Know-Nothings will hate the Pope even more – Climate Change encyclical coming

pope-francis

Since his first homily in 2013, Pope Francis has preached about the need to protect the earth and all of creation as part of a broad message on the environment. It has caused little controversy so far.

But now, as Francis prepares to deliver what is likely to be a highly influential encyclical this summer on environmental degradation and the effects of human-caused climate change on the poor, he is alarming some conservatives in the United States who are loath to see the Catholic Church reposition itself as a mighty voice in a cause they do not believe in.

As part of the effort for the encyclical, top Vatican officials will hold a summit meeting…to build momentum for a campaign by Francis to urge world leaders to enact a sweeping United Nations climate change accord in Paris in December. The accord would for the first time commit every nation to enact tough new laws to cut the emissions that cause global warming.

The Vatican summit meeting will focus on the links between poverty, economic development and climate change, with speeches and panel discussions by climate scientists and religious leaders, and economists like Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia. The United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, who is leading efforts to forge the Paris accord, will deliver the opening address…

In the United States, the encyclical will be accompanied by a 12-week campaign, now being prepared with the participation of some Catholic bishops, to raise the issue of climate change and environmental stewardship in sermons, homilies, news media interviews and letters to newspaper editors, said Dan Misleh, executive director of the Catholic Climate Covenant in Washington.

But the effort is already angering a number of American conservatives, among them members of the Heartland Institute, a [purportedly] libertarian group partly funded by the Charles G. Koch Foundation, run by the billionaire industrialist Koch brothers, who oppose climate policy…

But climate policy advocates see a scheduled address by the pope to Congress in September as a potent moment — about 30 percent of members of Congress are Catholics, more than belong to any other religion, according to a study published this year by the Pew Research Center…

“I think Boehner was out of his mind to invite the pope to speak to Congress,” said the Rev. Thomas Reese, an analyst at the National Catholic Reporter. “Can you imagine what the Republicans will do when he says, ‘You’ve got to do something about global warming’?… ”

Francis chose the name of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals and the environment. He talks the talk- and walks the walk. Unlike the patent leather princes American Catholics have been accustomed to Francis actually says the ethics and morality preached in the communal wing of his church are standards that have to be lived up to if you are to be a good Catholic.

I wonder how that will go over with creeps like John Boehner or Rick Santorum, phonies like Jeb Bush, Rubio, Jindal and Christie, et al?

Mexican miners and farmers unite over toxic spill

The pipes have gone silent. Gone is the hum of water flowing through them to the world’s second-largest copper mine, just south of the U.S. border. Instead, in the normally empty desert here, tents and buses line the highway. Dust and smoke from cooking fires fill the air while hundreds of people listen to speeches and discuss the day’s events.

This plantón, or occupation, which began on March 18, has shut down most operations at the Cananea mine, which consumes huge quantities of water pumped from 49 wells across the desert in order to extract copper concentrate from crushed ore.

Many of the people involved in the plantón are miners who have been on strike since 2008, when they walked out because of dangerous working conditions. Two years later, the government brought in 3,000 federal police, drove miners from the gates and occupied the town. Since then Cananea has been operated by contracted laborers recruited from distant parts of the country. But the strike has continued, as miners struggle to survive in this small mountain town where the mine is virtually the only source of work.

Now, for the first time in five years, the mine is again paralyzed. This time, strikers didn’t stop its operation by themselves. Half the people with them are farmers — residents of the Rio Sonora Valley, angry over a toxic spill that upended their lives last August, causing health problems and economic devastation.

People in the towns along the river used to have little involvement with the miners, but the spill gave them common ground. This alliance between miners and angry farmers also includes a U.S. union, the United Steel Workers. Together they are challenging the Mexican government’s fundamental rule for economic growth — that workers’ rights and environmental protections must be subordinate to the needs of corporate investors.

RTFA. In the classic journalist genre of “from our reporter in the field” – AJAM has done a thorough job of reporting on the multi-layered conflict at the second-largest copper mine in the world.

Revisit the legacy of Agent Orange


Click to enlargeReuters photographer Damir Sagolj

As April 30 approaches, marking 40 years since the end of the Vietnam War, people in Vietnam with severe mental and physical disabilities still feel the lingering effects of Agent Orange.

Respiratory cancer and birth defects amongst both Vietnamese and U.S. veterans have been linked to exposure to the defoliant. The U.S. military sprayed millions of gallons of Agent Orange onto Vietnam’s jungles during the conflict to expose northern communist troops.

Reuters photographer Damir Sagolj travelled through Vietnam to meet the people affected, four decades on.

I would say, “Never again”; but, I haven’t that much trust in our government, our politicians.

Scientists find origin of creepy “Blood Falls”


Click to enlargePeter Rejcek, National Science Foundation

The McMurdo Dry Valleys of Antarctica are some of the most extreme desert regions on the planet. But new research indicates that the region may actually be full of salty, extremely cold groundwater. The water may even connect surrounding lakes into a massive network, and it probably hosts extreme microbial life…

Despite McMurdo’s apparent dryness on the surface, it’s always hinted at something more: The region is home to the magnificently creepy Blood Falls, a red ooze that shines bright against the otherwise desolate surface. For a while scientists believed that red algae gave this mysterious, bloody ooze its vibrant color. But even though iron oxide is responsible for the hue, analysis has shown that the feature does contain strange bacterial life.

Jill Mikucki and her colleagues used an electromagnetic sensor mounted on a helicopter to scope out the area, testing the conductivity of the ground below. Water increases its resistivity as it freezes, meaning that it’s less conductive of electrical currents. But salty water — which can stay liquid at lower temperatures — have very low resistivity.

“We found, as expected, that there was something sourcing Blood Falls,” Mikucki said, “and we found that these brines were more widespread than previously thought. They appear to connect these surface lakes that appear separated on the ground. That means there’s the potential for a much more extensive subsurface ecosystem, which I’m pretty jazzed about.”

It’s possible that this extensive brine isn’t unique to the valley, Mikucki explained, and that subsurface ecosystems of extreme microbes might be connected to visible lakes, and perhaps even interact with the ocean.

“It turns out that as beautiful and visceral as Blood Falls is in these valleys, it’s actually just a blip. It’s a little defect in this much more exciting feature,” she said.

Scientists have been using the Dry Valleys to test instruments since the Viking missions,” Mikucki said. “So how we detect the brines and access them is relevant to work on places like Mars…

And if we find life on another planet, it’s most likely going to look like the life we find in Antarctica. The subsurface lake Vostok, which is now thought to contain extensive (and quite alien) life, is often cited as an example of what might be found on Europa, Jupiter’s ice-and-ocean covered moon. Recent studies on Mars found evidence of brines on that planet, which could presumably have supported life once as well. On our planet, these subsurface waters host only the most extreme forms of life. But elsewhere in the universe, the same conditions might be as hospitable as a planet gets.”

McMurdo reeks with extra-terrestrial feelings. I knew an ice geologist who was based around there for a couple of years and he always felt as if he was on another planet.

40 years after fall of Saigon, the children of our soldiers are still there

Vo Huu Nhan was in his vegetable boat in the floating markets of the Mekong Delta when his phone rang. The caller from the United States had stunning news — a DNA database had linked him with a Vietnam vet thought to be his father.

Nhan, 46, had known his father was an American soldier named Bob, but little else.

“I was crying,” Nhan recalled. “I had lost my father for 40 years, and now I finally had gotten together with him.”

The journey toward their reconciliation has not been easy. News of the DNA match set in motion a chain of events involving two families 8,700 miles apart that is still unfolding and has been complicated by the illness of the veteran, Robert Thedford Jr., a retired deputy sheriff in Texas.

When the last American military personnel fled Saigon on April 29 and 30, 1975, they left behind a country scarred by war, a people uncertain about their future and thousands of their own children.

These children — some half-black, some half-white — came from liaisons with bar girls, “hooch” maids, laundry workers and the laborers who filled sandbags to protect American bases.

They are approaching middle age with stories as complicated as the two countries that gave them life. Growing up with the face of the enemy, they were spat on, ridiculed, beaten…They were called “bui doi,” which means “the dust of life.”

Forty years later, hundreds remain in Vietnam, too poor or without proof to qualify for the program created by the Amerasian Homecoming Act of 1987 that resettles the children of American soldiers in the United States.

Now, an Amerasian group has launched a last-chance effort to reunite fathers and children with a new DNA database on a family heritage website. Those left behind have scant information about their GI dads. DNA matches are their only hope.

RTFA for detail, anecdotes – even some good news. I’m not surprised the grunt side of the war is doing something to sort out what our nation “accomplished” in Southeast Asia.

I don’t expect today’s crew in Congress to do a damned thing?

The Death Tax deception – and other lies

It’s an estate tax and almost no one pays it.

In 2013, 2,596,993 Americans died, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

About 5,000 of them paid a tax after that mortal event. To be more accurate, their estates paid whatever tax was owed. That means 2,591,993 Americans died that year without paying any tax.

In other words, just 0.19 percent of all deaths in 2013 resulted in a tax. When 99.81 percent of all deaths don’t create a taxable event, calling it a death tax is mathematically nonsensical…

Why would someone use the phrase “death tax” when more than 99 percent of deaths don’t result in a tax? Because he is either a) innumerate, b) ignorant or c) trying to deceive you. There are no other possibilities.

Then, Barry trudges through a range of definitions for other taxes – and jogs into conversation-mode for an explanation of why he’s an ex-Republican:

Because the modern GOP has tacked so hard and far to the right, and it has gotten into bed with religious zealots who have no use for science. I simply have no reason to want to be associated with that sort of ideology. Even though I am socially progressive, I am still fiscally conservative.

When I lived in Nassau County on Long Island, then controlled by a Republican political machine, I was a registered Republican. When I lived in New York City under a Democratic machine, I was a registered Democrat. In both instances, the primary functioned as the general election. Today, I am a registered independent. I voted Libertarian last election.

And I still want my roads paved.

RTFA to thoroughly understand that last sentence.

Thanks to my favorite Recovering Republican

Surviving Vietnam Vets straining the VA system

absent friends

The struggles veterans face in accessing healthcare are a harbinger for all American medicine, and the problem won’t be resolved without adequate funding, said Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald.

“VA is the canary in the coal mine. We learn about the problems in American medicine before American medicine,” McDonald told a roomful of reporters at the annual conference of the Association of Health Care Journalists…

McDonald joined the VA last summer in the wake of an exploding controversy. Earlier in 2014, staff at a Phoenix VA hospital were found to have falsified scheduling records in order to mask extended delays in appointments. Hundreds of veterans were waiting months for appointments and some deaths were blamed on the delays.

Since his confirmation, McDonald — formerly the CEO of Procter and Gamble — has tried to turn around the agency’s image as mired in bureaucracy and more responsive to administrative edicts than veterans’ economic and healthcare needs.

McDonald blamed last year’s failures in access primarily on the growth of the aging veteran population, specifically Vietnam veterans. He also cautioned that the agency hasn’t yet seen “peak demand” from the veterans of Middle Eastern wars.

“If we don’t get ready today for what could happen many years from now with Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, we’re going to have another crisis.”

The key to avoiding future problems is adequate funding now, said McDonald…

This puts him in a difficult place, as the department must provide legislatively mandated benefits to all eligible veterans on a budget that isn’t necessarily tied to their numbers or needs

The number of veterans is declining but that population is also getting older, said McDonald. Since older people have more health issues, the number of claims and issues per claim has dramatically increased…

Other factors creating strain on veterans health centers include: the number of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan; new requirements to assess and treat exposure to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War; the lack of limits on the appeals process; and increased survival on the battlefield that leaves more veterans with severe disabilities…

Like every “good” American War, the Clown Show in Congress ran everything through as an unfunded mandate. Little or no provision was made for the survivors of our wars – whether they are veterans of the US Military or [perish the thought] civilian survivors of our pacification.

The latest iteration of Know-Nothing Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats in DC talk a great game about caring for our veterans while doing as little as possible.