Have the Boeing crashes shaken our faith in flying? | Gwyn Topham

Have the Boeing crashes shaken our faith in flying? | Gwyn Topham

Honest public conversations about risk are rare, says Guardian transport correspondent Gwyn Topham

Transport bosses need little prodding in public to utter the words safety is our number one priority a mantra so widespread that, as with an English person inquiring How do you do? the inherent insincerity is barely noted.

Clearly, the main objective of rail companies, airlines or carmakers is moving people or things, for profit, with all the risk that entails. What those industries have excelled at is vastly reducing that risk. In Britain, more than 11 years have elapsed since a passenger was killed in a train crash. Fatality rates in car accidents are declining, particularly for drivers; yesterday the European commission announced that extra safety features, including automatic speed limiters, would soon be mandatory.

Aviation in particular has long enjoyed the statistical claim to be the safest form of transport. Worldwide, modern passenger jets appeared to have reached a point where they never crashed without the deliberate, malign intervention of terrorists or suicidal pilots. But the fate of the two Boeing 737 Max planes, which both crashed soon after takeoff, has perhaps done more to undermine faith in the industrys own processes than any preceding incidents in recent history.

Questions have been asked of the regulator, the US Federal Aviation Administration, and the scope it gave Boeing to verify its own planes safety. Boeing has convened pilots, regulators and technical experts today to explain their work and try to restore confidence shaken again this week by the emergency landing in Florida of a 737 Max that was being moved for storage purposes while banned from passenger service.

No airline would ever want to believe it was flying a plane that might crash. But some suggest that the cumulative commercial pressures that airlines feel have ways of resurfacing throughout an industry, with potentially nefarious effects. Airlines vie to offer cheaper fares; costs per seat can be offered via newer, more fuel-efficient planes. A new model is even more cost-effective if it does not require highly paid pilots trainers and trainees to be taken off active duty to spend time at bases in simulators.

We now know that at least some US 737 pilots were appalled to discover that only short differences training, self-taught in a short session on an iPad, was deemed necessary to learn to fly the updated 737 Max, whose design was different enough for Boeing to decide new anti-stall software was needed. Its difficult to read even the cold, formal, occasionally broken English of the preliminary report into the first 737 Max crash in Indonesia without feeling the horror: two young Lion Air pilots, thousands of feet up in the air, clueless how to battle an onboard computer that was repeatedly, erroneously, pushing the nose of the plane down. The software countermanded the pilots instructions 26 times in a row, and finally took 189 people into the sea. Subsequent reports of cockpit voice recordings show that the pilots were desperately leafing through the manual.

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Ethiopia plane crash: search operation continues at crash site video

We now also know that Boeing had designed safety features and warning lights for the 737 Max as an optional extra purchase money that airlines in the US decided was worth spending, though carriers in the Ethiopia and Indonesia crashes did not. Those will now be standard.

Neither are safety regulators immune from financial pressures. Indeed, the firms they regulate are the ones often paying for their services in other words, customers who can in some circumstances shop around. Cost-cutting at Britains own air safety regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority, led to a large exodus of experienced staff, and whistleblowers afterwards leaked a highly critical internal report claiming passenger safety was at risk.

Today light-touch regulation assessing airlines competency to certify their own safety, rather than employing inspectors to actually do the checks is broadly accepted in the industry. But it coincided with the Shoreham crash, the worst airshow disaster in 60 years; investigators turned their fire on the CAAs licensing regime, which had inspected just eight of 281 shows approved.

In the US, politicians have long queried the closeness of the FAA to Boeing, the manufacturer it regulates but to which it also delegates aspects of aircraft safety certification. Yesterday again the FAA defended that practice in a Senate hearing on cost grounds.

The idea that cutting corners or costs risks such loss of human life feels obscene. Yet arguably those are choices made any time someone opts to buy a car faster and less reinforced than a square and solid Volvo. In government accounting, the value of a prevented fatality has a number. But honest conversations about the amount of risk we are prepared to tolerate are rare.

One answer the Department for Transport came up with to drive down the spiralling costs of rail travel was to cut guards on trains. This week, the rail accident investigation board reported how, for the third time recently, dozens of angry passengers trapped in a stuck train with no guard decided to disembark on to the tracks, at high risk of electrocution or being hit by other trains. Nonetheless, many rail operators and doubtless passengers when questioned on fare levels regard cutting guards as a sensible trade-off.

Disasters tend to shift that perception of acceptable risk. As Amy Fraher, author of The Next Crash: How Short-Term Profit Seeking Trumps Airline Safety, observed in her 2014 book, few in finance saw the risks developing before banks imploded in 2008, and aviation processes could be under similar strain. According to her research, a majority of US pilots believed a combination of fatigued staff and commercial pressures would soon lead to another crash. To take for granted increases in safety the result of many years of often expensive, laborious rule-making and regulation could again prove a fatal mistake.

Gwyn Topham is the Guardians transport correspondent

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/us

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed Fast Facts

Here is a look at the life of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, one of the alleged 9/11 co-conspirators.

Birth place: Pakistan
Father: Sheikh Mohammed Ali Doustin Baluchi
    Mother: Halema Mohammed
    Marriage: Wife’s name unavailable publicly
    Children: Abed al-Khalid; Yusuf al-Khalid
    Education: North Carolina A&T University, Mechanical Engineering, 1986
    Other Facts:
    Has been called “the mastermind of the September 11th attacks.
    Has been linked to nearly every al Qaeda attack between 1993 and 2003.
    Is sometimes referred to as KSM.
    January 1995 –
    Mohammed first comes to the attention of the FBI and CIA because of his involvement in a failed plot to blow up as many as a dozen American commercial airliners over the Pacific. After a fire in the apartment in Manila, Philippines, where the planning took place, the Manila police discover a computer where the plans were laid out and arrest some of the conspirators.
    1995 – Mohammed is linked to a plot to assassinate Pope John Paul II during his visit to Manila, Philippines.
    January 1996 – Is indicted on seven counts of terror conspiracy in the Southern District of New York for his alleged involvement in a Philippines-based plot to blow up 12 US-bound commercial airliners in 48 hours. Referred to as the “Bojinka Plot.”
    1996 – Osama bin Laden meets with Mohammed.
    October 2000 – Is linked to the bombing of the USS Cole.
    September 11, 2001 – Is linked to the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.
    2001 – Is linked to Richard Reid‘s foiled attempt to blow up an airliner with a shoe bomb.
    October 2001 – Placed on the FBI list of 22 Most Wanted Terrorists.
    2002 – Al Qaeda expert Rohan Gunaratna says Mohammed ordered the killing of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl saying “Daniel Pearl was going in search of the al Qaeda network that was operational in Karachi, and it was at the instruction of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed that Daniel Pearl was killed.”
    October 2002 – Is linked to the Bali nightclub bombing that killed more than 200 people.
    November 2002 – Is linked to the bombings at the El Ghriba synagogue, in Djerba, Tunisia.
    March 1, 2003 – Mohammed is captured in a house in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, along with Pakistani political leader Ahmed Abdul Qadoos, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi (another alleged al Qaeda operative), and Jamaat Islami.
    September 6, 2006 – The United States acknowledges Mohammed has been held at a secret overseas CIA prison and is being transferred to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba where he will face a trial before a military commission.
    March 15, 2007 – In a 26-page transcript released by the Pentagon, Mohammed admits decapitating Pearl and responsibility for the Reid shoe bomber attempt to blow up an airliner over the Atlantic Ocean, the Bali nightclub bombing in Indonesia, the 1993 World Trade Center attack and other attacks that did not play out. “I was responsible for the 9/11 operation, from A to Z.”
    February 11, 2008 – The United States announces it will seek the death penalty against Mohammad, along with Mohammed al-Qahtani, Ramzi Bin al-Shibh, Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali, al-Hawsawi, Walid bin Attash, and Mohammed bin Attash, for charges related to the 9/11 attacks which include: conspiracy, murder in violation of the law of war, attacking civilians, attacking civilian objects, intentionally causing serious bodily injury, destruction of property in violation of the law of war, and terrorism and material support of terrorism.
    June 5, 2008 – The arraignment for Mohammed and four co-defendants begins. Mohammed tells the judge, Marine Colonel Ralph Kohlmann, that he wishes to represent himself, understands the charges against him could lead to the death penalty, and wishes to plead guilty to all charges in connection with his role in the 9/11 attacks and become a martyr.
    January 19, 2009 – Mohammed and Ramzi Binalshibh admit in open that they are guilty and proud of the attacks committed on September 11.
    January 21, 2009 – At the request of President Barack Obama, trial proceedings are frozen for 120 days.
    April 16, 2009 – The US Justice Department releases a 2005 memo which states that Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times in March 2003.
    September 21, 2009 – The US government’s request for a 60-day delay in the trial is granted. Decisions on where to try the case are being worked out.
    November 13, 2009 – The Justice Department announces five Guantanamo Bay detainees, including Mohammed, will be transferred to New York for trial in a US District Court courtroom just blocks from the site where the World Trade Center twin towers stood until September 11, 2001.
    April 4, 2011 – Attorney General Eric Holder announces that Mohammed will now face a military trial at Guantanamo Bay, along with four other detainees.
    May 31, 2011 – The Department of Defense announces that capital charges have been re-filed against Mohammed and four other alleged 9/11 co-conspirators. The charges include: conspiracy, murder in violation of the law of war, attacking civilians, attacking civilian objects, intentionally causing serious bodily injury, destruction of property in violation of the law of war, hijacking aircraft and terrorism. He will be tried before a military commission at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
    April 4, 2012 – Vice Admiral Bruce MacDonald authorizes a new trial for Mohammed and the four co-conspirators.
    May 5, 2012 – Is arraigned at Guantanamo Bay along with Walid bin Attash, Bin al-Shibh, Ali, and al-Hawsawi. The five refused to cooperate with court proceedings in various ways. They are each charged with terrorism, hijacking aircraft, conspiracy, murder in violation of the law of war, attacking civilians, attacking civilian objects, intentionally causing serious bodily injury and destruction of property in violation of the law of war. The hearing lasts 13 hours and is the first time the defendants are seen in public since January 2009.
    October 17, 2012 – At a pretrial hearing at Guantanamo Bay, Mohammed declares that the US government sanctioned torture in the name of national security and equates the plane hijackings that killed nearly 3,000 people to the “millions” he said have been killed by America’s military. After Mohammed’s remarks, military judge Captain James Pohl says that no other personal comments by the accused will be allowed.
    January 28, 2013 – The second session of the pretrial motion hearing against Mohammed takes place at Guantanamo Bay.
    March 18, 2014 – A federal judge denies a request by Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, bin Laden’s son-in-law, to have Mohammed testify in Abu Ghaith’s defense at trial, either by teleconference from the Guantanamo Bay detention camp or via deposition.
      December 9, 2014 – The Senate Intelligence Committee releases its report on “enhanced interrogation techniques” used by the CIA in the post-9/11 era. Mohammed was waterboarded at least 183 times. The CIA said the method was effective in helping CIA interrogators pull information from Mohammed, but according to the Senate report, Mohammed figured out a way to “beat the system,” often recanting information he told CIA officers to get them to stop the waterboarding.
      November 29, 2016 – James Mitchell, a psychologist and government contractor who helped develop the CIA’s post-9/11 enhanced interrogation (EIT) program, releases his book, “Enhanced Interrogation: Inside the Minds and Motives of the Islamic Terrorists Trying to Destroy America,” in which he details some of the thousands of hours he spent interrogating Mohammed.

      Read more: http://edition.cnn.com/

      Categories CNN

      Asia’s meth boom – Trending Stuff

      Asia’s meth boom – Trending Stuff

      Hong Kong (CNN)From the jungles of Myanmar to the streets of Hong Kong, police throughout Asia are fighting a war against methamphetamine.

      By many indications, they’re losing.

      Demand for both crystal meth and yaba, tablets that typically contain a mixture of meth and caffeine, is skyrocketing. Production is increasing at an unprecedented clip, and so is the body count. Leaders in places like Bangladesh and the Philippines are waging deadly drug wars that have cost thousands of lives.

      But this isn’t “Breaking Bad” — meth isn’t just used by the poor and the downtrodden.

      Meth no longer discriminates in Asia; it has become the dominant drug of choice across the region, irrespective of class, age or gender, according to Jeremy Douglas, who is in charge of United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) southeast Asia operations.

      In a career spanning 16 years, Douglas said he’s never seen demand like this.

      “No situation is exactly comparable, but this is off the charts,” he said.

      Experts say the boom is due to a serendipitous combination of domestic and geopolitical issues that have aligned to the benefit of the region’s drug gangs.

      The majority of meth production is happening deep inside the jungles of the Golden Triangle, a lawless area where the borders of Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar meet. Experts say it’s easy to conceal drug production there and move it on at short notice.

      Drug runners, meanwhile, are exploiting new roads and infrastructure being built as part of an ambitious, trillion-dollar Chinese initiative to connect markets across the globe, using the flow of people and licit goods to mask drug trafficking.

      And the profits, likely worth hundreds of millions of dollars, are being laundered via intricate international schemes, often using front companies in countries where lax oversight makes it easy to hide money.

      “It’s a perfect storm in terms of the production of methamphetamine,” says John Coyne, a former head of strategic intelligence at the Australian Federal Police who now works on border security issues at the Australia Strategic Policy Institute.

      “It’s pushing Southeast Asia into what could be in time a methamphetamine epidemic.”


      A large portion of meth seized throughout the Asia Pacific region has been traced to Myanmar’s northern Shan State, where militias and warlords reign supreme.

      Perhaps the most prominent is the United Wa State Army (UWSA) and its political wing, the United Wa State Party (UWSP).

      The two have waged a years-long struggle for autonomy for the ethnic Wa population, people who share a common language as well as cultural and historic ties with their neighbors in China’s southern Yunnan province.

      Shan State boasts a compelling combination of a good poppy-growing climate and a dearth of law enforcement. For years, the Golden Triangle was the source of the majority of the world’s illegal heroin and opium.

      Authorities in the West have long accused the UWSA and UWSP of funding their armed struggle against the Myanmar central government with the profits from drug production. The UWSA is believed to boast around 30,000 fighters.

      Verifying either claim is incredibly difficult. Northern Shan State is one of the hardest places in the world to access; some joke it’s easier to get into North Korea. The UWSA granted journalists a rare visit to the region in 2016, during which time they denied allegations of narcotics trafficking.

      Official numbers appeared to lend credence to the claim that the UWSA is no longer producing heroin, at least at first glance. Golden Triangle heroin production and distribution has been on the decline, according to numbers from the United Nations.

      Authorities warn that’s likely because the big players have ditched heroin in favor of a new, cheaper to produce alternative: methamphetamine.

      “There’s a lot of evidence coming together from across the region pointing back to the same groups, pointing back to the same locations,” said Douglas with the UNODC.

      The UWSA’s decision to get into the meth game, experts say, is partly a response to market forces, but it’s also motivated by profit and ease of production.

      Methamphetamine is a synthetic drug. It’s made in a lab using chemicals and doesn’t require drug makers to cultivate organic crops, such as poppies, as is the case with heroin.

      These labs can be covered by a tarp or moved on short notice. You can’t do that with a poppy field.


      Once the meth is made, the next challenge is transportation. The Golden Triangle was for years one of the most impoverished and underdeveloped places on the planet, but that’s changing thanks to China’s One Belt One Road initiative — a massive infrastructure development project intended to help connect global, predominately developing economies.

      Beijing has big plans in Myanmar, where it has spent billions to connect China’s landlocked Yunnan province to port cities in South and Southeast Asia. Laos and Thailand have seen similar investments.

      An unintended side affect of these infrastructure improvements is that they’ve made it easier for meth traffickers to transport product from deep inside Shan State to the rest of Southeast Asia, Coyne said.

      “What you’ve got is a large, legitimate trade of people, goods, etc., flowing out of Myanmar and Laos in which you can hide your drugs,” said Coyne.

      Meth from northern Shan State in both crystal and pill form has been found as far away as Japan, New Zealand and Australia. A record 1.04 billion Australian dollars ($800 million) worth of meth, believed to have originated in Shan State, was found by police in Western Australia in December.

      This year, authorities have conducted dozens of meth seizures in Thailand, China, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia and Indonesia.

      Data supplied by the United Nations shows major cyrstal meth trafficking flows in the Mekong River Delta region and beyond.

      Shockingly, it only took five months for seizures in Malaysia and Myanmar to surpass the 2017 totals, according to Douglas.

      While those busts could mean law enforcement is winning its fight against traffickers, it also shows the sheer quantity of meth being moved.

      Coyne warns of another possibility — that meth producers have gone into overproduction, which drives down the per unit cost of making drugs, which in turn makes it easier for dealers to live with these massive busts.

      “They can afford to lose larger quantities and still make profits,” he said.


      All that money has to go somewhere, and law enforcement say drug dealers are using intricate financial networks to hide their ill-gotten gains.

      The most prominent — at least publicly — is the case of the Zhao Wei, a gambling magnate accused by the US government of using his casino in Laos to help the UWSA launder proceeds from the sale of meth.

      Casinos are used for laundering because they involve so much cash trading hands, but Zhao has the added benefit of operating inside what Douglas at the UNODC calls a “criminal mini-state.”

      “It operates like his personal fiefdom,” Douglas said.

      Zhao has reportedly negotiated a 99-year lease with the Lao government to operate what’s known as the Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone. The zone lies along the Mekong River that flows between Thailand, Myanmar and Laos. At its center sits the Kings Romans casino.

      Zhao’s agreement with the Lao government allows his business to operate under its own set of unique laws, rules and regulations.

      The only areas in which Zhao defers to the central government are on matters related to the military, the judiciary, and Lao foreign policy, Zhao told Chinese state media in 2011.

      The system is ostensibly designed to help attract foreign investors into the special economic zone. However, the US Treasury Department imposed sanctions on Zhao and the casino in January, alleging that Zhao uses the lax regulation to help facilitate “the storage and distribution of heroin, methamphetamine, and other narcotics for illicit networks, including the United Wa State Army, operating in neighboring Burma.”

      The Kings Romans office is supposed to be located at the end of a dimly lit hallway on the 36th floor of Wu Chung House, according to public records, but there was no sign of it when CNN visited.

      The building’s directory shows that a company called Shuen Wai Holding Limited uses the office space. Real estate records confirm that Shuen Wai is the property’s owner.

      Shuen Wai and Kings Romans share more than just an address, however. Shuen Wai and one of its two company directors were sanctioned by the US Treasury Department in 2008 amid allegations that the office was a key part of the financial network used by the UWSA to launder profits from drug sales.

      “It makes total sense that the UWSA would be operating out of Hong Kong. They have a long history of mixing illicit with legal activities … and Hong Kong is the perfect place to do that for them,” said Evan Rees, an analyst at the intelligence firm Stratfor.

      Down the dark hallway at the office’s entrance, Shuen Wai is the only business that’s visible. Its name is displayed in shiny block letters above an empty secretary’s desk. It was decorated with ornate wooden sculptures and marble floors, but with half the lights off and no one in sight.

      The fact that the business was highly visible was a surprise to some of the sanctions experts CNN spoke with about the case.

      “They usually at least make an effort to repaint the sign, even if it is the same address and same cast of characters in front of you,” said Peter Harrell, a sanctions expert at the Center for New American Security who previously served as deputy assistant secretary for counter threat finance and sanctions in the State Department’s Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs.

      “Operating 10 years without changing the name, that’s pretty brazen.”

      When CNN rang the doorbell at the office, a middle-aged, bespectacled man answered. He said the company was previously involved in the jade trade but now works in funeral services.

      He refused to give CNN his name, but said he had been an account manager at the company for 20 years, during which time he has known the two individuals currently listed as Shuen Wai’s co-directors. He said the duo are based in mainland China and only come to Hong Kong a few times a year, a couple days at a time. He agreed to pass on a message to them from CNN — which they did not respond to — and then retreated back into the office. When CNN called back a couple days later, the individual said the couple was not willing to speak to CNN.

      When asked about the Wu Chung House connections, the UN’s Douglas stressed that each case is different and the age of a specific holding company was not something he could comment on.

      “That said, if the holding company has been a front for drug trafficking for 10 years it is pretty serious and concerning, and authorities should be investigating,” said Douglas.

      “If links are found and organized crime activities are confirmed then there should be some serious actions taken, and questions will need to be asked about how a front company has been able to run for so long in the open in Hong Kong.”

      Hong Kong authorities declined to comment when asked about the case.

      Read more: http://edition.cnn.com/

      Categories CNN

      Indonesia quake survivors describe a hellish week – Trending Stuff

      Indonesia quake survivors describe a hellish week – Trending Stuff
      Women console each other after identifying the body of a relative in Balaroa village. Photograph: Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters

      The logistics of responding to the disaster have been fraught with difficulty. Indonesia is an archipelago of more than 13,000 islands spread over more than 3,000 miles, and Sulawesi is in the countrys more remote east. The damage to Palus airport limited capacity to get supplies to where they were needed most.

      Aid is now arriving, from Jakarta, neighbouring Borneo, Australia, Japan and the UK, but there were still reports of desperate residents in outskirt areas such as Sigi raiding passing cars for petrol and supplies. In Donggala earlier in the week, residents held out cardboard boxes to passing cars, placing planks of wood and rope across the road to force them to slow down.

      In Palu, home to 300,000 people, some signs of normality are returning, but for some residents, such as Yaser Garibald, Palu will never be the same.

      Yaser rushed to Balaroa on Friday night to search for his 60-year-old mother, Masri. He was unable to find her until the first light of dawn when he heard a faint voice coming from the rubble. She was wedged between two blocks of concrete with her arms wrapped around his nephew, Ririn, 23.

      It hurts. Its hard to breathe, Masri told her son, as he hammered at the concrete in an attempt to free. In her last moments he was able to pass her water, but he was unable to save them.

      Asked what kind of person she was, Yaser said he would remember his mothers final selfless act. When the earthquake struck she had made it out but then went back for her grandson. We dug her out and carried her away in a sarong, he said.

      Private firefighters and five-star hotels: how the rich sit out wildfires

      Private firefighters and five-star hotels: how the rich sit out wildfires

      Record-breaking US wildfires are fueling a cottage industry of boutique services and many are happy to pay the price

      With record-breaking wildfires carving up the American west this summer, firefighters have become the rarest of civil servants: the kind almost universally lauded as heroes. Reinforcements dropped into Californias firefight from as far away as Australia and American Samoa to bolster strained state and federal crews, reaching a high point of 14,000 firefighters on the ground.

      Yet other crews have pulled into the fires path with a less grandiose purpose: to save only select addresses. These are the private firefighters of the rich or otherwise well-insured: private crews hired by insurance companies to minimize damages and keep policyholders homes from going up in smoke.

      This year to date has been busier than any prior years to date, David Torgerson, the president of the firefighting company Wildfire Defense Systems in Bozeman, Montana, told the Guardian in an email,and we are expecting to respond to [more] wildfires this year than any prior year.

      This years wildfire season has produced the largest burn in Californias history and, in the northern part of the state, an awe-inspiring firenado. As scientists say that megafires are the new normal, climate change capitalism is finding an increasing number of customers. This echoes a global trend:cottage industries have sprung up to serve those who can afford to be a bit more protected and comfortable while the weather grows more cataclysmic. The uber-wealthy have bought estates in New Zealand (to the point that the country is in the midst of passing legislation to stymie foreign buyers) and luxe underground bunkers in Kansas and elsewhere to escape civic or natural collapse.

      In western states, the wildfire-evacuated masses have huddled in Best Westerns or on gymnasium floors and are often locked in insurance-claim limbo, while the affluent check into five-star luxury hotels usually reimbursable by their insurance confident that their homes are being looked after.

      Ronald DeKoven is a New York attorney, English barrister, and a tech entrepreneur, regularly flying to London or Singapore, where his startup MyLawyer is headquartered. In 2011, he and his wife, Linda, bought an estate with three guesthouses in the center of a 30-acre Napa Valley vineyard. It was meant as a second home, but after falling in love with wine country, the couple moved in permanently.

      Last year, one of his workers texted to report that a blaze, which would eventually become the catastrophic wine country fire, had started just down the road. Within minutes of the text, he and Linda sped away to a friends. We put our shoes on and grabbed coats and left, he says. We probably were the first to leave this area. Given that Ive practiced law for 50 years, you might say Im cautious. An insurance crew showed up to remove any combustibles around the house and spray fire retardant around the propertys edges. Meanwhile, the DeKovens checked in at the tony Clift Hotel in San Francisco. Their insurance company, Pure, explained over the phone to the couple that the company would prepay the hotel bills.

      After a night at the Clift, the DeKovens moved to Four Seasons hotels in Silicon Valley and then San Francisco for three weeks. Needless to say the bills were high, DeKoven says. It was just paid through Pure.

      Wildfires raging in California in September. Photograph: Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images

      While many other evacuees were locked in months of bureaucracy with insurance carriers, the DeKovens sailed through the recovery process. When they returned to their stone-and-stucco estate which escaped the fire Pure had already filtered the air to get rid of the heavy smoke smell. Pure sent out a team to test for carcinogenic dust in the house, detecting some in the main houses attic. DeKoven hired their general contractor to vacuum the dust in hazmat suits and replace the insulation a nearly $50,000 job that Pure prepaid with a check in the mail.

      I found it astonishing they would be so focused on our best interest, DeKoven said. Insurance is a suddenly sexy conversation topic in California, and DeKoven has been handing out his adjusters name like some others pass around the name of their skilled masseuse.

      AIG, the publicly traded insurance carrier, rolled out pre-emptive wildfire protection in 2005 to their Private Client Group, which the company says serves 40% of the Forbes 400 richest Americans. They were followed by competitors in so-called high net-worth insurance Chubb, Pure and Nationwide Private Client, the types of companies who also typically offer insurance for such rarefied concerns as yachts and employment claims made by domestic help. Such coverage tends tokeep out the hoi polloi, costing from thousands to tens of thousands or even six figures in annual premiums. Pure typically offers insurance to homes valued at more than $1m.

      Insurance crews dont battle back flames like the government-contracted ones do. Their services happen before and after a fire passes. Generally, when a policy is purchased, a risk assessor surveys the property for fire risks. Clients of some plans receive texts about evacuations and the paths fires are taking. When fires are encroaching, crews stop by to cart away flammable objects or brush from around the house that could catch fire from an ember, and sometimes install temporary sprinklers. They might spray flame retardant around a propertys perimeter, and seal vents to keep out drifting embers and smoke. In more dangerous spots, they might spray a house down with fire-retardant gel and even extinguish a spot fire.

      A firefighter dispatched by Chubb, a high-end insurance company. Photograph: Courtesy of Chubb

      To argue against this two-tiered response is to argue against capitalism itself, suggest industry insiders. Insurance is a capitalist system, by and large, with for-profit companies, said Amy Bach, the executive director of United Policyholders, a not-for-profit that educates insurance consumers. So theyre always going to try to compete with each other and offer enhanced value to their higher-end customers who will pay the higher prices.

      Yet Bach added a note of regret, saying she would prefer wildfire fighting not being a class system, where first class gets a full meal, and in coach you get peanuts. The high-end insurers market to the exceptionalism of their clients families who have more to protect, as Pures website reads. Chubbs site features a 72-year-old named Gerry in Ventura, California, who escaped the Thomas Fire last year, and contrasts his story with the relative misfortune of his neighbors: Not only was Gerry treated first class every step of the way, as Chubb clients, he says he and his wife were the only two in their development able to rebuild.

      Still, insurance-dispatched crews are now trickling down to companies with more middle-class clientele. For instance, for the past two years, USAA, a kind of insurance exchange for members of the military and their families, has offered the service to 1.4m properties in western states. USAA has no home value requirement; theyll send firefighters out to your modest cabin, said a representative.

      The head of one privately held firefighting company, Wildfire Defense Systems of Bozeman, Montana, argued against charges of elitism. Its president, David Torgerson, said that 90% ofthe policyholders homes are the average local market price, and that despite the exclusive image of private firefighting, the service is also offered by several mainstream insurers. He also said that private firefighting can redound to the public good, as more resources on the ground contributes to the overall effort. Crews could theoretically pitch in when called upon by incident command.

      Private crews do not play a role in the official fire response, says CalFire. Photograph: Rob Varela/SB News-Press via Zuma Wire/Rex/Shutterstock

      Even so, when a fire hits, insurance firefighting crews are treated like civilians, basically, said Scott McLean, a spokesman for CalFire, the California firefighting agency. They must get permission from the incident command to proceed into evacuation zones or pass roadblocks, and must leave if ordered to. Private crews do not play a role in the official fire response, he wrote in an email: It is just another external situation that [incident command] has to deal with.

      Eliza Kerr has lived on the edge of Yosemite national park for two decades, rock-climbing and leading yoga and backpacking retreats through her not-for-profit, Balanced Rock, when not treating clients with ayurvedic medicine. Shes aware that her love of Californias natural grandeur puts her squarely in the fire zone. Still, shes betting on the long term. Yosemites been my home for a long time, she says. Its part of the vision. In fact, she has decided to increase her ties to the area, and is making good on her dream to build a retreat guest residence and a yoga studio amid the scrubby brush overlooking the Merced river.

      The buildings were in mid-construction when the Ferguson fire evacuation order hit in mid-July. Kerr was away on a surfing trip in Indonesia at the time, but Chubbs firefighting crew sprayed retardant around the propertys edge, sealed attic vents, and soaked the all-wood deck with water. They called her husband, who was still in California, with daily updates.

      Though these measures lent her peace of mind, Kerr ultimately thanks official state crews for saving her property. I want to give huge credit and kudos to the local firefighters, she said. As she heard it, they intentionally burned off vegetation up to her property line, stopping the incoming fire in its tracks. Her dream of a yoga retreat in the middle of wildfire country is safe for now.

      Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/us

      Torrents of ‘liquid soil’ washed away buildings – Trending Stuff

      Torrents of ‘liquid soil’ washed away buildings – Trending Stuff

      (CNN)Rivers of soil swept away entire neighborhoods in Indonesia following a powerful earthquake last week that also generated a tsunami in a disaster that has killed at least 1,407 people.

      Footage has emerged from the stricken city of Palu showing people running to find solid ground as structures were swept away and destroyed by waves of undulating earth. Images show a section of the city being erased by surging soil.

      In Petobo town the ground under the length of an entire main road was torn up, with the tide of soil leaving broken stretches of tarmac-topped debris in wave-shaped mounds and troughs.

      “Liquefaction occurs when loose sandy soils with shallow groundwater are subjected to sudden loading such as shaking from an earthquake,” said Jonathan Stewart, a professor in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at the University of California, Los Angeles.

      Many experts liken the process to waves lapping on a sandy beach. When the waves come in, the sand softens, but when the waves withdraw, the sand stiffens.

      “During the earthquake, water pressure is generated in the soil, which causes a dramatic loss of strength,” said Stewart. “The strength loss can be so great that the soil behaves almost like a liquid.”

      Soil running downhill, known as “flow failure,” is one of the most severe effects of liquefaction, and prone to occur in areas with a particular soil structure.

      “The soils in the slide area are likely geologically young, loose, sandy materials with shallow groundwater,” said Stewart.

      ‘I though it was doomsday’

      Residents of Petrobo spoke with horror about the nightmare that unfolded when the ground beneath their feet suddenly began to run following the earthquake and tsunami on Friday.

      “I saw asphalt rolling and the road folded … I saw houses rolling, and the ground breaking open,” Muryatim Galanu, a 42-year-old public service officer living in the town, told CNN.

      “A lot of people fall inside. It’s thanks to God I am alive now, with my children … I thought it was doomsday.”

      Not everyone in her family was as lucky. Galanu said she believed her parents and one of her cousins were killed in the disaster. She watched their house collapse as she ran away from the mud.

      She even nearly lost her own granddaughter. “The mud rose up to her neck. I pulled her out, as if I was delivering a baby. I thought she was dead,” she told CNN.

      Galanu said she had no intention of returning to her town following the disaster. “I don’t want to go back home again. I can’t … Better to find another place,” she said.

      Geotechnical engineering

      Though such a chain of events is rare and therefore difficult to mitigate, scientists say that engineering techniques do exist to lessen the impact of soil liquefaction.

      “As with most problems, the first step in mitigation is recognizing that a problem exists,” said Stewart. “We have engineering procedure for this. Had they been applied, there is a good chance the hazard would have been recognized.”

      Several techniques are used to stop flow slides. The easiest is the construction of a strengthened zone in the soil near the lower end of the slope, said Stewart.

      Approaches to this in geotechnical engineering include densification of the soil by the injection of materials, or the compaction of sediments and soils using weights or vibration that mimic earthquake processes, said Adam Switzer, principal investigator at the Earth Observatory of Singapore.

      Another method, he added, is the use of “earthquake drains’” that aim to mitigate liquefaction by releasing pressure before it reaches critical levels.

      Costas Synolakis, director of the University of Southern California Tsunami Research Center, said that other ways to treat liquefaction are to avoid building multi-story structures and regulate to require deep foundations.

      But in poorer countries these techniques might be too costly for government and individual budgets.

      “Many of the mitigation techniques are likely to be well beyond the means of the average homeowner in southeast Asia,” Switzer told CNN.

      In absolute terms careful choice of construction sites or relocation is the best defense against soil liquefaction, scientists said.

      “The only way to completely mitigate the problem would be to… move developments off the liquefied soils,” said Stewart.

      The process is thought to have played a key role in previous disasters, such as the Japan earthquake in 2011, where the extent of the liquefaction over hundreds of miles was daunting to experienced engineers.
      A study found that liquefaction wrought more devastation than shaking in the Christchurch, New Zealand, earthquake in 2011.

      Read more: http://edition.cnn.com/

      Categories CNN

      Scientists say halting deforestation ‘just as urgent’ as reducing emissions – Trending Stuff

      Scientists say halting deforestation ‘just as urgent’ as reducing emissions – Trending Stuff

      Protecting and restoring forests would reduce 18% of emissions by 2030 and help to avoid global temperature rise beyond 1.5C

      The role of forests in combating climate change risks being overlooked by the worlds governments, according to a group of scientists that has warned halting deforestation is just as urgent as eliminating the use of fossil fuels.

      Razing the worlds forests would release more than 3 trillion tons of carbon dioxide, more than the amount locked in identified global reserves of oil, coal and gas. By protecting and restoring forests, the world would achieve 18% of the emissions mitigation needed by 2030 to avoid runaway climate change, the group of 40 scientists, spanning five countries, said in a statement.

      We must protect and maintain healthy forests to avoid dangerous climate change and to ensure the worlds forests continue to provide services critical for the well-being of the planet and ourselves, the statement reads.

      The intervention comes as the UNs Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change gathers in South Korea ahead of Mondays release of an eagerly awaited report on how the world can avoid warming of 1.5C (2.7F) beyond pre-industrial levels, an aspirational target of the landmark Paris climate deal in 2015.

      It is expected the report will focus on required changes to the energy system, rather than forests. In responding to the IPCC report, our message as scientists is simple: Our planets future climate is inextricably tied to the future of its forests, the scientists statement pointedly concludes.

      Trees and other vegetation currently absorb around a quarter of the CO2 humans are adding to the atmosphere, softening the potential impact of climate change.

      While the world wont lose all of its trees, large tracts of tropical forests, which hold a vast amount of carbon, are still being lost in the Amazon, central Africa and Indonesia. Warming temperatures are also fueling huge fires in forests in higher latitudes, as witnessed this summer when much of northern Sweden was aflame.

      The forest piece of the conversation is often lost and I dont think the IPCC report will highlight it enough, said Deborah Lawrence, a professor of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia and a signatory of the statement. We almost take forests as a given but we lose forest every year, which means we are diminishing them as a carbon sink.

      Deforestation has been massively reduced in the Amazon, but that hasnt happened elsewhere. As countries get more peaceful in Africa we could lose more tropical forests, which really worries me.

      The IPCCs report is expected to mention the need for as-yet unproven technology to burn vegetation and bury the resulting emissions underground or directly suck carbon from the air as a way to meet the 1.5C target.

      The statement by Lawrence and other scientists warns the former strategy, known as bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (Beccs), is untested and risks wiping out huge areas of rainforest in order to make way for plantation timber for energy.

      It breaks my heart to think wed lose half our tropical forests for plantations just to save ourselves, Lawrence said. Its horrifying that wed lose our biodiversity to avert climate change. Losing tropical forests is not somehow cheaper than putting up wind farms in the US or Sahara.

      Lawrence said a steep drop in emissions to zero by 2040 would negate the need for negative emissions technology that would damage forests ability to suck up carbon, maintain local water supplies and weather patterns and provide a home for a riot of birds, mammals, insects and other creatures.

      We will have a hotter, drier world without these forests, Lawrence said. There needs to be an international price on carbon to fund the protection of forests. And countries with tropical forests should maintain large chunks of forests to stabilize rainfall for agriculture and keep a predictable regional climate.

      The prospects for averting at least 1.5C of warming appear dim, however, with a co-author of the upcoming IPCC report warning last week the world is nowhere near on track to meet its Paris commitments.

      Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/us

      Thousands await rescue after quake hits resort islands Bali and Lombok – Trending Stuff

      Thousands await rescue after quake hits resort islands Bali and Lombok – Trending Stuff

      Jakarta, Indonesia (CNN)An operation is underway to evacuate thousands of tourists after a deadly earthquake that rocked some of Indonesia’s most idyllic islands late Sunday night.

      The majority of those killed in the quake were hit by falling debris from collapsing buildings, said Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, the head of Indonesia’s disaster management department.

      In total, an estimated 20,000 people have been displaced by the massive earthquake, Nugroho said.

      Dramatic video tweeted by authorities showed hundreds of people, many believed to be foreign vacationers, crammed onto a beach on the island of Gili Trawangan as evacuation measures got underway.

      Emergency personnel were racing to evacuate thousands of tourists from the three small Gili Islands as night began to fall. The islands, famous for their white sandy beaches and clear waters, are located near the epicenter of the quake on Lombok.

      Earlier rescue efforts were hampered by shallow waters, but rising sea waters mean nine ships are now expected to dock on the islands.

      So far, up to 2,700 tourists have been moved from the Gili Islands, according to Nugroho. He added that Lombok’s airport was now open around the clock and had significantly increased its flight schedule.

      The epicenter of the quake was in northern Lombok, a more residential, less developed part of the island. The majority of Lombok’s tourist resorts are on the island’s southern coast.

      British tourist Mike Bennett, stranded on the island of Gili Meno along with around 100 other people, told CNN he faced an anxious night ahead.

      “It’s getting dark now,” he said. “There’s no power, there’s no water, we’re going to hold out and just see what happens tomorrow.”

      Childrens homes in ruins

      Among the buildings destroyed in Lombok were two homes housing underprivileged children, with around 80 of the youngsters forced to sleep outside.

      Martina Fetter, founder of the Peduli Anak Foundation, said that of the charity’s four homes, two were now completely collapsed.

      “The other two that we just finished building this year also have damages, cracked walls, roof partly falling, so it’s still not safe to stay inside,” she said.

      “We still need tents, setting up emergency kitchen, food, water, generator to pump water,” she added.

      ‘The noise was deafening’

      Retiree Deborah Storck was in a restaurant, about to eat dinner in Senggigi, on Lombok’s west coast, when the quake hit.

      “Everything started moving; the noise was deafening. We ran out into the street and a friend and I stood in the parking area hanging on to a parked car which was also swaying severely,” she said.

      “The friend I was with in the car park had a very lucky escape. A large wall fan fell off and landed in the chair she was sitting in before it ended up on the floor under the table.”

      Further north on the island, many were thought to be inside praying when the quake struck late Sunday, said Endri Susanto, who runs a nongovernmental organization assisting with relief efforts.

      A tsunami warning was issued in the immediate aftermath of the quake, prompting people to flee to higher ground, said Susanto.

      Susanto said the roads in the jungle leading to northern Lombok were treacherous and badly damaged in the quake, which is likely to hamper aid efforts.

      Susanto said he had reached a hospital in the north of the island, which appeared “totally broken.”

      “I saw about 80% of the houses, 80% of the buildings had fallen down or collapsed because of the earthquake,” he said of the area surrounding the hospital.

      Aftershocks felt in Bali

      The earthquake was also felt in neighboring Bali, another popular tourist spot. More than 100 aftershocks continued to rattle the region after the main quake.

      “I can’t imagine what has happened in the villages close to (the epicenter),” Evan Burns, the general manager of the Living Asia resort, told CNN by phone from Senggigi.

      “It was quite bad,” said Evans. “Many of our guests were panicking and it was our job to keep them calm.”

      Across the island, residents and tourists were advised to stay outside, with many choosing to sleep in the streets and public areas away from large buildings. Hospital patients were wheeled outside because of fear of aftershocks.

      The devastation comes exactly a week after the region was hit by a 6.4 magnitude quake that left at least 15 people dead and 162 injured.

      Read more: http://edition.cnn.com/

      Categories CNN

      Trumps Trade War Is Killing American Blue Jeans – Trending Stuff

      Trumps Trade War Is Killing American Blue Jeans – Trending Stuff

      Victor Lytvinenko is thumbing through emails on his iPhone trying to find the one that best shows the damage the global trade war has already done to his little, decade-old American jeans company.

      The 37-year-old — dressed in a black t-shirt, rolled-up blue jeans and a pair of Stan Smiths — eventually looks up after finding the message. It’s from a customer in Scotland who’s apologizing for canceling an order worth tens of thousands of dollars. The reason? The shop owner balked at paying an additional 25 percent tariff the European Union slapped on American-made jeans in June as part of its response to President Donald Trump’s duties on steel and aluminum.

      “We’ve already lost two accounts,” said Lytvinenko, who co-founded Raleigh Denim Workshop with his wife, Sarah Yarborough, in 2008. “That hurts.”

      Lytvinenko was in Manhattan in late July for an apparel trade show. The annual trip was usually a fun excuse to catch up with customers or play ping pong over beers with friends also trying to earn a living making clothes in the U.S. But this year was different. The talk was very much about how American-made jeans — of all things — had been pulled into the trade spat.

      Industry in Peril

      It’s the latest gut punch for an industry that had already declined into a shell of what it once was. In the past year, two of the last-standing major denim mills closed, including the biggest: Cone Denim’s facility in Greensboro, North Carolina, that many firms say was the last to make high-end denim fabric in the U.S. on a large scale. Increases in California’s minimum wage also helped drive several apparel factories in Los Angeles to shutter or move to Mexico, adding to a tumultuous year for an industry that’s been just hanging on.

      On top of that, free-trade agreements had been pushing blue jean-making overseas for two decades, and now the remaining manufacturers can’t believe the irony of getting hit by a return to protectionism. Major brands, like Levi Strauss & Co., had already largely bailed, shifting almost all of their production to Asia or Mexico. What’s left is mostly small businesses surviving by pitching craftsmanship and Americana in the premium end of the market with jeans priced at $200 or more.

      “It’s another blow,” said Roy Slaper, who runs jeans-maker Roy Denim in Oakland, California. The tariffs don’t make sense economically because U.S. production is such a “microscopic” part of the global market, he said. The U.S. shipped just $31 million worth of jeans to the EU last year, or about 16 percent of the industry’s total global exports. “But politically, I can see why. Nothing is more American than jeans.”

      Denim Birthplace

      American blue jeans were born in San Francisco in the 1870s, and became a symbol of the frontier with Levis Strauss making the first pairs for miners working in the California gold rush. By the 1960s, they had evolved into a fashion emblem of cool and rebellion after pop icons like actor James Dean wore them. The EU no doubt had symbolism on its mind — it placed duties on bourbon, too.

      “They should put a tariff on hot dogs and apple pie, as well,” said Slaper, who has been making jeans for a decade. “I get it.”

      Europe had already been a difficult market for American-made brands because it protected its apparel and textile industries. The EU had 12 percent duties on jeans in place, meaning that with the additional tariff, importers are now on the hook for 37 percent.

      “It is a slap in the face,” for companies dedicated to American manufacturing, said Scott Morrison, the founder of New York-based premium denim company 3×1. With two decades in the industry, he’s one of the few to survive the great migration overseas. So far, the company has been sharing the cost of the tariff with a European distributor and avoided raising prices, but “we are not sure if it’s sustainable for a small business like ours,” Morrison said.

      Supply Chains

      The production of blue jeans is a testament to how global trade has evolved. The cotton can come from the U.S. and be made into denim in Pakistan. The cutting and sewing then might take place in Indonesia and finished off with buttons and zippers from China.

      But making jeans still requires more labor than other clothing because of all the sewing and finishing touches like making them look distressed. And while moving production to lower-cost markets has reduced prices for consumers, it’s also given big companies even more advantages. Larger firms have the money and expertise to adjust their supply chains. Their clout also gives them leverage to pressure suppliers to take on cost increases. If they don’t oblige, production can be moved.

      That’s what happened in L.A., with minimum wage hikes convincing some brands to source from Mexico — where labor is much cheaper, according to Ilse Metchek, president of the California Fashion Association.

      “The issue is it’s so difficult to make it here,” said Metchek, who has been in the apparel business for more than 50 years. Los Angeles used to be this “cluster of denim, but not anymore.”

      Of course, moving to Mexico is so advantageous because jeans can be shipped into the U.S. without any duties under the North American Free Trade Agreement. But Nafta is also what helps make Canada, a member of the pact, the industry’s biggest export market at more than three times the size of the EU at $108 million last year.

      USA Revival?

      There are other bright spots, too. A new denim mill is being built in Louisiana. Plus, Denimburg in Edinburg, Texas — a large mill that’s just a few years old — is witnessing increased demand for made-in-America fabrics from brands like Calvin Klein.

      “We are seeing some signs that there are opportunities for a small revival,” said Mike Brown, who is commercial director for Denimburg and has been in the industry for four decades. “But it’s never going to be as big as it once was.”

      Back at Raleigh Denim, which makes jeans at a 7,000 square-foot factory in the downtown of North Carolina’s capital city, Lytvinenko is still worried about the tariffs because some European customers aren’t responding to emails about their next round of orders.

      “We’ve been viewing Europe as a huge market opportunity,” he said. “It’s a huge bummer because we’ve been growing every year, creating manufacturing jobs and building great products here in North Carolina. This hurts our prospects.”

      Read more: http://www.bloomberg.com/

      Australian political challenger known for hard-right stances – Trending Stuff

      Australian political challenger known for hard-right stances – Trending Stuff

      Peter Dutton, the government lawmaker who has challenged Australia’s prime minister for his job, is publicly perceived as a hard man and a leading hard-right conservative. His face is associated with turning back asylum seekers boats, stripping citizenship from extremists and striving to increase the English-language standards for migrants who want to gain citizenship.

      Dutton gave up the largest security portfolio in the government when he resigned as Minister for Home Affairs, who controls the newly created Department of Homeland Security designed to tackle the new security threats of a changing geo-political environment.

      While highly regarded by the conservative Liberal Party’s hard-right faction, his broader appeal has been questioned, particularly among ethnic minorities.

      He has been criticized for saying the level of Lebanese Muslim immigration under a humanitarian program in the 1970s had been a mistake that Australia was now paying for through a rise in domestic extremism.

      He also attracted accusations of racism through comments that white farmers under threat of violence in black-majority South Africa should be treated as refugees because “they need help from a civilized country.” He has angered many in the ethnic-African community by saying people in Victoria state were “scared to go out to restaurants of a night time” because of “African gang violence.”

      Dutton, 47, is a former police drug squad detective from the politically and socially conservative state of Queensland.

      He was first elected to Parliament in 2001 and quickly rose to the rank of minister three years later.

      He became Minister for immigration and Border Protection in 2014, when he became responsible for Australia’s contentious policy of sending asylum seekers who attempt to reach Australia by boat to immigration camps paid for by his government on impoverished Pacific island nations for Papua New Guinea and Nauru. The Australian navy also turns asylum seekers boats back to Indonesia, which Jakarta regards as an affront to Indonesian sovereignty.

      Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/