3C of warming will leave world cities below sea level

How Shanghai would look with a rise of just 2C: the UN warned this week of a potential 3C scenario. Photograph: Nickolay Lamm/Courtesy Climate Central

Hundreds of millions of urban dwellers around the world face their cities being inundated by rising seawaters if latest UN warnings that the world is on course for 3C of global warming come true, according to a Guardian data analysis.

Data from the Climate Central group of scientists analysed by Guardian journalists shows that 3C of global warming would ultimately lock in irreversible sea-level rises of perhaps two metres. Cities from Shanghai to Alexandria, and Rio to Osaka are among the worst affected. Miami would be inundated – as would the entire bottom third of the US state of Florida.

South Beach, Miami, would be mostly underwater. Photograph: Nickolay Lamm/Courtesy Climate Central

In Miami – which would be almost entirely below sea level even at 2C warming – the sense of urgency is evident at city hall, where commissioners are asking voters to approve a “Miami Forever” bond in the November ballot that includes $192m for upgrading pump stations, expanding drainage systems, elevating roads and building dykes.

A 3C rise would lead to longer droughts, fiercer hurricanes and lock in sea-level rises that would redraw many coastlines. Depending on the speed at which icecaps and glaciers melt, this could take decades or more than a century.

At least 275 million city dwellers live in vulnerable areas, the majority of them in Asian coastal megacities and industrial hubs such as Shanghai, Shenzhen, Bangkok and Tokyo.

Japan’s second biggest city, Osaka, is projected to lose its business and entertainments districts of Umeda and Namba unless global emissions are forced down or flood defences are built up. Officials are reluctantly accepting they must now put more effort into the latter.

Read the complete article on The Guardian newspaper site.

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Republican official ‘would have shot’ Guardian reporter attacked by Gianforte

A Montana Republican party official “would have shot” Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs if he had approached her as he did Greg Gianforte, who assaulted Jacobs one day before he was elected to Congress.

Jacobs approached Gianforte in May, in a room where he was about to give a television interview. The Republican slammed Jacobs to the floor, breaking his glasses, and then punched him several times.

“If that kid had done to me what he did to Greg, I would have shot him,” Karen Marshall, vice-president of programs for Gallatin County Republican Women told the Voice of Montana radio program on Thursday.

Marshall also described herself as a “friend” of Gianforte. According to federal records, a Karen Marshall from Bozeman, Montana, donated the federal maximum of $2,700 to Gianforte’s campaign for Congress.

The altercation occurred in a private room at a campaign event, after Jacobs asked Gianforte a question about healthcare. Several reporters were invited to the event, a picnic.

“That kid came on private property, came into a private building, and went into a very private room that I would not even have gone into,” Marshall said. “It was a setup. A complete setup. He just pushed a little too hard.”

Travis Hall, a spokesperson for Gianforte, told the Helena Independent Record: “Greg disagrees with those remarks, repudiates them and remains focused on being a strong voice for Montana in Washington.”

Read the complete article on The Guardian newspaper web site.

Trump’s tax plan and the wealthy

On Wednesday Donald Trump unveiled an ambitious tax plan, proposing sweeping tax cuts for individuals and corporations in what the president dubbed a “once-in-a-generation” opportunity to overhaul America’s tax code.

“These tax cuts are significant. There’s never been tax cuts like what we’re talking about,” Trump said in characteristically grandiose fashion.

“We will make taxes simple, easy, and fair for all Americans.”

Significant, yes. Fair for all Americans? No. Great for the wealthy? You bet.

The individual tax rates would be 12%, 25% and 35% – and the plan recommends a surcharge for the very wealthy. But it does not set the income levels at which the rates would apply, so it is unclear just how much of a tax cut would go to a typical family.

Trump insisted the tax plan would not benefit the “wealthy or well-connected”, stating: “They can call me all they want, it’s not gonna help.”

The wealthy would only be calling Trump to thank him for his generosity. They’ll be great calls. The best calls. The most calls. The most fabulous calls.

There are also signs that the wealthiest sliver of Americans could still reap tremendous benefits from the proposed changes, even though Trump has suggested that the rich will not be better off. Ya. Right.

Trump also dedicated a considerable portion of his remarks in Indiana to railing against the estate tax, which he referred to as the “death tax” and would be eliminated under his plan. Such a move would primarily benefit top earners, including the president.

“We’re finally ending the crushing, horrible unfair disaster of the estate tax,” Trump said.

The tax in question applies to estates valued at more than $5.49m for individuals or $10.98m for married couples. According to the Tax Policy Center, a research group based in Washington, just 0.2% of estates of people who died were subject to the tax, which currently stands at a rate of 40% under the law.

Trump and Republicans in Congress have argued the estate tax has a crippling effect on family farms, ranches and small businesses. But a Tax Policy Center analysis of the year 2013 found only 3% of the 0.2% of the estates subject to the tax were farms and businesses.

3% of 0.2% isn’t exactly what some people would say is a “crushing, horrible unfair disaster”.

By contrast, a review by Bloomberg revealed huge savings for Trump and his cabinet, which is regarded as the wealthiest in US history.

Trump’s estate would save $564m, the review found, based on his estimated net worth of $3bn. Trump claims his net worth to be at least $10 bn, but he has refused to release his tax returns in a break from precedent, making it difficult to fully evaluate how Trump’s tax plan as president would affect him personally.

According to the Bloomberg analysis, a repeal of the estate tax would save Trump’s commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, roughly $545m and potentially result in more than $900m in savings for Richard DeVos, the father-in-law of Betsy DeVos, Trump’s education secretary.

Trump’s phone is going to be ringing off the hook. They’ll be great calls. The best calls. The most calls. The most fabulous calls. Believe me.

Corporations would see their top tax rate cut from 35% to 20%. For a period of five years, companies could further reduce how much they pay by immediately writing off their investments.

New benefits would be given to firms in which the profits double as the owners’ personal income. They would pay at a 25% rate, down from 39.6%. This creates a possible loophole for rich investors, lawyers, doctors and others, but administration officials say they will design measures to prevent any abuses. Ya. Right.

Read the complete article on The Guardian newspaper web site.

More on Trump’s tax plan:”Trump’s tax proposal would push US below Greece on inequality index

 

 

Trump ignoring crisis in Puerto Rico

puerto rico damage

A man rides his bicycle through a damaged road in Toa Alta, west of San Juan, Puerto Rico. Photograph: Ricardo Arduengo/AFP/Getty Images

Trump acted relatively fast in responding to hurricanes hitting Florida and Texas but is taking his own sweet time helping Puerto Rico.

It took Donald Trump five full days to respond to the devastation wrought by Hurricane Maria on the lives of 3.5 million Americans in Puerto Rico, and when he finally did so his comments on Twitter were so devoid of empathy it threatened to spark a new controversy.

Trump launched another provocation on Monday night with a belated and lacklustre response to the Puerto Rican disaster. In a series of three tweets he effectively blamed the islanders – all of whom are American citizens – for their own misfortune.

“Texas & Florida are doing great but Puerto Rico, which was already suffering from broken infrastructure & massive debt, is in deep trouble,” he said, without offering any additional federal government assistance for the stricken US territory, which was hit by Hurricane Maria soon after those two states were struck by Harvey and Irma.

Trump acknowledged that “much of the island was destroyed”, but caustically went on to say that its electrical grid was already “in terrible shape” and that Puerto Rico owed billions of dollars to Wall Street and the banks “which, sadly, must be dealt with”.

Trump himself has spent the past five days mired in his self-made battle with African-American sports stars while seemingly oblivious to the plight of millions of Hispanic Americans in peril in a natural disaster zone. The Trump administration has also refused to waive federal restrictions on foreign ships carrying life-saving supplies to Puerto Rico – a concession it readily made for Texas and Florida in the cases of hurricanes Harvey and Irma respectively.

In the last of his three tweets, Trump said that “food, water and medical are top priorities – and doing well”. But that may not tally with experiences on the ground where the governor, Ricardo Rosselló, has warned that Puerto Rico is on the brink of a “humanitarian crisis”.

In the hard-to-reach interior of the country, thousands of people are struggling with destroyed houses, a heat wave, and rapidly depleting supplies of clean water and food.

Most Puerto Ricans were spared the experience of reading Trump’s tweets as a result of the ongoing total blackout on the island. But condemnation was swift in mainland US.

Read the complete article on The Guardian newspaper web site.

The Guardian view on Donald Trump and racism: a moral failure that shames America

‘Mr Trump utterly failed in his primary duty to uphold equality and speak the truth about the racist violence that had taken place.’ Photograph: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

As George W Bush’s speechwriter put it this weekend, it is one of the “difficult but primary duties” of a political leader to speak for a nation in traumatic times. A space shuttle explodes, a school student goes on a shooting spree, a terrorist flies a plane into a building, a hurricane floods a city. When such things happen, Michael Gerson wrote in the Washington Post, “It falls to the president to express something of the nation’s soul.” Yet if Donald Trump’s words about the violent white extremist mobilisation in Virginia on Saturday – which an under-pressure White House was desperately trying to clarify on Sunday – are an expression of its soul, America may be on the road to perdition.

The original United States of America was built on white supremacy. The US constitution of 1787 treated black slaves as equivalent to three-fifths of a free white and gave no rights at all to Native Americans, who were regarded as belonging to their own nations. After the civil war, Jim Crow laws enforced segregation across the defeated south and comprehensively disfranchised African Americans for nearly a century. Writing Mein Kampf in the 1920s, Adolf Hitler praised America’s institutional racism as a model from which Nazi Germany could learn. Only in the postwar period, and then slowly and incompletely, was meaningful racial equality pursued by the land of the free.

Yet, while American racism has extremely deep and tenacious historical roots, without which the events in Virginia on Saturday cannot be properly understood, some large things have changed for the better over the past 60 or so years. Equal rights have been enforced. Equality has been embraced. America has elected a black president. It would be difficult to imagine any US president of this more recent period, of whatever party, who would not have responded to the neo-Nazis and white supremacists in Charlottesville with anything except explicit condemnation and disgust. Any president, that is, until this one.

There is absolutely no moral equivalence between the fanatical white supremacists who rallied in the Virginia city on Saturday and the equality defenders who demonstrated peacefully against them, one of whom was rammed and killed by a speeding car allegedly driven by a man who had attended the neo-Nazi rally. The supremacists hate black people and Jews, and regard white people as superior. They talk portentously about blood, soil and the right to bear arms. They admire Hitler and give Nazi salutes. They fly the flags of the pro-slavery Confederacy – the ostensible cause of their rallies this summer is Charlottesville’s decision, more than 150 years after the south’s surrender, to remove a statue of Robert E Lee from a park. And one of them committed the sort of act that was rightly called terrorism when it occurred in Nice, Berlin and London.

Yet, in his first response on Saturday, Mr Trump utterly failed in his primary duty to uphold equality and speak the truth about the racist violence that had taken place. Instead of placing the blame where it belonged, on the supremacists and Klansmen who triggered these events, and rather than stand up for the indivisibility of equality and tolerance before the law, Mr Trump’s words were by turns slippery, banal and morally compromised. It was not true that the violence in Charlottesville came from “many sides”, as Mr Trump evasively said, before repeating his evasion. It is the head of state’s duty to stand up, explicitly and unequivocally, against racists and those who promote racial violence. Mr Trump was found wanting.

Read the complete article in The Guardian newspaper.

The future of fake news: don’t believe everything you read, see or hear

A new breed of video and audio manipulation tools allow for the creation of realistic looking news footage, fake news, like the now infamous fake Obama speech.

In an age of Photoshop, filters and social media, many of us are used to seeing manipulated pictures – subjects become slimmer and smoother or, in the case of Snapchat, transformed into puppies.

The University of Washington’s Synthesizing Obama project took audio from one of Obama’s speeches and used it to animate his face in an entirely different video.

However, there’s a new breed of video and audio manipulation tools, made possible by advances in artificial intelligence and computer graphics, that will allow for the creation of realistic looking footage of public figures appearing to say, well, anything. Trump declaring his proclivity for water sports. Hillary Clinton describing the stolen children she keeps locked in her wine cellar. Tom Cruise finally admitting what we suspected all along … that he’s a Brony.

This is the future of fake news. We’ve long been told not to believe everything we read, but soon we’ll have to question everything we see and hear as well.

For now, there are several research teams working on capturing and synthesizing different visual and and audio elements of human behavior.

Software developed at Stanford University is able to manipulate video footage of public figures to allow a second person to put words in their mouth – in real time. Face2Face captures the second person’s facial expressions as they talk into a webcam and then morphs those movements directly onto the face of the person in the original video. The research team demonstrated their technology by puppeteering videos of George W Bush, Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump.

Face2Face lets you puppeteer celebrities and politicians, literally putting words in their mouths.

On its own, Face2Face is a fun plaything for creating memes and entertaining late night talk show hosts. However, with the addition of a synthesized voice, it becomes more convincing – not only does the digital puppet look like the politician, but it can also sound like the politician.

Canadian startup Lyrebird has developed similar capabilities, which it says can be used to turn text into on-the-spot audiobooks “read” by famous voices or for characters in video games.

Although their intentions may be well-meaning, voice-morphing technology could be combined with face-morphing technology to create convincing fake statements by public figures.

You only have to look at the University of Washington’s Synthesizing Obama project, where they took the audio from one of Obama’s speeches and used it to animate his face in an entirely different video with incredible accuracy (thanks to training a recurrent neural network with hours of footage), to get a sense of how insidious these adulterations can be.

Beyond fake news there are many other implications, said Nitesh Saxena, associate professor and research director of the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s department of computer science. “You could leave fake voice messages posing as someone’s mum. Or defame someone and post the audio samples online.”

Read the complete article on The Guardian web site.

 

Trump’s Tweets Show Shallow Self

It is the hobgoblin of the littlest mind to live-tweet your response to a television show. Especially if that mind belongs to a president orphaned from reality.

The Morning Joe duo revealed on Friday that the Trump White House tried to blackmail them into shutting up about the president’s unhinged performance. That blackmail included the threat of a story to be published by Trump’s journal of record, the National Enquirer. The story would be spiked if Joe and Mika called to apologize.

In the worlds of politics and television, this is a bizarre turn of events. As the chief executive of the most powerful nation on the planet, what could justify such threats and tactics? It’s tempting to say these are the methods of the mob, but frankly the mafia would not stoop to morning television.

Naturally, Trump himself disputes the Morning Joe account. But strangely not the fact that he had a conversation about the National Enquirer with a TV star.

“Watched low rated @Morning_Joe for the first time in long time,” he tweeted unconvincingly. “FAKE NEWS. He called me to stop a National Enquirer article. I said no! Bad show”.

Presidential historians, please take note: the 45th president of the United States felt the most insulting way to end his message to the nation was to criticize Morning Joe as a “bad show”.

Melania Trump condemned people who use social media to spread insults and lies. “Our culture has gotten too mean and too rough,” she said.

How right she is. Unfortunately, in five very long months, her husband has made the culture even more mean and rough.

“We need to teach our youth American values: kindness, honesty, respect, compassion, charity, understanding, cooperation,” she said.

She could start right at home. Maybe over dinner tonight, with her husband and their son. It’s what you might call a teachable moment.

Problem is President Trump’s ego is both boundless and brainless, held within an orange-colored prune of advancing senility.

Read the complete article in The Guardian newspaper.