October 15, 2021
It’s time to play… Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader (if that 5th grader read a TON of news). Test your knowledge of recent world news with this short quiz. Submissions must be made by 12pm EST Monday, 10/18. The winner, announced Wednesday, will win bragging rights for the week as well as a free Daily Pnut t-shirt.
“Study is the bane of childhood, the oil of youth, the indulgence of adulthood, and a restorative in old age.” — Walter Savage Landor
Global Witness is an international NGO that has worked for nearly 30 years to break the links between natural resource exploitation, conflict, poverty, corruption, and human rights abuses worldwide. GW has a global network of allies and partnerships with land and environmental defenders. Their investigations — such as 2020’s Beef, Banks and the Brazilian Amazon — are known for meticulous attention to detail, usage of an ever-evolving variety of techniques like undercover filming, and scraping and analyzing open-source and leaked data sets.
In 2019, GW went undercover to investigate the growing threat facing Papua New Guinea (PNG) communities and tropical forests from palm oil companies driving widespread deforestation and human rights abuses. Investigators exposed corruption, labor violations, and destructive environmental practices in an industry that is rapidly clearing carbon-rich rainforests, and emitting greenhouse gases at a rate that deeply concerns climate scientists. The True Price of Palm Oil reveals recordings of managers detailing corruption and labor abuses to investigators posing as commodity traders. Palm oil executives and senior employees speak almost proudly about bribing officials (including a PNG government minister), paying police to brutalize villagers, using child labor, and participating in an apparent tax evasion scheme.
In recent years, Malaysian companies operating in PNG, including East New Britain Resources Group and Rimbunan Hijau (RH), have cleared tens of thousands of acres of rainforest. RH, whose name means “forever green,” single-handedly cleared nearly 81 square miles of coastal rainforest in New Britain province. In addition, RH was found to have ignored legal requirements to report numerous work-related deaths on their plantations. GW’s investigation also revealed how, by investing in banks notorious for financing harmful palm oil firms, global financiers like BlackRock indirectly profit from these human rights and environmental abuses.
Tainted palm oil and its derivatives from PNG plantations were sold to well-known big brands including Kellogg’s, Nestlé, Colgate-Palmolive, Danone, and Hershey. Many of the buyers have so-called No Deforestation, No Peat, and No Exploitation policies, but were still being supplied by palm oil companies with documented violations. The investigation has already provoked a response from 17 corporations, some of which have pledged to remove the palm oil companies GW identified as their suppliers.
Impoverished PNG sees its economic future in palm oil. By 2030, it plans to increase the size of its palm plantation tracts tenfold from the 2016 level of about 360,000 acres. Incongruously, the country has also pledged a sharp reduction in carbon emissions from deforestation by the same year in a national commitment to the U.N. (Global Witness, WaPo)
A Blowout Argument
- President Emmanuel Macron unveiled his $35 billion plan Tuesday to make France a leader in green hydrogen by 2030. He wants to build low-carbon planes and small modular reactors, as well as two megafactories for the production of green hydrogen, while ramping up production of electric vehicles. Other objectives include investing in semi-conductors and beefing up innovation in the French health sector, including biomedicine.
- Macron’s plan drew harsh criticism from both the opposition and environmental groups. Greenpeace called it “a festival of false solutions and wishful thinking [which] follow the same logic: constantly postpone the real (energy) transition and continue to produce as if the planet’s resources were unlimited.”
- Equally critical but for different reasons was far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen, who said Thursday that, if elected, she would take down France’s wind turbines and end all subsidies for renewable energy. “Wind and solar…are not renewable, they are intermittent…I will put a stop to all construction of new wind parks” and dismantle the rest. She supports building more nuclear reactors instead. (Reuters)
- Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) has been the only foreign carrier operating regular flights out of Kabul since the Taliban took over Afghanistan in August. Since then, tickets to the Pakistani capital of Islamabad jumped to 10 times the August rate. A dire shortage of seats meant one way tickets were selling for as much as $1,200.
- The Taliban government’s Transport Ministry let PIA and Afghan carrier Kam Air know that it wouldn’t stand for price-gouging and tickets should “be adjusted to correspond with the conditions of a ticket before the victory of the Islamic Emirate,” i.e. $120-150. Passengers were urged to report any violations of the order.
- PIA spokesman Abdullah Khan said the company has had to deal with officials making last-minute changes to regulations and flight permissions, and sky-high insurance premiums that made it impossible to operate scheduled flights. Plus, PIA staff were being intimidated, with its representative held at gunpoint for several hours. Accordingly, PIA suspended its flights to Kabul, citing “heavy-handed” interference from the Taliban. (BBC)
Additional World News
- Norway attack suspect ‘showed signs of radicalisation’ (Guardian)
- EU Offers UK Concessions on Northern Ireland. Here’s What the Spat Is About. (NYT, $)
- A fire at a building in southern Taiwan has left 46 dead and dozens hurt (NPR)
- The climate disaster is here (Guardian)
- Bali now open to tourists from 19 countries (CNN)
- Erdogan’s central bank overhaul clears way for more rate cuts (Reuters)
- Japan’s new PM dissolves lower house for Oct. 31 national election (NPR)
- The House Select Committee investigating the January 6 attack on the Capitol announced Thursday it will move to hold former Trump adviser Steve Bannon in criminal contempt for not complying with its subpoena ordering him to appear and produce documents. Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) said the panel will meet next Tuesday when the House returns to Washington to vote to adopt a contempt report.
- In a statement, Thompson said, “witnesses who try to stonewall the Select Committee will not succeed.” He added that Bannon wouldn’t get away with hiding behind “the former President’s insufficient, blanket, and vague statements regarding privileges he has purported to invoke. We reject his position entirely. [The committee] will not tolerate defiance of our subpoenas.” Congress’s enforcement power of subpoenas has some weak spots, but if it wants to really ramp up the pressure, there aren’t a lot of ways around avoiding a subpoena, other than going to jail. (WaPo)
Pfizer Flip Flop
- Joshua and Alexandra Price took their 4- and 5-year-old children to the local Walgreens in Evansville, Indiana, on October 4 for their yearly flu shots. 4-year-old Lucas “started feeling sick before we even got home from Walgreens,” Alexandra said. “He was feeling yucky, lethargic, and already had begun a fever.”
- About 90 minutes later, the pharmacist called saying a mistake had been made, and instead of flu shots, the entire family had been injected with adult doses of the Covid-19 vaccine. The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine doesn’t as yet have emergency use authorization for a smaller dose of vaccine for children ages 5 to 11.
- One medical expert said the Price children would probably do OK, but they’d gotten “a three times higher dose of a vaccine than is being tested in clinical trials.” The children’s symptoms — including fever, body aches, cough, headaches, and nausea — worsened. A pediatric cardiologist is treating them for tachycardia and elevated blood pressure. Walgreens had no comment for how the vaccine mix-up could have occurred. (CNN)
Additional USA News
- Stephen Breyer says now isn’t the time to lose faith in the Supreme Court (CNN)
- L.A. Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas and ex-USC dean indicted on bribery charges (LAT)
- Progressives warn against ‘false choice’ in Biden bill trims (AP)
- Chicago police union head urges cops to defy Covid vaccine mandate (NBC) –I put this link in yesterday
- Social Security checks getting big boost as inflation rises (AP)
- Herschel Walker cancels fundraiser with supporter who had swastika-shaped image in Twitter profile (CNN)
- Reagan ranch near Santa Barbara threatened by Alisal fire (LAT, $)
- Is there a better way for the mega-rich to invest their mega-dollars than on frivolity? Consider the “anonymous European female” who paid one million pounds ($1.4 million) three years ago for a work by British street artist Banksy. Unbeknownst to Sotheby’s London auctioneer or the buyer, Banksy had embedded a tiny shredder in the frame that whirred to life within minutes of the sale, leaving half the canvas hanging in strips.
- Sotheby’s received some criticism at the time for failing to spot the shredder, but the buyer decided to go ahead with the purchase. “Girl With a Balloon” soon became one of Banksy’s most famous, umm, pieces. The half-shredded work, now renamed “Love is in the Bin,” was scheduled to be auctioned off again on Thursday, but first it had to go on tour to cities like New York and Hong Kong. “Bin” obviously had some interest, garnering a presale estimate of 4 to 6 million pounds ($5.5 million to $8.2 million). Not a bad three-year return on investment.
- Nine bidders engaged in a ten-minute bidding war over the artwork. The bidding ended at nearly 18.6 million pounds ($25.4 million), a record for the artist and close to 20 times its pre-shredded price. The auctioneer said he was “terrified” to bring down the hammer to end Thursday’s sale, lest Banksy somehow had been able to pull off another big surprise. Sotheby’s chairman of modern and contemporary art called the shredding “one of the most ingenious moments of performance art this century.” How nice it must be to have an extra $25 million lying around, just for frivolity. A trip to space must be next. (AP News)
- ‘Extraordinary’ unknown radio signal from heart of Milky Way puzzles astronomers (CNET)
- “Hacker X”—the American who built a pro-Trump fake news empire—unmasks himself (Ars Technica)
- Meteorite Crashes Through Ceiling and Lands on Woman’s Bed (NYT, $)
- How a mass extinction resulted in the rise of the snakes (Ars Technica)
- Kristof leaves the Times in prep for governor run (Politico)
- Growing Crops Under Solar Panels? Now There’s a Bright Idea (Wired)
- Apple Studying Potential of AirPods as Health Device (WSJ)
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