Texas residents warned of brain-eating microbe in drinking water

Texas officials have warned residents of some communities near Houston to stop using tap water because it might be tainted with a deadly brain-eating microbe.

The commission issued an advisory warning people not to use tap water for any reason except to flush toilets in Lake Jackson, Freeport, Angleton, Brazoria, Richwood, Oyster Creek, Clute and Rosenberg.

Those communities are home to about 120,000 people. Also affected are the Dow Chemical works in Freeport, which has 4,200 employees, and the Clemens and Wayne Scott state prison units, which have 2,345 inmates and 655 employees.

Some think that folks in Texas are never surprised when they receive warnings like this.

Pentagon used taxpayer dollar$ meant for masks and swabs to buy military hardware


Trump and his latest Pentagon errand boy

A $1 billion fund Congress gave the Pentagon in March to build up the country’s supplies of medical equipment has instead been mostly funneled to defense contractors and used to make things such as jet engine parts, body armor and dress uniforms.

The change illustrates how one taxpayer-backed effort to battle the novel coronavirus, which has killed more than 200,000 Americans, was instead diverted toward patching up long-standing perceived gaps in military supplies…

The payments were made even though U.S. health officials think major funding gaps in pandemic response still remain. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in Senate testimony last week that states desperately need $6 billion to distribute vaccines to Americans early next year. Many U.S. hospitals still face a severe shortage of N95 masks. These are the types of problems that the money was originally intended to address.

Did you expect the Independent Duchy of Pentagonia to become responsive to democracy and the needs of the whole nation…just because our sleazy, outdated electoral college put a thug from Wall Street in charge of the national treasury?

Republican alumni support Biden

A group of former George W. Bush administration and campaign officials has launched a new super PAC to mobilize disaffected Republican voters for presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.

The group, launched…under the name “43 Alumni for Biden,” “seeks to unite and mobilize a community of historically Republican voters who are dismayed and disappointed by the damage done to our nation by Donald Trump’s presidency,” according to a release. The formation of the group is the latest example of efforts being made by anti-Trump Republicans to defeat the President in November.

Karen Kirksey, the director of the committee and who worked on the Bush 2000 election campaign and in the Labor and Agriculture Departments, said the endorsement of Biden is “not necessarily in full support of his political agenda but rather in full agreement with the urgent need to restore the soul of this nation.”

Welcome aboard, folks. “Better late than never” is an acceptable excuse at election time. I guess.

Air pollution recognized as a risk factor for diabetes


Click to enlarge

“Whether the disease becomes manifest and when this occurs is not only due to lifestyle or genetic factors, but also due to traffic-related air pollution,” said Professor Annette Peters, director of the Institute of Epidemiology II at Helmholtz Zentrum München and head of the research area of epidemiology of the DZD.

For the current study, she and her colleagues…analyzed the data of nearly 3,000 participants of the KORA study who live in the city of Augsburg and two adjacent rural counties. All individuals were interviewed and physically examined. Furthermore, the researchers took fasting blood samples, in which they determined various markers for insulin resistance and inflammation. In addition, leptin was examined as adipokine which has been suggested to be associated with insulin resistance. Non-diabetic individuals underwent an oral glucose tolerance test to detect whether their glucose metabolism was impaired.

The researchers compared these data with the concentrations of air pollutants at the place of residence of the participants, which they estimated using predictive models based on repeated measurements at…up to 40 sites…in the city and in the rural counties.

“The results revealed that people who already have an impaired glucose metabolism, so-called pre-diabetic individuals, are particularly vulnerable to the effects of air pollution,” said Dr. Kathrin Wolf, lead author of the study. “In these individuals, the association between increases in their blood marker levels and increases in air pollutant concentrations is particularly significant! Thus, over the long term — especially for people with impaired glucose metabolism — air pollution is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes.”

The authors are also concerned that the concentrations of air pollutants, though below EU threshold values, are still above the proposed guidelines of the World Health Organization… As a consequence, they demand changes in government policy: “Lowering the threshold for acceptable air pollution levels would be a prudent step,” said Dr. Alexandra Schneider, who was also involved in the study. “We are all exposed to air pollution. An individual reduction by moving away from highly polluted areas is rarely an option.”

Many folks currently focussed on the political battle over climate change have been at it for a long time. The crap air we’re all faced with as “normal” has been anything but normal for decades. Because we’ve moved slightly back from acid rain and a Love Canal in every backyard doesn’t mean we’ve won anything more than individual battles. Though significant, the full extent of poisoning of the Earth’s air breathers, water-drinkers, continues to demand a critical political movement against the polluters and their acolytes.

Ehud Olmert is the first Israeli Prime Minister sentenced to prison

Olmert enters prison
Click to enlargeOlmert on the leftMoti Milrod

Israel’s former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert started serving a 19-month prison sentence for bribery and obstruction of justice on Monday, becoming the first Israeli premier to be imprisoned and capping a years-long legal saga that forced him to resign in 2009…

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could say this about George W Bush? Trouble is – even the anti-government Tea Party-types won’t join the campaign. Ideology still overrules any sense of fighting for justice.

Maps that explain the United States better than any textbook

Years ago, famed historian E.H. Carr made an apt point that one cannot separate the historian from history and that what we see in history books is not necessarily pure fact–it has been made and presented as such due to the judgments of a very fallible and selective person. All of this is to say that when it comes to getting to the reasons why the United States looks the way it does today, “truth”–if we can find it–is quite hard to come by.

For every historian who disputes the reasons why a certain war broke out or how a particular president’s decision changed the fate of America, there’s a map which lays hard data bare and allows for the viewer’s own interpretation. Maps aren’t as immediately exciting as a good story, which is why we tend to overlook them when trying to understand our present. We’d like to change that. Without further ado, here are thirty-three fascinating maps that explain the United States…

highest paid public employees
Click to reach this first map – and the rest

Republican former Speaker of the House indicted by federal grand jury

J. Dennis Hastert, the longest serving Republican speaker in the U.S. House, was indicted by a federal grand jury on charges that he violated banking laws in a bid to pay $3.5 million because of “past misconduct” against an unnamed individual from their hometown west of Chicago.

Hastert, 73, who has been a high-paid lobbyist in Washington since his 2007 retirement, schemed to mask more than $950,000 in withdrawals from various accounts that violated federal banking laws that require disclosure of large cash transactions, according to a seven-page indictment delivered by a grand jury in Chicago.

The indictment did not spell out the exact nature of the “prior misconduct” by Hastert against the individual from his hometown, Yorkville, but noted that before entering politics in 1981, Hastert spent more than a decade as a teacher and wrestling coach at the local high school. The unnamed individual has known Hastert for most of that person’s life, the indictment states…

Oops! Sounds like Republican family values strikes again.

The indictment, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern Division of the Northern District of Illinois, also alleges that Hastert lied to FBI agents last December when asked about the withdrawals.

Prosecutors said that in 2010, when the unnamed individual confronted Hastert about the allegations of misconduct, the former speaker agreed to pay out $3.5 million “to compensate for and conceal his prior misconduct against” this person.

Over the next five years Hastert withdrew about $1.7 million in cash from his various bank accounts, at one point last year delivering $100,000 at a time to the person, the indictment alleges.

Beginning in 2013, the FBI and Internal Revenue Service began investigating “possible structuring of currency transactions to avoid the reporting requirements.” Hastert had made more than a dozen withdrawals of $50,000 in cash, which was provided to the unnamed individual every six weeks, the indictment said.

After bank representatives questioned him about the withdrawals, he began taking out less than $10,000 at a time, providing it to the unnamed person at set locations and times, prosecutors say. When Hastert was asked about the withdrawals, the indictment states that he told agents: “I kept the cash.”

However, the indictment states that this is a lie, and Hastert was trying to keep his agreement to pay the unnamed person “secret so as to cover up his past misconduct.”

I’ll never excuse Democrats or Independents for committing the same crimes a number of Republicans have been found guilty of. The crusher is that Republicans present themselves, time after time, as the holy standard for honesty and upright behavior. And that’s just pure hypocrite hogwash.

One again, part of the holier-than-thou crowd, one of the whiners who is paid to campaign against change and progress, gets caught breaking the law.

Inequality is not inevitable

An insidious trend has developed over this past third of a century. A country that experienced shared growth after World War II began to tear apart, so much so that when the Great Recession hit in late 2007, one could no longer ignore the fissures that had come to define the American economic landscape. How did this “shining city on a hill” become the advanced country with the greatest level of inequality?

One stream of the extraordinary discussion set in motion by Thomas Piketty’s timely, important book, “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” has settled on the idea that violent extremes of wealth and income are inherent to capitalism. In this scheme, we should view the decades after World War II — a period of rapidly falling inequality — as an aberration.

This is actually a superficial reading of Mr. Piketty’s work, which provides an institutional context for understanding the deepening of inequality over time. Unfortunately, that part of his analysis received somewhat less attention than the more fatalistic-seeming aspects…

…The dynamics of the imperial capitalism of the 19th century needn’t apply in the democracies of the 21st. We don’t need to have this much inequality in America.

Our current brand of capitalism is an ersatz capitalism. For proof of this go back to our response to the Great Recession, where we socialized losses, even as we privatized gains. Perfect competition should drive profits to zero, at least theoretically, but we have monopolies and oligopolies making persistently high profits. C.E.O.s enjoy incomes that are on average 295 times that of the typical worker, a much higher ratio than in the past, without any evidence of a proportionate increase in productivity.

If it is not the inexorable laws of economics that have led to America’s great divide, what is it? The straightforward answer: our policies and our politics. People get tired of hearing about Scandinavian success stories, but the fact of the matter is that Sweden, Finland and Norway have all succeeded in having about as much or faster growth in per capita incomes than the United States and with far greater equality…

Ideology and interests combined nefariously…Corporate interests argued for getting rid of regulations, even when those regulations had done so much to protect and improve our environment, our safety, our health and the economy itself.

But this ideology was hypocritical. The bankers, among the strongest advocates of laissez-faire economics, were only too willing to accept hundreds of billions of dollars from the government in the bailouts that have been a recurring feature of the global economy since the beginning of the Thatcher-Reagan era of “free” markets and deregulation…

The American political system is overrun by money. Economic inequality translates into political inequality, and political inequality yields increasing economic inequality. In fact, as he recognizes, Mr. Piketty’s argument rests on the ability of wealth-holders to keep their after-tax rate of return high relative to economic growth. How do they do this? By designing the rules of the game to ensure this outcome; that is, through politics…

We have located the underlying source of the problem: political inequities and policies that have commodified and corrupted our democracy. It is only engaged citizens who can fight to restore a fairer America, and they can do so only if they understand the depths and dimensions of the challenge. It is not too late to restore our position in the world and recapture our sense of who we are as a nation. Widening and deepening inequality is not driven by immutable economic laws, but by laws we have written ourselves.

Our corrupt Congress hasn’t happened by accident, you know. The design is neither new nor patented. But, the only correction – the historic cure remains unchanged. Throw the bums out of office.

That doesn’t mean replacing them with a new crop of self-seeking liars – whether they call themselves neo-conservatives, libertarians or tea party patriots. People who care not for the welfare of individuals care equally less for the welfare of this whole nation. The canary in the coal mine is still bigotry and hatred. If politicians can’t be brought to care for the civil rights of all Americans then they don’t deserve to represent any Americans.