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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Hawaii Asks Federal Court For Clarification As Travel Ban Goes Into Effect – Richard Gonzales June 29, 20179:29 PM ET

Hawaii Attorney General Douglas Chin speaks at a news conference in Honolulu in March. His office has asked a federal court to review the Trump administration’s definition of close family, in the context of the travel ban.

Marco Garcia/AP

Shortly before President Trump’s travel and refugee ban took partial effect Thursday evening, the state of Hawaii asked a federal court to clarify the scope of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on the president’s executive order.

The emergency motion filed in federal court in Honolulu is, in effect, a challenge to the Trump administration’s definition of who can be excluded from the U.S.

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court let the Trump travel ban to go into effect for 90 days, but it allowed people with “close familial relationships” with someone in the United States to enter.

That raised the question: what constitutes a close family relationship?

In a statement, the attorney general of Hawaii, Douglas Chin, said his state asks for clarification “that the federal government may not enforce the controversial bans against fiances, grandparents, grandchildren, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and cousins of people currently living in the United States.”

The Trump administration earlier had told U.S. embassies and consulates around the globe that grandparents would not be considered “close family” eligible for entry. Nieces and nephews wouldn’t make the cut either, but step-siblings and half-siblings would.

In a teleconference briefing held in Washington D.C., a senior administration official said family relationships would be defined to include parents, spouses, children, adult sons or daughters, sons- and daughters-in-laws, and siblings. Another official said that definition of family is based on the Immigration and Nationality Act “and also what we saw in the Supreme Court decision.”

In an announcement late Thursday, the U.S. State Department included fiances among those who would be allowed entry.

U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson is considering Hawaii’s filing.


Solar Moves in a Curious Direction Since POTUS Quit Paris Deal: Up – By Joe Ryan and Brian Eckhouse June 30, 2017, 2:00 AM PDT

State policies and equipment prices are driving up shares.

In the month since President Donald Trump vowed to withdraw from the Paris climate accord, shares of U.S. solar companies have taken a curious turn.

They’ve gone sharply up.

Sunrun Inc. and Vivint Solar Inc., the two largest independent U.S. rooftop panel installers, have embarked on their biggest rallies of the year since the president’s June 1 announcement. Sunrun is up 42 percent, closing Thursday at $7.27. Vivint has risen 86 percent, to $5.75. And SunPower Corp., the second-largest American panel manufacturer, has gained 19 percent, to $9.49.

The rally—which comes as oil and energy stocks at large have dipped—appears to have nothing to do with Paris. Rather, analysts say it’s fueled by the dynamics that typically drive clean-energy installations: state policies and equipment prices.

“There are certainly things that Trump and Congress can do to affect this industry in a significant way in the short run,” said Ethan Zindler, a Bloomberg New Energy Finance analyst. Paris, he added, isn’t on the list.

The rally began days after Trump’s announcement, as state lawmakers in Nevada began advancing legislation to make solar more affordable for homeowners. Nevada gets more sunshine than almost anywhere in the nation, but it’s been a dead-end market for solar since regulators slashed rooftop panel subsidies in 2015.

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The nation’s cartoonists on the week in politics – By POLITICO STAFF 06/30/2017 05:35 AM EDT


Every week political cartoonists throughout the country and across the political spectrum apply their ink-stained skills to capture the foibles, memes, hypocrisies and other head-slapping events in the world of politics. The fruits of these labors are hundreds of cartoons that entertain and enrage readers of all political stripes. Here’s an offering of the best of this week’s crop, picked fresh off the Toonosphere. Edited by Matt Wuerker.


These LED eyelashes are future fashion -by James Vincent Jun 30, 2017, 5:19am EDT

They’re called f.lashes and they’re incredible

Sometimes you see a product and you’re like “wow, that’s so futuristic.” Then you remember you’re living in 2017, 20 years after the date that a sentient AI wiped out most of humanity in the original Terminator movie, and you think: “Huh, maybe we’re living in the future already.” So it is with these amazing LED eyelashes.

They’re called f.lashes, and they’re the creation of designer Tien Pham, who first showed them off at Maker Faire earlier this year. Encouraged by the reaction he received, Pham has now launched a Kickstarter to make his wearable electronics into a commercial product, and has already attracted more than double his $40,000 target.

F.lashes are tiny strips of LEDs that you stick to your eyelids with lash adhesive. There’s an annoying, bulky controller and a connecting wire you have to hide somewhere (best bet: in your hair) but once that’s in place, the effect is amazing. The f.lashes come in seven different colors, and light up in various patterns in response to your movements.

It’s a neat product, but not quite ready for the mainstream. (That wire is going to annoy too many people.) Expect to see it at clubs and festivals first, places where taking a little more time to get dressed up is par for the course, and then, when future iterations drop the wire, we hope they’ll go mainstream. Then, in another 20 years time, they’ll be retro.

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