America’s economy rocks — if you live in a blue county


Click into the article for largerLazaro Gamio/Axios

❝ Economic prosperity is concentrated in America’s elite zip codes, but economic stability outside of those communities is rapidly deteriorating.

❝ U.S. geographical economic inequality is growing, meaning your economic opportunity is more tied to your location than ever before. A large portion of the country is being left behind by today’s economy, according to a county-by-county report released this morning by the Economic Innovation Group, a non-profit research and advocacy organization. This was a major election theme that helped thrust Donald Trump to the White House…

Not that he has a clue or inclination about repairing any of this.

❝ The fastest growing western cities (such as Gilbert, Ariz., and Plano, Texas) and “tech hubs” (Seattle, San Francisco, Austin) dominate the list of the most prosperous cities in the country. Cities that were once industrial powerhouses in the Midwest and Northeast are now more likely to be on the distressed end of the spectrum, like Cleveland and Newark.

“Today’s jobs are going almost exclusively to people with education beyond high school, and those jobs are going to thriving communities,” said John Lettieri, co-founder of EIG. “It’s a self-reinforcing cycle.”

RTFA. Click through to the article – use the link under the map. Conclusions are wishy-washy. The sort of political analysis that illustrates American dedication to sophistry. But, hey, that’s how the Establishment got to limit the whole political process to two Tweedledee and Tweedledumb parties.

Most honey samples now show pesticide contamination

❝ A new study has found traces of neonicotinoid chemicals in 75% of honey samples from across the world.

The scientists say that the levels of the widely used pesticide are far below the maximum permitted levels in food for humans.

In one-third of the honey, the amount of the chemical found was enough to be detrimental to bees.

❝ Industry sources, though, dismissed the research, saying the study was too small to draw concrete conclusions…In economic terms, that means they couldn’t care less. As long as they’re not killing humans or turning them sterile, all’s right with the world – and their profits.

❝ Neonicotinoids are considered to be the world’s most widely used class of insecticides…These systemic chemicals can be added as a seed coating to many crops, reducing the need for spraying. They have generally been seen as being more beneficial for the environment than the older products that they have replaced.

However, the impact of neonics on pollinators such as bees has long been a troubling subject for scientists around the world. Successive studies have shown a connection between the use of the products and a decline in both the numbers and health of bees.

Earlier this year, the most comprehensive field study to date concluded that the pesticides harm honey bees and wild bees.

You can read the report from this latest study over here.

Congressional committee defines encryption backdoors as against national interests


CNET

❝ In a rebuke to the anti-encryption campaign waged by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation — with Apple as a target — the U.S. House Judiciary Committee’s Encryption Working Group issued a report today stating “any measure that weakens encryption works against the national interest.”

❝ In a bipartisan report, the group observed that “any measure that weakens encryption works against the national interest,” citing representatives of the national security community who noted that “strong encryption is vital to the national defense and to securing vital assets, such as critical infrastructure.”

A second finding of the report was that “encryption technology is a global technology that is widely and increasingly available around the world.” That echoed an earlier study for Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society…

❝ The HJC report further suggested that “Congress should foster cooperation between the law enforcement community and technology companies,” the same suggestion Apple’s chief executive Tim Cook made in asking that the elected representatives of the U.S. Congress work on the issue rather than having it be pushed through under court orders facilitated by the state police, invoking fears of terrorism as a emotional ploy…

❝ FBI director James Comey pursued a charm campaign using FBI press releases to insist that “the San Bernardino litigation isn’t about trying to set a precedent or send any kind of message,” and subsequently repeated those comments in testimony to the U.S. House Intelligence Committee…

However, Comey has a vast public record of desperately seeking to break encryption. In 2015, Comey unsuccessfully lobbied the Obama administration to press for laws empowering the police to force private companies to break their own encryption products.

Bipartisan reports are rare enough in the crapper called Congress. To have something like this roll out of a committee controlled by the latest degeneration of Republicans is amazing. The clarity and simplicity of the convincing testimony must be outstanding.

Of course, all we now need is for this to be transformed into legislation, agreed upon by both houses of Congress, and arrive on the desk of a president bright enough to understand progress, privacy rights and the gumption to sign the bill over objections from a prick like James Comey.

Pentagon paid for a report on wasted taxpayer dollar$ – It’s so bad they’re trying to hide it, now!


Click to enlargeDavid B. Gleason Photo

❝ In a bombshell article, The Washington Post reported that the Pentagon hired an outside consulting firm to identify ways to streamline its bureaucracy. It turns out the American military needs a lot of back-office support to keep running and that’s where most of the waste, fraud and abuse piles up.

The consultants did their job and identified $125 billion worth of unnecessary spending. The recommended plan called for some simple, common-sense changes such as making early retirement more attractive, streamlined information technology departments and cutting back on civilian contractors.

If the U.S. military made these changes, it could save more than a hundred billion in taxpayer dollars over five years…So…the suits at the Pentagon buried the report out of fear Congress would use it to cut the defense budget…

“We’re spending a lot more money than we thought,” reads the first line of the report.

No shit. But here’s the thing, for the people who spend their days watching the Pentagon for waste, fraud and abuse neither the report nor its suppression came as a surprise.

“This report confirms what anyone who’s paying attention already knows: there are a lot of opportunities to increase efficiency and effectiveness without increasing spending,”…Mandy Smithberger of the Project on Government Oversight…

She’s right. Budget hawks have long known that the Pentagon’s $600 billion plus annual budget is rotten to the core…

❝ The Pentagon’s property management division employs 192 thousand people, yet has no idea how much property it owns nor how much it’s worth. Existing best estimates say the U.S. military owns half a million properties on 30 million acres across the globe.

It’s worth — the Pentagon accountants think — around $800 billion total. Worse, as of a 2014 according to the Government Accountability Office, the property managers have literally no idea what’s going on in half those buildings.

The United States Department of Defense [sic] is the largest single employer on Earth. They pay little more than lip service to the kinds of efficiency many long-standing government agencies offer. When the Pentagon echos the Republican lying mantra of “jobs, jobs, jobs…” they mean jobs for themselves, their kin, their retirement, their individual and personal investments, commitments, to suppliers.

RTFA for a quick journey through the fiscal corruption of our military-industrial complex. Incidentally, you’ll find a link to the actual 77-page report inside the article. It’s been removed from any featured spot on any DOD website; but, it’s still up and alive.

Torture in Mexico reaching catastrophic levels

La Jornada: According to Amnesty International, Mexico’s torture epidemic continues, reaching “catastrophic levels in the past year, with more than double the number of reports at the federal level of suffocation, rape and other sexual abuse, electric shocks and beatings.”

In the report, [.pdf full English text] AI stated that the number of complaints for torture more than doubled between 2013 and 2014, from 1,164 to 2,403, according to the Attorney General’s Office…

…It was asked why President Enrique Peña Nieto has not launched an initiative in Congress for a general law on torture, as a first step in addressing the crisis, when he said he would. The deadline for the Legislature to approve the initiative is in less than three months (January 2016) and it has not yet been delivered…

Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director AI, said: “A strong general law against torture, which means more than words and ensures justice for the victims, would be a good first step for Mexico to recover from the deep crisis of human rights in which it is immersed.”

She added that it was hard to imagine a year ago that Mexico’s torture crisis could get any worse, and now we see that that is exactly what happened as the government continues to ignore a crisis it created.

AI noted in its report that the President’s commitment to the law is a major step forward, but these paper promises have not been accompanied by concrete results that would translate into a change in people’s lives.

Same as it ever was. Not just in Mexico, not just in Israel, not just in offshore prisons run by the United States. The mentality of many “freedom-loving” democracies often finds excuses for torture.

Fewer than 15% of US adults eat enough fruits and vegetables

A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that most adults in the US consume fewer fruits and vegetables than recommended by the federal government…According to the report, less than 15% of US citizens met their recommended fruit intake, and 8.9% met vegetable recommendations in 2013.

Adults who engage in less than 30 minutes of moderate physical activity each day should consume between 1.5 and two cups of fruit and two to three cups of vegetables daily, according to federal recommendations.

Fruit and vegetable intake was lowest in the south. In Tennessee, just 7.5% of citizens met the fruit intake recommendation, and in Mississippi, 5.5% of adults ate the recommended portion of vegetables. The highest percentages were in California, where 17.7% of adults consumed the recommended portion of fruit.

The study’s lead author, Latetia V Moore of the…CDC, said the low numbers were tied to socioeconomic factors, as well as convenience…“It has to do with convenience, affordability, palatability,” Moore said. “It’s making sure fruits and vegetables are conveniently priced and convenient to access.”

How about intellectual laziness?

Moore and the report’s co-authors studied data from the…survey of 373,580 people across all 50 states and Washington DC. The survey asked people about the frequency of their fruit and vegetable intake, and took personal characteristics such as ethnicity, age and income into account.

Researchers compared survey results with recommendations from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which measured intake by number of cups rather than frequency…

Fruit and vegetable intake can be tied to heart disease and stroke. The study was focused on American adults, but Moore said she is starting to see a shift toward incorporating healthier foods into children’s diets.

I don’t care what the motivation may be. Changing your diet, upgrading to thoughtful, up-to-date nutritional standards ain’t expensive or difficult. Costs increase if you try to move to a completely organic diet plus availability is more likely to be a problem in some communities. But, do some reading online, folks. There’s a great deal of commercially-produced fruit and veggies that haven’t any notable risk associated with “conventional” foodstuffs.

My experience is that many thoughtful market chains that carry both also take a great deal of care with the quality and safety of that so-called conventional food.

1 in 4 Americans with diabetes don’t know they have it

Three million more people have been diagnosed with diabetes since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last took count in 2010. That brings the total number of Americans with diabetes to a whopping 29 million…Though large, the numbers aren’t all that surprising; the rates of diabetes 1 and 2 have been rising for several years now.

But the 29 million figure, featured in a CDC report published this week, is just the people who have been diagnosed. Many more likely have the disease but are unaware — and undiagnosed.

The CDC estimates that of the estimated 12.3 percent of the adult population with diabetes, one in four don’t know they have it. That’s not to mention some 86 million people who have prediabetes, 15 to 30 percent of whom the CDC says will develop type 2 diabetes within five years…

The resulting medical complications from diabetes and prediabetes total more than $245 billion in healthcare costs each year.

The CDC’s Ann Albright says one of the only ways Americans can chip away at these worrisome trends is to improve dietary habits. Even those with prediabetes can avoid the fate of an official diabetes diagnosis by making simple changes, like losing weight and eating healthier.

“Some of the strongest evidence suggests that small changes — like losing 5 to 7 percent of your body weight if you’re overweight — can make the biggest difference,” Albright explained.

“Invest in foods that are nutritious,” Albright added, “like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.”

I probably qualify as prediabetic – though much less so than I used to. A couple of sedentary gigs last few years before retirement left me a lot heavier and getting less exercise than was customary most of my life. Fortunately, my better half does a serious job of encouraging not only sounder nutrition; but, more exercise. I grew new habits as simple as portion control, deriving self-satisfaction from managing a small and useful part of diet oversight.

Steadily, consistently, I lose about 6 pounds a year. Have been for about a decade.

I don’t understand people who whine that a healthy diet is twice as expensive as fast food. Yes, it’s difficult if you’re living on the road as I did for a number of years. But, if you’re home for breakfast and supper, you’re sensible enough to brown bag it for lunch – we ain’t all organic; but, we also spend less on food than we did even a few years ago. And, nowadays, I’m home at lunchtime which allows for a hot meal prepared by me.

Here’s a link to the CDC’s report [.pdf]. Graphic, simple, useful.

CIA torture report starts to leak from the Senate

A still-secret Senate Intelligence Committee report calls into question the legal foundation of the CIA’s use of waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques on suspected terrorists, a finding that challenges the key defense on which the agency and the Bush administration relied in arguing that the methods didn’t constitute torture.

The report also found that the spy agency failed to keep an accurate account of the number of individuals it held, and that it issued erroneous claims about how many it detained and subjected to the controversial interrogation methods. The CIA has said that about 30 detainees underwent the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques.

The CIA’s claim “is BS,” said a former U.S. official familiar with evidence underpinning the report, who asked not to be identified because the matter is still classified. “They are trying to minimize the damage. They are trying to say it was a very targeted program, but that’s not the case.”

The findings are among the report’s 20 main conclusions. Taken together, they paint a picture of an intelligence agency that seemed intent on evading or misleading nearly all of its oversight mechanisms throughout the program, which was launched under the Bush administration after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and ran until 2006.

Some of the report’s other conclusions, which were obtained by McClatchy, include:

_ The CIA used interrogation methods that weren’t approved by the Justice Department or CIA headquarters.

_ The agency impeded effective White House oversight and decision-making regarding the program.

_ The CIA actively evaded or impeded congressional oversight of the program.

_ The agency hindered oversight of the program by its own Inspector General’s Office.

RTFA and imagine what we wait to read in detail. Thugs acting on behalf of the United States government do our nation no service at all. Lying about what they did – in conjunction with a phony court called to order to justify crimes committed in our name – doesn’t change their deeds.

We need a government with sufficient backbone to keep this from happening again. We need laws that can’t be defeated by the usual expedient of crying “wolf” about national security.

Arizona Forestry Division cared more for property values than safety of firefighters who died

image

A state safety agency recommended fines totaling $559,000 against the state’s Forestry Division on Wednesday, saying the agency wrongly put the protection of “structures and pastureland” ahead of the safety of firefighters battling a wildfire in Central Arizona last summer, including 19 who died while trapped by the flames on a mountain.

The report said the forestry division kept the firefighters on the mountains even after commanders realized they could not control the flames burning through parched, thick chaparral along the western edge of the old gold-mining village of Yarnell, 80 miles northwest of Phoenix

In a report, inspectors for the Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health said the actions resulted in “multiple instances of firefighters being unnecessarily and unreasonably exposed to the deadly hazards of wildland firefighting.”

The report…also faulted the team running firefighting operations on June 30, when the 19 firefighters died, for being understaffed…

…The report cited several additional problems. Members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots — the 19 who died and their lookout, Brendan McDonough, who escaped — were tired, having just returned from fighting two fires. The report indicated that exhaustion could have affected their judgment.

Brave, brave firefighters, well remembered in New Mexico. The fires they had just returned from fighting – before this tragedy – were here. They did themselves proud.

No, you can’t say the same about Arizona bureaucrats who considered them expendable.

Suffer the Children, Suffer the Country

Children are every country’s most vital resource. This is true not just morally, but also economically. Investing in the health, education, and skills of children offers the highest economic returns to a country. A new study by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) shows which high-income countries are doing well when it comes to making these investments – and which are doing poorly.

The report, Child Well-Being in Rich Countries, takes a holistic view of the conditions of children in the United States, Canada, and Europe – 29 countries in all. The top-ranked countries, where children are best off, are the social democracies of Western Europe. The Netherlands heads the list, followed by Norway, Iceland, Finland, Sweden, and Germany.

At the bottom one finds a major surprise: the US, the richest large economy in the world, is in 26th place, followed by three much poorer countries: Lithuania, Latvia, and Romania. France and the United Kingdom are ranked in the middle.

The study assesses children’s well-being in terms of material conditions (related to household-income levels); health and safety; education; risky behavior (such as excessive alcohol consumption); and physical environment, including housing conditions. Although the study is limited to high-income countries, national governments – and even cities – in other parts of the world should replicate it to analyze their own children’s well-being…

The differences between the social democracies and the US show up strongly in category after category. In the social democracies, less than 10% of children grow up in relative poverty (meaning households with less than half of the country’s median income). In the US, the rate of relative poverty exceeds 20%.

The costs to the US of allowing so many of its children to grow up in poverty, poor health, poor schools, and poor housing are staggering. A shocking proportion ends up serving time in prison – especially in the case of non-white poor children. Even those fortunate not to fall into the trap of America’s vast prison system often end up unemployed and even unemployable, without the skills needed to obtain and keep a decent job.

The UNICEF findings are powerful. High national incomes are not enough to ensure children’s well-being. Societies that have a strong commitment to equal opportunity for all of their children – and that are prepared to invest public funds on their behalf – end up with much better outcomes.

American conservatives used to consider educating our children an asset. That conservative ethos has shriveled into elitism, contempt for everyone and anything that doesn’t muster enough dollars to catch the eye of corporate princes.

The footmen for the moneyed class assigned the task of keeping this nation’s politics tidy – see little need to educate the poor. After all, we can just just hire folks from other countries to fill necessary tasks. Or move the jobs closer to a supply of wage earners educated at some other nation’s expense.