Friday, April 24, 2015

It's Friday!

My favorite from this week and last week.


Lynch -- finally confirmed! Yipppeee! A momentary hiccup in Republican obstructionism and failure to govern!


Thursday, April 23, 2015

Breaking News! AG Lynch confirmed by the Senate!!

More details will be forthcoming!

From the announcement, courtesy of Sen. Amy Klobuchar:

"The Senate just voted 56-43 to confirm her as the next Attorney General."

At last.

Update: Governor declares Avian Flu State of Emergency

No surprise, we have more bird flu in Minnesota, not only among turkey farms but now outbreaks at chicken farms. Governor Dayton is releasing additional resources to combat the spread, up to and including making the National Guard units available to help.

Gov. Mark Dayton has declared a state of emergency in Minnesota in response to the bird flu outbreak, which has claimed the lives of 2.6 million turkeys and has now spread to a chicken farm for the first time in the state.
The Star Tribune reports that the governor’s order activates “an emergency operations plan” to provide support to attempts to quell the outbreak, and also says that National Guard personnel can be mobilized if necessary.
It comes after chicken producer J&A Farms, near Detroit Lakes in northwestern Minnesota, became the first chicken farm in the state to confirm an infection of the deadly H5N2 virus, KSTP reports. The farm has 275,000 hens.
Earlier on Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reported the bird flu’s presence in 13 additional turkey flocks in Minnesota. That brought the state’s overall total to 44 across 15 counties.
The deadly avian flu has spread to 13 more Minnesota turkey farms, bringing the total number of birds affected to more than 2.5 million, the state Board of Animal Health announced.

...Since the outbreak of the virus in early March, 7.1 million turkeys and egg-laying chickens have been affected across the Midwest, The Associated Press reports.

Chicken operations in Iowa and Wisconsin have also been hit by the bird flu. There are 16 states now coping with the disease in commercial bird operations.
National media is running headlines that McDonalds may experience supply problems, with 'Chicken Mcnuggets as rare as hen's teeth'. I don't eat them, but it occurs to me that might be the only silver lining of a serious global warming related economic disaster to our state and regional economies. It is beginning to dawn on people that this will affect not only the price of turkey and chicken meat, but also the price of eggs -- and presumably therefore a variety of the 'golden starches' breakfast menu items as well as the nuggets.

The economic impact goes far further afield than just fast food retailers. The BBC is reporting protests against ongoing trade negotiations for US ag products to be marketed in Europe as a result of this outbreak. As with past food safety and disease issues, such as the mad cow problems of some years back, a variety of nations are banning the shipment of poultry products while this epidemic continues. having the reputation of unsafe or disease-ridden products is of course detrimental to the long term economic strength of our ag industry sector, and a serious concern for the entire country.
The head of the World Organisation for Animal Health tells us why this latest outbreak of bird flu has come as such a shock to US industry. Also, as the latest round of negotiations towards a new trade pact between Europe and the US get under way, we report on the opposition to the proposals, at a protest attended by Vivienne Westwood in London.
I documented here, on the 2015 celebration of Earth Day why this outbreak of avian flu is an issue of global warming, and the cause and effect link to rising temperatures and the spread of these kinds of disease, among both wildlife and domesticated animals, directly affecting our food supply and the affordability of the food we eat (not just fast food). From the STrib
DES MOINES, Iowa — Some international trade partners are declining to buy egg and poultry products from states affected by a deadly strain of bird flu while others are excluding imports only from counties where the virus has surfaced.

Agriculture officials say the food supply is safe. But Mexico, Japan and Canada are among 33 countries declining to accept poultry products from entire states, including Iowa, the nation's leading egg producer, and Minnesota, the top turkey grower in the U.S.

Other countries, including Hong Kong, limit the ban to counties where the virus has been confirmed.
Conservatives, who as a group receive enormous amounts of funding both directly and indirectly from fossil fuel sources, refuse to address the issue and actively obstruct others from addressing it.

 Most recently we have a member of our state legislature doing exactly that, on the floor of the lege, while following the classic tactic of pretending that conservatives are somehow victims and martyrs for believing things which are factually false - and seriously dangerous to all of us. I would further posit that it is precisely to take positions that are factual and objective that these legislators are elected, and NOT to be faith based or phantasy driven in writing legislation, voting or formulating policy. Hat tip to Bluestem Prairie and the Uptake for the video and news item on Rep. Jim Newberger, R-Becker. 

This is EXACTLY what we do NOT need or want in response to the challenges of global warming. This is the kind of failure to act and failure to think that is why we must oppose conservatives in any position of authority at any level of government, because of failing to address these issue in a manner that is rational, that is objective, that values science not religion as the basis for action. If we wanted whining, we'd look for two year olds who missed their nap time.

Rep. Newberger grow a pair, and act your age. You and the rest of the lege were elected to deal with these issues, to voice your opinions BASED ON FACTS NOT FAITH, and to do something about these kinds of problems on behalf of the citizens of Minnesota. Pull up your big boy pants, buckle up your belt and if necessary add a pair of suspenders, but ditch the crap about being a victim. DO SOMETHING about the very real problems of global warming; they are on our doorstep, right there where you live in Sherburne County. But don't kid yourself - something I suspect Newberger does often; the effects of this problem go much further afield than just Sherburne County, or the state boundaries, or even the national boundaries. We can't afford the kind of political and ideological driven denial that we see next door in Wisconsin, courtesy of Koch brothers' puppet Scott Walker as he trashes the state of Wisconsin, including by prohibiting any references or planning related to global warming.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

It's Earth Day and the News is NOT GOOD;
I hate tick and mosquito season

A blood engorged Wood Tick, or maybe just
a fossil fuel donation engorged Republican

On the recent news feeds one of the series of stories, not only here in Minnesota, but also in Iowa and other states have involved the very costly incidence of avian flu outbreaks in both turkey and chicken industrial operations (as distinct from smaller family farms that do not use intensive ag practices that are both unhealthy and inhumane). As of April 16th, there were millions of dollars in losses, with outbreaks involving 26 farms in Minnesota, spread across 14 counties, with additional outbreaks occurring in North Dakota.  Minnesota is the largest turkey producer in the United States, with sales worldwide that are affected by these outbreaks, costing our state economy an as yet untold millions of dollars.

Those outbreaks of avian flu, fortunately this time not a zoonotic variety (infection that is transferable between multiple species, including humans, such as swine flu or bubonic plague) are resulting in huge losses as those entire operations require every animal, regardless of sick or healthy, to be euthanized.

This is not the first of these outbreaks, not only in the central 'fly over' states (literally), but occurring in other parts of the country and in other parts of the world.  The most recent outbreaks appear to be along the migratory flight paths of wild birds, which are also affected but not on the same scale of epidemic outbreaks as those of domestic intensive ag operations.

That appears to be because of the inherently unhealthy crowding of industrial ag operations, where birds that are crowded together so closely they cannot lie down or turn around creates inherently more contagion.

But another factor in this disease spread and in the spread of other diseases to multiple species appears to be global warming.  This is not new, this is not a surprise, this has long been predicted as part of the effects of global warming, on disease, on human beings and other species, as well as on plants that are essential food crops, above and beyond the problems of growing seasons changing, drought and flooding, extreme weather increases and increased frequency of episodes of serious wild fires.

A few examples of the scientific articles predicting these kinds of problems:

What will climate change mean for infectious disease?

BMJ 2013; 347 doi: (Published 25 November 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;347:f6713
Projecting the impact of global environmental change on patterns of infectious disease is not simply a matter of plotting a rise in predicted temperature change and correlating that with the temperature and geographic range of a pathogen. Disease resides within a complex ecosystem, natural and manmade, which influences whether and how it might become manifest. Our knowledge of these systems is frustratingly limited and incomplete.
As an example, many tropical diseases are temperature dependent for both the pathogen and its vector, often mosquitoes. They thrive only above a certain threshold, speeding their lifecycle as the temperature rises. “It can have a huge difference on [sic] transmission dynamics,” says Jonathan Patz, director of the Global Health Institute at the University of Wisconsin.
Researchers have compared mosquito maturation in huts in forested areas with their maturation in huts in deforested areas. The difference in temperature was just a few degrees but the percent of insects that transitioned from larva to adulthood jumped from 65% to 82%, and the time to development was cut from 9 to 8 days. According to Patz, the result was a much greater population of mosquitoes to transmit malaria, dengue, or other diseases.

As an example, there is a re-emergence of Dengue fever in Florida.
For those of you not familiar with Dengue fever:

Dengue fever (UK /ˈdɛŋɡeɪ/ or US /ˈdɛŋɡiː/), also known as breakbone fever, is a mosquito-borne tropical disease caused by the dengue virus. Symptoms include fever, headache, muscle and joint pains, and a characteristic skin rash that is similar to measles. In a small proportion of cases the disease develops into the life-threatening dengue hemorrhagic fever, resulting in bleeding, low levels of blood platelets and blood plasma leakage, or into dengue shock syndrome, where dangerously low blood pressure occurs. ...As there is no commercially available vaccine, prevention is sought by reducing the habitat and the number of mosquitoes and limiting exposure to bites....Dengue has become a global problem since the Second World War and is endemic in more than 110 countries.

So we have new USA outbreaks of Dengue fever, which like Ebola, is or at leat can be hemorrhagic. And of course there are many varieties and they mutate, making it difficult to treat.

But it's not only migratory birds, or mosquitoes, that are some of the early front line victims of global warming changes. We have a problem with both microbes and other parasites as well. Most Minnesotans are conversant with the problems of the tick borne Lyme disease, carried by the dear tick. Fewer Minnesotans are familiar with the taxonimic name of the dear tick, Ixodes (variously dammini and scapularis) or the scientific name for Lyme disease (named for Lyme county Connecticut), which is borrelia bergdoreri, aka Lyme Borreliosis. Fewer are familiar with diseases like West Nile, that are also mosquito borne, and which have caused illness and death, and which in addition to affecting people and birds, have affected horses in Minnesota. Horses are not only pets, they are a significant sector of Minnesota agriculture.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

At 4:20, 4/20, Rally to Legalize Marijuana at the state Capitol

It is time to follow the example of Colorado and other states, in being progressive about marijuana the way we have been progressive about the minimum wage and gay marriage. Marijuana is NOT a 'gateway drug'; that is obsolete thinking, as science has shown us that both tobacco and alcohol have greater roles in leading to subsequent heavy use of drugs, and stronger drugs.

In that context, there was a rally at the Minnesota Capitol to push for full legalization, not just limited medical marijuana legalization which goes into effect in July of this year.

We need to further explore the potential to control the component ingredients of marijuana, and we need to address the racial disparity in arrests. I would argue that we would all benefit from releasing prisoners in our corrections system who are non-violent criminals with only marijuana possession convictions. African American and Hispanics are disproportionately arrested while it is affluent white people who are in fact the biggest users of marijuana (and other drugs).

More than 100 million people have used marijuana at least once; our total population of 321,000,000; making users of pot as slightly less than 1/3 of the population.

People of color are 11 arrested for marijuana use or possession ELEVEN TIMES more often than white people, in spite of the fact that they actually represent a smaller percentage of users of pot.  The graph below is from the NORML blog, reflecting federally gathered statistics:

Racial / Ethnic breakdown of only American adults who have used cannabis

Monday, April 20, 2015

It's 4/20, aka Cannabis Day:Colorado, Pot, and Guns

is also the anniversary of the Columbine massacre in Colorado in 1999.  Colorado has legalized marijuana consumption, two years ago.  Other states and jurisdictions are following suit.  At the same time there have been attempts to move forward legislation all over the country variously to make guns as easy to purchase and carry as pot is in Colorado.  There is no public consumption of cannabis permitted in public in Colorado, or other jurisdictions, while conservative and libertarians have pushed for very liberal public display and to some degree more liberal use of firearms.

As a curious intersection of those two very different events, it is worth noting that one of the reasons given for the massacre death toll not being higher is that 4/20 was both a senior skip day, and a day when students cut class to go smoke pot.

From the Denver Post online:
The day is known in circles as "4-20'' - when students around the country skipped school to smoke marijuana. Aside from it having been April 20, the police code for a drug bust in Los Angeles is also 4-20.

"This is the big day for (smoking marijuana),'' said Columbine student Jason Greer, 16.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that both of the Columbine shooters were at least occasional pot smokers.
Did Eric & Dylan smoke weed? If so, was there proof?
Yes they did, and some friends and a coworker said they believed they did harder drugs too (but there’s no proof they actually did.) As for weed, there is proof. Witnesses say that they saw and/or joined them smoking weed in the smoker’s pit at school. On Eric’s survey, he said that his favorite thing to do on the weekend was “get stoned.” And, friends of theirs such as Chris Morris and Cory Friesen, said that they did indeed smoke weed. :)
Kliebold and Harris, the Columbine shooters and bombers, appear to have had a very easy time acquiring both illegal firearms through the assistance of straw purchasers, and illegal pot (also bomb-making components for 99 bombs).

Looking at the available statistics in Colorado, post-pot legalization, there seems to be far less problems resulting from legal, easily available marijuana than there have been from easily obtainable firearms, legal or otherwise.

Colorado initiated tough gun control laws, in part as a response to mass shootings, not only Columbine, but also more recently the Aurora theater shootings.  Typically (although not exclusively) it is conservatives, usually the more extreme conservatives, who seek out the most lax gun control laws, while at the same time more conservatives oppose legal marijuana.

As noted by Colorado kwgn channel 2:
DENVER — State lawmakers  are debating seven Republican bills that are all aimed at reversing and loosening gun restrictions in Colorado.
Sponsors of the bills admit most of the gun proposals will be hard to pass, many are looking at one bill in particular that would allow teachers to carry a concealed weapon.
Victims of mass shootings were at the Capitol Monday discussing if arming teachers will make a difference.
One of them was Jane Dougherty. Her sister was killed in the Newtown Elementary School shooting. She doesn’t think teachers should be armed. “I heard that over the last two-and-a-half years that if my sister had a gun, she could have shot the shooter. It`s a fantasy, like a blockbuster movie script.”
Lawmakers are also debating a bill that would let people carry concealed firearms without a permit.

So far, the experiment in Colorado of legalizing pot, regulating and taxing it, and making it easily accessible in a wide variety of forms has made a positive contribution to the state economy.  In sharp contrast is the cost of gun violence from too easily obtained firearms and lax gun control.  While estimates vary, depending on, for example, if one includes only direct costs, or also indirect costs, but the drain on society and the economy is substantial.
As noted in the Scholars Strategy Network Key Findings Report, "Worries about Safety, the Real Price of Gun Violence", by Philip J. Cook and Jens Ludwig, Sanford School, Duke University, August 2012 (the month following the Aurora Colorado mass shooting):

Estimating the costs of gun violence may imply a dry accounting exercise, toting up medical expenditures and earnings lost due to injury. Some research has been done this way, equating the cost with the burden on the health care system or losses to the labor force. But this misses the main point. For most people safety is the issue – and that is especially true for families with children. Gun violence in our vicinity –or just splayed all over our screens –undermines our sense of security and wellbeing at a visceral level. For neighborhoods where gun violence happens all the time, the threat is a reality of everyday life and has a profound effect on how
people live and feel. Avoidance and prevention take many forms, from costly security in schools and public buildings, to private decisions to commute many miles for the sake of living in a safe neighborhood, or (for those who do not have that choice) to keep the kids inside on summer evenings.
If gun violence affects people’s subjective feelings about security, how do we measure the effects? Arriving at specific dollar estimates is not easy, yet it can be done. Economists have used several methods to place a value on public safety. One method is to correlate property values to the objective risk of victimization. But my colleague Jens Ludwig and I used a more straightforward “contingent valuation” method, which hadoften been used in other domains, and especially to place a value on wilderness, clean air, and other aspects of environmental quality. This approach recognizes that the monetary value of surrounding conditions can be estimated by asking people how much they would pay to get improvements.

Referring to earlier research, contemporaneous with the Columbine High School mass shooting,  the  above cited research concludes:

Our research allowed us to estimate the total cost of gun violence, as people perceived it. As of 1998, the total cost to Americans was on the order of $80 billion (given that 30% of 80 is 24.5). We also discovered that the perceived high cost of gun violence is much more widespread than statistics about direct victims of gun attacks would suggest. Poor people are the ones who disproportionately experience gunshot injuries and deaths from direct assaults. But the threat of gun violence reduces the quality of life for a broad cross-section of Americans. Even those who live in relatively safe neighborhoods know that they and their children and friends are not entirely immune – as we are reminded by both the local newscasts and, all too frequently, the shooting rampages that make the national news. Cost estimates of this sort can help policymakers and voters consider the relative importance of reducing gun violence in comparison with all of the other social problems that compete for the attention of our towns, cities, states, and national government.Placing a dollar value on enhanced safety may seem a bit mechanistic, but it brings into focus the value of paying to enhance safety by fighting gun violence in comparison with paying to improve schools, health care, and housing. Based on our results, gun violence deserves a fairly prominent place on the agenda.
Colorado "got it"; the entire nation should "get it":  there are enormous benefits to being less restrictive with pot, and to being more restrictive with guns.  That holds true even after you subtract the huge investment in political influence by the NRA on behalf of the gun manufacturers for more guns guns guns.  More guns and more lax gun laws equal greater costs, both economic and social.  More pot in contrast seems to be beneficial both financially and socially, in contrast, if not without some minor problems similar to those with legal and regulated alcohol.