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29 May

News and Analyses, A Foreign Perspective

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The $7,500-a-person exclusive golf and fly-fishing retreat will give top coal CEOs – and reliable Republican donors – access to the 2016 presidential hopeful

The former Florida governor Jeb Bush is expected to address industry concerns that new EPA rules will amount to a ‘war on coal’.

The former Florida governor Jeb Bush will be the guest of six companies that have spent more than $17.4m on campaigns and lobbying since 2012. They view new EPA rules as a ‘war on coal’. Photograph: Carlos Osorio/AP

Jeb Bush will convene next week with a clutch of coalmining barons and reliable Republican party donors who have paid at least $7,500 each to huddle in secret with the presidential hopeful at a golfing and fly-fishing retreat in a hidden-away corner of Virginia.

Bush’s scheduled one-hour speech at the Coal & Investment Leadership Forum will take place at the members-only Olde Farm club in Bristol, Virginia, where the civil war-themed golf tournament is a “cherished tradition”.

The under-the-radar appearance, which is invitation-only and off-limits to the press, will bring the potential presidential candidate face to face with the owners and chief executives of coalmining and energy companies at a critical time for the energy industry and for Bush’s political ambitions.

The Environmental Protection Agency is expected to finalize new rules for carbon pollution from power plants this summer, which the coal mining and electricity industries have condemned as a “war on coal”.

Bush meanwhile is relatively free of fundraising disclosure requirements until the official launch of his presidential campaign. The 2016 hopeful evidently signalled his willingness to meet with industry leaders as early as February when the hosts of the coal forum – all owners and executives of coalmining companies – emailed out the first save-the-date notices.

“It is a great opportunity to meet with stakeholders in the state,” Kristy Campbell, a spokeswoman for Bush, said. “He will be talking about a variety of topics.”

The former Florida governor is appearing at the invitation of six coalmining company owners and executives: Joe Craft III of Alliance Resource Partners, Kevin Crutchfield of Alpha Natural Resources, Nick DeIuliis of Consol Energy, Garry Drummond of Drummond Company, John Eaves of Arch Coal, and Jim McGlothlin of United Coal Company…………………

 

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  • Hastert allegedly paid ‘Individual A’ $1.7m ‘to conceal past misconduct’
  • Indictment says Hastert lied about where money was going

Dennis Hastert

In a photograph from 2008, former US House speaker Dennis Hastert speaks to lawmakers in Illinois. Photograph: Seth Perlman/AP

Federal prosecutors on Thursday said they had indicted former US House speaker Dennis Hastert on bank-related charges, allegedly related to paying an unnamed person “to conceal his past misconduct”.

A statement from the US attorney’s office in Chicago said the 73-year-old Illinois Republican was accused of evading the requirements of federal law through the careful and systematic withdrawal of $952,000 from his banks.

He was also accused of lying to the FBI.

Hastert was speaker of the House of Representatives from 1999 to 2007, when he resigned from Congress after Democrats gained control of the congressional chamber. He joined the law firm Dickstein Shapiro in 2008, as a senior advisor.

The indictment, in US district court in Illinois, notes that between 1965 and 1981, Hastert worked as a high school teacher and coach in Yorkville, Illinois. The indictment then notes that “Individual A”, whom he is alleged to have paid, has known Hastert “most of Individual A’s life”.

“In or about 2010”, the indictment says, Hastert met with this person and “discussed past misconduct by [Hastert] that had occurred years earlier”. The indictment alleges that Hastert then agreed to “provide” this person $3.5m “in order to compensate for and conceal his prior misconduct” against them.

According to the prosecution, Hastert systematically withdrew about $1.7m from banks, and then periodically delivered payments to Individual A for four years. His banks, required to report transactions of more than $10,000, questioned Hastert, who then decreased the size of his withdrawals but continued to pay the unnamed person amounts of $50,000 to $100,000………………….

 

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Existing $3bn package may rise to $3.7bn after the existing deal expires in 2017, says unnamed US official

An Israeli Merkava tank

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu confirmed aid discussions with the Americans. Photograph: Xinhua /Landov / Barcroft Media/Xinhua /Landov / Barcroft Media

US defence aid to Israel is likely to increase after 2017, sources on both sides said on Thursday, seeing a possible link to Washington’s efforts to assuage its ally’s fears over nuclear diplomacy with Iran.

A present package worth $3bn a year expires in 2017. A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said negotiators were close to a new deal that would bring annual payouts to $3.6bn to $3.7bn on average.

An Israeli official, who also declined to be named, put the expected aid at between $3.5bn and $4bn. “[The United States] are trying to douse the fires after our flare-up about the Iran deal,” the official added, referring to curbs being negotiated on Tehran’s disputed nuclear programme, which Israel has condemned as insufficient.

Responding to reports that an increased defence aid package was in the works, the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, confirmed there were such discussions with the Americans but said he would keep campaigning against Iran.

“There is no trade-off requiring I agree to this [nuclear] deal with Iran. The deal is bad and we will continue to oppose it,” Netanyahu said in remarks quoted by Israeli broadcasters.

In Washington, a White House National Security Council spokesman, Alistair Baskey, said: “These reports are wholly inaccurate.”

“While we anticipate discussions in the coming period between the US and Israeli governments about how long-term security cooperation between the two countries can be further strengthened, no such detailed discussions at a senior level have occurred recently,” Baskey said………………….

 

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Shepard Fairey, whose blue and red portrait became the defining image of the 2008 campaign, says president did not live up to the hype – ‘not even close’

Shepard Fairey stands alongside his portrait of then US president-elect Barack Obama before it was installed at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC.

Shepard Fairey stands alongside his portrait of then US president-elect Barack Obama before it was installed at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC. Photograph: Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images

The man on the poster is still president. But the artist behind the poster has moved on.

Shepard Fairey, whose stencil portrait of Barack Obama with the caption “Hope” became the defining image of the 2008 presidential campaign, told Esquire magazine in an interview published on Thursday that the politician had not lived up to the propaganda.

“Not even close,” Fairey said.

“Obama has had a really tough time, but there have been a lot of things that he’s compromised on that I never would have expected. I mean, drones and domestic spying are the last things I would have thought [he’d support].”

The Hope poster represented an unusually explicit foray into politics for the Los Angeles-based artist, who first won renown for an image of Andre the Giant with various captions, including the command “Obey”.

Fairey based his “Hope” creation on an Associated Press photograph he failed to credit at the time. In 2011 the artist and the AP settled a copyright lawsuit for an undisclosed sum.

Fairey is not a wholesale detractor of Obama, however.

“I’ve met Obama a few times, and I think Obama’s a quality human being, but I think that he finds himself in a position where your actions are largely dictated by things out of your control,” Fairey told Esquire. “I’m not giving him a pass for not being more courageous, but I do think the entire system needs an overhaul and taking money out of politics would be a really good first step.”

As for whom he is supporting in 2016, Fairey said: “I mean nothing against Hillary [Clinton]. I agree with Hillary on most issues, but campaign finance structure makes me very angry.”……………………

 

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Monsoon still days away and will bring a change only to the southern coastline, leaving the north exposed for weeks more

India’s blistering heatwave will continue for at least another 48 hours, weather officials have said, raising the possibility that the death toll could reach 2,000.
About 1,800 people are thought to have died in a week of temperatures touching 48 degrees in some places, the highest number of casualties for more than 20 years.
Hospitals across the country have struggled to cope. Lakshmi Singh, a teacher who had brought her four-year-old son to a major government clinic in south Delhi, said: “I have been waiting for five hours to be seen by a doctor. We had no power all night because of the cuts and my little boy is sick now. He is vomiting and has [a] headache.”

Officials at the clinic said most of those who sought help were severely dehydrated and that the old, the very young and the poor had been hardest hit.
Hundreds die at the height of summer every year in India, but this year’s figures are already the highest since 1995, when official data showed 1,677 people succumbed to the heat.
Southern India has borne the brunt of the sudden spell of hot, dry weather with the states of Telengana and Andhra Pradesh suffering most.
The monsoon, predicted to hit southern India’s coastline on 31 May, will bring relief from the high temperatures, but it will not reach the parched north of the country for several weeks.
In Delhi, children tried to cool off in the ornamental pools around the presidential palace in the centre of the city. Adults sought out the air-conditioned metro and shopping malls…………………

 

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Norway fund dumps coal, US alumni link donation to divestment and our ‘carbon bombs’ series tells the story of the town that sits above Alberta tar sands

DIRTY OILfilm stillCANADA ALBERTA FORT MCMURRAY 19JUL09 - View of smoke plumes emitted from the Syncrude upgrader plant north of Fort McMurray, northern Alberta, Canada.jre/Photo by Jiri Rezac / GREENPEACE  Jiri Rezac 2009CanadaAlbertaFort McMurraytarsandsoilsandsBoreal forestenergyclimateemissionsoilcrudeSyncrudeSuncorCo2EnvironmenttoxicDirtyindustryminingBitumentarpollutionpollutantpollutantspipeline

Smoke plumes rise from the the Syncrude upgrader plant north of Fort McMurray, northern Alberta, Canada. The region is one of the most polluting sites in the world. Photograph: Jiri Rezac/Jiri Rezac/ GREENPEACE

On Wednesday a key parliamentary committee in Norway passed a motion that calls on the world’s biggest sovereign wealth fund to dump its coal interests. The resulting move by the $900bn ($589bn) Norwegian sovereign wealth fund “will certainly create a wave” of divestments by other funds, says Mark Campanale, founder of the Carbon Tracker Initiative. The shares divested could be worth as much as $5.5bn, says Truls Gulowsen, head of Greenpeace in Norway.

350.org founder Bill McKibben seems pretty happy:

Norway’s $900bn fund, that just divested from coal, is in fact the world’s largest fund. Like, in the world. The whole planet. Earth.

Following a 10-day occupation protest, students at Edinburgh university are celebrating a fresh commitment by the university to divest from three of the world’s biggest fossil fuel producers within six months.

Meanwhile in Canada, a minister has been exposed for delivering a rallying speech to industry oil specialists encouraging tar sands oil extraction. The meeting at the Banff Springs hotel was the annual strategy session of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, the main lobby group in Alberta’s tar sands.

This week for the second in our series on ‘carbon bombs’, we visited Fort McKay, a town that sits above the Alberta tar sands in Canada, one of the most polluting carbon source sites on the planet.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation does ground-breaking sanitation work in Durban, South Africa, tackling the spread of infectious diseases such as cholera, typhoid, hepatitis and polio. Yet we revealed this week that the same residents live near a petroleum power plant which they believe is causing huge respiratory problems in the area – and is run by companies funded by Gates………………….

 

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People told to avoid contact with water along nearly seven miles of coastline as scientists look for the source of pollution

A crew cleans up a beach after balls of tar washed ashore in Manhattan beach, California, on Thursday.

A crew cleans up a beach after balls of tar washed ashore in Manhattan beach, California, on Thursday. Photograph: Nick Ut/AP

Popular beaches along nearly seven miles (11 kilometres) of Los Angeles-area coastline were off-limits to surfing and swimming on Thursday as scientists looked for the source of globs of tar that washed ashore.

The sand and surf on south Santa Monica bay appeared virtually free of oil after an overnight clean-up, but officials weren’t sure if more tar would show up. They planned to assess during low tide at midday.

Public health officials told people to avoid contact with the water, wet sand or any material that washed up in the area. They warned that contact with petroleum products can cause skin irritation and result in long-term health problems.

Lifeguards chased a handful of surfers out of the water, but beach life was otherwise normal for people exercising, playing volleyball, skating and riding bikes along the shore.

US Coast Guard and state officials said samples of tar and water would be analysed to identify where it originated, but it could take days to get the results. Nothing has been ruled out, including last week’s coastal oil spill that created a 10-square-mile (26-sq km) slick about 100 miles (160km) to the north-west, off the Santa Barbara County coast……………………

 

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Other News & Analysis

 

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Opinion

Unprotected consumer data will allow price personalization by companies who know how much you need something and how much you can manage pay

consumer

What if one day you pay more for your cocktail than your friends? Photograph: Blend Images / Alamy/Alamy

Are you ready for a gas station to charge you more when you are running late or your tank is empty? Laws against price gouging typically apply in times of emergencies, for example after Hurricane Katrina. Most of the time there are no rules that limit price discrimination, and there are certainly no laws against customized products and terms of service. When you add that to the fact that federal privacy laws do a notoriously poor job of protecting our data, it’s clear that consumers are on their own.

Companies can vary their product offerings, price and contract terms from moment to moment, tailoring offers to each consumer at their specific location and point in time. Websites personalize your experience by remembering who you are and a variety of facts about you. Your browsing history, email and search terms all affect what you see. Google’s personalized search means that two people searching the same term don’t get the same results or see the same offers. Amazon recommends different products to different customers. And Netflix suggests what to watch based on what it learns about you.

Like products, price is customized all the time. From college tuition to plane tickets to groceries and medicine, consumers have already grown accustomed to paying dramatically different prices for the exact same thing. It’s accepted that the person sitting next to you on a flight or in a lecture hall might have paid half as much as you. Economists call that price discrimination, and it is proliferating throughout our economy.

A study by Benjamin Reed Shiller, an economist at Brandeis University looked at what happened to Netflix’s profits when it collected varying degrees of information about its customers and charged different prices for the same product. Just having basic demographic information alone to charge different prices increased profits 0.14%, while adding data from web browsing history increased profits by 1.4%, with some customers paying twice as much as others for the exact same product………………..

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