A Ransom Sum Of Money
October 20, 2021
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“We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.” — Plato
A (Non)Sticky Situation
In 1946, DuPont introduced nonstick cookware coated with a chemical process it patented as Teflon. The family of chemicals that sprang from Teflon includes thousands of nonstick, stain-repellent, and waterproof compounds called PFAS, short for per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances. These highly-toxic fluorinated chemicals are used in a staggering array of consumer products and commercial applications. Over time, heavy use of PFAS resulted in contamination of water and soil, and in the blood of people and animals worldwide. They are known as “forever chemicals” because they never break down in the environment or in the body.
Chemical companies hid evidence that PFAS were a health hazard. In 2001, a scandal erupted in Parkersburg, West Virginia after the Teflon chemical was discovered in the drinking water of tens of thousands of people near a DuPont plant. The story is documented in the film “The Devil We Know.” A class-action lawsuit exposed the extent to which DuPont knew PFAS were hazardous and had contaminated tap water, but covered it up.
The “miracle of modern chemistry” is now a national crisis. Studies link PFAS to a long list of health problems, including cancer, a suppressed immune system, infertility, high cholesterol, and reduced efficacy of vaccines, yet U.S. manufacturers still use them in everything from cosmetics to food packaging. Public water systems aren’t required to monitor for any PFAS, and as many as 110 million people may be drinking PFAS-tainted water.
Previous administrations have known about the dangers of PFAS, but took scant action. The EPA began monitoring water near contaminated sites nearly a decade ago, but has done little to remedy the problem. According to the nonprofit Environmental Working Group, the number of U.S. communities confirmed to be contaminated with these highly toxic compounds continues to grow at an alarming rate. As of August 2021, 2,854 locations in 50 states and two territories are known to be contaminated.
The EPA doesn’t currently regulate PFAS in drinking water, but on Monday, the Biden administration announced a three-year initiative to regulate and restrict the use of PFAS. The EPA is now creating a plan to implement new national drinking water standards for PFOA and PFOS, two classes of PFAS, by the fall of 2023. It is also creating rules to stop companies from dumping PFAS into waterways, launching a national testing strategy, publishing toxicity assessments of PFAS chemicals and studying PFAS in fish. Europe has outright banned many PFAS chemicals, but the U.S. isn’t doing that. EPA administrator Michael Regan said “What we have to do is move very strategically through the regulatory process, and we’re going to do that in an expedited timeline.” Critics would argue the process has already taken way too long. (EWG, NBC News)
A Ransom Sum Of Money
- The criminal gang that abducted 17 missionaries outside Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Saturday has demanded $17 million in ransom. FBI agents continue working with local authorities in the tiny Caribbean nation to find the 16 U.S. nationals and one Canadian who were kidnapped.
- A former special agent with the FBI’s hostage rescue team said that if it became clear the gang was killing or threatening to kill hostages, the FBI would likely have a strike team on hand to attempt a rescue operation. The missionaries are from an Ohio-based Christian organization and were helping to rebuild structures damaged from a massive earthquake in August.
- Authorities believe the “400 Mawozo” gang is behind the kidnappings. Haiti’s dire political and economic situation and overwhelming poverty have created a fertile breeding ground for criminal gangs like 400 Mawozo. There are simply far too many young men without jobs who can be easily recruited. (CBS)
Blowing In The Wind
- Portuguese and Spanish authorities have seized 5.2 tons of cocaine from a sailboat on the high seas and arrested three suspects. It’s Portugal’s largest drug bust in 15 years and a world-record haul from a sailboat. Such large quantities are usually found on cargo ships and bigger motorized vessels. Authorities discovered 183 cloth sacks full of cocaine, destined for the continental European market, inside the sailboat in the Atlantic Ocean, about 342 miles from Portugal’s coast.
- Cocaine is the second most commonly used illicit drug in Europe. The crew members who were arrested — two Spanish nationals and one Peruvian — were already on authorities’ radar as being part of a powerful drug ring known for transporting drugs from Latin America to Europe. New gangs continue trying to muscle their way into the cocaine market, setting up more smuggling networks that directly link producers in Latin America to European consumers. (Reuters)
Additional World News
- Hezbollah leader declares his group has 100,000 fighters (AP)
- Arraignment date set for Venezuela envoy Saab accused of money laundering (Reuters)
- China to consider law to punish parents for young children’s ‘very bad behavior’ (The Hill)
- Swedish FM visits Israel to mend ties after diplomatic rift (AP)
- CDC travel advisories: Singapore placed at Level 4, “highest risk” for Covid (CNN)
- In Hungary’s Heartland, Orban Faces a Unified Challenge to His Rule (NYT, $)
- Israel gives legal status to 4K in gesture to Palestinians (Yahoo)
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Afghanistan Withdrawal Investigation Underway
- Diana Shaw, the State Department’s acting inspector general, wrote Congress on Monday that her office is launching a series of investigations into the end of the Biden administration’s diplomatic operations in Afghanistan. According to an October 15 action memorandum to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the reviews by the internal watchdog will focus on a wide scope.
- Included in the investigation will be the State Department’s Special Immigrant Visa program; Afghans processed for refugee admission into the U.S.; resettlement of those refugees and visa recipients; and the emergency evacuation of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul “to include evacuation of U.S. citizens and Afghan nationals.” The Pentagon’s inspector general also has at least three reviews underway related to the evacuation. (Politico)
Cashing Them In The Act
- A U.S. Treasury plan to track more Americans’ bank accounts to limit tax evasion by the wealthy has garnered severe pushback from the finance industry and conservative politicians. Under the first proposal introduced in May, banks would report to the IRS several new pieces of information, including the total amount of money flowing in and out of an account, with breakdowns for foreign transactions and transfers to the same account holder.
- Initially, banks were to track accounts with more than $600 of inflows or outflows. On Tuesday, the Treasury offered a new threshold: More than $10,000 in transfers in a given year would flag an account for reporting to the IRS; wage and salary deposits are not included. The proposal is part of a suite of laws that would close the so-called information gap — taxes that the government doesn’t know to collect because of income that goes unreported.
- A vast amount of those unpaid taxes belongs to the wealthiest 1% of taxpayers — by one estimate, $160 billion a year goes unpaid by this group. “If you earn wages, the IRS can see exactly what you make, and garnish your wages,” said a tax lawyer. “For higher-income people, the IRS doesn’t have exact information of what they make, and it’s harder to collect tax they owe.” (CBS News)
Additional USA News
- Trump sues Jan. 6 committee, National Archives seeking to block handover of documents (NBC)
- Zalmay Khalilzad, special envoy to Afghanistan, resigns (WaPo, $)
- California Has Driest Year Since 1924 (WSJ)
- What Joe Manchin Wants the Domestic Policy Bill to Look Like (NYT, $)
- Elijah McClain’s family reaches settlement with Aurora, Colorado (CNN)
- Justice Department asks Supreme Court to block Texas’ 6-week abortion ban (CNN)
- Two senior House Democrats announce they won’t run for reelection in 2022 (CNN)
Going Once, Going Twice…
- Where’s the line between hoarding worthless old items and retaining valuable vintage ones? Might as well ask how to time the stock market. But just in case anyone plans to toss out an older relative’s memorabilia when the time comes, here’s a tip: discard at your own risk. A 1967 Grateful Dead T-shirt was just auctioned off for $17,640 — a record-breaking price for a vintage rock T-shirt.
- The previous record was set in 2011, when a vintage Led Zeppelin shirt was sold for $10,000 on eBay. The Grateful Dead shirt was one of the band’s first pieces of official merchandise and was designed by Allan “Gut” Terk, a Hells Angel and graphic artist who was a prominent figure in California’s counterculture movement in the 1960s. The winning bidder, Bo Bushnell, operates the Outlaw Archive account on Instagram, which is dedicated to 1960s motorcycle culture.
- Something even more vintage is that coveted 1954 Superman lunch box with thermos. An estate planning law firm in New York values a mint-condition box showing the Man of Steel battling robots and rescuing a damsel in distress at about $13,000. eBay is offering one in rougher condition, with a little rust and spotting; the current bid is right at $2,700 — quite the bargain, maybe.
- Recently, six old Dr. Seuss books flew off the auction pages at exorbitant prices after the publisher said it wasn’t going to continue publishing them due to some racial insensitivity. You just never know what’s going to make you rich someday. Always remember: One person’s trash is another’s treasure. (Datebook, History, AP News)
- Netflix is reopening a movie theater in SoCal this month (The Verge)
- Nude artwork from Vienna museums finds home on OnlyFans (CNET)
- How to delete apps on your Android or Apple smartphones and tablets (USA Today)
- F.D.A. to Allow ‘Mix and Match’ Approach for Covid Booster Shots (NYT, $)
- Sinclair Broadcast Group hit with ransomware attack (ABC)
- Lucy’s solar panel hasn’t latched—a problem for a mission powered by the Sun (Ars Technica)
- Amazon plans to hire 150,000 seasonal workers as it ramps up for the holidays (CBS)
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