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- 09/29/16--07:30: _NASA: ‘We didn’t ch...
- 11/03/16--20:51: _Egypt is getting cl...
- 11/04/16--17:52: _Many people in esta...
- 11/15/16--17:27: _Global carbon emiss...
- 11/18/16--19:51: _Iraqi students want...
- 11/22/16--17:52: _Here's what Jeff Se...
- 11/23/16--20:41: _Native Americans we...
- 12/05/16--20:16: _The Dakota Access P...
- 12/07/16--17:51: _Automation doesn't ...
- 12/08/16--20:14: _NASA just unveiled ...
- 12/12/16--17:26: _Britain has a new o...
- 12/13/16--19:51: _Radiation plume fro...
- 12/15/16--18:42: _Trump shuns daily i...
- 12/16/16--21:06: _One of the world's ...
- 12/21/16--19:46: _How free college tr...
- 12/22/16--18:23: _Researchers have de...
- 01/04/17--17:54: _Why young people in...
- 01/12/17--17:08: _Another sign the US...
- 01/13/17--22:11: _Here's how Rudy Giu...
- 01/19/17--16:44: _China's vision of g...
- 09/29/16--07:30: NASA: ‘We didn’t change any zodiac signs'
- 11/03/16--20:51: Egypt is getting close to its breaking point
- 12/07/16--17:51: Automation doesn't always kill jobs. Sometimes, it adds them.
- 12/12/16--17:26: Britain has a new official definition of 'anti-Semitism'
- 12/21/16--19:46: How free college transformed this Rust Belt town in Michigan
- 01/13/17--22:11: Here's how Rudy Giuliani will advise Trump on cybersecurity
- 01/19/17--16:44: China's vision of globalization differs sharply from America's
All over the world, people check their horoscopes to see what's in store for them for the day.
For most, it is an entertaining, meaningless diversion, but a few genuinely believe in their predictions based on their astrological signs sign.
But NASA is causing waves in the astrological community for its recent suggestion that the astrological signs – constellations that are at a certain point in the sky for certain point in the year – have changed as the Earth's axis has shifted over the centuries.
The uproar was such that NASA's tumblr felt compelled to release an explanation for the story, emphasizing that astrology is a pseudoscience.
The root of the uproar was apparently an article in Cosmopolitan magazine that claimed that a NASA article had shaken up the zodiac calendar, and that 86 percent of the star signs people think that they were born under were now incorrect. NASA's "correction" of the zodiac calendar also included a 13th constellation, Ophiuchus, adding further fuel to the viral wildfire that quickly spread across the internet.
According to the NASA post (meant for children) that began the hubbub, the Earth's axis has changed in the 3,000 years since the zodiac was first invented. As a result, the constellations over which the sun appears to move over have shifted over time. It also pointed out that the sun also moves over a 13th constellation, which the Babylonians deigned not to include in the zodiac in order to preserve their 12-month calendar.
None of this is new information, points out Phil Plait, of Slate Magazine. He notes that astrologers have been ignoring the 13th constellation for thousands of years, and that sun actually passes through up to 21 constellations, by some counts.
The origins of the zodiac come from a time when early astronomers believed that the universe was geocentric, that is, that, everything in the revolves around the Earth. Early civilizations examined the heavens in a search for patterns that could explain how everything worked.
Many people ascribed meaning to patterns of stars in the sky, giving rise to the idea of constellations of stars that represented various aspects of their respective mythologies.
As time went on, humans would chart the movements of these constellations and realize that there were predictable patterns in the night sky. These predictions would form the backbone of both astronomy and astrology, as early scientific observation mixed with superstition.
The Ancient Babylonians divided the ancient sky into 12 pieces, each 30 degrees apart, which followed the sun as it supposedly traveled around the Earth over the course of a year. Each piece was represented by a constellation to serve as a landmark for early as the sun crossed over the position of each of the 12 constellations in turn.
The segments of the zodiac was an important early celestial coordinate system that provided early astronomers and astrologers with a more sophisticated understanding of the night sky. But, as the heliocentric model took hold in Europe in the 17th century, astronomers abandoned the system.
Astrologers stuck with the zodiac holding on to the mystic notion that the movement of the stars could predict the future.
In 1930, the first modern newspaper horoscope, "What the Stars Foretell," was created by Richard Harold (R.H.) Naylor, who was tasked with predicting the future of Princess Margaret in England for the Sunday Express newspaper, according to Linda Rodriguez in an article for the Smithsonian.
He continued to publish various astrological predictions about the royal family until he began to branch out into predictive advice for common folk whose birthday fell within the week of his column's publishing.
Soon, "What the Stars Fortell" developed into the generalization-laden "star sign" predictions that remain popular to this day, forming the basis of contemporary astrology.
While most people tend to not take their astrological sign seriously, it is ubiquitous enough in popular culture to affect even those who do not fully believe in it. Birthstones and zodiac tattoos, for instance, are a perennially popular methods of body decoration that could be threatened by a shift in the constellations they evoke.
NASA reassured its followers on Tumblr that while the zodiac signs are technically off because of shifting planetary axis, there's nothing "wrong" about their original signs, since astrology has no special predictive power anyway. Since astrology has no scientific basis, the true position of the stars will not fundamentally change anything about a person who identifies with the original star sign calendar.
"So, we didn't change any zodiac signs," said NASA's tumblr post. "We just did the math."
AMMAN, JORDAN — A tuk tuk driver, one of the lowest rungs of Egyptian society, suddenly has a popularity that eclipses the president.
As food shortages, a plummeting Egyptian pound, and factory stoppages seize Egypt, hundreds of thousands have turned to the driver of the three-wheeled motorized rickshaw to speak the truths few politicians dare.
And he has a few choice words for the once-beloved field marshal, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
“Before the presidential elections, we had enough sugar and we would export rice. What happened?” driver Mustapha Abdel Azeem said during a three-minute interview with the El Hayah channel in mid-October that quickly went viral and gained more than two million views in less than 24 hours.
“The top echelon spent 25 million pounds to celebrate; while the poor cannot find a kilogram of rice.”
In private, many Egyptians are more direct with their criticism.
“Sisi promised to right the economy and end corruption. He is spending lavishly while the people are starving, he is just another corrupt leader,” says Mahmoud, a Cairo shopkeeper who has not stocked sugar in nearly a week.
Sugar and other essential goods are disappearing from shelves of supermarkets across the country in one of the worst food shortages the country has seen for decades. Nearly all Egyptians blame Mr. Sisi – bold claims in a country where criticism of the strongman has been rare and often punished.
It is a dramatic turnaround from the initial outpouring of support for Sisi, who was hailed by a public fatigued by political unrest and economic instability as a stabilizing force when he came to power in 2013. The strongman, who has played to a populist tune, was for many a symbol of more prosperous times to come.
But as the prosperity never materialized, harsh economic realities have forced Egypt into austerity measures. Combined with increased repression, many Egyptians are suffering buyer’s remorse, struggling under an authoritarian regime they say is out of touch with the struggles of all levels of society.
It is yet to be seen whether growing anger with Sisi will translate into a widespread protest movement, or if the regime will double down to repress a growingly restless street. But there is an increasing sense that a reckoning is drawing nearer.
An economy under stress
Certainly, the stresses on the Egyptian economy are significant and growing.
The dropping value of the pound has driven inflation to 14 percent this year. A precipitous decline in foreign reserves has forced Egyptians to rely on the black market exchange rate, where $1 is sold for 18 Egyptian pounds, more than twice the official rate of 8.89 Egyptian pounds to the dollar.
Meanwhile, unemployment hovers around 12.7 percent – well above the 9 percent reported shortly prior to former President Hosni Mubarak’s ouster – with joblessness hitting youths the hardest. According to various statistics, as many as 30 percent of young Egyptians are believed to be unemployed.
In part, the economic problems reflect a drop in tourism, a key sector. But decades of mismanagement by former President Mubarak haven’t helped, leaving the country with a $30.7 billion budget deficit – 9.8 percent of Egypt’s gross domestic product. (By contrast, the $587 billion US budget deficit in 2016 was 3.2 percent of GDP.)
Sisi’s economic prescriptions haven’t worked, either.
He has focused on multibillion-dollar megaprojects that border on vanity ventures, including a new capital city in the heart of the desert. Even Sisi’s signature $8 billion expansion of the Suez Canal has resulted in only 4 percent growth; Cairo had predicted 100 percent growth by 2023.
“The government’s message for three years has been: We have projects and great times to come,” says Amr Hamzawy, a former member of parliament and a professor at the American University of Cairo. “This is not enough, and now it is catching up with them.”
“People are angry because they were promised quick improvements in living conditions, and what they get instead are cuts and the message that we all have to tighten our belts and rescue our country.”
Public anger has been fanned further by public relations missteps that have made the regime seem out of touch.
This year, the state called on Egyptians to donate their fakka, or spare pocket change, to the government. And Sisi has told Egyptians to “tighten their belts” even as the government held a $5 million conference at a lavish resort in Sharm al Sheikh.
The mood in Egypt is not revolutionary, some say; it is desperate. They liken it not to the 2011 Arab Spring, but to the 1977 bread riots.
Echoes from 1977
The comparison seems increasingly relevant.
In 1977, like today, Egypt was looking for an infusion of money from the International Monetary Fund to bolster its economy. And as in 1977, today’s loan will come with conditions.
One of them is to cut subsidies in a bid to rein in public spending.
When the government cut subsidies for flour and rice under the IMF’s direction in 1977, the riots that followed shook the nation for two days and resulted in 79 deaths. Calm was restored only when then-President Anwar Sadat reinstated the subsidies.
Today, Cairo is already taking steps to meet the IMF’s conditions. In August, it raised electricity prices between 25 and 40 percent, and it is phasing in a 13 percent value added tax. The Egyptian government is expected to cut fuel subsidies next, with the potential for a revision of flour subsidies after that.
But perhaps most controversial is an IMF demand to float of the Egyptian pound, which Egypt did on Thursday, causing the pound to weaken. The move could result in a sharp decline in the exchange rate.
The cut in subsidies, and particularly the devaluation of the Egyptian pound, is set to hit all levels of society – with hundreds of local businesses and industries across the country already stopping production of goods ranging from fruit juices to furniture.
“It is difficult to say what Egyptians’ breaking point will be,” says Eric Trager, fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and author of “Arab Fall,” a book on post-revolution Egypt.
The appetite for protests seems small. Calls for a Ghalaba Revolution – or revolution of the poor – with nationwide protests on Nov. 11 have resulted in police reportedly detaining eight citizens for their suspected involvement. Tens of thousands of activists remain behind bars – a warning for any citizens who wish to mobilize.
“It is entirely possible there might be riots as a result of economic pressures – but I don’t see, at present, much sign that a significant political protest will take place,” says H.A. Hellyer, senior nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council and author of “A Revolution Undone: Egypt’s Road Beyond Revolt.”
The danger is that, with no levers to voice their discontent and no indication that the economy will improve, frustration could continue to fester.
“Other regimes such as Mubarak opened up the political space to defuse socioeconomic pressures,” says Mr. Hamzawy. “But my fear is that they will resort to more oppression – and no one knows the path that will take us.”
Do you trust that your vote in the Nov. 8 presidential elections will be counted accurately?
If not, then you are one of a substantial number of voters in established democracies on both sides of the Atlantic that are at least somewhat suspicious that voter fraud may mar national elections.
How much validity you give those concerns depends on whom you trust, research and polling show.
In the United States, rumblings of potential voter fraud were amplified when, in the last presidential debate, Republican nominee Donald Trump declined to commit to honoring the results of the election. And while research shows voter fraud in America is next to nonexistent, Mr. Trump’s repeated warnings of a "rigged" election are gaining credibility, especially among Republican voters. While claims of voter fraud used to be associated with young and unstable democracies, Trump voters are joined by many European counterparts also heeding the calls of populist politicians from Britain to France to Austria.
"A wide segment of people is questioning democratic institutions across Europe and the US," Brian Klaas of the London School of Economics and Political Science told the Associated Press.
In some of Europe’s former-Communist, younger democracies, such claims of voter fraud have been voiced by opposition parties. For example, in the previously Yugoslav republics of Montenegro and Macedonia countercultural candidates have questioned the veracity of national elections in the past year. Poland's right-wing Law and Justice party, now in government, has also challenged local election results.
But these claims are no longer restricted to new democracies. In Austria, which has been democratic republic since that system was restored after World War II, the right-wing party managed to overturn election results after its candidate narrowly lost; in Britain the country’s electoral commission said voters who feared their pencil-marked ballots might be tampered with could use pen.
In America, there is no evidence of significant voter fraud. One study by Justin Levitt, a Loyola Law School professor in Los Angeles, found 31 instances where voter impersonation was alleged out of 1 billion votes cast in US elections between 2000 and 2014.
The internet may be one possible explanation as to why, despite the absence of substantial evidence, these claims have gained so much traction among segments of the European and American publics.
"There is more false information easily available and more information is channeled toward us that is primed and selected based on our past [internet] activities," political scientist Nicholas Cheeseman of Oxford University told the AP. "So you are likely trapped into a set of images or conversations that reflect or reinforce your beliefs."
But for voters who fundamentally distrust the political establishment and the democratic process, the comments of one Trump supporter, Roger Stone, reveal another rationale.
"I think we have widespread voter fraud, but the first thing that Trump needs to do is begin talking about it constantly," Mr. Stone said in a podcast discussion with conservative Milo Yiannopoulos.
"If there's voter fraud, this election will be illegitimate, the election of the winner will be illegitimate, we will have a constitutional crisis, widespread civil disobedience, and the government will no longer be the government."
This report contains material from the Associated Press.
Global carbon dioxide emissions have stayed almost flat for the third year in a row, thanks to a decrease in coal consumption by China and the United States, according to a yearly report by an international team of scientists.
But the election of coal-friendly Donald Trump as president could threaten this trend.
According to early projections by the Global Carbon Project, carbon dioxide emissions will increase a negligible 0.2 percent in 2016. This slowdown contrasts a 2.3 percent increase each year from 2000 to 2013.
“This third year of almost no growth in emissions is unprecedented at a time of strong economic growth,” Corinne Le Quéré, director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia, and lead author of the study published in the journal Earth System Science Data, said in a statement.
But, she warns, this reduction alone will not be enough to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels that is part of the Paris climate agreement.
“Global emissions now need to decrease rapidly, not just stop growing,” she added.
The report comes less than a week after the election of Mr. Trump, a climate change denier who has promised to both repeal the US Clean Power Plan and other regulations to curb greenhouse gas emissions and withdraw from the Paris agreement. Yet, the report also comes as China, which contributes 29 percent of global carbon emissions, is expected to further reduce its carbon footprint, and as public opinion globally is making climate change a priority.
The Global Carbon Project, composed of at least 67 scientists, measured how much carbon dioxide humans emitted through available data from energy reports put out by countries. They then accounted for how much carbon dioxide was subsequently absorbed by plants, land surfaces, and oceans. The difference is the amount of carbon dioxide that remains in the atmosphere, driving global warming, according to The Washington Post.
While the authors expect global carbon emissions in 2016 to slow to 0.2 percent, 36 billions tons of carbon dioxide were still expected to have been emitted this year from fossil use and industrial activity. In this case, then, perspective is as important as progress. Emissions today remain “63 percent above emissions in 1990,” the study notes. The authors also did not take into account other greenhouse gases such as methane, or the release of additional carbon dioxide from deforestation and other nonindustrial cases.
Still, progress was made in China, the United States, and the European Union, the world’s three largest carbon dioxide emitters. China saw its carbon dioxide emissions decrease by 0.7 percent in 2015, in part because of its decrease consumption of coal and a shift towards more renewable options, but also because of recent emissions policies. China is forecasted to see an additional 0.5 percent decline in 2016.
The United States, the second largest carbon dioxide emitter (about 15 percent of the world's total), also reduced its coal use while increasing its oil and gas consumption, leading to an overall decrease of 2.6 percent last year.
While the study projects the US will further decrease its emissions by 1.7 percent in 2016, it’s unclear how the policies of President-elect Trump could affect this trend, as The Christian Science Monitor’s Henry Gass wrote.
The implications of Mr. Trump’s presidency on the environment and climate change may remain unclear for months. But some of his statements during the election campaign stand in sharp contrast to a strong consensus among climate scientists that Earth’s temperatures are rising, that this poses major risks to ecosystems and human societies, and that human emissions of heat-trapping gases are the root problem to address.
Besides suggesting that climate change is a Chinese hoax, during his campaign he also pledged to repeal the Clean Power Plan and other regulations curbing greenhouse gas emissions, called for boosting fossil fuel development, and said he will pull the US out of the 195-nation Paris Agreement to reduce carbon emissions.
Still, an overwhelming majority of the public (64 percent) is concerned about global warming, according to Gallup.
The rhetoric of Trump on the campaign trail could inspire more environmental action, according to the Monitor’s Mark Trumbull.
So, yes, Trump may try to follow through on pledges of major support for the fossil fuels, pulling America out of the Paris agreement to reduce carbon emissions, and trying to stop spending federal money on climate change . But it's possible his positions will evolve or be constrained because of public opinion, a divided Senate, diplomatic pressure, or market conditions such as falling costs of renewable power and visible costs of climate change.
This report contains material from Reuters.
"One bullet plus two bullets equals how many bullets?"
These were the kinds of questions teachers were forced to ask Iraqi students in math class during the militant group known as the Islamic State’s two-year reign of terror in the northern town of Qayyara.
Militants from the self-declared caliphate were driven from Qayyara three months ago, during the beginning stages of the United States-backed Iraqi military campaign to recapture the city of Mosul about 40 miles to the north of the town.
But as students who stopped attending school during the group’s reign of indoctrination return to class, some teachers believe it will take years to unwind the damage done to their pupils. Still, amid the concern, one student's comments highlight a remarkable resilience among everyday Iraqis.
School officially began in September, but students have only just been re-issued standard Iraqi textbooks which had been replaced with IS propaganda. While many students had the wherewithal to voluntarily withdraw from class – or were withdrawn by their parents – after militants captured the town in 2014, one of their teachers, Maha Nadhem Kadhem estimates it could take up to five years to normalize their behavior even if a rehabilitation program is implemented.
"The biggest impact is on children," Farouq Mahjoub, the assistant headmaster of a secondary school for boys in Qayyara, told Reuters. "Children are malleable; you can change their opinion and beliefs quickly," adding that their behavior was more aggressive than before and their games violent.
When Islamic State militants overran the town in the middle of 2014, they banned all subjects they considered un-Islamic, including civic education, geography, and history. Now, Ms. Kadhem says, some have lost two years worth of learning.
"They have forgotten their lessons.... Now we are reminding them," she said, pacing around the classroom, in which four girls are squeezed onto each bench made for two. "We don't want them to be illiterate and ignorant."
And for teachers like Kadhem, the difficulty in their effort to make up that gap is compounded by a teacher shortage in the Qarraya, after many were displaced by the violence. The town’s girl’s school currently has an 80:1 student-teacher ratio.
Yet, despite deep concerns about the children’s welfare, the words of one 8-year-old student, Iman, point to a broader spirit of resilience and generosity among everyday Iraqis.
"We are happy to be back at school," said Iman, who like most of her classmates stopped attending classes after IS took control. "They wanted us to come but we didn't want to because we don't know how to study in their language, the language of violence."
Iman’s fellow citizens echoed her resilience last month when Iraqis, despite being engulfed in war since 2003, topped a global poll of 140 countries, as the most generous country towards strangers in need.
This report contains material from Reuters.
After voters approved eight state marijuana ballot initiatives on Election Day, more than half of the 50 states now have laws that permit the drug to be used for medical purposes – and eight now allow it for recreation.
But federal law continues to ban the substance nationwide, and the announcement that US Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama is President-elect Donald Trump's nominee for attorney general, could bring the marijuana legalization movement to a screeching halt.
The choice of Mr. Sessions is seen by some analysts as a signal that conservative social values could now take precedence over states rights – especially since recreational pot dispensaries are in mostly "blue" Democratic states.
Pro-marijuana state laws have blossomed in recent years under a lax federal enforcement policy. But Sessions, who served previously as attorney general of his home state, and whom Trump described as "a world-class legal mind," has long been a vocal opponent of marijuana legalization, raising the possibility that he could lead a charge in asserting federal control over drug policy.
"We all wondered whether the Trump presidency would be 'states rights' or 'law and order' when it comes to drugs," Kevin Sabet, the president of anti-legalization advocacy group Smart Approaches to Marijuana, tells The Christian Science Monitor. "The Sessions pick makes many of us think it will be the latter."
Dr. Sabet, who served as a White House drug policy staffer under President Bill Clinton and President George W. Bush, as well as during President Obama's first term, says Sessions has been "the single biggest opponent to legalization in the US Senate." Even so, it is too soon to tell how and how hard Sessions would push back against state pot laws, especially since marijuana has not been a priority for the incoming Trump administration, Sabet adds.
Sessions made waves in April when he said during a Senate hearing that lawmakers and other government leaders need to send a clear message that marijuana is dangerous and that "good people don't smoke marijuana ," as The Washington Post reported. Ethan Nadelmann, the executive director of the pro-legalization Drug Policy Alliance, critiqued Sessions as a relic of failed tough-on-crime policies of decades past, calling him "a drug war dinosaur.
The federal government classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug, alongside heroin, as a substance without valid medicinal applications, and with a high potential for abuse. The Obama administration has opposed reclassifying it, but politicians have warmed up to discussing decriminalization as public opinion has shifted in favor of legal marijuana. Recent polling by Gallup and Pew Research Center found that a majority of Americans favor legalization , with support highest among younger generations, as the Monitor reported earlier this month:
As public attitudes have softened toward marijuana legalization, politicians have been able to be more forthcoming about the issue, says Zev Yaroslavsky, director of the Los Angeles Initiative at University of California, Los Angeles, and a longtime politician in the city.
"I think it's an honest debate," Mr. Yaroslavsky tells The Christian Science Monitor. "Society has moved well beyond the period of time when discussion of legalizing marijuana or using it was so taboo that it could pose an existential threat to a politician's career. Not anymore. Now, you can have honest points of view ."
Despite Sessions' past statements on the topic, there are numerous paths he could take as attorney general, from reaffirming policies devised by the Obama administration, to cracking down (with Congressional consent), or landing somewhere in between.
Scenario 1: Keep the Cole memo
In 2013, US Deputy Attorney General James Cole drafted a memo to federal prosecutors nationwide with instructions on how to pursue enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), which sets federal drug policy, in light of state ballot initiatives legalizing marijuana. The memo sought to prioritize and focus federal resources on addressing big-picture problems, without getting caught up prosecuting pot possession in states with regulatory and enforcement systems of their own.
"Outside of these enforcement priorities, the federal government has traditionally relied on states and local law enforcement agencies to address marijuana activity through enforcement of their own narcotics laws," Mr. Cole wrote.
Trump suggested in October that he would favor keeping marijuana low on the list of federal priorities.
"In terms of marijuana and legalization, I think that should be a state issue , state-by-state," he said at a rally at a casino near Reno, Nev., as the Post reported.
But if Trump were to take a hands-off approach within his own administration, perhaps Sessions would be granted more leeway to pursue a harder line.
Scenario 2: Complete crackdown
Congress, which controls the budget, prohibited the US Department of Justice from spending any money to prosecute under federal marijuana laws a defendant who had complied with state marijuana laws. That prompted the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to rule in August that the DOJ cannot proceed with 10 federal prosecutions in two states unless and until it proves that the defendants violated state law.
Judge Diarmuid O'Scannlain added in a footnote, however, that the ruling should not be seen as a green light for marijuana nationwide. The appropriations bill deprives the DOJ of funding, but it does not offer any immunity from prosecution.
"Anyone in any state who possesses, distributes, or manufactures marijuana for medical or recreational purposes (or attempts or conspires to do so) is committing a federal crime," Judge O'Scannlain wrote. "The federal government can prosecute such offenses for up to five years after they occur."
Congress could restore funding at any point. Before the statute of limitations expires, the DOJ could prosecute anyone who had violated federal marijuana laws while it lacked funding authority to pursue them, O'Scannlain wrote, adding that "a new administration could shift enforcement priorities to place greater emphasis on prosecuting marijuana offenses."
With the consent of Congress – both houses of which will be under the control of Republican majorities – Sessions could pursue a hard-nosed anti-marijuana agenda.
Even without going after individual prosecutions, Sessions could send a letter to governors in states that have legalized marijuana to warn them that the licenses they issued to cannabis companies violate federal law and should be revoked to bring their states into compliance within 90 days, for instance, Sabet says.
Whatever route the next attorney general takes, letting marijuana policy revert to a states' rights issue would be "the worst-case scenario" because drugs sold legally in one state can cause problems in neighboring states where they are illegal, Sabet adds, arguing in favor of consistent drug policies at the federal level.
Scenario 3: Middle of the road
Rather than rely on the Cole Memo or pursue a full-fledged crackdown, Sessions could pursue a more moderate agenda. Drug policy analyst Jonathan Caulkins said the Trump administration could announce national standards defining best practices for the marijuana industry, and insist that the companies comply to avoid enforcement under existing federal law.
"For example, Sessions could effectively ban marijuana products that are combined with alcohol or tobacco, or which are packaged to look like candies and sodas. Aggressive marketing tactics, such as giving away free grams to entice new customers could also be blocked," Mr. Caulkins said, as the Post's Keith Humphreys reported.
"Few people expect Sessions to be that Solomonic," Mr. Humphreys noted, "but then again not many people expected Nixon to go to China either."
Sabet says this middle-of-the-road approach would be better than the current enforcement regime under the Obama administration, though it would still fall short of fully enforcing federal law. It would be better, he says, for Congress to settle these issues by clearly defining a nationwide policy that it is willing to fund the executive branch to enforce.
Keeping with the theme of 2016, of course, the Trump administration's course of action could be something almost entirely unanticipated by political observers.
Taking a wait-and-see approach
After two years of co-owning their dispensary Home Grown Apothecary in Portland, Ore., Randa Shahin and her husband secured a license from the state last month to begin selling not only medical marijuana but recreational cannabis as well.
"Oregon has been great about the mom-and-pop-style industry," Ms. Shahin tells the Monitor, noting that she has cultivated a good working relationship with local policymakers as they figure out how to regulate the still-nascent legal industry.
While there is some concern among local cannabis companies, Shahin says she's taking a wait-and-see approach to the Sessions nomination, especially since the US Senate has not yet confirmed his role as attorney general and Americans do not yet know how Sessions might approach marijuana.
"It’s really hard to say because Trump has this whole perspective about how the state should govern themselves, but then he’s putting this person in office that could potentially increase federal raids," Shahin says. "But at the same time, would Congress allow that as a use of taxpayer dollars? I don’t know."
Shahin says she hopes other elected officials challenge Sessions to avoid taking too extreme of an approach.
In Colorado, which was the first state to have legal sales of cannabis, the response is similarly cautious. Andrew Freedman, the state's so-called marijuana czar, said the future of the legal industry depends on Trump's priorities, as The Cannabist reported.
"Beyond that," Mr. Freedman said, "I think we would hope to be part of a conversation so that any movement on the federal level doesn't risk public health, public safety and black market concerns in the state."
Nearly 400 years ago, Pilgrims and native Americans sat down to share a feast that became known as the first Thanksgiving.
As the story goes, the meal was a celebration of the colonists' first successful harvest.
The table was supposedly filled with food that the Wampanoag people had helped the colonists grow and hunt, ranging from venison and fish to cornbread and squash.
Today, the traditional meal is centered around a large, roasted turkey, probably purchased from a grocery store. Centuries ago, there weren't grocery stores filled with already plucked turkey carcasses ready to go in the oven, but that doesn't mean that domesticated turkeys didn't make it on the menu.
Archaeologists have unearthed evidence that native Americans were raising turkeys for centuries before the European colonists even arrived in the Americas.
"Our research tells us that turkeys had been domesticated by 400-500 AD ," explained Gary Feinman, an archaeologist at The Field Museum in Chicago, in a press release.
Dr. Feinman and colleagues found unhatched turkey eggs alongside the bones of both juvenile and adult birds at a 1,500-year-old archaeological site in Oaxaca, Mexico. "The fact that we see a full clutch of unhatched turkey eggs, along with other juvenile and adult turkey bones nearby, tells us that these birds were domesticated," Feinman said.
These turkeys may not have been raised expressly for sustenance, Feinman added. The Zapotec people who still live in Oaxaca use turkey eggs as a ritual offering and eat and use turkey as a part of many rituals today. Those same traditions likely go back to the time when the turkeys found by the archaeologists lived and died.
Mexico was thousands of miles away from Plymouth where the first Thanksgiving took place, so if any turkeys were eaten at that meal they still might have been wild, right?
William Bradford, the governor of Plymouth, wrote in a 1621 letter that the colonists had hunted a "great store of wild turkeys ," according to National Geographic, so that certainly suggests that the way of obtaining any turkey meat was by hunting the wild birds.
But another team of archaeologists working in Tennessee, hundreds of miles closer to Plymouth than Mexico, have also found turkey bones bearing clues that the animals might have been domesticated.
More than 400 bones were found at the archaeological site just outside Nashville, dating to around 1250 to 1450. Some of these bones had been made into beads and it was clear that the animals were being used for ornamentation or rituals, in addition to food.
That still doesn't prove the turkeys were domesticated. But there were many more males than females, the males were particularly large as animals often get when domesticated, and "it appears that the female specimens were not taken during the egg-laying period ," the archaeologists write in their paper published Monday in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports. That could either be consistent with domestication or selective hunting of the larger male turkeys.
Feinman and his colleagues' research was also published in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, in July.
Today, about a quarter billion turkeys are raised in the United States each year. On Thanksgiving, Americans eat about 46 million of those birds.
It seems possible that the Wampanoag people may have domesticated turkeys before they met and trained the European colonists to live off their homeland. But, if they were farming turkeys, did the native Americans share all their farming secrets with the newcomers? That's unclear. But as turkey is now a staple on the Thanksgiving table, the immigrants definitely figured it out eventually.
The United States Army blocked construction of a key section of the Dakota Access Pipeline Sunday, marking a monumental – though likely short-term – victory for Native American protesters and thousands of allies who have flocked to North Dakota to protest the project this year.
Jo-Ellen Darcy, the Army’s assistant secretary for civil works, said in a statement that after extended discussions with Dakota Access developers and the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, "the best way to complete that work responsibly and expeditiously is to explore alternate routes for the pipeline crossing."
The planned route would have seen the Dakota Access pipeline cross under the Missouri River less than a mile upstream of the Standing Rock reservation. Members of the tribe, whose leaders fear the pipeline could rupture and contaminate a key water source, have been camping and protesting nearby since March. Thousands have joined them at the confluence of the Missouri and Cannonball rivers, including members of indigenous tribes from around the world.
But recent months have seen increasingly violent clashes between protesters and law enforcement. The announcement headed off the potential for another clash Monday, the deadline the Army Corps of Engineers, which controls the land on either side of the Missouri, gave for protesters to leave.
For Standing Rock tribal chairman David Archambault II, it was a major turning point. "When it comes to infrastructure development in Indian Country and with respect to treaty lands, we must strive to work together to reach decisions that reflect the multifaceted considerations of tribes," he said in a statement.
What happens next
That sense of triumph may be short-lived. While most want to see construction cancelled outright, the four-state, $3.8 billion pipeline – which was scheduled to be finished last month – could be completed despite Sunday's ruling. And expected battles over how that is done could also set the stage for one of the first challenges of Donald Trump’s presidency.
Energy Transfer Partners, the Dallas-based company developing the pipeline, blasted the announcement as "a purely political action" taken by the Obama administration to curry favor with "a narrow and extreme political constituency."
We "are fully committed to ensuring that this vital project is brought to completion and fully expect to complete construction of the pipeline without any additional rerouting," the company added in a statement. "Nothing this Administration has done today changes that in any way."
On Sunday, some protesters suggested the demonstrations may continue in some form through the winter. Still, they may have yielded one longer-term gain already. The images of teepee villages adorning the Great Plains and Native Americans on horseback confronting armored police have captured the imagination of people around the world, drawing the support of hundreds of indigenous tribes from as far away as Norway, and thousands of non-indigenous allies, including more than 2,000 veterans who joined the camp last week to, in their words, serve as a kind of "human shield" between protesters and law enforcement.
Climate activist Bill McKibben has said Standing Rock could mark a turning point in climate activism, and there are early signs that the spirit of the DAPL fight will persist.
"If we manage to slow down the fossil fuel juggernaut before it boils the planet, [indigenous] groups ... will deserve a great share of the credit," he wrote. "They've managed to build not just resistance to a project, but a remarkable new and unified force that will, I think, persist."
First Nations groups are already discussing forming “Standing Rock North” in response to the Canadian government's recent approval of two oil pipelines running to the coast of British Columbia.
The widespread public outcry that ultimately led President Obama to block the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline last year was one thing, but defeating DAPL was on another level, according to Dallas Goldtooth, an organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network.
"Previous success on pipelines in Canada and the United States has been accomplished in the permitting process of projects. This is one that’s being put into the ground right now," he told the Monitor in October. "We're making history right now.
Where Trump stands
The Army Corps was only responsible for permitting construction on a small portion of the pipeline route across the Missouri, and last month announced that it would delay its decision on granting that permit to allow for further discussions with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. The tribe had claimed they were not adequately consulted over the route, and some members were angered by the fact that the Corps had nixed an earlier planned route that would have sent the pipe under the Missouri north of Bismarck because it would have been too close to the city’s water supply wells.
DAPL, which seeks to connect North Dakota oil fields to an existing pipeline nexus in Illinois, would transport up to 570,00 barrels of oil a day to refineries on the Gulf Coast. Energy Transfer Partners has also said the project would create thousands of local construction jobs and millions in tax revenue.
President-elect Trump spoke during his campaign of supporting the fossil fuel industry, and said last week that he supports completing the pipeline.
He also appears to have significant investment interests in the pipeline. He once owned between $500,000 and $1 million of shares in Energy Transfer Partners, the Dallas-based company building the pipeline, but has since sold the shares, his spokeswoman Hope Hicks said. And as of his most recent disclosure statement in May, he owned $100,000 to $250,000 of stock in Phillips 66, which has a 25 percent stake in DAPL, The Washington Post reported.
If he does continue to support the pipeline, he will confront a united and diverse opposition, activists believe, emboldened by the belief that not only can they fight, but they can win.
"It's not just Indians that are coming to this realization that we've got to secure our drinking water for our own consumption and our own health," Bob Gough, secretary of the Intertribal Council on Utility Policy, told the Monitor in October, reference the ongoing water crisis in Flint, Mich. "It's just where the country and the planet is moving now."
When the University of Maine at Augusta launched its first noncredit course for commercial drone pilots in October, the seats quickly filled up.
Among the 37 students are a cattle rancher, a construction company executive, a photojournalist, and several realtors.
“We are a bit of a motley crew,” says Tom Abbott, project manager for the university’s drone pilot training center, who is also taking the course. When they finish in mid-December, the students can take a test for federal certification to operate commercial drones, which are now being used in trials for everything from inspecting Maine’s potato crops to delivering 7-Eleven Slurpees in Nevada.
“We are at the very front edge of what’s going to happen,” says Mr. Abbott.
Drones are one of the hot spots of the aerospace industry. The private space industry is another, with companies from Elon Musk’s well-funded SpaceX to startups running out of dorm rooms as they rush to develop everything from low-earth satellite mapping and tracking to colonizing the moon and beyond.
But a funny thing happened on the way to aerospace’s future. The automation that was supposed to obliterate tens of thousands of jobs seems on closer examination less like a steamroller and more like a water flume, full of twists and turns that will transform jobs in unexpected ways.
It will replace some positions and create new ones, not as some irresistible force but shaped by what consumers want, how governments regulate, and the evolution of cultural norms.
The aerospace industry could serve as a window into how these trends will reshape American employment in the years ahead. Some experts foresee technology moving quickly to change aerospace employment within a few years. But more cautious observers suggest that the transition could take decades.
In that case, job losses to automation wouldn't come as a shock to the system, but part of the more natural ebb and flow in employment trends.
If change comes more slowly than expected in aerospace – a sector that embraces automation – then it’s likely to come more slowly in other sectors of the economy as well.
The upsides of automation
Sometimes, new technology causes little to no disruption, adding new jobs without taking away old ones.
“Journalists and even expert commentators tend to overstate the extent of machine substitution for human labor,” David Autor, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), wrote in a paper last year. What they miss, he added, is that automation can often “increase productivity, raise earnings, and augment demand for labor.”
Take the commercial space sector. The small satellites now being shot into low-earth orbit will provide new capabilities, such as global tracking of commercial airliners, wireless Internet to poor, remote places, and faster satellite telephone communications to even more remote locations. Those are new services that would replace relatively few existing ones.
And if private space exploration takes off, all those jobs would be additive. French tourism won’t wither because wealthy space tourists want to breach the stratosphere. There are no moon-mining firms to displace if space companies begin churning out rocket fuel on the lunar surface.
“It’s a very dynamic time within the industry,” says Barret Schlegelmilch, who while pursuing his MBA at MIT has also cofounded a company that aims to commercialize the moon's resources. “If anything, the push toward developing these new automating technologies is creating more employment.”
Blues at the high end
Some decline in aerospace jobs is expected, but in unexpected places. Despite the boom in drones and the money pouring into private space ventures, the US government forecasts that the number of aerospace engineers will decline by 2 percent between 2014 and 2024.
That suggests a need to reevaluate the idea that automation is a boon for high-end knowledge workers and a threat for low-skilled employees and other popular assumptions.
One reason for the disconnect between booming technology and the dour job outlook may be that government forecasters hesitate to project growth when the demand for the new technologies remains uncertain. “I would argue that we should be conservative,” says James Franklin, division chief for industry employment projections at the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Another reason is scale. Even if the drone industry creates 100,000 new jobs (as it’s expected to by 2025), there are several intervening years where it will register barely a blip in the $45 billion aerospace industry that currently employs some 500,000 scientific and technical workers and supports another 700,000 employees.
A third reason is that new innovations from other industries can boost aerospace without ever being called aerospace. “I’d argue that the floodgates are opening for outsiders to play in all different ways,” says Vandad Espahbodi, chief operation officer of Starburst Accelerator, an aerospace consulting firm. A software engineer in transportation may develop code that satellite networks can use; antivibration technology in medical implants could help stabilize space cameras.
There’s a myth that automation kills occupations. Most of the time it just takes over certain work functions.
“Very few occupations will be automated in their entirety in the near or medium term,” a McKinsey report concluded last year. “Rather, certain activities are more likely to be automated.”
Similarly, the drone “hasn’t replaced the humans, but it has made them more efficient,” says Dan Leclair, a retired Air Force colonel and one of two instructors at the University of Maine’s noncredit drone course.
Ever since Amazon unveiled its Prime Air drone service on “60 Minutes” in 2013, Americans have been prepped for deliveries dropping from the air. Experiments are happening.
Switzerland’s and Australia’s postal services have tested unmanned drones. DHL Parcel successfully flew sporting goods and medicines to a Bavarian mountain community earlier this year. The convenience chain 7-Eleven flew food, coffee, and Slurpees to a private home in Reno, Nev., this summer. Chipotle delivered burritos to Virginia Tech students in September.
But the prospect of widespread drone deliveries looks to be several years away, at least. There are technical challenges (how do you land a drone on someone’s porch?), legal limitations (commercial drones can’t fly beyond the operator’s line of sight), commercial questions (do drone deliveries make economic sense?), privacy concerns, and even cultural hurdles.
“Do we as a society want to darken the skies with all these drones flying around?” asks Mike Hirschberg, executive director of AHS, an international society for helicopter, drone, and other vertical flight technology. “Do we really need that bar of soap in three hours?”
The Federal Aviation Administration is committed to loosening restrictions step by step. But it is still a few years away from building the infrastructure – the “highways in the sky” – that will allow the industry to expand. And high-profile drone accidents, including a couple that collided with jets at London’s Heathrow airport, are likely to keep regulators cautious and give fodder to industries and labor unions threatened by the technology.
Rather than disrupting the huge delivery business, drones are more likely to cut into much smaller industries, such as monitoring crops, inspecting bridges, and fighting fires.
Already, drones inspected a big share of Maine’s potato crop this year, looking for signs of drought or pest damage. The next step, already in the experimental stage, would be for drones to do the spraying as well, reducing the work done by the nation’s 5,000 or so cropdusters.
The technology may also reduce the number of inspectors who currently have to monitor every bridge and electrical tower. In New Mexico, the BNSF railroad is experimenting with drones that inspect track.
Fighting forest fires could be made less dangerous. Last month, Lockheed and its recent acquisition, Sikorsky, used four drones and autonomous helicopters to locate and douse a controlled fire in Rome, N.Y., and then conduct a mock search and rescue.
Says Colonel Leclair, the drone instructor: “I don’t think we’ve even scratched the surface of what we can do with these things.”
Soon, NASA will be observing plants from a space-bound satellite. That is, unless the Trump administration puts a stop to it.
On Tuesday, the space agency announced its first new earth science mission since the 2016 election: the Geostationary Carbon Cycle Observatory, or GeoCARB.
The observatory, which will be led by Berrien Moore of the University of Oklahoma, plans to monitor vegetation stress in the Americas from a distance of about 22,000 miles.
It also intends to observe how greenhouse gases – carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and methane – are processed in those environments.
Basically, it’s the kind of mission that climate scientists rely on, demonstrating big-picture trends that are nearly impossible to track from Earth. It’s also the kind of mission that Robert S. Walker, space policy advisor to Mr. Trump, has promised to slash. Could this be push-back from an agency anticipating cuts? And could the Trump administration dismantle GeoCARB?
“It’s definitely not a last-ditch response,” John O’Meara, a professor of physics at St. Michael’s College, in Colchester, Vt., tells The Christian Science Monitor in a phone interview. “The process for this program would have taken many years, 15 proposals down-selected to one. The money has already been budgeted within NASA for it. It’s going to be harder to dismantle something like that.”
In theory, Trump could undo GeoCARB, or even NASA’s entire earth science division. Since NASA is an agency of the executive branch, its direction is often determined by the president’s scientific priorities. The agency’s highest-ranked official, the administrator of NASA, is named by presidential appointment.
An autocratic president could cancel virtually any mission without input from his advisory boards, notes former NASA chief technologist Mason Peck.
“In that case, it would still take some time and a drawn-out budget process to make that decision real,” Dr. Peck, a professor of aerospace engineering at Cornell University, in Ithaca, N.Y., tells the Monitor in an email. “Practically, though, there are so many state-level and national stakeholders in the important work NASA does that traditional congressional advocates are unlikely to go along with dismantling NASA in a significant way.”
It can be politically difficult to stop ongoing missions, particularly because canceled missions mean voided contracts. And contractors often require payment, whether or not the mission is completed.
“It’s a mistake to think that canceling a NASA mission saves money,” Peck says. “In fact, it wastes money in the short term.”
Missions like GeoCARB can also funnel money back into local economies by facilitating research grants. And the economic benefits may go beyond the academic world.
“GeoCARB mission certainly continues the campaign of successful Earth science that has proven how humans impact Earth’s environment,” Peck says. “But there’s more to this mission than further improving our understanding of climate-change mechanisms. This data will directly benefit US companies with a stake in global agriculture, open new areas of research, and advance technology with broad relevance right here on Earth.”
While NASA's budget is proposed by the president’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Congress is ultimately responsible for adjusting and allocating funding. That’s not necessarily good news for NASA’s earth science division either – the agency’s budget has shrunk nearly every year since 1966, where it peaked at 4.41 percent of the federal budget, according to the OMB. Today, NASA consumes around 0.5 percent of national funding.
That said, NASA’s total funding for GeoCARB is just $166 million – less than 1 percent of the agency’s yearly budget spread out over five years.
But while frugality could work for GeoCARB, it could also work against it. It’s generally easier to cancel smaller projects, notes Dr. O’Meara, because they don’t rely as heavily on external contracts. However, the mission’s budget, which would have seemed conservative to Congress, has already been passed.
“As with everything in the Trump administration, I would be negligent to say it is impossible for this thing to be canceled,” O’Meara says. “We know so very little about what the actual policy direction is.”
Either way, it won’t be the first time a president has redirected NASA’s efforts. A major goal of the Obama administration was to beef up the agency’s earth science division. In order to do so, O’Meara says, the president and OMB consistently pressed Congress with high budget proposals.
“As a result, earth science flourished through the years at the expense of some other missions,” O’Meara says. “But Congress has pushed back on that, expanding deep space initiatives like Orion. It’s a push and pull that I expect will happen with earth science, but potentially on a much more dramatic scale.”
Britain has adopted a new legal definition of anti-Semitism in an attempt to curb hate crimes against Jewish people.
The news comes after a rise in reports of anti-Semitic incidents in Britain earlier this year. Many people attribute this increase in hate crimes to the aftermath of Britain's "Brexit" vote to leave the European Union, while others say the rise is the result of an increase in reporting such incidents rather than a rise in hate crimes themselves.
Either way, the British government hopes the new definition will offer a more concrete and clearer notion of anti-Semitism, to be adopted in as many circles as possible. Proponents believe that the clarified definition will prevent vagueness that may lead to anti-Semitic crimes going unreported or unacknowledged. The definition is part of an international effort to end hate crimes against Jewish people as well as combat Holocaust denial in all its forms.
The definition itself was created by the Berlin-based International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), which its site describes as "an intergovernmental body whose purpose is to place political and social leaders’ support behind the need for Holocaust education, remembrance and research both nationally and internationally."
In May, the IHRA adopted a working definition of anti-Semitism to provide a solid framework for identifying and fighting anti-Semitic hate. The definition is as follows:
Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.
The IHRA hopes that this definition will one day be adopted by countries around the world. For now, Britain will be one of the first early adopters of the new, clarified definition of the term.
A statement from Downing Street said that the strong, precise definition of anti-Semitism will "ensure that culprits will not be able to get away with being antisemitic because the term is ill-defined, or because different organisations or bodies have different interpretations of it."
Britain, which is home to 270,000 Jews, saw a rise in reports of hate crimes earlier this year, which some say was likely brought on in part by anti-immigrant and pro-nativist sentiments in the wake of the Brexit referendum. The number of anti-Semitic incidents recorded by the Community Security Trust went up by 11 percent in the first half of the year.
"Working on the principle of consensus, the IHRA adopted the non-legally binding working definition on antisemitism as a sign of the great political commitment among IHRA Member Countries to combat antisemitism," the IHRA Chair, Ambassador Mihnea Constantinescu, said in a statement responding to the announcement that Britain would adopt the new interpretation of the term.
"With this working definition, the organization aimed to set an example of responsible conduct for other international fora and for national governments, hoping to inspire them to adopt a legally-binding working definition themselves."
Part of the new definition helps to clarify the difference between anti-Semitic speech against the nation of Israel and normal criticism of the country. According to the IHRA, an act against the state of Israel can be considered anti-Semitic through this definition if Israel is "conceived as a Jewish collectivity" in the context of the speech or act itself. Normal political criticism of Israel, of the sort one could use against any other country, would not be considered anti-Semitic.
"I think it's important not to conflate Jewish people with Israel," Sir Eric Pickles, a conservative minister and special envoy for post-holocaust issues in Britain, according to United Press International. "That actually is the point in the definition."
While precise language and definitions has been a significant part of legal systems around the world, many people underestimate the impact of words and their connotations in everyday usage. Police in Britain already use a version of the IHRA definition to deal with anti-Semitic incidents, but councils, universities, and public bodies in Britain will be encouraged to adopt the new definition as well.
"The IHRA considers it the obligation of all governments to actively combat antisemitism in all its forms," says Ambassador Constantinescu in the statement, quoting the Stockholm Declaration, the founding document of the IHRA: "'With humanity still scarred by genocide, ethnic cleansing, racism, antisemitism and xenophobia, the international community shares a solemn responsibility to fight those evils. Together we must uphold the terrible truth of the Holocaust against those who deny it.'"
This article contains material from Reuters.
The radiation plume from Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011 has finally arrived on the shores of the continental United States.
A group of researchers from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution for the first time found traces of Cesium-134 , an element that serves as a “fingerprint” indicating the presence of radiation from the Fukushima incident, in seawater samples taken off the shores of Oregon in January and February.
But there is no reason to worry, say researchers, who emphasize that the levels are very low and pose little risk to human health – swimming in the water or eating seafood shouldn’t be a concern.
“To put it in context, if you were to swim everyday for six hours a day in those waters for a year, that additional radiation from the addressed cesium from Japan ... is 1,000 times smaller than one dental x-ray," Ken Buesseler, senior scientist at Woods Hole told USA Today.
Research that tracks how the radiation plume travels, however, is especially significant at a time when nuclear energy is increasingly being considered as a zero-carbon alternative to fossil fuels for energy production. With the Fukushima and Chernobyl nuclear disasters still fresh in recent memory and authorities still working to containing the contamination from these nuclear accidents, critics of nuclear energy have been reluctant to dismiss safety concerns of nuclear power. The latest findings will help the world understand more fully the implications of relying on nuclear energy.
“Despite the fact that the levels of contamination off our shores remain well below government-established safety limits for human health or to marine life, the changing values underscore the need to more closely monitor contamination levels across the Pacific,” Dr. Buesseler said in a press release regarding his research in December. “[T]hese long-lived radioisotopes," he said, "will serve as markers for years to come for scientists studying ocean currents and mixing in coastal and offshore waters.”
As reported by the United Press International, Buesseler intends to examine how radiation is dispersed through the ocean and how long it takes, which can be valuable information in the future for scientists to predict where the radiation will be headed if a similar disaster were to happen.
Buesseler's team of researchers are part of a crowdfunded project that tests ocean water off various locations to examine the impacts of fallout and runoff from the Fukushima nuclear power plant as levels are expected to rise over the years.
The seawater was contaminated in 2011, when a massive earthquake damaged Fukushima’s nuclear reactors. Scientists have found that the nuclear plant continues to leak contaminated water, although a new “ice wall” was erected in March to contain the pollution.
Fukushima is not the only source of radiation-contaminated seawater. Other culprits are naturally-occurring radioactivity in the ocean, the 1986 Chernobyl accident, and global nuclear weapons testing in the 1960s.
Cesium-134 is used to “fingerprint” Fukushima’s contribution because it has a half-life of just two years, which means that it has only recently emerged in the ocean. Scientists also track cesium-137, which has a longer 30-year half-life, and its levels will illuminate radioactive pollution from the nuclear testing and past nuclear accidents.
From the samples taken earlier this year off Oregon, only 0.3 Becquerelsper cubic meter of Cesium-134 were measured, as reported by Statesman Journal. Samples off the West Coast in the last year also showed higher levels of Cesium-137, although the highest total level of Cesium detected in waters off the shore of the United States is still more than 500 times lowerthan EPA’s safety limits for drinking water.
"We don’t expect to see health concerns from swimming or fish consumption, but we would like to continue monitoring until (the radiation level) goes back down again," Buesseler told USA Today.
Buesseler and other research groups are also tracking the presence of the Cesium isotopes and other radioactive elements in fish that travel across the ocean from Japan to determine how the ocean can dilute – or wash out – traces of these harmful elements.
Amid the growing controversy over intelligence reports that Russian hackers meddled in US elections to aid Donald Trump's campaign, it's unclear who the president-elect is listening to on matters of cybersecurity right now.
Even after the country's intelligence agencies all agreed, in a public statement in October, that hackers with ties to the Kremlin breached US political organizations, and leaked key political figures' emails, Trump has continued to dismiss those claims.
In a tweet Monday, he said: "Unless you catch 'hackers' in the act, it is very hard to determine who was doing the hacking. Why wasn't this brought up before election?"
He's repeatedly downplayed the US attribution to Russia, offering up the idea in an interview with Time that it could also be another country such as China or "some guy in his home in New Jersey."
So if Trump is not listening to current intelligence officials, where is he getting his information?
Thus far Trump is surrounding himself with former military generals who may not have deep and technical knowledge of digital espionage and cybersecurity, but clearly understand aspects of signals intelligence, clandestine operations, and military hacking.
Michael Flynn may have the most sway over the president-elect on issues of cybersecurity. He's a member of Trump's transition team and the president-elect's incoming national security adviser.
Among the people around Trump, the retired Army lieutenant general and former Defense Intelligence Agency head may be the most knowledgeable when it comes to the current state of digital espionage and how a country such as Russia operates in cyberspace.
"It appears that Gen. Flynn, his advice to the president, specifically about cybersecurity will probably be taken very seriously," says Dale Meyerrose, a retired Air Force major general, who knows Flynn and served in the Bush administration as the first-ever intelligence community chief information officer.
Flynn's expertise and association with cybersecurity issues stretches back more than a decade, back to when he was in uniform, says Mr. Meyerrose. "I'm equally positive that Gen. Flynn couldn't fix a server to save his soul, but that’s not his job. His job entails an understanding, cause and effects and factors that go into decision making."
During the campaign, Flynn publicly differed with his boss on attributing the DNC hack to Russia. In an interview with Passcode, he said, "We should not be surprised that a communist state run by a totalitarian dictator wants to expose the weaknesses of capitalism and, frankly, show the level of corruption that exists in our political process."
Two years ago, Flynn bemoaned that the Defense Department was only in the "infant stage" of figuring out how to deal with computer weaknesses that were a byproduct of the increasing interconnectedness of government and industry information networks.
"We're not growing it fast enough," Flynn said of the Pentagon's cybersecurity capacity during a July 2014 discussion at the prestigious Aspen Institute, which hosts discussions among executives and government leaders.
At the time, he described US adversaries in cyberspace as "not just a nation-state like China or Russia or some of these other countries that are a bit more sophisticated" but also hacktivist groups such as Anonymous.
Neither retired Gen. James Mattis, appointed to head the Pentagon, nor retired Gen. John Kelly, picked to lead Homeland Security, appear to possess much expertise in digital issues.
Still, General Mattis is known as a deep and strategic thinker. In April, speaking at a Center for Strategic and International Studies event, he included computer hacking abilities in a list of five military capabilities that Iran has at the ready, such as a latent nuclear weapons program and ballistic missiles.
"There's the cyber threat, which if we’d talked three, four, five years ago, I’d have said it’s not a big threat," he said. "Today, I will just tell you I would liken it to children juggling light bulbs filled with nitroglycerine. One of these times they’re going to do something really serious and force a lot of foreign leaders to have to take it into account."
On June 2, current DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson swore in General Kelly – the country's longest-serving general – as a member of the department's advisory council and presented him with a Homeland Security Distinguished Service Medal.
During nearly half a century in uniform, including posts in Vietnam and more recently Iraq, he presented frank assessments that sometimes diverged from those of the administration. As head of the Southern Command, which spans countries in the Caribbean, South America, and Central America, Kelly oversaw the military detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and disagreed with Obama's push to close the facility.
"They're detainees, not prisoners," Kelly told Military Times in January, at the end of his military career. "Every one," he added, "has real, no-kidding intelligence on them that brought them there. They were doing something negative, something bad, something violent, and they were taken from the battlefield. There are a lot of people that will dispute that, but I have dossiers on all of them."
For Kelly, Mattis, and Flynn, the Russian hacking issue promises to loom large over their roles, especially if government probes into the matter draw a direct line to Russian President Vladimir Putin, as NBC has reported.
Key Republican lawmakers such as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R) of Wisconsin have supported additional congressional investigations into the Russian hacking allegations, setting the stage for a split among Republicans in Washington over a critical national security issue.
Of course it remains to be seen what the investigations will reveal, in addition to the findings of the probe ordered by President Obama into the election hacking, and whether or not Trump changes his views on the issue once he's in office.
The next administration may be in a position to craft clearer options for retribution when a country interferes with Americans' digital lives, be it the situation of Russia allegedly leaking private correspondences or China's history of stealing US trade secrets. It's unclear how or if Trump will consider appeals from Republicans and Democrats to publicly punish Russia for interfering in the US democratic process, as a way to prevent further meddling in domestic affairs.
"What's the strategy going to be with respect to acts that are destructive, that are maybe espionage, theft of intellectual property, or war? How do we develop our strategies as to how to deter and respond" to cyberincidents with a national impact, said Michael Chertoff, Homeland Security secretary under the Bush administration and now head of consultancy The Chertoff Group.
"There's an opportunity when the new group comes in to set a strategy on cybersecurity that deals with both the issue of whether there is a war-fighting element, but also the issue how do we deal with cyberactivities by adversaries that are maybe not on the scale of war but nevertheless serious thefts of intellectual property," Mr. Chertoff said.
If Generals Mattis and Kelly receive congressional approval to head their respective departments, "going after ISIS will probably have a cyber component," Meyerrose, the retired general, says of Trump's platform promise to dismantle the Islamic State.
Many privacy advocates and civil liberties groups have openly worried about growing levels of surveillance during Trump's administration, even suggesting that people begin using more secure forms of communication.
Earlier this year, amid the dispute between Apple and the FBI over access to the iPhone used by the shooter in the San Bernardino, Calif., terrorist attack, Trump lashed out at Apple for refusing to help the US government decode the encrypted phone.
Raj De, former National Security Agency general counsel and now head of Mayer Brown's global cybersecurity and data privacy practice, says he hopes Trump's nominees will be more transparent about digital surveillance operations.
"That's important in a democracy," said Mr. De. But, he said, "I don't think we've seen from the campaign that transparency has been a focus of his."
The Canadian government has a new framework to put a price on carbon emissions nationwide – a sign that international momentum to tackle climate change isn’t evaporating despite a possible US withdrawal from the global climate fight when Donald Trump becomes president.
The idea behind a carbon price is rooted in basic economics: Make people pay to do something (in this case, emit carbon dioxide) and they’ll do less of it. There are many ways of designing such pricing systems, a tax on carbon emissions being one.
Canada’s plan, with a framework agreed late last week, would place a C$10 ($7.63) tax per metric ton of carbon in 2018, then increase by C$10 per metric ton a year until it reaches C$50 ($38.16) in 2022. Provinces can either implement a carbon tax or a system for trading a finite and gradually shrinking number of emissions permits (also known as cap-and-trade), and many already have.
Carbon pricing systems are becoming increasingly common around the world – several European countries implemented carbon taxes in the 1990s, and Mexico and Chile implemented them in 2014; China is en route to enacting a nationwide cap-and-trade scheme.
So in a way, Canada is just the latest in a trend. But in terms of the plan’s scale and scope – and given that the country is a major fossil fuel producer and America’s largest trading partner – the development is a landmark moment.
Economists see carbon pricing as the most cost-effective way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Most climate scientists say rising levels of those gases, by trapping more heat in the atmosphere, have become the main driver of climate change.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the driving force behind establishing a national carbon price, has framed it as a key component of Canada meeting its emissions reduction commitments under the 2015 Paris Agreement.
“Incentives matter,” says Trevor Tombe, an assistant professor of economics at the University of Calgary. “We’re providing incentives to households and businesses to find the lowest cost ways of lowering our use of fuel, lowering our emissions.”
How aggressive is Canada’s carbon price?
If enacted, the $7.63 (rising to $38.16) tax per metric ton would be more aggressive than some.
Measured in US dollars per metric ton, Mexico and Chile both introduced a $5 price in 2014. The European Union has an $8 price, but individual European nations have gone further. Ireland’s is at $21, while Sweden introduced a carbon tax in 1991 that now sits at $146.
Some experts believe that, for the tax to carry most of the load in meeting Paris-promised reductions, it would have to be in the $150 to $200 region. But as in most other jurisdictions, economic and political realities have required governments to start small.
“What we find in the real world is the road to weaning ourselves off fossil fuels is riddled with political potholes and different constituencies one needs to satisfy,” says Thomas Pedersen, an oceanographer at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, who chairs the research group Canadian Climate Forum.
How is the revenue used?
That can vary. Canada is delegating those decisions to the provinces, so each can match the answer to its politics, with potential priorities ranging from personal and corporate tax cuts, to helping to offset the disproportionate costs of a carbon tax on low-income households, to investment in low-carbon technologies.
Are there exceptions or loopholes?
In practice, yes, for now at least. One reason is that, so long as there are jurisdictions without a carbon pricing scheme, those that do price carbon will have to seek a balance: taxing carbon enough to make a difference on emissions, while also watching against “leakage” of carbon-emitting activities to other jurisdictions.
One method, which the EU has adopted, is to exempt some emissions-intensive industries. Canada is trying to give extractive industries an incentive to reduce emissions without reducing their output. The response from Alberta – home to the carbon-heavy tar sands projects – has been to give companies “allocations” (or subsidies) based on their production output. The more one produces, the more one pays in emission taxes but also receives in allocations, according to the Ecofiscal Commission, a think tank.
Production may not decline that much, says Dr. Tombe, but “the incentive for oil and gas producers to adopt more efficient machinery, more efficient processes…is still there.”The upshot: While most coal-burning plants are expected to close in Canada, infrastructure projects like the recently approved TransMountain Pipeline will continue to be built, and Canadian oil and gas will continue to be exported overseas.
So does carbon pricing work?
Policy experts say they aren’t a one-step answer for curbing greenhouse emissions, but they are an important tool. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development found in a 2013 modeling study that taxes and trading systems “consistently reduced CO2 at a lower cost than other instruments,” like subsidies and feed-in tariffs.
That may help explain why businesses, including many fossil fuel companies, also support these measures. European energy giants BP, Royal Dutch Shell and Total have called for a carbon tax, while ExxonMobil – and its CEO Rex Tillerson, now nominated to be Mr. Trump’s secretary of State – also supports the concept (though it hasn’t fought very hard for one).
Sweden is the shining example, with emissions down 23 percent between 1990 and 2013, while GDP grew 58 percent in the same period. British Columbia also saw emissions decline marginally after implementing a carbon tax in 2008, while its per-capita GDP grew slightly faster than the rest of Canada. In oil-rich Norway emissions actually rose 15 percent between 1991 and 2008.
Canada will be a test case to watch. The country’s emphasis on provincial flexibility and preventing carbon leakage could provide an economic and political template for other countries to follow.
Even if Canadian fuel exports continue, “pricing carbon at the level we’re planning to do means Canada will be doing substantially more than other countries,” says Tombe. “That’s why collective international cooperation is critical. It’s not our responsibility to lower emissions elsewhere in the world.”
Not taxing exports is “potentially a large loophole,” says Nicholas Muller, an associate professor of economics at Middlebury College in Vermont, but “any developed economy that takes the step of implementing an economy-wide carbon tax is taking a big step and making a big statement.”
KALAMAZOO, MICH.—Tracy Zarei has wanted to teach children ever since she was in the second grade. She knew she would have to go to college to become a teacher.
“She was a straight-A student,” says her mother, Sheri, who was working double shifts in a nursing home to pay rent on their mobile home. “She cried when she got her first B.”
Then one day Tracy’s world shifted. When her mother returned home from work, Tracy handed her a note. “She said, ‘Mom, you’re going to be disappointed,’ ” recalls Sheri, who thought it must be a traffic ticket. Instead it was a positive pregnancy test. Antonio Jr. was born in March 2005. Tracy was a junior in high school.
For many teenage mothers, this is when school ends and hardship begins. By age 22, only half of all single mothers in the United States receive a high school diploma, compared with 90 percent of their peers.
With her mother’s help, Tracy went back for her senior year. Money would be tight, but perhaps she could enroll in community college, work her way toward a teaching certificate – and defy the stereotyped limitations of being a teen parent. “I couldn’t just be another statistic,” she says.
That fall, the trajectory of Tracy’s life veered again. At a school board meeting in November 2005, then-Superintendent Janice Brown announced that a group of anonymous donors had agreed to pay for up to four years of college tuition for most students in the district who graduated that year – and for all future classes.
The Kalamazoo Promise, one of the most generous scholarships of its kind, had begun in this city of 75,000, a former manufacturing hub fallen on Dickensian hard times.
Today, 11 years later, it remains one of the most ambitious education and social experiments in the nation – a test of how far private money can go in reviving a city. It has tried to do so not by investing in some trendy new industrial park but in young people themselves, creating an educated generation for the knowledge economy. It’s a vision of a college-going culture that can be the balm for income inequality and recipe for Rust Belt renewal.
The idea, says Ms. Brown, who is now a trustee of the scholarship, is to change the lives of young people first and the community second. “It’s a transformative movement,” she says.
To a large extent, it’s working. The Promise has helped revive Kalamazoo’s public schools, sent hundreds of kids to college who normally wouldn’t have gone, and pumped new vitality into the city. But the experiment has also taken longer to reap benefits than many expected and exposed deeper social problems, spurring changes in the city’s approach.
The lessons Kalamazoo has learned are important. Since the program began, at least 90 school districts and cities have started their own version of free-tuition programs using public and private money, though few are as generous or universal as Kalamazoo’s. Oregon, Tennessee, and Minnesota now offer promise programs for residents who want to go to community college. California is poised to start something similar.
Kalamazoo’s model may become even more crucial in the future. As college tuition rates inexorably rise, and education becomes the hard drive of the economy of tomorrow, everyone is looking for ways to expand the number of people getting degrees. The question is whether Kalamazoo has found a formula that really is transformative – for it and for other cities around the country.
Some of the answers lie in the arc of Tracy Zarei’s life.
In the first years of the program, college attendance surged. Not all students were eligible for the scholarship, which covers between 65 percent and 100 percent of tuition for public school students who enroll between kindergarten and ninth grade. (The cutoff is designed to discourage late transfers.)
But of the 2006 class of 519 graduates, 4 out of 5 were eligible. A year later, 83 percent of those students had started college, compared with an average of 60 percent at high schools in similar urban districts across the country. Overall, more than 4,500 students have received scholarships in the 11 years since the program began, and the city’s graduation rate has climbed.
Still, some students have struggled to reap the full benefits, dropping out midway through their studies and thus failing to earn a degree. Going to college isn’t the same as graduating from college. For Kalamazoo’s best and brightest, the scholarship has been a first step toward an Ivy League degree, internships at Goldman Sachs, or the White House. But most students’ experiences are more like that of Tracy, who graduated in 2006. She used her money to attend a school closer to home – Western Michigan University, in Kalamazoo.
It took her six years to earn a bachelor’s degree. The Promise covered 75 percent of her tuition since she had attended a charter school for middle school (the program doesn’t underwrite charter school students). So she worked part-time as a waitress, trying to juggle classes and child care, falling behind at times, going into debt. “The hardest thing in college was homework,” says Tracy.
Then, in her third year of college, her daughter, AnTiana, was born. Antonio, the father of both children, drifted in and out of their lives. Tracy took a lighter course load each semester, but refused to give up.
In 2012, Tracy graduated from Western – something she is convinced she would never have been able to do without the Promise. “There would’ve been a point where I couldn’t continue,” she says.
A 2015 study by the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research compared the educational attainment of students like Tracy, who received the scholarships, with the Kalamazoo high school graduates who preceded them. According to Timothy Bartik, coauthor of the study, the percentage of students receiving a college degree or certification jumped several points, and more of those graduating were low-income and minority students.
His team calculated that for every $1 invested in a Kalamazoo student’s college education, he or she can expect to earn on average more than $11 over the course of a career. So far, the Promise has paid more than $85 million in scholarships.
Higher education offers a return that few other investments can match. Studies show that college-educated workers not only can expect to earn more money, but usually experience better health and live longer lives.
The benefits redound to communities as well. William Moses, director of education at The Kresge Foundation in Troy, Mich., notes that regions with large pools of educated workers recovered much faster after the last recession and are more attractive to educated youth and the companies that employ them.
“If a city can build its own timber by getting more local college graduates, it can be a huge economic development tool,” Mr. Moses says.
When Bob Ezelle first heard about the Promise, he didn’t know what to make of it. As the executive director of the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Kalamazoo, which runs after-school centers in the city’s roughest neighborhoods, he knew that students needed all the help they could get. Mr. Ezelle also understood the social uplift of a college degree. An African-American orphan who never knew his parents, he won a football scholarship to Western Michigan that put him on a career track.
But who would be helped by the program the most – poor minority families who could barely feed their kids, or middle-class households who already had their eye on college and whose kids would now get a debt-free ride to a degree?
“At first I said, ‘I just can’t see, if the kids are doing bad at school, how this is really going to benefit them,’ ” says Ezelle. “Their parents are still looking at their basic needs. [College] isn’t a priority at this point. They’re doing their best to keep their kids out of trouble.”
Unlike federal student aid, the Promise doesn’t provide money based on the ability to pay. It’s a universal program that underwrites rich and poor students alike, whether they enroll in a local community college or a selective four-year program. It even matches tuition at private in-state colleges up to the amount charged by the most expensive public university. Students are free to take the money and not come back after college, taking their degree and talents with them.
“It’s not a social program,” says Brown, the trustee. “We want all students to have the advantage.”
The simplicity of the program is part of its appeal: no confusing application forms, no test-score cutoffs. Eligible students get the scholarship money regardless of other grants or loans they receive. This is an effective way to improve access for low-income students who are deterred by what they perceive as the high cost of college, as well as the uncertainties of financial aid, says Robert Archibald, an economist at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va.
Most high school students can’t explain how a Federal Pell Grant works, but readily grasp a Promise-style scholarship. “People know what it is because it’s one sentence,” says Mr. Archibald, coauthor of “Why Does College Cost So Much?”
For Kalamazoo, the program has become part of its identity, a way to stand out in the crowd. “Home of The Promise, 2005,” reads the sign on the edge of town, the same message that greets visitors at the airport. Other cities declare themselves open for business or tourism. Kalamazoo wants you to know that it’s funding knowledge.
Many residents talk about the Promise with almost angelic reverence. And there is a widespread sense that the generosity of the donors needs to be matched by a commitment from the city as a whole not to let the experiment fail.
“It changes the perception of Kalamazoo as yet another dying, cold Midwest urban center into a place that’s pretty cool,” says Michelle Miller-Adams, a research fellow at the Upjohn Institute who has written two books on the Promise.
Kalamazoo still looks like a Rust Belt city – one that used to make everything from Checker cabs to Gibson guitars. The city’s urban core is a work in progress. There’s a new medical school downtown and a new community college campus that just opened this fall. But the pockets of affluence, including modern hospitals and the university, are not far from streets of weathered wooden houses with sagging porches and boarded windows. New restaurants and stores have opened downtown, and young people are moving in, but seem outnumbered by the discount chains and storefront churches, particularly when you cross the freight train tracks.
This is the other reason why the Promise is for all students, regardless of income: Kalamazoo is desperate to hang onto its largely white middle class and prevent its schools from succumbing to de facto segregation, as in other hollowed-out cities. Half the student body is African-American, and 7 in 10 students qualify for subsidized lunches.
In the long run, Kalamazoo hopes that the Promise, and its spin-off economic effects, can attract more middle-class families and undergird an urban renaissance.
“If you want the system to change, the community to change, the schools to change, you don’t want to say this is for poor children,” says Ms. Miller-Adams, whose own daughter attends middle school.
Affluent, educated parents are more likely to get involved and press for school improvements that benefit all students, not just their own.
The effect on the city’s public schools has been noticeable. Kalamazoo is now the fastest-growing school district in the state. More students means more state funding to turn around schools and extra services that can drive up graduation rates.
Seven out of 10 students in Kalamazoo now graduate from high school, though that is still below the national average of 83 percent. And barely half of black males get a diploma, compared with 77 percent of black females, who are also attending college in higher numbers. Michael Rice, Kalamazoo’s school superintendent, calls that “a profound achievement gap,” one Kalamazoo is tackling with various initiatives, including an expanded mentoring program for male students.
These are the at-risk kids that Ezelle has spent his career trying to support. He’s come around to the idea of the Promise as an engine of community change, geared to college as a goal for all. “As a black man, without a college degree I would not be in the position I’m in today, to have an impact positively on the lives of young children,” he says.
From Monday to Thursday, Gregory Socha dons the kind of dowdy gray suit and jaunty tie that you’d expect an elementary school principal to wear. Fridays are different. In Kalamazoo, Fridays are Promise days. Teachers come to school in their college T-shirts and talk to students about what it means to be ready for college and why the Promise matters. Mr. Socha, a California transplant who has taught in Kalamazoo for 20 years, wears a dark green T-shirt emblazoned with the word “Promise.”
Come spring, fourth- and fifth-graders at Arcadia Elementary School will learn about different careers and the importance of college as a springboard. They will visit the nearby Western Michigan campus so that it starts to feel familiar. The pattern repeats itself as students move on to middle school and to high school.
Inside a sun-splashed second-grade classroom, where students sit four to a table copying “sentence starters” from a whiteboard, Loralynn, age 7, exudes sass and ambition. “I want to be the president,” she says, brown eyes flashing below bunched curly hair. Asked about the Promise, she doesn’t hesitate. “We get to go to college for free.” Mianna, 7, an aspiring fashion designer, nods. She says her mom wants her to go to college because she never had the chance to.
If that sounds young for college prep, try this: Kalamazoo just introduced a pledge addressed to “the college-going class of 2029.” At kindergarten parent-teacher conferences this fall, families were asked to sign a certificate that had been cosigned by Dr. Rice and Robert Jorth, executive director of the Kalamazoo Promise. Each parent/guardian promised to:
•Talk with my child about school every day.
•Listen to my child’s dreams about his or her future.
•Prepare today: Read together and help with homework every night.
•Attend parent-teacher conferences and school events.
•Plan for college with my child.
•Be a positive role model.
For children whose parents didn’t attend college, earning a degree is as much a mind-set as a matter of good grades. That’s why all the positive reinforcement, from class mascots named for college teams to teachers posting their own credentials on the classroom door, starts early in Kalamazoo. “It all ties back to the Promise. We’ve got an opportunity, a chance, a gift,” says Socha.
Local officials also know that money isn’t the only barrier to higher education for low-income students. Even when their tuition is covered, many arrive ill-prepared for college and lack the peer and family support needed to flourish. Nationally, less than one-third of college enrollees from poor backgrounds receive a degree, half the rate of affluent students.
For educators and community workers here, tackling these disparities means working backward from the 18-year-old college applicant to the young child with basic needs – food, shelter, and safety – as well as creating a nurturing educational environment.
“The Promise does not come with batteries,” says Rice. “Our staff, students, and community services are the batteries.”
Tracy has no idea who paid for her to go to college. But she, like many others, is appreciative of the support – her mother calls it a “blessing.”
“Money comes, money goes,” says Sheri. “Education sticks with you forever.... It’s something you have that no one can take away.”
Eleven years on, the identity of the Promise donors remains a mystery. Brown, who served as the program’s first executive director, is among the few who know and isn’t saying. She meets with the donors – a group, not an individual – at least once a year to talk about the program.
Are they satisfied with the outcome? Is it working as intended?
“My opinion is that they’re very happy with what the Promise has done,” she says. “It’s everything they want it to be. But they want it to be more.”
Kalamazoo perhaps got a hint as to the identities of at least two of the Promise donors in July when the city announced a private initiative to help shore up its shaky finances. Starting next year, the city would receive $70 million over three years to cover a chronic budgetary shortfall and bring down property taxes in order to attract more investment. This donation also includes $30 million for new anti-poverty programs.
This time, the donors were named. One, William Johnston, is married to Ronda Stryker, a scion of the Stryker Corp., a medical-equipment firm. They are prominent philanthropists. The other is William Parfet, a great-grandson of W.E. Upjohn, whose eponymous pharmaceutical company was a mainstay of Kalamazoo’s economy.
James Ritsema, the city manager who helped broker the agreement, says the other option was a city income tax that was unpopular with business leaders. “This is proactive, to help a community avoid a bankruptcy,” he says, noting that Detroit only cobbled together a private bailout after it became insolvent.
That Kalamazoo needs private money to pay for essential services is both a sign of its financial challenges and a reminder of the Promise’s limitations. The antipoverty programs, which have yet to take shape, could enhance the efforts of schools and charities to support vulnerable families so that more children can take advantage of the scholarship. The two lead donors also agreed to create an endowment for a “Foundation of Excellence” that could pay out in perpetuity, like the Promise.
Still, this growing reliance on philanthropy raises questions about whether the fortunes of cities should be at the whim of the fortunes of the wealthy. On Oct. 24, Kalamazoo’s city council voted in favor of the $70 million funding plan. Only one councilor, Matt Milcarek, dissented. He says he is grateful for the offer but is worried about the lack of detail, potential interference by donors, and what would happen if the endowment isn’t large or successful enough. “We’re in untested waters,” he says. “A third of our budget is dependent on two individuals giving us money.”
The fall after she graduated, Tracy got a call from Edison Environmental Science Academy, a magnet school in Kalamazoo. The semester had started, and they needed a kindergarten teacher. “I was jumping and yelling – whooping and hollering,” she says.
Today, the sign on the door to her classroom at Edison, which educates some of the poorest kids in town, reads “Ms. Zarei’s Super Heroes.” On a recent Friday, her first-grade heroes – mostly black and Hispanic – fidget their way through a project that involves painting geographic features on a paper plate.
Tracy moves with feline grace across the scuffed floor, soothing the squawks from her restless kids. Her tone is firm but kindly. She wears a black Western Michigan T-shirt, with hand-drawn lettering on the back that says: “Thanks to the Kalamazoo Promise I’m here.”
“I can relate to a lot of families at our school,” she says. “It’s high poverty. They have their struggles, and I’ve been through all that.”
After her first year at Edison, Tracy bought a ranch house, a fixer-upper that still needs fixing, where she lives with Antonio, their two older children, and Kingston, who was born in 2015. Antonio also has a son from another relationship. Antonio and Tracy plan to wed next June. He isn’t working, but her $44,000-a-year teacher’s salary covers most of their costs.
Antonio Jr. is now in sixth grade, a basketball player who likes to stomp around the house in tan boots. He wants to play basketball in college, but when pressed for an academic subject he likes, he says math.
“No, it’s science,” interjects Tracy.
“Math is my favorite. Science is the easiest, that’s what I mean,” says Antonio.
Tracy is among a number of scholarship recipients-turned-public-school teachers, a tangible sign of the gift giving back. And Antonio could be among the first of the second-generation Promise scholars. Such a cycle of academic success could break the cycles of poverty that have blighted families in Kalamazoo and cities like it.
Tracy says she just wants Antonio to be happy and follow his dreams. Even out of Kalamazoo? She smiles.
“I think we’re good here. Kalamazoo is a good place to be.”
Could your smartphone help prevent drunk driving accidents? Could it determine if you're too intoxicated to get behind the wheel? Does it actually know when you're in a bar?
Every year in the US, some 10,000 people die as a result of car crashes involving intoxicated drivers. And New Year's Day is traditionally one of the worst times when it comes to alcohol-fueled wrecks.
But Israeli researchers have developed a sort-of virtual breathalyzer designed to work with smartphones, smartwatches, fitness trackers, and even Google Glass that could potentially keep intoxicated drivers off the road and save lives.
"Alcohol distinctly affects movement, gait, and balance in ways that can be detected by the built-in motion sensors on devices people carry around with them all the time," says Ben Nassi, a graduate student at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, who developed the method under the guidance of Professors Yuval Elovici and Lior Rokach.
Law enforcement and advocacy groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving have mounted countless campaigns that warn about the dangers of drinking and driving, but technology designed to prevent intoxicated driving hasn't been widely adopted by automakers or consumers.
While drivers can test their own blood-alcohol level before driving by using a personal breathalyzer, these cost $100 to $150 and vary in accuracy. Some courts in the US may force people convicted of drunk driving to install an ignition control breathalyzer on their car that checks their alcohol levels before they can drive. But these won't help someone who hasn't been convicted yet.
Mr. Nassi says that using technology built into smart devices can especially help the group most likely to be involved in alcohol-related accidents – motorists in their 20s and early 30s, who are also most likely to carry or wear mobile devices wherever they go.
He says his system can detect illegal intoxication with 93 percent accuracy by measuring changes in gait using data collected by motion sensors built into the devices. The technique can effectively gauge intoxication with just 16 seconds of data collected as a person walks.
The data gets sent to a user's mobile device where an app created by Nassi's team determines the user's sobriety. To measure the accuracy of their method, the researchers verified their results against an actual breathalyzer that police departments use in Britain and elsewhere. Only one test subject was detected as sober when he was intoxicated.
Nassi and his team tested the technology on some 30 patrons, male and female and most of them in their 20s, whom they encountered randomly at three bars in Tel Aviv.
The threshold and counting method for measuring sobriety varies among countries. In the US, generally the threshold for illegal blood alcohol concentration level, or BAC, is .08 or higher. The researchers used Israel's intoxication limit — which is 240 micrograms of alcohol per one liter of breath — as the measuring point for their experiment.
They asked participants to wear four Android devices – Google Glass spectacles, an LG G-watch on their left wrist, a Microsoft Band fitness tracker on their right wrist, and for those wearing pants, to carry a Samsung Galaxy S4 smartphone in their right rear pocket. Since the researchers didn't know which body movements would be most indicative of intoxication, they wanted to measure movement of the head, hands, and posterior.
They ultimately didn't need data from all four devices, however. Data from just a smartphone and smartwatch was sufficient to accurately indicate intoxication with the same degree of accuracy as the four devices together.
All of the devices except one have five built-in motion sensors – an accelerometer, a gyroscope, linear acceleration, gravity, and compass. The fitness tracker has only an accelerometer and gyroscope. The devices also all have Bluetooth capability to send data from their sensors to the application the researchers created and installed on the smartphone. Researchers also installed a small app on each wearable to collect and send the sensor data.
If Nassi's technology is adopted by phone makers or integrated into a third-party app, it wouldn't require users to enable the sobriety tester for it to work. Instead, it can be configured to automatically collect sensor data when the GPS feature on wearable devices detects movement. This way it's not reliant on a user who may be too intoxicated to remember to take a sensor reading.
The system can be refined to only take automatic readings when the user appears to be going to a bar, Nassi says. "Using Google maps and Foursquare it could detect that you're driving and whether there is a bar in the area [when you stop]. This is not a complicated problem."
The technology could also be designed to communicate with connected cars to prevent vehicles from starting if the data from sensors determines the device-wearer is drunk.
The research Nassi's team conducted builds on previous work done by other researchers showing that a person can be identified by their gait using the accelerometer and sensors in smartphones and other devices, as well as research showing that sensors in Google Glass can detect stress and fear based on head movements.
But there are some obvious privacy concerns around the kind of application Nassi's team designed. If insurance companies or employers can get access to the data from the sobriety app, they could use it to determine how often someone gets intoxicated on the job or in their private life.
"If you're turning your watch and your phone into a constant breathalyzer, if you want to collect data about your own body and use it to analyze your own physiological state, on the surface there's no problem there," says Jay Stanley, senior policy analyst with the American Civil Liberties Union's Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project.
"The only question comes if you lose control of that information," he says. "This is a reminder just how much information can potentially be teased out of rich data sources like body sensors [and] raises the stakes about the overarching privacy questions around the data that our phone has."
Nassi says privacy concerns can be addressed in part by encrypting the data so that unauthorized users can't read it. But if an employer or insurance company requires access to the data as a condition of employment or an insurance policy, then there would be no protection for that.
LISBON, PORTUGAL; AND PARIS—When the European community was under construction in the 1950s, young people played a crucial, unifying role.
They protested along the Franco-German border to demand the frontier's demise, and in front of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg to push for faster integration among member countries.
“Youth as a symbol or as a reference were essential for the idea of a united Europe,” says Christina Norwig, the German author of “The First European Generation.”
But today, as the EU faces its greatest test of legitimacy since its founding, young people have been largely absent from the fight.
Polls show young people as among the most convinced Europeans. But suffering under high unemployment, angered by bureaucracy and business interests in Brussels, and complacent about the linear progression of the project, they have not risen up in defense of it. Yet many see them as key in this high-stakes era, and hope the political shocks of 2016 may have awakened a new sense of urgency.
It won’t compare to that of the 1950s, when young people had directly experienced war, says Ms. Norwig, whose book traces the US-backed European Youth Campaign of the '50s.
“But if all pro-Europeans in all the countries would stand up against those fellow citizens who adhere to nationalism, that would have the potential to revive the European idea,” she says. “It will not happen naturally. We need some kind of initiative. We need some kind of campaign again.”
Young Europeans today are far more likely to share a European identity across countries than older members. The drop in support for the EU in recent years is higher among those 50 and older than among those 18 to 34, according to a Pew study of 10 EU nations.
Yet in a Eurobarometer poll from last year, more than half of young people in Europe, or 57 percent, say they have been marginalized and excluded from economic and social life in their countries in the wake of the global financial crisis.
It’s given rise to an ambivalence that is clearly seen in André Carvalho, who was born in 1986, the same year Portugal joined the EU. He calls himself a “Europhile.”
As a student at one of the oldest universities in Europe, the University of Coimbra, he was actively engaged with the Portuguese branch of the Union of European Federalists, a political organization seeking to promote deeper integration. Five years later, Mr. Carvalho is pursuing his master's degree in European Careers at Sciences Po in Bordeaux, an opportunity that’s possible partially because of EU funding. But these days he doesn’t consider himself a “Euroactivist.”
“The EU has been taken over by neoliberals that decide everything behind closed doors,” Carvalho scoffs.
Like many across the indebted south, his skepticism has grown with austerity politics. In Eastern Europe, the euphoria of joining the EU has given way to resentment over limited economic prospects and corrupted politics at home. In post-communist Slovakia, for example, youths are supporting the anti-EU, anti-immigrant hard right.
Analysts blame a generation that in the east didn’t have to fight for democracy, and in the west grew up with all the rights and privileges the EU entails.
“They see the EU as something that belongs to them, a comfort zone that they take for granted,” says Óliver Soto Sainz, a political scientist at Madrid’s Complutense University. He also notes an impatience among youth today. "They prefer going to demonstrations and other forms of participation that are usually less effective, and then they get frustrated. What yields greater results if you’re trying to change something in the EU? Lobbying, contacting [European parliamentarians], developing a long-term relationship – sort of like a marriage. That’s not very appealing to most young people," he says.
Marina Costa Lobo, an analyst at Lisbon’s Institute of Social Studies, says this is compounded by the fact that, like all EU residents, they lack a deep understanding of how the EU works and what its end would herald. “Young people feel they have even less to lose when it comes to the European Union because they lack information on what they get from it,” she says.
More defense of the EU?
The young activists of the 1950s were fighting for a new order. They often spoke in terms of life or death for a united Europe, Norwig says.
Today that rebel spirit is hard to conjure when it comes to the EU, especially in the era of anti-establishment politics.
Angelos Pappas, a 24-year-old Greek graphic designer, says he joined pro-EU protests ahead of the country’s July 2015 referendum on the terms of the EU bailout package. It wasn’t the most popular position for young people. “I was called traitor and 'Merkel slave,' ” he says, referring to austerity policies championed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
The political uncertainty that 2016 ushered in – with Britain’s choice to leave the EU and the rise of populism on both sides of the Atlantic – may lead to more direct defense of the EU as an entity. For example, after the “Brexit” vote, which young people largely rejected, a series of pro-EU marches were organized. Amid lower-than-average voter turnout among youths generally in Europe, according to EU statistics, many hope the repercussions spur young people to the polls in the Netherlands, France, and Germany, which all face elections this year.
Vincent-Immanuel Herr, an activist from Germany, agrees that his generation has taken their stable childhoods in the EU for granted. He says EU citizens have much to learn from non-EU citizens, such as Ukrainians, who aspire to join the bloc.
Still, he’s noted a change in the past year. “I think people realize that ahead of us, there will be more rocky times, we’ll need more input from our side,” he says.
Increasing understanding via travel
Mr. Herr and his colleague Martin Speer, with their organization Herr & Speer, have proposed the idea of a free interrail pass upon each European’s 18th birthday, which top leaders of the EU have supported. Dismissed as a political gimmick by some or beside the point amid crippling youth unemployment by others, Mr. Herr argues that it is the way to grow a European identity, the difference between “being pro-EU in theory and being pro-EU out of experience.”
Indeed, despite classic movies like “Before Sunrise” or “L’Auberge Espagnole,” which romanticize rail travel and study abroad, very few Europeans have access to that kind of interchange. A free rail ticket would make it universal, not elitist, Herr says.
Other projects share similar aims. The EU recently launched the European Solidarity Corps for those between 18 and 30 to volunteer abroad, fostering exchange and addressing high youth unemployment at the same time. Erasmus, a study-abroad program for European youths, marks its 30th anniversary this year with a series of celebrations, exhibits, and debates.
The desire to travel and know the unknown was also prevalent in the activist movement that Norwig studied from the '50s. If the context is different, the benefits of mobility experiences are the same.
“What we see now with nationalism and xenophobia, those with the least contact with foreigners are the most xenophobic, those who have never felt like a stranger, they have no empathy,” she says. “I think a lot of Euroskepticism and hatred comes from simply not knowing ‘the other.’ ”
Iñigo Cruz, the former president of the Erasmus Student Network at Complutense University in Madrid, says he never cared about Europe until he studied abroad. Today he runs a blog and is part of a radio show that tries to deconstruct the EU for young people.
He is not without his criticism of the bloc, but believes its founding ideals are as relevant today as 60 years ago. “I think there's still much to be done," he says, "but I believe this is the only project that will prevent another war in Europe.”
—In the latest sign that the US economy is regaining stability following the Great Recession, foreclosures hit a 10-year low in 2016, according to a report released Tuesday.
The number of properties in foreclosure declined 14 percent from 2015, with 933,045 foreclosures filed in 2016, Reuters reports. This is a 70-percent decrease from the peak of the housing crisis in 2009.
The annual report, which was released by ATTOM Data Solutions – the new parent company of RealtyTrac – indicates that only 0.7 percent of all US housing units had at least one foreclosure filling in 2016. Foreclosure filings include default notices, scheduled auctions, and bank repossessions, and were reported on only 717,522 properties in 2006, according to the report.
“The national foreclosure rate stayed within an historically normal range for the third consecutive year in 2016, even as banks continued to clear out legacy foreclosures from the last housing bubble, particularly in the final quarter of the year,” Daren Blomquist, senior vice president of the Irvine, Ca., data company, said in a statement.
The foreclosure rate at the national level has declined steadily since the height of the financial crisis, but several states still struggle with a backlog of legacy foreclosures filed between 2004 and 2008. New Jersey led the way with 32,279 such cases still pending in 2016. New York and Florida follow closely behind with 31,838 and 29,411 respective cases.
Housing experts say New Jersey’s significant backlogs stem from the state’s time-consuming foreclosure process and the state’s weak economic performance since the last recession.
“Jobs and income matter, and New Jersey is losing that battle,” Jeffrey Otteau, president of the Otteau Group told The Wall Street Journal.
New Jersey also had the highest state foreclosure rate from last year, with 1.86 percent of its housing units facing an ambiguous future, which was more than twice the national rate.
Contradicting the national trend is an increase in early stages of foreclosure, which usually begin when owners have missed four mortgage payments, in 15 states. Twenty-one states also experienced more final repossessions. The country had a 16-percent decline from 2015 in both categories.
The District of Columbia saw both early foreclosure and bank repossession go up, while its backlogs also increased.
Back in June 2015, the rate hit a 19-month high – increasing 1 percent to more than 126,000 in May 2015, The Christian Science Monitor reported.
Financial analysts explained at that time that the short-term rise was a signal that banks were finally starting to work through a backlog of homes, calling it “a temporary hiccup.”
This year’s figures, with new data from December underscoring a 17-percent decline from the same month in 2015, highlights a consistent recovery in the housing market.
“The housing market for the most part has put the housing crisis behind it,” Mr. Blomquist told MarketWatch.
—Rudy Giuliani, who will be cybersecurity adviser to the incoming president, says Americans are going to hear a lot more from Donald Trump on digital threats against the country.
“He’s going to elevate this to a very large priority for the government – and I think by doing this, he’s trying to elevate this as a priority for the private sector,” says Mr. Giuliani, the former New York City mayor, in an interview just after the Trump team announced his new role.
Giuliani says Trump will use his “bully pulpit” as president, launching a broad public campaign to “educate people on how important [cybersecurity] is, even to the point of their own personal protection.”
Trump has pledged to improve the country’s digital defenses, but his answers to questions on the campaign trail about how he’d respond to cybersecurity challenges and Russian hacking were widely panned by cybersecurity experts. As the president-elect is reportedly averse to using personal email or computers, he’ll likely need advice on this highly technical field.
So Giuliani, who now serves as chairman of the global cybersecurity practice at Greenberg Traurig law firm and as chief executive officer of international security consulting firm Giuliani Partners, says he’s working to create an outside council of business and technical leaders to provide unfiltered information to Trump and his team about threats to American industry.
The group will comprise experts working on cutting-edge cybersecurity solutions, and business leaders across industries that have been regular targets of hackers, such as the energy, financial, and transportation sectors, Giuliani says.
“The private sector is spending a lot of time and money trying to protect itself against these intrusions. If everybody who is working on this would get together, sit in one room and share information with each other, I don’t know if we’d solve this problem, but we’d get really close to solving it,” he says.
Giuliani says he’s already inundated with responses from the private sector since the announcement from the Trump transition team on Thursday and is looking forward to a “week off” during inauguration to sort through them.
However, with just days before Trump takes office, tensions between the cybersecurity community and the incoming administration remain. Trump has repeatedly denounced US intelligence officials’ findings that Russia orchestrated cyberattacks against political organizations to influence the election, until conceding this week he accepts the intelligence conclusions during his first major press conference as the president-elect.
Some conflicts between the security community and the government predate Trump, too. The tech community went head-to-head with the Obama administration over end-to-end encryption, arguing that strong security protections are needed to protect users’ personal data from hackers, as law enforcement complained encryption made it much harder to investigate terrorists and criminals.
The standoff, left unresolved during the Obama administration, is likely to continue in the Trump years. During the campaign, Trump took a strong antiencryption stance, going so far as to call for a boycott of Apple when it pledged to fight a court's ruling to help the FBI unlock the iPhone used by the shooter in the San Bernardino terror attack, a move that worried many security and privacy experts.
Giuliani does not believe Trump’s statements on encryption or the intelligence community will prove to be obstacles in gaining the cooperation of the private sector, and promised to hear from all stakeholders’ points of view.
“If we were to do encryption, we would try to bring in all the stockholders – the [tech] companies, and I think you’d have to bring in some of the law enforcement people, have them talk it out and see if there isn’t a solution that can be reached,” he says. “Encryption is a method of providing privacy. It can also be a method that can be used in order to commit crimes the government is unable to uncover. You’ve got two very conflicting things going on and I honestly don’t know the solution nor am I going to give them [the administration] a solution – that’s not my job. What I’m going to do is make available to them all the points of view so they can come to the right decision.”
“I’ll try to be as unbiased as possible,” he adds.
Drawing upon a rotating array of experts providing raw information, rather than specific recommendations, appears to be a different tactic than the most recent effort by President Obama to gather input from the private sector. Obama’s Commission on Enhancing National Cybersecurity was made up of a dozen business, tech and academic leaders who outlined specific priorities for the next decade.
Its recommendations, released last month, recommended that the incoming administration begin to implement new measures, including to establish lasting public-private partnerships, develop international norms for cybersecurity and a new Cybersecurity Ambassador position, and initiate a national program to train 100,000 cybersecurity specialists by 2020.
However, Passcode’s own pool of 160 digital security and privacy experts, in a post-election survey, have already voiced skepticism that cybersecurity will improve in a Trump administration, especially in light of his past comments on encryption, Russian hacking, and the president-elect's admitted personal lack of tech know-how.
What’s more, security experts on Thursday, the day the Trump transition team announced Giuliani’s new role, found the website of his security company – giulianisecurity.com – “woefully lacking” in digital protection.
“You don't need to bring the world's greatest computer minds together in the same room to know that it's a good idea to keep your web server software properly patched,” researcher Graham Cluley says in his blog. “None of us should feel too smug, of course…. But these are the kind of issues that any self-respecting IT guy would have found in a short period of time, and certainly should have been addressed before someone is named as leading the United States's fight against hackers.”
That said, some experts now say Giuliani, a public figure known for his bold and often controversial comments, could serve as an effective advocate for cybersecurity in his new role – if the new administration can approach the issues with an eye to their complexities and subtleties.
“Giuliani has a reputation for being able to cut through bureaucracy, which is good,” says Herb Lin, a senior research scholar for cyber policy and security at Stanford University, who was also on the commission tasked by Obama to improve cybersecurity. “And on the other hand, he has often has a tendency to shoot from the hip. He’s not particularly sensitive to nuance. Overlooking nuance is a problem that many cybersecurity experts have frowned on in the past.”
What’s more, experts say, Giuliani’s business ties have granted him an in with the tech and cyber communities, which could have him poised to recruit some of the industries’ top talents. For his part, Giuliani has built connections to the cybersecurity field for more than a decade, with his firm partnering with accounting giant Ernst & Young in an effort to raise awareness of corporate cyberthreats in 2003. At Greenberg Traurig, he chairs the cyber law practice.
“He’s got a very strong brand out there,” says J.J. Thompson, founder of the cybersecurity firm Rook Security, which worked with the Republican National Committee. “Especially when it comes to dealing with the largest security challenges the country has had to face. He’ll be in a strong position to bring leaders to the table.”
And while Trump’s initial comments have raised concerns for some experts, others say there are reasons to be hopeful about the state of cybersecurity under his leadership. He’s called for amping up US cybersecurity efforts, and for using couriers to send some important documents rather than relying on digital means for all communication, a suggestion that a number of experts in the field applaud.
A new president means new opportunities, Mr. Thompson says. “The [cybersecurity] community is in a position where they can help directly improve the country’s cybersecurity posture,” he says. “Anybody who’s not willing to contribute to that isn’t answering the call for duty.”
WASHINGTON—It was the moment Chinese President Xi Jinping had been preparing for.
With the Western architects of the globalized economy seen to be turning inward and questioning the liberal global trading system they had long championed, the leader of the world’s second-largest economy was feted this week as the darling of Davos, the Mecca of globalization where the world’s economic elites gather each year.
With the United States preoccupied with the advent of Donald Trump – who rose to power on the same wave of nationalist sentiment and anti-free-trade fervor that is buffeting Europe – the stage was set for Mr. Xi to claim for China the mantle of leader of the globalized economy.
Though without directly referencing Mr. Trump and his “America first” campaign theme – or Europe and its Brexit woes – Xi thrilled his Davos audience with a keynote address that warned against the siren of protectionism and extolled free trade as an engine of prosperity that floats all boats.
“We must remain committed to promoting free trade and investment through opening up and saying no to protectionism,” Xi said at the opening session Tuesday of the World Economic Forum in Switzerland. “Pursuing protectionism is like locking oneself in a dark room,” he added. “While wind and rain may be kept outside, so are light and air.”
It was the first-ever appearance at Davos by a Chinese head of state, and suddenly the world had a new free-trade icon.
Yet while many international business leaders and political analysts lauded Xi’s speech – some comparing it to the best of Barack Obama – most Asia experts and economists had a far more reserved view. The excitement over Xi and his Davos coming-out party is more a reflection of a world economy adrift without its traditional leaders than it is a genuine shift in economic leadership, they say.
Moreover, they caution that the trading system China espouses and its economic vision – keen on state control and short on individual freedoms and rule of law – are a far cry from the free-market economics and rules-based trading system the United States has led for seven decades.
“What we have right now is a groping around that comes from the perception that the United States has left the world stage and retreated from its leadership of the global economy,” says Phil Levy, a senior fellow on global economics at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. “Others are auditioning for the role, as we saw with Xi Jinping,” he adds, “but it’s far from clear they’re ready for it.”
Hunger for leadership
Others say the Davos spotlight on Xi was as much a reflection of a world hungering for leadership as it was a changing of the guard for the liberal economic system.
“We are just as busily granting Xi this robe as he is trying to don it,” says Dean Cheng, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation’s Asian Studies Center in Washington. “But before anyone jumps to grant China the role of leader of globalization, it’s important to realize that China’s is a radically different vision of globalization than what the United States has promoted.”
The Western retreat from leadership of the global economy seems almost tailor-made for a China that under Xi has been laying the groundwork for a larger economic leadership role and expanded global influence.
Last year, Xi launched the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank to rival the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. That initiative followed Xi’s "One Belt, One Road" trade and development project designed to expand China’s influence westward.
China also touts the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership as a replacement for the foundering US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) that candidate Trump ripped as bad for America and vowed would never see the light of day.
Those projects and a slew of bilateral free-trade agreements paved the way for Xi’s triumphant foray into Davos, especially coming as they have as the global economy’s traditional leaders pull back and turn inward. But some close China watchers say nothing about those initiatives changes the fact that Xi is punching well above China’s weight.
“Xi gave a masterful speech to the assembled global elites who were hungry for it, but the reality is that he’s making a bid for a leadership role that is beyond China’s abilities to play,” says Michael Auslin, Asian studies scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington.
To legitimately lay claim to that role, Dr. Auslin says, China would need to have a currency that was trusted as a global reserve currency, and it would need to be more of a top-tier global marketplace, like New York or London. And, he adds, it would need the benefit of an “absolute ironclad rule of law” that inspired full confidence in China’s economy and commercial playing field.
“But by and large foreign businesses find it difficult to compete fairly in China’s market, it’s rife with intimidation, and then there’s the well-known stealing of intellectual property,” he says. China has also been hit by significant capital outflows, and its growth rate has fallen from past lofty heights – something Xi acknowledged in speaking of lower growth as China’s “new normal.”
Trump zeroed in on China's unfair trade and investment practices during the campaign, and this week his Commerce secretary nominee, billionaire investor Wilbur Ross, pledged in confirmation hearings that he would "level the playing field " with China.
Top-down model is a disqualifier
The Chicago Council’s Dr. Levy says Xi’s failure to carry out the economic reforms he has promised suggests China may not be as ready to provide dynamic global economic leadership as the Davos speech would suggest.
“There’s an all-too-consistent failure to follow through on reform, especially if it deals with liberalizing the economy,” Levy says, citing the continuing role of China’s state-run enterprises.
Beyond that, it’s China’s promotion of a top-down, state-run economic model that is most likely to stifle its bid for global leadership, says Auslin, who just published “The End of the Asian Century.”
“We need to keep in mind that the globalized economy Xi envisions has none of the individualism or the freedom of thought and of information that we in the West see as being at the very heart of economic strength and prosperity,” Auslin says.
Xi may be playing hard for the role of global economic leader, especially at a moment when he sees before him an empty stage. But the question may be whether the vision China offers is really one that would take the world forward.
“Xi’s experience suggests he remains favorable to state control and promotes more superficial trade deals that focus on things like tariff-cutting, and that’s fine. But there’s clearly less enthusiasm for the kind of in-depth liberalization that modern businesses tend to value and consider the way to building prosperity,” Levy says. “Xi says all the right things,” he adds, “but I highly doubt that what we saw in Davos was his conversion.”