Widely Used Pesticide Is a Buzzkill for Honeybees – By Leslie Nemo on June 30, 2017

Findings add fuel to the debate over whether a commonly used chemical damages insect populations

Credit: adegsm Getty Images

Honeybee stings ache for a good reason: This species knows how to brawl. But as it turns out, these black-and-yellow pollinators are quite vulnerable themselves—especially to neonicotinoids, a pesticide commonly used to ward off crop-munching pests. Two new studies, published this week in Science, address this question by studying large populations of bees in multiple locations for months on end. The results add substantial weight to the claim that neonicotinoids damage bee populations.

“I hope that my study kind of makes the debate go away,” says Amro Zayed, an entomologist who studies social insects at York University in Toronto and is co-author of one of the new reports. Even though honeybees are not the intended targets of neonicotinoids, any indication that the resilient insect is suffering from the chemical means less-adaptable species might be in trouble, too. The pesticide is intended to eradicate insects that chew up or suck on grain crops—which is why these substances coat almost all corn and 50 percent of soy seeds in the U.S. “It’s difficult, if not impossible, to find corn not treated with neonicotinoids,” says Shiela Colla, an ecologist also at York who is unaffiliated with the study research.

Most prior research on the bee–pesticide relationship has only involved feeding the chemicals to small populations in lab settings or observing a few populations in nature for a couple of weeks. Such stand-alone studies do not gather enough evidence on the true nature of honeybee behavior, Zayed says. Colla agrees, which is why she praises the York study’s sample size and length.

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Insurers’ Policy Warnings Raise Stakes in Health Fight – Melanie Evans June 30, 2017 7:30 p.m. ET

Letters to some consumers say plans will be terminated at year-end

Insurers’ withdrawal notices are causing heartburn among patients, according to insurance agents and other industry officials. Here, a blood-pressure check in 2013.

Insurers’ withdrawal notices are causing heartburn among patients, according to insurance agents and other industry officials. Here, a blood-pressure check in 2013.Photo: Toby Talbot/Associated Press

Hundreds of thousands of consumers across the country are getting letters from insurers warning that their health plans bought under the Affordable Care Act will be terminated at year-end, raising alarm at a politically sensitive moment when Senate Republicans are struggling to craft their own health-care legislation.

As lawmakers head off for their July 4 recess, conservative Republicans on Friday revived a proposal to quickly repeal the 2010 health-care law and come up with a replacement later, a surprise move reflecting the fractured state of the Senate GOP and the frustration felt by some conservatives about the pace of the Republican health push. The initiative, quickly seized on by President Donald Trump, renewed an idea that earlier had been discarded as politically and practically unworkable, and some Republicans on Capitol Hill said the idea was unlikely to get sufficient support this time either.

The repeal-first approach reopens an old skirmish between Republican centrists and conservatives, whose disagreements over everything from the scope and timeline of an ACA repeal to the future of Medicaid and the nature of health insurance have hamstrung the party.

Now, lawmakers heading home for recess have another potential headache: the letters to consumers sent to comply with rules requiring insurers to give policyholders notice of at least 180 days, or about six months, before they pull out of a state’s individual insurance market. That puts the deadline in early July for a plan that runs until the end of December.

In many cases, planned withdrawals from certain ACA marketplaces by major insurers, including Aetna Inc., Humana Inc. and Anthem Inc., have been disclosed. But the letters may be the first affirmation for many consumers that their plans will end.

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Beijing’s Debt Dilemma – By Edoardo Campanella June 29, 2017

Why China’s Bubble Is a Threat to the Global Economy

China’s ballooning corporate debt remains the number one systemic risk to global economic recovery. If the bubble bursts, it will drag down the rest of the world while compromising Chinese Premier Xi Jinping’s grip on power ahead of the Chinese Communist Party congress late in the year. Beijing understands that the debt is hardly sustainable, so over the last two years it has engineered a sophisticated macroeconomic strategy to artificially boost factory prices, increase profits, and ease loan repayments for the most troubled companies. But as economist George Magnus put it, “you can’t resolve a debt problem peacefully.”

Chinese corporate debt is approaching dangerous levels by both historical and cross-country standards. At around 170 percent of GDP, China’s corporate debt rate is the highest in the world. Moreover, the so-called credit gap, which measures how fast credit is growing with respect to the economy, currently stands at 30 percent—well above the eight percent threshold that, in past crises, marked an imminent crash. Not surprisingly, Moody’s has recently downgraded China to A1 from Aa3 for the first time in thirty years. “Western rating agencies,” said a government-affiliated newspaper in response, “often look at China through a telescope.” In the eyes of Chinese bureaucrats, domestically financed debt, a high savings ratio, and healthy public finances should be enough to ward off financial risks.

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Mexican spy scandal escalates as study shows software targeted opposition – David Agren Friday 30 June 2017 08.36 EDT

Stickers with the image of the Mexican president, Enrique Peña Nieto, are stuck on columns outside the building of the attorney general’s office during a protest against alleged government spying.
Stickers with the image of the Mexican president, Enrique Peña Nieto, are stuck on columns outside the building of the attorney general’s office during a protest against alleged government spying. Photograph: Alfredo Estrella/AFP/Getty Images

The text messages seemed innocuous enough when they buzzed onto the smartphone of Roberto Gil, a senior member of Mexico’s opposition National Action Party.

“I wanted to share this report from [the Mexican newsweekly] Proceso where your name is mentioned,” said one.

“My husband just died. I’m sending you information about the wake,” read another.

“Do you see what the PRD [another opposition party] is saying about us? Take a look,” said the third message.

Each message carried a link, however, and once clicked they would have immediately allowed sophisticated spy software to infect his phone, tracking keystrokes, accessing contact lists and taking control of the phone’s cameras and microphone.

The spy software – known as Pegasus and made by the Israeli firm NSO Group – is only sold to governments, supposedly for use against terrorists and criminals. But an investigation by researchers at the University of Toronto revealed that it was deployed against Mexican anti-corruption crusaders, journalists investigating the president and activists pushing for a soda tax.

Now the spying scandal has escalated after researchers showed that the same software was used to target senior members of the rightwing PAN party.

Opposition politicians and civil society activists alike have reacted with outrage at the revelation that they had been targeted alongside the crime groups which have pushed violence in Mexico to its highest levels in 20 years.

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The Encryption Debate Should End Right Now – BRIAN BARRETT 06.30.17 07:00 AM

Amin Yusifov/Getty Images

When law enforcement argues it needs a “backdoor” into encryption services, the counterargument has typically been that it would be impossible to limit such access to one person or organization. If you leave a key under the doormat, a seminal 2015 paper argues, a burglar eventually finds it. And now recent events suggest an even simpler rebuttal: Why entrust a key to someone who gets robbed frequently?

This aptly describe US intelligence services of late. In March, WikiLeaks released nearly 9,000 documents exposing the CIA’s hacking arsenal. More so-called Vault 7 secrets trickled out as recently as this week. And then there’s the mysterious group or individual known as the Shadow Brokers, which began sharing purported NSA secrets last fall. April 14 marked its biggest drop yet, a suite of hacking tools that target Windows PCs and servers to devastating effect.

The fallout from the Shadow Brokers has proven more concrete than that of Vault 7; one of its leaked exploits, EternalBlue, facilitated last month’s WannaCry ransomware meltdown. A few weeks later, EternalBlue and two other pilfered NSA tools helped advance the spread of Petya, a ransomware outbreak that looks more and more like an act of cyberwar against Ukraine.

Petya would have caused damage absent EternalBlue, and the Vault 7 dump hasn’t yet resulted in a high-profile hack. But that all of this has fallen into public hands shifts the nature of the encryption debate from hypothetical concern that someone could reverse-engineer a backdoor, to acute awareness that someone could just steal it. In fact, it should end any debate all together.

“The government asking for backdoor access to our assets is ridiculous,” says Jake Williams, founder of Rendition Infosec, “if they can’t first secure their own classified hacking tools.”

If you think about the encryption debate at all, it’s likely in the context of the 2016 showdown between the FBI and Apple. The former wanted access to San Bernardino shooter Syed Rizwan Farook’s locked iPhone; the latter argued that writing special code to break its own security measures would set a dangerous precedent.

That case ended in something like a draw. The FBI paid an outside company to break into the iPhone, quitting the court case before either side got a definitive ruling.

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