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One of the world’s biggest cities is running out of water. Sao Paulo, a city of 20 million people, could run dry within weeks. The humanitarian and economic cost would be immense. The fiasco should be a global wake-up call for other metropolises. Hoping for rain isn’t a strategy. Chronic shortages would bring social unrest and undermine the city that is responsible for more than a fifth of the country’s GDP and is the capital of a region that accounts for 40 percent of Brazil’s industrial production.
The following claims have attained quasi-canonical status in Washington: The presence of US forces in the Islamic world contributes to regional stability and enhances US influence; the Persian Gulf constitutes a vital US national security interest; Egypt and Saudi Arabia are valued and valuable American allies; the interests of the United States and Israel align; and, terrorism poses an existential threat that the United States must defeat. Subjected to even casual scrutiny, none of the five will stand up.
Walmart avoids $1 billion a year in taxes through federal loopholes. The losers are the working-class consumers who think they’re getting a good deal by elbowing through the mob surrounding the Xbox floor display. An even more convenient source of “savings” for Walmart operates on the retail level, through the pockets of consumers and workers who rely on taxpayer-funded federal welfare programs.
Many believe that the American economy has some inherent advantages over its major competitors — a more flexible structure, stronger entrepreneurial traditions and a more demographically vibrant society. Along comes a fascinating new book that says you ain’t seen nothing yet. Peter Zeihan’s “The Accidental Superpower” begins with geography, pointing out that the United States is the world’s largest consumer market for a reason: its rivers.
As the Pentagon absorbed the shock of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s unexpected resignation Monday, another realization set in: Neither Hagel’s departure, just like those of his two predecessors, nor the arrival of his successor promises major changes in the administration’s approach to national security policy. The U.S. military still will be tasked with degrading and destroying the Islamic State with minimal involvement of ground troops.
A study published in The Lancet sheds light on a little-discussed issue affecting U.S. military veterans – a lack of health insurance coverage. Using numbers from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, the authors determined that more than 1.2 million veterans lacked health insurance in 2012, in line with previous studies that came to similar conclusions.
Henry Kissinger is the most famous and most divisive secretary of state the US has ever had. In an interview, he discusses his new book exploring the crises of our time, from Syria to Ukraine, and the limits of American power. He says he acted in accordance with his convictions in Vietnam.
Criticism of Obama’s forthcoming executive order has centered around the idea that Obama plans an unconstitutional power grab, but his action is within the bounds of the law because it focuses on changes to the administration’s enforcement priorities. That doesn’t mean that Obama’s executive order deserves no criticism – it will do nothing for the unaccompanied minors and families whose desperate flight to the United States last summer may have finally pushed the White House to act.
When people think of the world’s “population problem,” they often focus on rapid demographic growth in parts of the developing world. But, globally, the population-growth rate is actually falling, and population is expected to plateau later this century. Though we cannot afford to ignore the fact that, according to United Nations estimates, there will be 2.4 billion more mouths to feed worldwide by mid-century, another population problem also merits serious attention: large pockets of demographic decline.
A loose system of individual commitments, in which each country unilaterally sets emissions targets, can help build trust and momentum for a more inclusive successor to the Kyoto Protocol. But if such a system is to work, general agreement would need to exist about what constitutes a fair target for each country. Fortunately, a study of the emissions targets to which countries have already agreed allows us to describe, and even quantify, what has historically been considered fair and reasonable.
The campaigns mounted by privacy advocates oftentimes make a compelling case about the threat of pervasive surveillance, but the legislation is rarely tailored in such a way to prevent the harm that advocates fear. In fact, the new laws are focused on the technology (drones) not the harm (pervasive surveillance) and have been aimed at restricting the government’s use of drone technology, while allowing the government to conduct identical surveillance when not using drone technology. This absurd anachronism is intentional.
For all the pronouncements about the United States and China reaching a historic climate pact, the agreement they announced Wednesday does not signal a seismic shift in policies by either nation, experts said. The deal is important for what it shows the rest of the world, particularly other large carbon emitters like India and Russia, in advance of a meeting in Paris next year to negotiate a new climate treaty.
In late 2013, Google announced that it had acquired Boston Dynamics, an engineering and robotics company best known for creating BigDog, a four-legged robot that can accompany soldiers into rough terrain. Much of the resulting hype focused on the Internet giant and when it might start making various types of robots. What was good news for Google, however, represented a major loss for the U.S. Department of Defense.
A big-money war is brewing over the meaning of America’s best-selling condiment: mayonnaise. Food giant Unilever has sued the San Francisco start-up behind Just Mayo, an egg-less, mayonnaise-like sandwich spread. Brand disputes typically quibble over words, not the definition of the product itself. But the very modern legal battle will be fought on regulatory territory that is decades old. The FDA’s definition of mayo was set in 1957.
Palestinian youth have dug a hole in Israel’s separation wall with the Palestinian territories, as a symbolic gesture to mark 25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Palestinians refer to the current wall separating the West Bank from Israel as the “apartheid wall”. The International Committee of the Red Cross stated that the Israeli barrier “causes serious humanitarian and legal problems” and goes “far beyond what is permissible for an occupying power”.
We have entered the fourth official month of the latest war without end in the Middle East, and the Obama administration has suddenly doubled America’s troop presence in Iraq – yet there is no approved declaration of war in sight. The so-called “moderate” Syrian rebels receiving millions in weapons are now being defeated, and those same weapons are ending up in the hands of al-Qaida – yet there is no public sign of dialing back in the fight against the Islamic State.
Federal regulators and members of Congress have been pressing private lenders to adopt flexible payment plans like those available through the federal loan system to no avail, according to an alarming report released last month by the student loan ombudsman at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Congress may have to step in and require them to do so.
The crisis in our political system is less about party than about horizon. Somehow, we seem to have lost the capacity for long-range planning and execution—at a time when, arguably, foresight and patience are more essential than ever before. Iit is hard to imagine how our system can possibly implement policies that would be effective in the long run—or how, if we managed to take the right course, we could possibly stick to it.
To prevent dangerous deflation, the ECB is discussing a massive program to purchase government bonds. Monetary watchdogs are divided over the measure, with some alleging that central bankers are being held hostage by politicians. Is it important that the ECB adhere to tried-and-true principles in the crisis, as Weidmann argues? Or can it resort to unusual measures in an emergency situation, as Draghi is demanding?
Many races are called as soon as the polls close, but the ones that matter most—that spell the difference between majority and minority status for a political party—usually aren’t. Commentators typically focus on large, well-known counties, overlooking smaller counties that may be more reliable bell-weathers. To test conventional wisdom and to develop a guide for people who don’t analyze politics for a living, we looked at all the contested Senate races this year.
The gathering risks of climate change are so profound that they could stall or even reverse generations of progress against poverty and hunger if greenhouse emissions continue at a runaway pace, according to a major new United Nations report. In the starkest language the IPCC has ever used, the expert panel made clear how far society remains from having any serious policy to limit global warming.
Citizen’s United is back in America’s courtrooms. But, this time, the famous US Supreme Court case isn’t facing scrutiny, it’s deciding who’s sitting on the bench in the first place. States pick their judges in a variety of ways. In states where elections are taking place, they are starting to remind voters more of congressional elections, with the same money and harsh rhetoric.
It is time for President Obama to offer clemency to Edward Snowden, the courageous U.S. citizen who revealed the Orwellian reach of the National Security Agency’s sweeping surveillance of Americans. His actions may have broken the law, but his act, as the New York Times editorialized, did the nation “a great service.”
There are many reasons to be gratified by the end of a dictatorship. It means that a criminal is no longer in a position of power, and there’s the prospect that democracy could take root in its stead. Some people also believe that anything is better than despotism. But the last decade has shown that there is something worse than dictatorship, worse than the absence of freedom, worse than oppression: civil war and chaos.
Twelve Nobel Peace Prize winners penned an open letter to President Barack Obama urging his administration to release a U.S. Senate report on the CIA’s use of torture. The laureates spoke out sharply against any use of torture, but said that the U.S.’ tactics were particularly troubling. Advocates have been urging the White House for months to no avail to make the report public.
Six years after the Lehman disaster, the industrialized world is suffering from Japan Syndrome. Growth is minimal, another crash may be brewing and the gulf between rich and poor continues to widen. Can the global economy reinvent itself?
In taking office during two overseas wars and the Great Recession, President Obama set out to restore society’s frayed faith in its public institutions, saying that the question was not whether government was too big or small, “but whether it works.” Six years later, Americans seem more dubious than ever that it really does.
Elizabeth Warren is not running for president apparently because everyone assumes the nomination is Clinton’s. But everyone was making that same assumption eight years ago, and we know what happened. If the choice is between inspiration and inevitability, Warren may be forced to change her plans.
The phrase “Silk Road” evokes a romantic image – half history, half myth – of tented camel caravans winding their way across the trackless deserts and mountains of Central Asia. But the Silk Road is not just part of a fabled past; it is an important feature of China’s current foreign policy.
So, there’s this widely used class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids that have emerged as a prime suspect in honeybee collapse, and may also be harming birds and water-borne critters. But at least they provide benefits to farmers, right? Well, not soybean farmers, according to a blunt economic assessment released Thursday by the Environmental Protection Agency.
It’s unrealistic to expect individuals to inquire, broker by broker, about their files. Instead, we need to require brokers to make targeted disclosures to consumers. Uncovering problems in Big Data (or decision models based on that data) should not be a burden we expect individuals to solve on their own.
The creditor-debtor relationship embodies no iron law of morality; rather, it is a social relationship that always must be negotiated. When quantitative precision and an unyielding approach to debt obligations are the rule, conflict and penury soon follow. We need to limit the supply of and demand for credit to what the economy is capable of producing.
For Ebola Zaire to become airborne in humans, it would need to cause lung disease significant enough to release lots of virus into respiratory secretions. The virus would then need to survive outside the body, dried and in sunlight for a prolonged time. And it would need to be able to infect another person more than a couple feet away. There’s no evidence from previous epidemics or laboratory experiments that Ebola Zaire behaves in this way.
Let’s take a step back from today’s lurid headlines and try to see the bigger picture. There’s a lot of nasty and vivid trouble out there in the world today, but not all of it is likely to matter very much beyond the immediate confines of the troubled region itself. Now, as always, the real challenge is figuring out which of today’s headlines really matter, which can be left to others, and which can be mostly ignored.
At a windy mountain pass on the edge of the Mojave Desert, North America’s most potent collection of batteries used for storing unused power is humming its way toward an electricity revolution. Southern California Edison, a utility that serves about 14 million people, has amassed more than 600,000 lithium-ion battery cells at a substation in Tehachapi, California. The $54 million, two-year test project aims to collect power generated from the area’s 5,000 wind turbines and store it for future use.
It is worth considering how the once giddy European love affair with Obama will come to a close. It might not be in an acrimonious George W. Bush–style divorce, but it is likely to end in disappointment and regret. Poll numbers indicate a status quo Obama presidency. But that is not what Europe expected and not, for that matter, what Obama promised. President Obama may have smoothed US politics’ tone and rhetoric, but, in the end, he played the same game.
Among terrorists’ strategic goals is the unmasking of a state’s alleged evil side, which they purport to be fighting. This is the exactly the trap into which US President George W. Bush and his government stumbled. The US of today is not safer as a result — it is poorer. Liberal America, which was long a beacon for democracies around the world, including Germany’s, no longer exists. It is not a path we should follow.
Iso-propyl cyanide has been detected in a star-forming cloud 27,000 light-years from Earth. Various organic molecules have previously been discovered in interstellar space, but i-propyl cyanide is the first with a branched carbon backbone. The branched structure is important as it shows that interstellar space could be the origin of more complex branched molecules, such as amino acids, that are necessary for life on Earth.
It is clear that the current drought event in California is an extreme event, and that it is resulting from a complex confluence of interacting climatic conditions. And it is also clear, given the dramatic and far-reaching impacts, that effective management of climate-related risks requires rigorous, objective assessment of the probability of this kind of extreme event in the current climate.
The International Monetary Fund has once again downgraded its assessment of the world economy through 2015. This year, the IMF expects global growth to clock in at 3.3 percent — 0.4 percentage points lower than the organization predicted just six months ago. It’s been six years since the darkest days of the global financial crisis, but economies across the world have yet to escape its shadow. Here are five of the most important charts in the IMF’s forecast that help explain why this recovery continues to disappoint.
It’s simple electoral maths that the Republican Party has a good chance to control a majority in the US Senate after November’s mid-term elections. As most experts predict conservatives will easily maintain their edge in the House of Representatives, the “battle for the Senate” has dominated discussion. As election day draws near, however, a quiet debate is simmering over what Republican control of Congress actually would mean.
Ban’s message was simple: Beyond the long-term shared benefits of such action, countries and businesses would benefit in the short term. There are no losers in the fight to mitigate climate change and its consequences and for some the “win-win” character of climate action seems finally to be sinking in. Today’s carbon-intensive businesses may see far more risk than opportunity in climate action. But this view is shortsighted from a financial point of view and neglects the impact of public opinion.
Between 1970 and 2010 populations of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and fish around the globe dropped 52 percent, says the 2014 Living Planet Report released today by World Wildlife Fund. This biodiversity loss occurs disproportionately in low-income countries—and correlates with the increasing resource use of high-income countries. The report’s data also point to other warning signs about the overall health of the planet.
The usual markers of military victory don’t apply to the Syria war. The borders, combatants, allegiances, and military objectives in the Syrian war are too fluid to conform to our usual expectations. In bombing Syria, President Obama, who inherited this war, has made this war his war, the next president’s war, and our war. Today, tomorrow, and for as far as the eye can see. Perpetual war for perpetual peace.
In August 2007, then–presidential candidate Barack Obama vowed that, if elected, he would “immediately” amend NAFTA. Six years later, with NAFTA still untouched, Obama faced the decision to appoint the chief U.S. negotiators for the two largest trade agreements in history. And he picked Wall Street bankers for the job. While labor organizations worry about losing leverage, the financial industry seems poised to entrench its influence.
The White House is preparing a directive that would require federal agencies to publicly disclose for the first time where they fly drones in the United States and what they do with the torrents of data collected from aerial surveillance. Until now, the armed forces and federal law enforcement agencies have been reflexively secretive about drone flights and even less forthcoming about how often they use the aircraft to conduct domestic surveillance.
Considered in its totality, Holder’s time as attorney general maintained the Bush administration’s legal philosophy on the largest issues, and in a style that Bush’s attorneys general must have admired. Trained to detect and amplify Washington’s marginal political differences, the press sometimes overlooks the obvious continuity of the permanent government.
Governments worldwide increasingly share the sentiment: perhaps, like the pinched middle classes, they feel that corporations are taking too much of the profits for themselves. And so, at a June 2012 summit, G-20 leaders resolved to get multinational corporations to pay more taxes. They asked another international organization, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, to investigate and suggest what might be done.
It is official: US President and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Barack Obama is at war again. Bush’s invasion and occupation of Iraq was so controversial that it fractured the global consensus to fight terror. After Obama took office, he sought to introduce a gentler, subtler tone. But the rhetorical shift did not translate into a change in strategy. America’s war on terror now risks becoming a permanent war against an expanding list of enemies – often inadvertently created by its own policies. It is time for the US to recognize that since it launched its war on terror, the scourge has only spread.
Of the 13,000-plus days since Jan. 1, 1978, both chambers of Congress have been in session at the same time for about 4,700 of them — about a third of the total time and a little fewer than half of all weekdays. The Senate has worked more than the House, having been in session about 42 percent of the time to the House’s 39 percent. A look at the the past 37 years of Congressional activity reveals that your likely stereotypes about the amount of time Congress spends doing the people’s work is probably about right.
The Energiewende will go on despite its obvious setbacks. There are countries in Europe that already generate more than half of their electricity from renewable sources, such as Sweden, and others that are getting there, such as Austria, and the continent’s biggest economy is trying hard to catch up. The German government’s determination to experiment, and citizens’ continued willingness to pay for these experiments if they lead to a cleaner future, carry important lessons for the U.S. and other countries where politicians are afraid of the kind of upheavals that Germany has faced.
For the past few weeks, as Scotland debated the wisdom of independence, Reuters has been asking Americans how they would feel about declaring independence today, not from the United Kingdom, but from the mother country they left England to create. Almost a quarter of those surveyed said they were strongly or provisionally inclined to leave the United States, and take their states with them. The sense of aggrievement is comprehensive, bipartisan, somewhat incoherent, but deeply felt. This should be more than disconcerting; it’s a situation that could get dangerous.
Saving the planet would be cheap; it might even be free. But will anyone believe the good news? Where is the new optimism about climate change and growth coming from? It has long been clear that a well-thought-out strategy of emissions control, in particular one that puts a price on carbon via either an emissions tax or a cap-and-trade scheme, would cost much less than the usual suspects want you to think. But the economics of climate protection look even better now than they did a few years ago.
It looked like East Asia might be the place where the crumbling global order of the past quarter-century, centered on U.S. power and values, would face a decisive crisis. Instead, it was Vladimir Putin who launched a frontal military assault to stop the spread of Western influence and institutions to Ukraine, and the Islamic State that forced the U.S. retreat from foreign military commitments.
How large-scale US surveillance is harming journalism, law, and American democracy. The 120-page report documents how national security journalists and lawyers are adopting elaborate steps or otherwise modifying their practices to keep communications, sources, and other confidential information secure in light of revelations of unprecedented US government surveillance of electronic communications and transactions.
President Barack Obama’s push to raise the minimum wage, which has largely found success in liberal-leaning coastal states to date, could make headway in the conservative heartland in the November elections. Voters in several Republican-controlled states will consider ballot initiatives to raise the minimum wage above the national rate of $7.25 per hour.
Just hours before announcing an escalated campaign against Islamic extremists last week, the president invited a group of foreign policy experts and former government officials to dinner on Monday, and a separate group of columnists and magazine writers for a discussion on Wednesday afternoon. He reflected on the frenzied weeks leading up to the American invasion of Iraq a decade ago.
After decades of cynical and often secret interventions by the US, Britain, France, Russia, and other outside powers, the Middle East’s political institutions are based largely on corruption, sectarian politics, and brute force. The damage in Libya, Gaza, Syria, and Iraq demands that a political solution be found within the region, not imposed from the outside.
As President Obama prepares to announce his strategy on Wednesday for combating the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, there is no shortage of condemnation from Republicans like Mr. Paul, Mr. Cruz and Mr. Jindal, who are considering running for president in 2016. Yet they, like almost every Republican who might try to succeed Mr. Obama, have a common résumé gap: foreign policy experience.
A surge in atmospheric CO2 saw levels of greenhouse gases reach record levels in 2013, according to new figures. Concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere between 2012 and 2013 grew at their fastest rate since 1984. The WMO’s annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin suggests that in 2013, the increase in CO2 was due not only to increased emissions but also to a reduced carbon uptake by the Earth’s biosphere.
There have to be rules of the game, and these are established through political processes. If we get the rules of the game right, we might be able to restore the rapid and shared economic growth that characterized the middle-class societies of the mid-twentieth century. The main question confronting us today is not really about capital in the twenty-first century. It is about democracy in the twenty-first century.
The State of the Birds report, the most comprehensive review of bird trends and data ever undertaken in the US, makes clear that birds across the US are in deep trouble. Almost half of all shorebird species, such as ruddy turnstones, red knots and piping plovers, are either endangered or at risk of becoming endangered. In Hawaii the situation is even worse. “Hawaii is the extinction capital of the world,” says Pete Marra, director of the Smithsonian Institution’s Migratory Bird Center.
It is well known that globalization has put strong downward pressure on wages and benefits of workers in wealthy countries, as companies have offshored and outsourced labor to lower-wage locations and justified wage cuts to try to stay competitive. But politicians and economists have yet to come to terms with the fact that in the rich world the income distribution system itself has broken down irretrievably.
Over recent weeks there has been a constant background noise suggesting that Islamic State (Isis) and its ideology are some sort of throwback to a distant past.It needs to be said very clearly: contemporary jihadism is not a return to the past. It is a modern, anti-traditional ideology with a very significant debt to western political history and culture. Central to ISIS’s programme is its claim to Muslim heritage. Part of countering this requires understanding the contemporary sources of its ideology and its violence.
According to the survey jockeys at Pew Research Center, the percentage of Americans who think global warming is “very serious” or “somewhat serious” has declined since 2006 (from 79 percent to 65 percent). Public alarm over the topic has receded over a period during which the scientific, journalistic, and political consensus on the topic has surged the other way.
The United States and its European allies now face a choice on Ukraine. They can continue their current policy, which will exacerbate hostilities with Russia and devastate Ukraine in the process — a scenario in which everyone would come out a loser. Or they can switch gears and work to create a prosperous but neutral Ukraine, one that does not threaten Russia and allows the West to repair its relations with Moscow.
In the aftermath of IS’s many outrages against Americans, Iraqis and Syrians alike, the urge to action is natural and proper, as it was after 9/11. Some experts plausibly argue that U.S. policies toward Iraq and Syria contributed to the rise of the Islamic State. The greatest care is needed in developing strategy for a region that has been so consistently defiant of U.S. intentions and is now in so fluid a state.
Economic predictions depend on figuring out what generates economic activity. Since the turn of the 20th century, economists have struggled to grasp what drives various parts of the economy, from consumer goods to commodities to housing. Recent research suggests financial markets and economic growth are supported mainly by animal spirits, not rational calculation
Merkel’s relations with Putin are considered to be closer than those enjoyed by most other Western leader with the Russian president. Yet positive outcomes from those ties have been nonexistent. The crisis has reached the point the chancellor wanted to avoid all costs — the point where military logic replaces diplomatic efforts. Within NATO, pressure is growing on Merkel to change her approach.
The creation of the U.S. Forest Service at the turn of the twentieth century was the premier example of American state building during the Progressive Era, the prototype of a new model of merit-based bureaucracy. Today, however, many regard the Forest Service as a highly dysfunctional bureaucracy performing an outmoded mission with the wrong tools. The story of the U.S. Forest Service is not an isolated case but representative of a broader trend of political decay.
Until now the story of human prosperity has been all about cheap, abundant energy. However, something big has been happening. For the first time in history, we are growing richer while using less energy. That is unalloyed good news for budgets, incomes and the planet. We have reached a technological tipping point. Energy-saving is working. Green growth makes sense, and is happening. There is a future that preserves the gains of industrialisation without its polluting losses.
Every piece of garbage can be turned into raw material that can be used in future products. With his influential Cradle to Cradle movement, Germany’s Michael Braungart espouses a form of eco-hedonism that puts smart production before conservation. In Braungart’s universe, every product is basically designed to either decompose without causing any harm or to be recycled without loss of quality. His vision is of a planet on which no garbage accumulates, because all waste becomes food.
The world’s existing power plants are on track to pour more than 300 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and current monitoring standards often fail to take these long-term emissions into account, according to new research from scientists at UC Irvine and Princeton University. The paper, published Tuesday in the scientific journal Environmental Research Letters, is the first to estimate the lifetime carbon emissions of power plants globally over multiple years.
Angela Merkel is the most important leader in Europe. She tries to duck it by exhibiting a modest demeanor, presenting no charisma, no grand pronouncements, no apparent ambition to stamp her views on history. Germany’s popular, publicly modest chancellor is the de facto leader of a grouping that famously had no number to call when the U.S. president needed to talk to his closest allies. Now it does: it’s Angela Merkel’s mobile phone. She carries much on her back – luckily for the rest of us.
Svante Pääbo, director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany, has shown that if only a few of the trillions of cells in a body escape destruction, a genome may survive for tens of thousands of years. For a long time, we have seen the genome as a tool for predicting the future, but it may have even more to tell us about the past. Geneticists are finding ways to explore not just big events but also the dynamics of populations through time.
When the Cold War ended, Hungary occupied a special place in the story of the revolutions of 1989. It was one of the first countries in the Soviet orbit to abandon communism and embrace liberal democracy. Today it is again a trendsetter, becoming the first European country to denounce and distance itself from liberal democracy. It is adopting a new system and set of values that are best exemplified by Vladimir Putin’s Russia but are finding echoes in other countries as well.