Issue XCVI

21 OCT 2016

Miscellaneous

08/11/2014

Study: Keystone climate impacts may exceed State Department estimate

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Study in Nature Climate Change says proposed Keystone XL pipeline’s possible climate impacts could be up to four times higher than expected

An economic analysis of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline’s possible climate impacts has concluded they could be up to four times higher than previously estimated.

In the study published in the journal Nature Climate Change, researchers at the Stockholm Environment Institute write that widely quoted U.S. State Department findings that the oilsands pipeline wouldn’t make a significant difference missed a major source of greenhouse gas emissions.

“It didn’t appear that they looked at the market implications,” said co-author Peter Erickson. “If the Keystone pipeline were to enable a greater rate of extraction of the oilsands, would that not increase global fuel supplies, which might then decrease prices and therefore allow a little bit more global consumption?

“That’s the analysis that we did here and we found that it could be the greatest emissions impact of the pipeline.”

Erickson and co-author Michael Lazarus used figures from previous research and international agencies that mathematically describe how oil prices affect consumption. They found that a slightly lower price created by every barrel of increased oil sands production enabled by Keystone XL would increase global oil consumption by slightly more than half a barrel.

The capacity of the pipeline proposed by Calgary-based TransCanada Corp. would be about 820,000 barrels a day. If every barrel of that came from new production, the annual carbon impact of Keystone XL could be up to 110 million tonnes — four times the maximum State Department estimate of up to 27 million tonnes.

The authors acknowledge their study doesn’t answer whether Keystone XL would encourage oil-sands expansion or simply provide an outlet for growth that would have happened anyway.

Environmentalists maintain the former.

The Pembina Institute argues the pipeline would enable oil sands companies to get a better price at U.S. Gulf refineries, sending a market signal to increase production. The clean energy think-tank also points to statements by officials suggesting the project would allow their companies to mine more bitumen.

While other options to move oilsands crude exist, the institute says none would have Keystone’s size and none would be as advanced.

“It is likely that Keystone XL would, in fact, drive increased oil sands production in Alberta,” says an institute paper.

Industry officials say the relationship between pipelines and production...


Study: Keystone XL Could Lead to Enormous Emissions Increase

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Researchers reporting in Nature Climate Change say building the controversial pipeline could lead to the price of oil dropping and the rate of consumption increasing, pouring more emissions into the atmosphere.

President Obama has said he wouldn't allow the controversial Keystone XL pipeline's construction unless it does not significantly worsen carbon dioxide emissions. But now anew study in Nature Climate Change says it will, and by a lot: Keystone XL could cause greenhouse gas emissions four times worse than the U.S. government's projections. 

Peter Erickson and Michael Lazarus of the Stockholm Environment Institute in Seattle calculated the project's potential economic impact and its resulting impact on greenhouse gas emissions. In their model, extra oil flowing through Keystone XL could lower global oil prices, prompting people to buy more and use more. The pipeline would provide oil that would otherwise not be consumed, resulting in carbon dioxide that otherwise would not be belched into the atmosphere. 

Erickson says no other researchers have previously done this type of analysis yet for Keystone XL, and that most energy and climate analyses focus on consumer demand and attempts to reduce energy consumption, not necessarily on the supply side. 

"There's been very little attention or analysis, even in policymaking, to 'What about bringing new fossil fuels into the marketplace?'" he says. "It does perhaps seem obvious, but there is not necessarily a toolkit ready and waiting to do that kind of analysis." 

Erickson and Lazarus used a standard economic model to study the impact of increased oil supply on the market. In their analysis, they assume an increased supply causes competition among producers, which drives down the price. Using oil supply curves from market research firm Rystad Energy, they devised what's known as an elasticity of supply. Basically, this tool calculates a percent change in oil price given a percent change in supply, Erickson says. 

For each barrel of increased production, he says, 0.6 barrels would be new to global markets. That's oil that wouldn't have been burned otherwise. The net annual impact could range from adding virtually no extra CO2 to adding 110 million metric tons a year. That spread is four times wider than the U.S. State Department found in its own environmental analysis. 

"Just considering these market impacts quadruples the emissions," he says. 

The paper is agnostic on whether Keystone XL would actually lead to expanded development in Canada's oil sands; that's a much more...



07/22/2014

Hopkins Pays $190M In Settlement In Gynecologist-Secret Recordings Case

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On Maryland's Morning News, Jonathan Schochor, Managing Partner of Schochor, Federico and Staton, Chairman of the Plaintiffs' Steering Committee in the Dr. Nikita Levy case, talks about a $190 million dollar proposed settlement with Johns Hopkins Hospital.

A "rogue" gynecologist who used tiny cameras to secretly record videos and photos of his patients has forced one of the world's top medical centers to pay $190 million to 8,000 women and girls.

Dr. Nikita Levy was fired after 25 years with the Johns Hopkins Health System in Baltimore in February 2013 after a female co-worker spotted the pen-like camera he wore around his neck and alerted authorities.

Levy committed suicide days later, as a federal investigation led to roughly 1,200 videos and 140 images stored on computers in his home.

"All of these women were brutalized by this," said their lead attorney, Jonathan Schochor. "Some of these women needed counseling, they were sleepless, they were dysfunctional in the workplace, they were dysfunctional at home, they were dysfunctional with their mates. This breach of trust, this betrayal - this is how they felt."

The preliminary settlement approved by a judge Monday is one of the largest on record in the U.S. involving sexual misconduct by a physician. It all but closes a case that never produced criminal charges but seriously threatened Hopkins' reputation.


Johns Hopkins to Pay $190M Settlement to Patients Allegedly Taped by Gynecologist

Baltimore-based Johns Hopkins Health System has agreed to a $190 million settlement with more than 7,000 patients who were allegedly photographed and videotaped by a gynecologist during their pelvic exams, according to a Wall Street Journal report.

The health system fired gynecologist Nikita Levy, MD, in February 2013 after learning of allegations from a colleague that he used a pen-like camera around his neck to photograph patients. In a home search, law enforcement officials found an "extraordinary amount" of images of patients on Dr. Levy's home server, including images of more than 60 minors. Dr. Levy committed suicide during the investigation before criminal charges were filed.

The health system has been engaged in settlement discussions with attorneys since last fall. The settlement funds will come from insurance and "will not in any way compromise the ability of the health system to serve its patients, staff and community," the system said in a statement.  

"We assure you that one individual does not define Johns Hopkins," the system said. "Johns Hopkins is defined by the tens of thousands of employees who come to work determined to provide world-class care for our patients and their families."



07/14/2014

Traders Cheer Citigroup's $7 Billion Crisis Settlement and Earnings

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Citigroup’s $7 billion settlement with the government to end an investigation into its crisis-era mortgage activity nearly wiped out its quarterly profit, the bank announced today. Wall Street was thrilled: shares rose 4 percent in pre-market trading.

Second quarter net income was $181 million, down 96 percent from $4.2 billion the year before. Still, excluding the deal with the feds — which includes a $4 billion penalty paid to the federal government, $500 million to states and the FDIC, and $2.5 billion in mortgage help for consumers — Citi earned $1.24 per share, well more than the $1.05 analysts expected.

“Despite the significant impact of today’s settlement on our net income, our capital position strengthened,” chief executive officer Michael Corbat said in a statement.

Federal investigators had been pursuing Citi for selling shoddy mortgage-backed securities in the run-up to the financial crisis, hawking them to investors who may not have known what they were buying. After negotiations between the bank and regulators broke down earlier this year, the government was set to file a high-profile lawsuit—until the surprise arrest of a key figure in the 2012 Benghazi embassy attack, the New York Times and Wall Street Journal reported yesterday. Not wanting to share the headlines with that case, prosecutors punted, negotiations resumed, and the $7 billion deal was announced this morning.

Citi is the second big bank to report earnings this quarter, following Wells Fargo July 11, which saw profit climb 3.8 percent. The bank’s shares fell as a 17-quarter streak of rising per-share earnings was broken. JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs announce results tomorrow. Banks are facing slowdowns in their mortgage and bond-trading businesses. The KBW Bank Index has returned 3.55 percent this year, trailing a 7.61 percent return for the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index.


'Egregious' Citigroup Faces $7bn Mortgage Fine

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Citigroup has confirmed it is to pay $7bn (£4.1bn) to settle a US Justice Department investigation into sub-prime mortgages.

The agreement was announced following weeks of talks between officials and the New York-based investment bank over the size of the penalty for selling mortgage-backed securities made up from sub-prime mortgages - loans blamed for triggering the financial crisis.

As part of the deal, Citigroup will make a $4bn civil monetary payment to the Justice Department and another $500m in compensatory payments to state attorney's general and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FPDIC).

The bank will also provide $2.5bn for consumer relief, which will include financing for construction and preservation of affordable housing, as well as principal reduction and forbearance for residential loans.

Bank chief executive Michael Corbat said: "The comprehensive settlement announced today with the US Department of Justice, state attorneys general, and the FDIC resolves all pending civil investigations related to our legacy RMBS (residential mortgage-backed securities) and CDO (collateralized debt obligations) underwriting, structuring and issuance activities.

"We also have now resolved substantially all of our legacy RMBS and CDO litigation," he said.

The settlement is the latest in a series of deals between banks and regulators to avert costly trials in the United States.

Citi and other banks were found to have downplayed the risks of sub-prime mortgages when selling them to mutual funds, investment trusts, pensions and others.

The securities, which contained so-called residential mortgage-backed securities and collateralised debt obligations, plunged in value when the housing market collapsed in 2006 and 2007.

The Citigroup settlement comes months after a similar - but much larger - $13bn deal between the Justice Department and JPMorgan Chase & Co .



07/04/2014

Facebook policy head says emotion experiments were 'innovative'

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Monika Bickert has defended the site's experimentation, saying it is necessary to ensure the site keeps improving

Facebook’s head of policy, Monika Bickert, has claimed that the company's emotion experiments were “innovation” and a necessary part of the research needed for new features and developments.

Bickert said that “most of the research that is done on Facebook” is “all about ‘how do we make this product better’", while speaking at the Aspen Ideas Festival on Tuesday.

“It’s concerning when we see legislation that could possibly stifle that sort of creativity and that innovation,” Bickert, in contrast to the apology offered on Wednesday by Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer.

'Make sure we’re being transparent'

“That’s innovation. That’s the reason that when you look at Facebook or YouTube you’re always seeing new features. And that’s the reason if you have that annoying friend from high school that always posts pictures of their toddler every single day, that’s reason that you don’t see all those photos in your news feed,” said Bickert.

Bickert admitted that Facebook’s handling of the research could have been clearer to users, saying that “it’s incumbent upon us to make sure we’re transparent about what we’re doing and that people understand exactly why we’re doing what we do.”

“What I think we have to do in the future is make sure we’re being transparent, both to regulators and to people using the product about exactly what we’re doing,” she said.

'Emotional contagion'

The experiments caused outrage with users and researchers alike over the weekend, when a scientific paper based on the research that involved nearly 700,000 users over one week in 2012.

Facebook hid "a small percentage" of emotional words from peoples' news feeds, without their knowledge, to test what effect that had on the statuses or "likes" that they then posted or reacted to.

The company's researchers discovered that tweaking the content of peoples' "news feeds" created an "emotional contagion" across the social network, by which people who saw one emotion being expressed would themselves express similar emotions.

The research was conducted without the knowledge of users and has caused controversy as to whether it crossed an ethical line, with paper’s publishers conducting an investigation. The...


Facebook apologises for psychological experiments on users

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The second most powerful executive at the company, Sheryl Sandberg, says experiments were ‘poorly communicated’

Facebook’s second most powerful executive, Sheryl Sandberg, has apologised for the conduct of secret psychological tests on nearly 700,000 users in 2012, which prompted outrage from users and experts alike.

The experiment, revealed by a scientific paper published in the March issue of Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences, hid "a small percentage" of emotional words from peoples' news feeds, without their knowledge, to test what effect that had on the statuses or "likes" that they then posted or reacted to.

“This was part of ongoing research companies do to test different products, and that was what it was; it was poorly communicated,” said Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer while in New Delhi. “And for that communication we apologise. We never meant to upset you.”

The statement by Sandberg, deputy to chief executive Mark Zuckerberg, is a marked climbdown from its insistence on Tuesday that the experiment was covered by its terms of service. The secret tests mean that the companyfaces an inquiry from the UK's information commissioner, while the publishers of the paper have said they will investigate whether any ethics breach took place. Psychological tests on human subjects have to have "informed consent" from participants - but independent researchers and Facebook have disagreed on whether its terms of service implicitly cover such use.

Facebook’s first public comment on the experiments came as the social network attempted to woo Indian advertisers as part of its efforts to tailor adverts to users outside of the US. The aim of the government-sponsored study was to see whether positive or negative words in messages would lead to positive or negative content in status updates.

The company's researchers decided after tweaking the content of peoples' "news feeds" that there was "emotional contagion" across the social network, by which people who saw one emotion being expressed would themselves express similar emotions.

“We take privacy and security at Facebook really seriously because that is something that allows people to share” opinions and emotions, said Sandberg.

The UK data protection watchdog, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), is investigating the experiment to determine whether Facebook has infringed on UK law.

The social network also faced stern criticism...



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