Lava creeps to edge of geothermal plant on Hawaii’s Big Island

PAHOA, Hawaii (Reuters) – Molten lava from the erupting Kilauea Volcano on Hawaii’s Big Island crept to the edge of a geothermal power plant on Monday, as workers rushed to shut down the facility to prevent the uncontrollable release of toxic gases.

Lava flows into the Pacific Ocean southeast of Pahoa during ongoing eruptions of the Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii, U.S., May 20, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

The race to cap three geothermal wells at the site marked the latest challenge facing authorities as they cope with what geologists rank as one of the biggest upheavals in a century from one of the world’s most active volcanoes.

The Puna Geothermal Venture (PGV) plant, which provides about 25 percent of the Big Island’s power, has been closed since shortly after lava began erupting on May 3 through newly opened fissures in the ground running through neighborhoods and roads on the far eastern flank of Kilauea.

Within a week, some 60,000 gallons (227,124 liters) of the highly flammable chemical pentane, which was stored at the plant, were moved from harm’s way.

Workers are now trying to shut down the plant’s three wells, which run 6,000 to 8,000 feet (1,829-2,438 meters) underground to tap into extremely hot water and steam used to run turbines and produce electricity.

“We do want to shut down the wells so that we would eliminate the broader risk of uncontrolled release (of gases and steam from the plant),” Hawaii Governor David Ige told reporters on Sunday.

Steam and volcanic gases rise as lava flows into the Pacific Ocean southeast of Pahoa during ongoing eruptions of the Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii, U.S., May 20, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

A stream of lava from one nearby fissure reached the PGV grounds late on Sunday or early Monday but stalled behind a berm built on the boundary of the property to hold back the molten flow, said Hawaii County Civil Defense spokeswoman Janet Synder.

She said the leading edge of the lava flow had stopped about 300 yards (meters) from the nearest well pad at the plant, as plant workers were in the final stages of capping two wells. She said they were having difficulty quenching the third.

The state said last week it was pumping cold water into the wells and would cap them with iron plugs. Authorities are looking at alternative measures to kill the third well, Snyder added.

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About 3 miles (4.8 km) to the east of the plant on the coast, noxious clouds of acid fumes, steam and fine glass-like particles billowed into the sky as lava poured into the ocean from two flows cutting across Highway 137, one of the main exit routes from the eruption zone.

Laze — a term combining the words “lava” and “haze” — is formed when erupting lava, which can reach 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit (1,093 degrees Celsius), reacts with sea water. It is potentially deadly if inhaled.

“If one were to be near the laze, because of the various acids, it would be corrosive to the eyes, the nose and respiratory tract, and the skin,” Dr. Alvin Bronstein from the Hawaii State Department of Health told journalists on a conference call.

Laze killed two people when a lava flow reached the coast in 2000, and authorities warned residents to stay clear of it.

Another hazard was the potential for methane gas explosions as searing lava neared pockets of rotting vegetation, igniting traces of the flammable gas given off by the decay.

“These are quite a big hazard in vegetative areas and the explosions can occur well away from the lava flow itself,” USGS geologist Janet Babb said on the call.

Geologists say Kilauea’s eruption, which has already produced around two dozen lava-spewing fissures, has now entered a more violent phase, in which larger volumes of molten rock are oozing from the ground and traveling farther than before.

At least 44 homes and other structures have been destroyed in the Leilani Estates and Laipuna Gardens area of the Puna district, and a man was seriously injured on Saturday when a plate-sized chunk of molten shot out of a fissure and struck him on the leg.

Two thousand people have been ordered from their homes due to lava flows and toxic sulfur dioxide gas, levels of which have tripled in the last two days, according to civil defense officials. The Hawaii National Guard has warned of more mandatory evacuations if further highways are blocked.

Reporting by Terray Sylvester, additional reporting by Jolyn Rosa in Honolulu; Writing by Andrew Hay; Editing by Bill Tarrant, Sandra Maler and Joseph Radford

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Foreign media arrive for North Korea nuke site closing

WONSAN, North Korea — A small group of foreign journalists arrived in North Korea on Tuesday to cover the dismantling of the country’s nuclear test site later this week, but without South Korean media initially also scheduled to participate.

Pyongyang is allowing the limited access to the site to publicize its promise to halt underground tests and launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles. It unilaterally announced that moratorium ahead of a summit between leader Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump scheduled for June 12 in Singapore.

The eight South Korean journalists were excluded because Pyongyang has cut off high-level contact with Seoul to protest an exercise with the U.S. military — a protest the North’s media reiterated Tuesday, saying saber-rattling and dialogue don’t mix.

Such messages from the North and Trump’s statements he is ready to call it all off have heightened concerns about the success of the summit and prompted South Korean President Moon Jae-in to travel to Washington, where he was to meet with Trump in Washington later Tuesday.

The group that arrived by charter flight from Beijing is made up of media from the U.K., Russia, China and the United States. The journalists, including an Associated Press Television crew, will stay at a hotel in this port city on North Korea’s east coast before traveling by train to the site, which is in the northeastern part of the country.

The dismantling ceremony is expected to be held in the coming days, depending on the weather.

The North’s decision to close the Punggye-ri nuclear test site has generally been seen as a welcome gesture by Kim Jong Un to set a positive tone ahead of his summit with Trump.

This April 20, 2018, satellite image shows the nuclear test site in Punggye-ri.

This April 20, 2018, satellite image shows the nuclear test site in Punggye-ri.

But it is mainly just a gesture.

The North has already conducted six underground tests at the site — including its most powerful ever, last September — and Kim told ruling party leaders last month that further testing is unnecessary.

North Korea could build a new site if it decides it needs more testing or could dismantle the tunnels into Punggye-ri’s Mount Mantap in a reversible manner. Details of what will actually happen at the site are sparse, but Pyongyang’s apparent plan to show the closure of the site to journalists, not international nuclear inspectors, has been raised as a matter of concern.

The North’s decision to exclude the South Korean media, however, was a more troubling sign of discord.

The South Koreans were expected to participate in the trip, but were left behind in Beijing after the North refused to grant them visas. South Korea’s government expressed regret over the decision, but said it still hopes the North’s dismantling of the site proceeds as planned and proves to be a genuine step toward denuclearization.

The exclusion, a sharp departure from the conciliatory mood between the Koreas since the South hosted the Olympics in February, deepens a standoff that began last week when Pyongyang signaled it would cut off all high-level talks with Seoul in response to the joint military exercises.

North Korea demolished a 60-foot-tall cooling tower at its main reactor complex in Yongbyon in 2008. 

North Korea demolished a 60-foot-tall cooling tower at its main reactor complex in Yongbyon in 2008. 

The North claimed the exercises involved U.S. strategic nuclear assets — including nuclear-capable B-52 bombers — and violated the spirit of detente on the peninsula. Washington denies the bombers were part of the drills.

The North’s official media slammed the drills again on Tuesday.

“If the U.S. and the South Korean authorities persist in the confrontation policy and war moves against the DPRK, oblivious of this fact, they will be held wholly accountable for all the ensuing consequences,” said a commentary in the daily Minju Joson. “Dialogue and saber rattling can never go together.”

Along with its anger over the drills, Pyongyang has warned Kim might “reconsider” the U.S. summit over hard-line comments from Trump’s new national security adviser, John Bolton.

Bolton suggested the North must denuclearize before it can receive any reciprocal benefits from Washington. Pyongyang insists the precondition for denuclearization is for the U.S. to end its “hostile policy.”

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German Marquez, Colorado Rockies bullpen shine in win over Los Angeles Dodgers – The Denver Post

LOS ANGELES — Hitters were an endangered species on a cool Monday night at Dodger Stadium. Indeed the Rockies managed just three hits — a home run and two singles — and won the game.

Fortunately for the Rockies, they had young right-hander German Marquez start the game and Adam Ottavino and Wade Davis coming in from the bullpen. The trio combined for a three-hitter as Colorado hung on for a 2-1, gut-churning win. And with the Arizona Diamondbacks losing to the Milwaukee Brewers, the Rockies are in first place in the NL West.

Pinch-hitter Carlos Gonzalez won the game for the Rockies with an infield single in the eighth inning to score Tony Wolters from third base. It marked just the 11th time in franchise history that the Rockies won a game with only three hits. They improved to 11-65 in three-hit games all time. They have never won a game with fewer than three hits.

Marquez, 23, pitched one of the best games of his young career, allowing one run on two hits across seven innings. He struck out five and walked two. The right-hander has struggled at Coors Field, but he has been dynamite on the road, posting a 2.06 ERA with four quality starts in six trips to the mound.

BOX SCORE: Rockies 2, Dodgers 1

Dodgers rookie right-hander Walker Buehler, also 23, finished with a Clayton Kershaw-like line (minus the gobs of strikeouts): one run allowed on two hits, with no walks and six strikeouts over seven innings. The rookie right-hander owns a 2.38 ERA.

The Rockies arrived at the eighth inning with just two hits on their scorecard, but they received a golden chance to win the game, and CarGo delivered.

Wolters drew a one-out walk, stole second and advanced to third on a throwing error by catcher Yasmani Grandal. Reliever Pedro Baez struck out slumping Pat Valaika for the second out, but then Gonzalez delivered his game-winning, groundball single to second baseman Chase Utley, scoring Wolters.

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A Georgia candidate seeks to make history — and a comeback strategy for national Democrats

The raging debate over the future of the Democratic Party will be on vivid display in this Southern state on Tuesday.

Stacey Abrams, vying to become the country’s first black female governor, has surrounded herself with leaders representing women, labor, the LGBT community and other causes on the left — predicting at a rally over the weekend that a rising coalition of minorities and liberal whites “is going to turn the state of Georgia, and the nation, blue again.”

Stacey Evans, also seeking the Democratic nomination for governor, has embraced a different view. She stood in a neighborhood cafe in another part of the city a short time after the Abrams rally to say that her rival wanted “to huddle in a corner with folks who already identify as Democrats.”

“Getting Democrats out to vote alone is not going to win this election,” Evans, who is white, told a small gathering of voters.

Whoever wins the nationally watched Georgia primary on Tuesday will make history as the first female gubernatorial nominee from a major party in Georgia. Either candidate will probably face stiff odds in the November general election against the Republican nominee in this reliably conservative state.

Nonetheless, the contrasting approaches of Abrams, 44, a former minority leader of the Georgia House of Representatives, and Evans, 40, also a former state legislator, reflect a broader dilemma confronting Democrats nationwide as they struggle to forge a winning strategy in states and congressional districts that embraced Donald Trump two years ago.

Many party leaders have argued that Democratic candidates will succeed in these places only if they appeal to working-class white voters and others who were drawn to Trump. But others, including several potential Democratic presidential candidates, have said that Democrats’ path to victory relies on igniting a newly muscular coalition of African Americans, Hispanics, Asian Americans, young people and others on the left — many of whom did not vote in 2016.

Advocates of the liberal coalition strategy have seized on Abrams’s candidacy as a potentially powerful example. Two would-be 2020 White House contenders, Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kamala D. Harris of California, have visited the state in recent months to campaign for Abrams. Last week, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) endorsed her, and over the weekend, Valerie Jarrett, former senior adviser to President Barack Obama, introduced her at the get-out-the-vote rally.

Supporters of Abrams’s approach point to last year’s upset win by Democrat Doug Jones in the Senate race in neighboring Alabama, which was fueled in part by high turnout among that state’s large African American electorate, to say that similar black turnout in Georgia could make a difference in November. African Americans make up nearly one-fourth of the electorate in Alabama, compared with about 30 percent in Georgia.

“This state is so much more diverse than most people think, and Democratic voters have great numbers here,” Booker said during a recent visit to Georgia. “I think this is going to be one of the states that’s going to wake up the party as well as the nation about what’s possible when you have great candidates like Stacey Abrams and engaged electorates.”

Liberal groups have dispatched volunteers into the state to help Abrams and have organized text-message campaigns and distributed fliers via mail and in person to targeted voters.

After Saturday’s rally, Abrams told reporters that pro-abortion-rights groups Emily’s List and NARAL, the pro-gay-rights group Georgia Equality and the Georgia AFL-CIO “have come together to help push our vision for what the electorate can look like.”

Abrams has been working on building this coalition since 2014, when she launched a voter outreach campaign called the New Georgia Project. The group’s mission is to engage an estimated 700,000 unregistered Georgia voters of color. She no longer has an official role with the group but said it had turned in more than 200,000 new voter registration forms to state elections officials. The website for the New Georgia Project says that during the 2014 election cycle, it was able to add roughly 69,000 new voters to the rolls.

Evans has accused Abrams of overstating the impact of her work at the voter group. “When you look at the turnout, even in this primary, only 5,000 new voters showed up to early-vote,” Evans said in an interview after her Saturday campaign stop. “So where are these voters that she was worked to motivate to educate and to get out to vote?”

While Georgia has grown more diverse and many Democrats have long predicted it would emerge as a presidential battleground, recent history suggests that the party remains an underdog here.

Trump won the state by roughly five percentage points. Four years ago, two Democrats failed to win statewide races despite their ties to former political giants. Jason Carter, grandson of former president Jimmy Carter, and Michelle Nunn, daughter of the former long-serving senator Sam Nunn, each lost by about eight points.

Tuesday’s primary elections will also determine the Republican nominee who will face Abrams or Evans in November. With GOP Gov. Nathan Deal leaving office after two terms, five Republicans, all white men, are vying for the party’s nomination in a contest that has been fought largely over who would be stronger on protecting the Second Amendment and combating illegal immigration.

Evans and Abrams have jousted at times over a more local matter — a popular state-run college scholarship program that was scaled back several years ago during the nationwide economic downturn. Evans has criticized Abrams for cutting a deal with Republicans that “gutted” the program. Abrams has said she compromised to save the program from being eliminated.

Evans has the support of several black state lawmakers who have had political clashes with Abrams over the scholarship program and other issues. A common thread on social media among some black Evans supporters is that they don’t believe white voters will back a black candidate for governor.

But the heart of the Abrams-Evans divide largely has come down to a question of their competing visions for the future of the party.

Liberal leaders, including Abrams, point to past election results to say that there were enough untapped Democratic voters to win those races.

Evans, in Saturday’s interview, disagreed. She said Carter and Nunn lost not because they ignored Democratic voters but because they ran on a message that was “very middle of the road” and failed to convince swing voters.

Abrams “says we need to stop spending time in the suburbs talking to swing voters,” Evans said. “I don’t think you can win in a state like Georgia being so exclusionary. I don’t want to demonize anyone for their past choices. If you feel like you made a mistake and want to come vote for a Democrat . . . I think there’s plenty of room for folks to come back.”

Abrams’s campaign manager, Lauren Groh-Wargo, said Evans is misrepresenting their strategy.

“We’re not building a coalition to the exclusion of anybody, but to win in November, we have to inspire and invest in a historic Democratic mobilization that includes diverse communities, while running a campaign that brings in disaffected and moderate and anti-Trump voters along the way,” she said.

If Abrams wins Tuesday, she will have done so in part because of the successful courtship of first-time voters such as Emma White. The high school senior, who is Asian American, said she was moved to register a few months ago after hearing Abrams speak at a church and is excited about the prospect of a black woman as governor.

White voted early on Friday, then tweeted at Abrams: “Thrilled to officially say I voted in my first election!”

When Abrams tweeted back, “Honored to have earned your first vote,” White screamed — much to the surprise of her fellow debate team members, who were holding a practice at the time.

“People looked at me like, ‘Are you okay?’ I’m like, ‘No, I’m not okay, I’m excited!”

Robert Costa contributed to this report.

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Donald Trump to discuss with Moon Jae-in how to keep North Korea talks on track 

Moon Jae-in, South Korea’s leader, will meet Donald Trump, the US president, in Washington on Tuesday for talks on how to keep a June Singapore summit with North Korea on track, amid growing concerns that Washington will not be able to strike a deal on denuclearisation. 

Their meeting had been scheduled for some time, to fine-tune the details of how Mr Trump should approach his June 12 summit with Kim Jong-un. But Mr Moon’s trip has now evolved into a crisis session after an unexpectedly fractious week during which Pyongyang threatened to pull out of the summit altogether. 

After months of warm relations between South and North Korea that began with the Winter Olympics, the mood suddenly soured last week when Pyongyang hit out over joint US-South Korean military exercises that it believes are a rehearsal for invasion, calling Seoul “ignorant and incompetent”.

The North abruptly cancelled a high-level meeting with the South on Wednesday and then took aim at John Bolton, the US national security adviser, for suggesting they could follow a so-called “Libya model” of denuclearisation. Libya, they retorted, had met a “miserable fate”.

Despite the tensions, Nam Gwan-pyo, a deputy director at the presidential national security office, told the Yonhap news agency that Tuesday’s meeting would “play a role as a bridge” between the US and North Korea, to ensure the success of the upcoming summit with Kim. 

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Meghan needs to be given chance to shine

Attention now turns to Meghan’s “new role”, and how she will carry it out. But how will we, the public, respond as the Duchess of Sussex steps into her royal shoes? And how long will it be before our applause for the former Ms Markle’s grace and composure – the cry that “she’s a natural” – give way to a lament that she’s “such an actress”? Because make no mistake, for all the rapturous post-wedding praise, the backlash, if it hasn’t already started rumbling, is certainly about to begin.

Even those of us who view the new duchess as a good thing - a feminist, who had a job and has been around the block - can see where the fault lines may start to appear.

Even those of us who view the new duchess as a good thing – a feminist, who had a job and has been around the block – can see where the fault lines may start to appear.

History suggests we have form here. At the outset, Diana, Princess of Wales, was deemed a suitably innocent future Queen. Before long she became a naive maniac. Sarah, Duchess of York was great fun – until she was rebranded as too much of it. Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge was a picture-perfect bride but later dismissed as a “jointed doll” by the writer Hilary Mantel, and no-one even spares a thought for Sophie, Countess of Wessex, praised for being an ordinary middle-class girl, before being ignored for being one.

Even those of us who view the new duchess as a good thing – a feminist, who had a job and has been around the block – can see where the fault lines may start to appear.

Actress is top of the list – for the Duchess of Sussex is always acting, that’s what makes her so good at it all. Consider the occasion when the “Fab Four” – William, Kate, Harry and Meghan – talked about mental health. The less fabulous three were frequently caught looking bored. Ms Markle’s face was never other than rapturous with angelic interest. It was an incredible performance, but a performance nonetheless.

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Colorado native Jennifer Kupcho finds redemption with NCAA golf title – The Denver Post

STILLWATER, Okla. — Wake Forest junior Jennifer Kupcho found redemption Monday by winning an NCAA title she squandered a year ago.

Kupcho overcame a rough three-hole stretch on the front nine at Karsten Creek with five birdies over her final eight holes for a 1-under 71 and a two-shot victory over Andrea Lee of Stanford and Bianca Pagdanganan of Arizona.

Kupcho — who graduated from Jefferson Academy in Broomfield — became the first Wake Forest woman to win an NCAA golf title.

She thought she had it last year at Rich Harvest Farm until she took triple bogey on the 17th hole of the final round when her 9-iron came up just short into the water and then she three-putted for a triple bogey, losing by one shot to Monica Vaughn of Arizona State.

Kupcho had a bogey-double bogey-bogey stretch in the middle of the back nine before she poured it on.

“My assistant coach was in my ear saying, ‘There is going to be mistakes down the stretch, just keep fighting, just keep fighting.’ Kind of got annoying to the point, but obviously it worked,” Kupcho said. “I came back and did it.”

Lee closed with a 65, while Pagdanganan had plenty to celebrate with her 72. Arizona was on its way to a collapse until Pagdanganan made eagle on the 18th hole to get the Wildcats into a playoff with Baylor for the eighth and final spot that advanced to match play for the team title.

Arizona wound up advancing and will face top-seeded UCLA in the quarterfinals Tuesday.

“I just had so much confidence in myself and it was an amazing feeling knowing it means so much for the team,” Pagdanganan said. “It has always been my dream to make it to nationals as a team and making that putt, I got goose bumps. I was speechless. I was overwhelmed with all of the overflowing emotions going on and I was just glad I could help the team.”

Alabama is the No. 2 seed and faces Kent State. Southern California (No. 3) faces Duke, while Northwestern (No. 4) will play Stanford.

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Cryptocurrencies have a mysterious allure – but are they just a fad? | Robert Shiller | Technology

The cryptocurrency revolution, which started with bitcoin in 2009, claims to be inventing new kinds of money. There are now nearly 2,000 cryptocurrencies, and millions of people worldwide are excited by them. What accounts for this enthusiasm, which so far remains undampened by warnings that the revolution is a sham?

One must bear in mind that attempts to reinvent money have a long history. As the sociologist Viviana Zelizer points out in her book The Social Meaning of Money: “Despite the commonsense idea that ‘a dollar is a dollar is a dollar,’ everywhere we look people are constantly creating different kinds of money.” Many of these innovations generate real excitement, at least for a while.

As the medium of exchange throughout the world, money, in its various embodiments, is rich in mystique. We tend to measure people’s value by it. It sums things up like nothing else. And yet it may consist of nothing more than pieces of paper that just go round and round in circles of spending. So its value depends on belief and trust in those pieces of paper. One might call it faith.

Establishing a new kind of money may be seen as a community’s avowal of faith in an idea, and an effort to inspire its realization. In his book Euro Tragedy: A Drama in Nine Acts, the economist Ashoka Mody argues that the true public justification for creating the European currency in 1992 was a kind of “groupthink,” a faith “embedded in people’s psyches” that “the mere existence of a single currency…would create the impetus for countries to come together in closer political embrace”,

New ideas for money seem to go with the territory of revolution, accompanied by a compelling, easily understood narrative. In 1827, Josiah Warner opened the “Cincinnati Time Store”, which sold merchandise in units of hours of work, relying on “labour notes,” which resembled paper money. The new money was seen as a testament to the importance of working people, until he closed the store in 1830.

Two years later, Robert Owen, sometimes described as the father of socialism, attempted to establish in London the National Equitable Labour Exchange, relying on labour notes, or “time money”, as currency. Here, too, using time instead of gold or silver as a standard of value enforced the notion of the primacy of labour. But, like Warner’s time store, Owen’s experiment failed.

Likewise, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels proposed that the central communist premise – “abolition of private property” – would be accompanied by a “communistic abolition of buying and selling”. Eliminating money, however, was impossible to do, and no communist state ever did so. Instead, as the British Museum’s recent exhibit, The Currency of Communism, showed, they issued paper money with vivid symbols of the working class on it. They had to do something different with money.

During the Great Depression of the 1930s, a radical movement, called Technocracy, associated with Columbia University, proposed to replace the gold-backed dollar with a measure of energy, the erg. In their book The A B C of Technocracy, published under the pseudonym Frank Arkright, they advanced the idea that putting the economy “on an energy basis” would overcome the unemployment problem. The Technocracy fad proved to be short-lived, though, after top scientists debunked the idea’s technical pretensions.

But the effort to dress up a half-baked idea in advanced science didn’t stop there. Parallel with Technocracy, in 1932 the economist John Pease Norton, addressing the Econometric Society, proposed a dollar backed not by gold but by electricity. But while Norton’s electric dollar received substantial attention, he had no good reason for choosing electricity over other commodities to back the dollar. At a time when most households in advanced countries had only recently been electrified, and electric devices from radios to refrigerators had entered homes, electricity evoked images of the most glamorous high science. But, like Technocracy, the attempt to co-opt science backfired. Syndicated columnist Harry I Phillips in 1933 saw in the electric dollar only fodder for comedy. “But it would be good fun getting an income tax blank and sending the government 300 volts,” he noted.

Now we have something new again: bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, which have spawned the initial coin offering (ICO). Issuers claim that ICOs are exempt from securities regulation, because they do not involve conventional money or confer ownership of profits. Investing in an ICO is thought of as an entirely new inspiration.

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Each of these monetary innovations has been coupled with a unique technological story. But, more fundamentally, all are connected with a deep yearning for some kind of revolution in society. The cryptocurrencies are a statement of faith in a new community of entrepreneurial cosmopolitans who hold themselves above national governments, which are viewed as the drivers of a long train of inequality and war.

And, as in the past, the public’s fascination with cryptocurrencies is tied to a sort of mystery, like the mystery of the value of money itself, consisting in the new money’s connection to advanced science. Practically no one, outside of computer science departments, can explain how cryptocurrencies work. That mystery creates an aura of exclusivity, gives the new money glamour, and fills devotees with revolutionary zeal. None of this is new, and, as with past monetary innovations, a compelling story may not be enough.

Robert Shiller is a 2013 Nobel laureate in economics, professor of economics at Yale University and the co-creator of the Case-Shiller Index of US house prices. He is the author of Irrational Exuberance

© Project Syndicate

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Judge appoints special prosecutor to decide on Greitens case

A St. Louis judge on Monday appointed the prosecutor in Jackson County as the special prosecutor who will decide whether to refile an invasion-of-privacy case against Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens.

St. Louis Circuit Judge Rex Burlison recused the St. Louis circuit attorney’s office from the felony case and appointed Jean Peters Baker, the prosecutor for Jackson County, where Kansas City is located. The ruling gives Baker discretion to consider not only the invasion-of-privacy charge but “other incidents involving the same victim” that occurred from March 21, 2015, to Sept. 1, 2015.

Greitens was indicted by a grand jury in February. He is accused of taking a compromising and unauthorized photo of a woman during an extramarital affair in 2015, before he was elected.

The charge was dismissed May 14 during jury selection after the court said it would allow Greitens’ lawyers to question Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner under oath. Gardner said it would have been improper for her to be a witness in a trial her office was prosecuting.

Gardner, in a statement, praised Baker as “an experienced prosecutor who is widely credited with being unafraid of tackling difficult cases.” She said that if Baker agrees to file charges, the case would remain in St. Louis, not Kansas City.

Baker said that she has assembled a team of prosecutors and staff to begin reviewing the case. She said the review “will be based solely on the evidence.”

“Politics, affiliations or other matters beyond the evidence will not play a role,” she said in a statement.

Burlison’s order said Gardner and her office “are prohibited from any further involvement in this matter except to serve as witnesses in the case.”

Gardner’s office drew criticism from Greitens’ attorneys during several court hearings and filings over the actions of William Tisaby, a private investigator hired for the case. Defense attorneys accused Tisaby of lying to the court and hiding evidence. They accused Gardner, a Democrat, of allowing Tisaby’s actions. Tisaby has not returned several messages from The Associated Press seeking comment.

Greitens also faces a second charge in St. Louis accusing him of misusing a charity donor list for his gubernatorial campaign. A trial date in that case has not been set.

After a hearing on Monday, defense attorney Edward L. Dowd Jr. told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the defense was seeking to bar Gardner’s office from any more involvement in either case.

“We are delighted that the judge ordered Kim Gardner and her office to not be involved in this case at all,” Dowd said in a statement. “She has too many conflicts to continue.”

Meanwhile, a Missouri House investigatory committee expanded its membership for a special session to determine whether Greitens should be impeached.

House Speaker Todd Richardson added three members to what had been a seven-person panel consisting mostly of attorneys and former law enforcement officers.

The new members are: Rep. J. Eggleston, a Republican business owner from Maysville; Rep. Curtis Trent, a Republican attorney from Springfield; and Democratic Rep. Greg Razer of Kansas City, a former aide to U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill who has said Greitens should resign.

The committee is to meet Tuesday to discuss rules and procedures.

Records provided to The Associated Press show it has spent more than $14,000 since starting work in March.

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