Western Strategists Are Obsessed With Thucydides, Athens, and Sparta. Here Are Some Asian Alternatives. (Foreign Policy)
- How “best seller” lists changed the landscape of publishing: The Power of Flawed Lists (Lapham’s Quarterly)
- Why Is Bob Ross Still So Popular? (Atlantic, $)
- Seth Rogen: ‘I was fed a huge amount of lies about Israel’ (Guardian)
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