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Hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets in cities around the world Friday to demand action from world governments on climate change. Video of demonstrations in New York, San Francisco, Berlin and several other cities showed city streets teeming with protesters. Some estimates put the total attendance at strikes around the world in the millions. Berlin and New York each had crowds estimated at more than 100,000 each, while thousands also turned out in Austin, Texas, Raleigh, N.C., and Washington, D.C.
Having a dispute with a large corporation? Chances are you can’t sue them, but that could change. The U.S. House of Representatives today passed the Forced Arbitration Injustice Repeal (FAIR) Act, which outlaws the practice of contractually demanding that employees and consumers use private dispute resolution. That means workers and the public could bring them to court. The vote was 225-186. Forced arbitration clauses have “seeped into just about every nook and cranny of our lives, including cell phone contracts, medical bills, employee handbooks, credit cards, nursing home contracts – you name it,” Congressman Hank Johnson, the Democrat from Georgia who is the chief sponsor of the bill, said in a statement. “The deck has been stacked against American consumers in favor of big business for far too long. This is just another tool for powerful corporate interests to avoid accountability.” The bill now moves to the Senate, where Connecticut Democrat Richard Blumenthal is the sponsor.
A coalition of state attorneys general is suing the Trump administration after it moved earlier in the week to revoke the California's authority to set its own vehicle emission standards, first granted under former President Obama. The lawsuit filed by California's Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D) along with the leaders of 23 other states, D.C., Los Angeles and New York City, argues that the Trump administration unlawfully removed the state's waiver granted under the Clean Air Act. The suit also alleges that the decision to remove California's waiver, which is currently adopted by 12 other states, exceeds the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA) authority. NHTSA, under the Department of Transportation (DOT), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) jointly drafted the new emissions rule.
Auto-efficiency standards might not be the best strategy for cutting emissions and fuel waste from the transportation sector — a higher gas tax or a carbon tax would be better. But, at the moment, efficiency rules are the legal way to do so. And the ones the Obama administration and California established would undoubtedly help: The experts at the Rhodium Group determined last year that the Trump administration’s push to wipe away auto-efficiency standards would result in the national fleet reaching only 38 mpg. The result would be higher oil consumption on the order of 221,000 to 644,000 barrels of oil per day by 2030 — and 28 million to 83 million metric tons more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Drivers would not really benefit, because they would end up paying billions more in gasoline costs. The Trump administration should abandon its destructive course and compromise.
The press has performed admirably in reporting on privacy violations by the National Security Agency and major internet companies. But news sites often expose users to the same surveillance programs and data-collection companies they criticize. Even articles that explained how the N.S.A. was using Google cookies to “pinpoint targets for hacking” often included the exact same cookies revealed by Edward Snowden. Likewise, articles about Facebook and Cambridge Analytica often include Facebook tracking code, allowing Facebook to keep tabs on what people read. Surveillance on news websites is particularly problematic because the news you consume may reveal your political leanings or health interests — information that is not just exploited by corporations to sell you things, but could also be abused by governments. And because news organizations benefit from the surveillance economy by running advertisements targeted to reader interests, they may be less likely to report on their own tracking practices.
Wrapped in a Snuggie, I like to binge on reruns of “The Golden Girls” all by myself. Except I’m not really alone. Once every few minutes, my TV beams out a report about what’s on my screen to Samsung, the company that made it. Chances are, your TV is watching you, too, through a few nosy pixels on the screen. Ever wondered why TV sets are getting so cheap? Manufacturing efficiency plays a role. But to paraphrase James Carville, it’s the data, stupid. TVs have joined the ranks of websites, apps and credit cards in the lucrative business of harvesting and sharing your information. Americans spend an average of 3½ hours in front of a TV each day, according to eMarketer. Your TV records may not contain sensitive search queries or financial data, but that history is a window to your interests, personality, joys and embarrassments.
The recently announced relocation of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service (ERS) from Washington, D.C., to the Kansas City region is more than an office move. While it will cost more than two-thirds of its 300 employees their jobs, White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney has celebrated it as “a wonderful way to sort of streamline government.” The implication? That the federal statistical agency is expendable. But the ERS is essential. This independent research arm of the USDA draws on massive amounts of data about the agricultural economy to produce objective analysis on issues that touch every household in the country: commodity supply, demand and trade, as well as questions of food security and safety and climate change. ERS is an indispensable resource for farmers, food manufacturers and policymakers — but its work affects all our lives. And that is the danger of gutting this agency. Part of a larger movement by the Trump administration to dismantle the federal government from within, this latest move seeks to undermine expertise, data and nonpartisan scientific knowledge. The beneficiaries? Large corporations that stand to profit from ideologically motivated agriculture policy. But with deep cuts to ERS, consumers may suffer if they aren’t able to learn about trends in food product recalls or know whether their grocery bills might increase.
Congress should equip OSHA to do a lot more to improve conditions for meatpacking workers, but that should not exempt FSIS from doing what it can now to decrease risks to workers. Line speed increases can put workers’ safety and health at risk. The United States has an obligation not to place workers at greater risk and it should not deal away these responsibilities under the guise of FSIS’ food safety mandate. FSIS should revoke its line speed waivers for poultry plants and withdraw the Modernization of Swine Slaughter rule. Workers shouldn’t have to live in fear of serious injury or death to do their jobs.
Fortunately, Congress can still have a say on whether USDA’s radical overhaul of pork inspection is allowed to go forward. An amendment put forward in the House of Representatives would ensure that no funds are used to implement this rule until all of the investigations into USDA’s handling of the rule are completed. The Senate has yet to agree to the measure, but it should. USDA should not be allowed to play politics with the safety of the American food supply and workers’ lives.
Regulation rage has a couple of distinctive features. One is its disproportionality, in which fairly mild restrictions set off volcanic anger. The other is the sheer pettiness of many of the ragers’ complaints. Trump, by his own account, dislikes modern light bulbs because they make him look orange — which isn’t even true. (He does indeed look orange, but it’s probably because of his addiction to artificial tanning and excessive use of bronzer.) Oh, and do people remember Trump’s opposition to regulations that protect the ozone layer because, he claimed, his hair spray wasn’t working as well as it used to? So what’s really driving regulation rage? I’d love to see some serious political science research into the phenomenon. I suspect, though I don’t know for sure, that there are strong correlations between regulation rage and other attitudes, like support for unregulated gun sales and racial hostility. But as I said, regulation rage seems to be more about psychology than about self-interest. It’s coming from people who, for whatever reason, don’t feel respected, and who see even mild restrictions on their actions as insults perpetrated by elites who consider themselves smarter than other people. Such people are a distinct minority among Americans in general. For example, polling tells us that an overwhelming majority of Americans, including a majority of self-identified Republicans, want to see pollution regulation strengthened, not weakened. But regulation ragers have disproportionate influence over Republican politicians. And now we have a regulation rager sitting in the White House, determined to undo public-interest regulation even when big business wants it retained. And pointing out that regulatory rollbacks are both bad for the economy and likely to sicken or kill many Americans won’t help. After all, anyone saying such things is, by definition, a know-it-all elitist.
The US Department of Agriculture moved forward this week with new regulations that will simplify oversight of slaughterhouses where pigs are killed and processed. The new regulations have been under consideration for a long time, but while under previous administrations they were repeatedly delayed for more research, under the current administration they’ve raced ahead.Most Americans don’t pay attention to regulatory requirements at slaughterhouses — at least, until there’s a massive outbreak of foodborne illness as a consequence of inadequate safety procedures. Critics of the USDA’s new regulations argue that such an outbreak is nearly inevitable because, they say, the new process doesn’t allow for adequate food safety testing. The way we raise and slaughter animals on factory farms makes for cheap meat, but also introduces serious public health, sustainability, and animal welfare problems. The cramped conditions on factory farms are perfect for breeding disease, and the mass use of antibiotics to manage that disease risk leads to antibiotic resistance. Pig factory farms produce huge amounts of biohazardous waste that is poorly contained in large hog waste lagoons, which overflow during serious storms. All in all, it’s a mess, one that, ideally, regulators would be fighting to improve. We have to do better, and the new regulations for pork slaughter are a move in the wrong direction.
Democrats are fighting back against a Trump administration rule that scraps numerous protections for endangered species. Legislation filed in the House on Tuesday would rescind a rule announced by the Department of the Interior in August that rolls back the Endangered Species Act (ESA), dramatically scaling back America’s landmark conservation law. The regulation allows economic considerations to be shared before adding an animal to the list, limits protections for threatened species and limits how factors such as climate change can be considered in listing decisions as well as in the review process used before projects are approved on their habitat.
When Republicans describe the strength of the economy over the past two and a half years, they generally cite the 2017 tax cut and the Donald Trump administration’s record on deregulation. Indeed, the connection between regulation and employment has over the past decade become a permanent feature of anti-regulatory rhetoric on the right. One study found the explosion of the phrase “job-killing regulations” during the Obama administration. Ironically, the experience of the Trump administration should put an end to this rhetoric. The past two and a half years have shown consistently low unemployment numbers. Even critics of the administration admit that the economy has been consistently strong (they differ of course on whether the Trump administration is responsible). But while the economy has shown consistent strength over the past few years, none of that strength can logically be attributed to reduced regulatory requirements. That’s because, despite the rhetoric of the Trump administration and its supporters, there has been very little deregulation. At the beginning of the Trump administration, there were thousands upon thousands of regulations on the books. In 2019, the overwhelming majority (more than 99.99 percent) of those regulations remain.
Air pollution has the potential to travel from a pregnant woman's lungs to the fetal side of the placenta, according to a new study. Researchers at Hasselt University in Belgium in a study reported in Nature Communications found sootlike black carbon, a type of particle pollutant, on placentas donated by new mothers. The placenta is a temporary organ that acts as a natural barrier between a mother and the fetus during pregnancy. The study is the first that found particles accumulated on the fetus's side of the placenta, near the site of the formation of the umbilical cord.
Medical images and health data belonging to millions of Americans, including X-rays, MRIs and CT scans, are sitting unprotected on the internet and available to anyone with basic computer expertise. The records cover more than 5 million patients in the U.S. and millions more around the world. In some cases, a snoop could use free software programs — or just a typical web browser — to view the images and private data, an investigation by ProPublica and the German broadcaster Bayerischer Rundfunk found. We identified 187 servers — computers that are used to store and retrieve medical data — in the U.S. that were unprotected by passwords or basic security precautions. The computer systems, from Florida to California, are used in doctors’ offices, medical-imaging centers and mobile X-ray services. The insecure servers we uncovered add to a growing list of medical records systems that have been compromised in recent years. Unlike some of the more infamous recent security breaches, in which hackers circumvented a company’s cyber defenses, these records were often stored on servers that lacked the security precautions that long ago became standard for businesses and government agencies. “It’s not even hacking. It’s walking into an open door,” said Jackie Singh, a cybersecurity researcher and chief executive of the consulting firm Spyglass Security. Some medical providers started locking down their systems after we told them of what we had found.
Amazon.com Inc. has adjusted its product-search system to more prominently feature listings that are more profitable for the company, said people who worked on the project—a move, contested internally, that could favor Amazon's own brands. Late last year, these people said, Amazon optimized the secret algorithm that ranks listings so that instead of showing customers mainly the most-relevant and best-selling listings when they search—as it had for more than a decade—the site also gives a boost to items that are more profitable for the company. The adjustment, which the world’s biggest online retailer hasn’t publicized, followed a yearslong battle between executives who run Amazon’s retail businesses in Seattle and the company’s search team, dubbed A9, in Palo Alto, Calif., which opposed the move, the people said. Any tweak to Amazon’s search system has broad implications because the giant’s rankings can make or break a product. The site’s search bar is the most common way for U.S. shoppers to find items online, and most purchases stem from the first page of search results, according to marketing analytics firm Jumpshot.
In less than three years, President Donald Trump has named more former lobbyists to Cabinet-level posts than his most recent predecessors did in eight, putting a substantial amount of oversight in the hands of people with ties to the industries they're regulating. The Cabinet choices are another sign that Trump's populist pledge to "drain the swamp" is a catchy campaign slogan but not a serious attempt to change the way Washington works. Instead of staring down "the unholy alliance of lobbyists and donors and special interests" as Trump recently declared, the influence industry has flourished during his administration. The amount spent in 2019 on lobbying the U.S. government is on pace to match or exceed last year's total of $3.4 billion, the most since 2010, according to the political money website Open Secrets. Trump also has pulled in hefty contributions from industries with business before his administration, and his hotel near the White House has been a magnet for lobbyists and foreign interests since he was elected.
A drinking water crisis in New Jersey’s biggest city is bringing new attention to an old problem: Millions of homes across the U.S. get their water through pipes made of toxic lead, which can leach out and poison children if the water isn’t treated with the right mix of chemicals. Replacing those lead pipes is a daunting task for cities and public water systems because of the expense involved — and the difficulty of even finding out where all those pipes are. Only a handful of states have put together an inventory of the buried pipes, which connect homes to water mains and are often on private property. But after drinking water emergencies in Washington, D.C.; Flint, Michigan; and now Newark, some experts are calling again for a rethinking of the theory that treating the pipes with anti-corrosive agents is enough to keep the public out of danger. Instead, the lead lines should be replaced, they say.
But beyond the ugly tactics that produced this particular majority lies a looming question: What will the long-term consequences of this takeover be? A new study offers an alarming answer to that question. It concludes that even if Democrats win the White House and Congress, the high court will likely strike down much of what they do to address the climate change crisis, even as the window for action is closing, perhaps exacerbating the threat of civilizational catastrophe. The study represents a serious effort — one undertaken by two well-known academics — to develop a realistic projection of how the conservative justices might rule on climate legislation. As such, it may also fuel discussion among the Democratic presidential candidates about their various proposals to expand the court. “Climate change legislation,” the report starkly concludes, is “unlikely to survive judicial review,” at a time when “leading scientists have concluded that only twelve years remain to avoid planetary climate change catastrophe.” What makes the study interesting is that it uses the justices’ past rulings, as well as other conservative legal scholarship, to elaborate a picture of the specific legal doctrines they might employ to strike down efforts to legislate against global warming. The study concludes that their records clearly demonstrate they will have many such doctrines to weaponize in this fashion. “There are ample implausible doctrines that conservative justices will invoke,” Aaron Belkin, a political science professor at San Francisco State University who co-wrote the study, told me. The other author is Samuel Moyn, a professor at Yale Law School.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) just previewed the first major piece of legislation she’d try to pass through Congress if elected president: a vast anti-corruption package to crack down on the entrenched culture of lobbying in Washington, DC.
The Trump administration recently revealed its grand plan for turbocharging economic growth: Make Drinking Water Dirty Again. For context, this is one of many deregulatory actions Trump has taken to allow more pollution. Others include allowing power plants to dump more lead, arsenic and mercury into the water; relaxing restrictions on the release of methane and fine particulate matter into the air; and legalizing a pesticide linked to brain damage in children. This latest case involved the bodies of water the federal government can protect under the Clean Water Act, which makes it illegal to pollute a “water of the United States” without a permit. An Obama administration rule clarified that “waters of the United States” include streams and wetlands that feed larger waterways, including those used for drinking water. The government cost-benefit analysis it produced at the time found that this rule produced net economic benefits. The Trump administration’s cost-benefit analysis, however, came to the opposite conclusion — chiefly because it abruptly decided that the largest category of benefits previously attributed to the rule could no longer be quantified at all. (The Trump administration said the research that had been used to quantify the benefits of protecting wetlands was too old, even though it cited even older research elsewhere in the same report.) Therefore, these benefits were effectively assigned a value of zero. Voila, the rule must go. This legerdemath aside, it’s not exactly clear how allowing greater water pollution would help supercharge economic growth. Sure, it might save some business a few bucks to be able to just dump toxic waste into a local tributary without a permit, but it’s difficult to argue this kind of thing has a substantial positive impact on the overall economy or public welfare.
House lawmakers are escalating their antitrust investigation of Silicon Valley, issuing expansive requests for internal documents to four of the nation’s largest technology companies. Bipartisan leaders of the House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee sent letters to Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google on Friday seeking internal communications and documents regarding the use of their market dominance.
Three Senate Democrats are asking Amazon to respond to reports that it is skirting regulations and creating a dangerous environment for employees and the public with its delivery system. Sens. Richard Blumethal (D-Conn.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) penned a letter dated Thursday asking Amazon to answer a series of questions about its delivery practices. The senators asked Amazon to spell out how the company chooses its third-party delivery companies and how many companies Amazon contracts with. The letter also asks Amazon to describe steps it takes to ensure drivers and warehouse employees are treated fairly, as well as the qualifications Amazon requires of its drivers. The senators asked for a response no later than Sept. 27.
The little we do know isn’t encouraging. E-cigarette fluids have been found to contain at least six groups of potentially toxic chemicals. We have no idea what happens when THC is added, or when these substances are heated together and inhaled daily for months or years. There was early evidence of potential heart issues before this current crisis, and the FDA is also looking into reports that vaping may cause seizures. The supposedly countervailing evidence that these products help people avoid combustible cigarettes is limited. The fact that they’ve introduced a whole new generation of young people to a highly addictive and possibly dangerous habit is indisputable. Discovering specific tainted products that might be contributing to these illnesses should be a priority, but regulators can’t stop there. A complete response has to tackle four big issues. First, the FDA needs to accelerate its efforts to scientifically review legally available products, with an added emphasis on safety. A ban on flavored products will help curb the teen vaping epidemic, but stricter age restrictions and a more aggressive clampdown on deceptive marketing should follow. Then there’s the black market: The devices people are buying on the street and the liquids used in them demand more attention. Finally, this crisis makes it even more clear that marijuana products shouldn’t continue to exist in confusing regulatory limbo. It’s an imposing wish list. But the inevitable consequence of leaving things as they are is more illnesses and deaths.
Democratic lawmakers are ramping up requests for investigations into why officials at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reprimanded their own scientists for contradicting President Trump’s tweet on Hurricane Dorian. Four Democratic lawmakers are now calling for probes into reports that the White House played a hand in reprimanding NOAA staff at the agency’s Birmingham, Ala., office for tweeting that Alabama would not be affected by the hurricane. That kind of involvement would be seen as a politicization of science.