Doing Advance Work

News that doesn't receive the necessary attention.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Trump offers Americans the chance to be unbound from unelected 'international community' of rulers. This is why elites are terrified of him-Julius Krein

"What Trump offers is permission to conceive of an American interest as a national interest separate from the “international community”."
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9/7/15, "Traitor to His Class," Julius Krein, Weekly Standard

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"Nothing is more terrifying to the elite than Trump’s embrace of a tangible American nationalism." 
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"It would seem to be the duty of every American pundit today to explain the inexplicable and problematic rise of Donald Trump. The critical question, however, is not the source of Trump’s popularity but rather the reason his popularity is so shocking to our political culture. Perhaps Trump’s candidacy threatens a larger consensus that governs our political and social life, and perhaps his popularity signifies a profound challenge to elite opinion.

Why is Donald Trump so popular? Explanations range from mere celebrity, to his adoption of extreme positions to capture the most ideologically intense voters, to his explosive rhetoric. These explanations are not entirely wrong, but neither are they entirely right.

To begin with, his positions, as Josh Barro has written in the New York Times, are rather moderate. As Barro points out, Trump is willing to contemplate tax increases to achieve spending cuts. He supports some exceptions to abortion bans and has gone so far as to defend funding Planned Parenthood. He has called for protective tariffs, a position heretical for Republicans, who are typically free traders. Although opposed to Obamacare, he has asserted that single-payer health care works in other countries. Even on the issue of immigration, despite his frequently strident rhetoric, his positions are neither unique—securing the border with some kind of wall is a fairly standard Republican plank by now—nor especially rigid. 

With respect to his rhetoric, whether one characterizes his delivery as candid or rude, it is hard to ascribe his popularity to colorful invective alone. Chris Christie, who never misses an opportunity to harangue an opponent, languishes near the bottom of the polls. Or ask Rick Santorum, as well as Mitt “47 percent” Romney, whether outrageous comments offer an infallible way to win friends and influence voters. Trump’s outré style, like his celebrity, helps him gain attention but just as certainly fails to explain his frontrunner status.

Most candidates seek to define themselves by their policies and platforms. What differentiates Trump is not what he says, or how he says it, but why he says it. The unifying thread running through his seemingly incoherent policies, what defines him as a candidate and forms the essence of his appeal, is that he seeks to speak for America. He speaks, that is, not for America as an abstraction but for real, living Americans and for their interests as distinct from those of people in other places. He does not apologize for having interests as an American, and he does not apologize for demanding that the American government vigorously prosecute those interests. 

What Trump offers is permission to conceive of an American interest as a national interest separate from the “international community” and permission to wish to see that interest triumph. What makes him popular on immigration is not how extreme his policies are, but the emphasis he puts on the interests of Americans rather than everyone else. His slogan is “Make America Great Again,” and he is not ashamed of the fact that this means making it better than other places, perhaps even at their expense. 

His least practical suggestion—making Mexico pay for the border wall—is precisely the most significant: It shows that a President Trump would be willing to take something from someone else in order to give it to the American people. Whether he could achieve this is of secondary importance; the fact that he is willing to say it is everything. Nothing is more terrifying to the business and donor class—as well as the media and the entire elite—than Trump’s embrace of a tangible American nationalism. The fact that Trump should by all rights be a member of this class and is in fact a traitor to it makes him all the more attractive to his supporters and all the more baffling to pundits....

(p. 2) Conservative pundits have complained for years about the base and its desire for “ideological purity.” Trump shows that what is most in demand, however, is not ideological purity but patriotic zeal. Only a fool would believe that the fate of the Export-Import Bank could motivate millions of voters. It is not a minor and complicated organ of trade promotion that motivates but whether the ruling elite is seen to care more about actual national interests or campaign dollars and textbook abstractions like free trade. 

Trump’s critics misunderstand his political appeal just as they fail to comprehend his business appeal. Indeed, Trump is almost certainly not as rich as he claims he is, nor is his record as glittering as others’, nor is his a rags-to-riches story....For Trump, business is about winning and losing, and for real human beings, that’s what gives it life....

“Serious politics” is believed to be the politics of rational beings on the path to perpetual peace—not men, and certainly not Americans, with real interests that sometimes conflict with those of other nations. Questions of basic policy, if not argued from some victim narrative, are inevitably situated in arcane disputes over economic theory. The words victory and defeat have been banished from our discourse. “Serious politics” is now confined to detached rationality. 

Trump, however, is eros and thumos incarnate, and his very candidacy represents the suggestion that these human qualities should have a role in our political life beyond quivering sentimentalism. Trump alone appears to understand that politics is more than policy and ideology. Beneath the bluster, he offers an image of Machiavellian virtù long absent from American politics.

Nothing in our politics seems worthy of being taken seriously anymore. The White House takes to Twitter with Straight Outta Compton memes about the Iran deal....This is precisely the precondition for Trump’s popularity, and his unapologetic mockery of more conventional forms of political theater makes him in some ways the most serious candidate in the race."
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"Julius Krein is a writer in Boston."

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Added: Related themes by Dr. Angelo Codevilla: 

2/20/13, "As Country Club Republicans Link Up With The Democratic Ruling Class, Millions Of Voters Are Orphaned," Angelo Codevilla, Forbes
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"Increasingly the top people in government, corporations, and the media collude and demand submission as did the royal courts of old."...  

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"The debate is over."...

10/20/2011, "The Lost Decade," Angelo M. Codevilla, Claremont Institute (2001-2011)

"Rule by Experts" (subhead, scroll down)

"Decision-making by "experts" rather than by people and procedures responsible to the American people has always been American progressives' prescription for American life. During the past decade, the pretense that America was at war has given this practice a major boost. For example, official and semi-official panels of experts from government, business, and the academy generated "studies" on the energy and health-care sectors of the economy. Based on these, the government promulgated regulations and presented Congress with demands that it approve massive legislation to "stop global warming" and to "establish universal medical care." These government-business-academic experts, i.e. this ruling class, presented their plans as demands because, they shouted, 


"the debate is over,"

and opponents are not qualified to oppose. Regardless of these demands' merits, such claims to authority are based strictly on the proponents' credentials. My point, however, is that these credentials are based largely on the government endowing these proponents with positions and money. As President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned in his farewell address, such expertise is a circular function of government power.
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The event for which the decade is most likely to be remembered, namely the "great recession," was a similar phenomenon. When the financial bubble in mortgage-backed securities burst in 2008, the leaders of both parties, and pundits from the New York Times to the Wall Street Journal, assured Congress authoritatively that appropriating some $800 billion for the Treasury to buy up "toxic assets" would fix the problem. Three out of four Americans dissented, in part because of widespread recognition that the U.S. government's increase in expenditures from $1.86 trillion in 2001 to $2.9 trillion in 2008, due in part to the war, was unsustainable. Yet Congress bowed to "expert" opinion. But the markets tanked, the fix did not work, and the economic collapse gathered momentum. The subsequent Democratic administration increased spending even more radically, to $3.7 trillion, roughly doubling federal expenses in a decade, and pushed the national debt over $14 trillion—almost equal to America's GDP. By 2011, 40 cents out of every federal dollar spent had to be borrowed. .

As a prescription for salvation, the very same spectrum of experts that had certified the efficacy of bailing out big banks emphasized to Congress that the country needed to borrow more money and pay more taxes. Three fourths of Americans wanted neither to borrow more nor to pay more. The experts labeled them "irresponsible" and even "terrorists."

The markets tanked again, and the great recession got a second wind. The 2010 census reported that in 2009 the inflation-adjusted median family income was $49,445, down from $51,161 in 2001. Although the official unemployment rate at this writing is only 9.1%, a truer measure of America's condition is that only 45.4% of Americans of working age are employed full time—a true definition of depression."....

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"No prominent Republican challenged the ruling class’s continued claim of superior insight, nor its denigration of the American people as irritable children who must learn their place."...(parag. 3)
 
July-August 2010, "America’s Ruling Class — And the Perils of Revolution," by


"Although after the election of 2008 most Republican office holders argued against the Troubled Asset Relief Program, against the subsequent bailouts of the auto industry, against the several “stimulus” bills and further summary expansions of government power to benefit clients of government at the expense of ordinary citizens, the American people had every reason to believe that many Republican politicians were doing so simply by the logic of partisan opposition. After all, Republicans had been happy enough to approve of similar things under Republican administrations. Differences between Bushes, Clintons, and Obamas are of degree, not kind.

Moreover, 2009-10 establishment Republicans sought only to modify the government’s agenda while showing eagerness to join the Democrats in new grand schemes, if only they were allowed to. Sen. Orrin Hatch continued dreaming of being Ted Kennedy, while Lindsey Graham set aside what is true or false about “global warming” for the sake of getting on the right side of history. No prominent Republican challenged the ruling class’s continued claim of superior insight, nor its denigration of the American people as irritable children who must learn their place. The Republican Party did not disparage the ruling class, because most of its officials are or would like to be part of it."...

America's ruling class lost the "War on Terror." During the decade that began on September 11, 2001, the U.S. government's combat operations have resulted in some 6,000 Americans killed and 30,000 crippled, caused hundreds of thousands of foreign casualties, and spent—depending on various estimates of direct and indirect costs—somewhere between 2 and 3 trillion dollars. But nothing our rulers did post-9/11 eliminated the threat from terrorists or made the world significantly less dangerous. Rather, ever-bigger government imposed unprecedented restrictions on the American people and became the arbiter of prosperity for its cronies, as well as the manager of permanent austerity for the rest. Although in 2001 many referred to the United States as "the world's only superpower," ten years later the near-universal perception of America is that of a nation declining, perhaps irreversibly. This decade convinced a majority of Americans that the future would be worse than the past and that there is nothing to be done about it. This is the "new normal." How did this happen? - See more at: http://www.claremont.org/index.php?act=crbArticle&id=319#.VeIfe5dLy








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Friday, August 28, 2015

Cries of the poor athletes in filthy Rio water are unheard, Rio hospital waste flows to Olympic sailing venue, 70% of daily Rio raw sewage of millions flows to Olympic venue-BBC

8/28/15, "Olympics 2016: German sailor makes Rio pollution claims," BBC Sport

"German sailor Erik Heil claims he has contracted an infection after competing in polluted waters which will host sailing at next year's Rio Olympics. 

The German sailing team said Heil, who was third at a recent test event held at the same Guanabara Bay venue, was told by a Berlin hospital that he had been infected by multi-resistant germs

Recent water quality tests revealed drug-resistant bacteria in the bay. 

"I have never in my life had infections on the legs," Heil said on a team blog.  
 
"I assume I picked that up at the test regatta. The cause should be the Marina da Gloria where there is a constant flow of waste water from the city's hospitals.

Heil's claims come after South Korean windsurfer Wonwoo Cho was taken to hospital during the week-long test event, with his coach Danny Ok claiming the cause was "probably from the water" at Guanabara Bay. 

It led to the International Sailing Federation (ISAF) threatening to move the sailing and windsurfing events to the Atlantic Ocean if the situation did not improve. 

But in a statement  following Heil's infection, it said: "While work remains to be done, ISAF, Rio 2016 and all relevant local authorities are confident that the venue will be ready to host 380 sailors during the Olympic Sailing Competition in one year's time." 

Three of the courses earmarked for the Olympics are in Guanabara Bay and three are in the Atlantic, with up to 1,400 athletes set to compete in water sports at the Games

Research has shown that "super-bacteria" found in the water is usually found in hospital waste and produce an enzyme, KPC, resistant to antibiotics. 

Nearly 70% of sewage in Rio - a city of some 10 million people - is spilled raw into the waters of Guanabara Bay."
 


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Thursday, August 27, 2015

Naive western bans on child labor are disrespectful of other cultures and could force adults and children into prostitution. Bangladesh is building 'garment villages' which will be opportunity for more child labor-UK Guardian

"In an ideal world there would be no child labour, but instead opportunities for children to play, learn, relax and otherwise enjoy life.

This ideal is reflected in the corporate social responsibility policies of numerous companies (such as Marks and Spencer, Philips, and Unilever), and of those selling branded consumer goods. They have committed to eradicate any form of child labour from their supply chains.

In a similar vein, many governments have outlawed child labour domestically and sometimes also for imported products. This summer, the UK government announced plans to hold companies responsible for buying products from suppliers employing children. Meanwhile, in New Zealand, a foundation is piloting a labelling system that certifies clothing as free of child labour.

Both of these seem a perfectly sensible way to protect a vulnerable group.

Unfortunately, we don’t live in an ideal world. Child labour is far from exceptional in many parts of the globe

There are an estimated 168 million children involved in child labour according to the International Labour Organization, accounting for 11% of children across the world.

Do parents whose offspring work love their kids any less? No. Many of these children work simply to make their families’ ends meet, poor families whose income is around the subsistence level often have little choice. We easily forget that child labour was commonplace in western societies before they were affluent. For instance, nearly half of the workforce in British cotton mills in the early 19th century consisted of children.

One may argue that a formal ban on child labour will be the requisite trigger to reform labour conditions in low-income countries, or at least improve the living situation of former child labourers. This is a naive idea, because it ignores the direct and indirect effects of such a ban.

For families with subsistence incomes who cannot rely on a societal safety net, an efficiently enforced ban can be devastating. These families must either acquiesce in abject poverty or earn money from activities not affected by a ban. This often means adults and children resorting to underground jobs, such as prostitution. In either case, children bear the loss of such a ban.

One academic study demonstrated the unintended consequences of a western-imposed ban on soccer balls stitched at home by children and their families. Researchers found that the initiative, which involved shifting the work away from homes and into more formal stitching centres, led to income drops, reduced female work participation rates, and offered no clear benefits for children of the affected Pakistani families.

When talking in terms of a categorical ban on child labour, it’s also important to understand that the involvement of children in economic activities is subject to intercultural differences. Many societies see children working as perfectly acceptable, especially in the context of family business. The Forum for African Investigative Reporters, for instance, quoted a Cameroonian farmer and father who said of his own family:

“[child labour] is considered as part of the household chores children do to help their parents. I do not consider this child abuse because we are making money that is used to pay their school fees”. Imposing a complete ban on foreign producers is a way of imposing a contemporary western mindset.

Does this mean that anything goes? No, business can and should be proactive to improve the situation of child labourers. One sound measure would be to apply some basic, unbendable rules throughout supply chains.

For example, slave labour and dangerous working conditions should be categorically forbidden. 
In addition, in contexts where child labour is a financial necessity, the involvement of children should be subject to additional conditions. First, families should demonstrate, and employers should record, that the supplementary income by children is needed to attain the purchasing power for meeting their basic needs (such as food, housing, and health care).

Second, employers should take measures that make children’s working lives bearable. Working hours should be limited and the nature of tasks should be commensurate with the physical and mental abilities of the children performing them. Furthermore, firms employing children should offer prospects for improvement, such as offering on-site schooling after work. 

The recent plan to construct “garment villages” in Bangladesh could easily encompass such amenities for children – although the Pakistani football-stitching case demonstrates that detaching workers from their existing social environments can be counterproductive. Finally, the effectiveness of such child labour regulation should be regularly assessed and rules should be revised when ill-performing or when local situations change.

A categorical ban on child labour is a well-intended but poorly thought out measure, because it ignores the direct and indirect effects of such a ban. It is a policy with its head in the sand, one that will overshoot the intended goal of improving the lives of children workers.

A global ban also shows disrespect for other cultures by imposing a western mindset as to the economic role of children. A more sensible policy would be to apply some basic rules of humane working conditions in conjunction with a targeted, evolving approach that duly considers the actual outcomes of implemented measures."

Image caption: "An Indian child breaks apart broken tiles outside an under-construction apartment building in Mumbai. Photograph: Indranil Mukherjee/AFP/Getty Images" 








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UNICEF logo near top of UK Guardian article

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Bangladesh "garment villages" linked in above UK Guardian article:

8/12/15, "Bangladesh is building “garment villages” to double its already-huge clothing exports," qz.com, Marc Bain

"The rapid growth of Bangladesh’s garment industry has been a blessing and a burden to the country. Even as it has provided jobs to millions and helped Bangladesh cut its poverty rate, it has also exploited the nation’s poorest and most desperate, leading to the gratuitous and preventable deaths of thousands (see: Rana Plaza in 2013).

So invaluable is the industry to Bangladesh that the country is doubling down on the business, despite the repercussions. Already the world’s second largest exporter of clothing by some estimates, Bangladesh intends to double its apparel exports to $50 billion by 2021.

The country’s commerce minister, Tofail Ahmed, announced the plan last week, including the creation of a “garment village” in the southeastern port city of Chittagong—a major export hub—to help the country hit its goal. That village follows on one already under construction in the city of Bausia, being funded by a state-owned Chinese firm. The Bausia village is expected to house more than 200 factories and contribute up to $5 billion in export value.

These villages don’t just show a commitment by the government to making more money off the garment industry, which now accounts for nearly 82% of Bangladesh’s total exports. They’re also supposed to make conditions safer for the workers in them.

Currently factories in these cities tend to be spread around in an unplanned manner, which makes them hard to monitor, and they can spring up wherever space is available, including in decrepit, unsafe buildings. In Bausia, factories that don’t currently comply with regulations will be moved to the villages, where workplace, health, and fire safety regulations can be enforced. Plans for the Bausia village even include facilities for medical treatment, proper waste disposal, and day care, which is critical given that about 80% of Bangladesh’s garment workers are women, and they tend to be entirely responsible for child care.

Government plans for a garment village have apparently been floating around since as early as 2005. But in a manner sadly typical of the way Bangladesh’s garment workers are generally treated, it wasn’t until the deaths at the Tazreen factory fire and Rana Plaza that the government began moving forward in earnest.

The US, which is the largest importer of garments from Bangladesh, has thrown its support behind the country’s target of doubling exports and the Chittagong plan. Marcia Bernicat, the US ambassador to Bangladesh, called it “an ambitious, but very possible goal” and said it demonstrates “that business success goes hand-in-hand with workers’ rights and safety.” The US will reportedly join with two Bangladeshi banks in offering a $22 million credit guarantee on loans to help improve safety in garment factories.
It all sounds very positive and should create much-needed jobs, even though, as it stands, those jobs pay miserably.

A recent paper by the World Economic Forum, prepared in collaboration with the consultancy Accenture, reported that pay of a garment worker in Bangladesh made up the smallest share of the final cost of a t-shirt.
WEF—like others—also noted that Bangladesh’s garment workers make far below a living wage.

At the announcement, Ahmed urged retailers to pay more for the work they receive, but retailers have little incentive to do so. In response to the topic at a later discussion, HandM’s country head in Bangladesh reportedly said that companies would pay higher prices for merchandise (which presumably would translate into higher factory wages) if manufacturers boosted the quality and efficiency of their production."











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Monday, August 24, 2015

At least 16 NASA child porn buyers, some with highest security clearance, were discovered in 2010. Like royals in days of olde, NASA personnel are above the law, US political class keeps their names secret, doesn't prosecute them-Daily Mail (No wonder US taxpayers are global joke)

8/24/15, "Exclusive: NASA employees caught buying child porn from site which showed three-year-olds being abused - but they escape prosecution and now their names are being kept secret," Daily Mail, by Wills Robinson
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"NASA employees were caught buying child pornography from a criminal ring in Eastern Europe that distributed images of minors as young as three, it can be revealed.


but were never prosecuted.

Their names have never been released because of government guidelines which protect their privacy – prompting fears some of the culprits are still employed by NASA.

The probe found that in 2010, the employees paid for the pornography using personal credit cards or PayPal while working for the government.

Their actions were uncovered during Project Flicker - an investigation by the FBI and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) into American citizens buying child pornography from Belarus and Ukraine. 

The investigation began in 2007 when more than 33,000 images of minors being abused flooded into the country.

Investigators identified more than 5,200 citizens across the country who had paid for a subscription to illicit websites in order to access the content.

In 2010 it was revealed that 264 of these worked for the Pentagon as either employees or contractors. Some of them worked for the NSA and had top security clearance. 

But the Daily Mail Online can reveal for the first time that NASA employees were also identified in the sickening scheme in the same year. 

Transactions from the space agency workers were discovered after a FBI special agent tipped off investigators. However their names have been redacted in documents obtained by Daily Mail Online via a Freedom of Information Act request from NASA's Office of Inspector General. 

Therefore it is not known whether they were disciplined or sanctioned within the department - meaning they could still be working for the government.  
  
When the Defense Criminal Investigative Service (DCIS) investigated the Pentagon employees identified in the scheme, they only investigated 52 of the suspects and 212 people on ICE's list were never questioned at all.

Some had highest available security clearance.

After the probe was completed just 10 were ever charged with viewing or purchasing child pornography - prompting fears some of those caught could still be working for the military.

It is not known whether any of the NASA employers were questioned, but it is clear they were not prosecuted - as their names have not been revealed.

If they had been found guilty of a crime, their names would not have been redacted in the disclosed files. 

A spokesman for NASA told Daily Mail Online they would not be commenting beyond what was stated in the FOIA documents.

A spokesman from Immigration and Customs Enforcement said: 'In 2006, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) opened an investigation into the criminal network behind hundreds of child pornography websites. 

'The investigation, called Project Flicker, was conducted in collaboration with other U.S. and international law enforcement partners around the world, and identified 30,000 customers in 132 countries - resulting in hundreds of convictions in the U.S. and 16 arrests in Belarus and the Ukraine. 

'The criminal rings involved used a variety of online and traditional payment methods, elaborate defense measures and a franchise business model that provided access to images and videos of sexually exploited boys and girls, some as young as 3 years old....

'HSI encourages the public to report suspected child predators and any suspicious activity through its toll-free hotline at 1-866-DHS-2ICE. This hotline is staffed around the clock by investigators.'

The FBI said they would not be adding to the ICE's statement. 

The latest disclosure comes after Daily Mail Online investigations unearthed shocking breaches of computer guidelines inside the Department of Education, the Department of Labor, and the Department of Health and Human Services." via Free Rep.


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Global demand for cement and sand has created sand mafia of which India's is most violent. Topsoil stripped to get to sand beneath worn by centuries of floods. Dust kicked up from illegal sand mining stunts growth of nearby crops-Wired UK, The Sand and the Fury, Beiser

July 2015, "The sand and the fury," Vince Beiser, Wired.co.uk
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"Civilisation is built on sand-literally. It's been a critical component of construction and progress since ancient times. In the 15th century an Italian artisan figured out how to turn it into the transparent glass that made it possible to make the microscopes, telescopes and other technologies that helped drive the Renaissance's scientific revolution. Sand is an essential ingredient in detergents, cosmetics, toothpaste, solar panels, windows, silicon chips and buildings; every concrete structure around the world is basically sand and gravel glued together with cement.
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Apart from water and air, humble sand is the natural resource most consumed by human beings. People use more than 36 billion tonnes of sand and gravel every year. But not just any sand will do: desert sand, shaped by wind rather than water, is too round to bind together for construction.
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In fact, only sand worn by water is suitable. And the worldwide construction boom of recent years -- all those megacities, from Lagos to Beijing -- is devouring unprecedented quantities. Extracting sand is a £45-billion industry. In Dubai, huge land-reclamation projects and breakneck skyscraper construction have exhausted all nearby sources, so insatiable construction companies now look elsewhere for their supply. Exporters in Australia are actually selling sand to Arabs.................

As land quarries and riverbeds become tapped out, sand miners are turning to the seas, where ships vacuum huge amounts of the stuff from ocean floors. As you might expect, this all wreaks havoc on ecosystems. Sand mines in the US are blamed for beach erosion, water and air pollution and other ills from the California coast to Wisconsin's lakes. India's Supreme Court recently warned that riparian sand mining is undermining bridges and killing birds and fish all over the country. But regulations are scant and the will to enforce them is lacking.

Sand mining has erased two dozen Indonesian islands since 2005. The stuff of those former islands mostly ended up in Singapore, which needs titanic amounts to continue its programme of artificially adding territory. The city-state has created an extra 129km2 in the past 40 years and is adding more, making it by far the world's largest sand importer. The environmental damage has been so extreme that Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam have all restricted or banned exports of sand to Singapore. 

As a result, the global black market is booming. Half the sand used for construction in Morocco is estimated to be mined illegally; whole stretches of beach there are disappearing. One of Israel's most notorious gangsters got his start stealing sand from public beaches. Dozens of Malaysian officials were charged in 2010 with accepting bribes and sexual favours in exchange for allowing illegally mined sand to be smuggled into Singapore.

On Indonesia's island of Bali, far inland from the tourist beaches, WIRED visits a sand mine. It looks like Shangri-La after a meteor strike. In the middle of a beautiful valley, surrounded by jungle and rice paddies, is a six-hectare pit of exposed sand and rock. On its floor, men wearing shorts and flip-flops wield sledgehammers and shovels to push sand and gravel into clattering, smoke-belching sorting machines. "Those who have permits to dig for sand have to pay for land restoration," says Nyoman Sadra, a former member of the regional legislature. "But 70 per cent of the sand miners have no permits." Even the companies with permits tend to spread bribes around so they can get away with digging wider or deeper pits.

But nowhere is the struggle for sand more violent than in India. Intense battles among and against sand mafias there have reportedly killed hundreds of people in recent years-with the victims including police officers, government officials and ordinary people such as Paleram Chauhan.


The area around Raipur Khadar used to be mostly agricultural--wheat and vegetables growing in the Yamuna River floodplain. But Delhi, less than an hour north, is encroaching fast. Driving down a new six-lane expressway, you pass construction site after construction site, new buildings sprouting skyward like the opening credits of Game of Thrones made real. Besides the countless generic shopping malls, apartment blocks and office towers, a 2,000-hectare "Sports City", including several stadiums and a Formula 1 racetrack, is under construction.

The building explosion got in gear about a decade ago-and so did the sand mafias. "There was some illegal sand mining before," says Dushyant Nagar, head of a local farmers' rights organisation, "but not on a scale where land was getting stolen or people were getting killed."...
  
About ten years ago a group of local "musclemen", as Aakash calls them, led by Rajpal Chauhan (no relation -- it's a common surname) and his three sons, seized control of the land. They stripped away its topsoil and started digging up the sand deposited by centuries of the Yamuna's floods. To make matters worse, the dust kicked up by the operation stunted the growth of crops, according to a complaint Paleram and other locals filed.


As a member of the village panchayat, or governing council, Paleram took the lead in a campaign to get the sand mine shut down. It should have been pretty straightforward. Sand mining is not permitted in the Raipur Khadar area at all, because it's close to a bird sanctuary. And the government knew it was happening: in 2013 a federal fact-finding team found "rampant, unscientific and illegal mining" all over the district.

Nonetheless, Paleram and other villagers couldn't get it stopped. They petitioned police, government officials and courts for years, but nothing happened. Conventional wisdom says that many local authorities accept bribes from the miners to stay out of their business – or are involved in the business themselves. For those who don't take the carrot of a bribe, the mafias aren't shy about using a stick....In the past three years, miners have killed at least three police officers and attacked many others, as well as officials, journalists and whistle-blowers....


The broad, murky Thane Creek, just outside Mumbai, is swarming with small wooden boats on a recent winter morning. Hundreds of them are anchored together in a ragged line stretching almost a kilometre. The banks are lined with mangroves, towered over by apartment blocks. There's a tang of salt in the air from the nearby Arabian Sea, mixed with diesel from the boats' engines.

Each boat carries a crew of six to ten men. One or two of them dive to the creek bottom, fill a bucket with sand and return to the surface. Then two others, standing barefoot on planks jutting from the boat, haul up the bucket with ropes.

Pralhad Mhatre, 41, dives about 200 times a day. He's worked here for 16 years. It pays nearly twice what the pullers get -- about £10 a day. Mhatre wants his son and three daughters to go into another profession; he thinks the Thane will soon be mined out. "When I started, we only had to go down 20 feet," he says. "Now it's 40. We can only dive 50 feet. If it gets much lower, we'll be out of a job."

Rivers are excellent places to find sand. The stuff can be made by glaciers grinding up stones, by oceans degrading seashells, even by lava chilling and shattering upon contact with air. According to the Udden-Wentworth size scale, the most common geologic standard, sand is grains of any hard material between 0.0625mm and 2mm in diameter. But nearly 70 per cent of all sand is quartz. Time and the elements eat away at rock, grinding off grains. Rivers carry those grains, accumulating them in their beds, on their banks and where they meet the sea.

Quartz, a form of silicon dioxide, or silica, is one of the most common minerals on Earth. That's good, because it's really useful. Mixed with cement, water and gravel, it makes concrete. "Quartz is one of the hardest materials around, and the angularity of its grains makes them lock together well," says Michael Welland, a geologist and author of Sand: The Never-Ending Story. "And there's a hell of a lot of it."

In the wild, quartz comes mixed with other materials -- iron oxides, feldspar, whatever prevails in the local geology. For commercial products you have to filter that out or start with a high silica content. The sand of France's Fontainebleau region, for instance, is upwards of 98 per cent pure silica. Europe's finest glassmakers have relied on it for centuries. Corning operates the world's largest ophthalmic glass-making centre in Fontainebleau; for lenses, the sand needs to be refined to 99.7 per cent silica. Electronics-grade silicon is refined to at least 99.999999999 per cent purity. As Welland writes, that's one atom of not-silicon among a billion silicon atoms.

The day after my trip to Thane Creek, Sumaira Abdulali, India's foremost campaigner against illegal sand mining, takes me to see a different kind of mine. The 54-year-old is a gentle and well-heeled member of the Mumbai bourgeoisie. For years she has been travelling to remote areas in a chauffeur-driven sedan, taking photographs of the sand mafias at work. In the process she's had her car windows smashed, been threatened, pelted with rocks, pursued at high speeds and punched hard enough to break a tooth.

Abdulali got involved when sand miners started tearing up a beach near Mumbai where her family has vacationed for generations. In 2004 she filed the first citizen-initiated court action against sand mining in India. It made the newspapers, which brought a flood of calls from others who wanted to stop their own local sand mafias. Abdulali has since helped dozens file court cases while keeping up a stream of complaints to local officials. "We don't want to halt development," she says. "But we want to put in accountability."

Over in the rural town of Mahad, sand miners once smashed up her car. Sand mining is banned here because of its proximity to a protected coastal zone. But in the jungled hills just outside town, we come to a grey-green river on which boats, in plain view, are sucking up sand from the bottom with diesel-powered pumps. The banks are dotted with piles of sand, which men are loading on to trucks.

Back on a main road, we find ourselves behind a convoy of three sand trucks. They rumble past a police van parked on the shoulder. A couple of policemen idle nearby. Another is inside taking a nap. This is too much for Abdulali. We pull up alongside. "Didn't you see those trucks carrying sand that just went past?" Abdulali asks an officer.

"We filed some cases this morning," answers the cop. "We're on our lunch break now."


Later I ask a local government official about this. "The police are hand in glove with the miners," says the official, who asks me not to name him. "When I call the police to escort me on a raid, they tip off the miners that we are coming." In the rare cases that are brought to court, no one has been convicted. "They always get off on some technicality."

Back in Raipur Khadar, after talking to Paleram Chauhan's family, Aakash agrees to show WIRED and our interpreter, Kumar Sambhav, the land the mafia has taken over. We'd rented a car in Delhi that morning, and Aakash directs our driver to the site. It's hard to miss: across the road from the village centre is an expanse of torn-up land pocked with craters up to six metres wide. Men are smashing rocks with hammers and loading trucks. They stop to stare at our car as we drive past. Aakash points out a heavy-set guy in jeans and a collared shirt: Sonu.

We get out to snap pictures of a huge crater. After a few minutes Aakash spots four men, three of them carrying shovels, striding purposefully toward us. "Sonu is coming," he mutters.

We start making our way back to the car, but we're too slow. "Motherfucker!" Sonu, now just a few metres away, barks at Aakash. "What are you doing here?"

Aakash keeps silent. Sambhav mumbles that we're tourists as we climb into the car. "I'll give you sisterfuckers a tour," Sonu says. He yanks open our driver's door and orders him out. The driver obeys. Aakash stays put.


"We're journalists," Sambhav says. "We're here to see how the mining is going." (This conversation was in Hindi; Sambhav translated for me afterwards.)
"Mining?" Sonu says. "We are not mining. What did you see?"
"We saw whatever we saw. And now we're leaving."
"No, you're not," Sonu says.
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The exchange continues for a couple of tense minutes, until one of Sonu's goons points out the presence of a foreigner -- me. This gives Sonu and his crew pause. Harming a westerner could mean trouble. We grab the chance to leave. Sonu, glaring, watches us go.
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The case against Sonu and his relatives is grinding its way through India's courts. The outlook isn't great. "In our system you can buy anything -- witnesses, police, administrative officials," a legal professional explains. "And those guys have a lot of money from the mining business."... 
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India is taking steps to get sand mining under control. The National Green Tribunal, a sort of court for environmental matters, hears citizen complaints about illegal sand mining. The government has enlisted India's space agency to provide satellite imagery to monitor river mining. Villagers have blocked roads to stop sand trucks, and almost every day some local or state official declares their determination to combat sand mining. The magistrate of Raipur Khadar's district confiscated sand trucks and made arrests this year. But India has hundreds, if not thousands, of illegal sand-mining operations. 
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And the world's population is growing. People want housing, offices, factories, malls and roads. "The fundamental problem is the massive use of cement-based construction," says Ritwick Dutta, an Indian environmental lawyer. "That's why the sand mafia has become so huge." Economic development requires concrete and glass. It requires sand." via Free Rep.


 

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Rigid new 'Upstairs Downstairs' society emerging via Silicon Valley takeover of Democrat Party. Rulers push for ever higher energy prices that guarantee the poor will stay that way. Bernie Sanders' America will fade with him-Joel Kotkin

"This “upstairs downstairs” coalition-largely indifferent to the interests of the traditional middle class or working class-may well represent the future of the Democratic Party, initially in the Golden State and, increasingly, nationally."... 
 
8/23/15, "Tech oligarchs tightening their grip on Democrats," Orange County Register, Joel Kotkin

"The current state of the Republican Party may seem like a demolition derby, but there’s an equally fascinating, if less well-understood, conflict within the Democratic Party. In this case, the disruptive force is largely Silicon Valley, a natural oligarchy that now funds a party teetering toward populism and even socialism. 

The fundamental contradictions, as Karl Marx would have noted, lie in the collision of interests between a group that has come to epitomize self-consciously progressive megawealth and a mass base which is increasingly concerned about downward mobility. For all his occasional populist lapses, President Obama generally has embraced Silicon Valley as an intrinsic part of his political coalition. He has even enlisted several tech giants – including venture capitalist John Doerr, LinkedIn billionaire Reid Hoffman and Sun Microsystems co-founder Vinod Khosla – in helping plan out Obama’s no-doubt lavish and highly political retirement.

In contrast, Hillary Clinton is hardly the icon in the Valley and its San Francisco annex as are both her husband and President Obama. But her “technocratic liberalism,” albeit hard to pin down, and close ties to the financial oligarchs seems more congenial than the grass-roots populism identified with Bernie Sanders, her chief rival for the Democratic presidential nomination.

“They don’t like Sanders at all,” notes researcher Greg Ferenstein, who has been polling Internet company founders for an upcoming book. Sanders’ emphasis on income redistribution and protecting union privileges and pensions is hardly popular among the tech elite. “He’s an egalitarian liberal,” Ferenstein explains, “These people are tech liberals. Equality is a nonissue in Silicon Valley.”

This conflict is most obvious in the assault on ride-booking firms, like Uber, by progressives like Sanders, as well as New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. This battle reveals a deepening split between the party’s mass base, including conventional taxi companies and operators, and its increasingly influential tech business allies. Some conservatives, such as pollster Scott Rasmussen, see Republican backing for Uber as an opening for the GOP. Yet Ferenstein’s poll of Internet founders reveals that barely 3 percent say they are Republicans; 18 percent are libertarian, while nearly half are Democrats. Republican operatives peg the tech donors to be 9-1 in favor of Democrats. Talk about unrequited love!

Overall, the hotbeds of the tech and information economies, including media, have become the financial bedrock of the Democratic Party. The 10 leading counties for Democratic fundraising in 2012 included, for the first time, Santa Clara, as well as San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York. Given their domination of the ranks of wealthy people under age 40, one can expect that this power will only increase in the years ahead.

This suggests that the tech elite, far from deserting the Democratic Party, more likely will aim take to it over. They are doing this, as other industries have, by absorbing key party operatives. Uber, for example, uses Obama campaign manager David Ploufee to lead its public relations, while other former officials have joined other tech firms such as Airbnb, Google, Twitter and Amazon.

Colliding Worldviews 

This conflict between populists and tech oligarchs has been muted in the past, in large part due to common views on social issues like gay marriage and, to some extent, environmental protection. But as the social issues fade, having been “won” by progressives, the focus necessarily moves to economics, where the gap between these two factions is greatest.

Fundamentally, Silicon Valley worships at the altar of “disruption,” seeking ways to create at least the prospect of megaprofits by doing things differently. Change is celebrated by those who benefit the most from it. But groups – from cab drivers to Hollywood tradespeople, even hotel workers – whose livelihoods are threatened by the disruptions of the “share” economy, may not be so sanguine.

Other aspects of the Silicon Valley mentality – what Ferenstein calls “the politics of the creative class” – reveal the unconscious elitism of its worldview. Although their industry is overwhelming based amid the Bay Area’s suburban sprawl, the Internet oligarchs, he claims, want “everyone” to move in to the urban center, something not remotely practical for most middle- and working-class families. Other policies advocated by the oligarchs, such as pushing for ever-higher energy prices, don’t threaten their lifestyles but are devastating to the classes below them.

Perhaps the biggest area of disagreement between the oligarchy and the populists is the role of labor unions. Simply put, the oligarchs are, at best, indifferent, if not hostile, to union influence. After all, tech has blossomed virtually without organized labor, which remains a bulwark of Democratic operations. Silicon Valley-backed attempts to reform schools, or weaken pensions for government workers, can expect ferocious opposition from the unions.

Another potential dividing line can be seen on immigration, where left-leaning groups like the Economic Policy Institute have campaigned against attempts by establishment Democrats and Republicans alike to expand the H1B and other “guest worker” visa programs. In a moment of politically incorrect candor, Sen. Sanders suggested that the kind of “open borders” policy advocated by Silicon Valley, libertarians and immigration activists would result in “substantially lower wages” for working-class Americans.

Right now, the populists have numbers on their side, as well as much of the media. The recent New York Times expose on Amazon’s brutal management practices reveals a deep discord between the media mouthpieces of the political Left and their usual capitalist heroes from the information economy.

The biggest challenge for the tech oligarchs is that their rise has come as class divisions have widened, and inequality has grown. The benefits to society of the current technology wave outside of being able to more conveniently waste time on your phone – whether in terms of creating jobs (outside of the Bay Area) or boosting productivity, appear largely limited.
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Yet given what many find the unattractive nature of the Republican alternative, one can expect the oligarchs to seek out a modus vivendi with the populists. They could exchange a regime of higher taxes and regulation for ever-expanding crony capitalist opportunities and political protection. As the hegemons of today, Facebook and Google, not to mention Apple and Amazon, have an intense interest in protecting themselves, for example, from antitrust legislation. History is pretty clear: Heroic entrepreneurs of one decade often turn into the insider capitalists of the next.

Tech people certainly have no objection to joining the ranks of crony capitalists, notably when cloaked in environmentally green garb. The solar energy and electric car empire of Elon Musk has been made possible by subsidies; unlike most manufacturing industries, he has a well-developed interest in the most Draconian energy legislation. Other tech figures, including Doerr, Khosla and top executives at Google, have benefited from government-subsidized renewable-energy schemes.
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These ventures produce very expensive energy – an economic disaster for most Californians – but have been bolstered by alliances with unions, which seek to monopolize construction within green industries. Rather than seek at least some alliance with the Right, it seems more likely that the oligarchs will be forced to make some concessions to the populist Left, including to women and minorities, groups unrepresented in the tech industry.
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A possible model for such an alliance can be seen in the coupling of San Francisco hedge-fund billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer and his Latino sidekick, the now-well-funded climate-change acolyte state Senate President pro Tem Kevin de León of Los Angeles, by such things as using cap-and-trade funds to fund a relatively small number of affordable houses. With the industrial economy hampered by regulation, the old blue-collar economy is dying off. This means the oligarchs may need only to support a few symbolic measures to benefit those who no longer have a productive place in the economy.
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Steyer even has plans in 2018 to succeed Gov. Jerry Brown, who he thinks may not have been sufficiently Draconian in his campaign against climate change. Steyer will probably be able to count on the support of de León and other Latino politicians whom Steyer finances.

The new platform would be a combination of climate change militancy and redistribution of wealth to the poor who, due in large part to the policies advocated by Silicon Valley, have little hope of moving up economically, much less buying a home in our state. This “upstairs downstairs” coalitionlargely indifferent to the interests of the traditional middle class or working class – may well represent the future of the Democratic Party, initially in the Golden State and, increasingly, nationally.

Of course, Bernie Sanders may yet have his moment, but the America he represents, that of sure things and widespread equality, will fade with him. The economic future likely belongs not to the populists but to the oligarchs and those in politics who choose to tap their money and influence to gain power. Welcome to the 21st century."

"Joel Kotkin is the R.C. Hobbs Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University in Orange and the executive director of the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism (www.opportunityurbanism.org).
His most recent book is “The New Class Conflict” (Telos Publishing: 2014)." via Free Rep.








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Sunday, August 23, 2015

Snow falls in Calgary in August 2015




8/23/15, "Calgary is stunned by SNOWFALL in the middle of summer," Daily Mail, Chris Pleasance

"Forecasters had predicted rain all day on Friday with a high temperature of 46F (8C), but as the temperature took a tumble, the rain turned to snow."... 

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Image caption: "However, nobody in the city seemed to be that bothered by the bizarre events, and even took to Twitter to mock their situation (pictured, snow covers a road near Calgary)" NWS GrandForks twitter via Daily Mail




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I'm the daughter of an Eagle Scout (fan of the Brooklyn Dodgers and Mets) and a Beauty Queen.