Wednesday, the day after….Morning reads.

Edward Gorey

Edward Gorey

Good morning everyone.

Horrible weather is making its way across the US, so first…before we get to any reads, make sure you keep an eye out for bad storms.

Intellicast – Current Radar in United States

Severe Weather Warnings Page

This image of a lighted tree in a pope mobile/sleigh is appropriate for the wet and cold days this holiday.

Let’s start this post with some thoughts on Newtown, CT., both of which are very emotional…for different reasons.

Mom of Sandy Hook Child Victim Shares Daughter’s ‘Message From Beyond the Grave’ in Incredibly Moving CNN Interview

Grace McDonnell was one of the 20 children killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School this month. As her parents are grieving the loss of their bright-eyed, seven-year-old daughter, they can take at least some solace in a sign of comfort that she left behind.

Grace was known for leaving messages on the family’s bathroom window — notes and symbols that would show up once fog clouded the room from shower steam. And the day after her death, seemingly on cue, one of these notes appeared to her mother.

Grace McDonnell Leaves Sign for Her Mother Lynn on Bathroom Window | Sandy Hook

Grace McDonnell, one of the victims of the Sandy Hook massacre (Photo Credit: CNN)

On the first day without her daughter, Lynn McDonnell said that the message on the window was a peace sign, Grace’s favorite symbol. Above it were the words, “Grace, Mom.” CNN was moved to call the family’s finding “a message from beyond the grave.”

“I looked and there was her peace sign in the window and I was like, ‘That’s a sign from my Grace,’” Lynn said. ”She was all about peace and gentleness and kindness.”

Heartbreaking. As many of us are thankful this holiday season is almost over, it makes me stop and think how lucky we are to even have a holiday filled with the usual stresses and family dinner get-together, whether they are enjoyable or not.

The other link I have for you is just more discussion on gun-control, in an op/ed from Michael Moore: 3 Reasons America Is Falling Apart — And How We Can Save Ourselves

After watching the deranged, delusional National Rifle Association press conference on Friday, it was clear that the Mayan prophecy had come true. Except the only world that was ending was the NRA’s. Their bullying power to set gun policy in this country is over. The nation is repulsed by the massacre in Connecticut, and the signs are everywhere: a basketball coach at a post-game press conferencethe Republican Joe Scarborougha pawn shop owner in Floridaa gun buy-back program in New Jerseya singing contest show on TV, and  the conservative gun-owning judge who sentenced Jared Loughner.

So here’s my little bit of holiday cheer for you:

These gun massacres aren’t going to end any time soon.

That is just the first few lines of the op/ed, please take a look. I don’t usually post links to the rants of Michael Moore…but he sure as hell got the Columbine story the attention it deserved…along with other gun related shootings and killings in his film, Bowling for Columbine. Anyway, take a few minutes to read his opinion.

This next story is fascinating from an environmental stand-point.  After you read it, just think of the disaster in the making:  Proposed Coles Hill uranium mine: Buried treasure or hidden threat?

Beneath an estate that’s been farmed by the Coles family since just after the Revolutionary War lies the nation’s largest untapped uranium deposit, a potential $10 billion bonanza amid rolling hills, oak trees, pastures and a historic plantation home.

The radioactive treasure in the Blue Ridge foothills is pitting neighbor against neighbor and North Carolinians against Virginians. North Carolina is only about 20 miles from the proposed uranium mine and residents, public officials and lawmakers there worry that a catastrophic release of radioactive waste could poison Kerr Lake, the drinking water source for more than 118,000 North Carolinians, as well as contaminate the fishing- and recreation-rich Roanoke River as far east as Pamlico Sound.

With the recent ProPublica report on the contamination of water aquifers by the US government, this “mother-lode” of radioactive uranium seems like a mining operation that is just asking for trouble.

From the Guardian, this question is one we all should be asking…from Carl Bernstein:     Why the US media ignored Murdoch’s brazen bid to hijack the presidency

CEO Rupert Murdoch

The Ailes/Petraeus tape made clear to many that Murdoch’s goals in America have always been nefarious. Photograph: Reuters

So now we have it: what appears to be hard, irrefutable evidence of Rupert Murdoch‘s ultimate and most audacious attempt – thwarted, thankfully, by circumstance – to hijack America’s democratic institutions on a scale equal to his success in kidnapping and corrupting the essential democratic institutions of Great Britain through money, influence and wholesale abuse of the privileges of a free press.

In the American instance, Murdoch’s goal seems to have been nothing less than using his media empire – notably Fox News – to stealthily recruit, bankroll and support the presidential candidacy of General David Petraeus in the 2012 election.

And like the rest of the articles I have for you this morning, it is just a few first lines, read the rest at the link.

That is all I have for you this morning, how was your holiday and what have you been ready lately?


Friday Reads: Two Years Gone and where has all the Sealife Gone?

Good Morning!

This Morning Reads will have a theme.  Two years ago the Gulf was oozing nasty, icky, oil.  Like Hurricane Katrina, it’s an event that’s changed our lives down here in ways that are hard to explain and share.  We’ve not fully recovered from either of these events.  That’s not exactly what the Oil, the seafood, or the tourist industry wants any one to tell you.  It’s not what state, local, and federal governments and agencies want you to know either.

But there it is.  There is still devastation. There are huge problems. The folks that created the problems are not being held to account.

The stories I will share are human, animal, vegetable, and mineral.  The BP Spill turned an entire ecosystem and way of living inside out.  It’s being covered up by smiling people inviting you to our Gulf Coast Cities and Beaches in ads.  It’s being hidden behind pictures of big heaping plates of staged seafood buffets.  What’s hidden behind the ads and the promos is disturbing science, economics, medicine, and social upheaval.  Here’s somethings you may want to know from our local news stations, scientists, and doctors.

From wusf News: Two Years after the BP Oil Spill: The Oil You Cannot See

On some Florida Panhandle beaches, swimmers can come off the beach with oil from the BP oil spill still on their skin — two years after that environmental disaster.

And, even after showering, the oil can still be on their skin. Only an ultraviolent light can show it.

Tampa Bay Times environmental reporter Craig Pittman says that’s because leaked oil, mixed with chemical dispersant sprayed on the spill two years ago to break it up, is pooling in some shallow waters of Panhandle beaches.

And the mixture actually accelerates absorption by human skin.  Seen under the ultraviolet light, it’s kind of creepy.

From The Nation: Investigation: Two Years After the BP Spill, A Hidden Health Crisis Festers

n August 2011 the Government Accountability Project (GAP) began its investigation of the public health threats associated with the oil spill cleanup, the results of which will be released this summer. “Over twenty-five whistleblowers in our investigation have reported the worst public health tragedies of any investigation in GAP’s thirty-five-year history,” Shanna Devine, GAP legislative campaign coordinator, told me.

Witnesses reported a host of ailments, including eye, nose and throat irritation; respiratory problems; blood in urine, vomit and rectal bleeding; seizures; nausea and violent vomiting episodes that last for hours; skin irritation, burning and lesions; short-term memory loss and confusion; liver and kidney damage; central nervous system effects and nervous system damage; hypertension; and miscarriages.

Cleanup workers reported being threatened with termination when they requested respirators, because it would “look bad in media coverage,” or they were told that respirators were not necessary because the chemical dispersant Corexit was “as safe as Dawn dishwashing soap.” Cleanup workers and residents reported being directly sprayed with Corexit, resulting in skin lesions and blurred eyesight. Many noted that when they left the Gulf, their symptoms subsided, only to recur when they returned.

According to the health departments of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, from June to September 2010, when they stopped keeping track, more than 700 people sought health services with complaints “believed to be related to exposure to pollutants from the oil spill.” But this is likely an extreme undercount, as most people did not know to report their symptoms as related to the oil spill, nor did their physicians ask. Like virtually everyone I have interviewed on the Gulf Coast over the past two years—including dozens for this article—Nicole Maurer’s doctors did not even inquire about her children’s exposure to oil or Corexit.

It will take years to determine the actual number of affected people. The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), with financial support from BP, is conducting several multiyear health impact studies, which are only just getting under way. I spoke with all but one of the studies’ national and Gulf Coast directors. “People were getting misdiagnosed for sure,” says Dr. Edward Trapido, director of two NIEHS studies on women’s and children’s health and associate dean for research at the Louisiana State University School of Public Health. “Most doctors simply didn’t know what questions to ask or what to look for.” There are only two board-certified occupational physicians in Louisiana, according to Trapido, and only one also board-certified as a toxicologist: Dr. James Diaz, director of the Environmental and Occupa-tional Health Sciences Program at Louisiana State University.

Diaz calls the BP spill a toxic “gumbo of chemicals” to which the people, places and wildlife of the Gulf continue to be exposed.

From a George Washington Blog Post Crossposted at Naked Capitalism: The Gulf Ecosystem Is Being Decimated.  This is a huge list of sources covering the many problems.

 New York Times: “Gulf Dolphins Exposed to Oil Are Seriously Ill, Agency Says

MSNBC: Gulf shrimp scarce this season (and see the Herald Tribune‘s report)

Mother Jones: Eyeless shrimp are being found all over the Gulf

NYT: Oil Spill Affected Gulf Fish’s Cell Function, Study Finds

CBS:Expert: BP spill likely cause of sick Gulf fish (and see the Press Register’s report)

  Study confirms oil from Deepwater spill entered food chain

Pensacola News Journal: “Sick fish” archive

Agence France Presse: Mystery illnesses plague Louisiana oil spill crews

MSNBC: Sea turtle deaths up along Gulf, joining dolphin trend

MSNBC:Exclusive: Submarine Dive Finds Oil, Dead Sea Life at Bottom of Gulf of Mexico

AP: BP oil spill the culprit for slow death of deep-sea coral, scientists say (and see the Guardian and AFP‘s write ups)

A recent report also notes that there are flesh-eating bacteria in tar balls of BP oil washing up on Gulf beaches

And all of that lovely Corexit dispersant sprayed on water, land and air? It inhibits the ability of microbes to break down oil, and allows oil and other chemicals to be speed past the normal barriers of human skin.

Just google up the Legacy of the BP Oil Spill and feast your eyes on the eyeless shrimp,  lesions on fish, and all the dead sea mammals washing up on Gulf Cost beaches.  This is from AJ.

“The fishermen have never seen anything like this,” Dr Jim Cowan told Al Jazeera. “And in my 20 years working on red snapper, looking at somewhere between 20 and 30,000 fish, I’ve never seen anything like this either.”

Dr Cowan, with Louisiana State University’s Department of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences started hearing about fish with sores and lesions from fishermen in November 2010.

Cowan’s findings replicate those of others living along vast areas of the Gulf Coast that have been impacted by BP’s oil and dispersants.

Gulf of Mexico fishermen, scientists and seafood processors have told Al Jazeera they are finding disturbing numbers of mutated shrimp, crab and fish that they believe are deformed by chemicals released during BP’s 2010 oil disaster.

Along with collapsing fisheries, signs of malignant impact on the regional ecosystem are ominous: horribly mutated shrimp, fish with oozing sores, underdeveloped blue crabs lacking claws, eyeless crabs and shrimp – and interviewees’ fingers point towards BP’s oil pollution disaster as being the cause.

This AJ article explains that “Nearly two years after BP’s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, fishermen and scientists say things are getting worse.”

Fishermen, in particular, are seeing their way of life threatened with extinction – both from lack of an adequate legal settlement and collapsing fisheries.

One of these people, Greg Perez, an oyster fisherman in the village of Yscloskey, Louisiana, has seen a 75 per cent decrease in the amount of oysters he has been able to catch.

“Since the spill, business has been bad,” he said. “Sales and productivity are down, our state oyster grounds are gone, and we are investing personal money to rebuild oyster reefs, but so far it’s not working.”

Perez, like so many Gulf Coast commercial fisherman, has been fishing all his life. He said those who fish for crab and shrimp are “in trouble too”, and he is suing BP for property damage for destroying his oyster reefs, as well as for his business’ loss of income.

People like Perez make it possible for Louisiana to provide 40 per cent of all the seafood caught in the continental US.

But Louisiana’s seafood industry, valued at about $2.3bn, is now fighting for its life.

We actually see all this reported in the local media.  We see the pictures. We live the effects.  I completely admit to having scaled back my consumption of seafood since the spill.  It’s just not the same and I don’t trust it.  But, if you watch the ads that BP runs on TV stations around our neighboring states and listen to the deafening response by governments, you think it all just disappeared.  They keep saying everything is safe and it’s all back to normal. Well, it isn’t.  If you ask me, I think it’s just going to get worse.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


The obesity epidemic

People discuss obesity as an epidemic, but the solution somehow remains individual action. That doesn’t work for real epidemics. You can’t, for instance, not catch smallpox all by yourself. (You can be lucky and have natural resistance, but that’s different.)

It’s turning out that people spoke more truth than they realized. Evidence is accumulating that obesity is a real epidemic, i.e. a public health issue with social and environmental causes. It’s something I’ve suspected for years.

Obesity has become more prevalent over the last thirty to forty years. That means — at the population level — it can’t be caused by the human tendency to eat too much. People have always been primed to eat too much, but large numbers of very overweight people relative to the whole population is a phenomenon of the last few decades.

And note that this isn’t just a matter of changing measurements or statistics. When coffin makers have to upsize coffins because the ones they’ve used for decades no longer work, there’s a real change. It’s not just PR.

So the cause(s) of the problem have to be something that’s changed in the last few decades. I’ll list all the changed factors I can think of, but the one I want to talk about is the last. Some of them are most developed in the US, but if and when they manifest elsewhere, they can be expected to promote obesity likewise.

  • The baby boom generation, which is large relative to the whole population, has aged, and older people are often heavier. (A factor beyond anyone’s control.)
  • Advertising for high-calorie fast food has grown very sophisticated and ubiquitous, and fast food is much more available. (A social environment factor that requires changes to industries.) (A side note: advertising is not something that can be simply ignored. It functions to steer choices whether you’re paying attention or not. The only way to avoid its effect is to avoid the advertising itself, which involves avoiding almost all modern media. Individuals may do that, but it’s not going to happen at a population level, and that’s where public health issues operate.)
  • Related to that is the increase in drinking sweetened sodas. That’s upped average calorie intake by a couple of hundred calories per day. (Again, advertising and availability combine to make this a social environment factor.)
  • Related to both of the above is the use of refined sugar, which has never before been used on the huge scale of the last few decades. It promotes obesity by the simple mechanism of making it too easy to get too many calories. There’s also a potential added wrinkle involving high fructose sweeteners. Scientists argue about its effect. Fructose is processed differently than glucose, and given the way it’s regulated, it could be a contributing factor to the problem. (A social environment factor due to industry practices and agricultural subsidies.)
  • Urban factors contribute as well. Urban sprawl makes distances too big for walking. Use of mass transit, which requires walking to and from stops, has declined versus personal cars. And many urban areas don’t have adequate parks or play spaces where adults and children can be physically active. Epidemiology indicates that (lack of) urban planning is a measurable factor in increasing obesity. (NYTimes 2003 article) (Another social environment issue.)
  • Last, there’s my pet peeve: endocrine disruptors. These are pollutants that are byproducts of some plastics, some agricultural chemicals, some hormone therapies, and the like. Bisphenol A (BPA) is a well known example. Once they’re in the environment they can break down into related compounds, they get into the food chain, and once they’re ingested, they latch on to some of the same receptors as the body’s own hormones. Once they’ve latched on, they can rev up or shut down the normal function, or they can cause strange results not in the body’s normal repertoire. Widespread endocrine disruptor pollution has happened only in the last few decades. (An environmental factor involving dozens of industries.)

Recent research (press release, article summary in Cell Metabolism) has shown that estrogen receptors in the brains of female mice regulate hunger and energy expenditure. (Male brains likewise have various androgen and estrogen receptors and are expected to have similar regulatory pathways. However, that wasn’t the topic of this research. The recent increase in the phenomenon of “man-boobs” on young and not-obese men shows rather plainly that endocrine disruptors have no less effect on fat deposition in men.)

Interestingly, one implication the researchers draw is that estrogen replacement therapy for postmenopausal women may have an overlooked benefit by keeping weight down and therefore keeping the complications of obesity down.

However, they don’t draw the far more significant implication for the entire population. If sex hormone receptors regulate energy balance, and if we’ve flooded the environment with bad substitutes for sex hormones, is it any wonder that people are having trouble regulating energy balance?

It’s one more instance where the flood of chemicals released by modern industry is affecting the environment, in this case the environment of the human body.

Like all public health issues, nothing less than a population-level approach will work. Dysentery, cholera, and typhoid are never wiped out by drinking boiled water. They’re wiped out by building municipal sewers. Smallpox wasn’t eradicated by avoiding smallpox patients. It was eradicated by universal vaccination. The individual actions aren’t useless. They just don’t change the widespread causes of the widespread problem.

Modern health problems like cancer and obesity aren’t going to be wiped out by eating fresh vegetables. Eating veggies is good, but it doesn’t address the basic problem. That’s going to take nothing less than a change to clean sustainable industry.

It’s almost enough to make you wish a mere diet really was all that’s needed.


Our Oceans are in Trouble

I learned how to scuba dive when I was 14.  I took my first marine biology class in high school at the ripe old age of 16. Swimming was second nature to me. I belonged to swim teams and got my life guard certification at 14. Since I’ve moved close to the gulf, I love to head east to the white sand beaches of Florida and mingle with the Gulf’s critters.  There is absolutely nothing more exciting than swimming with dolphins and snorkeling in a coral reef.  I’d recommend every one do it at least once before they die.  It should be on every one’s bucket list.

So, my next question is why does mankind seem  intent on making all of this a thing of the past?

Any one that’s had close up experience with any of the ocean’s multitudes of fish, coral, and mammals can’t help but develop a life long fascination with the world’s oceans.  I didn’t grow up to be a marine biologist but I know enough to be frightened by their findings. What they are saying is that marine ecosystems are heading for mass extinctions of the sort that we haven’t seen in billions of years.  This time the reason isn’t an ice age, a meteor, or volcanic action.  The reason is man and the CO2 produced by nearly every thing mankind does these days.  Warning!  This is truly depressing.

Mass extinctions of species in the world’s oceans are inevitable if current trends of overfishing, habitat loss, global warming and pollution continue, a panel of renowned marine scientists warned Tuesday.

The combination of problems suggests there’s a brewing worldwide die-off of species that would rival past mass extinctions, the 27 scientists said in a preliminary report presented to the United Nations.

Vanishing species — from sea turtles to coral — would upend the ocean’s ecosystem. Fish are the main source of protein for a fifth of the world’s population and the seas cycle oxygen and help absorb carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas from human activities.

“Things seem to be going wrong on several different levels,” said Carl Lundin, director of global marine programs at the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which helped produce the report with the International Programme on the State of the Ocean.

I can’t imagine living in world without shrimp on my plate and dolphins in my backyard. Dolphins are found in Lake Pontchartrain when it is clean and the salinity is correct. I also can’t imagine being one of those people that insists that climate change is a ‘hoax’.  There is nothing right about the number of Republicans that either think this is no big deal, a hoax, or don’t care because it’s just one more step towards the rapture.  The best article that I found about this report is at the BBC.  Please read it.  It’s disturbing.  Our oceans are in even worse shape than we thought.

In a new report, they warn that ocean life is “at high risk of entering a phase of extinction of marine species unprecedented in human history”.

They conclude that issues such as over-fishing, pollution and climate change are acting together in ways that have not previously been recognised.

The impacts, they say, are already affecting humanity.

The panel was convened by the International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO), and brought together experts from different disciplines, including coral reef ecologists, toxicologists, and fisheries scientists.

Its report will be formally released later this week.

“The findings are shocking,” said Alex Rogers, IPSO’s scientific director and professor of conservation biology at Oxford University.

“As we considered the cumulative effect of what humankind does to the oceans, the implications became far worse than we had individually realised.

“We’ve sat in one forum and spoken to each other about what we’re seeing, and we’ve ended up with a picture showing that almost right across the board we’re seeing changes that are happening faster than we’d thought, or in ways that we didn’t expect to see for hundreds of years.”

These “accelerated” changes include melting of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, sea level rise, and release of methane trapped in the sea bed.

You can read the depressing reasons for all of this.  Bottom feeding fish are eating pollutants. Levels of CO2 are so bad they are raising ocean temperatures quickly and causing food fish–like cod–to move further to to the north.  This is making them harder to fish and provides them less territory to survive. June 8 was  the first UN sanctioned World Ocean’s Day.  The celebrity face of the event and a campaign to promote safe seafood and fishing is Ted Danson.  Like other Hollywood celebs, Danson appeared before a Congressional committee to testify about his favorite project Oceana in 2010 and the effects of fishing subsidies on driving extinction of species like certain types of sharks. Danson also supports activities that inform people about fish that have such dangerous levels of toxins that they should not be eaten at the moment. Oceana  maintains a list of mislabeled seafood. These are fish that are used in place of  the real deal.  You can learn about more of the problems facing the oceans at this OCEAN link. They include things like over fishing and oil exploration and drilling.

We need to get informed and get active before it’s too late.


Selling the Right to Pollute

smoke_stacksI decided I need a break from the finance side of the economy for awhile and start a discussion on the Obama Administration’s Cap and Trade initiative.  This is an extremely controversial plan and will basically cause political alignments of states and regions more than party affiliation.  Cap and Trade programs have been discussed in economic circles for some time but have never been seriously considered  anywhere but Europe, so let’s start with the basics of what may be an unfamiliar topic.  Several years ago, I was asked to sign my name to a list of economists supporting the initiative.  In the interest of open discussion, I’ll let you know that  I passed on request.

Cap and Trade Systems are also known as emissions trading or more traditionally, allowance trading.  The idea is that a company recieves an “allowance” to release a particular pollutant into the environment.  It can either hold the allowance and release the pollutant, sell the allowance and give up any right to release the pollutant, or buy others’ allowances and receive a higher allowance to release the pollutant.  In other words, the allowance would be a marketable asset that would be priced in a market.  This makes the approach “market-based’.

The goal of a Cap and Trade System is to steadily reduce the emission of the pollutant.  Int the case of the Obama Administration’s initiative, the pollutants are carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions.  Initially, some one has to decide the initial acceptable ‘allowance’.  This basically establishes the ‘cap’.   Here’s the description of the ‘cap’ given by the Center for American Progress.

Each large-scale emitter, or company, will have a limit on the amount of greenhouse gas that it can emit. The firm must have an “emissions permit” for every ton of carbon dioxide it releases into the atmosphere. These permits set an enforceable limit, or cap, on the amount of greenhouse gas pollution that the company is allowed to emit. Over time, the limits become stricter, allowing less and less pollution, until the ultimate reduction goal is met. This is similar to the cap and trade program enacted by the Clean Air Act of 1990, which reduced the sulfur emissions that cause acid rain, and it met the goals at a much lower cost than industry or government predicted.

Read the rest of this entry »