Category: Corruption

Drought forces reform of Water Agency

desert golf course
Click to enlarge — Golf course in the middle of desert sands

Drew Lessard stood on top of Folsom Dam and gazed at the Sierra Nevada, which in late spring usually gushes enough melting snow into the reservoir to provide water for a million people. But the mountains were bare, and the snowpack to date remains the lowest on measured record.

“If there’s no snowpack, there’s no water,” said Mr. Lessard, a regional manager for the Bureau of Reclamation, the federal agency that built and operates a vast network of 476 dams, 348 reservoirs and 8,116 miles of aqueducts across the Western United States.

For nearly a century, that network has captured water as it flows down from the region’s snowcapped mountains and moves to the farms, cities and suburbs that were built in the desert. But as the snow disappears, experts say the Bureau of Reclamation — created in 1902 by President Theodore Roosevelt to wrest control of water in the arid West — must completely rebuild a 20th-century infrastructure so that it can efficiently conserve and distribute water in a 21st-century warming world…

For most of the 1900s, the bureau’s system — which grew into the largest wholesale water utility in the country — worked. But the West of the 21st century is not the West of Roosevelt. There are now millions more people who want water, but there is far less of it. The science of climate change shows that in the future, there will be less still…

President Obama has already started to grapple with that change. Under orders from the White House, the Bureau of Reclamation has begun studies on the impact of global warming on 22 Western water basins and is drawing up multidecade plans to begin rebuilding its Western water management systems.

But a new water infrastructure across half of the United States could cost taxpayers billions of dollars — at a moment when Republicans are still focused on cutting taxes and lowering government spending. In Congress, the Republican majority has targeted climate change research as well as federal policies intended to stop climate change…

Sometimes the question isn’t “stupid or ignorant?” Sometimes stupid prefers ignorant.

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Internal corruption is what the Border Patrol really needs to crack down on


John Carnett/PopSci

U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the nation’s largest law enforcement agency, is vulnerable to “systematic corruption” by drug cartels, smugglers and other criminals, and investigations of its internal abuses are “chronically slow,” according to a Homeland Security Department report that reveals glaring problems in the agencies that police the nation’s borders.

The abuses are so widespread that Customs and Border Protection, the parent agency of the Border Patrol, should add nearly 350 criminal investigators to target internal corruption and the use of excessive and unnecessary force against migrants, the report concludes. That would boost the internal affairs roster by nearly 166%.

Arrests of border agents and customs officers “far exceed, on a per capita basis, such arrests at other law enforcement agencies,” the…report notes.

“Until this is reversed, [Customs and Border Protection] remains vulnerable to corruption that threatens its effectiveness and national security,” warns the report, which was requested by Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson.

The scathing assessment by the Homeland Security Advisory Council, an independent group that reports to Johnson, also is the latest to slam the Border Patrol for lack of accountability for hundreds of shootings by agents…

In May, the Customs and Border Protection internal affairs office absolved dozens of Border Patrol agents of criminal misconduct in 64 shooting incidents between January 2010 and October 2012, including 19 that resulted in deaths. The Justice Department is still considering charges in three other cases.

Yup. They investigated themselves.

Critics along the Southwest border and in Mexico long have argued that the Border Patrol operates with little transparency or accountability.

Indeed, one of the report’s recommendations is that agents and officers “must wear visible name tags identifying their last name on all uniforms at all times,” a practice that critics say is often ignored. A video posted online of a 21-year-old woman in New York state being Tased at a roadside checkpoint last month shows a Border Patrol supervisor wearing a green tactical vest with no visible name tag…

Vicki B. Gaubeca, co-chair of the Southern Border Communities Coalition…said the report showed how Customs and Border Protection “falls short of law enforcement best practices” and needed to change.

She said the recommendations would help change the Border Patrol “culture of ‘we need to do our job at whatever cost and the only life that seems to be valued is the life of the agent'”…

Understand that this service is probably hiring folks who don’t qualify for TSA. Doesn’t that inspire confidence?

A Pharma payment a day keeps your doctor’s finances OK

Few days went by last year when New Hampshire nephrologist Ana Stankovic didn’t receive a payment from a drug company.

All told, 29 different pharmaceutical companies paid her $594,363 in 2014, mostly for promotional speaking and consulting, but also for travel expenses and meals, according to data released…detailing payments by drug and device companies to U.S. doctors and teaching hospitals.

Search for your own doctor on ProPublica’s updated Dollars for Docs database.

Stankovic’s earnings were certainly high, ranking her about 250th among 606,000 doctors who received payments nationwide last year. What was more remarkable, though, was that she received payments on 242 different days — nearly every workday of last year.

Reached by telephone Tuesday, Stankovic declined to comment.

That doctors receive big money from the pharmaceutical industry is no surprise. The new data released by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services shows that such interactions are widespread, with not only doctors, but thousands of dentists, optometrists, podiatrists and chiropractors receiving at least one industry payment from August 2013 to December 2014.

What is being seen for the first time now is how ingrained pharmaceutical companies and their sales reps are in the lives of those who write prescriptions for their products. A ProPublica analysis found that 768 doctors received payments on more than half of the days in 2014. More than 14,600 doctors received payments on at least 100 days in 2014…

The doctor with the second-highest number of interactions with drug and device reps, John Fritz, of Jersey City, N.J., logged payments on 256 days last year. His payments totaled $232,003. Fritz was indicted in June for referring patients to a medical imaging company from 2006 to 2013 in exchange for about $500,000 in kickbacks. He was charged with fraud and bribery, according to a release from the state attorney general’s office. A woman who answered the phone at his office on Tuesday said he declined to comment.

Dr. Aaron Kesselheim said that to have such extensive contact with industry reps can indicate that doctors are getting their information about the drugs they prescribe from the companies that make them, and not from impartial sources. “There’s good evidence that that affects prescribing practices and physician behavior.”…

All told, 1,617 companies reported 15.7 million payments valued at $9.9 billion. Nearly all of those payments — 14.9 million — were classified as “general payments,” covering promotional speaking, consulting, meals, travel and royalties. They totaled $3.5 billion over the 17-month period.

There were far fewer research payments, 826,000, but they were valued at $4.8 billion. The remaining payments related to ownership or investment interests that doctors had in companies. Research and ownership payments are currently not shown in Dollars for Docs.

Keep on rocking in the Free World. And while you’re at it – keep your eyes and ears open for greater understanding of the depth of resistance, core motives for opposition, to affordable healthcare for Americans.

Follow the money.

“Serving the public” still means ALL the public


Rachel and Laurel Bowman-Cryer, with their two childrenFrancisco Xavier Vargas

The owners of a Portland-area bakery that denied service to a same-sex couple must pay $135,000 in damages, the bureau of labor and industries has ruled.

The damages are for emotional suffering caused by Sweet Cakes by Melissa, which two years ago refused to bake a wedding cake for Laurel and Rachel Bowman-Cryer.

A 2007 Oregon law protects the rights of LGBT people in employment, housing and public accommodations. It provides an exemption for religious organisations, but the agency ruled that exemption does not allow private businesses to discriminate against potential customers.

“This case is not about a wedding cake or a marriage. It is about a business’s refusal to serve someone because of their sexual orientation. Under Oregon law, that is illegal,” Oregon labor commissioner Brad Avakian said in the final order.

In April, an administrative law judge proposed the same damages.

The bakers said their refusal to bake for the couple was prompted by religious beliefs, blah, blah, blah

Jeana Frazzini, co-director of the gay-rights group Basic Rights Oregon, praised the order.

“This case struck a chord with many Oregonians because allowing businesses to deny goods and services to people because of who they are and whom they love is hurtful and wrong,” she said in a statement.

Part of this nation’s fight for freedom was to get out from under a state religion. Sadly, there are beaucoup fundamentalist Christians who think they hold the only keys to the door of this democratic republic – and that they can deny full citizenship on the basis of their ideology.

If we had a bit more courage on the Democrat side of Congress, a bit more honesty on the Republican side, we’d have sorted out all this crap decades ago. Not that that would prevent jive theocrats from trying to turn this country from the path of secular civil law – serving all the people.

5 years of wrong predictions about Obamacare in 1 video

John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight created a supercut of premature declarations about the “end of Obamacare.” It’s a telling look at the manner in which political promises fuse with the news cycle to exaggerate reality.

After the US Supreme Court upheld healthcare subsidies for 6.9 million Americans in its decision on King v. Burwell, momentum to repeal the Affordable Care Act is waning, as Sarah Kliff wrote late week:

If the challengers had won, it would have thrown the health-care law into chaos. But the White House prevailing marks something equally momentous: President Obama’s signature legislative accomplishment is actually, really, definitely here to stay

For more on Obamacare, make sure to read and share the comprehensive card stack at the bottom of the VOX article.

My opinion has been stated here and elsewhere often enough:

Expansion of Medicare to all citizens within a single-payer system reduces costs by cutting out the insurance industry slice of the pie. Congress isn’t likely to have the courage for that. But, the experience of Social Security – with operating costs at least 80% cheaper than anything the insurance industry offers – proves the possibility.

The same holds true for Medicaid. And I may as well throw in my favorite criticism of the provisions as designed by Congress. There is no legitimate reason preventing taxpayers in general from enjoying the same fixed, government-negotiated rates for prescription drugs that are guaranteed to members of the military.

Scientist faked HIV breakthrough — sentenced to prison

A former Iowa State University scientist who altered blood samples to make it appear he had achieved a breakthrough toward a potential vaccine against HIV was sentenced on Wednesday to more than four and a half years in prison for making false statements in research reports.

Dong-Pyou Han, 58, also must pay $7.2m to a federal government agency that funded the research. He entered a plea agreement in February admitting guilt to two counts of making false statements.

Government prosecutors said Han’s misconduct dates to 2008 when he worked at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland under Professor Michael Cho, who was leading a team testing an experimental HIV vaccine on rabbits. Cho’s team began receiving NIH funding, and he soon reported the vaccine was causing rabbits to develop antibodies to HIV, which was considered a major breakthrough. Han said he initially accidentally mixed human blood with rabbit blood, making the potential vaccine appear to increase an immune defense against HIV, the virus that can cause Aids. Han continued to spike the results to avoid disappointing Cho, his mentor, after the scientific community became excited that the team could be on the verge of a vaccine.

Iowa State recruited Cho in 2009, and his team – including Han – continued the research with NIH funding. A group of researchers at Harvard University found in January 2013 the promising results had been achieved with rabbit blood spiked with human antibodies…

Government prosecutors sought prison time to serve as a deterrent to Han and others who might consider research fraud.

Is this a positive sign – or window dressing? I’d like to believe it’s the former.

There are new science review publications rolled out by hustlers just to give the appearance of peer-review – for a fee. There is no shortage of quacks ripping off the current generation of Luddites every week with junk science to reinforce – and profit from – fears of modern medicine.

Donald Trump – you’re fired! Sincerely, NBC


Click to enlarge

NBC is ending its business relationship with Donald Trump over his recent comments about Mexican immigrants.

“At NBC, respect and dignity for all people are cornerstones of our values,” NBC said in a statement. “Due to the recent derogatory statements by Donald Trump regarding immigrants, NBCUniversal is ending its business relationship with Mr. Trump.”

The network will no longer air the annual Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants that were part of a joint venture with Trump, the statement added. Its relationship with “Celebrity Apprentice” will continue, as Trump ceased his involvement with the reality show during his presidential bid…

Univison previously announced that it would cease its relationship with the Miss Universe Organization over the comments. Trump has said he will sue that network for breach of contract and defamation.

Trump responded to the news after an appearance in Chicago, telling reporters: blah, blah, blah, blah, blah!

No need to repeat crap lies from a reactionary clown show like Donald Trump. His deceit, foolishness, lifelong dedication to self-aggrandizement and bigoted causes is well-enough known.

The Republican Party deserves him. My only hope is that his billion$ buy him a candidacy.

The Honduran meltdown – Made in America


Risk on!

In May 2005, US Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick appeared at the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington to rally support for CAFTA, a free trade agreement between the US, the Central American countries, and the Dominican Republic.

In his remarks, Zoellick played up the notion that, for Central America and the DR, the agreement would “strengthen democracy through economic growth and open societies based on the rule of law”, while also entailing various perks for the gringos; a T-shirt reading “Made in Honduras”, he enthused, would likely contain over 60 percent US content.

The deputy secretary and future president of the World Bank went as far as to assert that, “In many ways, CAFTA is the logical culmination of 20 years of democratic and social progress in Central America, nurtured and encouraged by the United States.”

Never mind that, 20-some years ago, the United States was nurturing things like Battalion 3-16, described by the Baltimore Sun as a “CIA-trained military unit that terrorised Honduras for much of the 1980s”…

To be sure, much of Honduras’ contemporary plight – while perhaps appearing on the surface, like Zoellick’s T-shirt, to be a domestic creation – is in fact Made in USA.

Encouraged by then-US ambassador to Honduras John Negroponte, the Battalion 3-16 death squad was responsible for the disappearance of almost 200 suspected Honduran leftists and the torture and kidnapping of many more.

The aim of right-wing terror, of course, was to prevent a Honduran crossover to the communist dark side a la neighbouring Nicaragua – against whose transgressions Honduras had the honour of acting as de facto US military base and staging ground for the Nicaraguan “contra” war.

Aside from the Honduran army and similarly reactionary forces, other Hondurans benefited from the arrangement, as well. Among them was Juan Ramon Matta Ballesteros, the country’s most famed drug lord and owner of the contra supply airline SETCO, dubbed the “CIA airline”.

It’s this sort of arrangement that makes a mockery of continuing US drug war rhetoric, which excuses the militarisation of the hemisphere and allows the US Drug Enforcement Administration to transcend borders at will, while US borders are increasingly fortified…

Maria Luisa Borjas, the former chief of internal affairs for the Honduran police force, herself confirmed to me during a conversation in 2009, that approximately 3,000 young people had been murdered by the state during the presidency of Ricardo Maduro (2002-06).

Inspired by former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Maduro acted as the ringleader for Honduras’ very own zero tolerance regime, which was characterised, Borjas said, by a criminalisation of youth and a liberal application of the term “gang member” to validate extrajudicial killings…

This could have been predicted from the get-go by anyone who paid scant attention to NAFTA, the 1994 free trade accord that lowered wages in Mexico, raised unemployment, and forced two million Mexican farmers to abandon their land thanks to US export subsidies.

The post-coup era has seen soaring homicide rates, with much of the violence committed by state security forces enjoying near-total impunity…

The US, for its part, did its best to legitimise the 2009 coup while pretending not to. After hemming and hawing for months about whether or not a coup perpetrated by the military qualified as a military coup and thus necessitated punitive financial measures, the US recognised the outcome of illegitimate Honduran elections held in November 2009 by the coup-installed regime. And poof, Honduras was restored to the realm of democracy.

Democracy is a word Americans lap up like a hungry cat with a bowl of cream. The calories may not be healthy calories. Long range we may all die of coronary artery disease – or its political equivalent.

Meanwhile, the World Bank-types brag that “Made in Honduras” equals 60% of the profits coming to US Corporations. I’m not sure how that is supposed to benefit the people of Honduras.

Global pollution from maritime shipping has been grossly underestimated


Click to enlarge

Britain and other European governments have been accused of underestimating the health risks from shipping pollution following research which shows that one giant container ship can emit almost the same amount of cancer and asthma-causing chemicals as 50 million cars.

Confidential data from maritime industry insiders based on engine size and the quality of fuel typically used by ships and cars shows that just 15 of the world’s biggest ships may now emit as much pollution as all the world’s 760 million cars. Low-grade ship bunker fuel has up to 2,000 times the sulphur content of diesel fuel used in US and European automobiles.

Pressure is mounting on the UN’s International Maritime Organisation and the EU to tighten laws governing ship emissions following the decision by the US government last week to impose a strict 230-mile buffer zone along the entire US coast, a move that is expected to be followed by Canada.

The setting up of a low emission shipping zone follows US academic research which showed that pollution from the world’s 90,000 cargo ships leads to 60,000 deaths a year in the US alone and costs up to $330bn per year in health costs from lung and heart diseases. The US Environmental Protection Agency estimates the buffer zone, which could be in place by next year, will save more than 8,000 lives a year with new air quality standards cutting sulphur in fuel by 98%, particulate matter by 85% and nitrogen oxide emissions by 80%…

…A spokesman for the UK government’s Maritime and Coastguard Agency accepted there were major gaps in the legislation. “Issues of particulate matter remain a concern. They need to be addressed and blah, blah, blah, blah,” said environment policy director Jonathan Simpson…

“It is unacceptable that shipping remains one of the most polluting industries in the world. The UK must take a lead in cleaning up emissions,” said Simon Birkett, spokesman for the Campaign for Clean Air in London. “Other countries are planning radical action to achieve massive health and other savings but the UK is strangely inactive.”

Overdue. As usual.

None of the science is especially new or surprising. The attitude of shippers, corporations providing most of the cargo, governments supposedly in charge of regulating the environment on behalf of their citizens – uniformly accepts profits as a higher priority than human lives.