SAM INVESTOR ALERT: ROSEN, TOP RANKED INVESTOR COUNSEL, Encourages The Boston Beer Company, Inc. Investors with Losses to Secure Counsel Before Important Deadline in Securities Class Action - SAM 19 Sep 2021, 12:20 am
NEW YORK, Sept. 18, 2021 /PRNewswire/ -- WHY: Rosen Law Firm, a global investor rights law firm, announces the filing of a class action lawsuit on behalf of purchasers of the securities of The Boston Beer Company, Inc. (NYSE: SAM) between April 22, 2021 and September 8, 2021, inclusive...
Connecticut losing ground on building emissions despite efficiency programs 18 Sep 2021, 9:00 am
By Lisa Prevost, Energy News Network
Climate activists say the state’s progress on reducing building emissions has been far too slow given the pace of the climate crisis, and that it needs to end incentives for energy-efficient natural gas heating.
Greenhouse gas emissions from heating and cooling buildings continue to rise in Connecticut despite the state’s efforts to improve energy efficiency.
An annual greenhouse gas inventory released last week for 2018 — the latest available data — showed vehicle exhaust remains the state’s largest problem, but the sharpest year-over-year increase came in the residential sector. Commercial building emissions were also higher.
The report attributes the increases to greater cold-weather heating demand, but climate activists underscore the state’s lack of progress on building emissions, which are roughly the same as they were a decade ago. They say the state lags on the adoption of electric heat pumps relative to the rest of New England, continues to expand its natural gas infrastructure, and doesn’t allow municipalities to adopt more stringent efficiency standards for new buildings.
Just one day after the emissions report was released, the state’s Energy Efficiency Board approved the next round of ratepayer-funded energy efficiency incentives, and despite pleas not to do so, included subsidies to entice homeowners to switch from oil heating to high-efficiency natural gas furnaces. Activists met the news with incredulity.
“Continuing to subsidize polluting fossil fuels defies logic,” said Shannon Laun, a staff attorney for the Conservation Law Foundation, in a statement. “If Connecticut continues subsidizing gas heating, the state will not meet its climate goals and our communities will suffer.”
Connecticut’s Global Warming Solutions Act calls for a 45% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, and 80% by 2050. While the state has made progress in reducing emissions from the electricity sector, last week’s report from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection concluded that the overall 42.2 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emitted in Connecticut in 2018 was up 2.7% from 2017.
The transportation sector represents the largest share of emissions, at 15.8 metric tons. Between 2014 and 2018, transportation emissions rose by 3%, the report said.
While building emissions represented a lower overall share, the residential sector saw an 18% rise in emissions from fuel oil and a 9.8% rise in emissions from natural gas.
Commercial building emissions rose 10.8% for natural gas and 6.6% for fuel oil. https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/4gvwU/1/#amp=1
The findings suggest the state is going to have to amp up its efforts in these areas if it is to meet its greenhouse gas reduction goals, including implementing the Transportation and Climate Initiative and authorizing municipalities to adopt energy “stretch” codes for large buildings, the agency said. Both of those measures failed to make it through the last legislative session.
While there are some signs of progress in reducing building emissions, especially around improving energy efficiency in affordable housing, advocates say it’s far too slow in coming given the pace of the climate crisis.
“I’m not seeing very much in the way of a change in the standard way of doing business in Connecticut, which is just continuing to do things the way they’ve been done for the last several decades,” said Bruce Becker, a Westport-based developer who specializes in highly efficient building projects and is converting a former office building in New Haven into what could be the country’s first net-zero-energy hotel. “Public utilities are still sending out mailers to get people to convert to natural gas, which is not helping.”
The energy efficiency plan just approved by the oversight board — officially known as the Conservation and Load Management Plan — is the latest iteration of Energize Connecticut, the utility-run program that offers an array of rebates and incentives aimed at driving greater building efficiency.
It still awaits a sign-off from Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Katie Dykes. Activists representing about 20 environmental and clean energy groups submitted a letter to Dykes last month calling on her to remove all fossil fuel subsidies from the plan.
“There was a lot more public participation and scrutiny of the plan this time than in years past,” said Charles Rothenberger, climate and energy attorney for Save the Sound. “There was also a much more concerted effort on the part of the advocacy community to draw attention to the proceedings.”
Amy McLean, the Connecticut director for the Acadia Center, sits on the Energy Efficiency Board. While she said she agrees that fossil fuel incentives should be removed, “it’s complicated.” Putting a “hard stop” on incentives for high-efficiency gas furnaces right now would mean more people would simply purchase less efficient equipment. And the incentives for electric heat pumps are not high enough to make them affordable for most people.
“All ratepayers pay into this program — they have to get something back,” she said.
One change she does think could be made immediately is removing incentives for gas equipment in new construction.
“New construction should not be incentivizing anything but electrification,” McLean said.
Activists want more resources put into switching customers over to heat pumps, which can be used for heating and cooling. The plan does say that the companies will “prioritize transitioning customers” to air-source heat pumps and ground-source heat pumps, and will do more educational outreach. But Rothenberger is skeptical.
“We know what the practice has been,” he said. “The language is all very aspirational and vague.”
Connecticut has a lot of catching up to do compared to other New England states, said Bernie Pelletier, vice president of People’s Action for Clean Energy. He cited figures from the 2021 heating electrification forecast by ISO New England, the regional grid operator. The report projects that roughly 4% of Connecticut households will have air-source heat pumps by 2030, compared to 11% in Rhode Island and 23% in Massachusetts.
But Will Healey, a spokesperson for the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, said the numbers the agency provided to ISO for that forecast did not factor in the impact of increased heat pump incentives over the last couple of years and additional educational outreach efforts.
The department “will be further developing approaches to thermal decarbonization, including rapid deployment of efficient electric heat pumps,” he said.
Efficiency success stories
On the positive side, Connecticut is making progress in improving efficiency in affordable housing, said Melissa Kops, an architect and a board member of the Connecticut Green Building Council. The state agency that provides financing for affordable housing developments just revised its review process to give more weight to applications for highly sustainable projects, she said.
And last session, lawmakers approved a bill establishing a grant fund to pay for energy efficiency upgrades, including solar panels, and weatherization in affordable housing and other landlord-owned housing units. The funds can also be used to mitigate health and safety barriers, like mold and asbestos, that impede efficiency work from being done.
In addition, the state’s first net-zero energy schools are under construction in Mansfield and Manchester. And then there is the emergence of cutting-edge commercial building projects like Becker’s Hotel Marcel, scheduled for completion early next year, and in Norwalk, a new flooring company headquarters being touted as the greenest building in Connecticut.
HMTX Industries, a family of companies that specialize in luxury vinyl tile and plank flooring, is building a 24,000-square-foot structure designed to be net-positive for the environment. On the energy side, it will produce all the energy it needs from solar panels, use about 60% less energy than similar buildings due to an ultra-efficient envelope, and maximize natural daylighting and passive cooling.
A major supplier to Home Depot, the company’s warehouse and operations facilities in Georgia are also built to highly efficient standards.
“We take pride in being a successful leader in sustainability in the industry,” said CEO Harlan Stone.
Energize Connecticut offers technical expertise and financial incentives for net-zero-energy commercial building projects. Eversource, the state’s largest electric distribution company, has eight projects currently participating, compared to just two in 2019, said Ron Araujo, director of energy efficiency implementation.
In their new construction incentive program, “we are seeing many commercial buildings come through and aim to become much more efficient than the current building code.”
The company’s annual conference on net-zero commercial buildings, scheduled for Sept. 23, has more than 200 participants registered this year, almost five times as many as when it started in 2017, he said.T
Alstom to Supply 10 Extra Citadis Trams to Bordeaux Metropole 12 Jan 2018, 8:44 amAlstom is to supply 10 additional Citadis trams to Bordeaux Metropole for a total amount of nearly EUR30 million as part of the optional order for the Bordeaux Phase III project, which was notified on 29 August 2011. 26 trams, representing the firm order, entered circulation in 2013 and 2014. 15 trams are currently being manufactured as part of the optional order at the Alstom site in La Rochelle. These new 44-metre-long trams are identical to those of the previous orders and are intended ...
Troll farms reached 140 million Americans a month on Facebook before 2020 election, internal report shows 17 Sep 2021, 1:00 am
In the run-up to the 2020 election, the most highly contested in US history, Facebook’s most popular pages for Christian and Black American content were being run by Eastern European troll farms. These pages were part of a larger network that collectively reached nearly half of all Americans, according to an internal company report, and achieved that reach not through user choice but primarily as a result of Facebook’s own platform design and engagement-hungry algorithm.
The report, written in October 2019 and obtained by MIT Technology Review from a former Facebook employee not involved in researching it, found that after the 2016 election, Facebook failed to prioritize fundamental changes to how its platform promotes and distributes information. The company instead pursued a whack-a-mole strategy that involved monitoring and quashing the activity of bad actors when they engaged in political discourse, and adding some guardrails that prevented “the worst of the worst.”
But this approach did little to stem the underlying problem, the report noted. Troll farms—professionalized groups that work in a coordinated fashion to post provocative content, often propaganda, to social networks—were still building massive audiences by running networks of Facebook pages. Their content was reaching 140 million US users per month—75% of whom had never followed any of the pages. They were seeing the content because Facebook’s content-recommendation system had pushed it into their news feeds.
“Instead of users choosing to receive content from these actors, it is our platform that is choosing to give [these troll farms] an enormous reach,” wrote the report’s author, Jeff Allen, a former senior-level data scientist at Facebook.
Joe Osborne, a Facebook spokesperson, said in a statement that the company “had already been investigating these topics” at the time of Allen’s report, adding: “Since that time, we have stood up teams, developed new policies, and collaborated with industry peers to address these networks. We’ve taken aggressive enforcement actions against these kinds of foreign and domestic inauthentic groups and have shared the results publicly on a quarterly basis.”
In the process of fact-checking this story shortly before publication, MIT Technology Review found that five of the troll-farm pages mentioned in the report remained active.
The report found that troll farms were reaching the same demographic groups singled out by the Kremlin-backed Internet Research Agency (IRA) during the 2016 election, which had targeted Christians, Black Americans, and Native Americans. A 2018 BuzzFeed News investigation found that at least one member of the Russian IRA, indicted for alleged interference in the 2016 US election, had also visited Macedonia around the emergence of its first troll farms, though it didn’t find concrete evidence of a connection. (Facebook said its investigations hadn’t turned up a connection between the IRA and Macedonian troll farms either.)
“This is not normal. This is not healthy,” Allen wrote. “We have empowered inauthentic actors to accumulate huge followings for largely unknown purposes … The fact that actors with possible ties to the IRA have access to huge audience numbers in the same demographic groups targeted by the IRA poses an enormous risk to the US 2020 election.”
As long as troll farms found success in using these tactics, any other bad actor could too, he continued: “If the Troll Farms are reaching 30M US users with content targeted to African Americans, we should not at all be surprised if we discover the IRA also currently has large audiences there.”
Allen wrote the report as the fourth and final installment of a year-and-a-half-long effort to understand troll farms. He left the company that same month, in part because of frustration that leadership had “effectively ignored” his research, according to the former Facebook employee who supplied the report. Allen declined to comment.
The report reveals the alarming state of affairs in which Facebook leadership left the platform for years, despite repeated public promises to aggressively tackle foreign-based election interference. MIT Technology Review is making the full report available, with employee names redacted, because it is in the public interest.
Its revelations include:
- As of October 2019, around 15,000 Facebook pages with a majority US audience were being run out of Kosovo and Macedonia, known bad actors during the 2016 election.
- Collectively, those troll-farm pages—which the report treats as a single page for comparison purposes—reached 140 million US users monthly and 360 million global users weekly. Walmart’s page reached the second-largest US audience at 100 million.
- The troll farm pages also combined to form:
- the largest Christian American page on Facebook, 20 times larger than the next largest—reaching 75 million US users monthly, 95% of whom had never followed any of the pages.
- the largest African-American page on Facebook, three times larger than the next largest—reaching 30 million US users monthly, 85% of whom had never followed any of the pages.
- the second-largest Native American page on Facebook, reaching 400,000 users monthly, 90% of whom had never followed any of the pages.
- the fifth-largest women’s page on Facebook, reaching 60 million US users monthly, 90% of whom had never followed any of the pages.
- Troll farms primarily affect the US but also target the UK, Australia, India, and Central and South American countries.
- Facebook has conducted multiple studies confirming that content more likely to receive user engagement (likes, comments, and shares) is more likely of a type known to be bad. Still, the company has continued to rank content in user’s newsfeeds according to what will receive the highest engagement.
- Facebook forbids pages from posting content merely copied and pasted from other parts of the platform but does not enforce the policy against known bad actors. This makes it easy for foreign actors who do not speak the local language to post entirely copied content and still reach a massive audience. At one point, as many as 40% of page views on US pages went to those featuring primarily unoriginal content or material of limited originality.
- Troll farms previously made their way into Facebook’s Instant Articles and Ad Breaks partnership programs, which are designed to help news organizations and other publishers monetize their articles and videos. At one point, thanks to a lack of basic quality checks, as many as 60% of Instant Article reads were going to content that had been plagiarized from elsewhere. This made it easy for troll farms to mix in unnoticed, and even receive payments from Facebook.
How Facebook enables troll farms and grows their audiences
The report looks specifically at troll farms based in Kosovo and Macedonia, which are run by people who don’t necessarily understand American politics. Yet because of the way Facebook’s newsfeed reward systems are designed, they can still have a significant impact on political discourse.
In the report, Allen identifies three reasons why these pages are able to gain such large audiences. First, Facebook doesn’t penalize pages for posting completely unoriginal content. If something has previously gone viral, it will likely go viral again when posted a second time. This makes it really easy for anyone to build a massive following among Black Americans, for example. Bad actors can simply copy viral content from Black Americans’ pages, or even Reddit and Twitter, and paste it onto their own page—or sometimes dozens of pages.
Second, Facebook pushes engaging content on pages to people who don’t follow them. When users’ friends comment on or reshare posts on one of these pages, those users will see it in their newsfeeds too. The more a page’s content is commented on or shared, the more it travels beyond its followers. This means troll farms, whose strategy centers on reposting the most engaging content, have an outsize ability to reach new audiences.
Third, Facebook’s ranking system pushes more engaging content higher up in users’ newsfeeds. For the most part, the people who run troll farms have financial rather than political motives; they post whatever receives the most engagement, with little regard to the actual content. But because misinformation, clickbait, and politically divisive content is more likely to receive high engagement (as Facebook’s own internal analyses acknowledge), troll farms gravitate to posting more of it over time, the report says.
As a result, in October 2019, all 15 of the top pages targeting Christian Americans, 10 of the top 15 Facebook pages targeting Black Americans, and four of the top 12 Facebook pages targeting Native Americans were being run by troll farms.
“Our platform has given the largest voice in the Christian American community to a handful of bad actors, who, based on their media production practices, have never been to church,” Allen wrote. “Our platform has given the largest voice in the African American community to a handful of bad actors, who, based on their media production practices, have never had an interaction with an African American.”
“It will always strike me as profoundly weird ... and genuinely horrifying,” he wrote. “It seems quite clear that until that situation can be fixed, we will always be feeling serious headwinds in trying to accomplish our mission.”
The report also suggested a possible solution. “This is far from the first time humanity has fought bad actors in our media ecosystems,” he wrote, pointing to Google’s use of what’s known as a graph-based authority measure—which assesses the quality of a web page according to how often it cites and is cited by other quality web pages—to demote bad actors in its search rankings.
“We have our own implementation of a graph-based authority measure,” he continued. If the platform gave more consideration to this existing metric in ranking pages, it could help flip the disturbing trend in which pages reach the widest audiences.
When Facebook’s rankings prioritize engagement, troll-farm pages beat out authentic pages, Allen wrote. But “90% of Troll Farm Pages have exactly 0 Graph Authority … [Authentic pages] clearly win.”
A search of all the troll-farm pages listed in the report reveals that five are still active nearly two years later:
- A page called “My Baby Daddy Ain’t Shit,” which was the largest Facebook page targeting African-Americans in October 2019.
- A page called “Savage Hood,” targeting African-Americans.
- A page called “Hood Videos,” targeting African-Americans.
- A page called “Purpose of Life,” targeting Christians.
- A page called “Eagle Spirit,” targeting Native Americans.
Facebook’s recent controversial “Widely Viewed Content” report suggests that some of the core vulnerabilities the troll farms exploited also remain. Fifteen of the 19 most viewed posts listed in the report were plagiarized from other posts that had previously gone viral on Facebook or another platform, according to an analysis from Casey Newton at The Verge.
Samantha Bradshaw, a postdoctoral research fellow at Stanford University who studies the intersection of disinformation, social media, and democracy, says the report “speaks to a lot of the deeper systemic problems with the platform and their algorithm in the way that they promote certain kinds of content to certain users, all just based on this underlying value of growth.” If those are not fixed, they will continue to create distorted, economic incentives for bad actors, she adds: “That’s the problem.”
Read the full report here:
Wolf Populations Drop as More States Allow Hunting 7 Sep 2021, 10:45 amRepercussions of planned and anticipated wolf hunts and traps could ripple through ecosystems for years to come, scientists say
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