Shocking footage shows Serbian lake completely covered in garbage

Shocking footage shows Serbian lake completely covered in garbage

Isabella O’Malley                       January 12, 2021
Shocking footage shows Serbian lake completely covered in garbage
Shocking footage shows Serbian lake completely covered in garbage

While pollution is an omnipresent issue that is impacting essentially every ecosystem on Earth, the problem is not always visible to the naked eye. However, footage of Serbia’s Potpecko Lake depicts a jarring scene — several thousand cubic metres of plastic containers floating on top of the water.

The footage was first published online on January 4, 2021 and environmental activist, Sinisa Lakovic, says that the extent of the plastic pollution is due to decades of accumulating trash at “unsanitary landfills,” as reported by Reuters. Marko Karadzic, a local resident, described the situation to Reuters as “an ecological disaster.”

Several landfills are located upstream from the lake along the Lim River. Potpecko Lake is connected to the waterbody that the dam at the Višegrad Hydroelectric Power Plant uses, and officials are concerned that it could become clogged with garbage.

Serbia’s Environment Minister, Irena Vujovic, said a clean-up would soon commence and stated that several landfalls that contributed to the pollution in Potpecko Lake have been invited to develop a solution that would have long-term benefits.

AQUATIC POLLUTION, NOT JUST AN OCEAN PROBLEM

Images of ocean animals entangled in plastic pollution are the most common impacts that many people think of when considering how the waste we generate impacts aquatic ecosystems. Given that oceans cover more than 70 per cent of Earth’s surface, it is understandable that the spotlight lands on these marine ecosystems, but some experts say that plastic pollution in freshwater lakes and rivers is a topic that is often neglected in research.

lake pollution Credit: Justin Wilkens via Unsplash
lake pollution Credit: Justin Wilkens via Unsplash.  A discarded beer can in Eagle Lake, Mississippi, USA. Credit: Justin Wilkens via Unsplash

 

A 2019 survey conducted by scientists Martín C. M. Blettler and Karl M. Wantzen reviewed 171 published studies that analyzed animal plastic entanglement and found that over 98 per cent focused solely on oceanic environments. Blettler and Wantzen stated while ocean plastic pollution remains a considerable concern, they emphasize the importance of the limited insight we have about freshwater pollution.

In freshwater environments, researchers have documented an increasing trend of plastic becoming part of birds’ nests, which can reduce the survival rates of both the parents and chicks. Microplastics are also being consumed by fish in growing amounts leading to adverse effects. The researchers say that the effects of plastic pollution in water bodies inland are important to study because the waste that is dumped in lakes and rivers ultimately travels to the oceans.

With files from Reuters

Deal reached on project to protect lakes from invasive fish

Deal reached on project to protect lakes from invasive fish

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) — Michigan, Illinois and a federal agency have agreed on funding the next phase of an initiative to keep Asian carp out of the Great Lakes by strengthening defenses on a Chicago-area waterway, officials said Thursday.

The two states and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will share pre-construction engineering and design costs for the $858 million project at Brandon Road Lock and Dam near Joliet, Illinois. The structure on the Des Plaines River is a choke point between the Illinois River, which is infested with the invasive carp, and Lake Michigan.

A plan approved by the Corps in 2019 calls for installing a gantlet of technologies to deter approaching fish, including electric barriers and underwater speakers that would blast loud noises, plus an “air bubble curtain.” A specially designed “flushing lock” would wash away carp that might be floating on the water as vessels pass through.

The next step is developing design and engineering specifications, expected to take three to four years and cost about $28.8 million.

Under the new agreement, the Corps will pay $18 million and Michigan $8 million. Illinois will chip in $2.5 million and serve as the “non-federal sponsor” required for such projects.

The federal share of the design and engineering funds still needs to be provided through annual Corps work plans, said Col. Steven M. Sattinger, commander of the Corps’ district office in Rock Island, Illinois.

Both states will collaborate with the Corps as it designs the complex mechanism, which will require thousands of pages of drawings.

Extensive research is still needed for some features, which never have been built to the scale that will be required at Brandon Road, Sattinger said.

“It’s not as easy as it sounds,” he said during an online news conference.

Four species of carp were imported from Asia in the 1960s and 1970s to clear algae from Deep South sewage ponds and fish farms. They escaped into the Mississippi River and have moved north into dozens of tributaries in Middle America.

Government agencies, advocacy groups and others have long debated how to prevent them from reaching the Great Lakes, where scientists say they could out-compete native species for food and habitat. The lakes region has a fishing industry valued at $7 billion.

“If Asian carp invade the Great Lakes, they would have a devastating impact on our fisheries, tourism and outdoor recreation economies, and way of life across the region,” said Marc Smith, policy director for the National Wildlife Federation.

A shipping canal that forms part of the link between the Mississippi and Lake Michigan has a network of fish-repelling barriers, which the Corps says is effective but critics consider inadequate. The Brandon Road project will provide another layer of protection further downstream.

“Long in planning, we’re pleased to finally put these agreements into action, allowing us to move the project to its next steps – planning and design – and, ultimately, construction,” said Colleen Callahan, director of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

Once design is complete, building the system will take six to eight years, Sattinger said.

The deal between states that have sometimes quarreled over how to stop the carp is “a model of partnership that we hope to see more of in the future as we work toward a common goal of securing the health and longevity of our states’ greatest natural resource,” said Molly Flanagan, chief operating officer of the Alliance for the Great Lakes.

Where did COVID-19 come from?

Where did COVID-19 come from?

Elizabeth Weise and Karen Weintraub,         January 16, 2021

 

The coronavirus that conquered the world came from a thumb-sized bat tucked inside a remote Chinese cave. Of this much, scientists are convinced.

Exactly how and when it fled the bat to begin its devastating flight across the globe remain open questions.

In just one year, SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, has infected 100 million people and killed 2 million, 400,000 of them in the U.S. Answers could stop such a calamity from happening again.

Researchers in China, under government scrutiny, have been investigating since January. This week, a World Health Organization delegation of scientists from 10 different nations finally was allowed in the country to explore the virus’ origins.

“This is important not just for COVID-19, but for the future of global health security and to manage emerging disease threats with pandemic potential,” Tedros Ghebreyesus, WHO’s director-general, said just after the team left for China.

A worker in protective coverings directs members of the World Health Organization (WHO) team on their arrival at the airport in Wuhan in central China's Hubei province on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. A global team of researchers came to the Chinese city where the coronavirus pandemic was first detected to conduct a politically sensitive investigation into its origins amid uncertainty about whether Beijing might try to prevent embarrassing discoveries.

 

It’s not clear how much evidence will remain a year later, and what the team will be able to learn. The Wuhan fish market, seen as a likely breeding ground for the virus, has been scrubbed and shuttered.

But the effort is worth it, infectious disease experts say. Understanding the journey of SARS-CoV-2 may provide insights into how the relationship between humans and animals led to the pandemic, as well as other disease outbreaks including Ebola, Zika and many strains of flu.

A member of the World Health Organization team is screened on arriving at the airport in Wuhan in central China's Hubei province on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. The global team of researchers arrived Thursday in the Chinese city where the coronavirus pandemic was first detected to conduct a politically sensitive investigation into its origins amid uncertainty about whether Beijing might try to prevent embarrassing discoveries.

 

“These are emerging diseases that breach the barrier between animals and humans and cause devastation in human populations,” the WHO’s Mike Ryan said at a Monday news conference. “It is an absolute requirement that we understand that interface and what is driving that dynamic and what specific issues resulted in diseases breaching that barrier.”

The international team is not looking to assign blame, said Ryan, executive director of WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme. If it were, there would be plenty to go around.

“We can blame climate change. We can blame policy decisions made 30 years ago regarding everything from urbanization to the way we exploit the forest,” he said. “You can find people to blame in every level of what we’re doing on this planet.”

Beginnings in a cave

The chain of events that led to the worst global pandemic in a century started with a tiny, insect-eating mammal with the mundane name, Intermediate Horseshoe bat.

The species is part of a family of bats that act as natural reservoirs for coronaviruses, notorious for how easily they mutate and how well they can be transmitted from species to species. The bats aren’t bothered by the viruses. The animals they pass them onto aren’t always so lucky.

Humans are one of those animals.

This happens all the time – a virus harmlessly infects one creature then finds its way to another, mutates and becomes something new. The newly mutated virus can be insignificant but annoying (think common colds, some of which are caused by coronaviruses) or devastating and deadly (think smallpox.)

SARS-CoV-2 is a little of both.

A Horseshoe bat hangs from a net inside an abandoned Israeli army outpost next to the Jordan River in the occupied West Bank, on July 7, 2019.
A Horseshoe bat hangs from a net inside an abandoned Israeli army outpost next to the Jordan River in the occupied West Bank, on July 7, 2019.

 

As many as 40% of those who test positive for COVID-19 have no symptoms at all but 2% of people who get sick die. It’s especially deadly in the elderly.  COVID-19 has killed 1 of every 66 Americans older than 85. Among those infected, some percentage — we don’t yet know how many — cope with crippling long-term symptoms that plague them for months. Future health impacts remain unknown.

The group of related coronaviruses giving rise to SARS-CoV-2 has existed for decades in bats and likely originated more than 40 years ago, said Dr. Charles Chiu, a professor and expert in viral genomics at the University of California, San Francisco.

SARS-CoV-2 shares 96% of its genetic material with a sample of coronavirus taken in 2013 in Intermediate Horseshoe bats from Yunnan province in China, which suggests the Yunnan virus is its ancestor. How the virus traveled the 1,200 miles from Yunnan to Wuhan remains unknown.

Because the 2013 sample is the only one available, scientists had to undertake genetic analysis to estimate when the bat strain and the strain now circulating among humans diverged. They put the split sometime in the 1960s or 1970s, said Maciej Boni, a professor of biology at Pennsylvania State University’s Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics, who spent almost a decade working in Asia.

“There’s really not a clear tree where we have forensic evidence to point to exactly where it came from,” said John Connor, a virologist at Boston University who studies emerging infectious diseases. “It looks like it’s a bat-derived virus, and there’s a big question mark after that.”

Scientists simply don’t do enough surveillance of bats and coronavirus to tell.

“We just don’t know because we don’t have any data — we weren’t looking,” said Boni. “Over the last 20 years we haven’t been doing enough sampling.”

Boni is among those who think the virus most likely came directly from bats, possibly infecting miners who work in bat-infested caves or people exposed to bat feces. Others say it more likely spent some time infecting another animal species before leaping to humans.

The original SARS virus, identified in China in 2003, is believed to have passed through civets – a type of nocturnal mammal native to Asia and Africa – though other animals may have been involved.

SARS underwent only a few genetic changes between bats and people, which made its animal roots easier to trace, while SARS-CoV-2 has changed a lot more, Connor said.

With SARS-CoV-2, a suspect is the frequently trafficked scaly anteater, also known as a pangolin. Other possibilities include civets or ferrets or even cats.

“SARS-CoV-2 may originate from live animal markets, but it may also have emerged from any setting in which people come into contact with animals, including farms, pets, or zoos,” Chiu said.

Whatever its path, sometime before November 2019 it became a virus that could easily – far too easily – infect humans.

Not Made in China

Despite a persistent conspiracy theory that SARS-CoV-2 was developed in a lab, perhaps an infectious disease lab in Wuhan, there’s no evidence to support the claim and plenty to counter it.

In March, a group of researchers found the virus most closely resembled existing bat viruses and was not man-made.

“Our analyses clearly show that SARS-CoV-2 is not a laboratory construct or a purposefully manipulated virus,” they wrote in the prestigious journal Nature.

No new details have emerged since to change the author minds, said Dr. W. Ian Lipkin, one of the co-authors and a professor at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health.

“Can we exclude the possibility that there was a virus that was present in this lab that somehow got out into either animals or people? No, we can’t do that,” he said. “The only thing we can say is that there’s no evidence that suggests it was deliberately engineered through some sort of gain-of-function experiments.”

Connor said he’s also dubious the virus originated in a lab rather than in nature.

The Wuhan Huanan Wholesale Seafood Market, where a number of people related to the market fell ill with a virus, sits closed in Wuhan, China, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020.
The Wuhan Huanan Wholesale Seafood Market, where a number of people related to the market fell ill with a virus, sits closed in Wuhan, China, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020.

 

“What laboratory people are really good at doing is making viruses weaker,” said Connor, who is also an investigator at Boston University’s National Emerging Infectious Disease Laboratories.

Viruses, especially RNA viruses like coronaviruses, make tiny mistakes as they reproduce. One person’s nose might contain 10 to a 100,000 copies of the virus, and with so many replications and so many mistakes, it’s plausible chance mutations led to SARS-CoV-2, he said.

“I don’t think we need to look for man-made. I think we see the viruses that we know assaulting us all the time,” Connor said. “We look back to Zika. That wasn’t man-made. Neither was Ebola. Flu keeps coming after us.”

It’s possible to bioengineer a virus, but it’s extremely hard. Anyone doing so would have used a pre-existing virus as the template. The virus that’s now killing millions has novel mutations, many of them, said Chiu.

“We barely know how to manipulate even a few base pairs in a single viral gene,” he said. “The difference between Chinese bat coronaviruses and SARS-CoV-2 is more than 3,000 base pairs.”

In some ways, it doesn’t matter where the virus came from, said Stephen Morse, a professor of epidemiology at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. What matters is how we deal with the current situation, which is at a crisis state in the United States.

“When the house is burning down is not the time to start looking for where the matches were,” he said.

Investigation and prevention

If SARS-Cov-2 had been a type of bird flu instead of a coronavirus, the world would have been alerted within days of the first infections. A global surveillance system was established in the 1990s and has been expanded and strengthened, Boni said.

“If a single poultry farmer in Southeast Asia comes down with severe respiratory symptoms, samples are taken and sequenced. That week you know which avian influenza virus it is,” he said. “Farms in neighboring regions are immediately quarantined and the birds may be depopulated. It takes days.”

Setting up something similar for bats and coronaviruses would cost several billion a year globally, said Boni. “It’s not expensive for the benefit we’d get.”

To track SARS-COV-2 as it transferred among species requires analyzing blood collected from the animals, as well as samples from their airways.

Distinguishing between closely related viruses isn’t always so easy.

“We have a special test that can do this if we could get samples out of China,” said Lipkin. He’s been trying for months to do so, and when he attempted to send his own sampling tools into the country the U.S wouldn’t allow it.

“We now have obstruction on both sides,” said Lipkin, who’s been working to get into China himself since early in the outbreak. “I don’t know when that’s going to let up. I’m hoping the Biden administration will feel differently.”

Lipkin’s March paper explored key features of the new virus but nothing more has been learned since about SARS-CoV-2’s earliest days, he said.

Staff move bio-waste containers past the entrance of the Wuhan Medical Treatment Center, where some infected with a new virus are being treated, in Wuhan, China, Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020.
Staff move bio-waste containers past the entrance of the Wuhan Medical Treatment Center, where some infected with a new virus are being treated, in Wuhan, China, Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020.

 

“We still haven’t had a full post-mortem on what went wrong in China,” said Lipkin, who caught COVID-19 in March in New York and was recently vaccinated.

The U.S. has a very good system of reporting outbreaks, and rapidly publishes information in the CDC’s journal, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly. The Chinese are not as transparent at reporting their public health information.

Increased transparency is one of several changes Lipkin recommends to avoid a repeat of the 2020 disaster.

Wild animal markets and consumption of wildlife continue to pose dangers, he said.

And the world needs to have the ability to respond faster to novel viruses like SARS-CoV-2. Global surveillance would help, as would drugs that can treat a wide spectrum of viruses – maybe one that can address all coronaviruses and another to tackle influenzas.

“These drugs might not be ideal but we should think of them as a finger in the dike,” Lipkin said, so outbreaks won’t get out of hand, the way this one did.

Connor, at Boston University, agrees that effective and transparent public health systems around the world are essential for detecting and preventing outbreaks like COVID-19.

In this Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2020 file photo, people wearing face masks walk down a deserted street in Wuhan in central China's Hubei Province.
In this Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2020 file photo, people wearing face masks walk down a deserted street in Wuhan in central China’s Hubei Province.

 

While Wuhan may have had a good health care system, that was not the case in West Africa, where a 2014-2016 epidemic of Ebola infected more than 28,000, killed over 11,000 and terrified the world.

“It would be nice for all people to have good health care, not just because it would be nice for them … but for everybody else,” Connor said. “It would be nice to be able to identify: Oh, all of a sudden, five people in one area got sick with something we didn’t know what it was.”

Connor said it’s pointless to try to predict all the ways in which a virus now infecting animals could make the leap to humans. A much better approach, he said, is to focus on the viruses that do emerge.

“What matters is how good we are at responding quickly,” he said.

The race is now between the speed of mutations and the speed of vaccination, said Chiu.

Even for a typically slow Sunday afternoon Grand Central Terminal in New York City was quieter than usual March 15, 2020 as Coronavirus concerns kept travelers and tourists off the streets and away from popular destinations in the city.

 

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, says it may take up to 85% of Americans being vaccinated to protect the population. Reaching those numbers will be challenging considering pervasive vaccine hesitancy and a slow, complicated roll out.

In the meantime, public health measures to stop the spread – masking, social distancing and handwashing – are essential, experts repeat.

“We have to reduce the number of infections before the virus has a chance to mutate in such a way that it can evade drugs and vaccines,” said Chiu. “That’s what keeps me up at night.”

Contact Elizabeth Weise at eweise@usatoday.com and Karen Weintraub at kweintraub@usatoday.com.

Health and patient safety coverage at USA TODAY is made possible in part by a grant from the Masimo Foundation for Ethics, Innovation and Competition in Healthcare. The Masimo Foundation does not provide editorial input.

Nearly 100 million Chinese people supplied drinking water with ‘unsafe’ levels of toxic chemicals

Nearly 100 million Chinese people supplied drinking water with ‘unsafe’ levels of toxic chemicals

Echo Xie                                 

Drinking water provided to nearly 100 million people in China has levels of toxic chemicals that exceed safe limits, researchers have found.

A team from Tsinghua University monitored the levels of per and polyfluoroalkyls (PFAS) – man-made chemicals used in everything from fabrics to pesticides – using data from previous studies.

By analyzing data from 526 drinking water samples across 66 cities with a total population of 450 million, the study found that the concentration of PFAS in more than 20 per cent of the studied cities – 16 in total – exceeded safe levels.

Get the latest insights and analysis from our Global Impact newsletter on the big stories originating in China.

China has no national safety standards, so the study used the US state of Vermont’s regulations as the benchmark.

A chemical factory is dismantled along the Yangtze River in Yichang City as part of an effort to reduce pollution in the area. Photo: Xinhua alt=A chemical factory is dismantled along the Yangtze River in Yichang City as part of an effort to reduce pollution in the area. Photo: Xinhua

The cities with high levels included Wuxi, Hangzhou and Suzhou in eastern China and Foshan in the southern province of Guangdong. Major cities including Beijing and Shanghai were under the limit.

The study was published in the journal Environmental Sciences Europe last Tuesday and was the first comprehensive study reviewing PFAS levels in Chinese drinking water.

In general, eastern, southern and southwest China had higher levels of PFAS compared with other regions.

The mean concentration of PFASs in eastern China was 2.6 times that of the country’s north, which the report’s authors attributed to intensive industrial activity and high population density.

Roland Weber, a co-author of the study and German consultant on persistent organic pollutants, said that some PFAS were more dangerous than others, especially the chemicals known as PFOA and PFOS, which have been linked to a variety of health risks.

“The European Food Safety Agency recently highlighted four PFAS – including PFOA and PFOS – as particularly problematic and set a low tolerable intake limit [the daily amount deemed safe] ,” he said.

The study found extremely high levels of PFOA and PFOS in three Chinese cities in the Yangtze River Basin – Zigong, Jiujiang and Lianyungang – which were attributed to the presence of fluoro-chemical plants and industries that use multiple PFAS, such as leather, textile and paper manufacturing.

Weber said more toxicity assessment needs to be done on the thousands of PFAS in use, because there are still many unknown risks and scientists suggest limiting them to essential uses.

The toxic chemicals can be found in everything from stain-resistant textiles, greaseproof food packaging, firefighting foam, personal care products, pharmaceuticals and pesticides.

“Many PFAS are water soluble and do not degrade possibly for centuries and longer and are therefore called ‘forever chemicals’. If you have contaminated ground water used for irrigation, it will go into your plant, your food and your cattle,” said Weber.

The two toxic chemicals – PFOA and PFOS – do not break down in the human body or environment and can accumulate over time, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency.

They were listed in the annex of the Stockholm Convention as persistent organic pollutants, or “forever chemicals”, since they are considered to be harmful to health and the environment.

China is now one of the largest manufacturers and consumers of PFAS but it has no guidelines for their presence in drinking water.

But it is a party to the Stockholm Convention, which aims to eliminate or restrict the production and use of persistent organic pollutants and is working to phase out the use of PFOS.

But Weber said PFOA had only been listed under the convention in 2019 – a decade after PFOS – and China has not yet ratified this section.

In plans released in June, the Ministry of Ecology and Environment vowed to step up the monitoring of new pollutants in surface water.

Weber added that China needs to analyze drinking water as well as groundwater and contaminated sites to understand the scale of the problem and then draw up plans to tackle it.

“Europe and the United States are facing large challenges with monitoring and controlling PFAS contaminated sites and I think it is now the right time that China is moving forward, making science based limits and then cleaning the drinking water and control emissions from industries and other uses,” he said.

This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century.

President Trump’s wildly expensive border wall policy will leave a lasting legacy

President Trump’s wildly expensive border wall policy will leave a lasting legacy

President Trump vowed vowed to build 450 miles of border “wall” — which is more of a series of barriers erected by a succession of U.S. presidents, by the end of his first term.

Trump can say he fulfilled that promise, according to information provided to Yahoo Finance by Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), establishing one of the more expensive and permanent aspects of his legacy.

“As much as the Trump administration is able to construct is going to be the amount that’s there pretty permanently,” Jessica Bolter, an associate policy analyst for the Migration Policy Institute, told Yahoo Finance. “This is a serious permanent infrastructure project that’s going to remain. And while many of the other actions that Trump has taken on immigration can be rolled back through executive action, this is something that it looks like is not going to be rolled back anytime soon.”

US President Donald Trump tours a section of the border wall in Alamo, Texas, on January 12, 2021. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN / AFP) (Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump tours a section of the border wall in Alamo, Texas, on January 12, 2021. (Photo: MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)

 

According to the latest CBP data, 453 miles of “new primary and secondary border wall system” were built during Trump’s term — though much of that construction involved replacing “dilapidated of outdate designs” as opposed to building wall where it had not been built previously. Another 211 miles are under construction while 74 miles are in the pre-construction phase.

Overall, the $15-billion initiative was a key promise of Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and became a point of contention with Congress — a funding dispute over the border wall led to a 35-day government shutdown in 2018 — and landowners whose properties have been greatly impacted by the construction.

President-elect Joe Biden has vowed to freeze construction of the wall, a move that would save roughly $2.6 billion.

453 miles of wall have been completed so far. (Source: CBP)
453 miles of wall have been completed so far. (Source: CBP)
‘It’s a gigantic waste of government resources’

Experts have argued the entire project was a waste of taxpayer money (in addition to being a magnet for alleged fraud).

“It’s a gigantic waste of government resources, taking billions of dollars away from other priorities and has zero benefit to the United States,” David Bier, an immigration policy analyst at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, told Yahoo Finance. “The difference between the Trump law and the existing fences that he replaced is the Trump wall is more expensive and that’s pretty much it. It’s certainly more intrusive to the environment and to the landowners and to the residents of the areas in which the border wall is being built as well.”

The wall built under Trump has been incredibly costly, particularly compared to other presidencies.

Between 2007 and 2015, CBP spent a total of $2.4 billion constructing 535 miles of the border wall. Part of the reason for that, she explained, is because Trump’s wall is a taller, more fortified wall being constructed in a lot of areas. Bolter noted that fencing under the GWB administration cost an average of $3.9 million per mile. Under Trump, it averaged about $20 million per mile.

There are approximately 701 miles of primary barriers along the border. (Graphic: David Foster/Yahoo Finance)
There are approximately 701 miles of primary barriers along the border. (Graphic: David Foster/Yahoo Finance)

 

Another reason for the exorbitant cost is that it’s “not clear that building a wall in all of these places was necessary,” Bolter said. “A report from the Department of Homeland Security inspector general found that when CBP was setting its border wall priorities, it didn’t consider alternatives.”

Ohio State University Professor Ken Madsen, who tracks border wall progress, noted that when we “see new fences or walls going in those very rugged areas, it seems to me it really is for show. It’s not really doing anything to stop anybody because very few people were crossing there in the first place.”

Gil Kerlikowske, who served as CBP commissioner during the final three years of the Obama administration, has argued that the money would be “much better invested in technology than barriers.” He noted that much of the cost for the barriers stems from maintenance and repair.

“I mean, it’s really significant,” Kerlikowske told Yahoo Finance. “You have flooding, you have other kinds of damage, people, of course, cutting them. So people shouldn’t look at this just as the cost of this fixed wall or barrier. They should look at the long-term costs. They are going to be replaced over the years, plus maintenance costs, so it’s incredibly expensive.”

U.S. President Donald Trump holds up a picture of border wall being installed along the U.S.-Mexico border as he participates in a roundtable briefing on border security at the U.S. Border Patrol Yuma Station in Yuma, Arizona, U.S., June 23, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

 

The former CBP leader suggested technological alternatives like integrated fixed towers, which have infrared and camera sensors. But according to Bier, the Cato analyst, it’s still just another form of wasted taxpayer money.

“It’s certainly better than taking people’s land but it’s another gigantic sinkhole of government money that you spent billions upon billions, spending more money on technology, whether it’s border journals or surveillance cameras,” Bier said. “Really at the end of the day, you have reports from the OIG, the GAO, the drones and balances are ineffective. That virtual fence they tried to build with the cameras and sensors was useless, a waste of taxpayer money. I don’t support any more money for this effort.”

Biden freezing construction of the wall is just one of the several necessary steps needed to fix this, Bier argued.

“A freeze is better than continuing to waste taxpayer money on something that we’re getting no benefit from,” he said. “But I think that we should go further than that and transfer that land and the structure as well — if the people who own the land want the structure, let them keep it, but it should really be their decision and not the decision of Border Patrol to foist a structure on somebody else’s property.”

New sections of the border wall are in process of being built in Hidalgo, Texas on January 11, 2021. - Chad Wolf, the acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, announced he was resigning January 11 as worries rose over more violence during President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration next week. Wolf's resignation came a day before Trump is to travel to the US-Mexico frontier near Alamo, Texas to inspect the border wall he has had built. (Photo by Mark Felix / AFP) (Photo by MARK FELIX/AFP /AFP via Getty Images)
New sections of the border wall are in process of being built in Hidalgo, Texas on January 11, 2021. (Photo by MARK FELIX/AFP /AFP via Getty Images)
‘New’ versus ‘old’ wall

Trump’s CBP claimed that 453 miles of border wall were built since January 2017, though less than 100 miles of the wall is actually new and not replacing outdated structures.

“[Former Acting Secretary of Homeland Security] Chad Wolf and CBP are counting anything as new that’s new construction,” Madsen told Yahoo Finance. “But most people are making a distinction between new versus replacement. There was a wall there before and yes there’s a new wall now, but it’s the same place that’s covered. But then you can even narrow that down more.”

Much of the construction is to replace existing barriers, many of which are old and/or dilapidated in quality.

“Once you distinguish new from replacement, then you have to distinguish if it’s a pedestrian barrier, or replacement pedestrian barrier,” Madsen said. “In other words, is it just a newer model that’s taller, more see-through, more durable, stronger foundation? And then there’s some places where they’re replacing vehicle barriers with pedestrian barriers.”

That makes sense since pedestrian barriers are much more effective at stopping people than vehicle barriers so “that’s quite an upgrade. That’s substantially changing the dynamic. And again, because it’s all new, it’s being counted by CBP as new. I’ve heard the vast majority is replacing barriers that are already there. That’s for sure. So most of what’s being constructed is just replacing what’s already there.”

U.S. President Donald Trump talks with U.S. Border Patrol Chief Rodney Scott as he tours a section of the U.S.-Mexico border wall in San Luis, Arizona, U.S., June 23, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Barria     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
U.S. President Donald Trump talks with U.S. Border Patrol Chief Rodney Scott as he tours a section of the U.S.-Mexico border wall in San Luis, Arizona, U.S., June 23, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
‘Building a wall will do little to deter criminals’

President-elect Biden has been critical about the border wall, singling out Trump for the wall’s lack of efficiency.

“His obsession with building a wall does nothing to address security challenges while costing taxpayers billions of dollars,” Biden’s immigration plan states, noting that most illegal drugs come through legal points of entry, that asylum seekers are asking for refuge legally, and that nearly half of undocumented immigrants are in the U.S. because they overstayed their visas.

“Building a wall will do little to deter criminals and cartels seeking to exploit our borders,” his plan says. “Instead of stealing resources from schools for military children and recovery efforts in Puerto Rico, Biden will direct federal resources to smart border enforcement efforts, like investments in improving screening infrastructure at our ports of entry, that will actually keep America safer.”

JACUMBA, CA - DECEMBER 01: Construction crews work on the United States-Mexico border wall on December 1, 2020 in Jacumba, California. President-elect Joe Biden wants to stop construction of the border wall, but the departing Trump administration is rushing to complete as much wall as possible in its last weeks in power. (Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)
Construction crews work on the United States-Mexico border wall on December 1, 2020 in Jacumba, California. (Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)

 

Biden’s decision to halt construction of the wall will save billions of dollars, but could still cost roughly $700 million, according to the Washington Post. This is because withdrawing crew, materials, and equipment can be billed as “demobilization fees.”

But, it will come as a relief for those whose lands were seized by the government through eminent domain to be used as part of the border wall. According to the New York Times, the Trump administration brought 78 lawsuits against landowners along the southern border, with 30 of them in 2020.

Despite the havoc along the border soon coming to an end, the project still leaves behind a lasting legacy.

“I think that the border wall is one of the most permanent parts of President Trump’s legacy after he leaves the office,” Bolter said. “President-elect Biden has said that he’s not going to construct any additional border wall, but he’s also said that he’s not going to take down any of the wall that President Trump has built.”

Adriana Belmonte is a reporter and editor covering politics and health care policy for Yahoo Finance. You can follow her on Twitter @adrianambells and reach her at adriana@yahoofinance.com.

Biden picks geneticist as science adviser, puts in Cabinet

Biden picks geneticist as science adviser, puts in Cabinet

January 15, 2021
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In this Sept. 7, 2010, file photo, Eric Steven Lander, head of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, gestures as he delivers a speech during the forum Mexico XXI Century, organized by the Telmex Foundation, in Mexico City. President-elect Joe Biden picked a pioneering geneticist to be his science advisor and elevated the job to his Cabinet. Friday’s announcement of Lander won wide praise (AP Photo/Claudio Cruz, File)

 

President-elect Joe Biden announced Friday that he has chosen a pioneer in mapping the human genome — the so-called “book of life” — to be his chief science adviser and is elevating the top science job to a Cabinet position.

Biden nominated Eric Lander, founding director of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, who was the lead author of the first paper announcing the details of the human genome, as director of Office of Science and Technology Policy and adviser on science. He is the first life scientist to have that job. His predecessor is a meteorologist.

Saying “science will always be at the forefront of my administration,” Biden said he is boosting the science advisor post to Cabinet level, a first in White House history.

The president-elect also said he is retaining National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins, who worked with Lander on the human genome project, and named two prominent female scientists to co-chair the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.

Frances Arnold, a California Institute of Technology chemical engineer who won the 2018 Nobel Prize in chemistry, and MIT vice president for research and geophysics professor Maria Zuber will co-chair the outside science advisory council. Lander held that position during Obama administration.

Collins, in an email statement, called Lander “brilliant, visionary, exceptionally creative and highly effective in aspiring others.”

“I predict he will have a profound transformational effect on American science,” Collins said.

The job as director of science and technology policy requires Senate confirmation.

Science organizations were also quick to praise Lander and the promotion of the science post.

“Elevating (the science adviser) role to member in the President’s Cabinet clearly signals the administration’s intent to involve scientific expertise in every policy discussion,” said Sudip Parikh, chief executive officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the world’s largest general scientific society.

Biden chose Princeton’s Alondra Nelson, a social scientist who studies science, technology and social inequality, as deputy science policy chief.

Lander, also a mathematician, is a professor of biology at both Harvard and MIT and his work has been cited nearly half a million times in scientific literature, one of most among scientists. He has won numerous science prizes, including a MacArthur “genius” fellowship and a Breakthrough Prize, and is one of Pope Francis’ scientific advisors.

Lander has said in talks that an opportunity to explain science is his “Achilles’ heel”: “I love teaching and more than that, I firmly believe that no matter what I do in my own scientific career, the most important impact that I could ever have on the world is going to be through my students.”

Mikie Sherrill says unidentified lawmakers led ‘reconnaissance’ tours ahead of Capitol attack

Mikie Sherrill says unidentified lawmakers led ‘reconnaissance’ tours ahead of Capitol attack

Kyle Cheney and Sarah Ferris                  January 12, 2021

Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-N.J.) said Tuesday that she witnessed colleagues escorting people through the Capitol on Jan. 5 for what she described as “reconnaissance” ahead of the next day’s violent insurrection that left five dead.

In a 13-minute Facebook video billed as an address to her constituents about the House’s efforts to hold President Donald Trump accountable for inciting the riot, Sherrill included the allegation as part of a call to hold Trump’s allies in Congress accountable as well.

“I also intend to see that those members of Congress who abetted him — those members of Congress who had groups coming through the capitol that I saw on Jan. 5 for reconnaissance for the next day — those members of Congress who incited the violent crowd, those members of Congress that attempted to help our president undermine our democracy, I’m going see that they’re held accountable,” Sherrill said.

Sherrill did not identify the lawmakers she was referring to, how she was able to describe their activities as “reconnaissance” and how she knew they were connected to the riots that consumed the Capitol the following day. She told POLITICO on Wednesday that she’s referred her information to authorities.

“We’re requesting an investigation right now with certain agencies,” she said.

Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) said he’s aware of “a couple” names of colleagues who are being eyed as potentially giving tours to the would-be insurrectionists. But he said he wouldn’t name them yet.

“I’m going to wait to make sure we get verification,” Ryan told a reporter at the Capitol Wednesday.

Ryan said the information was passed to authorities as early as last Wednesday night. He said it involved “handfuls” of people who were escorted through the Capitol. Enough to know that these weren’t “one-on-one” tours or “a small family.”

“You look back on certain things and you look at it differently,” he added.

The startling allegation comes as lawmakers are still seeking answers about the extent of planning and coordination behind the Jan. 6 Trump rally that became the violent assault on the Capitol. Federal investigators say they’re pouring enormous resources into unearthing details of a potential “seditious conspiracy” and that some of the undisclosed evidence about what happened inside the Capitol will be “shocking.”

Some Democrats, like Sherrill, are also calling for punishment for the Republicans who — like Trump — delivered incendiary remarks that preceded the violence at the Capitol, as well as others who joined Trump’s effort to delegitimize the 2020 presidential election.

GOP Reps. Deny Giving ‘Reconnaissance Tours’ to Capitol Rioters

GOP Reps. Deny Giving ‘Reconnaissance Tours’ to Capitol Rioters

Brittany Bernstein                            January 13, 2021

Representatives Andy Biggs (R., Ariz.), Mo Brooks (R., Ala.), and Paul Gosar (R., Ariz.) are denying any involvement in organizing last week’s rioting at the U.S. Capitol after a protest organizer claimed he “schemed” with them to put “maximum pressure on Congress while they were voting.”

Right-wing activist Ali Alexander’s claim that he had colluded with the congressmen came in a since-deleted video on Periscope unearthed by the Project on Government Oversight.

He said weeks before the storming of the Capitol that he was planning something big for January 6, the date Congress met to tally the electoral votes and affirm President-elect Joe Biden’s win.

Alexander planned to “change the hearts and the minds of Republicans who were in that body, hearing our loud roar from outside,” he said.

Meanwhile, Representative Mikie Sherrill (D., N.J.) on Tuesday claimed she saw members of Congress leading people through the U.S. Capitol on “reconnaissance” tours one day before supporters of President Trump stormed the building, though she did not name the members or explain how she knew she was witnessing a so-called reconnaissance tour.

“We can’t have a democracy if members of Congress are actively helping the president overturn the elections results,” she said. “Not only do I intend to see that the president is removed and never runs for office again and doesn’t have access to classified material, I also intend to see that those members of Congress who abetted him; those members of Congress who had groups coming through the Capitol that I saw on Jan. 5 – a reconnaissance for the next day; those members of Congress that incited this violent crowd; those members of Congress that attempted to help our president undermine our democracy; I’m going to see they are held accountable, and if necessary, ensure that they don’t serve in Congress.”

Sherill did not say whether the “groups” were Trump supporters or offer any additional information on the “reconnaissance.”

National Review has reached out to Sherrill for comment.

A spokesman for Biggs told the Washington Post that the congressman had never been in touch with Alexander or other protestors and denied involvement in organizing a rally on January 6.

“Congressman Biggs is not aware of hearing of or meeting Mr. Alexander at any point — let alone working with him to organize some part of a planned protest,” the statement said.

Brooks on Wednesday also denied having any responsibility for the unrest, saying he would not have encouraged any action that could undermine Republican efforts to block the certification of Biden’s victory.

“I take great offense at anyone who suggests I am so politically inexperienced as to want to torpedo my honest and accurate election system effort I spent months fighting on,” Brooks wrote.

However, the Washington Post notes that videos and posts on social media suggest ties between Alexander, who is a felon, and all three congressmen.

Gosar called Alexander “a true patriot” on Twitter and the pair both spoke at a “Stop the Steal” rally in Phoenix last month.

At the same event, Alexander played a video message from Biggs, who called him a “friend” and “hero.”

“When it comes to January 6, I will be right down there in the well of the House with my friend from Alabama representative Mo Brooks,” Biggs said in the recording.

A spokesperson for Biggs told CNN that the congressman recorded the video at the request of Gosar’s staff.

While Alexander has expressed regret over the rioting, saying in a video on Periscope that he wishes people had not entered the Capitol or even gone on the steps, ahead of the unrest he seemed to endorse stopping the certification of the votes by any means.

If Democrats stopped an objection from Republicans, “everyone can guess what me and 500,000 others will do to that building,” he wrote on Twitter in December, according to the Daily Beast. “1776 is *always* an option.”

At a rally on the eve of the vote, Alexander led a “Victory or death!” chant.

However, he told the Washington Post that he had “remained peaceful” during the siege and claimed his earlier speeches “mentioned peace” and were being misrepresented.

In a video posted shortly after the Capitol riots on January 6, while Alexander claimed the majority of protestors were peaceful and commended those who did not enter the building, he added, “I don’t disavow this. I do not denounce this.”

Jon Tester: Members of Congress who incited Capitol riot must be held accountable

USA Today

Sen. Jon Tester: Members of Congress who incited Capitol riot must be held accountable

If traitors to our democracy aren’t held accountable, we will fall under siege again.
Jon Tester, Opinion contributor                         January 12, 2021
Sen. Jon Tester makes an opening statement during a Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing March 27, 2007 in Washington, DC. The committee...

Last week, as I worked in my Senate office, I watched in horror as terrorists ransacked our nation’s Capitol, where I represent Montanans in the U.S. Senate.

The Capitol is a beacon of hope, which I share with colleagues, staffers, custodial workers, reporters, woodworkers and law enforcement officials, among thousands of other Americans.

In the aftermath of that armed insurrection, it is our duty to hold everyone involved accountable to our laws and history — not just President Donald Trump and the violent rioters he incited, but also the members of Congress who enabled him.

A few days before the violent insurrection, as the president pressured Georgia’s Secretary of State to find enough votes to overturn his election loss, 13 of my Senate colleagues took the shocking step of announcing plans to challenge the outcome of the election.

Maybe they did it because they believe it will help them in their next election. Maybe they did it to raise money, or because it’s much easier to follow than to lead. Whatever their reasons, blame rests squarely on their shoulders, and history will never forget who they are — no matter how much they try to explain it away now.

If traitors to our democracy aren’t held accountable, we will fall under siege again. And if that happens, it will unfold with better planning and even bloodier results.

After President Trump urged his supporters to go to the Capitol, rioters stormed the building.

Millions of Americans watched as armed terrorists marched from the president’s rally to Capitol Hill, then smashed their way into our nation’s foremost symbol of freedom and democracy.

After officers regained control of the Capitol, some of those 13 senators quickly changed their tune, condemning the outcome they provoked — without taking any responsibility for their role in parroting, protecting and enabling the disaster 16 blocks west of Capitol Hill for years.

Trump mocks our democracy

For the past four years, this president has cheapened the institutions of our country, mocked our democracy, disposed of our allies and embraced dictators. He did it because too many politicians enabled his crusade for unchecked power, found an excuse for every lie, ignored every breathtaking tweet and pretended our fragile democracy wasn’t on the line.

On Wednesday, our democracy was on the line. Up close and on live TV for everyone in the world to see. The insurrection of the U.S. Capitol was domestic terrorism, plain and simple.

I represent a state whose early history was shaped by crooked, power-hungry politicians. More than a century ago, one of the wealthiest men on the planet, a mining magnate from Montana named William Clark, bribed his way to a seat in the U.S. Senate. In our state, a lot of powerful people looked the other way because they were afraid of him. But in Washington, the scandal was so concerning that the Senate initially refused to even seat Clark.

The people of Montana got fed up with all this unchecked power. Republicans and Democrats, and even socialists, teamed up to pass powerful reforms to put political power back in the hands of Montana’s people. This is history worth repeating.

Demand truth, accountability

Let’s declare war on unchecked power. Let’s demand courage, accountability and truth from our leaders. Let’s call phonies for what they are, including those who wrap themselves in flags before burning America down.

And to my colleagues who helped set off this tragic set of events: I urge you to take an honest look in the mirror and accept responsibility for the damage you’ve done.

The future of our fragile democracy depends on it.

Sen. Jon Tester is a Democrat from Montana.

Capitol rioter caught hitting officer with fire extinguisher in viral video

Capitol rioter caught hitting officer with fire extinguisher in viral video

Blue Telusma                         January 12, 2021

 

Simultaneously, the crowd continues to chant ‘USA!’ as chaos ensues all around them.

As the public continues to learn more about the Trump supporters who took over the U.S. Capitol last Wednesday, new footage has emerged that shows a rioter hitting an officer in the head with a fire extinguisher during the melee.

According to the New York Post, the clip obtained by Storyful shows a sea of MAGA supporters aggressively pushing past a barricade as U.S. Capitol Police tries in futility to keep them corralled on the west side of the building.

“They broke through, it’s on!” one man is heard yelling at the beginning of the video.

You can see a rioter forcefully throwing an officer over the barricade with little no remorse. A few moments later, another rioter is seen hurling a fire extinguisher directly at a group of officers before striking one on the helmet.

Simultaneously, the crowd continues to chant “USA!” as chaos ensues all around them.

“There’s a guy, like, dying over there,” a witness can be heard yelling on the clip. “They’re trying to hold him up.”

It has yet to be confirmed if the man in the video was Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick. But two law enforcement sources informed the Associated Press that Sicknick died at a hospital Thursday after being hit in the head with a fire extinguisher. A source has reported that authorities have now launched a probe into Sicknick’s death.

“The entire USCP Department expresses its deepest sympathies to Officer Sicknick’s family and friends on their loss, and mourns the loss of a friend and colleague,” the department said in an official press release which also acknowledges he was injured “while physically engaging with protesters.”

Four other people succumbed to fatal injuries during the siege, including a California woman shot by Capitol Police and three others who experienced medical emergencies.

Capitol police officers in riot gear push back demonstrators who try to break a door of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
Capitol police officers in riot gear push back demonstrators who try to break a door of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
An inside job?

As we previously reported, last week, a Washington D.C police officer came forward to make stunning allegations about off-duty police officers and even some members of the military being among the rioters who took part in Wednesday’s siege.

“If these people can storm the Capitol building with no regard to punishment, you have to wonder how much they abuse their powers when they put on their uniforms,” the officer making the allegations wrote in a public Facebook post.

 

He went on to allege that the officers in question covertly flashed their badges and identification cards at on-duty officers as they joined in on the attempt to overrun the U.S. Capitol.

Despite other accounts corroborating this assertion and numerous videos circulating on social media of officers fraternizing with the rioters – at times even stopping to take selfies with them – D.C. Police Chief Robert Contee maintained that the department was unprepared for the violence.

Thursday, Contee said in a press conference that there was “no intelligence that suggested there would be a breach of the U.S. Capitol.”