VW to Meet With Regulators as Patience Frays – WSJ

BN-LI661_VWCRIS_J_20151118172033Volkswagen is meeting with U.S. regulators this week amid a contentious relationship with them and their European counterparts who will determine the penalties for its cheating on emissions.

As Volkswagen AG faces a Friday deadline for proposing how it will fix nearly half a million cars tainted by illegal software, the German auto giant is grappling with a contentious relationship with regulators in the U.S. and Europe who will determine the penalties for its emissions cheating.

Two months after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency disclosed that Volkswagen deceived diesel emissions testers for years and later falsely claimed technical problems when challenged, the details of how and why Volkswagen cheated, who was responsible and how it plans to fix affected cars are still largely unclear.

Volkswagen is set to discuss initial recall plans in meetings Thursday and Friday with U.S. and California regulators, an EPA spokeswoman said. On Friday, the company also is expected to provide details of deep spending cuts.

Source: VW to Meet With Regulators as Patience Frays – WSJ

The case for banning smoking indoors — even in your home – Updated by German Lopez on November 12, 2015, 4:10 p.m. ET

Eric Feferberg/AFP via Getty Images

On Wednesday, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development announced it will ban smoking in all of the nation’s 1.2 million public housing units. HUD Secretary Julián Castro said his main concern is cutting down on the dangers of secondhand smoke: “We have a responsibility to protect public housing residents from the harmful effects of secondhand smoke, especially the elderly and children who suffer from asthma and other respiratory diseases.”

One major problem with this policy is it seems to single out low-income people for a problem that is universal — secondhand smoke can kill anyone who’s around it. While HUD’s jurisdiction is limited to public housing, the criticism is fair.

But there’s an easy solution to that: Indoor smoking should be banned everywhere — inside bars, restaurants, your home. Full stop. Smoking remains an enormous public health problem, and smoking bans actually do work to curtail the detrimental effects of one of the world’s most dangerous habits.

Secondhand smoke kills more people than car crashes or gun violence

Although it gets considerably less press than it previously did, smoking remains a huge threat to public health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s most recent data, smoking kills 480,000 people each year. Secondhand smoke alone kills nearly 42,000 people. To put that in perspective, that’s around 8,000 more people than die to either car crashes or gun violence.

So we’re clearly dealing with a major public health crisis. And the research shows that smoking bans can help, particularly with eliminating exposure to secondhand smoke.

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7 times John Oliver perfectly captured what’s wrong with America — and triggered real reform – ADAM JOHNSON, ALTERNET SATURDAY, NOV 7, 2015 04:00 AM PST

The HBO host has accomplished what Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert never could. Here are a few of his best segments

7 times John Oliver perfectly captured what's wrong with America -- and triggered real reform
This article originally appeared on AlterNet.

AlterNetJohn Oliver’s “This Week Tonight” is far and away the most refreshing thing on late-night TV. While other shows center around round-table chats and celebrity interviews, Oliver uses his massive platform to highlight overlooked but important political issues. Recently, he told CBS that his focus was “absurd public policies.”

By highlighting the absurdities of American institutions, he milks the injustice for a laugh while drawing the attention of millions of viewers to the issue. It’s a brilliant combination that, when it fires on all cylinders, makes for great comedy and sometimes even triggers reforms.

Here are his seven best segments.

1. Net Neutrality 

Arguably Oliver’s breakout hit, this segment masterfully dissected the knotty issue of net neutrality and its effect on free speech. Oliver explained why creating a two-tiered Internet was unfair, and even recruited the Internet’s “vile commenters” to spam the FCC’s website, which was taking public comment at the time. As a result, the website crashed and FCC Chair Tom Wheeler had to hilariously insist to the public that he “wasn’t a dingo.”

2. Abusive Animal Agriculture Practices

Possibly the least sexy topic his show has ever covered, Oliver took on huge poultry processing corporations that exploit small farmers and work to gut legislation that regulates the industry and protects animal welfare. In one of the more clear-cut political wins, the segment actually resulted in a pro-industry rider being left out of the Agriculture Appropriations Bill this summer for the first time in years. Several members of Congress cited Oliver’s segment for providing the political will to remedy the problem.

3. Bail System Exploits the Poor

America’s bail system is a two-tiered system where those who can afford to pay their bail go free and those who can’t are often forced to plead guilty or waste away in lockup before trial. Like many of the topics Oliver covers, it’s an injustice that exists largely due to inertia, despite being widely condemned as being unfair. One month after Oliver’s segment aired, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announcedthe city was reforming its bail system to lessen the burden on low-level offenders, allowing a judge to release up to 3,000 defendants awaiting trial. While there were certainly other factors at play, many pundits insisted Oliver’s segment helped bring the topic to the forefront of public debate.

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Why Gun Dealers Are Hardly Ever Subjected to Inspections – By Leon Neyfakh OCT. 30 2015 4:27 PM

A new report found that gun dealers tend to escape the oversight of law enforcement. Photo illustration by Juliana Jiménez. Photo by Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images.

A new report found that gun dealers tend to escape the oversight of law enforcement.
Photo illustration by Juliana Jiménez. Photo by Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images.

Guns end up in the hands of violent criminals in many ways, and one of the most frequently cited arguments against gun control is that people who intend to use guns to commit murder will be able to do so even if law-abiding citizens who want to buy guns for legitimate purposes are forced to jump through more hoops. But the fact is that many “crime guns” are originally purchased at federally licensed gun dealers, rather than acquired on the black market. And according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, a small handful of dealers—just 1.2 percent—are responsible for supplying more than half of them. To be clear, this doesn’t necessarily mean these dealers are knowingly colluding with criminals—lots of crime guns are bought by “straw purchasers,” who pass them on to traffickers and who are not always easy to identify—but it does suggest something’s not working.

An eye-opening report from the Trace—a new website that specializes in coverage of gun issues—reveals why these gun dealers tend to escape the oversight of law enforcement: Last year, just 7 percent of the 140,000 licensed gun dealers nationwide were subjected to ATF inspections.

According to the Trace, oversight rules prevent the ATF’s 780 inspectors from checking in with a given dealer more than once a year unless they have a warrant to do so. But in reality these inspections happen even less frequently than that: Though the ATF has set a goal of making sure that every dealer in the country is inspected every three to five years, statistics show that in 2013, just 42 percent of gun dealers had been subjected to an inspection in the previous five years.

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SeaWorld plan to challenge killer whale breeding ban – BBC News October 17 2015

whale at seaworld

SeaWorld has said it plans to challenge a ruling banning the company from breeding captive killer whales.

The announcement comes a week after the California Coastal Commission backed a $100m (£64.8m) expansion of SeaWorld’s orca tanks in San Diego.

However, the enclosure improvements also outlined a series of restrictions, including a ban on breeding the whales.

SeaWorld said it would “pursue legal action” over the ruling.

killer whale plansSeaWorld’s Blue World expansion plan would triple the size of existing killer whale enclosures

Company President Joel Manby said: “The Coastal Commission went way beyond its jurisdiction and authority when it banned breeding by killer whales at SeaWorld.

“It simply defies common sense that a straightforward land-use permit approval would turn into a ban on animal husbandry practices.

“To say that this is a dubious decision with no legal basis is an understatement, which is why we must and will challenge the Commission’s decision.”

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Robert Reich: Bernie gets it. Hillary is only inviting more corruption – ROBERT REICH TUESDAY, OCT 13, 2015 01:00 AM PDT

The former secretary of labor says Clinton is deluding herself if she believes oversight alone can fix Wall Street

Robert Reich: Bernie gets it. Hillary is only inviting more corruption

This originally appeared on Robert Reich’s blog.

Giant Wall Street banks continue to threaten the wellbeing of millions of Americans, but what to do?

Bernie Sanders says break them up and resurrect the Glass-Steagall Act that once separated investment from commercial banking.

Hillary Clinton says charge them a bit more and oversee them more carefully.

Most Republicans say don’t worry.

Clearly, there’s reason to worry. Back in 2000, before they almost ruined the economy and had to be bailed out, the five biggest banks on Wall Street held 25 percent of the nation’s banking assets. Now they hold more than 45 percent.

Their huge size fuels further growth because they’ll be bailed out if they get into trouble again.

This hidden federal guarantee against failure is estimated be worth over $80 billion a year to the big banks. In effect, it’s a subsidy from the rest of us to the bankers.


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California Enacts New Rules on Medical Marijuana, Growers Pretty Cool With It – By Beth Ethier OCT. 10 2015 4:18 PM


Tim Blakeley, manager of Sunset Junction medical marijuana dispensary, fills a marijuana prescription on May 11, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

California has implemented a series of regulations aimed at one of the state’s booming agricultural products—medical marijuana—and far from balking at government interference, producers seem pleased that lawmakers are ready to treat them as a real industry.

The Los Angeles Times reports that three bills, creating a system of oversight for the production of marijuana for medical purposes, were signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday:

The new laws create a state Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation to issue and revoke licenses for the cultivation, storage and sale of cannabis and collect fees to pay for the agency’s work.

Cities and counties will also have the power to issue and revoke local permits, adopt tougher restrictions on dispensary operations and ask voters to approve taxes on marijuana growers and dispensaries to pay for local public safety expenses.

Currently, some cities and counties have ordinances allowing them to license and limit the number of dispensaries. The new laws preserve the ability of Los Angeles to prosecute businesses that violate rules set by voters in 2013.

The Sacramento Bee notes that while the governor’s approval was expected, since his office was heavily involved in drafting the bills, an unlikely coalition of support had sprung up among some of the state’s most powerful interests, from labor unions seeking worker protections to the head of the state association of police chiefs.

And the target of this regulatory intrusion, proprietors of marijuana businesses, have made it known that they don’t mind the new rules. One grower told the Los Angeles Times that, even though he’ll have to modify his plans for a new indoor cultivation facility in order to comply, he welcomed “this well-thought-out set of guidelines.”

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Untested drugs, secret sources: the controversy over executions rages on – Alan Yuhas in New York Thursday 1 October 2015 14.00 EDT

bottles of midazolam

Untested drugs from secret sources have given an Oklahoma prisoner at least 37 days more to live, as the governor ordered an inquiry into the legality of the drugs and again raised questions about the drugs’ origins.

What went wrong

About an hour before Richard Glossip’s scheduled execution on Wednesday, governor Mary Fallin issued a 37-day stay due to “last-minute questions” about “Oklahoma’s execution protocol and the chemicals used for lethal injection”. Prison officials intended to kill Glossip, a 52-year-old convicted murderer, with an injection cocktail of a sedative, paralytic and finally a drug to stop the heart.

Only one of the three drugs, the paralytic, is relatively uncontroversial. The sedative midazolam was involved in three prolonged and gruesome executions last year, including the killing of Oklahoma inmate Clayton Lockett, who writhed and groaned for more than 40 minutes after injections were administered. After Glossip and other inmates argued to the supreme court that the painkiller rendered execution unconstitutionally cruel, the justices decided 5-4 to allow the drug.

But the controversial drug in Glossip’s current case is the third chemical, potassium acetate, which Oklahoma acquired as a substitute for potassium chloride, the salt usually used to overload a human body with potassium and stop the heart. Justice Elena Kagan, who voted against allowing the sedative, noted last year that people have compared the experience of potassium chloride injection to “being burned alive from the inside”.


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Vox Sentences: Volkswagen made cars smart enough to cheat on emissions tests – by Dylan Matthews and Dara Lind.

The EPA busts Volkswagen; Donald Trump supporters can be scary; and the ethics of ad blockers.


When cars get too smart for their own good


  • A lot of news outlets reported this as a recall of 500,000 Volkswagen (and Audi) cars. The EPA is not recalling the cars yet, and they are fully safe to drive. But it’s hinting an official recall will come at some point in the next year.

    [Environmental Protection Agency]

  • In the first year Volkswagen Jettas were programmed with the illegal “defeat device,” the car manufacturer actually won a tax break for selling fuel-efficient cars.

    [NPR / Bill Chappell]

  • This isn’t the first time that car software has made vehicles harder to regulate. A decade ago, an issue with brakes on Toyotas rested in part on what one engineer called “spaghetti-like” code — code so complex that it was impossible to understand, much less maintain.

    [Safety Research & Strategies]

  • Arguably a bigger problem: The more software is integrated into cars, the more easily cars can be hacked remotely.

    [Vox / Timothy B. Lee]

Donald Trump indulges blatant bigotry. Again.

The Trump supporter in questionCNN

  • Last night, a Donald Trump supporter asked the GOP frontrunner, “We have a problem in this country, it’s called Muslims…We have training camps growing where they want to kill us. That’s my question: when can we get rid of ’em?”

    [Vox / Max Fisher]

  • Donald Trump’s response: “We’re gonna be looking at a lot of different things. And you know that a lot of people are saying that, and a lot of people are saying that bad things are happening out there. We’re going to be looking at that.”
  • Trump’s failure to challenge the assertion that President Obama is a foreign-born Muslim got the first wave of press. But Trump’s encouragement of a man’s desire to “get rid of” American Muslims is a far bigger sin.

    [Politico / Nick Gass]

  • Trump supporters have done some extremely ugly things over the course of this race. And Trump has not only failed to condemn them, this isn’t the first time he’s appeared to encourage them.

    [Vox / Dara Lind]

  • Immigration advocates are collecting a “Trump Hate Map” of harassment of Latinos by Trump supporters. Some of it is standard (if ugly) protester/counterprotester shouting — but it also includes instances of protesters being punched, spat on, and hair-pulled.

    [America’s Voice]

  • The Trump campaign attempted to clarify the candidate’s remarks about Islam by saying he was really talking about the need to protect Christian religious liberty. There was no mention of Christians or religious liberty in the exchange.

    [Mediaite / Josh Feldman]

  • Diverting the conversation to Christian is an increasingly common tactic, though — during the secondary GOP debate Wednesday, candidates responded to questions about the arrest of Ahmed Mohamed for bringing his clock to school by exclaiming that Christians were the “biggest victims” in America.

    [Vox / Max Fisher]

  • (In progressive Internet circles, this kind of derailing is known as playing the “oppression Olympics” and it’s generally seen as a petty and vindictive tactic.)

    [Geek Feminism Wiki]

  • Anyway, here is your explainer on the “Muslim training camps” meme the Trump supporter referenced, which turns out to be a surprisingly popular, Fox News-endorsed conspiracy theory.

    [Vox / Max Fisher]

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Nine Obama regulations to watch – By Lydia Wheeler – 09/06/15 02:31 PM EDT

The window is already closing on President Obama’s regulatory agenda, and agencies across the federal government are moving to crank out a slew of new rules before election year politics bring business in Washington to a virtual standstill.

Obama has made no bones about using the power of his office to accomplish his policy goals in lieu of congressional action, presiding over numerous controversial regulations in the energy, healthcare and financial sectors, among many others.

With more than a year left, the administration will continue to promulgate regulations until the clock runs out.

However, controversial rules in any administration tend to stall in election years. And proponents of stronger heath and safety protections fear that a GOP-controlled Congress could overturn rules issued at the tail end of the Obama administration, in the event that a Republican wins the White House next year.

They are instead hoping for a flurry of action this fall on regulations, many of which they see as long overdue.

Here are ten of the most highly anticipated rules likely to come down the pipeline in the remainder of 2015:

Tobacco: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is expected to finalize its tobacco “deeming rule” to regulate all tobacco products under the Tobacco Control Act, including electronic cigarettes and cigars.

Industry and advocacy groups have been pushing FDA to finalize the rule by the end of the summer, but with two weeks left in August all bets are now on September.

The agency has been slow from the start on issuing the rule, which would expand the FDA’s reach to a host of new products over which it has not previously asserted authority.
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