We’re getting a politico on the payroll to keep an eye on UFO’s

When President Donald Trump signed the $2.3 trillion coronavirus relief and government funding bill into law in December, so began the 180-day countdown for US intelligence agencies to tell Congress what they know about UFOs.

No, really…

It should…describe in detail “an interagency process for ensuring timely data collection and centralized analysis of all unidentified aerial phenomena reporting for the Federal Government” and designate an official responsible for that process…

The submitted report should be unclassified, the committee said, though it can contain a classified annex.

1. My position on UFO’s is unchanged. Especially in light of the behavior of Looney Tunes like Trump. Given the science required for travel between solar systems much less galaxies, why would we expect species that advanced to want to deal with human beings?

2. If the choice of political hack falls before Trump leaves, we only get someone the Fake President can beat on the golf course. Daffy Duck, maybe?

80% of Covid-19 cases in the US went undetected in March

A new study suggests that as many as 8.7 million Americans came down with coronavirus in March, but more than 80% of them were never diagnosed

A team of researchers looked at the number of people who went to doctors or clinics with influenza-like illnesses that were never diagnosed as coronavirus, influenza or any of the other viruses that usually circulate in winter.

There was a giant spike in these cases in March, the researchers reported in the journal Science Translational Medicine…

The researchers could not count every single case, so they ran a series of calculations to make sure their data fit in with what’s known about state populations and about the annual flu epidemic, as well as with the hard data that was collected from actual testing of coronavirus patients. They also took into account growing evidence that people started avoiding hospitals, clinics and doctor’s offices once it was clear there was a pandemic, and after pandemic lockdowns started.

Just one more failure in transparency, information-gathering and honesty that will keep political historians busy cranking out analyses and reports for decades — telling the tale of the worst president in American history.

California utility PG&E faces billion$ in fines, lawsuits for wildfire death and damages


Click to enlargeDavid Paul Morris/Bloomberg

❝ Late Friday, California confirmed what many across the state’s devastated wine country had suspected for months: Equipment owned by utility giant PG&E Corp. ignited some of the deadliest and most destructive wildfires that tore through their homes in October.

The most unexpected and crucial part of the findings, though, was at the very bottom of California’s end-of-day statement: The state had found evidence of alleged violations of law by PG&E in connection with eight of the blazes…

❝ That evidence — which California’s fire agency has now sent to county prosecutors — could make or break PG&E in the dozens of lawsuits over the Northern California fires that altogether killed 44 people, consumed thousands of homes and racked up an estimated $10 billion in damages. The alleged violations could also expose PG&E to criminal charges only two years after the San Francisco company was convicted of breaking safety rules that led to a deadly gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno, California.

I have no idea what portion of American corporations are dumb enough to think that skipping safety requirements to save a buck or two ever pays off over time. PG&E has to be as short-sighted as derivative investors in 2007 – or Trump voters.

Prevention-based food safety works — and soon to be the law


iStock

A food company recently issued a recall of hot dogs and corn dogs after its facility tested positive for Listeria.

On July 19, Oklahoma’s Bar-S Foods Co. issued a recall of more than 370,000 pounds of chicken and pork hot dogs and corn dogs. Bar-S Foods made the decision after multiple samples taken throughout its facility tested positive for Listeria. As of July 22, no illnesses have been linked to its hot dogs.

This is a prevention-based food safety approach in action. When routine tests of the facility environment suggested that the hot dogs might be contaminated, Bar-S Foods made immediate and decisive moves to protect consumers. The company’s response was consistent with the comprehensive guidance for controlling Listeria issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service. FSIS regulates meat, poultry, and egg products — approximately 20 percent of the U.S. food supply. In addition to regulations, the agency publishes guidance documents such as the one addressing Listeria, which spells out what concrete steps for companies should take to test for Listeria contamination and what they should do if they find it.

Enforcement of FDA’s preventive controls rule — mandated by the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act — will begin in September. These prevention-based regulations require that processing facilities under FDA’s purview develop a food safety plan that identifies hazards, requires measures to minimize them, and establishes procedures to monitor the hazards, correcting them if they prove ineffective. Moreover, FDA’s regulations indicate that environmental testing for a pathogen such as Listeria monocytogenes or an indicator organism, such as Listeria species, should be done if contamination of a ready-to-eat food by this pathogen is likely.

Beyond the preventive controls rule, however, FDA should follow the example of FSIS and provide the food companies it regulates with information on when and how to sample and test ready-to-eat products and processing facilities for Listeria. Such a detailed guidance document would hopefully lead to fewer recalls and outbreaks—the ultimate goal of FSMA.

Hey, it’s only been a century or so since regulatory oversight for the American food industry was proposed. You just can’t rush into policies that save lives. Profits come first.

The Pentagon wages war on transparency, accountability, truth and American taxpayers

…The United States is on track to spend more than $600 billion on the military this year — more, that is, than was spent at the height of Pres. Ronald Reagan’s Cold War military buildup and more than the military budgets of at least the next seven nations in the world combined.

And keep in mind that that’s just a partial total. As an analysis by the Straus Military Reform Project has shown, if we count related activities like homeland security, veterans’ affairs, nuclear warhead production at the Department of Energy, military aid to other countries and interest on the military-related national debt, that figure reaches a cool $1 trillion.

The more that’s spent on “defense,” however, the less the Pentagon wants us to know about how those mountains of money are actually being used. As the only major federal agency that can’t pass an audit, the Department of Defense is the poster child for irresponsible budgeting.

It’s not just that its books don’t add up, however. The Pentagon is taking active measures to disguise how it is spending the hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars it receives every year — from using the separate “war budget” as a slush fund to pay for pet projects that have nothing to do with fighting wars to keeping the cost of its new nuclear bomber a secret.

Add in dozens of other secret projects hidden in the department’s budget and the Pentagon’s poorly documented military aid programs, and it’s clear that the Defense Department believes it has something to hide…

An entrenched bureaucracy is determined not to provide information that might be used to bring its sprawling budget — and so the institution itself — under control. That’s why budgetary deception has become such a standard operating procedure at the Department of Defense.

As corrupt as Congress is, as deliberately deceptive and hypocritical most residents of the White House have been for decades, the Pentagon can give lessons to the world of thieves. RTFA for example after example of crooked deals designed to siphon away taxpayer dollars.

Our military-industrial complex makes the Mafia look like streetcorner gangbangers who just dropped out of high school. They have been stealing for so long, untouched and impervious to oversight, they limit the number of illegitimate zeros added to contracts to how much ink is left in the pen.

Federal oversight of medical devices needs reform — what are the odds?

In response to recent infections and deaths from tainted medical scopes, U.S. lawmakers are wrestling with how to keep other dangerous devices from harming patients.

Members of Congress, federal officials, and health-policy experts agree that the FDA’s surveillance system for devices is inadequate and relies too heavily on manufacturers to report problems with their own products.

But fixing the federal warning system to enable more timely identification of risky scopes, implants, and surgical tools means overcoming significant challenges in Congress, from partisan divisions to the need for more government funding. Even then, it could take years for a new system to be up and running.

Patient advocates are skeptical of the FDA’s commitment to reform. Federal auditors have criticized the agency’s oversight of devices since the 1990s.

The latest push for changes came from Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who issued a report Jan. 13 exposing failures by the FDA, device makers and hospitals that contributed to the nationwide spread of antibiotic-resistant infections from a gastrointestinal scope. Senate investigators cited 19 superbug outbreaks in the U.S. that had sickened nearly 200 patients from 2012 to 2015…

The Senate report faulted the FDA for taking 17 months to investigate before issuing its own warning in February 2015. In the meantime, seven more hospitals suffered outbreaks and 68 patients developed dangerous infections…

Part of that proposal, putting bar codes on every instrument for the first time, is already being phased in over the next few years. But experts say those unique identifiers will be of little use unless Congress requires hospitals and doctors to include them on insurance claim forms…

Representatives of the device industry said they welcome the debate, but they too emphasize that regulators have plenty of authority already. Device makers wield considerable influence with Congress, contributing to lawmakers of both parties.

After safety problems with certain drugs a decade ago, Congress helped create the Sentinel program to better track medications. The program analyzes claims data on more than 170 million Americans from several large health insurers, dozens of hospitals and disease registries.

Robert Califf, MD, the FDA’s deputy commissioner and the president’s nominee to lead the agency, said during his confirmation hearing that regulators need a Sentinel-like system for devices, too.

An FDA spokeswoman said the agency is blah, blah, blah.

Yup, we need a program to combat the inefficiencies and political cowardice of the FDA. Trouble is, we have to rely upon the even greater inefficiencies and political cowardice of Congress to challenge and change the FDA.

Sounds like one more good reason to vote in some useful Congress-critters.

Social networks scan for predators — sort of

On March 9 of this year, a piece of Facebook software spotted something suspicious.

A man in his early thirties was chatting about sex with a 13-year-old South Florida girl and planned to meet her after middle-school classes the next day.

Facebook’s extensive but little-discussed technology for scanning postings and chats for criminal activity automatically flagged the conversation for employees, who read it and quickly called police.

Officers took control of the teenager’s computer and arrested the man the next day, said Special Agent Supervisor Jeffrey Duncan of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. The alleged predator has pleaded not guilty to multiple charges of soliciting a minor…

Facebook is among the many companies that are embracing a combination of new technologies and human monitoring to thwart sex predators. Such efforts generally start with automated screening for inappropriate language and exchanges of personal information, and extend to using the records of convicted pedophiles’ online chats to teach the software what to seek out…

Like most of its peers, Facebook generally avoids discussing its safety practices to discourage scare stories, because it doesn’t catch many wrongdoers, and to sidestep privacy concerns. Users could be unnerved about the extent to which their conversations are reviewed, at least by computer programs…

NSS.

Barring a wave of costly litigation or new laws, it is hard to see the protections getting much tougher, experts said. Instead, the app and location booms will only add to the market pressure for more freedom on youth sites and greater challenges for parents.

…Said the FBI’s Brooke Donahue. “The free market pushes towards permissiveness.”

A free nation tends to push towards permissiveness, as well. The presumption being that as education becomes pervasive, probably more sophisticated – young individuals feel themselves more capable of making sophisticated decisions. Without someone looking over their shoulder. The only folks easily fitting the definition of OK to guide, overlook, regulate, of course are parents.

With more and more single parents that ain’t getting easier anytime soon. With a crap economy improving to just crappy, time for family life ain’t getting any easier.

Might be nice if there really was sufficient education, access to information beyond superstition and cultural foibles. You might think it a copout to only take the time to point young people in the direction of answers. But, I’m not confident even that much is easily available.

I think we need a Socrates or Mr. Chips-level Google.

Oh, the FBI? I trust ’em about as far as I can throw them uphill into a heavy wind.

Mark Bittman – Making sense of water

kanro-almond-sweets

Almost every number used to analyze California’s drought can be debated, but this can be safely said: No level of restrictions on residential use can solve the problem. The solution lies with agriculture, which consumes more than its fair share.

That doesn’t mean homeowners can’t and shouldn’t cut back.

But according to estimates by the Public Policy Institute of California, more water was used to grow almonds in 2013 than was used by all homes and businesses in San Francisco and Los Angeles put together. Even worse, most of those almonds are then exported — which means, effectively, that we are exporting water. Unless you’re the person or company making money off this deal, that’s just nuts.

California produces more than 400 commodities in many different climates, so it’s difficult to generalize about agriculture. Many farmers are cutting back on water use, planting geographically appropriate crops and shifting to techniques that make sense, like “dry” farming. Others, however, are mining water as they would copper: When it runs out, they’ll find new ways to make money.

So the big question is not, “How do we survive the drought?” — which could well be the new normal — but, “How do we allocate water sensibly?” California grows fruits and vegetables for everyone; that’s a good thing. It would be an even better thing, however, if some of that production shifted to places like Iowa, once a leading grower of produce. That could happen again, if federal policy subsidized such crops, rather than corn, on some of that ultra-fertile land…

The system is arcane, allowing some people and entities to get surface water nearly free. (This system, involving “senior,” as in inherited, water rights, has never been successfully challenged.) Others, sometimes including cities, can pay 100 times more.

In most areas, groundwater for landowners is “free,” as long as you can dig a well that’s deep enough. This has led to a race to the bottom: New, super-deep wells, usually drilled at great expense, are causing existing shallower wells, often owned by people with less money, to run dry…

Wise use and conservation — not new dams, not desalination — are the answers, and conservation means common sense should take precedence over profiteering.

People interested in wise use and conservation, democracy in economics instead of might makes right, don’t have million-dollar lobbying firms on retainer. It will take grassroots organizing in the most traditional sense to overcome the poeple who treat agriculture as simple commodity production where it produces the most profit. Often that is determined by how many politicians you own – not the quality of arable land.