It’s Training Time
April 8, 2021
The Good News
- Georgetown University to Offer Bachelor’s Degree Program to Maryland Inmates (NBC)
- More Than 316,000 Bald Eagles Live in the Lower 48, New Estimate Says (All About Birds)
Our decisions about transportation determine much more than where roads or bridges or tunnels or rail lines will be built. They determine the connections and barriers that people will encounter in their daily lives – and thus how hard or easy it will be for people to get where they need and want to go. — Elijah Cummings
Biden Trains His Sights On Amtrak
Transportation is the largest source of US greenhouse gas emissions. A good high-speed rail system would work wonders to help ease that problem. But America’s passenger rail system lags far behind the rest of the developed world.
Elsewhere, most high-speed rail projects are built, funded, and fully subsidized by a nation’s government. Amtrak is government-owned, but the vast majority of America’s rail infrastructure is owned by private companies, who see no profit in passenger rail. The sparse passenger rail network that does exist is grievously behind in safety standards compared to countries like the UK, France, and Japan that rely heavily on high-speed rail.
Every budget submitted by President Trump proposed cutting funding for Amtrak in half — fortunately Congress disagreed. Still, major investment in high-speed rail remained the dream of few.
President Biden has a different vision, as he is well known for his former daily Amtrak commute from home in Wilmington, Delaware to Washington, DC and back. Included in the President’s proposed $2.2 trillion infrastructure package are two provisions for major rail investments: $85 billion to modernize public transit (commuter rail, buses, stations, etc.) and $80 billion to improve and expand the nation’s passenger and freight rail network.
Biden said his American Jobs Plan “will build new rail corridors and transit lines, easing congestion, cutting pollution, slashing commute times, and opening up investment in communities that can be connected to the cities, and cities to the outskirts, where a lot of jobs are these days. It’ll reduce the bottlenecks of commerce at our ports and our airports.”
The White House said that rail investment would “address Amtrak’s repair backlog; modernize the high traffic Northeast Corridor; improve existing corridors and connect new city pairs; and enhance grant and loan programs that support passenger and freight rail safety, efficiency, and electrification.”
For those who’ve been eager for alternatives to the car, this commitment is what they’ve been waiting for. “President Biden’s plan would revolutionize the way Americans travel, finally launching U.S. passengers into the 21st century,” said the president of the Rail Passengers Association.
Amtrak enthusiastically responded to Biden’s plan, putting out a map and a vision for what an expanded US rail network would look like by 2035. Some 30 new routes added, and more trips made available on 20 existing ones. Potential new service lines to connect all of Texas’ biggest cities; new connections made across the Midwest, including between Cincinnati, Columbus, and Cleveland, Ohio. New routes in the southeast stretching from Atlanta to Chattanooga and Nashville, Tennessee, Savannah, Georgia, and Montgomery, Alabama. There would be service to almost every state in the contiguous US.
Around the country, local news gleefully imagined what expanded rail could mean for their communities, like new service from Baton Rouge to New Orleans, and Las Vegas to Los Angeles. One radio station said the plan “would bring Amtrak passenger service back to Phoenix for the first time in decades.” And on Twitter, people started posting the rail lines they want to see — like a direct route from Ohio to Florida. (Geography of Transport Systems, Guardian, NPR)
Greenland Pledges To Be Even Greener
(Emil Helms via Getty Images)
- Greenland is an Arctic island of 56,000 people, part of the Kingdom of Denmark but with broad autonomy. Mining development has been contentious for years, with some seeing it as the way to independence and others worried about the environmental impact. The Kvanefjeld mining project would extract uranium, and rare earths including neodymium, used in wind turbines, electric vehicles and combat aircraft.
- Last year, Prime Minister Kim Kielsen and his governing, pro-mining Siumut party helped license-holder Greenland Minerals obtain preliminary approval to proceed. The Australian firm spent more than $100 million preparing the mine and has proven processing technology through its Chinese partner Shenghe Resources.
- Now that project is on hold, after Greenland’s left-wing Inuit Ataqatigiit party won a comfortable victory in Tuesday’s parliamentary election and pledged its opposition to the Kvanefjeld project. A lecturer on Arctic affairs said Greenlanders weren’t opposed to mining per se, just dirty mining, referring to uranium and rare earth projects.
- “Greenlanders are sending a strong message that for them it’s not worth sacrificing the environment to achieve independence and economic development.” (Al Jazeera)
Beware The Carpet Cleaner
- Parkinson’s disease is the fastest-growing neurological disorder in the world, and the US is experiencing an explosion of cases. In the last decade, the number of Parkinson’s cases in America has increased 35%, and a neurologist at the University of Rochester Medical Center thinks over the next 25 years it will double again.
- Most cases of the disease are considered idiopathic — without a clear cause. But researchers now believe one factor is environmental exposure to trichloroethylene (TCE), a chemical compound used in industrial degreasing, dry-cleaning, and household products like some shoe polishes and carpet cleaners. TCE is a carcinogen already linked to renal cell carcinoma, cancers of the cervix, liver, biliary passages, lymphatic system and male breast tissue, fetal cardiac defects, and more.
- Several studies point to a link between Parkinson’s and workplace exposure to TCE. The US Labor Department issued guidance on TCE saying exposures to carbon disulfide (CS2) and TCE are presumed to “cause, contribute or aggravate Parkinsonism.” (Guardian)
Additional World News
- Israel-Iran Sea Skirmishes Escalate as Mine Damages Iranian Military Ship (NYT, $)
- UK’s ‘headlong rush into abandoning human rights’ rebuked by Amnesty (Guardian)
- Taiwan to hold war games with computer-simulated Chinese invasion (Al Jazeera). The country recently switched from a Halo- to a Call of Duty-based simulation.
- IMF proposes ‘solidarity’ tax on pandemic winners and wealthy (Financial Times)
- Croatian border police accused of sexually assaulting Afghan migrant (Guardian)
- Best served chilled: green tech keeps the cool on India’s dairy farms (Guardian)
- Conflict and COVID driving ‘staggering’ hunger in DR Congo: UN (Al Jazeera)
- There’s a new sheriff in town: New UK watchdog set to curb Big Tech’s hold over news media (Al Jazeera)
- Simulation: Why You Need High Vaccination Rates To Stop A Pandemic (NPR)
- One in three survivors of severe Covid diagnosed with mental health condition (Guardian)
- EU drug regulator: Unusual blood clot is ‘very rare AstraZeneca side effect’ (BBC)
- Likely Legal, ‘Vaccine Passports’ Emerge as the Next Coronavirus Divide (NYT, $)
Texas Kills Off The Moratorium
- The Texas state court system is signaling that it will no longer enforce a federal order aimed at stopping evictions during the coronavirus pandemic, clearing the way for landlords to move forward with tens of thousands of eviction cases that have been on hold.
- The Texas Supreme Court had previously issued an emergency order requiring judges to enforce a federal eviction moratorium from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention under which landlords cannot evict renters if they sign a declaration saying they have no other good housing options. That emergency order has expired. An advisory body to Texas courts has issued guidance essentially telling judges that it’s not their job to enforce the CDC’s order.
- Legal aid attorneys are warning that the state is about to allow a wave of people to be put out of their homes, with no place to go. “We’ve had a failure of leadership that’s going to result in tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of Texans becoming homeless in relatively short order,” said an attorney who heads up a pro bono team of 175 volunteer lawyers in Dallas.
- The timing is particularly painful for many families because Congress has approved billions of dollars to help people pay the rent they owe to avoid eviction, but the vast majority of renters haven’t been able to receive any of that money yet. (NPR)
He Lost The Info Battle, And Now He’s Lost The Infowars
- In 2019, right-wing conspiracy theorist, Trump ally, and Austin-based Infowars host Alex Jones used his show to promote the theory that the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting, which killed 20 children and six educators, was a hoax engineered by the government. Jones’ followers subjected the victims’ families to harassment and death threats.
- Jones was sued for defamation in Austin by the parents of a six-year-old who was among the 26 people killed in the Newtown, Connecticut, attack. A Texas judge ordered Jones to pay $100,000 in legal fees and refused to dismiss the case. Jones was also sanctioned by a Connecticut judge in another defamation suit brought by shooting victims’ family members. The Connecticut judge barred Jones from filing a motion to dismiss the case and said she would order him to pay some of the families’ legal fees.
- Jones argued he should not be sanctioned for exercising his free speech rights. In 2020, Connecticut’s Supreme Court upheld the lower court ruling and Jones appealed to the US Supreme Court. On Monday, the high court turned down Jones’ appeal without comment. (Guardian, Hartford Courant)
Additional USA News
- Group-Chat App Discord Says It Banned More Than 2,000 Extremist Communities (NPR)
- Why Utah is making men pay women’s pregnancy costs (BBC)
- Senior Trump and Biden officials knew for months about problems at vaccine plant (Politico)
- Farmer Bill: Bill Gates is the biggest private owner of farmland in the United States. Why? (Guardian)
- States Should Make Schools Police-Free (Appeal)
- Biden and the waning of the ‘neoliberal’ era (WaPo, $)
- Hungry for change: Biden Effort to Combat Hunger Marks ‘a Profound Change’ (NYT, $)
- Why Kentucky Just Became the Only Red State to Expand Voting Rights (NYT, $)
- Matt Gaetz, Loyal for Years to Trump, Is Said to Have Sought a Blanket Pardon (NYT, $). You know, just in case.
Let The Puzzling Commence
- In July 1903, the Lord Mayor of London presented to the President of France an intricately decorated golden casket containing a scroll celebrating friendship. The next April, England and France signed the Entente Cordiale, in the hope it would put an end to centuries of antagonism between the two countries.
- Artist Michel Becker, fascinated by the story, tracked down and bought the golden casket, valued at almost $900,000. Becker then set out to illustrate a treasure hunt puzzle book, The Golden Treasure of the Entente Cordiale. Whoever solves the clues in Becker’s forthcoming book will win the casket.
- A French version and an English version are published on Thursday, each one containing different clues leading to two separate locations. Each book contains nine puzzles, created by Vincenzo Bianca and made up of illustrations by Becker, along with secret text hidden in the accompanying story written by Pauline Deysson.
- Readers must crack the hidden code in the illustration to find the missing text, which will help them solve the conundrum. Once all nine puzzles are solved, readers will be able to find where two geode crystal keys have been buried, one in the UK, and one in France. Becker and Bianca write in the book: “This is not an easy treasure hunt. In order to conquer it, you will need tenacity: a treasure is accessible only to the brave.”
- We wish Becker’s treasure hunters better luck than all those who looked for years for a chest full of goods worth a million-plus dollars, hidden in the Rocky Mountains in 2010 by Santa Fe author and artifacts dealer Forrest Fenn. An estimated 350,000 people went on that hunt, many quitting their jobs, and several losing their lives. It took a decade before someone finally found it.
- Becker previously illustrated Max Valentine’s legendary treasure hunt book, The Hunt for the Golden Owl. Published in 1993, it contained 11 puzzles which, when solved, would locate the golden owl sculpted by Becker. It has never been solved. (Guardian, Outside)
- To Name Unknown Soldiers, Military Mulls Crime-Solving DNA Methods (NYT, $)
- A dismal future of remote work: Serve Food in Far-Away Restaurants—Right From Your Couch (Wired)
- Let Us Now Praise Tiny Ants (NYT, $)
- Bat catchers fight the next pandemic – in pictures (Guardian)
- Finding From Particle Research Could Break Known Laws of Physics (NYT, $)
- Haruki Murakami: ‘I’ve Had All Sorts Of Strange Experiences In My Life’ (NPR)
- The crucial legacy missing from US food (BBC)
- US restaurants face ketchup packet shortage amid Covid pandemic (BBC). Demand is skyrocketing and supply can’t ketchup.
- 5 Minutes That Will Make You Love Brahms (NYT, $)
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