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The lack of company affect on power coverage is harmful



The author chairs the Coverage Institute at King’s School London

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The European Fee will quickly produce the main points of a brand new green deal designed to cut back emissions. Within the US, local weather change will likely be a key issue in November’s presidential election. The world over, power coverage is within the foreground of public coverage debate. 

However there’s a lacking voice on the desk. Enterprise — the power corporations that produce, course of and promote the power we use — is essentially excluded from the policymaking course of.

As soon as upon a time, corporations held a decisive affect over public coverage. But, in some of the exceptional shifts of the final decade, they’ve misplaced such sway.

Company experience and the significance of the businesses to nationwide financial life previously gave them entry to the corridors of energy and the strongest of voices as choices had been made. They managed essential assets and infrastructure. In each struggle and peacetime, they offered the ensures that provides can be maintained.

Their affect was felt on all the things from the fiscal insurance policies that inspired the event of provides, to regulation of all elements of the manufacturing and use of various types of power provide and even to overseas coverage. The involvement of each Britain and the US within the Center East was for many years inseparable from the necessity for business entities to win access to oil supplies.

The precise function of the businesses has not modified — if something they’re right this moment extra necessary to the continuity of provide. However their impression on coverage is restricted to defensive lobbying. In Germany, the facility corporations that had constructed among the best nuclear companies on the planet had been undermined by chancellor Angela Merkel’s sudden determination to abandon nuclear energy

In France EDF, as soon as the epitome of affect and the supplier of power independence, is now beneath fierce and open criticism from the French authorities.

Rather than this, corporates have a brand new function — as a handy goal for politicians in charge for all the things from restricted progress on local weather points to elevated retail costs.

Critics of enterprise, notably environmental teams, will say the businesses have been their very own worst enemies — sluggish to simply accept the realities and dangers of local weather change; tied to grease, fuel and in some instances coal as sources of provide; and reluctant to shift capital expenditure into low-carbon exercise, not least due to the decrease returns out there.

There has additionally been a lack of belief in firms seen as exploiting moderately than serving customers — manipulative in tax calculations, evasive or worse when issues go unsuitable.

All true. The errors and misbehaviour present fertile floor for individuals who mistrust enterprise on the whole and large, worthwhile international corporations particularly.

The generalisation of particular errors into condemnation of the entire sector is, nonetheless, each unfair and harmful. Unfair as a result of most power corporations work to excessive requirements of behaviour, pay their taxes and supply important companies to customers. Harmful as a result of the coverage debate wants the experience of those that will likely be anticipated to maintain offering the power the world wants.

As a report due on Monday from the Worldwide Power Company makes clear, the function of corporations is central to the success of the power transition.

The businesses can simply be introduced as pantomime villains however, whereas they need to deal with revenue engines, in addition they have a transparent view of the sensible realities of what can and ought to be carried out to realize critical decarbonisation. They perceive the construction of the market, the instruments that may change behaviour and, most necessary of all, the applied sciences which may make the shift inexpensive.

Only a few corporations now deny the scientific evaluation of local weather change, and most, if not all, have critical plans for their very own transition. They usually make these public, as Shell, Equinor and others have lately carried out.

After all, this isn’t the entire story. The power majors account for less than a small proportion of world provides of oil and fuel. The bulk of the industry is managed by the state-owned corporations of Opec members and different oil- and gas-exporting nations. Most of those international locations present little or little interest in the power transition and a few actively oppose efforts to transfer to decrease carbon economies. For them, the short-term curiosity in sustaining the established order may be very excessive.

However the power business can now not be considered a single entity. The worldwide corporations have the flexibility and assets to take a longer-term view than these which are state owned. They need to be introduced again into the general public coverage debate. That’s the solely approach the corporates can regain belief and the one approach we are going to attain viable, sensible options to the problem of local weather change.

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Bill Withers’s Life Was as Rich as His Songs



He certainly had an unusual career arc. Withers was in his 30s when he started getting serious about music—and he didn’t stay serious about it for all that long. Born in poor and rural West Virginia to a coal-miner father who died when Withers was 13, he grew up amid rank segregation. As soon as he was of age, he enlisted in the Navy, where he served for nine years. His post-military gigs included delivering milk and working an assembly line. The cover of his 1971 debut album, Just as I Am, shows him holding a lunch pail on a break from the factory; he once recalled of the shoot, “So guys are in the back yelling, ‘Hey Hollywood!’”

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That album arose from a mix of ambition, impulse, and extraordinary talent. Inspired by seeing the singer Lou Rawls perform—and moreover, by noting the money and romantic attention Rawls got for it—Withers bought a used guitar, taught himself to play it, and recorded some demos. They impressed the music exec Clarence Avant, who set Withers up with the pivotal Memphis bandleader Booker T. Jones to cut an album. “The fact is we are born into the situations we were born into,” Withers said in a 2014 WNYC interview, looking back on his early life. “One day you … try to do something with yourself. The best advice anybody ever gave me was very simple: Go make something out of yourself.”

A track from his first studio sessions, “Ain’t No Sunshine,” would rightly launch Withers to orbit. For all the covers the song has spawned over the years, the original recording remains stunning. Withers’s voice—round, rich, and reverberating—is central and godlike. The arrangement seems to drift and coalesce. The overall effect matches the lyrical conceit about loneliness that moves like weather. In obvious ways, the song rates  as “easy listening,” yet it also shows Withers’s genius for graceful extremity. Only a songwriter with a certain bravery and trust in the listener would cast those endless-seeming ripples of “I know / I know / I know.”

Many of his best moments are like that one: stark, graphical, almost confrontational musical choices that don’t disrupt the song’s spell but pull you further into it. There’s the lengthy “daaaay” of “Lovely Day.” There’s the acidic but perceptive take on submissive love on “Use Me.” There’s his knack for bold imagery, whether used for affection means in “Grandma’s Hands” or for political ones in “I Can’t Write Left Handed.” And there’s “Lean on Me,” a song whose gentleness survives and is boosted by brief, jolting tempo changes. Some radio stations truncate the end of that song, when Withers says “Call me” 14 times. What are they thinking?

Withers’s last hit was 1980’s “Just the Two of Us,” a jaunty duet with Grover Washington Jr. The backstory is another example of how Withers’s sweet soul sounds often came with a hidden thorn. Withers had bristled at the manipulations of his record company, Columbia, for years, so he went to work with Washington, who was on a rival label. “Just the Two of Us” was “a ‘kiss my ass’ song to Columbia,” he told Rolling Stone decades later. He’d use his Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction speech in 2015 to joke that “A&R” stands for “antagonistic and redundant.”

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A Hacker Found a Way to Take Over Any Apple Webcam



Apple has a well-earned reputation for security, but in recent years its Safari browser has had its share of missteps. This week, a security researcher publicly shared new findings about vulnerabilities that would have allowed an attacker to exploit three Safari bugs in succession and take over a target’s webcam and microphone on iOS and macOS devices.

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Apple patched the vulnerabilities in January and March updates. But before the fixes, all a victim would have needed to do is click one malicious link and an attacker would have been able to spy on them remotely.

“Safari encourages users to save their preferences for site permissions, like whether to trust Skype with microphone and camera access,” says Ryan Pickren, the security researcher who disclosed the vulnerabilities to Apple. “So what an attacker could do with this kill chain is make a malicious website that from Safari’s perspective could then turn into ‘Skype’. And then the malicious site will have all the permissions that you previously granted to Skype, which means an attacker could just start taking pictures of you or turn on your microphone or even screen-share.”

The bugs Pickren found all stem from seemingly minor oversights. For example, he discovered that Safari’s list of the permissions a user has granted to websites treated all sorts of URL variations as being part of the same site, like,, and fake:// By “wiggling around,” as Pickren puts it, he was able to generate specially crafted URLs that could work with scripts embedded in a malicious site to launch the bait-and-switch that would trick Safari.

“I just kind of hammered the browser with really weird cases until Safari got confused and gave an origin that didn’t make sense,” he says. “And eventually the bugs could all kind of bounce from one to the next. Part of this is that some of the bugs were really, really old flaws in the WebKit core from years ago. They probably were not as dangerous as they are now just because the stars lined up on how an attacker would use them today.”

Courtesy of Ryan Pickren

A hacker who tricked a victim into clicking their malicious link would be able to quietly launch the target’s webcam and microphone to capture video, take photos, or record audio. And the attack would work on iPhones, iPads, and Macs alike. None of the flaws are in Apple’s microphone and webcam protections themselves, or even in Safari’s defenses that keep malicious sites from accessing the sensors. Instead, the attack surmounts all of these barriers just by generating a convincing disguise.

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Wisconsin Braces for an Election Day Amid the Coronavirus Crisis



In Congress, Senators Ron Wyden, of Oregon, and Amy Klobuchar, of Minnesota, have introduced legislation to fund voting by mail across the country. But the proposal’s prospects in Washington—with its own dysfunctional partisan politics—are uncertain at best. And, in any case, election administration in the United States isn’t a national affair but a state-by-state, county-by-county, and, in some ways, precinct-by-precinct operation. “The use of absentee balloting is key,” Richard L. Hasen, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine, and the author of “Election Meltdown,” said. “I worry about those places where it’s harder to vote by absentee.” Wendy Weiser, the vice-president for democracy at the Brennan Center, said that debates like the one taking place in Wisconsin “are good early-warning signs for November,” because delaying the general election is out of the question. “States have different levels of preparedness and different levels of infrastructure that allows them to pivot more or less quickly,” Weiser said. “But we need a lot of changes. So part of the delay-or-not-delay debate is a recognition of all the changes that need to be made.”

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In Wisconsin, the debate about postponement wasn’t strictly a partisan fight, at least initially. Although the Wisconsin Democratic Party was among the groups that filed lawsuits to push for modifications to the upcoming election—and it successfully convinced a judge to push the voter-registration deadline to March 31st—the Party’s chairman, Ben Wikler, was not initially on board with the calls to postpone the election altogether. “Primary elections are one thing,” he said. “But Wisconsin has a general election scheduled. If local offices become vacant, if there’s a crisis of legitimacy for people who are wielding power, that is a profound problem.” Joe Zepecki, a top Democratic political operative in the state, told me that exercising the right to vote should be considered at least as essential as going out to get groceries. “This is as essential as it gets,” he said, adding that, in the age of Donald Trump, “I think we have to be really, really careful about doing things like moving election dates.” (On Wednesday night, after Judge Conley’s hearing, Wikler issued a statement saying that the state Party now endorsed the calls to postpone. “It became clear that the least worst option was to delay the election,” he told me.)

Eric Genrich, the Democratic mayor of Green Bay, has been among the most prominent voices calling for an election delay in the state. “What we’re headed toward is both going to be a logistical train wreck and a public-health travesty,” he said. In March, Green Bay filed a federal lawsuit in an attempt to force changes, only to have the effort tossed out by a judge, who said that the city wasn’t allowed to sue the state. “We are not suggesting we should cancel this election,” Genrich said. “We’re just saying the way it’s administered needs to be modified. There just has not been any response that matches with the gravity of the situation.”

While Green Bay was mounting its lawsuit, activist groups and unions—including Souls to the Polls, a Milwaukee-based alliance of pastors whose founding president, Greg Lewis, was recently diagnosed with COVID-19—were mounting their own, demanding a range of remedial measures, from postponing the election to relaxing Wisconsin’s strict proof-of-residency requirements for voter registration. Their case was eventually consolidated with others and wound up before Judge Conley. Angela Lang, the executive director of Black Leaders Organizing for Communities, which is also a party in the lawsuit, told me that people are hearing conflicting messages right now. On the one hand, there’s the stay-at-home order. On the other hand, they’re being told to figure out how to vote. “We’re walking this balance of, yes, we want people to know the most up-to-date information about the election, but, at the same time, people are checked out,” Lang said. “The election is going to be on the back burner if you’re trying to feed your kids who are now home from school, or if you lost your job.”

In Milwaukee, as in other cities, early-voting sites have closed for safety reasons. Lang worries about the closure of those sites in neighborhoods with large black or Hispanic populations. She worries about people who can’t afford a computer or an Internet connection and about people who can’t navigate the technology necessary to request an absentee ballot or submit a photo I.D. online. And she worries about the confusion and information gaps that the coronavirus crisis has produced. The surge in absentee-ballot requests is a good thing, in terms of public health, but navigating the request process is easier for people with time and means. “I think we’re just going to end up turning out the super voters,” Lang said. “They’re privileged folks, they’re affluent folks. It’s possible to paint a picture of who will participate. And it’s possible to paint a picture of who will get left out.”

Albrecht, Milwaukee’s election administrator, shares Lang’s fears and is already seeing signs that they will be borne out. “I think that there are people in this city right now who don’t even know what it means to request an absentee ballot,” he said. In the run-up to the November election in 2016, Milwaukee sent out some twelve thousand absentee ballots, according to Albrecht. By early this week, for this upcoming election, his office had already issued seventy-two thousand. But requests for ballots were lagging “in those areas of the city with the highest concentration of people in poverty,” he said. “This is not what democracy looks like. Democracy should be a level playing field.” People in low-income neighborhoods who don’t vote absentee may not have the opportunity to vote easily in person on Election Day, either. For safety, and because of a lack of volunteers, Albrecht had been forced to consolidate polling places. In a normal election, the city has a hundred and eighty polling locations open; on Tuesday, Albrecht expects to have ten or fewer.

In Madison, Witzel-Behl is facing similar problems, but she’s also getting a lot of calls from elderly and homebound people having trouble navigating the absentee process. During the weekend, county clerks in Dane and Milwaukee Counties issued guidance advising municipal clerks to encourage people to declare themselves “confined” to their homes, which would make them exempt from some of the state’s voter-I.D. requirements. Republicans accused the clerks of breaking the law. But, for people who are home alone, Witzel-Behl said, just getting a witness signature on their ballot envelope is a burden, and, in any case, seeking out another person could be an infection risk. “The state has said, ‘Well, they could go to the grocery store, or the bank,’ ” she said. “But if they’re not able to leave their homes, that’s not an option.” Judge Conley’s ruling on Thursday loosened these restrictions somewhat, allowing absentee voters to skip the witness signature if they provide a statement saying that they tried and failed to safely get one.

Then there’s the poll-worker issue. On Tuesday, the state election commission released a document showing that Wisconsin has at least seven thousand fewer poll workers lined up for next Tuesday than it needs to properly conduct an election. More than a hundred of the state’s eighteen hundred and fifty election jurisdictions report not having enough staff to open even a single polling place. There are questions about how to maintain safe distances between people and how to keep facilities sanitized. In Madison, the vast majority of poll workers are over the age of sixty—putting them in the demographic most at risk of serious illness from the coronavirus. On election night, the city will have tens of thousands of absentee ballots to count, and each absentee has to be examined by two poll workers, work that is traditionally done in close quarters. “We are getting a lot of calls from poll workers saying, ‘How are you going to guarantee that I won’t get the coronavirus?’ ” Witzel-Behl said. “And I can’t make that guarantee.”

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