Tagged: politicians

The Western US is in trouble — we’re running out of water!

domestic water use
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The American West has been wrestling with drought for the past 15 years. California is now facing its worst dry spell in at least a century. So, not surprisingly, the question of how best to manage America’s scarce freshwater supplies is coming up more frequently.

To that end, the Hamilton Project recently published a helpful primer, “Nine Economic Facts about Water in the United States.” The whole thing’s worth reading, but four maps and charts in particular stuck out. For starters, some of the driest states in the West actually have some of the highest rates of household water use:

1) Household water use is higher in the driest states — thanks to lawn watering

Why do households in arid Utah use so much more water than in, say, Maine? The main factor, the authors note, is outdoor watering for lawns and gardens. “Whereas residents in wetter states in the East can often rely on rainwater for their landscaping, the inhabitants of Western states must rely on sprinklers…”

2) Agriculture remains the biggest water user by far

It’s worth noting, however, that homes typically aren’t the biggest water consumers in the West. In California, agriculture accounts for 80 percent of state water withdrawals. (The state is responsible for roughly one-third of the country’s vegetables and two-thirds of its fruits and nuts.)…

3) The driest states are now growing the quickest

The states with the biggest projected increase in population between 2010 and 2040 are Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming. One thing they all have in common? Low rainfall and relatively scarce water supplies.

4) And water prices vary wildly from region to region

“The price that households pay for water is highly variable across cities,” the report notes, “even when controlling for the volume of water that different households use.”

In most parts of the United States, the price of water doesn’t reflect the infrastructure costs of delivering that water or the environmental damage that excessive water withdrawals can cause. As long as that’s the case, there are few market incentives to change any of that.

Being a democratic Republic we elect folks to take on the responsibility of planning and leading our nation, the states, municipalities. That stopped working well quite a while ago. I’d suggest with the Reagan Administration. You may agree or disagree; but, if you wander through the history of our politics you’ll note that’s a pretty good starting point for serious gerrymandering of electoral districts, the truly dynamic growth of income equality, a qualitative rejection of industrial and economic planning based on sound ecology.

Regardless, RTFA for more details about these four of the nine points covered in the Hamilton Project Report. And, yes, I suggest reading the complete version over here [.pdf].

Additional reading:

1934 Drought was Driest, Most Widespread in Past Millennium, Scientists Find

Scarcity of water in U.S. driving moves to impose price, “market solutions

Thanks, Mike

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Why do you think Congress won’t end the NFL’s tax break?

Perhaps the most famous tax break in America is the one bestowed by Congress on the NFL. It’s famous for its seeming illogic — the NFL, hugely profitable, being called a “nonprofit.”

And it’s famous, along with the antitrust exemption for pro football, for the number of times members of Congress have threatened subtly or otherwise to take it away.

The occasions range from the anger of then-Sen. John F. Kerry in 2007 over a blackout of a New England Patriots game to resentment about the name of the Washington, D.C., football team to concern about concussions to anger over what Republican Sen. Tom Coburn and Maine’s independent Sen. Angus King called “tax earmarks…”

Now, in the wake of the domestic abuse controversies in the NFL, the rumbling has started anew. Congress must now investigate the league’s handling of the domestic abuse charges, Democratic Rep. Jackie Speier of California said in a press release, as well as its “tolerance of performance enhancing drugs, the impact of traumatic brain injury on players later in life, and the tax-exempt status the NFL enjoys thanks to a loophole Congress created in the ’60s.”

But don’t count on anything happening — ever — to the exemptions enjoyed by pro sports. The NFL remains a heavy hitter in Washington. Its officials and political action committee donated more than $1.4 million to members of Congress during the past two election cycles, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. It spends millions as well on as many as 26 lobbyists from top-tier Washington firms.

One of the essential perks of being a Congress-critter is free skybox seats to whatever is the hot sports event in town. Given the snug fit between the NFL and the All-American reliance on war games to keep our collective ego inflated – that match is often defined by the National Football League.

Icing on the cake – with the cake being the inevitable contributions to Joe Congressman’s re-election campaign.

Thanks, Mike — who added:

Two new bills have been introduced that would strip the NFL of its tax-exempt status:

1. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) announced Tuesday that she will introduce legislation to eliminate the NFL’s tax-exempt status.

2. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) has introduced legislation to strip several professional sports leagues, including the NFL, of their tax-exempt status.

Earlier this year, Senators Tom Coburn (R-Okla) and Angus King (I-Maine) introduced the PRO-Sports Act to address this issue on the premise that it is unfair to the American tax-payer.

A tax reform package sponsored by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R- Mich.) includes a repeal of tax-exempt status for professional sports leagues. It is languishing in committee.

German spies demand $400 million to catch-up to the NSA

Confidential documents from the BND, Germany’s answer to the NSA and GCHQ, suggest the agency could soon get major funding to improve its online surveillance and hacking capabilities.

Ah, Germany: the home of data protection law; a bastion for the privacy-minded in these crazy days of international surveillance and hackery. Or is it? The German government and intelligence services have already been sued over alleged privacy violations in cooperation with the NSA, and now leaked documents have described plans for monitoring social networks in real-time.

Süddeutsche Zeitung, NDR and WDR have turned up secret documents belonging to the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), Germany’s counterpart to the NSA. It seems the BND is jealous of the digital espionage capabilities of the NSA and the U.K.’s GCHQ, and wants to up its game.

The documents warn that, if the BND doesn’t get the €300 million [$409 million] it needs to run expanded surveillance activities until 2020, Germany will fall behind even Italy and Spain in the spook stakes. They also suggest the spies hope to get their funding in the coming weeks.

According to the reports, the BND wants to analyze streaming data in real-time from forums and services such as Facebook, Twitter and Flickr, collect and store more mobile metadata, and use software vulnerabilities for targeted hacking. The reports state targets would be outside Germany — indeed, targeted data must have a foreign element if the spies are to remain compliant with German law…

They play the same games with semantics and ethics in Germany as American spies and politicians.

Earlier this week…it emerged that there would be no full investigation into mass surveillance nor the bugging of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s phone, due to lack of evidence. Prosecutors were unable to get any answers out of American or German spies, who pointed out that the most damning revelations about German surveillance came from one newspaper, Der Spiegel — and the newspaper refused to identify its sources (sometimes assumed to be Edward Snowden’s cache, but never confirmed or denied as such.)

Having lived through the missile gap, the space gap, sitting back and watching the self-serving creeps of counter-intelligence and their latest rationale – the Worldwide War on Terror – watching them demand more money to fund the subversion of basic human rights in order to keep up with the Big Brother Joneses of the NSA — it would be laughable if they weren’t all such hypocrites and liars.

Prostitution and drugs to be included in Italy’s GDP data

Italy’s gross domestic product is poised to rise with the addition of estimates for its narcotics, prostitution and contraband trades in its calculations.

Estimates of black market revenue will be included to comply with new European Union rules, Italy’s statistics agency Istat announced Thursday. Hidden economic activity, including prostitution, the drug trade, contraband tobacco products and illegally manufactured alcohol will be included, an Istat report said.

The information will be blended into gross domestic product (GDP) data beginning in 2015.

The new list of illegal revenue producers will be included so the European Union gets a better picture of member states’ true economies. An accurate depiction of a country’s economic status is useful in ascertaining if certain target ratios, such as debt-to-GDP, are being met.

Har. Imagine some of the other places we could use this kind of interpolation?

Congress? Non-profit charities with CEOs receiving 7-figure salaries? Twelve-step religion-du-jour?

A spill in West Virginia, in Chemical Valley

On the morning of Thursday, January 9, 2014, the people of Charleston, West Virginia, awoke to a strange tang in the air off the Elk River. It smelled like licorice. The occasional odor is part of life in Charleston, the state capital, which lies in an industrial area that takes flinty pride in the nickname Chemical Valley. In the nineteenth century, natural brine springs made the region one of America’s largest producers of salt. The saltworks gave rise to an industry that manufactured gunpowder, antifreeze, Agent Orange, and other “chemical magic,” as The Saturday Evening Post put it, in 1943. The image endured. Today, the Chemical Valley Roller Girls compete in Roller Derby events with a logo of a woman in fishnet stockings and a gas mask. After decades of slow decline, the local industry has revived in recent years, owing to the boom in cheap natural gas, which has made America one of the world’s most inexpensive places to make chemicals.

At 8:16 A.M., a resident called the state Department of Environmental Protection and said that something in the air was, in the operator’s words, “coating his wife’s throat.” Downtown, the mayor, Danny Jones, smelled it and thought, Well, it’s just a chemical in the air. It’ll move. A few minutes passed. “I stuck my mouth up to a water fountain and took a big drink, and I thought, We’re in trouble,” he recalls. People were calling 911, and the state sent out two inspectors. Eventually, they reached a chemical-storage facility run by Freedom Industries, a “tank farm,” with seventeen white metal pillbox-shaped containers clustered on a bluff above the Elk River.

The staff initially said that there was nothing out of the ordinary, but, when the inspectors asked to look around, a company executive, Dennis Farrell, told them that he had a problem at Tank No. 396, a forty-eight-thousand-gallon container of industrial chemicals. At the foot of the tank, the inspectors found a shallow open-air lake of an oily substance, gurgling like a mountain spring. When hazardous-material crews arrived, they followed a liquid trail under a concrete wall, into the bushes, and down a slope, where it disappeared beneath ice on the river.

Freedom Industries was obligated to report the spill to a state hot line. The operator, who identified herself as Laverne, asked what was leaking; the caller, a staff member named Bob Reynolds, said, “Uh, MCHM.”

“MCHM?” Laverne asked.

“Right,” he said, and offered the scientific name.

Laverne paused and said, “Say again?”

MCHM—4-methylcyclohexane methanol—is part of a chemical bath that the mining industry uses to wash clay and rock from coal before it is burned. There are more than eighty thousand chemicals available for use in America, but, unless they are expected to be consumed, their effects on humans are not often tested, a principle known in the industry as “innocent until proven guilty.” MCHM was largely a mystery to the officials who now confronted the task of containing it. But they knew that the site posed an immediate problem: it was a mile upriver from the largest water-treatment plant in West Virginia. The plant served sixteen per cent of the state’s population, some three hundred thousand people—a figure that had risen in the past decade, because coal mining has reduced the availability and quality of other water sources, prompting West Virginians to board up their wells and tap into the public system.

RTFA because we all need reinforcing on tales of politics and corporate greed in bed with each other. And how the rest of us are screwed to the wall because of their carelessness, lack of concern for ordinary citizens, their greed.

In Oklahoma’s tornado alley, some better prepared than others

shelters save lives

The mayor of Moore, Oklahoma, a municipality twice devastated by tornados in the past 15 years, is fixated on garage doors, knowing they are a key to protecting the city from even more damage during this year’s tornado season.

Moore, in the heart of “Tornado Alley,” where twisters frequently hit, will be operating this year under new building codes, arguably some of the most stringent in the nation, to protect people and structures from deadly winds…

“Garage doors are the first to come off during a tornado. Once the garage door comes off, the roof comes off,” Mayor Glenn Lewis said in an interview last week…

In May 2013, twenty-four people were killed and 240 injured when a top-rated tornado devastated Moore, a city of about 55,000 south of Oklahoma City. Some 2,400 buildings were damaged or destroyed, including Plaza Towers Elementary School, where seven children were killed.

It was even worse in 1999 when one of the strongest tornadoes ever recorded, with wind speeds of 300 mph, struck Moore, killing 44 and leaving a path of destruction in its wake.

“The new building codes are great, but I wish they were approved sooner,” said Lewis, who was mayor when both tornadoes hit.

Moore, Oklahoma City and other cities began operating this year under building codes offering more protection, but inadequate structures and a dearth of shelters persist in large parts of the state.

One hold-up appears to be in the state legislature, where lawmakers have been bickering over funding tornado protection.

One Democratic lawmaker proposed using funds from the state’s franchise tax, a levy suspended in 2011, to pay for tornado and storm shelters for the majority of schools in the state without them. Republican lawmakers, who dominate the legislature, have balked at the proposal, saying they want to eliminate the tax altogether.

There’s the point of it all. Republicans, Tea Party Brown Shirts and Blue Dog Democrats care more about tax cuts and money in their wallets than the lives of school children.

I have nothing but contempt for corrupt human beings who value greed over need. They do not advance society. They care little or nothing for those who stand beside them on this planet. Self-centered, egregious, nothing counts more in their mean little lives than money and personal power.

Public smoking bans linked with rapid public health benefits

The analysis of 11 studies done in North America and Europe, involving more than 2.5 million births, and nearly 250,000 asthma exacerbations, showed that rates of both preterm births and hospital attendance for asthma were reduced by 10% within a year of smoke-free laws coming into effect.

Currently only 16% of the world’s population is covered by comprehensive smoke-free laws, and 40% of children worldwide are regularly exposed to second-hand smoke. To date, most studies have looked at the impact of smoking bans on adult outcomes, but children account for more than a quarter of all deaths and over half of all healthy years of life lost due to exposure to second-hand smoke…

Dr Jasper Been, lead author, says…”Together with the known health benefits in adults, our study provides clear evidence that smoking bans have considerable public health benefits for perinatal and child health, and provides strong support for WHO recommendations to create smoke-free public environments on a national level.”*

“This research has demonstrated the very considerable potential that smoke-free legislation offers to reduce preterm births and childhood asthma attacks,” says study co-author Professor Aziz Sheikh, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, USA, and the University of Edinburgh, UK. “The many countries that are yet to enforce smoke-free legislation should in the light of these findings reconsider their positions on this important health policy question.”

…Sara Kalkhoran and Stanton Glantz from the University of California San Francisco…point out that, “Medical expenses for asthma exceeded US$50 billion in the USA in 2007, and US$20 billion in Europe in 2006. If asthma emergency department visits and admissions to hospital decreased by even 10%, the savings in the USA and Europe together would be US$7 billion annually.”

They conclude, “The cigarette companies, their allies, and the groups they sponsor have long used claims of economic harm, particularly to restaurants, bars, and casinos, to oppose smoke-free laws despite consistent evidence to the contrary. By contrast, the rapid economic benefits that smoke-free laws and other tobacco control policies bring in terms of reduced medical costs are real. Rarely can such a simple intervention improve health and reduce medical costs so swiftly and substantially.”

Folks who understand the realities of scientific study have no difficulty comprehending works like this one. Frankly, I doubt if even our Congress-critters would have a problem getting it. The problem there – as is the case with most political bodies – is the dollars tossed into the winds of election campaigns by tobacco companies, growers and the rest of the sleazy denizens of the smoking industry.

Perish the thought our politicians actually work at serving the citizens of their various electorates. Not when the core values determining political priority and primacy have to include dollar signs.

Oklahoma considers stupid law regulating stupid policies


Feel threatened?

An Oklahoma politician apparently felt that hype about the dangers of guns in schools had gone too far and decided to do something about it.

Under the Common Sense Zero Tolerance Act introduced by Rep. Sally Kern, schoolchildren in the state would no longer face punishment if they chew their frosted or fruit-filled breakfast pastries into the shape of guns…

According to the bill, “Brandishing a pastry or other food which is partially consumed in such a way that the remnant resembles a weapon,” would be protected…

In addition to the pastry provision, Kern’s bill would also make it safe for students to possess small toy weapons or use pencils, pens, fingers or their hands to simulate a weapon.

Students also couldn’t be punished for wearing clothes that “support or advance Second Amendment rights or organizations.”

In Oklahoma you have to include that last sentence otherwise the NRA will tell everyone the bill is part of some commie, pinko plot to send the Marines to your home and take away your guns.

Then, there’s the fun of deciding which kind of stupid you need to support, which kind you need to stop. Do you pass zero tolerance regulations that lead to silliness like suspending students who chew their pastries into dangerous weapon-shapes? Do you spend time regulating how much common sense is allowed to modify zero tolerance silliness? And on and on. An endless loop keeping politicians looking busy – if not productive.