Norway to build world’s first tunnel for ships

Norway plans to build the world’s first tunnel for ships, a 1,700-metre (5,610-ft) passageway burrowed through a piece of rocky peninsula that will allow vessels to avoid a treacherous part of sea.

The Stad Ship Tunnel, which would be able to accommodate cruise and freight ships weighing up to 16,000 tonnes, is expected to open in 2023.

It will be 37 metres high and 26.5m wide, according to the Norwegian Coastal Administration, and is estimated to cost at least 2.7bn kroner (£250m).

Norway’s transport minister, Ketil Solvik-Olsen, said that sea currents and underwater topography in the country’s south-western coast “result in particularly complex wave conditions”.

Plans for a ship tunnel in Stad had been floated over the years, but now a project with financing was ready, he said.

“We are pleased that the ship tunnel will now become a reality,” Solvik-Olsen said, adding that travel time between Norwegian cities and towns in the area would be reduced.

The tunnel is expected to be located at the narrowest point of the Stadlandet peninsula, where the weather has for decades been considered an obstacle for shipping.

It will be free for vessels measuring less than 70 metres .

Read the complete article on The Guardian newspaper web site.

Wit and Wisdom of Donald J Trump. Free pdf

Biographies of famous people always include some of the subject’s wise and witty sayings. Donald J. Trump is no exception. Here within are the up-to-this-date collection of sayings by Donald J. Trump which have earned him a top spot in the annals of American Presidents.

Download your free copy in PDF format…. Wit & Wisdom of Donald J Trump

Judge rejects Trump defense against claim he incited violence at rally

A federal judge has rejected President Donald Trump’s free speech defense in a lawsuit in which he is accused of inciting violence against protesters during his campaign.

Trump’s lawyers sought to dismiss the lawsuit by three protesters who say they were roughed up by Trump supporters at a March 2016 campaign rally in Louisville.

Trump’s lawyers contend that when the candidate said “Get ’em out of here”, he didn’t intend for his supporters to use force.

Two women and a man say they were shoved and punched by audience members as Trump directed them from the podium. Much of the scuffle was captured on video and widely broadcast during the presidential campaign.

Judge David J Hale in Louisville ruled on Friday that the suit against Trump, his campaign and three of his supporters can proceed.

Hale found that there were ample facts supporting the allegation that the protesters’ injuries were a “direct and proximate result” of Trump’s actions.

“It is plausible that Trump’s direction to ‘get ‘em out of here’ advocated the use of force,” Hale wrote.

Two of the Trump supporters are named in the suit. They are Alvin Bamberger, a member of the Korean War Veterans Association (KWVA) from Ohio, and Matthew Heimbach, a leader of the white supremacist group Traditional Youth Network from Paoli, Indiana.

Bamberger reportedly expressed regret over having been “caught up in the frenzy” at the rally, in a statement to the KWVA last year.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors extremist groups, says Heimbach is “considered by many to be the face of a new generation of white nationalists”.

Source: The Guardian newspaper web site.

U.S. student loan forgiveness program could be rescinded

Hillsdale College in Michigan. The federal Education Department has raised the possibility that students’ acceptance into a loan forgiveness program could be rescinded. Credit Sean Proctor for The New York Times

More than 550,000 people have signed up for a U.S. federal program that promises to repay their remaining student loans after they work 10 years in a public service job.

But now, some of those workers are left to wonder if the government will hold up its end of the bargain — or leave them stuck with thousands of dollars in debt that they thought would be eliminated.

In a legal filing submitted last week, the Education Department suggested that borrowers could not rely on the program’s administrator to say accurately whether they qualify for debt forgiveness. The thousands of approval letters that have been sent by the administrator, FedLoan Servicing, are not binding and can be rescinded at any time, the agency said.

The filing adds to questions and concerns about the program just as the first potential beneficiaries reach the end of their 10-year commitment — and the clocks start ticking on the remainder of their debts.

Four borrowers and the American Bar Association have filed a suit in United States District Court in Washington against the department.

The plaintiffs held jobs that they initially were told qualified them for debt forgiveness, only to later have that decision reversed — with no evident way to appeal, they say. The suit seeks to have their eligibility for the forgiveness program restored.

“It’s been really perplexing,” said Jamie Rudert, one of the plaintiffs. “I’ve never gotten a straight answer or an explanation from FedLoan about what happened, and the Department of Education isn’t willing to provide any information.”

The forgiveness program offers major benefits for borrowers, advocates say, to the point of persuading some people to take public service jobs instead of more lucrative work in the private sector. The program generally covers people with federal student loans who work for 10 years at a government or nonprofit organization, a diverse group that includes public school employees, museum workers, doctors at public hospitals and firefighters. The federal government approved the program in 2007 in a sweeping, bipartisan bill.

But some of those approved borrowers might get bad news because it is unclear whether the certifications are valid.

Mr. Rudert submitted the certification form in 2012 and received a letter from FedLoan affirming that his work as a lawyer at Vietnam Veterans of America, a nonprofit aid group, qualified him for the forgiveness program. But in 2016, after submitting his latest annual recertification note to FedLoan, he got a denial note.

The decision was retroactive, he was told. None of his previous work for the group would be considered valid for the loan forgiveness program.

What changed? Mr. Rudert said he did not know. After filing a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, he received a reply from FedLoan saying that his application “had initially been approved in error.” He has not been told what the error was, and has not found any way to appeal the decision.

Mr. Rudert and the American Bar Association filed their suit in December, alleging that the Education Department acted “arbitrarily and capriciously” in making its decisions about which employers qualified.

Last week, the department filed a reply that said that FedLoan’s responses to borrowers’ certification forms cannot be trusted.

A FedLoan approval letter “does not reflect a final agency action on the borrower’s qualifications” for the forgiveness program, the department wrote.

The idea that approvals can be reversed at any time, with no explanation, is chilling for borrowers. Mr. Rudert, who graduated from law school owing nearly $135,000 on student loans, said he would have picked a different employer if he had known that his work at Vietnam Veterans of America would not qualify.

A FedLoan spokesman would not comment on the case, referring questions to the Department of Education. A department spokesman also declined to comment on the suit or on any of the issues it raised, including whether any mechanism exists for borrowers to challenge a denial.

Read the complete article on the New York Times web site.

Trump presidency is in a hole

After 70 days in office Mr Trump is stuck in the sand.

DONALD TRUMP won the White House on the promise that government is easy. Unlike his Democratic opponent, whose career had been devoted to politics, Mr Trump stood as a businessman who could Get Things Done. Enough voters decided that boasting, mocking, lying and grabbing women were secondary. Some Trump fans even saw them as the credentials of an authentic, swamp-draining saviour.

After 70 days in office, however, Mr Trump is stuck in the sand. A health-care bill promised as one of his “first acts” suffered a humiliating collapse in the—Republican-controlled—Congress. His repeated attempts to draft curbs on travel to America from some Muslim countries are being blocked by the courts. And suspicions that his campaign collaborated with Russia have cost him his national security adviser and look likely to dog his administration (see article). Voters are not impressed. No other president so early in his first term has suffered such low approval ratings.

The business of government

Mr Trump is hardly the first tycoon to discover that business and politics work by different rules. If you fall out over a property deal, you can always find another sucker. In politics you cannot walk away so easily. Even if Mr Trump now despises the Republican factions that dared defy him over health care, Congress is the only place he can go to pass legislation.

The nature of political power is different, too. As owner and CEO of his business, Mr Trump had absolute control. The constitution sets out to block would-be autocrats. Where Mr Trump has acted appropriately—as with his nomination of a principled, conservative jurist to fill a Supreme Court vacancy—he deserves to prevail. But when the courts question the legality of his travel order they are only doing their job. Likewise, the Republican failure to muster a majority over health-care reflects not just divisions between the party’s moderates and hardliners, but also the defects of a bill that, by the end, would have led to worse protection, or none, for tens of millions of Americans without saving taxpayers much money.

Far from taking Washington by storm, America’s CEO is out of his depth. The art of political compromise is new to him. He blurs his own interests and the interests of the nation. The scrutiny of office grates. He chafes under the limitations of being the most powerful man in the world. You have only to follow his incontinent stream of tweets to grasp Mr Trump’s paranoia and vanity: the press lies about him; the election result fraudulently omitted millions of votes for him; the intelligence services are disloyal; his predecessor tapped his phones. It’s neither pretty nor presidential.

That the main victim of these slurs has so far been the tweeter-in-chief himself is testament to the strength of American democracy. But institutions can erode, and the country is wretchedly divided (see article). Unless Mr Trump changes course, the harm risks spreading. The next test will be the budget. If the Republican Party cannot pass a stop-gap measure, the government will start to shut down on April 29th. Recent jitters in the markets are a sign that investors are counting on Mr Trump and his party to pass legislation.

More than anything, they are looking for tax reform and an infrastructure plan. There is vast scope to make fiscal policy more efficient and fairer (see article). American firms face high tax rates and have a disincentive to repatriate profits. Personal taxes are a labyrinth of privileges and loopholes, most of which benefit the well-off. Likewise, the country’s cramped airports and potholed highways are a drain on productivity. Sure enough, Mr Trump has let it be known that he now wants to tackle tax. And, in a bid to win support from Democrats, he may deal with infrastructure at the same time.

Yet the politics of tax reform are as treacherous as the politics of health care, and not only because they will generate ferocious lobbying. Most Republican plans are shockingly regressive, despite Mr Trump’s blue-collar base. To win even a modest reform, Mr Trump and his team will have to show a mastery of detail and coalition-building that has so far eluded them. If Mr Trump’s popularity falls further, the job of winning over fractious Republicans will only become harder.

The character question

The Americans who voted for Mr Trump either overlooked his bombast, or they saw in him a tycoon with the self-belief to transform Washington. Although this presidency is still young, that already seems an error of judgment. His policies, from health-care reform to immigration, have been poor—they do not even pass the narrow test that they benefit Trump voters. Most worrying for America and the world is how fast the businessman in the Oval Office is proving unfit for the job.

Read the complete article on The Economist magazine web site.

Marbles and Magnets Video

I’ve always been fascinated with how things work and the work which goes into making things work. I suppose some of the curiosity comes from my dad who was a mechanical engineer by training and a businessman by nature.

When I was young one of my favorite toys was the Meccano set. I was fortunate to have had several and would create stuff all the time, often losing the little nuts in the bedroom carpet much to the consternation of my mother and her vacuum.

When I was emailed this video this morning I watched it intently, revelling in the fun it would have been to make Marbles and Magnets do what they do just for the sake of making it. The video has been around a while I understand, but it was new to me. And maybe new to you too.

Republican infighting is part of being Republican


‘Working together, this unified Republican government will deliver relief and peace of mind to the millions of Americans suffering under Obamacare,’ Paul Ryan said despite health advocates’ criticism of bill. Photograph: J Scott Applewhite/AP

Trumpcare failed to pass but the real problem is that the Republican Party is plagued by partisan infighting. Mr. Trump was able to use the ideological differences between factions in the party to his advantage during the election campaign. Not only did he overthrow the party’s traditional leadership, he united many of the other competing interests in the party.

But the campaign is over now. The factions in Congress are starting to make the President’s life much more difficult. What’s the basis of Republican disunity? Aren’t Republicans, whether elites or voters, all staunch conservatives who oppose the Democrats?

Jon MacKay is an affiliate researcher of the Waterloo Institute for Complexity and Innovation. William Bendix is assistant professor of political science at Keene State College, in New Hampshire. Together they examined how several hundred interest groups have rated congressional Republicans since 2001. They found three distinct factions that were stable over time. Each represented different sets of ideological interests. The party leaders reside in what we call the corporate-establishment faction – a group that advances pro-business policies. The difficulty is that two other Republican factions also compete for power: a lunch-pail faction, whose members focus on working-class issues, and an ethno-radical faction, whose members support a mix of nativist and fiscally regressive policies. You can read their research here…. 2016 08 18 Bendix & MacKay Partisan Republican Infighting

What’s become clear is that any policy decision Donald Trump makes is now likely to produce as many losers as winners within their party’s coalition.

After the health-care defeat, Mr. Trump has said he’ll next turn to tax cuts, dramatically lowering taxes across the board. His plan, estimated to reduce federal revenues by $6-trillion (U.S.) over ten years, will provide much greater tax relief to the affluent than it will to middle- and working-class voters. This makes it, in many respects, a mainstream Republican proposal.

But that’s the problem. Massive revenue cuts need to be offset by large spending cuts, otherwise the national debt will balloon. Mr. Trump wants to boost military spending, cut taxes and slash industry oversight and entitlement programs. That likely suits the corporate establishment and the ethno-radicals of the party, but it will outrage most everyone else – including lunch-pail voters. True, Trump could cut taxes and increase spending without totally blowing up the budget by issuing 100-year bonds. But it’s hard to imagine the ethno-radicals supporting this big-government, big-debt strategy.

Trade protectionism, another pillar of Mr. Trump’s election campaign, is the most important issue for Canada. Although famously inconsistent on many issues, Trump has been unwavering on trade. He has already abandoned the Trans-Pacific Partnership and has said that he wants to reopen NAFTA, impose tariffs on individual firms, and possibly withdraw the U.S. from the World Trade Organization.

These promises are aimed at lunch-pail Republicans, who have seen manufacturing jobs disappear over the last three decades. But this anti-trade agenda is at odds with the corporate establishment of the party – which has, since at least Ronald Reagan, advocated trade liberalization.

You may read the complete article on the Globe and Mail newspaper web site.