Op-Ed: Coronavirus shows animal and human health are inseparable – By VIVECA MORRIS – Los Angeles Times

“About two-thirds of emerging infectious diseases in humans — including COVID-19, SARS, MERS, Ebola, HIV, Zika, H1N1, cholera and almost all recent epidemics — came from animals. And 70% of those originated in wildlife.

Pathogens have leaped from animals to humans for eons, but the pace of this spillover has increased rapidly over the last century. As 7.8 billion people on this planet radically alter ecosystems and raise, capture and trade animals at an unprecedented scale, “the road from animal microbe to human pathogen” has turned into a “highway,” as the journalist Sonia Shah has written.

The growing body of scientific research is clear: Diseases like COVID-19 are an expected consequence of how we’re choosing to treat animals and their habitats.

By changing the nature and frequency of human-animal interactions, our actions — through the wildlife trade, deforestation, land conversion, industrial animal farming, the burning of fossil fuels, and more — propel the emergence and transmission of novel and known human infectious diseases.”

Source: Op-Ed: Coronavirus shows animal and human health are inseparable – Los Angeles Times

New York Attorney General Looks Into Zoom’s Privacy Practices – The New York Times

 

“Zoom, the videoconferencing app whose traffic has surged during the coronavirus pandemic, is under scrutiny by the office of New York’s attorney general, Letitia James, for its data privacy and security practices.

On Monday, the office sent Zoom a letter asking what, if any, new security measures the company has put in place to handle increased traffic on its network and to detect hackers, according to a copy reviewed by The New York Times.

While the letter referred to Zoom as “an essential and valuable communications platform,” it outlined several concerns, noting that the company had been slow to address security flaws such as vulnerabilities “that could enable malicious third parties to, among other things, gain surreptitious access to consumer webcams.”

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Over the last few weeks, internet trolls have exploited a Zoom screen-sharing feature to hijack meetings and do things like interrupt educational sessions or post white supremacist messages to a webinar on anti-Semitism — a phenomenon called “Zoombombing.

es to a webinar on anti-Semitism — a phenomenon called “Zoombombing.”

Your Phone’s Accessibility Options Are More Useful Than You Think – By Eric Ravenscraft – The New York Times

By 

“Buried deep in your phone’s arcane settings are a collection of features under the mundane banner “Accessibility.” These features seem as if they’re just for people who have special needs — like being colorblind or having poor eyesight — but many of the tools you can find there are useful to everyone.

There are slight differences in how some of these features are handled on iPhones versus Android phones (and even further differences from one Android phone to another), but the features we’ve rounded up below are generally available on most devices. They may be in a different place depending on your device, but if you explore your phone, you’re likely to find versions of these features somewhere in there.

One of the most universally useful accessibility features is changing the font size on your phone. As phones get bigger, they have more and more space for text. To the point that you could potentially fit whole pages of a book on your screen. Some phones default to having really small text so you can read as much as possible without scrolling, but this can also make text harder to read.

On iOS devices like Apple’s iPhone and iPad, you can find this setting under Accessibility, then Display & Text Size. From here, you have a lot of options, but the most relevant is labeled “Larger Text.” Despite its name, you can use this to make text smaller as well. At the top of the screen, you’ll also see a toggle labeled “Larger Accessibility Sizes” that give you even more text size increments. Adjust the text until it’s comfortable for you to read and go about your day.”

Opinion | Don’t Feel Sorry for the Airlines – By Tim Wu – The New York Times

By 

Mr. Wu is the author of “The Curse of Bigness: Antitrust in the New Gilded Age.”

Credit…Damon Winter/The New York Times

“For American Airlines, the nation’s largest airline, the mid to late 2010s were what the Bible calls “years of plenty.”

In 2014, having reduced competition through mergers and raised billions of dollars in new baggage-fee revenue, American began reaching stunning levels of financial success. In 2015, it posted a $7.6 billion profit — compared, for example, to profits of about $500 million in 2007 and less than $250 million in 2006. It would continue to earn billions in profit annually for the rest of the decade. “I don’t think we’re ever going to lose money again,” the company’s chief executive, Doug Parker, said in 2017.

There are plenty of things American could have done with all that money. It could have stored up its cash reserves for a future crisis, knowing that airlines regularly cycle through booms and busts. It might have tried to decisively settle its continuing contract disputes with pilots, flight attendants and mechanics. It might have invested heavily in better service quality to try to repair its longstanding reputation as the worst of the major carriers.

Instead, American blew most of its cash on a stock buyback spree. From 2014 to 2020, in an attempt to increase its earnings per share, American spent more than $15 billion buying back its own stock. It managed, despite the risk of the proverbial rainy day, to shrink its cash reserves. At the same time it was blowing cash on buybacks, American also began to borrow heavily to finance the purchase of new planes and the retrofitting of old planes to pack in more seats. As early as 2017 analysts warned of a risk of default should the economy deteriorate, but American kept borrowing. It has now accumulated a debt of nearly $30 billion, nearly five times the company’s current market value.”

Opinion | This Is How the Coronavirus Will Destroy the Economy – By Ruchir Sharma – The New York Times

By 

Mr. Sharma is an investor and a contributing opinion writer.

Credit…John F. Malta

“Though the Federal Reserve moved over the weekend to slash rates and buy treasuries, markets around the world fell on Monday anyway. The coronavirus threatens to set off financial contagion in a world economy with very different vulnerabilities than on the eve of the global financial crisis, 12 years ago.

In key ways the world is now as or more deeply in debt as it was when the last big crisis hit. But the largest and most risky pools of debt have shifted — from households and banks in the United States, which were restrained by regulators after the crisis, to corporations all over the world.

As businesses deal with the prospect of a sudden stop in their cash flows, the most exposed are a relatively new generation of companies that already struggle to pay their loans. This class includes the “zombies”— companies that earn too little even to make interest payments on their debt, and survive only by issuing new debt.

The dystopian reality of deserted airports, empty trains and thinly occupied restaurants is already badly hurting economic activity. The longer the pandemic lasts, the greater the risk that the sharp downturn morphs into a financial crisis with zombie companies starting a chain of defaults just like subprime mortgages did in 2008.”

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Wall Street, Encouraged by Biden’s Wins, Breaks Out Its Checkbooks – By Kate Kelly – The New York Times

Credit…Josh Haner/The New York Times

After weeks of worrying that Senator Bernie Sanders would trounce his rivals on Super Tuesday and set the tone for a rancorous Democratic nomination, Michael Novogratz, the longtime trader and merchant banker, was newly motivated on Wednesday morning.

Joseph R. Biden Jr., the former vice president and a moderate candidate with solid support on Wall Street, had notched an unexpectedly strong showing in the Super Tuesday primaries. Of course, Mr. Sanders could still win the nomination — but for Mr. Novogratz and others on Wall Street, Mr. Biden’s resurgence offered the opportunity to bankroll a Democrat they can get behind.

“There’s a lot of momentum on Biden’s side,” Mr. Novogratz said. Already, one of his colleagues at Galaxy Digital, a cryptocurrency investment firm, was planning a Biden fund-raiser. Mr. Novogratz himself was set to host a dinner Wednesday night to raise money for voter-registration efforts in swing states. Stocks, hammered in recent days over fears of the coronavirus — along with an undercurrent of worry about Mr. Sanders, according to some traders — were rallying as he spoke on Wednesday morning. Between the easing of interest rates and the improving political picture, Mr. Novogratz said, “we’re getting some bounce.”

By the end of the day, the S&P 500 had risen more than 4 percent, bouncing back from a steep drop the day before, reflecting Wall Street’s relief about Mr. Biden’s success.

It May Be the Biggest Tax Heist Ever. And Europe Wants Justice. – by David Segal – The New York Times

“. . .  Today, the men stand accused of participating in what Le Monde has called “the robbery of the century,” and what one academic declared “the biggest tax theft in the history of Europe.” From 2006 to 2011, these two and hundreds of bankers, lawyers and investors made off with a staggering $60 billion, all of it siphoned from the state coffers of European countries.

As one participant would later put it, taxpayer funds were an irresistible mark for a simple reason: They never ran out.

The scheme was built around “cum-ex trading” (from the Latin for “with-without”): a monetary maneuver to avoid double taxation of investment profits that plays out like high finance’s answer to a David Copperfield stage illusion. Through careful timing, and the coordination of a dozen different transactions, cum-ex trades produced two refunds for dividend tax paid on one basket of stocks.

One basket of stocks. Abracadabra. Two refunds.

The process was repeated over and over, as word of cum-ex spread like a quiet contagion. Germany was hardest hit, with an estimated $30 billion in losses, followed by France, taken for about $17 billion. Smaller sums were drained away from Spain, Italy, Belgium, Austria, Norway, Finland, Poland and others.

Outrage in these countries has focused on the City of London, Britain’s answer to Wall Street. Less scrutinized has been the role played by Americans, both individual investors and branches of United States investment banks in London, including Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America Merrill Lynch.”

Everything You Need to Know About Chocolate – By Melissa Clark – The New York Times

“You probably think you already know everything you need to know about chocolate.

For instance: The higher the percentage of cacao, the more bitter the chocolate, right? The term “single origin” on the label indicates that the chocolate expresses a particular terroir. And wasn’t the whole bean-to-bar movement started by a couple of bearded guys in Brooklyn?

Wrong; not necessarily; and definitely not.

Americans spend $21 billion on chocolate every year, but just because we eat a lot of it doesn’t mean we know what we’re eating. And misunderstandings at the store can make it especially hard for chocolate lovers to figure out which of the myriad, jauntily wrapped bars crowding the shelves are the best to buy, in terms of both taste and ethics.”

“. . . But while creativity and technical acuity in chocolate making have blossomed, ethical and environmental concerns still plague the supply chain. Despite a 20-year effort to battle the systemic poverty, child labor and deforestation endemic to the industry, those problems may actually be getting worse.

It might seem a lot to think about as you choose your Valentine’s Day chocolates, but here are answers to some basic questions you may not even know you had.”

“. . . . But while creativity and technical acuity in chocolate making have blossomed, ethical and environmental concerns still plague the supply chain. Despite a 20-year effort to battle the systemic poverty, child labor and deforestation endemic to the industry, those problems may actually be getting worse.

It might seem a lot to think about as you choose your Valentine’s Day chocolates, but here are answers to some basic questions you may not even know you had.”

“. . . . It’s a similar story with environmental impact. In 2017, 34 chocolate companies agreed to end deforestation by their industry. But according to a 2018 report by the environmental group Mighty Earth, cacao production was still ravishing forests, and the animals living within them, at an alarming rate.

Even when the industry does act, efforts from the top down can fail to take root. Both child labor and deforestation are part of the daily realities of the systemic poverty afflicting West Africa, said Kristy Leissle, a founder of the Cocoapreneurship Institute of Ghana and author of the 2018 book “Cocoa.”

To truly improve the lives of farmers and their families, Dr. Leissle said, the farmers need to be included in the conversation. “The current initiatives have been imposed on Africa from European and North American people who are not engaged in the daily labor of cocoa farming,” she said. “The solutions need to come from within the cocoa industry in Africa. That’s where the expertise is.”

Cacao, a shade-tolerant plant, can be grown under the forest canopy without drastic clearing. And when grown in a sustainable manner, it can have a low carbon footprint.”

Grizzly Bear Death Rates Are Climbing – By Jim Robbins – The New York Times

ESSEX, Mont. — The long freight trains climb slowly over Marias Pass, through snow-draped mountains south of Glacier National Park and north of the Great Bear Wilderness, snaking through some of the wildest country in the Lower 48.

Some 25 trains a day, each a chain of 90 to 120 cars, make the journey over the Rocky Mountains in northern Montana at speeds up to 25 miles per hour. They have long been a threat to grizzly bears, and last year was the worst with eight of the bears — a federally protected species — run over by trains. On one day in June, a mother and her two cubs were killed by trains in two separate incidents. The long-term average for grizzly deaths by train is two a year.

“A train can sneak up on you,” said John Waller, the supervisory wildlife biologist for Glacier National Park, as he stopped to watch one chug through the forest. “They are amazingly quiet on the down grade and there are a lot of times the sound is blocked, coming in and out of the valleys.”

The death rate of grizzlies in this region has been rising, attributed not only to trains, but to poaching, cars and the removal of troublesome bears. In 2018, a record number — 51 — were killed in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem, millions of acres in and around Glacier Park. And last year, 51 bears were killed. In 2017, just 29 bears were killed or euthanized.

At the same time, though, the region’s population of grizzly bears has come roaring back to a high of 1,051 from a low of about 350 to 400, when they were listed in 1975 as a threatened species. Some experts say the increase in mortality is a reflection of the fact that more bears are roaming in far more places than they used to, and argue that, so far, these higher death rates are not a threat to the species.”