Storm dumps snow or heavy rain, snarls travel in much of US
Thursday, February 21
NEW YORK (AP) — A sprawling storm dumped several inches of snow from the Midwest to the East Coast and deluged the South with rain Wednesday as it closed schools, snarled air travel and littered highways with crashes.
Only a few inches of snow fell along the Interstate 95 corridor from New York to Washington, but it was enough to put a scare into an area that has seen little of it this winter. Schools and government offices around the region closed early.
New Jersey’s governor declared a state of emergency, even though only 4 inches (10 centimeters) of snow was expected before turning to rain Wednesday night. State and local government offices in Delaware closed early, and so did local offices in Philadelphia.
But the evening commute started out on a good note. A spokesperson for AAA Mid-Atlantic had said earlier in the afternoon it appeared motorists heeded warnings to stay off roads.
Nationwide, more than 2,200 flights were canceled and more than 5,500 were delayed, according to the flight-tracking website FlightAware. The mid-Atlantic region was especially hard hit as airlines pulled flights ahead of the storm. Washington’s Reagan National Airport led the pack.
“Travel anymore is not easy, so you expect the unexpected,” said Stacy Flye, trying to get home to Florida. “And you know, we knew the weather was going to be bad, but sometimes you just have to take your chances.”
Amtrak made changes to its Keystone service between New York and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Multiple crashes, including a jackknifed tractor-trailer, shut down westbound lanes of the Pennsylvania Turnpike in Lancaster County.
Farther west, snow forced Minneapolis and St. Paul schools and scores of other districts in Minnesota and Wisconsin to cancel classes as up to 10 inches of snow fell on the region.
Schools, businesses and government offices in Kansas closed or announced plans to start late. Several school districts closed in Missouri, where officials said many roads across the northern half of the state were partially or completely snow covered.
The storm produced heavy rain and flash floods in parts of the Deep South. Water covered roads in parts of eastern Mississippi and northern Alabama.
Creeks swelled in Tennessee, and about 2 inches (5 centimeters) of rain fell Tuesday and Wednesday at Nashville International Airport. As much as 8 inches (20 centimeters) of rain is expected through Saturday.
Opinion: Fueling a Green New Deal with Liquefied Natural Gas
By Paul Steidler
Freshman congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has gotten much attention by proposing a Green New Deal, a far-ranging proposal to shift the U.S. economy away from fossil fuels over the next decade while somehow creating millions of good-paying jobs.
Her plan amounts to turning success into failure by ignoring the vast economic and environmental benefits natural gas has provided to America in the past decade — and the opportunity to multiply these benefits in the decade ahead.
Simply put, the economic and environmental benefits of natural gas are proven. The Green New Deal is hypothetical at best, and most likely reckless.
The benefits from expanded use of natural gas include the following:
—Good paying, secure middle-class jobs. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, 4.6 million jobs have been created from the shale boom. More will be generated as production rises and steps are taken to increase liquefied natural gas exports worldwide.
—Reduced carbon emissions. With half the carbon emissions of coal, natural gas is an effective and immediate way to reduce carbon and other toxic emissions. In October, the Environmental Protection Agency reported that emissions from large power plants were down 4.5 percent since 2016 and 19.7 percent since 2011. This is also a key factor in the country’s total greenhouse gas emissions declining 2.7 percent from 2016 to 2017.
—Export boom. China, Poland, Mexico and many other countries are importing a great deal of American liquefied natural gas (LNG). The [http://U.S.%20Energy%20Information%20Administration%20reports] Energy Information Administration projects that U.S. LNG export capacity will double in 2019, making America the world’s third-largest exporter.
LNG not only replaces dirty coal plants. It brings electricity to many places of the world that did not have it and were relying on burning dung or brush, both very unhealthy and high-polluting activities. Natural gas is cleaner than gasoline and a cleaner fuel to power electric vehicles.
Close to home, America’s neighbors in the Caribbean have begun to benefit from using LNG and should accelerate use of this clean, low-cost fuel. It is ironic that many countries in this picturesque region still receive much of their electricity from highly toxic oil.
According to the Energy Information Administration, 47 percent of Puerto Rico’s electricity is from petroleum, which keeps Puerto Rican power prices higher than those of any state, except Alaska and Hawaii. By contrast, the United States gets less than 1 percent of its electricity from oil. Even oil-rich countries shun using oil for electricity.
According to the International Energy Agency, Haiti, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua and El Salvador all receive at least 40 percent of their electricity from oil.
This has severe consequences as the International Monetary Fund found in a 2016 report: “The cost of electricity in the Caribbean has been persistently high over the past two decades and has eroded competitiveness. This is largely due to serious inefficiencies in the power sector and dependence on expensive imported petroleum products.”
The push toward greater U.S. use of natural gas and LNG export creates a win-win for U.S. and overseas businesses, as well as for our respective economies and environments.
Rather than summarily dismissing the benefits of natural gas, those favoring a Green New Deal should look for ways that its expanded use can be part of a broader environmental strategy. And they should exercise some humility. The benefits of natural gas are clear, well-established and they will soon be even greater.
At best, this remains to be seen with the Green New Deal.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Paul Steidler is a senior fellow with the Lexington Institute, a public policy think tank in Arlington, Virginia. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.
The Green New Deal’s 10-year timeframe is unrealistic even if a lot can happen in a few decades
February 21, 2019
Author: Seth Blumsack, Professor, Pennsylvania State University
Disclosure statement: Seth Blumsack receives funding from the U.S. National Science Foundation, U.S. Department of Energy, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, and PJM Interconnection
Partners: Pennsylvania State University provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.
The Green New Deal Democratic lawmakers recently proposed would confront climate change by eliminating America’s net carbon emissions within a decade. If enacted, it would transform America’s energy industries and slash pollution, improving public health.
This proposal is a non-binding resolution, not an actual bill, and many of the proposed measures are long shots as long as the Republican Party holds a majority in the Senate and the Trump administration remains committed to its fossil fuel-supporting energy dominance policies.
Having studied the electric power sector and energy policy for more than 20 years, I think that some of the changes in the Green New Deal could actually happen within a decade – as long as all three branches of the federal government were on board.
But even if the most progressive Democrats were calling all the shots, the idea that the U.S. could accomplish this ambitious overarching goal within a decade strikes me as a stretch. California, which is committed to making all of its electricity carbon-free, aims to get that done by 2045, rather than 2030.
Even if completely revamping the nation’s power grid within a decade proved feasible, the Green New Deal also targets emissions from sectors such as transportation and agriculture. And reducing their carbon footprints has proven much harder around the world.
Change can be fast
Politically, the Green New Deal certainly seems like a non-starter even if the environmental and economic benefits would likely outweigh many of the costs. But are the ideas in the Green New Deal – especially those that would require radical changes, such as reinventing how the U.S. generates and consumes energy within a decade – truly outlandish?
Nuclear power plants are all over France. World Nuclear Association, CC BY-SA
While no nation has ever achieved anything quite as dramatic in so short a time, countries can rapidly change how they get their energy, without destroying their economies or compromising energy security. There are several good examples, especially in Europe.
Perhaps France’s swift adoption of nuclear power is the best one. Nuclear reactors generated only 10 percent of France’s electricity in the mid-1970s, a share that rose to 70 percent within 10 years and has remained at about that level ever since.
More recently, countries such as Denmark, Germany, Ireland and Portugal have made strides toward shrinking their carbon footprints within a decade by ramping up the power they get from renewable energy, primarily onshore wind energy.
Denmark now gets 42 percent of its electricity from wind, while Portugal and Ireland both derive around 20 percent of their power from that renewable energy source.
Likewise, Brazil managed to boost the share of ethanol produced from sugarcane in the fuel it used to run cars and trucks from virtually nothing to about 50 percent within a decade following the adoption of targeted policies in 1975.
Change can also be slow
A common thread running through many of these success stories is a limited number of players. France’s nuclear embrace largely involved its big state-run utility company, Électricité de France. Having a single big state-run oil and gas company, Petróleo Brasileiro, or Petrobras, made it easier for Brazil’s government to bring about such a quick shift with ethanol.
When there are multitudes of companies and decision-makers, as is the case in the United States, these transitions tend to be harder and take longer.
Two proposals in the Green New Deal, to make buildings highly energy-efficient and to electrify transportation, would require action on the part of hundreds of millions of people. These are also areas where change has generally come much more slowly.
The potential for energy efficiency is vast, but getting people to upgrade appliances or buildings to increase energy efficiency has been particularly difficult. What’s more, some researchers have found a persistent gap between whether an energy efficiency investment is worthwhile and the willingness of consumers and businesses to spend their money on them.
This is probably due to a number of different factors. Researching and replacing your old appliances and equipment takes time and effort. There are usually high upfront costs when you own your own washing machines and hot-water heaters.
And for renters, problems arise when it’s up to landlords to buy new equipment so their tenants can save money on their electric bills.
Some states have ramped up energy efficiency through outreach efforts and incentives. But there is still a long way to go, and revising building codes to raise these standards is politically very challenging.
Replacing vehicles that run on gasoline, diesel and other fuels with electric models is also harder than it may sound. Despite years of federal subsidies for electric vehicles, U.S. EV sales remain sluggish. Only around 360,000, or 7 percent, of the 5.5 million passenger vehicles sold in the U.S. in 2018 were electric models.
And because cars generally last longer than a decade, replacing all of the nation’s cars, trucks and SUVs will take a long time. Power plants also last a long time, but since many of the most polluting power plants in the U.S. are several decades old, many of them could be retired soon.
Even in Norway, where nearly half of the new vehicles sold are electric, EVS account for only 10 percent of the vehicles on the road today.
Market forces and policies
One common thread in every country that has been able to make rapid and major changes in their energy supply has been the role of government initiatives.
To be sure, market forces can contribute to clean energy. The wind and solar power industries are growing rapidly, and natural gas has overtaken coal as the main fuel for power generation in the U.S.
Big changes in the U.S. energy mix are nothing new. The U.S. transformed from a wood-based energy economy to mostly coal within a few decades at the end of the 19th century. And as Americans rapidly increased how much energy they were using in the the mid-20th century, their reliance on oil, natural gas and nuclear power grew. Since 2000, wind and solar power have become more significant contributors to a diverse mix of energy sources.
But, from what I can tell, market forces alone are setting a much slower path toward a lower-carbon economy than the Green New Deal’s supporters would like to see. A two-decade transition, in my opinion, is more likely to succeed as long as the nation’s politicians were to unite around making it a top priority.
The US adoption system discriminates against darker-skinned children
February 21, 2019
Author: Ronald Hall, Professor of Social Work, Michigan State University
Disclosure statement: Ronald Hall does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Partners: Michigan State University provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.
When it comes to adoption, Americans might assume that each child is treated equally. But research shows that darker-skinned children are repeatedly discriminated against, both by potential adoptive parents and the social workers who are charged with protecting their well-being.
Social workers are often called upon to assess a newborn’s skin color, because skin color influences potential for placement. As a 2013 NPR investigation found, dark-skinned black children cost less to adopt than light-skinned white children, as they are often ranked by social workers and the public as less preferred.
According to Washington University law school professor Kimberly Jade Norwood, “In the adoption market, race and color combine to create another preference hierarchy: white children are preferred over nonwhite. When African-American children are considered, the data suggest there is a preference for light skin and biracial children over dark-skinned children.”
As a social worker with an interest in the social effects of skin color, I believe that the social work profession must be held accountable for its discriminatory practices.
Light skin versus dark
Regardless of race, adopting parents prefer to adopt a light-skinned child. A 1999 study at the Institute of Black Parenting, a Los Angeles adoption agency, showed that as many as 40 percent of the African-American couples expressed a preference for a light-skinned or mixed-race child, regardless of their own complexion.
Children who are white are slightly more likely to be adopted out of foster care. Of the more than 400,000 children in foster care awaiting adoption in 2017, about 44 percent were white, while the majority were children of color. However, of those who were adopted with public agency involvement, 49 percent were white.
According to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, 2004 data shows that children with lighter skin were adopted more quickly out of foster care. While white children waited 23.5 months on average, black children waited 39.4.
In preparing a paper on this subject in 2017, I found a 1999 report from the American Civil Liberties Union which conducted a court-authorized review of 50 adoption case files in New York City. They concluded that the practices of social workers favored children with more Caucasian features. When social workers were asked about this, they contended that it was to insulate dark-skinned children from rejection.
Research suggests that the skin color issue continues to be a problem across the U.S. A study similar to that of the ACLU’s was conducted in 2010 in the state of Michigan. This study looked at 1,183 adoptive Michigan families who adopted children from 2007 to 2009, through both public and private adoption agencies. According to the findings, 42 percent of adoptive parents’ most recently adopted children were “very fair or somewhat fair” in skin color, while 31 percent were “somewhat dark or very dark.”
Finally, research shows that it costs more to adopt a white child in the U.S. than it does to adopt a black child. According to the NPR investigation, it costs about US$35,000 to adopt a white child, absent legal fees. Meanwhile, a black child cost $18,000.
These prices, which are set internally at adoption agencies based on a number of factors, suggest that white children have a higher market value in the adoption marketplace and are more highly sought after by adoptive parents.
The dark side of adoptions
The evidence suggests that social workers do discriminate based on skin color. What’s more, private agencies that do not employ social workers no less enable skin color discrimination by referring to adoptees’ skin color.
Adopting parents may ask for a child who looks similar to them or who has lighter skin. Currently, even when skin color is not an official record, social workers are inclined to share such information casually in response to parents’ questions.
When social workers accommodate a preference regarding skin color – by evaluating a child’s skin color or by responding to parents’ questions about a potential adoptee – they are breaching their code of ethics. The official Code of Ethics for the National Association of Social Workers clearly states that social workers “should not practice, condone, facilitate, or collaborate with any form of discrimination” on the basis of race, ethnicity or color, along with other factors.
Assessing children by skin color allows for a ranked ordering, where dark-skinned children may be singled out as less valued. While it is not always a matter of formal record, children assessed as dark-skinned clearly have a different experience than white children in the adoption process.
No doubt, the significance of skin color requires it be noted in files – but, in my view, it should not be monetized. I feel that skin color should be maintained as a confidential record, unless social workers can establish a clear reason why sharing it would lead to the best adoptive outcome for the potential adoptee.
I believe that it’s important to expose the dark side of adoptions that children regardless of skin color be valued and safe from discrimination.
Deadly Bangladesh fire shows lapses in development
By EMILY SCHMALL and JULHAS ALAM
Thursday, February 21
DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — A fire in Bangladesh that killed at least 67 people in the oldest part of the capital shows the lapses in public safety that continue to plague the South Asian country despite its rapid economic growth.
While the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina touts the garment factories and gleaming office towers in Dhaka’s north side as signs of progress, illegal shops and overcrowding in Chawkbazar, one of the city’s many warren-like southern districts, impeded firefighters’ ability to put out Wednesday night’s blaze, illustrating the country’s uneven development.
The government has zoning laws and regulations on the books, but has met public resistance when it tried to enforce them, Bangladesh planning experts said Thursday.
Business owners in old Dhaka routinely bribe government employees responsible for building oversight, they said.
After a warehouse storing flammable material caught fire in 2010 in Nimtoli, a district near Chawkbazar, killing at least 123 people, authorities promised to bring the area into compliance with building codes, and evict chemical warehouses from buildings where people lived.
Industrial facilities can’t legally exist in areas that are zoned residential, said Mohammed Manjur Morshed, an assistant professor of urban planning at Khulna University of Engineering and Technology.
“This type of thing happens, there’s a big initiative to move everything out, and then after some time people forget about it and the government is really not interested any more. It’s like that,” Morshed said.
“Corruption buys building permits, and then there’s very little oversight to see whether anyone is building according to the submitted plan,” he said.
In 2014, three people were killed and three others severely burned when a perfume warehouse on the third floor of a building in Chawkbazar caught fire. The following year, a fire gutted eight plastic factories.
Morshed said government regulations are sufficient, but are routinely flouted in Chawkbazar.
The contrast between new and old Dhaka — the city’s north and south sides — is stark, said Shafiq-Ur Rahman, an urban planning professor at Jahangirnagar University in Dhaka.
“As the area was developed continuously, there is very high population density and haphazard growth,” he said. “You need to consider preservation to maintain the heritage, but this is not the first time. We have an unfortunate history, and we need in redevelopment to figure how to provide services, like access for firefighters.”
Denizens of the Muslim-majority nation throng to Chawkbazar each year for Mughal foods to celebrate iftar, when Muslims break their fast during Ramadan.
In the festive atmosphere, makeshift stalls and itinerant vendors sell spices, sweets, minced mutton, kebabs and other delicacies in tight passageways teeming with the faithful.
Thousands of animals are slaughtered in the open during Eid-ul-Azha, a sacrificial festival, near Chawkbazar Shahi Mosque.
A government eviction drive in 400-year-old Chawkbazar and other areas of Old Dhaka to clear makeshift stalls from walkways was met with protests last May on the eve of Ramadan by business owners and residents.
According to local reports, some 500 illegal stands were evicted from the narrow streets. In response, hundreds of legal shops closed in protest.
It was not immediately clear whether the death toll from Wednesday’s blaze would affect the status quo in Old Dhaka.
Fire officials had initially reported that 81 people died, but later lowered the number to 67.
Russel Shikder, a fire department duty officer, said first responders had counted each body bag taken to the morgue as one victim, but that some bags contained only body parts, prompting a recount.
On Thursday afternoon, shops had opened and the streets were crowded in much of Chawkbazar, except for within a police cordon where authorities continued to comb through the destruction left by the blaze.
The fire was about 500 meters (550 feet) away from Dhaka’s 18th-century Central Jail, a former Mughal fort where ex-Prime Minister and opposition leader Khaleda Zia has been held since February last year on corruption charges. Since 2016, the jail has only been used to hold opposition figures, and Zia is currently the only inmate. It was not threatened by the fire.
Schmall reported from New Delhi.
UN experts urge Indonesia to respect Papuans’ human rights
GENEVA (AP) — Five independent experts linked to the U.N. human rights office are calling for quick and impartial investigations of mistreatment by Indonesian security forces of indigenous Papuans, including alleged killings, unlawful arrests and use of snakes to terrorize.
They cited a recent video circulated online showing officers laughing as a handcuffed Papuan boy whom they were interrogating screamed in fear with a snake wrapped around his body.
A rights office statement Thursday said the incident was similar to tactics used in other similar cases and was “symptomatic of the deeply entrenched discrimination and racism that indigenous Papuans face.”
The experts expressed concerns about a “culture of impunity” over human rights violations and urged the Indonesian government to prevent excessive force by police and military officials, and hold perpetrators to account.