US moves to protect Minnesota wilderness from planned mine

Associated Press

US moves to protect Minnesota wilderness from planned mine

Steve Karnowski – January 26, 2023

FILE - In this Oct. 4, 2011, file photo, a core sample drilled from underground rock near Ely, Minn., shows a band of shiny minerals containing copper, nickel and precious metals, center, that Twin Metals Minnesota LLC, hopes to mine near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northeastern Minnesota. The Biden administration moved Thursday, Jan. 26, 2023, to protect the pristine Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northeastern Minnesota from future mining, dealing a potentially fatal blow to the proposed Twin Metals copper-nickel project. (AP Photo/Steve Karnowski, File)
Area Wilderness in northeastern Minnesota. The Biden administration moved Thursday, Jan. 26, 2023, to protect the pristine Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northeastern Minnesota from future mining, dealing a potentially fatal blow to the proposed Twin Metals copper-nickel project. (AP Photo/Steve Karnowski, File)
FILE - Supporters of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters drive past the residence of Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz as part of an Earth Day drive-in rally to Protect the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness on April 22, 2020, in St. Paul, Minn. The Biden administration moved Thursday, Jan. 26, 2023, to protect the pristine Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northeastern Minnesota from future mining, dealing a potentially fatal blow to the proposed Twin Metals copper-nickel project. (AP Photo/Jim Mone, File)
Supporters of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters drive past the residence of Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz as part of an Earth Day drive-in rally to Protect the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness on April 22, 2020, in St. Paul, Minn. The Biden administration moved Thursday, Jan. 26, 2023, to protect the pristine Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northeastern Minnesota from future mining, dealing a potentially fatal blow to the proposed Twin Metals copper-nickel project. (AP Photo/Jim Mone, File)

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The Biden administration moved Thursday to protect northeastern Minnesota’s pristine Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness from future mining, dealing a potentially fatal blow to a copper-nickel project.

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland signed an order closing over 350 square miles (900 square kilometers) of the Superior National Forest, in the Rainy River Watershed around the town of Ely, to mineral and geothermal leasing for 20 years, the longest period the department can sequester the land without congressional approval.

The order is “subject to existing valid rights,” but the Biden administration contends that Twin Metals Minnesota lost its rights last year, when the department rescinded a Trump administration decision to reinstate federal mineral rights leases that were critical to the project. Twin Metals, which is owned by the Chilean mining giant Antofagasta, filed suit in August to try to reclaim those rights, and reaffirmed Tuesday that it’s not giving up despite its latest setback.

“Protecting a place like Boundary Waters is key to supporting the health of the watershed and its surrounding wildlife, upholding our Tribal trust and treaty responsibilities, and boosting the local recreation economy,” Haaland said in a statement. “With an eye toward protecting this special place for future generations, I have made this decision using the best available science and extensive public input.”

Critics of the project hailed the decision as a massive victory and called for permanent protections for the wilderness. But supporters of Twin Metals said the order runs counter to the administration’s stated goal of increasing domestic supplies of metals that are critical to the clean energy economy.

“The Boundary Waters is a paradise of woods and water. It is an ecological marvel, a world-class outdoor destination, and an economic engine for hundreds of businesses and many thousands of people,” Becky Rom, national chair of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters, said in a statement.

The proposed underground mine would be built southeast of Ely, near Birch Lake, which flows into the Boundary Waters. The project has been battered by shifting political winds. The Obama administration, in its final weeks, chose not to renew the two leases, which had dated back more than 50 years. The Trump administration reversed that decision and reinstated the leases. But the Biden administration canceled the leases last January after the U.S. Forest Service in October 2021 relaunched the review and public engagement process for the 20-year mining moratorium.

While the Biden administration last year committed itself to expanding domestic sources of critical minerals and metals needed for electric vehicles and renewable energy, it made clear Thursday that it considers Boundary Waters to be a unique area worthy of special protections. A day ago, the administration said it would reinstate restrictions on road-building and logging in the country’s largest national forest, the Tongass National Forest in Alaska.

Twin Metals said it was “deeply disappointed and stunned” over the moratorium.

“This region sits on top of one of the world’s largest deposits of critical minerals that are vital in meeting our nation’s goals to transition to a clean energy future, to create American jobs, to strengthen our national security and to bolster domestic supply chains,” the company said in a statement. “We believe our project plays a critical role in addressing all of these priorities, and we remain committed to enforcing Twin Metals’ rights.”

Twin Metals says it can mine safely without generating acid mine drainage that the Biden administration and environmentalists say makes the $1.7 billion project an unacceptable risk to the wilderness. Twin Metals says its design would limit the exposure of the sulfide-bearing ore to the effects of air and water. And it says the mine would create more than 750 high-wage mining jobs plus 1,500 spinoff jobs in the region.

Republican U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber, who represents northeastern Minnesota, condemned the decision as “an attack on our way of life” that will benefit only foreign suppliers such as China that have fewer labor and environmental protections. “America needs to develop our vast mineral wealth, right here at home, with high-wage, union protected jobs,” he said in a statement.

“Ultimately, this sends a chilling message to hardworking Minnesotans who need the widespread economic benefits of mining in our state and sends an even harsher message to the business community that they cannot expect fair treatment in Minnesota or the United States,” the Jobs for Minnesotans coalition of business and labor groups said in a statement.

While Democratic U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, who represents the St. Paul area, applauded the order, she also warned in a statement that a future administration could reverse the decision.

The 1,700 square mile (4,400 square kilometer) Boundary Waters Canoe Area is the most-visited federally designated wilderness area in the U.S. It draws more than 150,000 visitors from around the world who paddle its more than 1,200 miles (1,900 kilometers) of canoe routes and over 1,100 lakes. According to the Interior Department, it contributes over $17 million annually to the outdoor recreation and tourism economy in northeastern Minnesota. Three Ojibwe tribes exercise treaty rights in the area covered by the moratorium.

The order does not affect two other proposed copper-nickel projects in northeastern Minnesota — the PolyMet mine near Babbitt and Hoyt Lakes and the Talon Metals mine near Tamarack — which lie in different watersheds.

Science has finally cracked the mystery of why so many people believe in conspiracy theories


Science has finally cracked the mystery of why so many people believe in conspiracy theories

Adam Rogers – January 26, 2023

Man sitting cross-legged, using laptop underneath a very big brain filled with conspiracies theories, from the Illuminati, September 11 attacks and COVID hoax
People don’t buy into conspiracy theories because of ignorance or social isolation. They do it because of a more prevalent personality quirk: overconfidence.Getty Images; iStock; Alyssa Powell/Insider

When it comes to the spread of cockamamie conspiracy theories, Twitter was a maximum viable product long before Elon Musk paid $44 billion for the keys. But as soon as he took the wheel, Musk removed many of the guardrails Twitter had put in place to keep the craziness in check. Anti-vaxxers used an athlete’s collapse during a game to revive claims that COVID-19 vaccines kill people. (They don’t.) Freelance journalists spun long threads purporting to show that Twitter secretly supported Democrats in 2020. (It didn’t.) Musk himself insinuated that the attack on Nancy Pelosi’s husband was carried out by a jealous boyfriend. (Nope.) Like a red thread connecting clippings on Twitter’s giant whiteboard, conspiratorial ideation spread far and wide.

By some measures more than half of Americans believe at least one tale of a secret cabal influencing events. Some are more plausible than others; a few are even true. But most — from classics like the faked moon landing to new-school stuff like 5G cell towers causing COVID — defy science and logic. And while social-media platforms like Twitter and Meta may help deranged conspiracy theories metastasize, a fundamental question remains: Why does anyone fall for stuff like that?

Social scientists are closing in on some answers. The personality traits known as the “Dark Triad” — that’s narcissism, psychopathy, and a tendency to see the world in black-or-white terms — play a part. So do political beliefs, particularly populism and a tolerance for political violence. Cognitive biases, like believing only evidence that confirms what you already think, also make people more vulnerable.

But according to new research, it isn’t ignorance that makes people most likely to buy into conspiratorial thinking, or social isolation or mental illness. It’s a far more prevalent and pesky personality quirk: overconfidence.

The more you think you’re right all the time, a new study suggests, the more likely you are to buy conspiracy theories, regardless of the evidence. That’d be bad enough if it applied only to that one know-it-all cousin you see every Thanksgiving. But given how both politics and business reward a faith in one’s own genius, the news is way worse. Some of the same people this hypothesis predicts will be most prone to conspiracy thinking also have the biggest megaphones — like an ex-president who believes he’s never wrong, and a CEO who thinks that building expensive cars makes him some sort of visionary. It’d be better, or at least more reassuring, if conspiracy theories were fueled by dumb yahoos rather than self-centered monsters. Because arrogance, as history has repeatedly demonstrated, is a lot harder to stamp out than stupidity.

Have faith in yourself (but not too much)

A decade or so ago, when Gordon Pennycook was in graduate school and wanted to study conspiracist thinking, a small but powerful group of unelected people got together to stop him. It wasn’t a conspiracy as such. It was just that back then, the people who approved studies and awarded grants didn’t think that “epistemically suspect beliefs” — things science can easily disprove, like astrology or paranormal abilities — were deserving of serious scholarship. “It was always a kind of fringe thing,” Pennycook says. He ended up looking into misinformation instead.

Still, the warning signs that conspiracy theories were a serious threat to the body politic go way back. A lot of present-day anti-semitism can be traced back to a 19th-century forgery purporting to describe a secret meeting of a Jewish cabal known as the Elders of Zion (a forgery based in part on yet another antisemitic conspiracy theory from England in the 1100s and re-upped by the industrialist Henry Ford in the 1920s). In 1962, the historian Richard Hofstadter warned against what he called the “paranoid style” of America’s radical right and its use of conspiracy fears to whip up support. Still, most scientists thought conspiracy theories weren’t worth their time, the province of weirdos connecting JFK’s death to lizard aliens.

Then the weirdos started gaining ground. Bill Clinton, they claimed, murdered Vince Foster. George W. Bush had advance knowledge of the September 11 attacks. Barack Obama wasn’t born in the United States. Belief in baseless theories could lead to actual violence — burning cellphone towers because of that COVID thing, or attacking the Capitol because Hugo Chávez rigged the US election. By the time of the January 6 insurrection, Pennycook had already switched to studying conspiracy.

It still isn’t entirely clear whether more people believe conspiracy theories today. Maybe there are just more theories to believe. But researchers pretty much agree that crackpot ideas are playing a far more significant role in politics and culture, and they have a flurry of hypotheses about what’s going on. People who believe in conspiracies tend to be more dogmatic, and unable to handle disagreement well. They also rate higher on those Dark Triad personality traits. They’re not stark raving mad, just a tick more antisocial.

But at this point, there are just way too many believers in cuckoo theories running around for the explanation to be ignorance or mental illness. “Throughout most of the 1970s, 80% — that’s eight zero — believed Kennedy was killed by a conspiracy,” says Joseph Uscinski, a political scientist at the University of Miami. “Would we say all of those people were stupid or had a serious psychological problem? Of course not.”

Which brings us to the overconfidence thing. Pennycook and his collaborators had been looking at the ways intuition could lead people astray. They hypothesized that conspiratorial thinkers overindex for their own intuitive leaps — that they are, to put it bluntly, lazy. Most don’t bother to “do their own research,” and those who do believe only things that confirm their original conclusions.

“Open-minded thinking isn’t just engaging in effortful thought,” Pennycook observes. “It’s doing so to evaluate evidence that’s directed toward what’s true or false — to actually question your intuitions.” Pennycook wanted to know why someone wouldn’t do that. Maybe it was simple overconfidence in their own judgment.

Sometimes, of course, people are justified in their confidence; after four decades in journalism, for example, I’m right to be confident in my ability to type fast. But then there’s what’s known as “dispositional” overconfidence — a person’s sense that they are just practically perfect in every way. How could Pennycook’s team tell the difference?

Their solution was pretty slick. They showed more than 1,000 people a set of six images blurred beyond recognition and then asked the subjects what the pictures were. Baseball player? Chimpanzee? Click the box. The researchers basically forced the subjects to guess. Then they asked them to self-assess how well they did on the test. People who thought they nailed it were the dispositional ones. “Sometimes you’re right to be confident,” Pennycook says. “In this case, there was no reason for people to be confident.”

Sure enough, Pennycook found that overconfidence correlated significantly with belief in conspiracy theories. “This is something that’s kind of fundamental,” he says. “If you have an actual, underlying, generalized overconfidence, that will impact the way you evaluate things in the world.”

The results aren’t peer-reviewed yet; the paper is still a preprint. But they sure feel true (confirmation bias aside). From your blowhard cousin to Marjorie Taylor Greene, it seems as if every conspiracist shares one common trait: a supreme smugness in their own infallibility. That’s how it sounds every time Donald Trump opens his mouth. And inside accounts of Elon Musk’s management at Twitter suggest he may also be suffering from similar delusions.

“That’s often what happens with these really wealthy, powerful people who sort of fail upwards,” says Joe Vitriol, a psychologist at Lehigh University who has studied the way people overestimate their own expertise. “Musk is not operating in an environment in which he’s accountable for the mistakes he makes, or in which others criticize the things he says or does.”

An epidemic of overconfidence

Pennycook isn’t the first researcher to propose a link between self-regard and epistemically suspect beliefs. Anyone who has attended a corporate meeting has experienced the Dunning-Kruger effect — the way those who know the least tend to assume they know the most. And studies by Vitriol and others have found a correlation between conspiracy thinking and the illusion of explanatory depth — when people who possess only a superficial understanding of how something works overestimate their knowledge of the details.

But what makes Pennycook’s finding significant is the way it covers all the different flavors of conspiracists. Maybe some people think their nominal expertise in one domain extends to expertise about everything. Maybe others actually believe the conspiracy theories they spread, or simply can’t be bothered to check them out. Maybe they define “truth” legalistically, as anything people can be convinced of, instead of something objectively veridical. Regardless, they trust their intuition, even though they shouldn’t. Overconfidence could explain it all.

Pennycook’s findings also suggest an explanation for why conspiracy theories have become so widely accepted. Supremely overconfident people are often the ones who get handed piles of money and a microphone. That doesn’t just afford them the means to spread their baseless notions about Democrats running an international child sex-trafficking ring out of the basement of a pizza parlor, or Sandy Hook being a hoax. It also connects them to an audience that shares and admires their overweening arrogance. To many Americans, Pennycook suggests, the overconfidence of a Musk or a Trump isn’t a bug. It’s a feature.

coronavirus protest disinformation fake news
To many Americans, new research suggests, the overconfidence of an Elon Musk or a Donald Trump isn’t a bug. It’s a feature.Stanton Sharpe/SOPA Images/LightRocket

It’s not necessarily unreasonable to believe in dangerous conspiracies. The US government really did withhold medical treatment from Black men in the Tuskegee trial. Richard Nixon really did cover up an attempted burglary at The Watergate HotelJeffrey Epstein really did force girls to have sex with his powerful friends. Transnational oil companies really did hide how much they knew about climate change.

So distinguishing between plausible and implausible conspiracies isn’t easy. And we might be more likely to fall for the implausible ones if they’re being spouted by people we trust. “The same thing is true for you,” Pennycook tells me. “If you hear a scientist or a fellow journalist at a respected outlet, you say, ‘This is someone I can trust.’ And the reason you trust them is that they’re at a respected outlet. But the problem is, people are not that discerning. Whether the person says something they agree with becomes the reason they trust them. Then, when the person says something they’re not sure about, they tend to trust that, too.”

The next step, or course, is to figure out how to fight the spread of conspiratorial nonsense. Pennycook is trying; he spent last year working at Google to curb misinformation; his frequent collaborator David Rand has worked with Facebook. They had some meetings with TikTok, too. That pop-up asking whether you want to read the article before sharing it? That was them.

And what about the bird site? “Twitter? Well, that’s another thing altogether,” Pennycook says. He and Rand worked on the crowdsource fact-check function called Community Notes. But now? “It’s all in flux, thanks to Elon Musk.”

But Pennycook’s new study suggests that the problem of conspiracy theories runs far deeper — and may prove far more difficult to solve — than simply tweaking a social-media algorithm or two. “How are you going to fix overconfidence? The people who are overconfident don’t think there’s a problem to be fixed,” he says. “I haven’t come up with a solution for that yet.”

Adam Rogers is a senior correspondent at Insider.

FDA advisers back the same COVID vaccine for initial shots, boosters


FDA advisers back the same COVID vaccine for initial shots, boosters

Michael Erman and Leroy Leo – January 26, 2023

Illustration shows vials labelled “VACCINE Coronavirus COVID-19” and a syringe in front of a displayed graph

(Reuters) -Advisers to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Thursday unanimously voted in favor of targeting the same coronavirus strain for initial COVID-19 vaccine doses and boosters going forward, but some expressed skepticism about whether all Americans need to receive the shots annually.

The agency is trying to simplify its COVID-19 vaccine policy as it considers whether to recommend Americans get an annual booster shot for the virus. But several members of the expert advisory group asked for more robust data on benefits of annual shots for younger, healthier people.

“We’re in a very different place. We have a lot of population immunity,” said Hayley Gans, professor of pediatrics at Stanford University Medical Center. “Now that people are immune, how long does that last?”

Vaccine makers Pfizer Inc with partner BioNTech SE and Moderna Inc introduced late last year updated versions of their COVID vaccines tailored to target Omicron variants as well as the original coronavirus. In the United States, those were used only as booster shots.

The FDA advisory group unanimously backed using those shots for the primary series for those who have yet to be vaccinated against COVID-19 as well.

The FDA said it envisioned holding a meeting later in the year to determine the composition of shots for the fall, although some vaccine makers might be able to produce updated shots more quickly.

Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna were able to produce the currently available messenger RNA boosters in about three months last year, but Novavax Inc said on Thursday it would require six months to make a new version of its protein-based COVID-19 vaccine designed to match circulating coronavirus variants.

FDA would consider an earlier timeline for vaccines like Novavax’s following the company’s manufacturing assessment, Peter Marks, director of the agency’s Center for Biologics Evaluation & Research, said.

Health officials in the Biden administration have suggested that annual, updated COVID-19 booster shots could provide a high level of protection against severe disease.

(Reporting by Leroy Leo in Bengaluru, Michael Erman in Maplewood, New Jersey; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

US will send Ukraine more advanced Abrams tanks, but without “secret armor”

Ukrayinska Pravda

US will send Ukraine more advanced Abrams tanks, but without “secret armor”

Ukrainska Pravda – January 26, 2023

The Abrams tanks that the United States intends to transfer to Ukraine are the modern M1A2, not the A1, which the US military has in stock, but they will also be stripped of their so-called secret armor, which includes depleted uranium.

Source: Politico, referring to three informed sources; European Pravda.

The M1A2 Abrams has more advanced optics and a control system than the A1, which allows for more accurate targeting, and a separate thermal camera for the crew commander, allowing him independent identification of targets in any weather and battlefield conditions.

The new modification of the tank contains digitised control mechanisms, which allow machines to continuously and automatically exchange information, quickly track the location of allied machines, identify enemy positions and process artillery requests.

At the same time, those Abrams that Ukraine will receive will be deprived of the secret armour packages used by the American military, which include depleted uranium. The USA uses the same practice when selling tanks to other countries.

Any modification of the Abrams is significantly more effective in terms of firepower, accuracy and armour compared to the Soviet-era tanks currently used by Ukraine. However, they are more difficult to operate.

Among other things, Abrams tanks have a turbojet engine that uses expensive JP-8 jet fuel, require extensive maintenance, as well as powerful infrastructure, including M88 repair and recovery vehicles to repair broken parts on the battlefield.

Currently, it is equally difficult to determine the timing of when Ukraine will receive Abrams tanks. They will be purchased from the industry. Tanks are assembled in only one place, at the state-owned General Dynamics plant in Ohio, which is currently loaded with new orders for Taiwan and Poland.

On 25 January, US President Joe Biden confirmed his intention to send 31 M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, equal to one Ukrainian battalion, to strengthen its defence capabilities against the backdrop of Russian aggression.

Along with the tanks, the USA will train the Ukrainian military and provide spare parts as soon as possible.

For his part, Konstantin Gavrilov, Head of the Russian delegation in Vienna at the OSCE Forum, stated that the German Leopard 2 tanks are equipped with sub-calibre armour-piercing shells with uranium cores, and Moscow will consider their use in Ukraine against Russians as the use of “dirty bombs”.

Putin’s Former Speechwriter Predicts Military Coup in Russia

Daily Beast

Putin’s Former Speechwriter Predicts Military Coup in Russia

Allison Quinn – January 26, 2023


A former Kremlin aide is warning that as Moscow blindly pursues its bloody conquest in Ukraine, the situation at home is quietly heading towards a military coup.

Abbas Gallyamov, Vladimir Putin’s former speechwriter, says the conditions are already there for a full revolt.

“The longer the war drags on, the clearer its pointlessness becomes,” Gallyamov writes in a new column for opposition media outlet Mozhem Obyasnit.

The Russian public has largely begun to realize that the Kremlin’s dream of toppling the Kyiv “regime” is not going to happen, Gallyamov notes, and the consolation prize of new “Russian” territories is not winning anybody over.

Discord is also growing in the military, he argues, where “[Wagner boss Yevgeny] Prigozhin has completely discredited the regime in the eyes of service members with his rhetoric, and anger at the authorities allowing a criminal to walk all over them is growing stronger.”

Putin’s Chef Threatens Traitors With ‘Sledgehammer’ in Batshit Outburst

Putin’s cunning, “macho” image has also disintegrated, Gallyamov writes: “As problems pile up in the country and the army that the authorities are unable to solve, Putin is more steadily transforming in people’s eyes from a great strategist to an ordinary, second-rate dictator.”

After months of widespread reports on Russian troops rebelling against their commanders, going public with complaints about top military brass, or deserting the war altogether, Gallyamov notes that all it takes to light the fuse of a full military coup is a little more organization.

“It must be understood that the vast majority of commanders in the army of an authoritarian nation are not staunch supporters of the authorities, but run-of-the-mill opportunists,” he argues.

So once a revolt begins and “yesterday’s loyalties” vanish, military commanders will fight for whoever seems most likely to win, according to Gallyamov. “If complaints against authorities seem convincing to [a commander], then he will most likely decide that that [regime] will not stand against a wave of public anger. And if that’s the case, there’s no reason not to join.”

In addition to the myriad reports about troops revolting against and in some cases even attacking their own commanders, thousands more Russian soldiers have voluntarily handed themselves over to Ukrainian authorities to avoid taking part in the war.

A representative for a Ukrainian hotline called “I Want to Live” told The Guardian on Thursday that a total of 6,543 Russian troops had called up seeking to surrender to the Ukrainian government in a span of about four months.

“During the liberation of Kherson, we had calls from Russians and they told us, ‘Just save our souls because we got stuck somewhere in the mud, our battalion is totally crushed, we have 10 soldiers left, please take us from this mess,” Vitali Matvienko was quoted saying.

He did not say how many of those phone calls led to completed surrenders.

While Russian troops had once bragged about what they were sure would be a lightning-fast takeover of Ukraine, ordinary Russian citizens are now instead seeing a steady drip of death at home, with billboards going up advertising funeral services for “Cargo 200,” a military term for those killed in action.

Incidentally, Russia’s funeral services industry may be one of the only sectors of the economy to hit the jackpot in the war, even as other industries suffer from international sanctions.

The Insider reports that the industry is blowing up at a record pace and crematoriums are “growing exponentially.”

The owner of a crematorium in Novosibirsk told the outlet there’s so much demand he’s planning to open a whole new military section in the spring.

“Everything will be in the military style, we’ll even set up a cannon,” he said, adding that manufacturers had also begun offering camouflage coffins and “a lot of military paraphernalia.”

Although they may not prove that popular. “Apparently for the relatives it has bad associations,” he said.

Fox’s ‘Straight News’ Anchor Harris Faulkner Lets Rick Scott Peddle His Medicare Lie

Daily Beast

Fox’s ‘Straight News’ Anchor Harris Faulkner Lets Rick Scott Peddle His Medicare Lie

Justin Baragona – January 26, 2023

Fox News
Fox News

Fox News anchor Harris Faulkner on Thursday allowed Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) to repeatedly push the lie that Democrats slashed hundreds of billions of dollars in funding for Medicare—even though that spurious claim had been debunked months ago.

In fact, not only did Faulkner—often labeled one of Fox’s “straight news” anchors—allow Scott’s falsehood to slide, she wondered how the Florida lawmaker would be able to work with Democrats since they’re “incapable of telling the truth.”

With the GOP now holding a slim majority in the House, the party has shifted much of its focus to austerity and pushing spending cuts across the board. Despite insisting during the midterms that they wouldn’t target Social Security and Medicare, House Republicans are now leveraging the fight over the debt ceiling to explicitly weigh proposals that would slash these entitlement programs.

Faulkner, who began her Thursday program by decrying the Democratic “spend, spend, spend” agenda amid rising debt, sounded the alarm over the “alarming” crisis facing entitlement programs. She aired a clip of President Joe Biden accusing Scott and Republicans of looking to reduce Social Security and Medicare.

Fox ‘Straight News’ Anchor Declares Biden ‘Hates at Least Half’ the U.S.

“I don’t know one Republican, including me—we would never cut Medicare or Social Security. I’m gonna do everything I can to make sure there are no cuts in Medicare or Social Security,” the senator exclaimed. “But let’s remember, the Democrats, they all voted to cut $280 billion out of Medicare last September and Biden signed it.”

“Yes,” Faulkner empathically agreed.

“Let’s just remember—$280 billion they cut, and they want to say other people will do it,” Scott continued.

Though the Fox anchor heartily endorsed Scott’s assertion, fact-checkers knocked down this claim last year—which centers on provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act that allows Medicare to negotiate drug prices with manufacturers.

According to government budget scorers, the Democratic-led bill that passed last year would save taxpayers anywhere between $237 billion and $288 billion due to pharmaceutical companies agreeing to lower prices on medications for Medicare patients. Still, Scott—whose GOP policy agenda last year drew widespread criticism for proposing to cut Social Security—insisted at the time that this was a reduction in benefits.

Fox ‘Straight News’ Anchor Echoes Tucker’s ‘Poorer and Dirtier’ Line About Migrants

CNN anchor Dana Bash, meanwhile, pushed back against his talking points during an interview last October, telling Scott that the legislation “allowed for negotiation for prescription drug prices, which would ultimately bring down the price and the costs for Medicare consumers.”Faulkner, however, was content to let Scott’s lie stand on Thursday.

Having already agreed with him once, the Fox anchor teed the Florida Republican up for a second round by airing comments from a Fox Business host who accused Democrats of “lying through their teeth” about the debt ceiling and Republicans’ stance on entitlements.

“I have to get your reaction to that because you have to negotiate with these people and you hear Larry Kudlow describing Democrats as they’re incapable of telling the truth about what we owe,” Faulkner declared.

After Scott grumbled that “they are not going to be honest with the American public,” the wealthiest U.S. senator expressed concern that “Wall Street has done really well” while average Americans suffer.

Fox News Airs Poll, Anchor Immediately Scolds Colleague for Citing It

“That’s a flip of what the rhetoric is, isn’t it?” Faulkner reacted. “Democrats are looking across the aisle at you as Republicans and saying we are the ones who care about the middle class and seniors, but now what we’re seeing is that’s not actually true!”

Scott then repeated his false claim about Medicare cuts.

“They cut Medicare, Harris! They cut Medicare just four months ago,” They cut $280 billion out of Medicare, and they wanna say we want to cut it? No, I’m gonna fight like hell to make sure we preserve Medicare and Social Security because we can, we should, and we owe it to our seniors, but we have to do it by living within our means.”

Rather than correct the record, the Fox News anchor instead said that “everybody” has to live within a budget before moving on to Biden’s classified documents scandal.

The Colorado River is overused and shrinking. Inside the crisis transforming the Southwest

Los Angeles Times

The Colorado River is overused and shrinking. Inside the crisis transforming the Southwest

Ian James, Molly Hennessy-Fiske, January 26, 2023

LAKE MEAD NATIONAL RECREATION AREA , NEV. - AUG. 23, 2022. Clouds are reflected on the surface of a pool that is separated from the main body of water in Lake Mead. Water continues to recede in the nation's largest reservoir. The lake is filled by the Colorado River, and the water is allocated to millions of people in the river's lower basin. ( Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

The Colorado River begins as melting snow, trickling from forested peaks and coursing in streams that gather in the meadows and valleys of the Rocky Mountains.

Like arteries, its major tributaries take shape across Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico, coming together in a great river like no other — a river that travels more than 1,400 miles and has defined the rise of the American Southwest over the last century.

Water diverted from the river has enabled agriculture to spread across 5 million acres of farmland and has fed the growth of cities from Denver to Los Angeles, supplying about 40 million people. Harnessing the river’s bounty has provided the foundation for life and the economy across seven states and northern Mexico.

But the region has for years depended too heavily on the river, taking more than its flows can support. And in recent years, the river’s water-generating heart in the Rocky Mountains has begun to fail.

The Colorado River can no longer withstand the unbridled thirst of the arid West. 

A century ago, the signing of the Colorado River Compact divided the water among the states. The agreement established a system that overpromised what the river could provide. That system, after years of warnings from scientists and insufficient efforts to adapt, is now colliding with the reality of a river that is overused and shrinking.

In the last 23 years, as rising temperatures fueled by the burning of fossil fuels have intensified the worst drought in centuries, the flow of the Colorado has declined about 20%.

Reservoirs have dropped to record-low levels, and the shortage continues to worsen. Scarcity is pushing the region toward a water reckoning.

The looming consequences include major cuts in the supplies used for growing crops and sustaining cities. How those water reductions are divided among states, water districts and tribes has yet to be determined, and could end up being negotiated, dictated by the federal government or fought in court. But the need to shrink overall water use will probably result in less water flowing to farms, more water restrictions for residents and fewer green lawns, while also bringing calls for limiting growth, shifting away from thirsty crops like alfalfa, and dedicating less water to golf courses and other water-guzzling businesses.

The Colorado River Basin, which stretches from Wyoming to northern Mexico, is facing unresolved questions about how to adapt, at what cost, and where the cuts will fall the hardest.

The task of downsizing water use is complicated by an allocation system that promised now-nonexistent water on paper, as well as a legal system that benefits those with the oldest, most senior water rights.

A lake surrounded by dry earth
White surfaces along the banks show previous water levels in Lake Powell on May 16. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Over the last several years, managers of water agencies have reached deals to take less water from the river. But those reductions haven’t been nearly enough to halt the river’s spiral toward potential collapse.

As Lake Mead, the nation’s largest reservoir, continues to decline toward “dead pool” levels, the need to rein in water demands is growing urgent.

Efforts to adapt will require difficult decisions about how to deal with the reductions and limit the damage to communities, the economy and the river’s already degraded ecosystems. Adapting may also drive a fundamental rethinking of how the river is managed and used, redrawing a system that is out of balance. This reckoning with the reality of the river’s limits is about to transform the landscape of the Southwest.

Navigating through a forest of snow-covered pines, Brian Domonkos skied up to a site high in the Rocky Mountains, the source of the Colorado River.

He had come to check the snowpack at an isolated stand of monitoring equipment near Berthoud Pass, Colo., where the day before 5 inches of snow had fallen.

A ranch at the foothills of snowy mountains
The foothills of the Rocky Mountains shelter a ranch near the headwaters of the Colorado River. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)
A waterfall and river are surrounded by snow
Rifle Falls sets a wintry scene near the community of Rifle, Colo., at the headwaters of the Colorado River. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

“I hope this holds on a little while longer,” said Domonkos, a snow survey supervisor for the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service. He was concerned that even with the snowfall, Colorado seemed headed for a below-average snow year.

Last spring, the snowpack across the Upper Colorado River Basin stood at 86% of average. By the end of July, however, the melting snow brought runoff that measured just 67% of average.

This pattern has emerged year after year in the river’s headwaters. A near-average snowpack has often translated into meager flows in the Colorado River and its tributaries.

This winter, storms have brought an above-average snowpack in the watershed. But that snow can go only so far in boosting reservoirs that have been dropping for more than two decades.

Average temperatures across the upper watershed — where most of the river’s flow originates — have risen about 3 degrees since 1970. That has contributed to the driest 22-year period in at least 1,200 years.

With higher temperatures, trees and other plants have been absorbing more water, and more moisture has been evaporating off the landscape.

In recent years, long dry spells in the mountains have left the soils parched. And when the snow has melted in the spring, the amount of runoff flowing in streams has often been diminished.

“We are seeing less water,” Domonkos said. “And we’re going to have to adapt.”

The river’s mainstem takes shape in Rocky Mountain National Park, winding through an alpine valley, then flows into reservoirs and meanders through ranchlands.

On one of these ranches, Wendy Thompson can see the river standing outside her house. She walked to the banks, where muddy brown water flowed swiftly past.

“This time of year, it ought to be another foot, 2 feet deeper,” Thompson said.

Clumps of snow cling to dry foliage along the banks of a river
Clumps of snow cling to dry foliage along the banks of the Colorado River near Dotsero, Colo. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Thompson is 67 and remembers much more snow in Colorado when she was growing up. The flooding river used to swell across the pastures.

“In 1985 was the last time we really had a flood here,” she said.

Upstream diversions and dry years have left the river smaller. Some sections on her ranch now usually flow less than 2 feet deep.

In late spring and early summer, Thompson pumped from the river to irrigate her hay fields, and sold the crop to other ranchers.

Many ranchers have had less water for their pastures lately, and some have sold cattle to reduce their herds.

“Everyone knows that we’re dry,” Thompson said. “In this area, when there’s no water, you just don’t irrigate.”

Upstream from western Colorado’s ranchlands, water is diverted and routed to the east, flowing through a series of tunnels that pass beneath the Continental Divide to supply Denver and other growing Front Range cities. Two new reservoir projects are under construction to hold more water — the Chimney Hollow Reservoir and the expansion of Gross Reservoir.

The diversions from Grand Lake are a source of concern for Ken Fucik, a retired environmental scientist and board member of the Upper Colorado River Watershed Group. He said he is worried about water quality and recent algae blooms in the lake and adjacent reservoirs.

Fucik questioned whether the new reservoir projects make sense when the river’s existing reservoirs are rapidly declining.

“Where is that water going to come from?” he said.

Visitors get a view and pictures of the sun setting on Horseshoe Bend on the Colorado River
Scores of visitors get a view and pictures of the sun setting on Horseshoe Bend on the Colorado River near Page, Ariz., the gateway to the Glen Canyon Dam Recreation Area. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

For more than a century, the history of the Colorado River has been shaped by monumental human efforts to control and exploit its waters to the maximum.

The river has been flowing in its course for millions of years, downcutting through layers of sandstone, limestone, granite, shale and schist to form the Grand Canyon.

Indigenous peoples have lived along the river and its tributaries for thousands of years, adorning rocks on canyon walls with petroglyphs and pictographs.

The river’s Spanish name, colorado, or red, described the muddy, silt-laden waters that coursed through canyons.

In the mid-1800s, as white settlers moved west, steamboats chugged up the lower Colorado River, paddlewheels turning. Settlers began diverting water from streams and rivers, taking water rights under the prior appropriation system — “first in time, first in right.”

Water was seen as a source of wealth to be seized. The great ambition of politicians, engineers and fortune-seekers was to tame the river and harness its water.

In the early 1900s, they focused on building irrigation projects to “reclaim” the arid lands, a phrase central to the purpose of the Reclamation Service, which was created in 1902 under President Theodore Roosevelt and which later became the Bureau of Reclamation.

From the beginning, some warned against relying too heavily on the river. John Wesley Powell, leader of the historic 1869 expedition down the river through the Grand Canyon, famously told attendees at an 1893 irrigation congress in Los Angeles: “I tell you, gentlemen, you are piling up a heritage of conflict and litigation over water rights, for there is not sufficient water to supply these lands.”

Before the signing of the 1922 Colorado River Compact, some scientists warned that there was insufficient water, but those warnings went unheeded.

The compact apportioned the river “in perpetuity,” allocating 7.5 million acre-feet of water for the Upper Basin states — Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico — and 7.5 million acre-feet for the Lower Basin states of California, Arizona and Nevada. Mexico later secured 1.5 million acre-feet under a 1944 treaty.

The river was divided among the states during an especially wet period in the early 20th century.

Low water levels at Hoover Dam expose rocky sides
Visitors walk around Hoover Dam, where severe and prolonged drought conditions have exposed the rocky sides of Black Canyon and the intake towers that feed the dam’s power generators. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Hoover Dam was built during the Great Depression in the 1930s. Workers finished pouring the concrete at Glen Canyon Dam in 1963. As described by Los Angeles Times columnist Michael Hiltzik, the dams and reservoirs “created only the illusion of abundant water, not the reality.”

Over the last half a century, so much water has been diverted that for many years the river has been entirely used up, leaving dusty stretches of desert where it once flowed to the sea in Mexico.

Even in the 1980s, when plentiful water filled the reservoirs, some presciently warned that the Colorado could not withstand all the demands placed upon it.

In the seminal 1986 book “Cadillac Desert,” Marc Reisner predicted chronic shortages in the years to come, saying the region had already begun to “founder on the Era of Limits.”

The strains on the river have grown more acute with humanity’s heating of the planet. In the 1990s and 2000s, scientists repeatedly warned that chronic overuse of the river combined with the effects of climate change would probably drain reservoirs to dangerously low levels.

During the last decade, scientists have found that roughly half the decline in the river’s flow has been due to higher temperatures; that climate change is driving the aridification of the Southwest; and that for each additional 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit), the river’s average flow is likely to decrease about 9%.

The drying of the Colorado’s upper reaches has shrunk the flow and accelerated the declines of Lake Powell and Lake Mead.

The system of dividing the water, including the agreement signed a century ago, was designed for a climate that no longer exists, said Becky Bolinger, assistant state climatologist at the Colorado Climate Center. Continuing this pattern of overuse, she said, is like depleting a bank account by overspending, edging closer to bankruptcy.

“It’s not going to work for anybody,” Bolinger said. “What we really need to do is just completely readjust the budget.”

The federal government has begun to lay the groundwork for scaling back water use.

Interior Department officials have said annual diversions need to be reduced by 2 million to 4 million acre-feet, or about 15% to 30%. They have urged the seven states that rely on the river to reach a consensus, while warning they may need to impose cuts.

So far, negotiators for states and water agencies have failed to agree on how to share such large reductions. Some fear these disputes could lead to lawsuits.

As the reservoirs’ levels continue to drop, time is swiftly running out.

A buoy lies on a dried mud flat
A buoy lies on a dried mud flat at a shuttered marina at drought-stricken Lake Mead. (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

“We have got to put the kibosh on these extra water uses right now, the uses of water beyond what’s being supplied. Either we stop them or nature will,” said Brad Udall, a water and climate scientist at Colorado State University. “Make no mistake. This is a full-on five-alarm fire going on right now.”

The Colorado River has reached this critical stage in a decade when extreme droughts have shrunk other rivers to historic lows around the world, from the Mississippi and the Rio Grande to the Yangtze in China, and the Danube and Rhine in Europe.

Research has shown that climate change is intensifying the water cycle, bringing more intense and frequent droughts, as well as more intense rainfall and floods. In one recent study, researchers found that streams in the western and southern United States have been drying over the last 70 years, with flow data revealing longer and more severe low-flow periods.

Even as wet and dry cycles continue to come and go, the Colorado River is on a long-term downward trend of aridification because of higher temperatures, Udall said.

“It’s fundamentally changing, and it’s not going to go back to how it was before,” Udall said. “We’re going to have to talk about permanent reductions in water use.”

Russia fumes over NATO tanks heading to Ukraine, revealing a Kremlin coming to grips with reality

Yahoo! News

Russia fumes over NATO tanks heading to Ukraine, revealing a Kremlin coming to grips with reality

Alexander Nazaryan, Senior W. H. Correspondent – January 26, 2023

WASHINGTON — Russia responded with anger and scorn after Germany and the United States revealed that they would be supplying Ukraine with powerful, advanced battle tanks. Moscow invoked history and warned of a broader conflict.

But in doing so, the Kremlin only highlighted its own political and military constraints.

The move was a “blatant provocation,” said Anatoly Antonov, the Russian ambassador to the United States, ahead of President Biden’s announcement on Wednesday afternoon that his administration would send 31 M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine in the coming weeks and months.

Germany said the same day that it was sending 14 of its Leopard 2 tanks.

President Biden speaks from a podium as Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin stand behind him..
President Biden announces plans to send Abrams tanks to Ukraine on Wednesday, as Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin listen. (Susan Walsh/AP)

“A losing scheme,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov. “We have repeatedly said that these tanks go up in flames like all the other armor,” he boasted, even as Russian forces continued to experience astonishing battlefield losses, including an estimated 123,000 soldiers killed and some 3,100 tanks lost.

“NATO must be destroyed, there are no other options,” mused Vladimir Solovyov, a prominent state television host whose impassioned tirades are valued by the Kremlin for their reach and visceral appeal.

“Of course this is an escalation, of course this is a movement strictly towards nuclear midnight,” said another state television host, Anatoly Kuzichev, referencing the recent decision by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists to move its Doomsday Clock to within 90 seconds of an atomic-weapons exchange.

For the most part, however, the warnings emanating from the Kremlin and its top media propagandists had a predictable quality and were tinged with resignation. Russian President Vladimir Putin and his top advisers were likely aware, given consistent and escalating NATO support for Ukraine throughout the last 11 months, that it was perhaps only a matter of time before Western heavy armor made its way to Eastern Europe.

The White House appeared unruffled by the threats.

“The propagandists in the Russian media can say what they will,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told Yahoo News at a press briefing at the White House on Wednesday afternoon. Much as Biden had earlier in the day, Kirby argued that the tanks “don’t pose a threat to the Russian homeland. They are designed to help the Ukrainians.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin, sitting at a desk, chairs a meeting with members of the Security Council via a video link.
Russian President Vladimir Putin during a virtual Security Council meeting on Jan. 20. (Mikhail Klimentyev/Sputnik/Kremlin via Reuters)

As Russia groused, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was already asking for fighter jets, confident such demands would at least be registered, if not necessarily honored.

His confidence is not unwarranted. When the war began almost a year ago, American officials made distinctions between supposed “offensive” and “defensive” weapons, fearing that sending the former would trigger a damaging Russian response, perhaps against NATO itself.

Germany was mocked for offering helmets to Ukraine.

But as Russia’s bloody invasion persisted well into 2022, those distinctions began to matter less and less. And as Biden and his European counterparts accepted that Ukraine’s defense would be a prolonged affair, concerns about sending ever more powerful weapons to Ukraine subsided.

Wednesday’s announcement followed a meeting last week between German and U.S. military leaders at Ramstein Air Base that failed to produce an agreement on tanks. At the same time, the Ramstein talks made clear just how close Western leaders were in their view of the conflict.

Once it became clear that an agreement had been struck, Russian media outlets — effectively controlled by the Kremlin — dutifully trotted out experts who said the tanks would not significantly change the course of the war.

The arrival of the West’s most sophisticated armored equipment may not come in time to stop an expected Russian offensive, which may come before spring’s warmer weather turns frozen roads into boggy mud. Nor are the Ukrainians, who have never been shy in asking for help, getting as many tanks as they requested.

A U.S. Army soldier walks near a line of Abrams battle tanks.
Abrams battle tanks in Lithuania in 2019. (Mindaugas Kulbis/AP)

“The Russian military and their thugs are still pretty lethal,” Kirby said Wednesday, referring not only to regular Russian troops, but also to Wagner Group paramilitaries who have made some gains around the city of Bakhmut.

All the same, the U.S. and German tank announcements were a sign that the West was committing to Ukraine’s security in the long term, with the nation becoming a kind of bulwark against the territorial expansion Putin and his pan-Slavic ideologues have envisioned.

“We want to make sure that they have the right capabilities to not only defend themselves against the Russian onslaught,” a senior administration official said on Wednesday, but also “the ability to retake and to reclaim their sovereign territory,” including the territory Russia conquered in 2014, during the first stage of its incursion into Ukraine.

Nor are Germany and the United States alone in their commitment, even if the sophistication of the two nations’ tanks has dominated media coverage. France had already committed to sending its AMX-10 RC tanks; Great Britain said it was sending Challenger 2 tanks to Ukraine earlier this month. With so many nations now putting heavy armor into play, Russia finds itself facing a united NATO resistance without any major gaps or disagreements to exploit.

The return of German tanks to Eastern European soil is proving especially galling to Russians, given the heroic defeat of the Nazis during World War II. Among the Soviet Union’s key victories during that conflict was the Battle of Kursk in the summer of 1943, the largest tank battle in world history.

A Leopard 2 tank fires during a military drill.
A Leopard 2 tank fires during a military drill in Latvia in September 2022. (Ints Kalnins/Reuters)

Though little known in the West, the battle retains a mythic status in the collective Russian memory. A local official in southern Russia allegedly used 2.2 million rubles (about $31,700) to stage a re-creation of the battle in a university gym late last year.

Kremlin propagandist and RT editor Margarita Simonyan joked on Twitter that come summer, Germany would be sending “gas chambers” to Ukraine, a reference to the Holocaust.

Solovyov, meanwhile, said that “the Fourth Reich has declared war on Russia,” alluding to the Third Reich, as Germany under Hitler was known.

While many Russians already seem to believe the Kremlin’s grievance-laden propaganda, Western officials continued to signal that there was a simple, if unlikely, resolution at hand.

“We’d like to see this war end today, and it absolutely could,” Kirby said on Wednesday. “All Putin has to do is pull his troops out of Ukraine and call it a day, and it’s over.”

Chinese engineer sentenced to 8 years in U.S. prison for spying

NBC News

Chinese engineer sentenced to 8 years in U.S. prison for spying

Chantal Da Silva – January 26, 2023

former Chicago graduate student in electrical engineering was sentenced Wednesday to eight years in prison for spying for the Chinese government.

Ji Chaoqun, 31, a Chinese national, was convicted last year of acting as an agent of China’s Ministry of State Security and making a material false statement to the U.S. Army.

He had come to the U.S. to study electrical engineering at the Illinois Institute of Technology in 2013. In 2016, he enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserves under the Military Accession Vital to the National Interest program, which allowed the U.S. Armed Forces to recruit foreign workers whose skills were considered vital to the national interest, the Justice Department said in a news release Wednesday.

During that time, Ji was tasked by Xu Yanjun, a deputy division director within the Ministry of State Security, with providing an intelligence officer with biographical information on people who could potentially be recruited as spies for China, according to the Justice Department. Those identified as potential recruits included Chinese nationals working as engineers and scientists in the U.S., the department said.

“This tasking was part of an effort by the Jiangsu provincial department to obtain access to advanced aerospace and satellite technologies being developed by companies within the U.S.,” the Justice Department said.

Chinese engineer Ji Chaoqun.  (Facebook)
Chinese engineer Ji Chaoqun. (Facebook)

Xu was already sentenced last year to 20 years in federal prison after being convicted in the Southern District of Ohio of conspiracy and attempting to commit economic espionage and theft of trade secrets.

In his application to participate in the Military Accession Vital to the National Interest program, Ji had falsely said he had not had any contact with a foreign government within a seven year period, according to the Justice Department. And in a subsequent interview with a U.S. Army officer, he again did not disclose his relationship and contacts with a foreign intelligence officer, the department said.

Evidence at trial further showed that in 2018, Ji had meetings with an undercover law enforcement agent who was posing as a representative of the Ministry of State Security. During those meetings, he said that he could use his military identification to visit and take photos of “Roosevelt-class” aircraft carriers, the Justice Department said.

He also planned to seek a job at the CIA, FBI or Nasa and intended to pursue cybersecurity work at one of those agencies so he could access their databases, including databases containing scientific research, it said.

U.S. intelligence officials have previously expressed concerns over U.S. universities being a soft target for China’s spies.

Ji’s initial arrest was part of an FBI investigation in Ohio into recruitment by Chinese spies over the past year.

The Chinese foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment from NBC News.

A perfect storm for the whole food system right now’: One of the world’s largest fertilizer companies warns that every country—even those in Europe—is facing a food crisis


‘A perfect storm for the whole food system right now’: One of the world’s largest fertilizer companies warns that every country—even those in Europe—is facing a food crisis

Tristan Bove – January 26, 2023

The Ukraine war upended the global economy in many ways. Energy markets have been among the most affected, with declining Russian oil and natural gas exports to the West sparking a domino effect of fuel crises worldwide. But the war has also warped another critical facet of the global economy: food.

Prior to the war, Russia and Ukraine were global breadbaskets as top producers and exporters of wheat, sunflower seeds, and barley. The fighting ended up aggravating hunger and food crises in low-income countries that are dependent on imports. But both Russia and Ukraine are also key cogs in the global fertilizer industry, and the war has triggered a shortage of the critical commodity that few people consider but is nevertheless essential to global food security.

Much as Russian President Vladimir Putin leveraged the world’s reliance on his country’s fossil fuels to weaponize energy supplies during the war, he is doing something very similar with fertilizer and food, Svein Tore Holsether, CEO of Norwegian chemical company Yara International, among the world’s largest fertilizer producers and suppliers, told the Financial Times in an interview published Thursday.

Putin’s energy gambit, which sent fossil fuel prices soaring and left Europe on the brink of recession last year, has so far not gone as expected, with a warm winter working against him and Europe able to buy natural gas from elsewhere. But Holsether warned the world’s reliance on Russia for fertilizer threatens more disruption of food supply, adding to existing challenges of logistics bottlenecks and climate change.

“If you look at the role that we have allowed Russia to have in global food supply, we depend on them. How did that happen? What kind of weapon is that? And Putin is weaponizing food,” Holsether said.

“It is sort of a perfect storm for the whole food system right now: very challenging in Europe, of course, with higher prices; even worse in other parts of the world where a human being dies every four seconds as a result of hunger,” he added.

Global fertilizer crisis

When natural gas prices surged last year after Russia invaded Ukraine, so did prices for fertilizer, which manufacturers such as Yara produce with ammonia and nitrogen obtained as a byproduct from natural gas. Fertilizer prices had already begun increasing in 2021 due to high energy costs and supply-chain issues.

Declining natural gas prices and weak demand among farmers have eased pressures somewhat over the past few months. Earlier this month, fertilizer prices fell to their lowest level in nearly two years in tandem with natural gas prices. But despite falling prices, Holsether insists that the global fertilizer market is precarious, and countries should shift from relying on Russian natural gas, to safeguard their agricultural industries.

“Putin has weaponized energy and they’re weaponizing food as well,” Holsether told the BBC at last week’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. “It’s the saying, ‘Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.’”

Fertilizer prices remain high by historical standards, and the World Bank warned earlier this month that global supply is still tight due to the war, production cuts in Europe, and stricter export controls in China.

Averting a food crisis

If fertilizer is in short supply or prices remain unaffordable to many countries, farmers may be unable to keep their soil fertile enough for crops.

Concerns over fertilizer have taken center stage in recent weeks in Africa, which is heavily reliant on Russian food imports, and where agricultural production has taken a blow in recent years due to drought in many countries. The eastern Horn of Africa—including Somalia, Sudan, and Kenya—has been particularly hard-hit, as it is likely on the verge of a sixth straight failed rainy season, the worst drought conditions in 70 years of recorded data.

Securing additional sources of fertilizer was the cornerstone of a $2.5 billion U.S. food assistance package to Africa signed last month, while Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen noted the importance of stabilizing fertilizer supply in Africa multiple times during a visit to Zambia this week.

“Now we’re in 2023, it’s tragic and shouldn’t be like that,” Holsether told the FT about the state of global hunger. “That should be a very strong reminder of the need to have a more robust food system—from a climate perspective, from a logistics perspective, but also from a political perspective.”

Holsether said that all countries must become more self-sufficient with their food production. For fertilizer, he touted the promise of “green fertilizers” that use hydrogen and renewable energy to produce ammonia rather than natural gas, saying that clean and local solutions are critical to decoupling the global food system from Russia’s war.

Holsether also warned that European nations should not rely on their wealth to avert a food or fertilizer crisis. Like with natural gas, Europe has in recent months turned to the U.S. for nitrogen to replace Russian imports, but Holsether warned that Europe buying its way out of a food crisis is no remedy for global food insecurity.

“Yes. Not near term…there will be a shortage and there will be a global auction for food—but Europe is a wealthy part of the world,” Holsether said when asked if Europe should be concerned for its food security.

“But we need to think it through,” he added, saying that Europe buying food and fertilizer products from other countries will only create more global supply shortages and take away from other countries in dire need.

“In terms of food and food security, when you have that, you see wars or mass migrations, extremism, all these things,” he said.