Olympic officials shoot down cancellation rumours amid coronavirus outbreak | Stuff.co.nz

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Tokyo Olympic organisers are trying to shoot down rumours that this year’s 2020 Games might be cancelled or postponed because of the spread of a new virus.

Japan has so far reported no deaths from the coronavirus that has killed more than 200 people in China. Japanese organisers have hesitated to say much for several days, but on Friday they addressed the rumours. So did the International Olympic Committee, which also has said little.

Olympic organisers have finally addressed rumours that the Tokyo Games could be cancelled due to the coronavirus.

The Olympics open on July 24, just under six months away.

“We have never discussed cancelling the games,” Tokyo organisers said in a statement to The Associated Press. “Tokyo 2020 will continue to collaborate with the IOC and relevant organisations and will review any countermeasures that may be necessary.”

READ MORE:
* Coronavirus: How does NZ compare? 

* Coronavirus dooms Winter X Games 
* McCaw understands Olympics pressure 

Rumours of a cancellation have spread in Japan with reports that the Swiss-based IOC has met with the World Health Organisation about the outbreak. The WHO has called the virus a global emergency.

“Preparations for Tokyo 2020 continue as planned,” the IOC said in a statement. “It is normal practice for the IOC to collaborate with all the main UN agencies, as necessary, in the lead up to the games and this naturally includes the WHO.”

Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, speaking earlier in the week to the heads of 62 municipalities, warned about the dangers. Japan has also urged citizens not to travel to China.

“We must firmly tackle the new coronavirus to contain it, or we are going to regret it,” she said.

Rumours have spread online with thousands of comments on Twitter under the hashtag in Japanese “Tokyo Olympic Cancelled”.

The Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicentre of the coronavirus, is pressing ahead with the construction of two purpose-built hospitals.

The IOC has faced challenges like this before, and carries insurance for such possibilities. It has cancelled Olympics during wartime, and faced boycotts in 1980 and 1984. It also held the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City just months after the 9-11 attacks in the United States.

The mosquito-borne Zika virus also cast a shadow over the run-up to the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

The larger problem for the Olympics could come with qualifying events in China and elsewhere being cancelled or postponed. International federations will have to reschedule events and Chinese athletes could present extra challenges and screening.

World Athletics, the governing body of track and field, announced earlier in the week it was postponing the world indoor championships in Nanjing, China, until next year. The event had been scheduled for March 13-15.

Travel, screening and allaying fears are certain to be more complicated if the outbreak continues. The 11,000 athletes expected to compete at the Tokyo Olympics will also face pressure to stay safe.

Sponsors and television networks who have invested billions of dollars will also try to keep the games on track.

Demand for Olympic tickets in Japan is unprecedented, exceeding supply by at least 10 times. Organisers say 7.8 million tickets are being issued for the Olympics.

Organisers say they are spending about US$12.6 billion to put on the games. But a national audit bureau says the costs are twice that much.

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Week in Review: Apple’s rebirth as a content company has a forgettable debut – TechCrunch

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Hey everyone. Thank you for welcoming me into you inboxes yet again.

Hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving. After dodging your inboxes for a couple weeks as I ventured off to China for a TechCrunch event in Shenzhen, I am rested up and ready to go.

If you’re reading this on the TechCrunch site, you can get this in your inbox here, and follow my tweets here.

The big story

When Apple announced details on their three new subscription products (Apple TV+, Apple Arcade and Apple News+ — all of which are now live) back in March, the headlines that followed all described accurately how Apple’s business was increasingly shifting away from hardware towards services and how the future of the company may lie in these subscription businesses.

I largely accepted those headlines as fact, but one thing I have been thinking an awful lot about this week is how much I have loved Disney+ since signing up for an account and just how little I have thought about Apple TV+ despite signing up for both at their launches.

It’s admittedly not the fairest of comparisons, Disney has decades of classic content behind them while Apple is pushing out weekly updates to a few mostly meh TV shows. But no one was begging Apple to get into television. The company’s desires to diversify and own subscriptions that consumers have on their Apple devices certainly make sense for them, but their strategy of making that play without the help of any beloved series before them seems to have been a big miscalculation.

At TechCrunch, we write an awful lot about acquisitions worth hundreds of million, if not billions, of dollars. Some of the acquisitions that have intrigued me the most have been in the content space. Streaming networks are plunking down historic sums on series like Seinfeld, Friends and The Big Bang Theory. The buyers have differed throughout these deals, but they have never been Apple.

That’s because Apple isn’t bidding on history, they’re trying to nab directors and actors creating the series that will be the next hits. And while that sounds very Apple, it also sounds like a product that’s an awfully big gamble to the average consumer looking to try out a new streaming service. Why pick the service that’s starting from a standstill? Apple has ordered plenty of series and I have few doubts that at least one of the shows they plan to introduce is going to be a hit, but there isn’t much in the way of an early favorite yet and for subscribers that haven’t found “the one” yet, there’s very little reason to stick around.

Other networks with a half-dozen major series can afford a few flops because there’s a library of classics that’s filling up the dead space. Apple’s strategy is bold but is going to lead to awfully high churn among consumers that won’t be as forgiving of bad bets. This is an issue that’s sure to become less pronounced over time, but I would bet there will be quite a few consumers unsubscribing in the mean time leaving those on freebie subscriptions responsible for gauging which new shows are top notch.

Apple has also made the weird move of not housing their content inside an app so much as the Apple TV’s alternative UI inside the TV app. One one hand, this makes the lack of content less visible, but it also pushes all of the original series to the back of your mind. If you’re a Netflix user who has been subconsciously trained never to use the TV app on your Apple TV because none of their content is housed there, you’re really left forgetting about TV+ shows entirely when using the traditional app layout.

We haven’t received any super early numbers on Apple News+, Apple Arcade or Apple TV+, but none of the three appears to have made the sizable cultural splashes in their debuts that were hoped for at launch. Apple’s biggest bet of the three was undoubtedly TV+ and while their first series haven’t seemed to drop any jaws, what’s more concerning is whether the fundamentals of the service have been arranged so that unsatisfied subscribers feel any need to stick around.

Send me feedback
on Twitter @lucasmtny or email
lucas@techcrunch.com

On to the rest of the week’s news.

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Trends of the week

Here are a few big news items from big companies, with green links to all the sweet, sweet added context:

GAFA Gaffes

How did the top tech companies screw up this week? This clearly needs its own section, in order of badness:

Disrupt Berlin

It’s hard to believe it’s already that time of the year again, but we just announced the agenda for Disrupt Berlin and we’ve got some all-stars making their way to the stage. I’ll be there this year, get some tickets and come say hey!

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Why the fight against disinformation, sham accounts and trolls won’t be any easier in 2020

2020 Election

The big tech companies have announced aggressive steps to keep trolls, bots and online fakery from marring another presidential election — from Facebook’s removal of billions of fake accounts to Twitter’s spurning of all political ads.

But it’s a never-ending game of whack-a-mole that’s only getting harder as we barrel toward the 2020 election. Disinformation peddlers are deploying new, more subversive techniques and American operatives have adopted some of the deceptive tactics Russians tapped in 2016. Now, tech companies face thorny and sometimes subjective choices about how to combat them — at times drawing flak from both Democrats and Republicans as a result.

This is our roundup of some of the evolving challenges Silicon Valley faces as it tries to counter online lies and bad actors heading into the 2020 election cycle:

1) American trolls may be a greater threat than Russians

Russia-backed trolls notoriously flooded social media with disinformation around the presidential election in 2016, in what Robert Mueller’s investigators described as a multimillion-dollar plot involving years of planning, hundreds of people and a wave of fake accounts posting news and ads on platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Google-owned YouTube.

This time around — as experts have warned — a growing share of the threat is likely to originate in America.

“It’s likely that there will be a high volume of misinformation and disinformation pegged to the 2020 election, with the majority of it being generated right here in the United States, as opposed to coming from overseas,” said Paul Barrett, deputy director of New York University’s Stern Center for Business and Human Rights.

Barrett, the author of a recent report on 2020 disinformation, noted that lies and misleading claims about 2020 candidates originating in the U.S. have already spread across social media. Those include manufactured sex scandals involving South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and a smear campaign calling Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) “not an American black” because of her multiracial heritage. (The latter claim got a boost on Twitter from Donald Trump Jr.)

Before last year’s midterm elections, Americans similarly amplified fake messages such as a “#nomenmidterms” hashtag that urged liberal men to stay home from the polls to make “a Woman’s Vote Worth more.” Twitter suspended at least one person — actor James Woods — for retweeting that message.

“A lot of the disinformation that we can identify tends to be domestic,” said Nahema Marchal, a researcher at the Oxford Internet Institute’s Computational Propaganda Project. “Just regular private citizens leveraging the Russian playbook, if you will, to create … a divisive narrative, or just mixing factual reality with made-up facts.”

Tech companies say they’ve broadened their fight against disinformation as a result. Facebook, for instance, announced in October that it had expanded its policies against “coordinated inauthentic behavior” to reflect a rise in disinformation campaigns run by non-state actors, domestic groups and companies. But people tracking the spread of fakery say it remains a problem, especially inside closed groups like those popular on Facebook.

2) And policing domestic content is tricky

U.S. law forbids foreigners from taking part in American political campaigns — a fact that made it easy for members of Congress to criticize Facebook for accepting rubles as payment for political ads in 2016.

But Americans are allowed, even encouraged, to partake in their own democracy — which makes things a lot more complicated when they use social media tools to try to skew the electoral process. For one thing, the companies face a technical challenge: Domestic meddling doesn’t leave obvious markers such as ads written in broken English and traced back to Russian internet addresses.

More fundamentally, there’s often no clear line between bad-faith meddling and dirty politics. It’s not illegal to run a mud-slinging campaign or engage in unscrupulous electioneering. And the tech companies are wary of being seen as infringing on American’s right to engage in political speech — all the more so as conservatives such as President Donald Trump accuse them of silencing their voices.

Plus, the line between foreign and domestic can be blurry. Even in 2016, the Kremlin-backed troll farm known as the Internet Research Agency relied on Americans to boost their disinformation. Now, claims with hazy origins are being picked up without need for a coordinated 2016-style foreign campaign. Simon Rosenberg, a longtime Democratic strategist who has spent recent years focused on online disinformation, points to Trump’s promotion of the theory that Ukraine significantly meddled in the 2016 U.S. election, a charge that some experts trace back to Russian security forces.

“It’s hard to know if something is foreign or domestic,” said Rosenberg, once it “gets swept up in this vast ‘Wizard of Oz’-like noise machine.”

3) Bad actors are learning

Experts agree on one thing: The election interference tactics that social media platforms encounter in 2020 will look different from those they’ve trying to fend off since 2016.

“What we’re going to see is the continued evolution and development of new approaches, new experimentation trying to see what will work and what won’t,” said Lee Foster, who leads the information operations intelligence analysis team at the cybersecurity firm FireEye.

Foster said the “underlying motivations” of undermining democratic institutions and casting doubt on election results will remain constant, but the trolls have already evolved their tactics.

For instance, they’ve gotten better at obscuring their online activity to avoid automatic detection, even as social media platforms ramp up their use of artificial intelligence software to dismantle bot networks and eradicate inauthentic accounts.

“One of the challenges for the platforms is that, on the one hand, the public understandably demands more transparency from them about how they take down or identify state-sponsored attacks or how they take down these big networks of authentic accounts, but at the same time they can’t reveal too much at the risk of playing into bad actors’ hands,” said Oxford’s Marchal.

Researchers have already observed extensive efforts to distribute disinformation through user-generated posts — known as “organic” content — rather than the ads or paid messages that were prominent in the 2016 disinformation campaigns.

Foster, for example, cited trolls impersonating journalists or other more reliable figures to give disinformation greater legitimacy. And Marchal noted a rise in the use of memes and doctored videos, whose origins can be difficult to track down. Jesse Littlewood, vice president at advocacy group Common Cause, said social media posts aimed at voter suppression frequently appear no different from ordinary people sharing election updates in good faith — messages such as “you can text your vote” or “the election’s a different day” that can be “quite harmful.”

Tech companies insist they are learning, too. Since the 2016 election, Google, Facebook and Twitter have devoted security experts and engineers to tackling disinformation in national elections across the globe, including the 2018 midterms in the United States. The companies say they have gotten better at detecting and removing fake accounts, particularly those engaged in coordinated campaigns.

But other tactics may have escaped detection so far. NYU’s Barrett noted that disinformation-for-hire operations sometimes employed by corporations may be ripe for use in U.S. politics, if they’re not already.

He pointed to a recent experiment conducted by the cyber threat intelligence firm Recorded Future, which said it paid two shadowy Russian “threat actors” a total of just $6,050 to generate media campaigns promoting and trashing a fictitious company. Barrett said the project was intended “to lure out of the shadows firms that are willing to do this kind of work,” and demonstrated how easy it is to generate and sow disinformation.

Real-life examples include a hyper-partisan skewed news operation started by a former Fox News executive and Facebook’s accusations that an Israeli social media company profited from creating hundreds of fake accounts. That “shows that there are firms out there that are willing and eager to engage in this kind of underhanded activity,” Barrett said.

4) Not all lies are created equal

Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are largely united in trying to take down certain kinds of false information, such as targeted attempts to drive down voter turnout. But their enforcement has been more varied when it comes to material that is arguably misleading.

In some cases, the companies label the material factually dubious or use their algorithms to limit its spread. But in the lead-up to 2020, the companies’ rules are being tested by political candidates and government leaders who sometimes play fast and loose with the truth.

“A lot of the mainstream campaigns and politicians themselves tend to rely on a mix of fact and fiction,” Marchal said. “It’s often a lot of … things that contain a kernel of truth but have been distorted.”

One example is the flap over a Trump campaign ad — which appeared on Facebook, YouTube and some television networks — suggesting that former Vice President Joe Biden had pressured Ukraine into firing a prosecutor to squelch an investigation into an energy company whose board included Biden’s son Hunter. In fact, the Obama administration and multiple U.S. allies had pushed for removing the prosecutor for slow-walking corruption investigations. The ad “relies on speculation and unsupported accusations to mislead viewers,” the nonpartisan site FactCheck.org concluded.

The debate has put tech companies at the center of a tug of war in Washington. Republicans have argued for more permissive rules to safeguard constitutionally protected political speech, while Democrats have called for greater limits on politicians’ lies.

Democrats have especially lambasted Facebook for refusing to fact-check political ads, and have criticized Twitter for letting politicians lie in their tweets and Google for limiting candidates’ ability to finely tune the reach of their advertising — all examples, the Democrats say, of Silicon Valley ducking the fight against deception.

Jesse Blumenthal, who leads the tech policy arm of the Koch-backed Stand Together coalition, said expecting Silicon Valley to play truth cop places an undue burden on tech companies to litigate messy disputes over what’s factual.

“Most of the time the calls are going to be subjective, so what they end up doing is putting the platforms at the center of this rather than politicians being at the center of this,” he said.

Further complicating matters, social media sites have generally granted politicians considerably more leeway to spread lies and half-truths through their individual accounts and in certain instances through political ads. “We don’t do this to help politicians, but because we think people should be able to see for themselves what politicians are saying,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in an October speech at Georgetown University in which he defended his company’s policy.

But Democrats say tech companies shouldn’t profit off false political messaging.

“I am supportive of these social media companies taking a much harder line on what content they allow in terms of political ads and calling out lies that are in political ads, recognizing that that’s not always the easiest thing to draw those distinctions,” Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington state told POLITICO.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

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Cubs extend TV reach with Mediacom | Chicago Cubs

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CHICAGO — The Cubs will be launching Marquee Sports Network in February, just in time for Spring Training games. In the meantime, the club’s business arm continues to make progress with carriage agreements that will bring the team’s new regional network into more homes.

On Wednesday, Sinclair Broadcast Group — the Cubs’ partner in the Marquee venture — announced that it had reached a multiyear carriage agreement with Mediacom Communications to carry the new network. The deal with Mediacom follows carriage agreements with both AT&T and Charter Communications.

“We couldn’t be more excited to bring Marquee Sports Network to Mediacom customers,” Cubs president of business operations Crane Kenney said in a release. “When you combine this deal with AT&T, we can guarantee that Cubs fans in our home territory across Chicago and the Midwest will have the ability to access the network next year.”

Mediacom provides carriage of Marquee in certain parts of Illinois, Indiana and Iowa. Terms or financial details of the agreement were not provided.

News of the deal between Sinclair and Mediacom on Wednesday came one day after Marquee announced the hiring of Michael Santini as the senior vice president of programming and production for the Cubs’ network. Santini previously served as the vice president of production for MLB Network, which he helped launch in 2009.

At MLB Network, Santini headed the production department and oversaw such shows as “MLB Tonight” and “MLB Central,” among others. He also has 20 years of production experience in a variety of roles at MSG Networks in New York.

“To be selected to lead programming and production for Marquee Sports Network is beyond exciting,” Santini said in a release. “MLB Network was a challenging, fluid and fast-paced environment. I am honored and grateful to have that same opportunity this time in Chicago for one of the most iconic sports franchises with the best fan base in the game.”

With Marquee, Santini will be responsible for managing the network’s live programming, pregame and postgame shows and all original content. He will also oversee the network’s on-air talent, production staff and crew members.

Santini joins a group at Marquee Sports Network that is led by Michael McCarthy, who was hired in May to be the channel’s general manager. Previously, McCarthy was the president of the MSG Network, and also had leadership roles with the St. Louis Blues and Milwaukee Bucks. He had been a consultant for the Cubs dating back to August of ’18.

“As we near the launch of the network,” McCarthy said in Wednesday’s release, “we look forward to giving fans the in-depth Cubs content they want and deserve through multiple providers.”

Jordan Bastian covers the Cubs for MLB.com. He previously covered the Indians from 2011-18 and the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian.

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Bocas House Restaurant Owners File Lawsuit to Stop Enchufado Rumors | Miami New Times

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In Miami’s fast-growing Venezuelan community, there are few things worse than being known as an enchufado. It’s a scarlet letter worn by those believed to have enriched themselves through political connections to the regimes of Venezuelan strongman Nicolas Maduro and the late Hugo Chávez.

Ask enough Venezuelans expats in Florida, and they’ll tell you the state is practically crawling with them. A suspected enchufado‘s business ties, alleged wealth, and proximity to corruption in Venezuela are all fair game and scrutinized through social media, WhatsApp chats, and internet blogs — on certain occasions operating on little more than suspicion.

For years, enchufado rumors have been swirling around brothers Carmelo and Levin de Grazia, the owners of the Florida-based Bocas House restaurant chain. But the de Grazias appear to have finally reached their limit — earlier this month, the two filed a defamation lawsuit against three South Florida residents who allegedly spread gossip on blogs and social media accusing the pair of laundering money for corrupt Venezuelan officials through their restaurants.

According to the civil complaint filed in Miami-Dade Circuit Court, the ordeal began at the end of August when an anonymous Venezuelan blog, UltimaHora24, published an article claiming the de Grazia brothers and their cousin Horacio were using the restaurant chain to launder portions of the estimated $1.2 billion embezzled by officials in the Maduro regime from Venezuela’s state-owned oil company. The article was then reposted and shared on social media by two more anonymous blogs, Expresa and VozDeAmerica. (The original article has been taken down from the UltimaHora24 website but is still available on internet archives.) The brothers claim “upon information and belief” that all three of the websites are owned and run by Doral resident Gerardo Jose Gils Dams.

Venezuelan journalist Angie Perez is also named as a defendant. The brothers’ suit says Perez shared the article on her Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages and also uploaded her own Instagram post with a photo of a private jet in Opa-locka that she claims belongs to Levin de Grazia.

A post shared by Angie Perez (@angiepereztv) on

The lawsuit claims the campaign to defame the restaurant owners was orchestrated by Cesar Gonzalez, a former co-owner of Bocas Group and former manager of a now-closed Bocas restaurant in Coral Gables. The civil complaint details an elaborate plot that supposedly involved Gonzalez paying Dams to make the posts and then, using intermediaries, requesting $70,000 from Levin de Grazia to take them down. (The suit suggests Perez’s alleged involvement was limited to reposting the articles and making her own social media posts and does not link her to any attempts at extortion.)

In a public statement, Levin de Grazia said the enchufado accusations are an attack on his livelihood.

“Bocas has never lent itself, nor will it ever, for money laundering. On the contrary, the origin of the funds used for the foundation and the growth of the restaurants is completely lawful, auditable, and has been fully declared to the competent authorities in the United States of America,” he wrote. “It is an unfortunate reality that entrepreneurs who work hard sometimes face attacks from disgruntled former partners.”

An administrator with Expresa tells New Times the site is run by a decentralized network of journalists who did not know or have any relation to Dams. Likewise, an administrator from VozDeAmerica says the site has no relation to Dams and did not even know about the lawsuit.

No contact information is provided on UltimaHora24’s website. Perez declined to comment on the lawsuit when contacted by New Times. Gonzalez has not responded to a message sent via Twitter, and Dams could not be reached for comment.

In 2015, Levin de Grazia opened the first Bocas restaurant, Bocas Grill, in Miami. In less than four years, Bocas Grill and its sister franchise, Bocas House, expanded to five other locations. Bocas Management Group also owns four other restaurants in the Miami area: Francisca, Kitchen of the World, Laborejo, and La Fontana. Additional Bocas Group restaurants are currently under construction.

A post shared by Levin De Grazia (@levindegrazia) on

The de Grazias are expats from San Cristobal, Venezuela, where their father, Americo De Grazia, serves as an opposition lawmaker in the country’s national assembly. Carmelo de Grazia, Levin’s brother, lives in Caracas, according to the lawsuit.

The sudden success of the restauranteurs stirred suspicion among many Venezuelan expats, particularly on social media, where Venezuelans wondered publicly how Levin de Grazia got the funding to open so many restaurants in such little time. Levin de Grazia took notice. In a 2017 WLRN article, he likened an anonymous Instagram post accusing him of money laundering to a witch hunt and said the gossip could ruin his business. “No Venezuelans here want to go to a Chavista restaurant,” he said.

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The business grew, but the rumors kept spreading. The lawsuit claims the accusations have left the plaintiffs subject to “hatred, distrust, ridicule, contempt or disgrace.”

The growth of whisper networks against suspected enchufados has coincided with a jump in federal indictments against former Venezuelan officials and individuals with Chavista ties residing in or hiding assets in the U.S. There’s no doubt there are plenty of enchufados around, but proving those accusations can be difficult.

The Miami-based Veppex group (an acronym for Politically Persecuted Venezuelans in Exile, in Spanish) recently launched a platform where individuals can anonymously submit information on suspected enchufados. The group says they forward all credible-seeming accusations to the Department of Justice and other federal agencies.

“In cases where one is looking to denounce an enchufado, the best thing to do is get in touch with U.S. authorities, so that they can investigate,” says Veppex president José Colina. “Because in the end, you’re going to need to have proof.”  

Manuel Madrid is a staff writer for Miami New Times. The child of Venezuelan immigrants, he grew up in Pompano Beach. He studied finance at Virginia Commonwealth University and worked as a writing fellow for the magazine The American Prospect in Washington, D.C., before moving back to South Florida.

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No respite yet on nation’s ‘death trap’ roads

The Ministry of Works and Housing has said the ongoing construction of many federal roads may suffer neglect if not adequately funded. ADEYINKA ADERIBIGBE writes on the fresh threats by the Minister Babatunde Fashola

Good and motorable federal roads are becoming a rarity in this parts, no thanks to paucity of funds that continued to dog such dreams.

Achieving safe and motorable roads in the country, the bane of successive administration in the last three decades, has again reared its head and may put a cog in the wheel of the Buhari administration to bequeathe a motorable road across the country unless the National Assembly intervene and approve more funds for the works department.

Hinting of this grave reality, the Minister of Works and Housing, Mr Babatunde Fashola, at his appearance before the House Committee on Works at the National Assembly urged the lawmakers to make more money available to the Ministry.

According to him, the N157 billion allocated to the Works Ministry in the 2020 budget, cannot give the nation any respite from death traps called roads.

According to him, the allocation is not enough to pay contractors for jobs already delivered. On the minimum, the Works Department, he said, needs N255 billion to fund new construction across the country, while N306 billion will be required to pay contractors for jobs.

Fashola also disclosed that N2.93 billion was pending in unpaid certificates under multilateral-funded projects.

The Federal Government is undertaking the reconstruction of 524 roads across the six geo-political zones in the country. Checks revealed that though some of the roads, like the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, were inherited by the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration, it has continued to take on new road assignments in its determination to open the country to even development.

Fashola said all roads being handled by the government would help open up the economy. He said the focus was to make ease of doing business in the country less cumbersome.

Besides the 524 federal roads, four others are multilateral-funded road projects, while 81 roads are being embarked upon under the Presidential Infrastructural Development Fund (PIDF) and 45 others funded by the Sukuk bond.

Among other projects under the PIDF are Abuja-Kaduna-Zaria-Kano Road, the Second Niger Bridge, the Lagos-Ibadan Express Road, the Mambilla Hydro project and the East-West Road.

He, therefore, appealed to the lawmakers to make more money available to the ministry to ensure that none of the projects are stalled for lack of funds.

The lean budgetary allocation had also led to the stoppage of repayment to state governments for the repair of federal roads. Fashola said any government which embarked on such should not revert to it for payment as none would be paid. He advised the states to concentrate on state-funded roads.

He said: “When we came in, we inherited quite a number of such debts from states which repaired Federal roads and asked for refunds and the President directed that we pay all those that were approved by the previous government.”

Nigeria has 194,000 kilometres of road network and their neglect over the years, is posing grace danger to motorists, as bad roads has emerged as the major causes of deaths in the country.

More than 5000 deaths occur on Nigeria roads nationwide, a fact the Federal Roads Safety Corps (FRSC) high command would squarely lay on the doorstep of recklessness of drivers, than they would admit are caused by the deplorable roads.

Over speeding, recklessness and vehicle defects ranked very high in the causative factors of fatalities on the roads, Dr Boboye Oyeyemi would readily admit.

But the government admits that the roads are crumbling faster than they can be fixed. The worse stage roads are in, the quicker cars and trucks deteriorate, rocketing, the cost of repairs and maintenance. For many the experience remains that the cost of fixing the cars are getting scarily higher than the cost of fueling it.

Checks showed that virtually all federal roads in the five southeastern states are in total ruin, making traveling an ordeal.

The swansong is similar in the Northeast and the remaining four geo-political zones are not left out. Sometimes in 2017, Fashola had said Nigeria may require about N7 trillion to fix all its road networks.

Among other roads being handled by the Federal Government in the Southeast are the rehabilitation of Sections 1 to 4 of the Enugu -Port Harcourt Expressway (Sukuk Bond; ongoing), rehabilitation of Amansea–Enugu Border section of Onitsha-Enugu Expressway (Sukuk Bond; ongoing), rehabilitation of 18km stretch of Onitsha–Awka Road (ongoing), construction of the Second Niger Bridge, rehabilitation of Arochukwu-Ohafia-Bende Road (ongoing). The Ikot Ekpene – Alaoji – Ugwuaji switching station has been completed.

Also ongoing is the emergency intervention on 63 roads which cut across the six geopolitical zones — Northeast, Northwest, Northcentral, Southwest, Southeast and Southsouth. In the Northeast, the construction of  Billiri Filiya in Taraba-Gombe Road through Potiskum-Agalda-Gombe State Border/bridge at Km 32, and Potiskum-Kari-Bauchi S/B Road in Yobe State are ongoing.

Also, undergoing rehabilitation are Tella Road and Bridge, Abutment and Apawa-Junction-Zing-Adamawa (State Border) in Taraba State. Bauch-Darazo-Kari Road in Bauchi State. Numan-Lafia-Gombe State Border Road, Numan-Jalingo Road.  Numan-Guyuk (Borno State Border. Ngurore-Mayobelwa Road in Adamawa State, all in the North East.

In the Northwest: Birnin Gwari Road in Kaduna, Kebbi-Argungu-Sokoto (State Border) Road in Kebbi State, Gusau-Chafe-Katsina Road in Zamfara, Rimawa-Sabonbirnin-Niger Republic Road (Section 1), Rimawa-Sabon-birnin-Niger Republic Road (Section 2) and bridge embankment in Sokoto State, Gumel-Mallam Madori-Hadeija Road, Birnin Kudu and Babaldu-Malumuwa-Bauchi S/B Road, among others in Jigawa,Yayasa Bridge in Kano and Dusinma-Kankara Road in Katsina State. North-central: Makurdi-Lafia Road and Makurdi-Gboko Road in Benue, Okene-Kabba Road and Kabba-Omuo Road in Kogi, Ajase-Offa-Erinle-Osun State Boundary Road in Kwara, Keffi Abuja Road and Keffi-Gittata-Kaduna S/b Road, Nassarawa-Toto-Abaji Road in Nassarawa and Jebba-Mokwa Road, Bida-Lapal-Lambata Road and Makera-Tegina Road in Niger State are listed for repairs. Southwest Ibillo-Isu-Epinmi-Akungba Road and Owo-Akure Road in Ondo, Ilesa-Ijebu-Ijesa Road, Ijebu-Ijesa-Ekiti S/B and Ibadan-Ile-Ife-Ilesa Road, Osun S/B-Ilesa in Osun, Ibadan-Ile-Ife-Ilesa Road in Oyo, Ijebu-Ode-Epe-Ibadan Road in Ogun and Ikorodu-Shagamu in Lagos. Southeast: Abakaliki-Oferekpe Road in Ebonyi, Nsukka-Adani-Anambra S/B Road in Enugu State, Umuokpor section of Ikot Ekpene-Aba Road in Abia and Ihiala-Orlu-Umuduru Road, Owerri-Okigwe, among others. Southsouth Ikot Ekpene-Ikot Umoessien-Abia S/B Road in Akwa Ibom, Ebiama-Yenegoa Road in Bayelsa, Auchi-Igarra-Ibillo-Ose Bridge Road and Benin-Ofosu-Shagamu Road in Edo, Ebouchichie-Gakem Road in Cross River, Benin-Asaba Dual Carriageway, Asaba-Illa-Ebu-Edo S/B Road, Igbodo, Benin-Asaba Expressway and Warrri-Sapele-Edo S/b Road in Delta State, among others. Over 45 bridges, according to the list, are slated for rehabilitation over the next three years. They include: 1. Two bridges along Sokoto-Gusau Road 2. Murtala Mohammed Bridge, Koton Karfe 3. River Ebba to Cheche Bridge. Jebba Bridge 5. 3rd Mainland Bridge. Nine Lagos Bridges and flyovers 7. Lagos Ring Road Bridge Abutment 8. Ijora 7-Up Bridge 9. Ijora-Apapa Bridge by Leventis 10. Burnt Marine Bridge.

They also include: 11. Utor Bridge 12. Niger Bridge at Onitsha/Asaba 13. Onitsha-Owerri Bridge 14. Ibagwa Bridge, Ikom Bridge 15. Itigidi, Makurdi Bridge 16. Quata Sule Bridge 17. Katsina Ala Bridge 18. Buruku Bridge 19. Abuja-Abaji Bridge Section 11 20.

Loko Owotu Bridge 21. Ibi Bridge 22. Kudzum Bridge 23. Gombe-Michika-Maraba Bridge 24. Gamboru Bridge 25. Katanko Bridge 26. Jaji Bridge 27. Borno/Adamawa State Border Bridge 28. Falani Bridge, Sumaila 29. Flyover Bridge at Silver Jubilee 30 Tambuwal Bridge.

In a paper by the research department of the Central Bank of Nigeria on Highways maintenance: Lessons from other countries, the CBN contends that the experience in developing world shows that adequate resources for highway maintenance cannot be sourced from the treasury alone.

The rules and regulations of the public administrative system do not allow for an effective and efficient management of road maintenance. Most countries have, therefore, resorted to the creation of autonomous authorities, which are given the responsibility for road maintenance. Generally, both the public and private sectors are represented on the boards, with the private sector dominating in many countries.

In almost all countries, the sources for revenue for road maintenance authority are levy on gasoline, toll gate fees, licence fees on motor vehicles, international transit fees, fees on over loaded vehicles and allocations by parliament.

It advocated for the creation of the Nigerian Road Maintenance Agency to source funding for the agency from grants, governments, organised private sector and international donors, – Toll gate collections; – Fees or services rendered by the Agency and monies accruing from road concession. These are also sources of funding in the other countries reviewed, with the exception of taxes on petroleum products in respect of the NRMA.

The grants from the Federal Government could be equated with the releases for road maintenance which totaled N470.9 million, N401.2 million, N474.5 million and N178.7 million in 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2002, respectively. Toll gate collections, which exceeded the releases in all the years constituted the major source of funding. The other sources indicated above have not been explored. Aggregate toll gate collections were N569.29 million in 2000, N742.72 million in 2001 and N779.84 million in 2002. The collection, therefore, rose by 30.5 per cent in 2000 and by only five per cent in 2001.

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How ‘The Good Place’ made the cast, creative team and maybe even the viewers better people

creative team and maybe even the viewers better people - CNN

(CNN)“It felt a little bit like what I imagine sending your kid off to college feels like,” says Kristen Bell about wrapping up “The Good Place,” currently in its fourth and final season on NBC. “It’s a good and bad feeling.”

“I refuse to spend my final moments being allowed to play with these people in misery — I think that would be pitiful,” says Bell. “I didn’t want to let that ruin it, because it is a gift. It really does feel like we did it for a reason, and when you see the ending you’ll know.”
When the finale comes, it will mark the end of a long, always fitfully funny but also moving journey of striving for enlightenment and self-betterment in the afterlife of a group of damned souls — Eleanor (Bell), Chidi (William Jackson Harper), Tahani (Jameela Jamil), Jason (Manny Jacinto), plus the reforming demon Michael (Ted Danson) and the ultimate Siri/celestial automaton Janet (D’Arcy Carden). It’s meaty philosophical, territory peppered with silly swear word substitutes.
    “I definitely felt the anxiety of landing the plane more acutely than in previous years,” the show’s creator and executive producer Michael Schur tells CNN. A veteran of “The Office” and “Parks and Recreation” — two series both riotously funny and deeply warm-hearted which also struck pitch-perfect notes as they concluded — Schur admitted his team sweated many details crafting “The Good Place’s” endgame. “We spent a massive amount of time on the ending. Because we really wanted to get it right,”
    “I feel like we had a fairly good handle going into it, where our end point was,” says supervising producer and writer Jen Statsky, who explained that the series’ creative team constantly took a “forward-thinking” approach to the way the story unfolded season by season, neatly set up the story and character arcs to play out in subsequent episodes, which paid off as the final season was conceived. “You want to give the proper ending to these characters.”
    “And to make sure that we had covered all the ground we wanted to, and to be like, ‘Did we explore every facet of these characters and of the world?'” adds co-executive producer and writer Megan Amram, nodding to the rich, comic afterlife mythology the series has constructed. “In some ways we’ve been talking about the ending of the show almost since we started writing the show.”
    Thus the decision to end after four seasons, on their own terms, at a moment in time where broadcast networks tend to mine hit series for as long as they possibility can. When it became apparent that the fourth season would lead to the most organic and satisfying conclusion, NBC deferred to Schur’s creative vision. “We knew why [it was time to end], and it was because of the meaning of the show and it was because we were telling story that deserved its ending,” says Bell.
    entertainment
    As the cast and crew delved into the many ethically and morally thorny issues the show’s characters would have to contend with, they found themselves in an extended learning curve as they routinely consulted academic experts in fields such philosophy, neuroscience and criminal justice to bring nuance and context to the series. “We’ve learned so much about so much stuff,” says Schur. “It’s been like a rotating course of lectures that we’ve had in our writers room, and it’s been so fun.”
    “We’ve all been very lucky to work with various writers rooms before, but this is the first one that felt like a combination writers room/college course,” agrees Statsky. “And for a true dummy like myself, it’s been very enjoyable to just not only get to be at work, but get to be learning about these topics that I had no previous knowledge of.”
    “This is paying us to go to college,” laughs Amram.
    Bell says that by exploring such heady, meaningful topics, even through a comedic lens, had a profound effect on everyone involved in the show, leaving everyone considering seriously what it meant to make a positive impact, both on those around them and on a global scale.
    “There are these opposing theories in my head about ways to be, to state my opinion fighting for good or do it with my art, and I vacillate between the two,” says the actress. “This was one where I felt like I really did it with my art, where I was a part of saying some things that I wanted to put out in the world, and I was really lucky to be able to be offered a job that was both creatively fulfilling and emotionally fulfilling to my sort of maternal instincts towards the world…I hope to get both again, but this is a pretty lucky experience.”
    The show’s conceit, to strive to be better even in the face of eternal damnation, proved downright infectious.
    “In the fabric of the show we talk about, life is a lot of little choices,” says Amram. “The show helped me realize that going through my day, I am presented with a lot more moral decision-making than I had previously thought. And I try to always make this slightly better choice now. And I think that is what the show is about. It’s like, when presented with two things, think about it, and maybe try to make the slightly better choice.” As a result of her involvement on the show, for example, Amram committed to a vegetarian lifestyle.
    “I don’t think that I totally understood the level of which moral decision making can become a factor in your life, where from the moment you wake up to the moment you go to sleep almost everything you do has a moral component,” says Schur. “It can drive you nuts. I’m not necessarily saying this is a good thing.”
    “We do it when we order lunch and when we have any big decision to make. You can get really paralyzed,” adds Schur, noting that the show used the character of Chidi and his inability to resolve micro-ethical considerations to illustrate the point.
    How 'The Good Place' made the cast
    “If you let the idea of making a moral decision infect your life to that level, you become a nonfunctioning human being,” he adds. “The important thing is that you think about it, and then the next most important thing is that you are okay with the idea that you’re going to blow it sometimes…You need to let yourself off the hook when you do things that aren’t exactly perfect.”
    It’s a quandary that resonates deeply for the actor who brings Chidi’s indecision to life.
    “A lot of that is a very intuitive manifestation of a lot of my own stuff,” says Harper. “Maybe it’s more universal than I thought. Maybe a lot of people feel that way, but I personally get stuck a lot, and I think that just seeing what that paralysis looks like can actually be freeing, because sometimes it’s really useful to see it from the outside, the commitment to an action or inaction, how frustrating that can be. Especially to someone who is like, ‘Any choice you make right now will be better than not making one’… The most salient thing about the show and especially about this character for me is that.”
    Harper says that as a result of being a part of “The Good Place,” on screen and off, he couldn’t resist a powerful impulse for self-improvement.
    “I’ve learned in a very visceral way that people make the world, and the world that we are so privileged to inhabit for these past four seasons is beautiful, and wonderful, and full of good feelings and positivity and kindness,” he says. “And there’s no way to have that environment at work and not feel like, ‘Well, why can’t this be what the rest of my life is like?’ So coming away from the show, I want to make sure that I try to put as much good into the world as I can going forward.”
    Much of that is a result of the people Schur invited in to “The Good Place’s” world, says Stasky.
    “Mike’s an expert picker of people to work on projects. He has a very good radar for good people who want to make good things and treat each other well in the process of making those things. He empowers people to feel like they are a part of the project, and that really I think creates this environment where everyone is just happy, they’re happy to come to work, they feel they have a stake in it, and it’s a fertile ground for relationships to grow.”
    Indeed, as the public face of the show, the cast has demonstrated an emotional investment in both “The Good Place” and one another that’s rare among even the oft-self-proclaimed “families” of other TV series. A recent panel at the Television Critics Association’s press tour found the actors all tearing up as Danson waxed poetic about what a gift the series had been to them. And the show’s fans are likely to have similarly intense feelings about its departure.
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    But will it have a lingering effect on the way its viewers choose to impact the world?
    “I am extremely wary about ascribing success or failure to the show in any goal,” says Schur. “People used to ask if I felt like ‘Parks and Recreation’ had convinced people that government could be good or something.”
    “The only thing you can ever do is you can be very specific about what the show is saying. You can’t force people to hear the message or to react to it in any specific way,” he continues. “I don’t know whether people engage with the show purely comedically, or whether they engage with it spiritually, or academically, or whatever. I don’t think you can ever hope to control that. You can only say, ‘Here’s the thing: now it’s yours. You can react to it however you want.’ And we certainly have hopes that that’s true, but I don’t think there will ever be a meaningful way to gauge that.”
    Harper, however, offers anecdotal evidence to suggest otherwise.
      “I remember this one time there was a woman on a train who recognized me from the show, and we started crying,” he says. “I feel like there’s a real desire for people to see other people being good to each other, especially where we’re at right now in the country where it just doesn’t feel like that’s happening very much.”
      “It gives you hope that this is something that is possible, that there’s someone out here that’s thinking about these things, and putting it on television for people to watch.” Harper adds. “It must be comforting for people to know that people like Mike Schur exist.”

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      How Fossil Fuel Companies Are Killing Plastic Recycling

      So many things we buy come packaged in plastic containers or wrappers that are meant to be used once, thrown away and forgotten ― but they don’t break down and can linger in the environment long after we’re gone. It’s tempting to think that we can recycle this problem away, that if we’re more diligent about placing discarded bottles and bags into the curbside bin, we’ll somehow make up for all the trash overflowing landfills, choking waterways and killing marine life.

      For decades, big petrochemical companies responsible for extracting and processing the fossil fuels that make plastics have egged on consumers, reassuring them that recycling was the answer to our trash crisis. Just last month, Royal Dutch Shell executive Hilary Mercer told The New York Times that the production of new plastics was not the problem contributing to millions of tons of plastic waste piling up in landfills and drifting in oceans. Instead, she suggested, the problem is one of improper waste disposal. Better recycling, she implied, is the solution.

      “We passionately believe in recycling,” Mercer told the Times.

      But plastic recycling is in trouble. Too much of the indestructible material exists in the world, more than our current recycling networks can handle. And the very same companies that say recycling is the answer are about to unleash a tidal wave of fresh plastics that will drown recyclers struggling to stay afloat.   

      “We’ve been trained [to think] that we can purchase endlessly and recycle everything,” said Genevieve Abedon, a policy advocate at the environmental nonprofit Californians Against Waste. “There is no way that recycling can keep up.” 

      Big oil, natural gas and chemical companies have poured an estimated $200 billion into more than 300 petrochemical expansion projects across America from 2010 to 2018, according to the American Chemistry Council. Fossil fuel giants ExxonMobil and Shell, as well as plastic makers like SABIC and Formosa Plastics, are building and expanding at least five ethane cracker plants in Appalachia and along the Gulf of Mexico. The facilities will turn ethane, a byproduct of natural gas fracking, into polyethylene pellets, which can be made into a variety of products, including milk jugs, shampoo bottles, food packaging and the air pillows that protect your Amazon orders.

      news

      Many consumer goods companies would rather purchase newly made plastic resin pellets than those made from recycled materials.

      Already, over 350 million metric tons of new plastics are produced worldwide annually. In the next decade, production will jump 40%, spurred in part by the new manufacturing plants, according to an analysis by The Guardian. 

      Current rates of recycling are dismal. In Europe, about 30% of plastics are recycled, but the U.S. recycles only 9.1%, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. That’s about all our networks can manage without significant improvements and investments in recycling technologies and infrastructure.

      Recycling will suffer when the new manufacturing plants begin pumping out more virgin plastic, said Ted Siegler, a resource economist at waste management company DSM Environmental Services Inc., based in Vermont. 

      “They will hurt recycling,” he said.

      The Making Of A Recycling Emergency

      In theory, more plastics should be good for recyclers. But the industry is already in the midst of a crisis.

      America has grown accustomed to shipping low-value trash overseas for recycling. This practice began on a large scale in the early 2000s. Last year, that system fell apart, leaving recyclers scrambling and consumers confused.

      The country never developed recycling networks that would handle all kinds of plastics, according to Heidi Sanborn, executive director of the nonprofit National Stewardship Action Council. Instead, local recyclers process only the stuff they can make money off of. Most high-value plastics, like soda bottles (which come stamped with a “1” symbol) and milk cartons or shampoo bottles (which bear a “2” stamp), are pulled out and recycled domestically. Everything else ― that’s anything stamped with the numbers 3 through 7 ― remains unsorted and gets shipped as “mixed plastics” to other countries, where they can still turn a profit. (Things like potato chip bags and candy bar wrappers are practically worthless and aren’t considered recyclable. People still try to mix them in with their household paper and plastic, much to the consternation of recyclers.) 

      “We did the world a disservice by not doing our due diligence and saying it’s worth paying American citizens to do the work and keep the jobs and the recycling infrastructure solid at home,” Sanborn said.

      Plenty of other countries export their recyclables as well. Until recently, China had been the world’s largest buyer of recyclables, taking 40% of America’s scrap paper and plastic. At the end of 2017, however, China blocked shipments of foreign recyclables, causing mixed plastics (numbers 3 to 7) and paper to pile up at ports around the world. Prices for these scrap materials tanked, wiping out what little value the plastics had to begin with.

      In the wake of China’s ban, with no place for mixed paper and plastics to go, curbside collection programs from Maine to Michigan to Florida were suspended. Reports have emerged from cities and towns across the country about collected recyclables ending up in landfills and incinerators.

      news

      Recyclers across America have had to cancel service or scale back after China’s clampdown on imports of contaminated foreign waste. Some have had to send recyclables to landfills. 

      The latest big blow to recycling came in early August with the closure of rePlanet, California’s largest chain of recycling centers where consumers could return empty containers and redeem bottle deposits. Even though plastic bottles still have some value in the States, it’s not what it was before the China ban.

      “The scrap value of recycled materials has dropped across the board for every material, some much worse than others,” explained Martin Bourque, who heads up the Berkeley, California-based Ecology Center, home to one of the country’s oldest curbside recycling programs. 

      For recyclers like rePlanet, which made money only on the materials it sold, low scrap prices make it difficult to cover operating costs. In rePlanet’s case, there were other factors at play: For one, a state-run mechanism designed to help recyclers ride out hard times didn’t adapt quickly enough to save the company. 

      But there was another problem, too: Consumer goods companies don’t necessarily want to source recycled plastics for their products, not when they can save money by purchasing freshly made plastic.  

      “It’s so much cheaper to buy new, virgin resin,” Bourque said. 

      A Glut Of Virgin Plastics

      Since oil and natural gas are the raw materials for making plastic, the price of virgin plastic is tied to oil and natural gas prices, which are currently low. Natural gas, in particular, is now very cheap due to the fracking boom in the U.S. Remember the ethane crackers getting built in Appalachia and the Gulf of Mexico? They will only make virgin plastic cheaper, according to Siegler. 

      “All the new plants that are coming online are just going to continue to drive the price of virgin plastics down, which will encourage consumption on new plastic and discourage recycling,” Siegler told HuffPost.

      Some contend that virgin plastic prices are already artificially low. 

      “The government has intervened and subsidized virgin materials extraction and made it impossible for recycling to compete,” said Sanborn. 

      Companies that are building new plastic manufacturing plants are getting help from the government, too. Oil and gas giant Shell is building a massive complex in Pennsylvania that will open in 2020 and produce 1.6 million metric tons of polyethylene every year. The plant will also receive $1.65 billion in tax breaks over 25 years. A Shell official told the Northeast U.S. & Canada Petrochemical Construction Conference in 2016 that without this fiscal package, the company may not have gone ahead with the project. (The company did not respond to multiple requests for comment.)

      news

      Part of a petrochemical plant being built on the Ohio River in Monaca, Pennsylvania, for the Royal Dutch Shell company. The plant, which is capable of producing 1.6 million tons of raw plastic annually, is expected to begin operations by 2021.

      Recycling efforts, from collection to sorting to reprocessing, have not received comparable subsidies, Sanborn said.

      Some of the big fossil fuel and chemical corporations are funneling money into projects meant to improve recycling ― though not nearly as much cash is going toward this effort. In January, 28 oil and gas, chemical and plastics companies, including Exxon, Shell, SABIC and Formosa, formed the Alliance to End Plastic Waste and collectively pledged $1.5 billion over five years for improving recycling infrastructure. That amount is far short of what’s needed to see real change start to ripple across the recycling industry, Siegler says. 

      Petrochemical companies, if they wanted to, would need to make investments of up to $20 billion every year for a decade to make sure that 50% of global plastics get recycled or reused, according to a McKinsey analysis. The Alliance said in a statement to HuffPost that it hopes its initial investment will encourage governments, banks and other big corporations to spend more on recycling. 

      Where Do We Go From Here?

      Conservationists still believe that recycling is a worthwhile endeavor, just not a silver bullet to fixing our plastic waste crisis.

      Recycling definitely has to be a part of the solution,” Genevieve Abedon, of Californians Against Waste, told HuffPost.

      Siegler years ago proposed a plastic tax to pay for much-needed recycling infrastructure. Charging plastic producers just a penny a pound ― roughly a 1% tax, since most resins cost a dollar a pound ― would raise $4 billion to $5 billion per year, Siegler estimated. 

      “The price of plastic is too low,” he told HuffPost. “It doesn’t reflect the environmental damage associated with plastic.” 

      His idea has not caught on.

      A landmark pair of bills in the California Legislature would help recyclers compete with virgin plastic producers by boosting demand for recycled plastic. The measures seek to force manufacturers to use more recycled materials in their plastic products.

      “If we can increase the demand for recycled plastic, investment will then flow through the whole recycling chain,” said Kara Pochiro, of the Association of Plastic Recyclers.

      Though the bills failed to pass before the end of the legislative session, they’ll be eligible for a vote again next year. 

      Consumer goods companies could make a big difference by signing long-term contracts with recyclers for material, Pochiro says. This would help insulate recycling companies from fluctuations in the commodity market and potentially stop more collapses like that of rePlanet. 

      Last November, beverage maker Nestle Waters North America signed a multiyear contract with CarbonLITE, a company that recycles and produces food-grade PET plastic. With this guaranteed demand, CarbonLITE is now building a new facility in Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania, that is expected to recycle more than 2 billion used bottles every year. 

      There are things that shoppers can do, too. 

      “Buy recycled,” Pochiro recommended. 

      Sanborn said that consumers who don’t like the plastic packaging they receive with their products should lay it all out on the floor, take a photo of the plastic, upload it to social media, tag the company that sent it to them and complain. 

      “Be really loud and squeaky. The squeaky wheels get greased,” she said. 

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      Dish customers lose FOX, FS1 amid carriage dispute as NFL, MLB seasons heat up

      news Dish customers can’t watch FOX, FS1, FS2, Big Ten Network and Fox Deporte because of a carriage dispute.

      Dish subscribers will miss critical sporting events as the satellite and streaming service blacked out FOX amid a carriage dispute.

      FOX-owned cable channels FS1, FS2, Big Ten Network, Fox Soccer Plus and Fox Deportes are also dark for Dish customers. FOX launched a website dedicated to informing viewers on the blackout that impacts 17 markets across 23 states plus Washington D.C.

      NFL OWNERS JERRY JONES, ROBERT KRAFT SAY FOX DEAL 25 YEARS AGO CHANGED EVERYTHING

      “DISH is at it again, choosing to drop leading programming as a negotiating tactic regardless of the impact on its own customers. DISH elected to drop FOX networks in an effort to coerce us to agree to outrageous demands. While we regret this is DISH’s preferred approach to negotiating, we remind our loyal viewers that the FOX services are widely available through every other major television provider,” FOX wrote on the site.

      Dish issued a press release outlining its side of the story and urging FOX to focus on “reaching a fair deal.”

      The blackout comes at an unfortunate time for viewers, as FOX heads into a weekend filled with marquee college football games, pivotal Major League Baseball games and Week 4 of the NFL season.

      FOX’s Week 4 NFL games include the Washington Redskins at New York Giants, Carolina Panthers and Houston Texans, Kansas City Chiefs at Detroit Lions and Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Los Angeles Rams.

      news NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes’ Kansas City Chiefs visit the Detroit Lions Sunday on FOX. (AP Photo/Ed Zurga)

      Customers will continue to miss major live sporting events if the blackout continues past the weekend, as a doubleheader of Major League Baseball playoff games is scheduled for Oct. 4 on a FS1.

      CLICK HERE TO GET THE FOX NEWS APP

      FS1 and FOX will continue to carry MLB playoff games for the duration of the month, ending with exclusive coverage of the World Series.

      The Rams visit the Seattle Seahawks on FOX’s “Thursday Night Football” and WWE’s highly anticipated “Friday Night SmackDown” also debuts on FOX next week.

      In addition to the live events, Dish customers will miss hit shows such as “The Masked Singer,” “Fox News Sunday,” “Empire,” “9-1-1,” “The Simpsons” and “The Resident.”

      Neither Fox News Channel nor Fox Business Network is impacted by the blackout.

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      Why aren’t monorails taken seriously?

      BBC Image copyright Getty Images
      Image caption A monorail built for the Merry Hill shopping centre in the West Midlands was beset by problems

      When the leader of Derby City Council floated the idea of building a monorail last week, his suggestion was not as warmly received as he might have hoped.

      From jokey references to the classic Simpsons episode in which Springfield’s new monorail system spun dangerously out of control to descriptions of the proposal as “pie in the sky”, few city residents seemed convinced it would ever happen.

      Despite potentially solving the twin problems of congestion and pollution, no UK city has yet installed a monorail system. So why are they seemingly not taken seriously?

      Clip: The Simpsons/20th Century Fox Television

      What’s been proposed in Derby?

      Council boss Chris Poulter’s grand vision for monorails in Derby was inspired by local manufacturer Bombardier landing a £2.65bn contract to build monorails for Egypt.

      “Bombardier are making monorail carriages for the pyramids, so why can’t we have something like that in Derby?” he reasoned.

      He went on to say the monorail could link the city centre with the Pride Park business park and the planned regional HS2 station in Toton, Nottinghamshire.

      What did residents say?

      Mixed reviews. On social media the idea was branded “la la land”, a “daft idea” and a “fantasy project”.

      Even those in favour expressed doubt the council could oversee such an ambitious project while others just had fun posting Simpsons gifs.

      Laura Pinney, a Derby resident currently on holiday in the US, said she enjoyed riding Seattle’s monorail but thought a tram system would be more suitable for Derby.

      news Image copyright Laura Pinney
      Image caption Laura Pinney tried Seattle’s monorail on holiday

      Are monorails a good idea?

      Derby isn’t the first UK city to consider the merits of a monorail system but so far no schemes have reached fruition.

      Sim Harris, editor of RailNews, said he was not surprised.

      “They’ve never been a tremendous success in the past, by and large,” he said.

      “Monorails are incredibly intrusive. They get in the way visually much more than railways, tramways and indeed buses. They really dominate the city landscape.

      “And I’m not sure of the benefit of using an unusual technology. It’ll be harder to maintain, more expensive and won’t link to anything else.

      “I’d urge them [Derby City Council] to look very closely indeed at the detail, the cost and the consequences.

      “Monorails seem like a good idea until you actually use them.”

      BBC Image copyright Getty Images
      Image caption Monorail systems are notoriously costly to build

      In his 2019 book, A Short History of Trains, transport writer and broadcaster Christian Wolmar wrote: “[Monorails] have never overcome the basic problems of being expensive to build, and being inflexible due to the structural requirements of their rails.”

      Bombardier has said the cost of building a monorail system in Derby would run into the billions, quite a stretch for a city council that only spent £74m on capital projects last year and whose most recent major transport project went almost three times over-budget.

      So why do other countries have monorails?

      While the UK continues to resist the allure of urban monorails, cities in other countries have embraced the concept with varying degrees of success.

      China, Japan and India have several monorail networks, with more planned, and they have also been built in Australia, Germany, the US and Malaysia.

      Sim Harris said geography and geology played a part.

      news Image copyright Getty Images
      Image caption Thousands of people are expected to use Tokyo’s monorail system at the Olympics next year

      He said: “Many monorail systems run on elevated tracks through crowded areas that would otherwise require the construction of expensive underground lines or have the disadvantages of surface lines.

      “China, Japan and India have some of the most crowded cities in the world, and have little space at ground level for conventional trains or trams.

      “India, at least, probably cannot afford costly underground lines, and much depends on the geology.

      “London is favoured with a stratum of blue clay, particularly north of the Thames, which made construction of a deep tube network easy, comparatively speaking.

      “Other cities are not so fortunate, and so building metros under them costs more.

      “Also, I suspect that countries like India and China are less bothered about the intrusive aspects of a monorail than we would be in western Europe.”

      But there are some monorails in the UK?

      Yes. Alton Towers in Staffordshire has had one since the 1980s and Birmingham Airport uses one to shuttle passengers to and from Birmingham International railway station.

      However, Chester Zoo’s Zoofari monorail – built in 1991 – is being decommissioned as it no longer adequately spans the expanded attraction.

      BBC Image copyright Getty Images
      Image caption Chester Zoo’s Zoofari monorail closed at the start of the month

      People in the West Midlands still talk fondly about the monorail built to service the Merry Hill shopping centre near Dudley in 1991.

      The £22m system was connected by four stations but closed in 1996 after the centre was sold and the new owners did not want it.

      The system was subsequently sold to a shopping centre in Queensland, Australia.

      What happened in Sydney?

      Perhaps the most high profile monorail failure in recent times was also in Australia – in Sydney.

      Opened in July 1988 to link Darling Harbour with the city’s central business and shopping districts, the monorail struggled to capture the public’s imagination and was closed in June 2013.

      news Image copyright Getty Images
      Image caption Sydney’s monorail was axed after 25 years

      Announcing plans to pull the whole thing down, New South Wales premier Barry O’Farrell said: “The monorail is not integrated with Sydney’s wider public transport network and has never been truly embraced by the community.

      “While it has been a controversial part of Sydney’s history for more than 20 years, the monorail is reaching the end of its economic life and the NSW Government cannot justify costly upgrades like the purchase of new vehicles required to keep it running.”

      You may also be interested in:

      Is anyone fighting the corner for monorails?

      That would be The Monorail Society. With more than 14,000 members in 104 countries, the group has been espousing the benefits of monorails since 1989.

      Aside from the transport’s long-touted green credentials, the society says the raised tracks free up the ground beneath for new development, rather than having to build on green spaces.

      BBC Image copyright Getty Images
      Image caption The Monorail Society is less than happy with how monorails were portrayed on The Simpsons

      The monorail episode of The Simpson – famous for its catchy musical number – still irritates members of the society.

      It said: “In a world where economies lose billions each year due to traffic congestion, which loses millions of acres of wilderness to sprawling development and road construction, we need more green, electric, automated, elevated transportation systems such as monorail, and they need to be represented fairly on television and in the media.

      “Have honest, competent engineers build a monorail system for any city and it will be a huge success. The first city to do monorail correctly will be the envy of the world.”

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