100 degrees F in Siberia!


Joshua Stevens/NASA Earth Observatory

The Arctic heat wave that sent Siberian temperatures soaring to around 100 degrees Fahrenheit on the first day of summer put an exclamation point on an astonishing transformation of the Arctic environment that’s been underway for about 30 years.

As long ago as the 1890s, scientists predicted that increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would lead to a warming planet, particularly in the Arctic, where the loss of reflective snow and sea ice would further warm the region. Climate models have consistently pointed to “Arctic amplification” emerging as greenhouse gas concentrations increase.

Well, Arctic amplification is now here in a big way. The Arctic is warming at roughly twice the rate of the globe as a whole. When extreme heat waves like this one strike, it stands out to everyone. Scientists are generally reluctant to say “We told you so,” but the record shows that we did.

The question now on the table is will nations led by fools who continually reject science change their practices in the least? Or are the residents of the planet stuck into a downward spiral, refusing to act – for whatever excuses they adopt – until it is too late to halt our collective demise?

Let the sun shine!

Amazon Prime added HAIR this weekend. Of course I cried watching it. Thousands of American soldiers died. Hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese died. And many still live crippled by what our nation did. The United States government still doesn’t own up to Agent Orange, the genetic poison crippling folks in that Asian land.

Politicians in both political parties collaborated for decades until the grassroots revulsion against that war forced an end. And, please, don’t delude yourself into thinking the current scumbag in the White House wouldn’t be greedy enough to buy a bagfull of “patriotic” votes to stay in office – and roll out the profits of another war to fund all the corporate help he could ever wish for.

Watch the clip. Watch the film if you’ve never seen it. If you lived it as I did – shed a tear for the loss of Aquarius and the thousands murdered in the name of The Land of the Free.

Never forget


Click to enlarge

“Mrs. Fanny Parrott, wife of former slave near Siloam, Greene County, Georgia.” — By Jack Delano, Farm Security Administration Photography program (FSA). May 1941.

Click through to the large version of this photo. The quiet dignity, self-contained beauty of age and experience tolerating this camera-carrying record keeper.

The tax American women pay on everything — just because they’re women

Whether you’re buying pink toys with your allowance as a kid or canes and compression socks in old age, it’s cheaper to be a man and more expensive to be a woman.

The New York City Department of Consumer Affairs studied nearly 800 products in 35 categories that people buy and use throughout their life — everything from onesies and baby shoes to razors and deodorant.

Products marketed to women cost more than products marketed to men 42 percent of the time. And men’s products cost more only 8 percent of the time. Over women’s lifetimes, the report concludes, the differences can easily add up to thousands of dollars.

And all of this is legal. While some jurisdictions, including New York, have laws about charging men and women different prices for similar services, there are no laws about different prices for similar products…

…The worst offender was shampoo: men paid an average of $5.68 per bottle of shampoo, while women paid $8.39, a 48 percent difference.

There is no reason for this — men’s and women’s shampoo uses the same ingredients. And although other manufacturers of other personal care products justify the difference by saying, for example, that men buy razors more frequently than women, women use more shampoo than men. The report concluded that women are asked to pay more of the cost of research and development, a major expense for cosmetics companies, than men are…

There are reasons why women’s products might cost more. Women’s clothing is cut differently; girls’ clothing, the report noted, often had more expensive trimming, such as ribbons, ruffles, or glitter.

But there’s a deeper reason, particularly for clothing and personal care products, as Danielle Kurtzleben wrote for Vox in 2014:

There’s an obvious answer here: society expects women to look a certain way. Put into economics terms, there’s a higher return on investment for beauty for women. Beauty products are becoming more popular among men, it’s true, but expensive skin cream is still optional. For women, all those trappings are more necessary.

And that matters well beyond your bank account balance, because it reinforces socially constructed notions of what it means to be a woman…

From the market side, all the reasons are nothing more than rationales. The defining characteristics of our society flow from the economics of profit. Profit rules. If you can optimize profit, increase profit between demographics you go for it. You’re a Hero of Capitalism.

We see it across a broad range of transactions. We see it most of all — ripping off women.

Must we have a new government before war crimes prosecution for torture ?


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The Central Intelligence Agency’s health professionals repeatedly criticized the agency’s post-Sept. 11 interrogation program, but their protests were rebuffed by prominent outside psychologists who lent credibility to the program, according to a new report.

The 542-page report, which examines the involvement of the nation’s psychologists and their largest professional organization, the American Psychological Association, with the harsh interrogation programs of the Bush era, raises repeated questions about the collaboration between psychologists and officials at both the C.I.A. and the Pentagon.

The report, completed this month, concludes that some of the association’s top officials, including its ethics director, sought to curry favor with Pentagon officials by seeking to keep the association’s ethics policies in line with the Defense Department’s interrogation policies, while several prominent outside psychologists took actions that aided the C.I.A.’s interrogation program and helped protect it from growing dissent inside the agency.

A 542-page report concludes that prominent psychologists worked closely with the C.I.A. to blunt dissent inside the agency over an interrogation program that is now known to have included torture. It also finds that officials at the American Psychological Association colluded with the Pentagon to make sure the association’s ethics policies did not hinder the ability of psychologists to be involved in the interrogation program.

The association’s ethics office “prioritized the protection of psychologists — even those who might have engaged in unethical behavior — above the protection of the public…”

Two former presidents of the psychological association were on a C.I.A. advisory committee, the report found. One of them gave the agency an opinion that sleep deprivation did not constitute torture, and later held a small ownership stake in a consulting company founded by two men who oversaw the agency’s interrogation program, it said.

The association’s ethics director, Stephen Behnke, coordinated the group’s public policy statements on interrogations with a top military psychologist, the report said, and then received a Pentagon contract to help train interrogators while he was working at the association, without the knowledge of the association’s board. Mr. Behnke did not respond to a request for comment…

After the Hoffman report was made public on Friday, the American Psychological Association issued an apology.

RTFA. Long, it details the collusion between the APA and the Pentagon, torture programs, cover-ups.

Aside from scum like Dick Cheney who advocate torture, we still have a White House which alternates between ignoring opportunities to prosecute war crimes committed in our name – and letting reports like this lie fallow if not hidden away from the public.

Like many, I do not expect Congress to do their duty and support war crimes prosecution; but, the difference between words and deeds from the White House on this question stinks on ice.

Mexico’s “Harvest of Shame” fills American tables


Click to enlargeLA Times/Don Bartletti
Half the tomatoes consumed in the U.S. come from Mexico

The tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers arrive year-round by the ton, with peel-off stickers proclaiming “Product of Mexico.”

Farm exports to the U.S. from Mexico have tripled to $7.6 billion in the last decade, enriching agribusinesses, distributors and retailers.

American consumers get all the salsa, squash and melons they can eat at affordable prices. And top U.S. brands — Wal-Mart, Whole Foods, Subway and Safeway, among many others — profit from produce they have come to depend on.

These corporations say their Mexican suppliers have committed to decent treatment and living conditions for workers.

But a Los Angeles Times investigation found that for thousands of farm laborers south of the border, the export boom is a story of exploitation and extreme hardship.

Many farm laborers are essentially trapped for months at a time in rat-infested camps, often without beds and sometimes without functioning toilets or a reliable water supply.

Some camp bosses illegally withhold wages to prevent workers from leaving during peak harvest periods.

Laborers often go deep in debt paying inflated prices for necessities at company stores. Some are reduced to scavenging for food when their credit is cut off. It’s common for laborers to head home penniless at the end of a harvest.

Those who seek to escape their debts and miserable living conditions have to contend with guards, barbed-wire fences and sometimes threats of violence from camp supervisors.

Major U.S. companies have done little to enforce social responsibility guidelines that call for basic worker protections such as clean housing and fair pay practices.

The farm laborers are mostly indigenous people from Mexico’s poorest regions. Bused hundreds of miles to vast agricultural complexes, they work six days a week for the equivalent of $8 to $12 a day.

The squalid camps where they live, sometimes sleeping on scraps of cardboard on concrete floors, are operated by the same agribusinesses that employ advanced growing techniques and sanitary measures in their fields and greenhouses.

The contrast between the treatment of produce and of people is stark.


One of ~100,000 Mexican children under 14 who pick crops…He is 9 years old.

The comparison with Edward R Murrow’s “Harvest of Shame” about migrant labor on US farms in 1960 is appropriate. Some of the poor buggers in that documentary probably were the fathers and mothers, grandfathers and grandmothers of folks revealed in this series of articles.

This is the kind of long-form journalism still popular outside the United States. Sometimes, I feel our Establishment deliberately encourages Americans to develop the attention span of a cricket. It would be an injustice for me to use my usual editor’s X-Acto knife on the wealth of information inside these articles. Richard Marosi and Don Bartletti are to be congratulated much for their work undercover – and cold-call walk-ins. I hope the journalism craft recognizes their work appropriately.

Please, please, RTFA. There’s a link above to this the first in the series.

Here are the links to:

Part 2: A raid exposes brutal conditions at Bioparques, one of Mexico’s biggest tomato exporters, which was a Wal-Mart supplier. But the effort to hold the grower accountable is looking more like a tale of impunity.

Part 3: The company store is supposed to be a lifeline for migrant farm laborers. But inflated prices drive people deep into debt. Many go home penniless, obliged to work off their debts at the next harvest.

Part 4: About 100,000 children under 14 pick crops for pay at small- and mid-size farms across Mexico, where child labor is illegal. Some of the produce they harvest reaches American consumers, helping to power an export boom.

Thanks, Mike

Kudos for finding us one of the best pieces of American journalism in quite a while

Twitter wants to know what other apps you have on your phone

Twitter, hungry for new data to fuel its targeted advertising, will start looking at what other apps its users have downloaded.

Starting Wednesday, the company will begin collecting data on which other apps its users have on their iOS and Android smartphones. The data, Twitter says, will help it deliver better “tailored content” to its users. That’s sure to include ads, but maybe also better recommendations about whom to follow when users sign up, or more relevant first tweets in the feed, which could help Twitter hook people early.

It’s strictly a list of the apps users have installed, Twitter says, not data pertaining to what people do inside those apps. So Twitter would know if you have a ride-hailing app, but it wouldn’t see your rides taken with the app.

Well, this week, anyway.

…Twitter’s move stands to raise privacy concerns at least among some people, perhaps depending on which other apps are on their phones.

Twitter’s data collection will start automatically, unless users have already turned on the built in “limit ad tracking” or “opt out of interest-based ads” option on iOS or Android phones, respectively. Twitter users will be notified of the data collection, but they can turn it off at any time from within their app’s settings, Twitter says. If users turn it off, the data is removed from Twitter’s servers…the company says.

Is the NSA buying stock in Twitter, yet?

Thanks, Mike

Unintended consequences — DOE loan program is now profitable

The U.S. Department of Energy, led by Secretary Ernie Moniz, is trying to change how people perceive its loan program, which doled out over $30 billion in loans over the years, funding clean energy projects like huge solar panel farms, but also now-bankrupt solar startup Solyndra. Why? Because the Department has another $40 billion left to hand out in the program, and of course it wants that process to go as smoothly as possible.

Moniz and DOE officials said in interviews Thursday morning that the loan program is now starting to make a small profit ($30 million from interest payments), and eventually the program could bring in between $5 billion and $6 billion over 20 years.

Not that realities of government research and kickstarter programs are anything conservative pundits and politicians will ever admit to being useful.

The program wasn’t designed to make money, and it actually had $10 billion set aside to cover losses. The loss rate on the first $30 billion was only 2.28 percent, or $780 million, of which $535 million was for Solyndra, and some of the rest from Fisker. Abound Solar and Vehicle Production Group were also small losses. Now interest payments have covered all of those losses and brought it into the black…

For example, the DOE loan program funded a number of large solar panel farms that couldn’t get debt financing with its first $30 billion about five years ago, Moniz pointed out last month. But now that solar panel farm development has come down in price substantially, and private funding has become readily available, the private sector has taken over this type of investment and the DOE has moved on. This is the type of model that works for the DOE, said Moniz. But of course bringing newly commercial technologies to market can be risky…

With the…news that the original loan program is actually profitable, it will be interesting to hear from all those critics who used Solyndra as a political talking point, including in the last presidential election. Is the ghost of Solyndra finally dead? If the money’s been covered by interest payments, it seems as if it should be.

I think Katie Fehrenbacher has a cynical streak in her DNA at least as persistent as mine. After all, she earns her living writing about cleantech, clean energy and the struggle to develop national policy based on science and humanity. None of which are topics of interest to Republicans, Blue Dog Democrats or the sort of cretin who hasn’t embraced a new economic or social idea since the designated hitter was allowed in half of baseball.

But, I appreciate her optimism. Even if it presumes courage and understanding I consider scarce.