The Rio Grande is disappearing

The story of the Rio Grande is similar to that of other desert mountain rivers in the U.S. Southwest, from the Colorado to the Gila. The water was apportioned to farmers and other users at a time when water levels were near historic highs. Now, as a megadrought has descended on the West, the most severe in 1,200 years, the flows are at crisis levels.

And to make things even more uncertain, the drought is accompanied by an aridification of the West — a prolonged drying that scientists say may become a permanent fixture in the region. The number and scope of wildfires are also increasing sharply; New Mexico’s ongoing Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak Fire has now burned 315,000 acres.

The concern of Tricia Snyder and others is that much of the Rio Grande River — already greatly compromised by channelization, dams, and irrigation — is on a trajectory to disappear and take out the bosque forests, fish, and other creatures that live in it and along it. “We’re past the point of easy answers,” she says.

How we got to the edge of disaster – and what is to be done – is central to this article. Please, read on and join in the fight to rescue this historic river.

America’s gun religion

This starts partway through the article. The author takes us from childhood target shooting to military life…to this!

How did we get from a little NRA indoor firing range with .22 target rifles to an entire convention hall filled with weapons of war and nostalgia for America’s enemies from the Civil War and World War II? How did we get from guns as tools to guns as lifestyle? How did we get from guns manufactured specifically for target shooting and hunting to guns manufactured for killing people and styled as “military” and “tactical” and “assault”? How did we get from magazines like Field and Stream, featuring stories about hunting, to Guns and Ammo, featuring stories about the Hecker and Koch HK416A5 with its “slimline telescopic butt stock” and “Non-stop NATO Stanag 4694 top rail” and magazine capability holding up to 100 rounds of military-grade 5.56 X 45mm NATO ammunition?

Three letters: NRA. Beginning in the 1970s, the National Rifle Association transformed itself from a shooting sports organization into a political lobbying arm of the Republican Party. It formed a PAC, the Political Victory Fund, in time for the 1976 elections and started endorsing and funding conservative, mostly Republican, candidates. The NRA invited Ronald Reagan to address its 1983 convention, in advance of his campaign for reelection in 1984, when they endorsed him for a second time…

…Guns went from tools to politics to identity. A gun went from something you use for a sporting purpose, like target shooting or hunting rabbits, to a thing that makes a statement about you. Hollywood went right along with them, from a .44 magnum revolver in “Dirty Harry” that said I’m a tough guy, to fully automatic AR-15 assault rifles with grenade launchers in “Scarface” that said I’m a killing machine and I’ll kill everyone I can see.

Truly worthwhile read. I can sympathize. I grew up in Connecticut when the state was still proud to call itself the arsenal of America. My family lived through the transition Lucian Truscott describes. One time or another, everyone in my father’s generation – in his extended family – worked for a gun manufacturer. One of my uncles spent his life’s work as a lead prototype gunsmith for a gun company. Another was a factory manager.

I was fortunate enough to pre-date the NRA conversion. I was rebel enough to have a gut reaction of disgust and revulsion to the “new” NRA and Reagan politics. I watched Truscott’s worst nightmare as it formed.

RTFA. I hope our benighted land is someday capable of turning this particular aspect of fascist ideology around. And goes on to work on the rest, as well.

Trump turned clemency into his own little cottage industry


Gatekeepers to a pardon

The Constitution gives the president the virtually unchecked power to grant clemency. Trump’s use of that power reflected how he viewed the presidency through the prism of his own interests and as a way to reward friends and spite enemies, according to longtime clemency advocates and people who participated in the process.

During his tenure as president of the United States…Donald Trump granted executive clemency to 237 individuals charged or convicted of federal criminal offenses…

Of the pardons and commutations that Trump did grant, the vast majority were to persons to whom Trump had a personal or political connection, or persons for whom executive clemency served a political goal. A significant number had been convicted of fraud or public corruption. The New York Times reported that during the closing days of the Trump presidency, individuals with access to the administration, such as former administration officials, were soliciting fees to lobby for presidential pardons.

Those who find no harm or evil in this abuse of presidential power – I’m afraid – are likely to be folks who would excuse many more categories of evil in the name of power, as well.

Facebook can’t manage the harm it causes

❝ Never before has one company’s failure had such a devastating impact on the world. Facebook’s presence is truly global, as are the consequences of its failure to anticipate how its platform could be misused and abused. And yet never before has a single company been asked to fix a global problem.

❝ Racists, autocrats, and purveyors of hate and disorder have found Facebook the perfect medium for spewing poison, normalizing it, and gaining adherents. Facebook is a broadcast platform for anyone, including those who would break the rules, fake the news, lie, and mislead the community. Societies around the world are reeling from the consequences. Politics and democracy are under duress. And thus far, Facebook does not have an effective way to fight back. It is only beginning to try…

❝ Facebook received repeated warnings for at least six years from informed observers around the world that things were going wrong. But it appears to have almost entirely disregarded them. Gaining more users in any and all geographies was the company’s overarching priority, and it succeeded. The service was growing at an incredible pace into just about every country on earth. It is now a dominant medium of communications, typically the most dominant, in about 190 countries.

It expanded at full tilt into innumerable geographies where it lacked local expertise. But how could it possibly ensure its rules were being followed when nobody at the company spoke the local language or understood the nuances of the local culture? It couldn’t.

RTFA! David Kirkpatrick continues to provide socially useful analysis and evaluation in the online world we all know and love – and criticize. I certainly take the time to pay him close attention when I catch his appearance online or on the tube (sic).

Don’t let the sound of your own wheels drive you crazy!


DeAngelo accused of 13 murders, nearly 50 rapes

❝ Everyone’s DNA sequence is unique. But for those who wish to maintain their genetic privacy, it may not be unique enough.

A new study argues that more than half of Americans could be identified by name if all you had to start with was a sample of their DNA and a few basic facts, such as the region where they live and about how old they might be.

❝ One of them is the rise of direct-to-consumer genetic testing. Companies such as Ancestry.com and 23andMe can sequence anyone’s DNA for about $100. All you have to do is provide a sample of saliva and drop it in the mail.

The other essential element is the proliferation of publicly searchable genealogy databases like GEDmatch. Anyone can upload a full genome to these sites and powerful computers will crunch through it, looking for stretches of matching DNA sequences that can be used to build out a family tree.

❝ So far, 72-year-old Joseph James DeAngelo is the most famous person to be identified this way. You may know him better as the suspected Golden State Killer, charged with 13 counts of murder and 13 counts of attempted kidnapping…Since then, at least 13 additional suspected criminals have been identified in the same way…

“When the police caught the Golden State Killer, that was a very good day for humanity,” Columbia University computer scientist Yaniv Erlich said. “The problem is that the very same strategy can be misused.”

I tire of timorous mice who whine about the potential misuse of scientific procedures as if they are automatically destined to be implemented by an evil government. The solution is to regulate governments before they can grow evil, crap governments run by fools, reactionary governments voted into office by the ignorant and fearful.

Want to protect our privacy? Quit electing pimps for corporations which profit from abusing privacy. Get off your rusty dusty and spend a little time and political energy working to guarantee privacy. That won’t come from a line or two of patented code; but, by keeping an eye on the human beings who profit from sleazy government.

At last, a documented decrease in sales of antibiotics for animals

❝ This week the U.S. Food and Drug Administration released new data on the amount of antibiotics sold for use in food animals. It showed that the sale of these drugs declined 14 percent overall from 2015-16, the first decrease since these data were initially reported in 2009. The report also marks the first time that animal drug companies have broken down sales estimates by the major types of food animals—pigs, cows, chickens, and turkeys—setting a baseline for species-specific sales information in the years to come.

The report is an important step toward filling knowledge gaps about antibiotics sold for use in food animals, and it begins to shed light on the different antibiotic use patterns across these species. For example, 80 percent of cephalosporins purchased were estimated to be used in cattle, and among penicillins, 63 percent of antibiotic sales were estimated to be used in turkeys. Understanding which drugs are prescribed primarily in which species can offer insight into antibiotic use patterns in the different animal species, and going forward this information will help identify areas for targeted interventions and prioritized research funding on issues such as nonantibiotic alternatives.

RTFA. A step forward which need not be accompanied by the usual following two steps backwards. Difficult enough in administrations committed to average amounts of sophistry. In the epoch of our Fake President and his daily schedule of lies – even greater rigor is required to defend this positive gain.

FDA says no more medically important antibiotics for livestock — Finally!


Peter Hermes Furian/Shutterstock

A new rule that aims to safeguard essential antibiotics for humans by limiting their use in food animals is now fully in effect.

Under the Food and Drug Administration policy, antibiotics that have been designated “medically important” — in other words, they’re needed to treat people — cannot legally be given to healthy animals to speed their growth. The policy, three years in the making, required producers of agricultural antibiotics to change labeling on the drugs to make clear they should not be used for so-called growth promotion. All manufacturers agreed to abide by the new rule.

The policy also requires that from now on, food animals can only be given medically important drugs under the supervision of a veterinarian — a move designed to restrict their use to the treatment of animal illnesses.

An FDA report on antibiotic use in food-producing animals released just before Christmas revealed that sales of medically important antibiotics rose by 2 percent in 2015, and that from 2009 to 2015 sales of these drugs to the food animal sector increased by 26 percent. The increased sales in 2015 could be the result of a commensurate rise in food animals produced — but critics of the heavy use of these drugs in agriculture note sales haven’t come down…

Scientists and public health professionals have long warned that the increasing use of antibiotics in the rearing of food animals such as chickens, pigs and cattle, and farmed fish and seafood is fueling a rise in so-called superbugs — bacteria capable of evading the drugs.

That puts at risk procedures that have revolutionized modern medicine. Organ transplants, cardiac bypass surgeries, even safe caesarean section births are an accepted part of medical practice but could become much more dangerous to perform if superbugs continue to proliferate…

As things currently stand, antibiotics can be used to prevent illness, which can also lead to prolonged use. Advocates for more judicious use of antibiotics in agriculture argue that this is growth promotion by another name. They insist disease prevention goals should be achieved through better and more humane production practices that reduce the disease risks associated with factory farming.

And, so, the battle is won; but, not the war. Humane, healthy conditions for livestock are important to the health of consumers in more ways than one. Most reasonable, informed people know this. Politicians and their appointees invoke the ever-present American god of sophistry to pretend otherwise.

Woman sues Border Coppers for invasive cavity search finding no drugs and no reason for the search

A new lawsuit filed by an American woman alleges that she was subjected to an unconstitutional search by border agents and then an extensive cavity search by a male doctor acting on their orders.

The civil complaint, which was filed last week in federal court in Tucson and seeks unspecified damages, targets the government, Customs and Border Protection, the CBP agent, and the doctor who searched her, among others.

The court filing describes 18-year-old Ashley Cervantes’ harrowing experience over the course of seven hours in October 2014. She had just returned from Nogales, Sonora (Mexico) back into Nogales, Arizona—she had come back from eating breakfast at one of her favorite spots.

According to the complaint, after presenting her identity documents, an unidentified CBP agent accused Cervantes of possessing illegal drugs, which she denied. She was ordered to proceed to a detention room, where she was handcuffed to a chair. There, she was sniffed by a dog (in violation of CBP policy) and was taken to another room where she was ordered to squat so that female officers could visually inspect her.

Unsatisfied that they had not found the drugs, the agents escalated their search. CBP Agent Shameka Leggett then filled out an Immigration Health Services’ form, known as a Treatment Authorization Request, describing Cervantes as being “diagnosed” as an apparent “potential internal carrier of foreign substance.” The agent recommended that she be X-rayed at a hospital.

Cervantes was then transported in custody from the border to Holy Cross Hospital…

The Holy Cross records from Ashley’s time at the facility include a number of factual inaccuracies, including inaccurately setting out that Ashley was accompanied by her mother and arrived in a private vehicle. In reality, Ashley was transported in a CBP vehicle. Her handcuffs were not removed until she changed into a hospital gown for the alleged purpose of undergoing an X-Ray.

Ashley was never X-rayed, despite that being the only “course of treatment” authorized by the TAR.

The complaint goes on to describe how Dr. Martinez “forcefully and digitally probed her vagina and anus.”

Ashley had never before been to a gynecologist and, for the remainder of her life, will always remember that her first pelvic and rectal exams were under the most inhumane circumstances imaginable to a U.S. citizen at a hospital on U.S. soil.

Scumbags working for scumbag coppers ain’t any different. They deserve the same penalties. They require the same oversight. They should be challenged by the professional bodies overseeing their professions.

Hard to fool a detainee with a fake letter from mom – when he knows she can’t write


Mohamedou Ould Slahi

Guantánamo prison camp authorities tried to trick inmate Mohamedou Ould Slahi by forging a letter purportedly from his mother whom he had been unable to see for years, his brother Yahdih has said.

The ploy, which was intended to persuade him to cooperate with his interrogators, failed not only because they misspelt Slahi’s name but also because his mother could not write.

This week Slahi became the first inmate to publish a memoir while still incarcerated when Guantánamo Diary was published in 20 countries and serialised in the Guardian.

Speaking on Tuesday at an event organised by the Guardian in partnership with Canongate, the publisher of Guantánamo Diary, and PEN, the writers’ association, Yahdih Ould Slahi said his brother had not been able to see his mother before she died at their home in Mauritania in 2013…

The 44-year-old engineer was first detained in 2001 in Mauritania at the request of the US government, then rendered to Jordan and Afghanistan and tortured, and then flown to Guantánamo.

He is one of two inmates whose “additional interrogation techniques” were personally approved by Donald Rumsfeld, then US defence secretary, according to a US Senate inquiry. Slahi was dressed in a burqa, deprived of sleep, subjected to strobe lights, doused in water, threatened with dogs, sexually assaulted by female interrogators and forced to bark and perform dog tricks.

He wrote his memoir by hand after learning English, his fourth language, from his Guantánamo guards and interrogators, and it was published this week after his lawyer, Nancy Hollander, battled for six years to have the document declassified.

Hollander told the event that Slahi’s descriptions of the abuse that he had suffered at Guantánamo had already been confirmed by both the Senate inquiry and a separate investigation by the FBI…

Hollander said her client had been in a form of legal limbo since the US government lodged an appeal after a US district court judge ordered his release…

The American Civil Liberties Union has launched an online petition demanding Slahi’s release.

One more case where Obama’s Administration matches the incompetence of his neo-con predecessor. Incompetence, that is, at differentiating liberal foreign policy from the conservative flavor. There may be some small difference in the total number of civilians killed. But, the destruction of civil liberties, civil rights, human rights guaranteed by international treaty seem to be consistent between both flavors of imperial arrogance.

Help draft a global “bill of rights” for the Web


Tim Berners-LeeReuters/Vincent West

Tim Berners-Lee, the British scientist who effectively invented the web with a proposal 25 years ago, has used the anniversary to establish a campaign called Web We Want. He wants people to sign up to this campaign and help draft a global “Internet Users’ Bill of Rights” to cover the next 25 years.

Berners-Lee kicked off the Web We Want drive with a series of interviews, in which he argued that the web is under threat from both corporations and governments, leaving its openness and neutrality in doubt.

“Unless we have an open, neutral internet we can rely on without worrying about what’s happening at the back door, we can’t have open government, good democracy, good healthcare, connected communities and diversity of culture,” he told the Guardian. “It’s not naive to think we can have that, but it is naive to think we can just sit back and get it.”

On the government side, Berners-Lee is worried about surveillance in the wake of Edward Snowden’s NSA and GCHQ revelations, as well as the fragmentation this may cause. On the corporate side, he is concerned about the abuse of net neutrality and copyright law (which he described as “terrible”), as well as the prevalence of proprietary ecosystems such as Facebook.

The principles behind Web We Want, which is coordinated by the World Wide Web Foundation, are as follows:

Affordable access to a universally available communications platform

The protection of personal user information and the right to communicate in private

Freedom of expression online and offline

Diverse, decentralized and open infrastructure

Neutral networks that don’t discriminate against content or users

I’ve been online since 1983. Even in early Internet days folks understood the risk of abuse by Government probably more so than by corporate scumbags. I recall one BBS I belonged to that had to become a fundraising center because one of the members was arrested and thrown into jail in the great state of Louisiana because of his gender identity.

Like most experienced geeks, I haven’t had a problem with most corporate access to my data because generally that access was granted by my own decision. Though, again, there always are those who see a chance to make a disreputable buck by selling illegally-acquired info.

But, courtesy of George W Bush and Barack Obama, we’re back to government snooping big time. The best of tech companies are working their coneheads off trying to build more secure systems, better encryption, means and methods we haven’t even heard of – yet – to protect us from Big Brother. Tim Berners-Lee’s proposal for a Web Bill of Rights makes a lot of sense, too. And I heartily endorse it.