Category Archives: Governance

Brazil coup regime guts environmental laws


And like good Thatcherite/Reaganite neoliberal governments everywhere, they also gutted science funding.

The big winners are land developers and land-grabbers.

From Science:

The new interim government, led by former Vice President Michel Temer, has set out to trim government spending and boost business. Days after taking power, it merged the science ministry with the communications ministry, leaving researchers fearing for what’s left of their already diminished budgets. Meanwhile, powerful political players are attempting to remove roadblocks to development. “We are very worried about these actions that represent the demoting of science and innovation in the country,” says Luiz Davidovich, the president of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences.

Now, Brazil has a three-step licensing process for infrastructure and development projects. During each phase a project can be challenged or halted by lawsuits, and delays can last for years. The amendment, known as PEC 65, would eliminate all but the first step: the submission of a preliminary environmental impact statement. After that requirement is met—and regardless of how serious the impact seems to be—a project could not be delayed or canceled for environmental reasons, barring the introduction of substantially new facts.

“If this legislation is approved, it will probably be catastrophic for the environment and the people who depend on it,” says Hani Rocha El Bizri, an ecologist at the Federal Rural University of the Amazon in Belém. Representatives of several government agencies agree. In practice, PEC 65 “proposes the end of licensing,” says Thomaz Miazaki de Toledo, the director for environmental licensing at the Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources in Brasília, an arm of the Ministry of the Environment. If the amendment passes, he says, “mitigation and compensation, now required and supervised by the licensing authority, would be voluntary.”

Today in Euroausterity: € for Greece, Spain warned


First, the good news for greece. . .

Following adoption of yet more pay and pension cuts plus some take hikes and the promise to sell off more of the national resources, the Troika finally coughs up the cash.

From To Vima:

After an 11-hour meeting in Brussels, the Eurogroup finally concluded and came to a decision regarding the bailout review, funding and Greece’s debt.

According to the Eurogroup chairman Jeroen Dijsselbloem, 10.3 billion euros will be paid out to Greece in two installments; one for 7.5 billion euros in June and one after the summer, when a number of prior actions have been implemented.

In relation to Greece’s public debt, the Eurogroup chief stated there was an agreement for a solution in three stages, with short and long-term measures, as well as a long-term mechanism.

eKathimerini covers the downside for the coalition government:

[G]overnment officials admitted in private that the deal fell short of what they had been hoping for, particularly because the eurozone had resisted the IMF’s call for immediate and unconditional debt relief for Greece over the course of the program.

Another concern for the coalition is the lenders’ demand that it make changes to the legislation passed through Parliament on Saturday, such as lifting the restriction on the sale of nonperforming loans that are backed by state guarantees, before any funds can be disbursed.

Athens was also told that it would have to reach reform milestones in the fall before it could receive the second tranche of bailout funding. The first installment, which is set to be released in the coming weeks, will be 7.5 billion euros, while the second one will reach 2.8 billion.

The prospect of having to vote through more measures was not at all well received by SYRIZA MPs as they feel they have already taken on a considerable burden over the last few weeks, when they passed two multi-bills containing a wide range of measures.

Then on to Spain and that warning, via El País:

As if the European economy did not have enough to deal with, with stunted growth levels, a seemingly endless crisis in Greece and a global slowdown, the European Central Bank (ECB) has detected another risk: the populist movements mushrooming across the continent.

In its latest Financial Stability Review, the agency headed by Mario Draghi has alerted that growing popular support for these movements could delay what it views as necessary reforms. And the three countries where the political risk is higher are Spain, France and Greece.

“Reform implementation may have become more difficult, as political risks have increased considerably in almost all euro area countries since the onset of the global financial crisis,” reads the report, which was released on Tuesday.

“These rising political risks at both the national and supranational levels, as well as the increasing support for political forces which are seen to be less reform-oriented, may potentially lead to the delay of much needed fiscal and structural reforms,” adds the document.

Alcohol treatment doesn’t work for frat members


Google the words university Berkeley fraternity party alcohol complaints and you get 185,000 hits.

During our six years reporting for the Berkeley Daily Planet, we fielded quite a few calls from angry neighbors, complaining about parties getting out of hand, and the callers weren’t always the grumpy “get off my lawn” senior types, either.

It’s hard to imagine fraternities and sororities without thinking of the word party, and when you think of party, you also think booze, and at least two Cal frat house members have died as a result of drinking in the last two years, one from alcohol poisoning, the other from a fall.

Here’s the University’s official position statement on alcohol:

The University of California Berkeley was established as a public institution and is intrinsically devoted to the health, safety, and well-being of every individual in the campus community. Every member of the UC Berkeley community has a role in sustaining a safe, caring, and humane environment. Students, faculty, and staff are therefore responsible for fostering a healthy environment free of alcohol misuse. Toward that end, the campus provides education, prevention, and support services to minimize alcohol misuse; encourages treatment for members of the campus community who misuse alcohol; and sets expectations for conduct with respect to the use and misuse of alcohol in accordance with applicable laws, University policies, and campus regulations.

Note that word treatment.

Sounds like a good thing, right?

You have a problem, you get treatment?

But there’s a dirty little secret here.

Alcohol treatment programs don’t work, at least when it comes to the denizens of frat houses.

From the American Psychological Association:

Interventions designed to reduce alcohol use among fraternity members are no more effective than no intervention at all, according to an analysis of 25 years of research involving over 6,000 university students published by the American Psychological Association.

“Current intervention methods appear to have limited effectiveness in reducing alcohol consumption and alcohol-related problems among fraternity and possibly sorority members,” said lead researcher Lori Scott-Sheldon, PhD, of The Miriam Hospital and Brown University. “Stronger interventions may need to be developed for student members of Greek letter organizations.”

The study [open access, PDF] appears in the journal Health Psychology, which is published by APA.

The researchers conducted a meta-analysis of 15 studies looking at 21 different interventions involving 6,026 total participants (18 percent women) who were members of fraternities and sororities. They found no significant difference between students who received an intervention and those who did not for alcohol consumption per week or month, frequency of heavy drinking, frequency of drinking days or alcohol-related problems. In some cases, alcohol consumption even increased after an intervention.

Lots more, after the jump. . . Continue reading

Absent changes, California faces a parched future


Land-use and land-cover change for the historical period (1992–2012) and the projected period (2012–2062) in California's Central Valley and Oak Woodlands regions under a business-as-usual scenario.

Land-use and land-cover change for the historical period (1992–2012) and the projected period (2012–2062) in California’s Central Valley and Oak Woodlands regions under a business-as-usual scenario.

Absent major changes in the way California uses its land and water, the Golden State is headed for a long dry future.

And that’s without factoring in any significant increase in temperatures or shifts in global climate patterns.

From the U.S. Geological Survey:

If past patterns of California land-use change continue, projected water needs by the year 2062 will increase beyond current supply. If historical trends of land use changes to or from urban, agricultural or other uses continue, the result will be increased water-use demand beyond what existing supplies can provide. Large uncertainties associated with weather and climate variability have the potential to exacerbate the problem.

Scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey and the Nature Conservancy calculated historical trends of land-use change, urbanization, agriculture expansion and contraction from 1992 to 2012, and then used those trends to project future land-use patterns and water demand from 2012 to 2062 in California’s Central Valley and foothills, Central Coast and South Coast. These new projections are detailed in the paper, “Future land-use related water demand in California”  [open access] published this week in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

Assuming no new storage, efficiency or technology is created to improve California’s water supply, the study results indicate that the current 25 percent urban water-use restrictions called for in Governor Edmund G. Brown’s Executive Orders B-29-15 and B-37-16 would need to be maintained through 2062 for future water demand to remain at or below 2012 demand, unless restrictions were put in place on other water uses. Water use in 2012 was already proven unsustainable given the ongoing multi-year drought, which led to mandated statewide urban-use restrictions in 2015.

In the long term, drought, highly variable rainfall from year to year, and the real possibility of future warming and drying of climate combine to create potential water supply limitations. Coupled with population increases and shifting agricultural practices (from annual crops to orchards and vineyards) there can be enormous uncertainty in planning for future water supply and demand.

There’s lots more after the jump. . . Continue reading

Report: A failed plan to map SeaTac’s Muslims


SeaTac, a neologism from the first syllables of Seattle and Tacoma, is a suburb of Seattle, and a new report reveals that a xenophobic interim city manager’s fears of terrorism lead him to call for a map of each member of the city’s Sunni and Shiite populations.

The official resigned after learning a city investigation of his plan was underway but before the results were announced.

Maybe he can land a job with the Trump campaign.

From the Seattle Times:

A few weeks after his hiring in January, SeaTac’s new interim City Manager James “Donny” Payne asked the staff geographic-information systems coordinator to undertake an unusual project.

“Mr. Payne stated an interest in knowing with a great deal of specificity (to the neighborhood, house, and even person) where Sunni and Shiite Muslim residents lived,” an investigator later wrote in a report issued to the city

Payne explained creating such a “tactical map” of Muslim residents from census data would be useful “in case he needed to go into the neighborhoods to ‘make the peace,’ ” the report said.

His idea for mapping the city’s Muslim residents never materialized, partly because the census doesn’t collect religious information, the investigator found.

H/T to Just An Earth-Bound Misfit, I.

Tape proves Rousseff ouster really was a coup


Anyone with the slightest doubt that the impeachment of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff is anything other than a coup should be disabused of their credulity by events coming out of that Latin American nation today.

The scenario unfolding in Brasilia has elements of the Nixonian [tapes], touched with good old-fashioned corruption.

We open with the Independent:

Brazil’s interim leader Michel Temer is facing his first full-blown political crisis following the release of tape recordings seemingly showing that the suspension two weeks ago of President Dilma Rousseff was the result less of legitimate constitutional complaints and more of a plot.

After a day of frantic speculation in the capital, Brasilia, the country’s barely installed planning minister and top Temer ally, Romero Juca, announced he was temporarily stepping aside after admitting earlier in the day that his was one of two voices heard on the tape.

>snip<

Mr Temer became interim president of Latin America’s largest economy earlier this month after the upper chamber of the National Congress voted to suspend Ms Rousseff and begin an impeachment trial against her on charges she fiddled the nation’s books to paper over a dire budget deficit.  She and her allies contended however that she was in fact a victim of a “coup”.

The bomb was dropped on the Temer team early Monday when one of Brazil’s leading papers, the Folha de São Paulo, released chunks of a 75-minute conversation from early March between Mr Juca, who was then a Senator, and Sergio Machado, also a former senator and the head of a state oil company.  Who made the tape and why is not clear.

Al Jazeera English examines the timing and identifies the suspected Taper, whose motivations weren’t exactly Nixonian:

The scandal threatens Temer only 11 days after taking power from Rousseff, whom the Senate suspended as president on May 12 at the start of an impeachment trial on charges of breaking government accounting rules.

The Folha newspaper released what it said were recordings of conversations in March between Juca and Sergio Machado, a former oil executive.

The recordings were allegedly made secretly by Machado who, like Juca, is the target of an investigation into massive embezzlement centred on state oil company Petrobras.

In the conversations, Juca is heard calling for a “national pact” that he appears to suggest would stop the investigation, known as Operation Car Wash, in which dozens of top-ranking politicians from a variety of parties, as well as business executives, have been charged or already convicted for involvement in the Petrobras scheme.

MercoPress covers embarrassment:

Juca’s decision to take a leave from his post to defend himself is a huge blow for Interim President Michel Temer, who counted on the experienced senator to secure legislative support for key economic measures and reforms.

The new scandal also raises fears of further political instability in Brazil less than two weeks after President Dilma Rousseff was suspended to stand trial in the Senate for allegedly breaking fiscal laws.

>snip<

In recorded comments made before Rousseff was suspended and published by newspaper Folha de S. Paulo on Monday, Juca told an ally he agreed on the need for a “national pact” to circumscribe the probe known as “Operation Car Wash.”

Asked for help by a friend and former senator under investigation in the probe, Jucá replied, “The government has to be changed in order to stop this bleeding.”

There’s a whole lot more after the jump. . . Continue reading

Headlines of the day II: Forgiving, not forgotten


A pair of headlines, starting with the first, from the predawn hours in the New York Times, a tale of forgiveness from the man who made a blue dress and a cigar famous:

Kenneth Starr, Who Tried to Bury Bill Clinton, Now Only Praises Him

An unlikely voice recently bemoaned the decline of civility in presidential politics, warned that “deep anger” was fueling an “almost radical populism” and sang the praises of former President Bill Clinton — particularly his “redemptive” years of philanthropic work since leaving the White House.

Followed hours later by Sports Illustrated:

Report: Baylor board of regents expected to fire president Ken Starr

The Baylor board of regents are planning to remove school president Ken Starr in response to the sexual assault scandal involving the Bears football team.

We leave it to you gentle reason, to parse the timing.