Sep 30, 2015

Exclusive: UN ignores science council warnings in creating vast Sustainable Development Goals | Fox News

Exclusive: UN ignores science council warnings in creating vast Sustainable Development Goals | Fox News

Sep 25, 2015

Destined for War: Can China and the United States Escape Thucydides’s Trap? - The Atlantic

When Barack Obama meets this week with Xi Jinping during the Chinese president’s first state visit to America, one item probably won’t be on their agenda: the possibility that the United States and China could find themselves at war in the next decade. In policy circles, this appears as unlikely as it would be unwise.

And yet 100 years on, World War I offers a sobering reminder of man’s capacity for folly. When we say that war is “inconceivable,” is this a statement about what is possible in the world—or only about what our limited minds can conceive? In 1914, few could imagine slaughter on a scale that demanded a new category: world war. When war ended four years later, Europe lay in ruins: the kaiser gone, the Austro-Hungarian Empire dissolved, the Russian tsar overthrown by the Bolsheviks, France bled for a generation, and England shorn of its youth and treasure. A millennium in which Europe had been the political center of the world came to a crashing halt.

The defining question about global order for this generation is whether China and the United States can escape Thucydides’s Trap. The Greek historian’s metaphor reminds us of the attendant dangers when a rising power rivals a ruling power—as Athens challenged Sparta in ancient Greece, or as Germany did Britain a century ago. Most such contests have ended badly, often for both nations, a team of mine at the Harvard Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs has concluded after analyzing the historical record. In 12 of 16 cases over the past 500 years, the result was war. When the parties avoided war, it required huge, painful adjustments in attitudes and actions on the part not just of the challenger but also the challenged.

The World According to Chinese President Xi Jinping

Based on the current trajectory, war between the United States and China in the decades ahead is not just possible, but much more likely than recognized at the moment. Indeed, judging by the historical record, war is more likely than not. Moreover, current underestimations and misapprehensions of the hazards inherent in the U.S.-China relationship contribute greatly to those hazards. A risk associated with Thucydides’s Trap is that business as usual—not just an unexpected, extraordinary event—can trigger large-scale conflict. When a rising power is threatening to displace a ruling power, standard crises that would otherwise be contained, like the assassination of an archduke in 1914, can initiate a cascade of reactions that, in turn, produce outcomes none of the parties would otherwise have chosen.

War, however, is not inevitable. Four of the 16 cases in our review did not end in bloodshed. Those successes, as well as the failures, offer pertinent lessons for today’s world leaders. Escaping the Trap requires tremendous effort. As Xi Jinping himself said during a visit to Seattle on Tuesday, “There is no such thing as the so-called Thucydides Trap in the world. But should major countries time and again make the mistakes of strategic miscalculation, they might create such traps for themselves.”

* * *

More than 2,400 years ago, the Athenian historian Thucydides offered a powerful insight: “It was the rise of Athens, and the fear that this inspired in Sparta, that made war inevitable.” Others identified an array of contributing causes of the Peloponnesian War. But Thucydides went to the heart of the matter, focusing on the inexorable, structural stress caused by a rapid shift in the balance of power between two rivals. Note that Thucydides identified two key drivers of this dynamic: the rising power’s growing entitlement, sense of its importance, and demand for greater say and sway, on the one hand, and the fear, insecurity, and determination to defend the status quo this engenders in the established power, on the other.

In the case about which he wrote in the fifth century B.C., Athens had emerged over a half century as a steeple of civilization, yielding advances in philosophy, history, drama, architecture, democracy, and naval prowess. This shocked Sparta, which for a century had been the leading land power on the Peloponnese peninsula. As Thucydides saw it, Athens’s position was understandable. As its clout grew, so too did its self-confidence, its consciousness of past injustices, its sensitivity to instances of disrespect, and its insistence that previous arrangements be revised to reflect new realities of power. It was also natural, Thucydides explained, that Sparta interpreted the Athenian posture as unreasonable, ungrateful, and threatening to the system it had established—and within which Athens had flourished.

War between the U.S. and China is more likely than recognized at the moment. Indeed, judging by the historical record, war is more likely than not.
Thucydides chronicled objective changes in relative power, but he also focused on perceptions of change among the leaders of Athens and Sparta—and how this led each to strengthen alliances with other states in the hopes of counterbalancing the other. But entanglement runs both ways. (It was for this reason that George Washington famously cautioned America to beware of “entangling alliances.”) When conflict broke out between the second-tier city-states of Corinth and Corcyra (now Corfu), Sparta felt it necessary to come to Corinth’s defense, which left Athens little choice but to back its ally. The Peloponnesian War followed. When it ended 30 years later, Sparta was the nominal victor. But both states lay in ruin, leaving Greece vulnerable to the Persians.

* * *

Eight years before the outbreak of world war in Europe, Britain’s King Edward VII asked his prime minister why the British government was becoming so unfriendly to his nephew Kaiser Wilhelm II’s Germany, rather than keeping its eye on America, which he saw as the greater challenge. The prime minister instructed the Foreign Office’s chief Germany watcher, Eyre Crowe, to write a memo answering the king’s question. Crowe delivered his memorandum on New Year’s Day, 1907. The document is a gem in the annals of diplomacy.

The logic of Crowe’s analysis echoed Thucydides’s insight. And his central question, as paraphrased by Henry Kissinger in On China, was the following: Did increasing hostility between Britain and Germany stem more from German capabilities or German conduct? Crowe put it a bit differently: Did Germany’s pursuit of “political hegemony and maritime ascendancy” pose an existential threat to “the independence of her neighbours and ultimately the existence of England?”

The British Grand Fleet on its way to meet the Imperial German Navy’s fleet for the Battle of Jutland in 1916 (AP)
Crowe’s answer was unambiguous: Capability was key. As Germany’s economy surpassed Britain’s, Germany would not only develop the strongest army on the continent. It would soon also “build as powerful a navy as she can afford.” In other words, Kissinger writes, “once Germany achieved naval supremacy … this in itself—regardless of German intentions—would be an objective threat to Britain, and incompatible with the existence of the British Empire.”

Three years after reading that memo, Edward VII died. Attendees at his funeral included two “chief mourners”—Edward’s successor, George V, and Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm—along with Theodore Roosevelt representing the United States. At one point, Roosevelt (an avid student of naval power and leading champion of the buildup of the U.S. Navy) asked Wilhelm whether he would consider a moratorium in the German-British naval arms race. The kaiser replied that Germany was unalterably committed to having a powerful navy. But as he went on to explain, war between Germany and Britain was simply unthinkable, because “I was brought up in England, very largely; I feel myself partly an Englishman. Next to Germany I care more for England than for any other country.” And then with emphasis: “I ADORE ENGLAND!”

However unimaginable conflict seems, however catastrophic the potential consequences for all actors, however deep the cultural empathy among leaders, even blood relatives, and however economically interdependent states may be—none of these factors is sufficient to prevent war, in 1914 or today.

In fact, in 12 of 16 cases over the last 500 years in which there was a rapid shift in the relative power of a rising nation that threatened to displace a ruling state, the result was war. As the table below suggests, the struggle for mastery in Europe and Asia over the past half millennium offers a succession of variations on a common storyline.

Thucydides Case Studies

Harvard Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs
(For summaries of these 16 cases and the methodology for selecting them, and for a forum to register additions, subtractions, revisions, and disagreements with the cases, please visit the Harvard Belfer Center’s Thucydides Trap Case File. For this first phase of the project, we at the Belfer Center identified “ruling” and “rising” powers by following the judgments of leading historical accounts, resisting the temptation to offer original or idiosyncratic interpretations of events. These histories use “rise” and “rule” according to their conventional definitions, generally emphasizing rapid shifts in relative GDP and military strength. Most of the cases in this initial round of analysis come from post-Westphalian Europe.)

When a rising, revolutionary France challenged Britain’s dominance of the oceans and the balance of power on the European continent, Britain destroyed Napoleon Bonaparte’s fleet in 1805 and later sent troops to the continent to defeat his armies in Spain and at Waterloo. As Otto von Bismarck sought to unify a quarrelsome assortment of rising German states, war with their common adversary, France, proved an effective instrument to mobilize popular support for his mission. After the Meiji Restoration in 1868, a rapidly modernizing Japanese economy and military establishment challenged Chinese and Russian dominance of East Asia, resulting in wars with both from which Japan emerged as the leading power in the region.

The preeminent geostrategic challenge of this era is not violent Islamic extremists or a resurgent Russia. It is the impact of China’s ascendance.
Each case is, of course, unique. Ongoing debate about the causes of the First World War reminds us that each is subject to competing interpretations. The great international historian, Harvard’s Ernest May, taught that when attempting to reason from history, we should be as sensitive to the differences as to the similarities among cases we compare. (Indeed, in his Historical Reasoning 101 class, May would take a sheet of paper, draw a line down the middle of the page, label one column “Similar” and the other “Different,” and fill in the sheet with at least a half dozen of each.) Nonetheless, acknowledging many differences, Thucydides directs us to a powerful commonality.

* * *

The preeminent geostrategic challenge of this era is not violent Islamic extremists or a resurgent Russia. It is the impact that China’s ascendance will have on the U.S.-led international order, which has provided unprecedented great-power peace and prosperity for the past 70 years. As Singapore’s late leader, Lee Kuan Yew, observed, “the size of China’s displacement of the world balance is such that the world must find a new balance. It is not possible to pretend that this is just another big player. This is the biggest player in the history of the world.” Everyone knows about the rise of China. Few of us realize its magnitude. Never before in history has a nation risen so far, so fast, on so many dimensions of power. To paraphrase former Czech President Vaclav Havel, all this has happened so rapidly that we have not yet had time to be astonished.

My lecture on this topic at Harvard begins with a quiz that asks students to compare China and the United States in 1980 with their rankings today. The reader is invited to fill in the blanks.

Quiz: Fill in the Blanks

Harvard Belfer Center
The answers for the first column: In 1980, China had 10 percent of America’s GDP as measured by purchasing power parity; 7 percent of its GDP at current U.S.-dollar exchange rates; and 6 percent of its exports. The foreign currency held by China, meanwhile, was just one-sixth the size of America’s reserves. The answers for the second column: By 2014, those figures were 101 percent of GDP; 60 percent at U.S.-dollar exchange rates; and 106 percent of exports. China’s reserves today are 28 times larger than America’s.

In a single generation, a nation that did not appear on any of the international league tables has vaulted into the top ranks. In 1980, China’s economy was smaller than that of the Netherlands. Last year, the increment of growth in China’s GDP was roughly equal to the entire Dutch economy.

The second question in my quiz asks students: Could China become #1? In what year could China overtake the United States to become, say, the largest economy in the world, or primary engine of global growth, or biggest market for luxury goods?

Could China Become #1?

Trading nation:
Holder of U.S. debt:
Foreign-direct-investment destination:
Energy consumer:
Oil importer:
Carbon emitter:
Steel producer:
Auto market:
Smartphone market:
E-commerce market:
Luxury-goods market:
Internet user:
Fastest supercomputer:
Holder of foreign reserves:
Source of initial public offerings:
Primary engine of global growth:
Most are stunned to learn that on each of these 20 indicators, China has already surpassed the U.S.

Will China be able to sustain economic-growth rates several times those of the United States for another decade and beyond? If and as it does, are its current leaders serious about displacing the U.S. as the predominant power in Asia? Will China follow the path of Japan and Germany, and take its place as a responsible stakeholder in the international order that America has built over the past seven decades? The answer to these questions is obviously that no one knows.

But if anyone’s forecasts are worth heeding, it’s those of Lee Kuan Yew, the world’s premier China watcher and a mentor to Chinese leaders since Deng Xiaoping. Before his death in March, the founder of Singapore put the odds of China continuing to grow at several times U.S. rates for the next decade and beyond as “four chances in five.” On whether China’s leaders are serious about displacing the United States as the top power in Asia in the foreseeable future, Lee answered directly: “Of course. Why not … how could they not aspire to be number one in Asia and in time the world?” And about accepting its place in an international order designed and led by America, he said absolutely not: “China wants to be China and accepted as such—not as an honorary member of the West.”

* * *

Americans have a tendency to lecture others about why they should be “more like us.” In urging China to follow the lead of the United States, should we Americans be careful what we wish for?

As the United States emerged as the dominant power in the Western hemisphere in the 1890s, how did it behave? Future President Theodore Roosevelt personified a nation supremely confident that the 100 years ahead would be an American century. Over a decade that began in 1895 with the U.S. secretary of state declaring the United States “sovereign on this continent,” America liberated Cuba; threatened Britain and Germany with war to force them to accept American positions on disputes in Venezuela and Canada; backed an insurrection that split Colombia to create a new state of Panama (which immediately gave the U.S. concessions to build the Panama Canal); and attempted to overthrow the government of Mexico, which was supported by the United Kingdom and financed by London bankers. In the half century that followed, U.S. military forces intervened in “our hemisphere” on more than 30 separate occasions to settle economic or territorial disputes in terms favorable to Americans, or oust leaders they judged unacceptable.

Theodore Roosevelt with U.S. troops at the Panama Canal Zone in 1906 (Wikimedia)
For example, in 1902, when British and German ships attempted to impose a naval blockade to force Venezuela to pay its debts to them, Roosevelt warned both countries that he would “be obliged to interfere by force if necessary” if they did not withdraw their ships. The British and Germans were persuaded to retreat and to resolve their dispute in terms satisfactory to the U.S. at The Hague. The following year, when Colombia refused to lease the Panama Canal Zone to the United States, America sponsored Panamanian secessionists, recognized the new Panamanian government within hours of its declaration of independence, and sent the Marines to defend the new country. Roosevelt defended the U.S. intervention on the grounds that it was “justified in morals and therefore justified in law.” Shortly thereafter, Panama granted the United States rights to the Canal Zone “in perpetuity.”

* * *

When Deng Xiaoping initiated China’s fast march to the market in 1978, he announced a policy known as “hide and bide.” What China needed most abroad was stability and access to markets. The Chinese would thus “bide our time and hide our capabilities,” which Chinese military officers sometimes paraphrased as getting strong before getting even.

With the arrival of China’s new paramount leader, Xi Jinping, the era of “hide and bide” is over. Nearly three years into his 10-year term, Xi has stunned colleagues at home and China watchers abroad with the speed at which he has moved and the audacity of his ambitions. Domestically, he has bypassed rule by a seven-man standing committee and instead consolidated power in his own hands; ended flirtations with democratization by reasserting the Communist Party’s monopoly on political power; and attempted to transform China’s engine of growth from an export-focused economy to one driven by domestic consumption. Overseas, he has pursued a more active Chinese foreign policy that is increasingly assertive in advancing the country’s interests.

Never before in history has a nation risen so far, so fast. In 1980, China’s economy was smaller than the Netherlands’. Last year, the increment of growth in China’s GDP was equal to the Dutch economy.
While the Western press is seized by the storyline of “China’s economic slowdown,” few pause to note that China’s lower growth rate remains more than three times that of the United States. Many observers outside China have missed the great divergence between China’s economic performance and that of its competitors over the seven years since the financial crisis of 2008 and Great Recession. That shock caused virtually all other major economies to falter and decline. China never missed a year of growth, sustaining an average growth rate exceeding 8 percent. Indeed, since the financial crisis, nearly 40 percent of all growth in the global economy has occurred in just one country: China. The chart below illustrates China’s growth compared to growth among its peers in the BRICS group of emerging economies, advanced economies, and the world. From a common index of 100 in 2007, the divergence is dramatic.

GDP, 2007 — 2015

Harvard Belfer Center / IMF World Economic Outlook
Today, China has displaced the United States as the world’s largest economy measured in terms of the amount of goods and services a citizen can buy in his own country (purchasing power parity).

What Xi Jinping calls the “China Dream” expresses the deepest aspirations of hundreds of millions of Chinese, who wish to be not only rich but also powerful. At the core of China’s civilizational creed is the belief—or conceit—that China is the center of the universe. In the oft-repeated narrative, a century of Chinese weakness led to exploitation and national humiliation by Western colonialists and Japan. In Beijing’s view, China is now being restored to its rightful place, where its power commands recognition of and respect for China’s core interests.

A woodblock painting depicts the First Sino-Japanese War. (Toyohara Chikanobu / Wikimedia)
Last November, in a seminal meeting of the entire Chinese political and foreign-policy establishment, including the leadership of the People’s Liberation Army, Xi provided a comprehensive overview of his vision of China’s role in the world. The display of self-confidence bordered on hubris. Xi began by offering an essentially Hegelian conception of the major historical trends toward multipolarity (i.e. not U.S. unipolarity) and the transformation of the international system (i.e. not the current U.S.-led system). In his words, a rejuvenated Chinese nation will build a “new type of international relations” through a “protracted” struggle over the nature of the international order. In the end, he assured his audience that “the growing trend toward a multipolar world will not change.”

Given objective trends, realists see an irresistible force approaching an immovable object. They ask which is less likely: China demanding a lesser role in the East and South China Seas than the United States did in the Caribbean or Atlantic in the early 20th century, or the U.S. sharing with China the predominance in the Western Pacific that America has enjoyed since World War II?

And yet in four of the 16 cases that the Belfer Center team analyzed, similar rivalries did not end in war. If leaders in the United States and China let structural factors drive these two great nations to war, they will not be able to hide behind a cloak of inevitability. Those who don’t learn from past successes and failures to find a better way forward will have no one to blame but themselves.

Actors dressed as Red Army soldiers mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, in Beijing. (Kim Kyung-Hoon / Reuters)
At this point, the established script for discussion of policy challenges calls for a pivot to a new strategy (or at least slogan), with a short to-do list that promises peaceful and prosperous relations with China. Shoehorning this challenge into that template would demonstrate only one thing: a failure to understand the central point I’m trying to make. What strategists need most at the moment is not a new strategy, but a long pause for reflection. If the tectonic shift caused by China’s rise poses a challenge of genuinely Thucydidean proportions, declarations about “rebalancing,” or revitalizing “engage and hedge,” or presidential hopefuls’ calls for more “muscular” or “robust” variants of the same, amount to little more than aspirin treating cancer. Future historians will compare such assertions to the reveries of British, German, and Russian leaders as they sleepwalked into 1914.

The rise of a 5,000-year-old civilization with 1.3 billion people is not a problem to be fixed. It is a condition—a chronic condition that will have to be managed over a generation. Success will require not just a new slogan, more frequent summits of presidents, and additional meetings of departmental working groups. Managing this relationship without war will demand sustained attention, week by week, at the highest level in both countries. It will entail a depth of mutual understanding not seen since the Henry Kissinger-Zhou Enlai conversations in the 1970s. Most significantly, it will mean more radical changes in attitudes and actions, by leaders and publics alike, than anyone has yet imagined.

The latest big sexual assault survey is (like others) more hype than science - The Washington Post

“Survey: 1 in 5 women in college sexually assaulted.”
This headline, on The Washington Post’s long Sept. 21 article about a large survey of students at 27 public and private universities across the country college, is false.
Although the survey, by the Association of American Universities (AAU), was itself deliberately designed to exaggerate the number of sexual assaults on campus, even the AAU said that “estimates such as ‘1 in 5′ or ‘1 in 4′ as a global rate” across all universities is [sic] oversimplistic, if not misleading.”
This is not to suggest that The Post misrepresented the AAU survey’s findings any more than did most major news media. Such advocacy-laden surveys on campus sexual assault — and breathless media reports overstating their already exaggerated findings — have become the norm in this era of hysteria about the campus sexual assault problem.
The problem is no doubt serious, if shrinking. But it has been vastly exaggerated by the Obama administration, anti-rape activists, their media allies and universities pandering to them. It’s no surprise to see the AAU joining this chorus.
Below are three ways in which the 288-page AAU survey report is grossly misleading, as are others like it and the credulous media coverage of them all.
First, the extraordinarily low response rate of students asked to participate in the AAU survey — 19.3 percent — virtually guaranteed a vast exaggeration of the number of campus sexual assaults.
Even the AAU acknowledged that the 150,000 students who responded to the electronic questionnaire were more likely to be victims of sexual assault than the 650,000 who ignored it because “non-victims may have been less likely to participate.”
Start with the fact that 60 percent of the 150,000 students who responded were female, even though half of all students at the surveyed schools were male. Then ask yourself whether you would be more likely to take the time to respond to such a survey if you were a sexual assault victim or if you were not.
Then, to resolve any doubt that the respondents were far from representative of the nation’s college students, consider the facts buried in Tables 3-2 and 6-1 of the AAU survey.
These tables indicate that about 2.2 percent of female respondents said they had reported to their schools that they had been penetrated without consent (including rape) since entering college. If extrapolated to the roughly 10 million female college student population nationwide, this  would come to about 220,000 student reports to universities alleging forced sex over (to be conservative) five years, or about 44,000 reports per year.
But this would be almost nine times the total number of students (just over 5,000) who reported sexual assaults of any kind to their universities in 2013, the most recent data available, according to the reports that universities must submit to the federal government under the Clery Act.
People who experience some kind of incident without reporting it don’t affect the validity of this calculation because none of them (assuming honesty) would be among the 2.2 percent who told the researchers that they had reported to authorities, and all of the 2.2 percent should show up in the Clery Act submissions.
The AAU does not mention this devastating flaw in its methodology.
 The AAU also acknowledged that the huge differences in its estimates of sexual assault rates at the 27 schools — ranging from 13 to 30 percent — make it impossible to provide an accurate estimate even for those 27 schools as a group, let alone the more than 7,000 other colleges in the country.
Second, the AAU classified as sexual assault or misconduct a far broader range of behaviors than does the criminal law or common understanding, in order to get big numbers such as the claim that 23.7 percent of female respondents told researchers they had experienced “sexual assault and sexual misconduct due to physical force, threats of physical force, or incapacitation.”
A more reliable estimate came in 2014 from the Justice Department’s annual National Crime Victimization Survey: No more than 1 in 160 (0.6 percent) of college women per year — or 1 in 32 (3 percent) over five years — are sexually assaulted.
But the AAU, mimicking other agenda-driven surveys, asked respondents questions such as whether they had experienced “forced kissing,” unwanted sexual “touching” (which could include attempted close dancing while fully clothed), “promised rewards” for sex, threats to “share damaging information about you” with friends, and the like. Then the AAU counted every “yes” answer as a sexual assault (or “misconduct”).
In addition, about half of the students who were counted by the AAU as victims of sexual assault were so classified because they answered yes when asked whether anyone had penetrated or sexually touched them when “you were passed out, asleep, or incapacitated by drugs or alcohol” — which could be seen as including moderate intoxication.
Worse, the AAU also tallied as victims all respondents who said yes when asked whether anyone had sexually touched them “without your active, ongoing voluntary agreement” — for example, attempting more intimate contact “while you were still deciding.”
No criminal law in America requires such “affirmative consent” to make sex lawful, although some (not all) universities have recently moved in that direction.
To borrow from an admission buried in The Post’s huge package of articles in June about a very similar Post-Kaiser poll, the effect of the AAU survey questions was to paint a “dramatically” more dire picture than would questions using “terms like sexual assault and rape” — which the AAU studiously avoided.
Third, a red flag should go up for any reporter or other reader who notices the AAU’s acknowledgment that — for the vast majorities of poll respondents who said they had not reported to campus authorities the events that the AAU classified as sexual assaults — “the dominant reason was it was not considered serious enough,” (emphasis added).
 More astonishing still, 75 percent of respondents who told researchers that they had been “penetrated using physical force” said they had never reported this to authorities — and 58.6 percent of that 75 percent said they “did not consider it serious enough” to report.
This most plausible explanation is that most of those classified by the survey as “victims” of sexual assault or rape did not really think that they had been sexually assaulted.

Sep 24, 2015

VW scandal: How four university students destroyed a company

THE Volkswagen Group is the world’s largest automaker but four university researchers may have brought it to the edge of collapse.
It was publicly revealed last week that the company had fudged emissions tests using cheat software on diesel powered cars under its three mainstream brands, Volkwagen, Audi and Skoda.
The result? $41.5 billion wiped from the company’s value, up to $25 billion in penalties from the US alone, on top of the costs to recall and fix 11 million cars worldwide.
The revelations have already claimed the career of the Volkswagen Group’s CEO Martin Winterkorn who this morning stepped down. More high profile executives are expected to be sacked or step down in the near future, while the whole German economy is about to take a huge hit.
It all started with a road trip.
In the Autumn of 2014, researchers from the West Virginia University in America were given a grant to do the first ever evaluation of the tailpipe emissions of diesel cars in America made by European manufacturers. The team consisted of two university professors, Gregory Thompson and Dan Carder as well as two students, Marc Besch and Arvind Thiruvengadam. All four were over the moon that they were able to study vehicles, with the aim to collect as much data as technically possible. Little did they know, they were about to unearth the biggest cover-up in automotive history.
The device they used to test the car.
The device they used to test the car.Source:
They tested three cars: a BMW X5, Volkswagen Jetta and Volkswagen Passat, while travelling over 2400kms on each car to get their results.
After driving from Los Angeles to Seattle and back they noticed something odd about their Passat. Going by Volkswagen’s claims, it should easily have let out the least amount of pollution between those three cars — it had a more modern catalytic reduction system which is meant to convert toxic fumes into safer ones — but that wasn’t the case. The nitrogen oxide that came out of the Passat was in fact 20 times more than the baseline levels permitted by the California Air Resources Board.
The Volkswagen Passat was one of the vehicles tested.
The Volkswagen Passat was one of the vehicles tested.Source:Supplied
The team was puzzled. There was no way it could be wrong. They triple-checked the accuracy of their equipment after the Volkswagen Jetta they tested showed readings 30 times more than the claimed pollution rating.
The BMW, though, gave off the exact results they expected.
At the time, the team had no idea why the cars were emitting so much pollution, assuming Volkswagen had reached some kind of deal with the EPA.
“It wasn’t that we tested three vehicles and brought down a corporation. Three vehicles is a very, very small subset of a half-million vehicles, so it was more that we had a role, the data we collected spoke for itself and CARB and EPA did their due diligence. We didn’t point and say, ‘Volkswagen has a defeat device’,” Thiruvengadam told Autoblog.
However, a few months later at a 2014 conference in San Diego, they presented their research to an audience that just happened to have several EPA officials in it. The officials immediately started an investigation after talking to the researchers and their funders from the International Council on Clean Transportation.
When the EPA confronted Volkswagen, the company blamed “various technical issues” for the results but still voluntarily recalled nearly 500,000 cars in December last year to issue a software patch. It didn’t fix it, and the EPA was starting to get frustrated and investigated further.
Eventually they found software called “the switch” which tracks the position of the steering wheel, vehicle speed, how long the engine is on, and air pressure to determine if it is being subjected to an emissions exam.
Finally, on September 3 2015, the EPA presented mountains of evidence to Volkswagen and forced them to confess the vehicles were loaded with software to cheat on emissions testing.
To understand this, you have to understand that there are two types of combustion engines in our cars. These run on either unleaded petrol or diesel, with both having their advantages.
The engine type causing problems here is diesel. Diesel engines have been hugely popular in Europe and Australia, especially with recent high unleaded petrol prices due to diesel’s much better fuel economy. Diesel fuel contains much more energy per litre than a standard litre of petrol, which, combined with the efficiency of diesel engines, allows modern cars to get over 1000kms of highway driving off just one tank of fuel. It also emits fewer carbon-dioxide emissions than standard petrol.
Sounds amazing, right? Yes, until you realise there’s a huge catch — diesel engines emit a large amount of nitrogen oxides (NOx) which can cause serious health problems and form a large amount of smog.
More efficient — but at what cost?
More efficient — but at what cost?Source:AFP
In the past, Europe has been quite loose on its regulations, resulting in around one-third of European cars running on diesel, however it’s also the reason why big cities such as Paris and London have smog problems. In fact, almost 29,000 people die each year in the UK due to air pollution.
But in 2009 two things happened that would make diesel appealing in the USA.
Increasingly, drivers wanted to get better fuel economy, while at the same time diesel technology had supposedly become cleaner. Companies such as Volkswagen took advantage of this to break into the huge US market, offering “clean diesel” cars that theoretically offered great fuel economy without giving off too much poisonous NOx.
There was just one problem — their cars couldn’t actually do that.
The car maker cheated by installing software that could detect when its emissions were being tested and turned pollution controls on. The rest of the time, the controls were turned off. They could have kept these controls on the entire time, but it would have defeated the purpose of a diesel engine and deliver lesser performance.
Everything Volkswagen did in the USA was hugely illegal, so they will have to face the consequences. In the US alone, it’s expected that up to $25 billion in fines will be dealt for all the diesel vehicles sold there since 2009. It would also be very surprising not to see other countries with stricter emissions standards slap fines on Volkswagen, too.
For Australians, there is no word yet as to whether the scandal will hit home, although experts have told News Corp Australia as many as 50,000 diesel Volkswagens could be affected. This could jump even more when you include the group’s other brands — Audi and Skoda.
It’s not just Australia’s emissions standards that Volkswagen needs to worry about either. The ACCC today announced that they would be investigating whether the company misled customers with their “clean diesel” claims also.
Martin Winterkorn has already stepped down from his position of CEO.
Martin Winterkorn has already stepped down from his position of CEO.Source:AP
On top of giant fines, the company has set aside a staggering $10 billion for rectification work and compensation claims, but that figure could rise and economic experts warn the catastrophe could be bigger than Greece. In total, it may cost the company $77 billion.
The Volkswagen Group is Germany’s biggest employer, with 270,000 people directly employed, but up to a million people in the Germany auto-industry could be affected.

Bill Gross says US savers being 'cooked alive' by zero per cent interest rates

US savers are being "cooked alive" as the country's central bank obsesses about "non-existent inflation", according to global bond guru Bill Gross.

Mr Gross, the former head of Pimco and now portfolio manager at Janus Capital Group, said although ultra-low interest rates and quantitative easing (QE) - or bond buying - by the US Federal Reserve had helped rescue the economy from the ravages of the global financial crisis, it had also discouraged business investment, left the liabilities of insurers and pension funds uncovered and hurt average savers.
The developed world is beginning to run on empty because investments discounted at near zero over the intermediate future cannot provide cash flow or necessary capital gains to pay for past promises in an ageing society. 
Bill Gross
"The developed world is beginning to run on empty because investments discounted at near zero over the intermediate future cannot provide cash flow or necessary capital gains to pay for past promises in an ageing society," Mr Gross wrote in his latest Investment Outlook.
"And don't think that those poor insurance companies and gargantuan pension funds in the hundreds of billions are the only losers; mainstream America with their 401Ks [tax-efficient retirement plans] are in a similar pickle.
"Expecting 8 to 10 per cent to pay for education, health care, retirement or simply taking an accustomed vacation, they won't be doing much of it as long as short-term yields are at zero.
"They are not so much in a pickle barrel as they are on a revolving spit, being slowly cooked alive while central bankers focus on their Taylor [economic] models and fight non-existent inflation."
His withering broadside comes just one week after the Fed opted to maintain short-term rates at between 0 and 0.25 per cent, despite growing expectations that it would finally announce its first 25 basis point increase in almost a decade.
Fed policy decisions are normally based on the health of the job market and the force of inflationary pressures, but recent market volatility and concerns about slowing growth in China appeared to have weighed heavily on its most recent call.
Markets have once again become jittery following the decision to keep interest rates on hold. This, added to concerns about China's slowing demand for raw materials, has sent investors back into safe-haven assets such as bonds.
Australia, a big commodities exporter, has been caught up in the tumult, with the sharemarket down heavily on Monday and Wednesday, and likely to see only modest gains on Thursday.
QE programs by Japan, the US, Britain and the European Union since the GFC has flooded the world with cheap money looking for decent returns, helping to pump up the price of assets such as shares and property.
After years of calm, bond markets, too, have proved volatile in the past few months as investors look increasingly to trade on price movements to compensate for low nominal yields. This has intensified already heightened concerns about liquidity in times of heavy sales.
Mr Gross joins a growing chorus of investment experts and policymakers calling for the Fed to initiate what has become known as "lift-off" to its tightening cycle.
"Low or zero interest rates, it seems, do wonders for asset prices and for a time even stabilise real economies," he wrote, "but they come with baggage - and as zero or near-zero becomes the expected norm, the luggage increasingly grows heavier."
Low interest rates had undermined one of the main pillars of capitalism, he said, by making company balance sheet consolidation more attractive than capital expenditure.
"How so? Because zero bound interest rates destroy the savings function of capitalism, which is a necessary and in fact synchronous component of investment," Mr Gross wrote.
"If companies can borrow close to zero, why wouldn't they invest the proceeds in the real economy?
"The evidence of recent years is that they have not.
"Instead they have ploughed trillions into the financial economy as they buy back their own stock with a seemingly safe tax advantaged arbitrage."

Tencent just dropped $5 million on this Australian startup that allows doctors to check patients remotely | Business Insider

Australian health tech startup CliniCloud has just closed a $5 million seed round led by China internet company Tencent, and has secured retail distribution for its first product through US retail giant Best Buy.
The internet-connected home medical kit, which allows doctors to check patients remotely, was developed by the Melbourne-based founders of CliniCloud, Dr Andrew Lin and Dr Hon Weng Chong.
Best Buy will carry the kit in the US and Canada.
Tencent, an internet services group in China, led the seed round. Ping An Ventures, the venture arm of insurance and banking conglomerate Ping An, was the other major investor, along with prominent musician and investor, D.A. Wallach, Kosaku Yada of Sonar Group and other individuals.
The funding will be used to accelerate the production and roll-out of consumer products including an internet connected stethoscope and a non-contact thermometer.
Dr Lin and Dr Chong, both physicians, founded CliniCloud when they realised patients want to play a more active role in their own care.
“The stethoscope and thermometer are gateways to critical information that helps physicians diagnose illness in patients,” says Dr Lin, who is CliniCloud’s CEO.
“By digitising them and connecting them to a powerful app and network of medical professionals, through our partnership with telemedicine partners such as Doctor On Demand, we are empowering every parent and carer to play an active role in healthcare.”

Sep 21, 2015

Vultures are hovering over Shorten's career | Paul Sheehan

It is only natural that the vultures will grow hungry again soon. They have become accustomed to kings becoming carrion. It shows no sign of slowing.  
In this context, the Canning by-election could have been called the Cunning by-election.
It gave a clear, vindicating victory for Malcolm Turnbull's brazen, lightning coup. 
So now the vultures will soon be hovering over the obvious loser, Bill Shorten, who made a serious blunder last week that puts him on carrion watch.
He just became much more vulnerable. He has never been popular in the opinion polls.
He has rarely been impressive in parliament. He was especially unimpressive in the three sitting days leading up to the Canning by-election.
On Tuesday, in his first question to the new prime minister, Shorten finished with this: "Will the prime minister change the substance of this government or is it just about its style?" 
He concluded his second question with, "Will the prime minister change the substance of the government or just the style?"
The spectacle was unedifying. The signal was wrong. The public is sick of smearing. 
The tone and the tactic made Turnbull appear statesmanlike, in contrast to Shorten. He also had an effortless retort to every insult: under the cabinet system he is bound by the government's decisions.
The next day's questions were equally unedifying. Shorten, asking about climate change policy, ended with, "Has the prime minister sold out his principles to achieve his personal ambition? "
The next day, Thursday, was also devoid of substance and completely insular. Shorten's first question: "Even though there is a new Liberal leader, it is the same policies, the same chaos and the same division?"
This fusillade of sneering, led by the man who helped depose both the Labor prime ministers he served under, flagged Labor's tactics for the next year. They will keep it nasty and personal.
This is risky, given the public mood. It compounds the risk Shorten has taken in committing Labor to opposing the Free Trade Agreement with China, Australia's largest trading partner.
 If Labor, acting at the behest of the narrow self-interest of several unions, were to succeed in derailing, or even merely delaying this pact, the ramifications would be significant.
Labor's policy has to be a bluff. It can't be more than electoral scare-mongering and debt-repayment to certain unions. 
And the union that is leading, and financing, the attack on China is the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union.  
Eventually, the public is going to wake up to the recklessness of the CFMEU. In the past two years it has racked up $20 million in fines, legal bills and damages awarded. 
More than 60 of its officials are facing litigation.
If the public ever connects the dots, Shorten will become political carrion. 
He has 10 months to navigate the risks before the 2016 election campaign. It will be victory or death.
In the past week, Anthony Albanese, who narrowly lost to Shorten in Labor's leadership ballot in 2013, has suddenly been invigorated, jumping to his feet in the parliament and giving numerous interviews. 
Not all the vultures are perched up in the parliamentary press gallery and beyond, sniffing the wind.

Back to black: why melancholia must be understood as distinct from depression

First described by Hippocrates, “melancholia” or melancholic depression was considered a specific condition that commonly struck people out of the blue – and put them into the black. In modern times, it came to be described as “endogenous depression” (coming from within) in contrast to depression stemming in response to external stressors.
In 1980, the third edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-III), the official classificatory system of the American Psychiatric Association, re-modelled depressive disorders. The new classification operated largely on degrees of severity, comprising “major” depression and several minor depressions.
This is how depression came to be modelled as a single entity, varying only by severity (this is known as the dimensional model). And over the last decade, this model has been extended to include “sub-clinical depressions”, which is basically when someone is sad or down but not diagnosable by formal mental illness criteria.

Problematic model

The changes generated concern about the extension of “clinical depression” to include and “pathologise” sadness. While everyone feels down or sad sometimes, normally these moods pass, with little if any long-term consequences.
The boundary between this everyday kind of feeling down and clinical depression is imprecise. But the latter is associated with a greater severity of symptoms, such as losing sleep or thinking life isn’t worth living, lasts for longer and is much more likely to require treatment.
The dimensional model is intrinsically limited; “major depression” is no more informative a diagnosis than “major breathlessness”. It ignores the differing – biological, psychological and social – causes that may bring about a particular depressive condition and which inform the most appropriate therapeutic approach (be it an antidepressant drug, psychotherapy or social intervention).
Ignoring the cause of depression leads to both under-treatment, such as failure to prescribe an effective medication, and over-treatment, such as prescription of medication that’s unnecessary and may have side effects.
The model also essentially marginalised melancholia as a categorically different type of depression, with progressive DSM manuals according it insignificant status as a major depression “specifier” (an addendum to a diagnosis intended to provide more detail).
As a specifier, and not a disorder in its own right, melancholia is not considered categorically separate to other types of depression. And this matters – much less research and training is devoted to it as a result, and doctors are often unaware of its clinical implications.

A distinct pattern

My research team is trying to establish melancholia’s categorical status and detection, and so improve its management. Here’s what we know – or think we know - about the distinctness of melancholia.
First, it shows a relatively clear pattern of symptoms and signs. The individual experiences profound bleakness and has no desire to socialise, for instance, finding it hard to obtain any pleasure in life or to be cheered up.
Sufferers also experience a lack of energy and have difficulty concentrating, although they generally show “diurnal variation”, reporting improvement in mood and energy as the day goes on. Reflecting changes to their sleep/wake cycle, people with melancholia tend to wake early in the morning.
People with melancholic depression may feel no pleasure in socialising or regular activities. Maxin Blinkov/shutterstock
Episodes commonly emerge “out of the blue”. Even if it follows a stressor, it’s disproportionately more severe than might be expected and lasts longer than the stressor.
We’ve progressively developed a clinician-rated measure (the SMPI or Sydney Melancholia Prototype Index) that has about 80% accuracy in differentiating melancholic and non-melancholic depression. When we add course of illness, causal and other clinical factors, we’ve been able to statistically differentiate melancholic and non-melancholic depression at a high level.

Physical underpinnings

Melancholia has a strong genetic contribution, with sufferers likely to report a family history of “depression”, bipolar disorder or suicide. It’s largely biologically underpinned rather than caused by social factors (stressors) or psychological factors, such as personality style.
The illness is also unlikely to respond to placebo, whereas major depression has a placebo response rate in excess of 40%. But melancholia shows greater response to physical treatments, such as antidepressant drugs (especially those that work on a broader number of neurotransmitters), and to ECT (electroconvulsive therapy). ECT is rarely required, however, if appropriate medications are prescribed.
Melancholia shows a lower response to psychotherapy, counselling and psychosocial interventions - these treatments are more salient and effective for non-melancholic depression.
It’s useful to draw an analogy here with diabetes: while Type 1 is more a biological disease state and generally requires drug treatment (insulin), Type II is more likely to reflect other factors, such as obesity. The latter generally benefits most from non-drug strategies, such as exercise and dietary changes.
Melancholia shows similar “treatment specificity”, with medication being the treatment of choice.

Tracing biological origins

Melancholia has long been thought to have primary biological origins, including perturbations in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, in sleep architecture and in neural circuits.
Early this year, our research team published a neuroimaging study that suggested a differential key “signature” marker found only in people with melancholic depression (when compared to people with non-melancholic depression and non-depressed controls).
We showed incoming connections to the brain system that control attention (the insula) were halved, while connections from the insula to the brain’s executive control centre were also decreased.
The implications of these findings will require further investigation, but they could mean that a disruption to brain connectivity may explain some of melancholia’s symptoms.
Clearly, melancholia needs to be recognised as a distinct psychiatric condition – not simply as a more severe expression of depression. This recognition could lead to improved clinical and community awareness, which is important because managing melancholia requires a specific treatment approach.