Oh no! A global chocolate shortage

Surging consumption of chocolate in Asia is pushing cocoa-bean prices to the highest level in three years as buyers including Barry Callebaut AG expand their search for more supply.

While demand in the region ranked as the world’s lowest per capita in 2013, the market will grow at almost twice the global rate over the next four years, according to researcher Euromonitor International Ltd. Barry Callebaut, based in Zurich and the world’s largest producer of bulk chocolate, has doubled capacity in Asia since 2009 as Cargill Inc. and Archer-Daniels-Midland Co. added bean-processing plants.

Growth in Asian demand has contributed to a rally in cocoa, the key ingredient for chocolate, which climbed to the highest level since August 2011 in New York on July 3. Rising consumption in emerging markets including China and India may spur shortages that extend into the next decade, with the global bean deficit seen reaching 1 million metric tons by 2020, according to Hardman & Co., a London-based research firm.

“In the longer term, the scarcity of quality cocoa is a serious concern for our entire industry,” Barry Callebaut Chief Executive Officer Juergen Steinemann said by e-mail in reply to Bloomberg questions.

A serious concern for chocoholics, too!

I already checked. The climate here in high desert country is not amenable to growing cocoa trees. What will we do?

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Dumb crook of the day

dumb selfie

An Illinois woman who allegedly stole a dress from a West Frankfort store was arrested after she posted a selfie of herself wearing the pilfered garment on Facebook.

Danielle Saxton allegedly swiped a leopard-print dress from Mortie’s Boutique and then posted four photos of herself wearing the ill-gotten garb just hours later. Saxton even made one of the snaps her profile picture.

People who had also seen the store post about the theft were able to connect the dots and alert police. “Not two hours and our stolen dress has shown up on Facebook,” Mortie’s posted. “Gotta love it.”

“We just had a description and a direction of travel, but when the social media aspect played into it, we were able to identify who it was. And by looking at the background of the photograph we were able to pinpoint where she was at,” said Police Chief Shawn Talluto.

When police arrived to arrest the 27-year-old suspect, she was holding the dress and other stolen clothes.

The store previously used its surveillance cameras and social media to catch three other…shoplifters.

Same as it ever was. You don’t set off on a day’s worth of stealing because you’re extra bright.

Operator of failing nuclear dump gets $1.9 million bonus


Visitors to Carlsbad, New Mexico, in proper summer attire

The contractor that operates the federal government’s underground nuclear waste dump in southeastern New Mexico received a $1.9 million bonus just five days after an underground truck fire closed the facility.

The Albuquerque Journal reported Sunday that the U.S. Department of Energy awarded Nuclear Waste Partnership the funds based on an “excellent” job performance in maintaining the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad.

Some observers say last February’s fire and the radiation leak that followed nine days later show the contractor failed at its job.

Initial probes by federal regulators into both incidents identified a host of management and safety shortcomings.

The Department of Energy says it is not considering revising or terminating its contract with Nuclear Waste Partnership.

The company has a contract to operate the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant through 2017.

Consistency is the leading mental illness in our government. Time in office, time on the job is considered praiseworthy and a sign of qualification by the Senators and Congress-critters that dole out taxpayer dollars like so many blue ribbons at a hog-calling contest. Quality of work is meaningless.

The Waste Isolation Pilot Project was run badly enough that the chief executive at the site was fired as a result of the equipment fire and, separately, the radiation leak.

There are nations with an honorable civil service, competent, dedicated bureaucrats. The United States just doesn’t happen to be one of them.

Thanks, Mike

Snowden addresses HOPE Conference


Barton Gellman/Getty Images/AP

Edward Snowden, the former U.S. spy agency contractor who leaked details of major U.S. surveillance programs, called on supporters at a hacking conference to spur development of easy-to-use technologies to subvert government surveillance programs around the globe.

Snowden, who addressed conference attendees on Saturday via video link from Moscow, said he intends to devote much of his time to promoting such technologies, including ones that allow people to communicate anonymously and encrypt their messages…

At the HOPE hacking conference, several talks detailed approaches for thwarting government surveillance, including a system known as SecureDrop that is designed to allow people to anonymously leak documents to journalists.

Attorneys with the Electronic Frontier Foundation answered questions about pending litigation with the NSA, including efforts to stop collection of phone records that were disclosed through Snowden’s leaks.

Snowden is seen as a hero by a large segment of the community of hackers attending the HOPE conference [and the nation and the world], which includes computer experts, anti-surveillance activists, artists and other types of hackers.

HOPE in this case stands for Hackers On Planet Earth.

And if you think every kind of government snoop wasn’t doing their best to photogrqph, record and trace everyone at the conference – you’re still living in cloud cuckoo-land — watching Father Knows Best on TV.

Nutball neo-Confederate talk grows louder


a_v_d via Shutterstock/Salon)

A Saturday ago at the annual conference of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal accused President Obama and other Democrats of waging a war against religious liberty and all but openly threatened a violent revolution…“I can sense right now a rebellion brewing amongst these United States,” Jindal said, “where people are ready for a hostile takeover of Washington, D.C., to preserve the American Dream for our children and grandchildren.”

Of course, Jindal’s speech didn’t come out of nowhere. Jindal is notorious as a weather vane, not a leader. So this is a clear sign of the need to take threats of right-wing violence seriously — and to look to its justifications as formulated on the Christian right…

“Something has changed in recent years,” Frederick Clarkson notes, as “disturbing claims are appearing more frequently, more prominently, and in ways that suggest that they are expressions of deeply held beliefs more than provocative political hyperbole.” He also cites “powerful indications in the writings of some Christian right leaders that elements of their movement have lost confidence in the bright political vision of the United States as the once and future Christian Nation — and that they are desperately seeking alternatives.”

Perhaps most ominously, there is a growing convergence of theocratic and neo-Confederate thinking, Clarkson finds…

At least some of the historic culture warriors of the Christian Right seem to be considering an ostensibly unlikely coalition with the Neo-Confederate movement. The coalition would lead their followers in religious and political directions in which violence is as likely as the outcomes are uncertain…

In short, if you think that secession talk has been crazy since President Obama took office, it could get significantly worse. The sort of standoff we saw at the Cliven Bundy ranch could pale in comparison to what a religiously motivated group — certain that God is on their side — might do…

Father C. John McCloskey, a 61-year-old priest in the reactionary Opus Dei order, predicted in 2001, and again in 2012, that conservative Catholics and evangelicals would need to band together in a civil war of secession. The “secession of the ‘Culture of Life’ states,” he predicted, would emphasize “the fundamental issues of the sanctity of marriage, the rights of parents, and the sacredness of human life,” and that the secession would precipitate “a short and bloody civil war” that would break the country into what he calls “the Regional States of America.”

RTFA for more of this collective theocratic silliness. Just in case you think idjits won’t be moved to violence.

Then, just for giggles at the so-called mainstream of the Southern Right, check out these folks who still call themselves Republicans. A poll, released Tuesday, finds that 37 percent of those who supported Chris McDaniel, the Tea Party gasbag in the Mississippi Republican primary runoff would support the Confederate states if there were a second Civil War. Just 38 percent would back the United States, and 25 percent were unsure.

Yup. They’re still out there in the dark somewhere.

Thanks, Mike

Remembering absent friends and more…

30 seconds over Tokyo

It’s been a tough morning.

Up early as usual. Because of my wife’s work routine, we’re usually up before 5AM. Habit runs right through the weekend.

I figured to watch the start of the German Gran Prix. Had it set to record so I could check back through the race after it was over. But, I started to look around to see what else was on TV this early. I certainly wasn’t going to watch the news. Guaranteed it would be them dangerous furriners killing each other in Ukraine; brave little Israel killing Arabs in self-defense at a rate of 200 to 1; crowds of white Americans demonstrating our freedom by massing to keep children fleeing North towards our border from crossing into the Land of Liberty.

I don’t recall the channel; but, there was 30 SECONDS OVER TOKYO…the story of the shock raid by a few American bombers that took off from an aircraft carrier in 1942 to bring the war started by Japan – home to the Japanese nation. You can read about the raid any number of places. The movie is pretty accurate.

It became harder to watch than I thought. I saw the movie when it came out in the autumn of 1944 at our neighborhood movie theater. My sister and me, mom and dad. Four of my uncles were still overseas in the war. One of my older cousins was missing in the Pacific.

I didn’t remember General Doolittle’s speech to the pilots and crew before they lifted their B-25 Mitchell bombers off the flight deck of the Hornet. So, it took me by surprise when he finished by explaining to the airmen this would be the first time American pilots bombed a city. Yes, these were military targets; but, innocent civilians were inevitably going to be killed and injured. Anyone who didn’t want to take part in what some would feel was murder of the innocents could step aside and no one would think the worse of them.

And I had to cry.

First and foremost, all the emotions of those days of war flooded back into my heart and mind. People I loved, people I didn’t even know. Tens of thousands dying horrible deaths around the globe from England to Asia and the Pacific. Then, I couldn’t help but reflect on what our nation has become; how hardened and distorted our culture has become – we now only describe the murder of innocent civilians as “collateral damage”. We can send in pilotless drones to fire missiles at our enemy du jour and maybe only kill a few members of their families. Guilty of being kin to evil men. What have we become?

I couldn’t finish watching the movie. I got as far as the Ruptured Duck, one of the B-25s crash-landing in the ocean just off the coast of China – as did all the planes after the mission. Running out of fuel near China or the Soviet Union. Crashing into the sea or just inland. Most of those who flew the attack survived the mission.

In what was called one of the worst war crimes of the century, Japan executed 250,000 Chinese civilians along the coast because some had aided our airmen to survival and eventual safety.

Testicle-eating fish caught by Florida fisherman — fortunately. Unfortunately – he put it back in the water!


A Pacu caught in Michigan — WTF?

A Florida fisherman is thankful that he is still in one piece after an encounter with a member of the piranha family that purportedly has a penchant for poaching men’s private parts.

Tom Rigby was fishing in Sarasota when his line started jerking like crazy. After a battle with the fish, Rigby hauled it aboard his boat. When he examined the animal, Rigby realized he didn’t recognize the fish.

He took a photo of the unknown specimen, released it back into the water and then sent the picture to Mote Marine.

They quickly informed Rigby that he had caught a pacu, a member of the piranha family.

“I’m looking at all of the teeth, saying this thing can do some serious damage to another fish or something…”…Rigby was right to be nervous about the potential damage the pacu’s mouth could cause…”I found out it has a reputation for going after men’s testicles. I was just worried about it biting my finger,” he said.

Eeoough!

The hardest places to live in the United States

Healthy & wealthy or struggling
Click for interactive map at article site

Annie Lowrey writes in the Times Magazine this week about the troubles of Clay County, Ky., which by several measures is the hardest place in America to live.

The Upshot came to this conclusion by looking at six data points for each county in the United States: education (percentage of residents with at least a bachelor’s degree), median household income, unemployment rate, disability rate, life expectancy and obesity. We then averaged each county’s relative rank in these categories to create an overall ranking…

We used disability — the percentage of the population collecting federal disability benefits but not also collecting Social Security retirement benefits — as a proxy for the number of working-age people who don’t have jobs but are not counted as unemployed. Appalachian Kentucky scores especially badly on this count; in four counties in the region, more than 10 percent of the total population is on disability, a phenomenon seen nowhere else except nearby McDowell County, W.Va.

Remove disability from the equation, though, and eastern Kentucky would still fare badly in the overall rankings. The same is true for most of the other six factors.

The exception is education. If you exclude educational attainment, or lack of it, in measuring disadvantage, five counties in Mississippi and one in Louisiana rank lower than anywhere in Kentucky. This suggests that while more people in the lower Mississippi River basin have a college degree than do their counterparts in Appalachian Kentucky, that education hasn’t improved other aspects of their well-being

At the other end of the scale, the different variations on our formula consistently yielded the same result. Six of the top 10 counties in the United States are in the suburbs of Washington…but the top ranking of all goes to Los Alamos County, N.M., home of Los Alamos National Laboratory, which does much of the scientific work underpinning the U.S. nuclear arsenal. The lab directly employs one out of every five county residents and has a budget of $2.1 billion; only a fraction of that is spent within the county, but that’s still an enormous economic engine for a county of just 18,000 people.

RTFA for details and differences. Poisonally, I think including Los Alamos is an anomaly. All it proves is the American way to achieve the highest per capita income is through a subsidy dedicated to death and destruction.

The broader implication of this study is that the end result of the ideology and bigotries of the Confederacy is poverty, ignorance and ill health. As expected.