Arizona’s senators sold out the Apaches to their favorite mining company

About an hour east of Phoenix, near a mining town called Superior, men, women and children of the San Carlos Apache tribe have been camped out at a place called Oak Flat for more than three months, protesting the latest assault on their culture.

Three hundred people, mostly Apache, marched 44 miles from tribal headquarters to begin this occupation on Feb. 9. The campground lies at the core of an ancient Apache holy place, where coming-of-age ceremonies, especially for girls, have been performed for many generations, along with traditional acorn gathering. It belongs to the public, under the multiple-use mandate of the Forest Service, and has had special protections since 1955, when President Dwight D. Eisenhower decreed the area closed to mining — which, like cattle grazing, is otherwise common in national forests — because of its cultural and natural value. President Richard M. Nixon’s Interior Department in 1971 renewed this ban.

Despite these protections, in December 2014, Congress promised to hand the title for Oak Flat over to a private, Australian-British mining concern. A fine-print rider trading away the Indian holy land was added at the last minute to the must-pass military spending bill, the National Defense Authorization Act. By doing this, Congress has handed over a sacred Native American site to a foreign-owned company for what may be the first time in our nation’s history…

The land grab was sneakily anti-democratic even by congressional standards. For more than a decade, the parcel containing Oak Flat has been coveted by Rio Tinto, Resolution’s parent company — which already mines on its own private land in the surrounding area — for the high-value ores beneath it.

The swap — which will trade 5,300 acres of private parcels owned by the company to the Forest Service and give 2,400 acres including Oak Flat to Resolution so that it can mine the land without oversight — had been attempted multiple times by Arizona members of Congress on behalf of the company. – Among those involved was Rick Renzi, a former Republican representative who was sent to federal prison in February for three years for corruption related to earlier versions of the land-transfer deal. – It always failed in Congress because of lack of support. But this time was different. This time, the giveaway language was slipped onto the defense bill by Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake of Arizona at the 11th hour. The tactic was successful only because, like most last-minute riders, it bypassed public scrutiny.

It’s worth noting that Rio Tinto affiliates have been McCain campaign contributors, and that Mr. Flake, before he made it to Congress, was a paid lobbyist for Rio Tinto Rössing Uranium (a huge uranium mine in Namibia). Mr. McCain and others assert that the mining project will be a boost to the local economy, though it’s unclear how many of the 1,400 promised jobs would be local; a Superior-area miners’ group, in fact, opposes the swap on the basis that it won’t help the local people or economy…

If Oak Flat were a Christian holy site, or for that matter Jewish or Muslim, no senator who wished to remain in office would dare to sneak a backdoor deal for its destruction into a spending bill — no matter what mining-company profits or jobs might result. But this is Indian religion. Clearly the Arizona congressional delegation isn’t afraid of a couple of million conquered natives.

Apparently, Arizona’s paid Congressional pimps don’t feel they’re in any danger for being the liars they are. Both Flake and McCain beat their breasts in declaration of their faith in democracy. Yet, when push comes to shove, when the almighty dollar comes to call, they rollover and slide a slimy rider like this through on the back of one of our sacred military-industrial welfare bills. No debate. No discussion. We give you the land. You keep on making campaign contributions.

Will taxing the quantity of calories in sugary drinks help reduce obesity?

Worldwide, an estimated 1.9 billion adults are overweight, and of these 600 million are obese. Obesity increases the risk of diseases like type 2 diabetes; in the US alone, obesity-related healthcare costs around $200 billion a year. Due to their high sugar content and low nutritional value, there is growing concern that sugary drinks are a significant contributor to obesity. Consumption has increased drastically in recent decades, leading policy makers to look for ways of reducing the amount of sugary drinks in our diets.

In January 2014 Mexico became the first country to do a nationwide sugar-sweetened drink tax when it introduced a tax of one peso…per liter — around 10% of the price. The tax includes all drinks that have been sweetened using sugar, not just carbonated drinks. Mexico consumes more sugar-sweetened drinks than any other country: looking at Coca-Cola products alone, Mexico consumes 745 servings per person per year, compared to the worldwide average of 94.

Early results indicate that the tax is having an impact and reducing consumption of sugary drinks. However, the new study suggests that basing the tax on the dose of calories or sugar in a product, rather than applying a flat tax across the board, could make it even more effective…

In his new study, Dr. Evan Blecher at the American Cancer Society drew comparisons between taxing tobacco, alcohol and sugary drinks, using South Africa as a case study. While a flat tax is a good approach to tobacco, it may not be the best way to encourage different habits when it comes to the consumption of alcohol and sugary drinks..

So far, the results of tobacco tax suggest that taxing by the number of cigarettes is the best approach. Translated to alcohol and sugary drinks, this would mean taxing by volume. However, taxing the dose of a particular ingredient — the alcohol in alcoholic beverages or the sugar or calories in sugar-sweetened drinks — could be a more effective way to reduce consumption. This may also incentivize drinks companies to offer healthier alternatives.

This dose approach to taxation has been effective at reducing the consumption of alcohol in South Africa, reducing the amount of alcohol consumed in beer by 12% since 1998. As well as being a possible approach for sugar-sweetened drinks, it could also be effective at controlling unhealthy food consumption, and even fuel consumption.

Not a bad idea. I’d be willing to support almost anything that works for reducing smoking and alcohol consumption. If the same approach works on sugar consumption – uniformly understood as contributing nothing but illness to modern society – it would be another positive for public health.

NSA’s “zombie dragnet” still bulk collecting our phone data


While TV talking heads tell us to fear hackers accessing government records…

The leading civil liberties group in the United States has requested a federal court to stop the National Security Agency from collecting Americans’ phone data in bulk through the end of the year.

While the surveillance dragnet was phased out by Congress and Barack Obama last month, an American Civil Liberties Union suit seeks to end a twilight, zombie period of the same US phone records collection, slated under the new law to last six months.

“Today the government is continuing – after a brief suspension – to collect Americans’ call records in bulk on the purported authority of precisely the same statutory language this court has already concluded does not permit it,” the ACLU writes in a motion filed on Tuesday before the second circuit court of appeals.

The venue is significant. On 7 May, as Congress debated ending the domestic phone-records collection, the second circuit ruled the collection was illegal. Yet it did not order Obama’s administration to cease the bulk collection, writing that a preferable option would be to stay out of the unfolding legislative battle over the future scope of US surveillance.

That debate ended on 2 June with the passage of the USA Freedom Act, which reinstated expired provisions of the Patriot Act that the government had since 2006 relied upon – erroneously, in the second circuit’s view – for the bulk collection. Yet it ended the NSA’s bulk US phone records collection and created a new mechanism for the NSA to gather “call data records” from telecoms pursuant to a court order.

Within hours of signing the bill, Obama requested that the secret surveillance panel known as the Fisa court reinstate the dragnet, relying on a provision permitting a six-month “transition” period. Judge Michael Mosman granted the request on 29 June.

The ACLU, which was the plaintiff in the case the second circuit decided, has indicated since the Fisa court began considering resumption of the dragnet that it would seek an injunction.

Its major contention in support of the requested injunction is that despite the Freedom Act’s provision for a transition period, the underlying law authorizing the bulk surveillance remains the same Patriot Act provisions that the second circuit held do not justify the NSA phone-records collection.

Obama dare not say the program works. He’s admitted it doesn’t.

That still didn’t stop him supporting reauthorization. That didn’t stop Congress authorizing the imitation – with puerile footnotes. The usual coalition of conservative Republicans, Blue Dog Democrats plus out-and-out cowards rolled over in predictable “patriotic” style.

Further examination of the neonicotinoid threat to honey bees

The decline of honey bees has been a major concern globally for the past decade. One of the factors that could be contributing to the decline is the use of insecticides — specifically neonicotinoids — that persist in rivers and streams. Researchers now report in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters that although sunlight plays an important role in degrading pollutants, its effects on neonicotinoids can diminish dramatically even in shallow water.

Neonicotinoids protect crops from pests, such as whiteflies, beetles and termites. They are a popular tool in a farmer’s arsenal, but they end up washing into surface waters and soil. Some research has suggested the insecticides play a role in the disappearance of bees, a phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder. But scientists didn’t fully understand the fate of neonicotinoids in the environment, an important factor in determining how they might contribute to the disorder. Charles S. Wong and colleagues wanted to investigate sunlight’s effects on these insecticides in water.

Out of five neonicotinoids the researchers tested in water under simulated sunny conditions, three degraded considerably within minutes.

Two took a few days to break down. But a depth of just 3 inches of water was enough to shield at least one, thiamethoxam, from the degrading effects of the sun. The researchers say that this persistence at shallow depths could increase the chances aquatic life and other wildlife, including bees, could get exposed to the insecticide.

How many agribusiness/farm lobbies did you ever hear of that spend time lobbying for clean water – after it’s outbound from the fields just irrigated?