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Environmental Scientist

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Friday TOON Roundup 1 - Middle East


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France to force big supermarkets to give away unsold food to charity

France’s parliament has pledged to crack down on a national epidemic of food waste by passing a law banning supermarkets destroying unsold food, instead obliging them to give it to charities or put it to other uses such as animal feed.

The national assembly voted unanimously on Thursday evening in favour of the measure, proposed by the Socialist deputy Guillaume Garot, a former food minister. “It’s scandalous to see bleach being poured into supermarket dustbins along with edible foods,” he said.

The new law explicitly bans the practice of supermarkets deliberately spoiling unsold food so it cannot be eaten. Bigger supermarkets – those with a footprint of 400 sq m or more – will be obliged to sign formal contracts with charities over the new measures by July next year, or face penalties including fines of up to €75,000 (£53,000) or two years in jail.

The measures are part of wider official efforts to halve the amount of food waste in the country by 2025. According to official estimates, the average French person throws out between 20-30kg of food a year, at a combined national cost of up to €20bn.


Israel's new deputy foreign minister: 'This land is ours. All of it is ours'

Israel’s new deputy foreign minister on Thursday delivered a defiant message to the international community, saying that Israel owes no apologies for its policies in the Holy Land and citing religious texts to back her belief that it belongs to the Jewish people.

The speech by Tzipi Hotovely illustrated the influence of hardliners in Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s new government, and the challenges he will face as he tries to persuade the world that he is serious about pursuing peace with the Palestinians.

Hotovely, 36, is among a generation of young hardliners in Netanyahu’s Likud party who support West Bank settlement construction and oppose ceding captured land to the Palestinians. Since Netanyahu has a slim one-seat majority in parliament, these lawmakers could complicate any attempt to revive peace talks.

With Netanyahu also serving as the acting foreign minister, Hotovely is currently the country’s top full-time diplomat.



1776: The Revolt Against Austerity

Was the Declaration of Independence a powerful indictment of British austerity policies? Does America’s founding document need to be seen as part of an economic debate about the British Empire? These questions may seem jarring, almost anachronistic. But eighteenth-century political argument, like that of our own day, often revolved around responses to fiscal crisis. Just as political debates in Britain and the United States today turn in large part on the response to the great recession of 2008, so the events that made the United States were shaped by the British imperial government’s reaction to the debt crisis of the 1760s. What made the Declaration so offensive to British politicians then, and what makes it highly relevant to Europeans and Americans today, is that America’s founders offered a blueprint for a different kind of state response to fiscal crisis.
The controversy over austerity in the British Empire had a long history. Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, European governments borrowed huge sums of money to finance their various state-building projects, with Britain setting the pace. These governments faced huge debts with uncertain means of repayment. Until George III’s accession to the throne in 1760, the British government had supported the economic development of the colonies, spending generously on infrastructure and subsidizing the immigration of many politically and religiously persecuted groups to North America. As recently as the 1730s the British state had subsidized the peopling of the new province of Georgia with immigrants from the Scottish Highlands and all across Europe. William Pitt continued these stimulus policies during his joint ministry with the duke of Newcastle in the late 1750s. Pitt, who believed that British imperial prosperity was intimately related to demographic and economic growth in America, refused to tax the colonies during the enormously expensive Seven Years War (also known as the French and Indian War) that began in the mid-1750s. Along with Newcastle, he drew up plans to populate newly conquered territories from Canada to Cuba, and supported bounties that would help the colonies develop new products for export to American and European markets.

By 1763, however, Britain’s national debt had risen to £122 million, or over 150 percent of the Gross Domestic Product, and in the face of growing resistance to high taxes in Britain itself, the British government abruptly changed course. George III’s new ministers blamed the escalating debt and the punishing level of British taxation on Pitt’s aggressive global foreign policy and his unwillingness to have the colonies pay directly for the war effort. George III’s ministers were determined to end what they perceived as economic redistribution to the colonies at the expense of wealthy English landowners and the government itself. Instead of subsidizing immigrants, George III’s Prime Minister George Grenville announced the Proclamation Line of 1763, designed to limit the demographic expansion of the North American colonies. Instead of encouraging the colonies to trade with Spanish America, the ministry instructed the Royal Navy to prohibit any intercolonial trade. Rather than lowering customs duties in order to encourage commercial activity, the ministry passed the 1763 Hovering Act, which made it easier to enforce existing customs regulations. Instead of allowing the colonies to bet on future growth by printing paper money, Grenville passed the Currency Act of 1764, which forbade the colonies to emit any new currency. Finally, in 1765, Grenville ushered the American Stamp Act through the House of Commons, a measure that was designed in part to restrict the colonial land market.

These changes were shocking and dramatic. Americans and their British allies interpreted this austerity program as a complete reversal of British imperial economic policy. By the middle of the 1760s, many Americans and Britons were certain that Grenville’s measures had led to widespread economic hardship. The Bristol merchant Richard Champion thought that the measures had struck “very fatal blows … at the commerce of the Empire.” The wealthy Boston merchant, and prominent signatory of the Declaration, John Hancock thought the new policies “very cruel” and would soon make the Americans “a gone people.” Contemporaries believed that British manufacturing exports to America had declined by three-quarters. Most Americans were certain that the multifaceted economic contraction of 1764-1769 had everything to do with Grenville’s austerity, which the American founders described as a “history of repeated injuries and usurpations.”



Sanders Statement on Senate Vote on Job-Killing Trade Bill

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) issued the following statement today after the Senate voted to advance a bill that would grant President Barack Obama accelerated power to complete a massive trade accord with 11 other Pacific Rim nations:

“The Senate just put the interests of powerful multi-national corporations, drug companies and Wall Street ahead of the needs of American workers. If this disastrous trade agreement is approved, it will throw Americans out of work while companies continue moving operations and good-paying jobs to low-wage countries overseas.

“Bad trade deals like the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership are a major reason for the collapse of the American middle class and the increase in wealth and income inequality in the United States. This agreement, like bad trade deals before it, would force American workers to compete with desperate workers around the world – including workers in Vietnam where the minimum wage is 56-cents an hour.

“Trade agreements should not just work for corporate America, Wall Street and the pharmaceutical industry. They have got to benefit the working families of our country,” Sanders said. “We must defeat fast track and develop a new policy on trade.”


I am just an average Indian mom—and I want to find a husband for my son


Padma Iyer

I am a mother of a child who happens to be gay. He is 36, charming and full of life and heart.

I had failed as a mother considering that my child was abused sexually for 11 years, and I couldn’t read the signs or handle his trauma. But since then I have grown up to understand his specific needs and desires. I have been beside him for all these years.

When he opened up to me about his sexuality, I decided to come clean of my own prejudices. I learnt about homosexuality and slowly but steadily came out of my proverbial closet to embrace his sexuality. Nothing seemed to matter after that.

Being gay in India—or in any part of the world—is not easy given the intolerant mindset of the society. And I know that my son cannot take care of himself when he is all alone. He is absolutely absent-minded. So it worries me that after I am gone there would be nobody to look after him.


The octopus can see with its skin

Octopuses are well known for changing the colour, patterning, and texture of their skin to blend into their surroundings and send signals to each other, an ability that makes them both the envy of, and inspiration for, army engineers trying to develop cloaking devices. As if that wasn’t already impressive enough, research published today in the Journal of Experimental Biology shows that octopus skin contains the pigment proteins found in eyes, making it responsive to light.

These clever cephalopods can change colour thanks to specialised cells called chromatophores, which are packed in their thousands just beneath the skin surface. Each of these cells contains an elastic sac of pigmented granules surrounded by a ring of muscle, which relax or contract when commanded by nerves extending directly from the brain, making the colour inside more or less visible.

Octopuses are thought to rely mainly on vision to bring about these colour changes. Despite apparently being colour blind, they use their eyes to detect the colour of their surroundings, then relax or contract their chromatophores appropriately, which assume one of three basic pattern templates to camouflage them, all within a fraction of a second. Experiments performed in the 1960s showed that chromatophores respond to light, suggesting that they can be controlled without input from the brain, but nobody had followed this up until now.

Evolutionary biologists Desmond Ramirez and Todd Oakley of the University of California, Santa Barbara therefore removed patches of skin from 11 hatchling and adult bimac octopuses (Octopus bimaculoides), mounted them onto Petri dishes with insect pins, and used light emitting diodes to shine light of different wavelengths onto the skin preparations. They noticed that the chromatophores expanded quickly, and remained expanded, pulsating rhythmically, when exposed to continuous bright white light. By contrast, red light caused slow, rhythmic muscle contractions, but not chromatophore expansion.



DEA Agents Ran New Jersey’s Sleaziest Strip Club

SOUTH HACKENSACK, New Jersey—Nobody was ordering the special: ribeye steak with mashed potatoes and vegetables. Maybe that’s because the night was still young at the Twins Go-Go Lounge. So were the bikini-clad babes tangled around the two brass poles.

The stage was neon lit. The stereo system was firing mortar rounds of hip-hop interspersed with Kid Rock numbers. This was Wednesday night at the place that had been exposed only hours earlier in a Manhattan federal courtroom as a secret Eden for two federal officers.

Once Drug Enforcement Agency employees Glen Glover and David Polos appeared before a judge, the damning charges against them were spelled out: how they both allegedly failed to mention under oath to the federal government that they had any part as owners and managers of this seedy jiggle joint; how they employed women who were not legally permitted to work in the United States; how these women performed sex acts in exchange for money at the club.

One DEA source told The Daily Beast on the condition of anonymity that the incident is a slap in the face for the agency. “It shouldn’t have been done, and as an agent I’m pissed,” the source said. “Sometimes good people screw up and do stupid things.”



The quest for status

Disproportionate wage ratios are nothing new in business, but the potential increase in worker resentment toward those receiving a much higher wage is causing diminished morale

“Over 99 percent of all the new income generated goes to the top one percent.” This is how Bernie Sanders, an independent senator from Vermont, began his assault on the issue of income inequality during a speech he delivered at the Brooking’s Institute earlier this year. He continued his tirade, providing examples designed to communicate the severity and scale of the rich-poor divide. He explained how the top 25 hedge managers made more than $24bn in 2013 and that this figure is equivalent to the full salaries of over 425,000 public school teachers, posing the question: “Is that really what our country should be about?”

Some political commentators will contend that Sanders is only using such powerful rhetoric because he knows that it resonates with voters, with many people thinking and hoping that the senator will throw his hat in the ring for the 2016 presidential race. But regardless of his intentions, the man from Vermont still puts forward some ideas worth pondering – mainly, if it is morally, socially and economically justifiable to continue to live in such an unequal world.

Justifying inequality

In the 1960s, the late Peter Drucker warned that CEO-to-worker pay should not exceed a ratio larger than 20:1, as it would increase employee resentment and lead to a decrease in overall morale among ordinary workers. The French economist, Thomas Piketty, in his book Capital in the Twenty-First Century, coined the term ‘meritocratic extremism’, which he used to describe the doctrine that extravagant pay – which now far exceeds what Drucker advised – is justified by the merit of performance.

But in Will Hutton’s book, How Good We Can Be, the British political economist contends that the huge salaries afforded to CEOs, “have almost nothing to do with carefully calibrated performance and everything to do with the attempts of CEOs and boards to keep up with each other in a status race substantially influenced by social and psychological rather than economic concerns”.


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