Saturday, July 30, 2011

Super Bacteria? Fighting Resistance Could Be Trickier Than Thought

   This hit a couple days ago. I want to draw attention to this sentence:

   "Other broad areas of focus when it comes to preventing antibiotic resistance include limiting the use of antibiotics in farm animals, including pigs and cows."

   You don't say...

Super Bacteria? Fighting Resistance Could Be Trickier Than Thought
Catherine Pearson

A process thought to hamper antibiotic resistant bacteria, one of the world's most pressing public health problems, might actually make them stronger, according to a new Portuguese study that could signal a dramatic shift in our understanding of bacterial resistance.

Though much is still unknown about the exact mechanics involved, bacteria become resistant to antibiotics via chromosomal mutations and the incorporation of new genes, sometimes from other bacteria.

Researchers had believed that the acquisition of new genes conferring resistance has come at some cost to the bacteria, making it tougher for them to reproduce and survive.

But the authors of the new Portuguese study found that when already resistant bacterial cells obtain another antibiotic-resistance gene from a small piece of DNA called a plasmid -- a development that has been thought to have some cost to the host -- the cells sometimes divide faster than before.

Francisco Dionisio of the University of Lisbon, one of the study's authors, said the results, which focused on the bacterium E. coli, were unexpected.

"It is as if your PC with a mistake or bug in the operating system began to run faster after receiving a computer virus," Dionisio explained in an email to The Huffington Post.

"This happened 52 percent of the cases studied," he added. "And we expected zero percent!"

Other experts echoed Dionisio's surprise.

"It has always been an understanding that the acquisition of these resistant genes comes at some cost, so that the bacteria that have picked up these extra genes have extra baggage, so to speak," said Dr. Arjun Srinivasan, associate director for healthcare associated infection prevention programs at the Centers for Disease Control. "That this might actually make them more fit and able to divide more quickly is a real change."

But the good news for resistant bacteria isn't good news for public health. The findings suggest that curbing antibiotic resistant bacteria -- already a top public health issue, according to the CDC -- may be even more difficult than previously thought. Dr. Jan Patterson, president elect of the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America, called the results "concerning." She added that the results could signal a shift in future research and control efforts.

"The finding brings up that just controlling antibiotic use alone is not going to take care of the problems of emergence and persistence of resistance," Patterson said. "We might have to start looking at other ways to fight bacteria, like inhibiting production of plasmids or inhibiting how bacteria divide."

To her knowledge, Patterson said little or no research has been done in that area. In the meantime, she pointed to methods like hand hygiene as a means of limiting the spread of resistant bacteria, particularly in hospitals, where the number of resistant strains is on the rise.

The CDC has identified improving in-patient antibiotic use as priority. It says that 50 percent of antimicrobial use in hospitals is "inappropriate," meaning antibiotics are used when they are not needed or they are administered the wrong dose. Increasing use of antibiotics increases the prevalence of resistant bacteria in hospitals, a recent CDC report stated.

Other broad areas of focus when it comes to preventing antibiotic resistance include limiting the use of antibiotics in farm animals, including pigs and cows.

"The prophylactic and potentially careless use of antibiotics on such a large scale provides perfect breeding ground for drug-resistant strains," said Gunnar Kaufmann, assistant professor of chemical immunology at The Scripps Research Institute.

Such efforts to curb antibiotic use and increase things like hand washing in hospitals will have to suffice for now, the experts agreed, as the public waits for more research on exactly how antibiotic resistance works to be funded so that it has a better chance of being stopped.

"Medicine is a study in humility," Srinivasan of the CDC added. "We learn every day that something we thought was true is not correct. A study like this simply calls upon us to recognize the fact that we don't know everything we need to know yet. We need more investment in these problems."


   So the CDC says we don't know everything we need to know yet. Still, we genetically modify crops and pump livestock with chemicals all in the name of efficiency (which really boils down to the almighty dollar). I've said it before and I'll say it again: the problem is not that we don't have enough food or the means to transport it all over the world, the problem is that we don't have the desire to share it with folks without money. We don't want to do things the natural way they've been done forever because there's not as much profit in it.

   We are literally killing each other to make a buck.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Food Knowledge Is Health Power

   While I don't agree 100%, I'll take knowledge where it comes and I believe most of this is spot on. The thing I am most intrigued by is that it is written by the owner of Dole, a company that brings to my mind canned and processed foods. I may have to look closer at the ingredients next time I'm in the supermarket...

Food Knowledge Is Health Power
David H. Murdock
Chairman and owner, Dole Food Company, Inc.

People are constantly asking me: What do I eat? What should they eat? What should they do to help avoid disease and live longer? In the past 30 years I have undertaken to learn all I could about proper nutrition. This is why I created and built the North Carolina Research Campus, bringing together the brightest scientific minds from eight universities, including Duke, UNC, NC State, among several others. Through the Dole Nutrition Institute, we aim to "feed the world with knowledge" with our books, award-winning newsletter and videos as they become available, social media and our new contemporary blog.

Because of this, my good friend Arianna asked me to revive the blog I started two years ago. Specifically: Would I discuss the healthy way I live and the information I have gathered in my 88 years about the importance of retaining a healthy life through diet, exercise and lifestyle? I agreed because my belief is that knowledge is power, and too many people feel powerless to know what they should eat for proper nutrition and thereby change their eating and exercise habits.

My own recipe for longevity includes considerable amounts of fruits and vegetables. An additional major responsibility for the maintenance of our bodies is regular exercise; at least 4 to 5 times a week. I do not take pills; do not have any need nor use for aspirin, and certainly do not use any supplements. Everything I need comes from my fish and vegetarian diet. I personally like to juice up several different kinds of fruits and vegetables -- bananas, pineapples, red bell peppers, apples, carrots, celery, broccoli, spinach, parsley, tomatoes and cucumbers, to name a few. Skins and peels of all fruit and vegetables -- including pieces of banana peels and citrus rinds -- because there is much more nutrition in any of these areas that are touched by the sun.

Basically, I personally eat a substantial breakfast each day consisting of varieties of: Unprocessed whole grains (like oatmeal), plenty of fruit and vegetables -- berries, banana, pineapple -- and topped with nuts (almonds, walnuts, pecans, any kinds of nuts). Frequently I have an egg white vegetable omelet. For lunch and dinner I like to have a fish like John Dory, Dover sole, salmon, black cod or sardines, all of which are rich in omega-3. These are accompanied by a salad and/or vegetable soup -- and often both. For snacking I like to have popcorn, of course without butter or salt.

I have not eaten this perfectly all my life. But the loss of my beloved wife, Gabrielle, to cancer 26 years ago, and the deaths of two of my sons in tragic accidents brought home to me the preciousness of life for all of us. I resolved to take better care of my own health -- and spend effort to help others live healthier, longer lives as well.

Despite all the advanced medical knowledge and developments, Americans are more and more unhealthy every year. 66% of the population is either overweight or obese. Diabetes cases have tripled in the last 30 years. Heart attacks, stroke, various cancers and liver ailments have been linked to excess weight. We take pills to solve all the diseases we are creating. Major medical operations have become routine, much due to improper eating. All of this in turn sends health care costs through the roof. Yet by focusing on simply managing disease symptoms and care costs, we distract ourselves from the root of the problem, which is that we have historically been eating by our taste buds rather than our minds. We take better care of the maintenance of our cars than we take care of the maintenance of our bodies.

The purpose of this and future blogs will be to provide health recipes for a longer life. In my first blog, "A Recipe for Longevity," I recounted some of the healthiest fruit and vegetables (in my second blog I expanded on nuts).

My plant-based diet plus fish is to credit for my low blood pressure, high energy and robust immunity. Many of the people I work with that are half my age complain that they feel tired all the time. I tell them: Look at what you're eating, how much you are exercising and how much sleep you are getting.


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Climate Change "Hoax"

   A couple things for the climate change disbelievers...

Climate Highlights 
Several locations broke all-time high temperature records. On June 26, Amarillo, Texas, set an all-time high temperature record of 111 degrees F, breaking the record of 109 degrees F set just two days prior. On June 15, Tallahassee, Fla., also recorded an all-time high, 105 degrees F. For the month, 42 U.S. locations tied or broke all-time maximum high temperatures.

The expansive heat across Texas resulted in an average temperature of 85.2 degrees F, which was 5.6 degrees F above normal, surpassing 1953 as the warmest June in 117 years of records. This was the fourth consecutive June in Texas with temperatures at least 2 degrees F above the long-term average.

Both Louisiana and Oklahoma (tied) had their second warmest June. Georgia tied for it's third warmest. It was the sixth warmest for Arkansas, Delaware (tied), Florida, Mississippi, and New Mexico.

Along with the heat, parts of the Southwest through much of the Southern Plains and Gulf Coast experienced a continuation of intense drought. New Mexico had its driest June on record while Arizona and Oklahoma had their fourth driest.  June was the fifth driest in Texas and the ninth driest in Florida.

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, 63% of the Southeast was in moderate-to-exceptional drought at the end of June, compared to 51% at the end of May.  In the South, the percent area in the worst category of drought, called exceptional drought, rose from 28% to 47%.

Above average wildfire activity continued across the Southern tier of the U.S. Nationwide, 1.35 million acres burned during the month, bringing the year-to-date acreage burned to approximately 4.8 million acres -- the most on record for the period -- and more than twice the decadal average.

Precipitation was much above normal in most of California, resulting in the state's wettest June on record. Heavier-than-normal precipitation and prolonged snowmelt during the spring caused June flooding in Idaho, Montana, Utah, and Washington. The greatest flows on the Missouri River forced record amounts of water to be released from Fort Peck Reservoir in Montana.

Cooler-than-normal temperatures prevailed in the West, Northwest and the western High Plains. It was the 12th coolest June for the Northwest.

Other highlights

Both Oregon and Washington (tied) - and the Northwest Region - had their coolest April-June period on record. Meanwhile, the South had its second warmest and the Southeast its third warmest such period.

Record warmth dominated Texas during the past three months. A total of 14 states, mostly in the South and Southeast United States experienced an average April-June temperature among their 10 warmest.

Record precipitation caused by a persistent storm track across the northern U.S. drove the wettest April-June period in the High Plains and the Ohio Valley area. Within the Ohio Valley area, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, and Michigan had their wettest April-June on record.

For the year-to-date period, three drought-stricken states - Louisiana, New Mexico, and Texas - had their driest January-June on record. In that time, Louisiana was 11.72 inches below its 20th century year-to-date average 29.16 inches. Texas was more than eight inches below its average of 13.83 inches and New Mexico was nearly 3.5 inches below its average of 4.68 inches at this point in the calendar year.

   ...and if that isn't enough for you, add this to the equation:

By Matt Andrejczak

SAN FRANCISCO (MarketWatch) — Don’t expect price relief at the grocery store anytime soon. Food inflation will persist in 2012, the U.S. Agriculture Department indicated in an updated forecast released Monday.

Food prices next year are expected to increase 2.5% to 3.5%, compared with 2011’s projected 3%-to-4% gain. Still, the cost of food at supermarkets and restaurants will remain “slightly” above the long-term historical average of the past two decades, the USDA food-price forecasters said.

“Price levels in 2012 will hinge significantly on weather conditions in the American Midwest during the remainder of July and into August and September 2011,” USDA food economist Ephraim Leibtag said in the report.

“Because current USDA forecasts are based on a normal weather scenario, sustained heat or drought conditions resulting in reduced supplies and intensified inflationary pressure would result in revised USDA forecasts,” Leibtag added.

   I sure am glad we're all focusing on the Federal budget and the economy!

Monday, July 25, 2011

How to Turn Republicans and Democrats Into Americans

How to Turn Republicans and Democrats Into Americans
An insider’s six-step plan to fix Congress

ANGRY AND FRUSTRATED, American voters went to the polls in November 2010 to “take back” their country. Just as they had done in 2008. And 2006. And repeatedly for decades, whether it was Republicans or Democrats from whom they were taking the country back. No matter who was put in charge, things didn’t get better. They won’t this time, either; spending levels may go down, taxes may go up, budgets will change, but American government will go on the way it has, not as a collective enterprise but as a battle between warring tribes.

If we are truly a democracy—if voters get to size up candidates for a public office and choose the one they want—why don’t the elections seem to change anything? Because we elect our leaders, and they then govern, in a system that makes cooperation almost impossible and incivility nearly inevitable, a system in which the campaign season never ends and the struggle for party advantage trumps all other considerations. When Democrat Nancy Pelosi became speaker of the House, the leader of the lawmaking branch of government, she said her priority was to … elect more Democrats. After Republican victories in 2010, the Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said his goal was to … prevent the Democratic president’s reelection. With the country at war and the economy in recession, our government leaders’ first thoughts have been of party advantage.

This is not an accident. Ours is a system focused not on collective problem-solving but on a struggle for power between two private organizations. Party activists control access to the ballot through closed party primaries and conventions; partisan leaders design congressional districts. Once elected to Congress, our representatives are divided into warring camps. Partisans decide what bills to take up, what witnesses to hear, what amendments to allow.

Many Americans assume that’s just how democracy works, that this is how it’s always been, that it’s the system the Founders created. But what we have today is a far cry from what the Founders intended. George Washington and James Madison both warned of the dangers posed by political parties. Defenders of the party system argue that parties—including Madison’s own—arose almost immediately after the nation was founded. But those were not parties in the modern sense: they were factions uniting on a few major issues, not marching in lockstep on every issue, large and small. And while some defend the party system as a necessary provider of cues to voters who otherwise might not know how to vote, the Internet and mass media now make it possible for voters to educate themselves about candidates for office.

What we have today is not a legacy of 1789 but an outdated relic of the late 1800s and early 1900s, when Progressives pushed for the adoption of primary elections. By 1916, all but a handful of states had instituted the “direct primary” system, under which a party candidate was selected by a public vote, rather than by party leaders in backroom deals. But the primaries, and the nominating conventions, were open only to party members. This reform was supposed to give citizens a bigger role in the election process. Instead, the influence of party leaders has been supplanted by that of a subset of party activists who are often highly ideological and largely uninterested in finding common ground. In Delaware in 2010, a mere 30,000 of that state’s nearly 1 million people kept Mike Castle, a popular congressman and former governor, off the general-election ballot. In Utah, 3,500 people meeting in a closed convention deprived the rest of the state’s 3 million residents of an opportunity to consider reelecting their longtime senator Robert Bennett. For most of the voters who go to the polls in November, the names on the ballot have been reduced to only those candidates the political parties will allow them to choose between. Americans demand a multiplicity of options in almost every other aspect of our lives. And yet we allow small bands of activists to limit our choices of people to represent us in making the nation’s laws.

I am not calling for a magical political “center”: many of the most important steps forward in our history have not come from the center at all, including women’s suffrage and the civil-rights movement, and even our founding rebellion against the British crown. Nor am I pleading for consensus: consensus is not possible in a diverse nation of 300 million people (compromise is the essential ingredient in legislative decision-making). And I’m not pushing for harmony: democracy depends on vigorous debate among competing views. The problem is not division but partisanship—advantage-seeking by private clubs whose central goal is to win political power. There are different ways to conduct elections and manage our government—and strengthen the democratic process. Here are some suggestions designed to turn our political system on its head, so that people, not parties, control our government.


Friday, July 22, 2011

Trip Report: Mt. Rainier, July 17-19, 2011

   I had been hoping to do a backpacking trip in the Olympics this weekend, but the weather just would not cooperate. After consulting the maps and trail guides we decided our best two options were Dosewallips on the east side or Obstruction Point a little further north. Then we learned the road to Dosewallips was washed out and Obstruction Point was under six feet of snow and not accessible by about three and a half miles. After a little more looking to find another option in the Olympics we turned to our recent excursion to Mt. Rainier and decided on the option of camping up at Longmire and doing day hikes from there. Disappointing in that we have recently outfitted ourselves better for backpacking, but under the circumstances we were happy to wait for better weather.

   Of course, the day before we planned to leave two unforeseen events conspired against us. The first was a minor disaster that meant spending most of the day with the landlord, a plumber, and a repair company. That's a whole other post, but the end result is that I got no packing or prep done at all. The second thing was the weather forecast dramatically changed from a 10% chance of rain to 40%-60% over the three days. We have enough experience with this area to know that means we have 100% chance of getting wet. My wife is a pretty good sport, but camping, hiking, AND being wet is a combination that would likely equal her final outing of the season and maybe even a hard sell next season. We bit the bullet and decided to book a room. The National Park Inn at Longmire was full, so we found a cabin just outside the park entrance. Now the backpacking trip had turned into a cabin vacation with hiking excursions…

   On Sunday we arrived at the Gateway Inn around 3pm. After getting checked in to cabin #1, sorting out our gear, and a meal from Gateway's restaurant, we entered the park and drove up to Longmire. We decided we had just enough daylight to make the Rampart Ridge Loop. It was a more difficult uphill climb than we anticipated, gaining about 1300 feet in just over a mile. By the time we arrived at the viewpoint overlooking the Longmire complex we questioned whether we should press on or turn back. We had already spent about half the daylight we had and were only about a third of the way. Since the hard part was behind us, we decided to press on.

   The trail was beautiful. After another mile or so we came upon the junction with the Wonderland Trail. I pulled out my camera to take a picture and started hearing mosquitoes. Just before coming to the Wonderland Trail, the path made it's way around a swampy pond, obviously the breeding ground for these little bloodsuckers. I got one photo before my wife exclaimed that the mosquitoes were covering me. They smelled blood and swarmed. By the time we were able to get away from the mosquitoes I had eight bites on my neck and face. My wife got a couple bites on her face and hands. Our son was untouched. Unfortunately, the rest of the hike was an itchy race against the impending darkness and our near-full bladders.   As we neared Longmire I noticed a trail marker in the other direction indicating a trail to Paradise, 5.7 miles. Hmmm... We ultimately returned to Longmire, utilized the restrooms, and made the drive back to our cabin.

   By the time we got to the cabin, showered, and dressed, it was almost 9:30pm and the Gateway's restaurant was closed. We decided to drive toward Ashford and see what was available. After driving about 6 miles we came on a country store that was open until 11pm. We picked up a couple things and headed back to the cabin for the night.

   Monday morning the sun came in through the windows and rousted my wife and I early. We let our son sleep while we looked over maps, discussed the day's options, packed up, and snacked on granola and trail mix. We decided to head up to Paradise and check out some trails there, starting with Dead Horse Creek. Upon arriving at Paradise, we set out on Dead Horse Creek Trail, which was buried under eight feet of snow. The mountain was currently at 600% normal snow cover. We didn't even make it to the Nisqually Vista before deciding we were ill-equipped for the conditions and turned back. Feeling a bit discouraged, we went to the Paradise Inn just as the dining room was opening for lunch, so we got a table and reconsidered our plan for the day.

   While having lunch one of the servers, Doug from Wyoming, stopped by our table and suggested we head over to the Ohanapecosh area and check out the Grove of the Patriachs and the Silver Falls Trails. Excellent! We had a new plan. After lunch we got in the car and headed east down the mountain.

   The parking lot was full at the trailheads, so we parked in the overflow area just beyond the lot. Here is one major difference between the Olympic National Park and Mt. Rainier National Park: Mt. Rainier gets a lot more tourist traffic. I have become used to going out for a Sunday-Tuesday excursion and seeing few, if any, people after the first day in the Olympics. Here it was Monday and it was crowded with people from all over the world!

   I voted for taking the Silver Falls Trail first and no one vetoed. The trail is a gradual decent to Silver Falls, only about 0.3 miles from the trailhead. We watched the falls for a while and snapped some pictures before continuing on the loop. The loop goes about a mile and a half along the east side of the Ohanapecosh River to Ohanapecosh Campground and then back up the west side of the river. I was not aware the the campground is a full-on, eight-loop, car-camping and RV set up until we arrived, but the restrooms were a welcome surprise.

   Unfortunately, my wife's new hiking boots were beginning to hurt her feet, having not yet been broken in. We took a short break before slowly making our way back up the other half of the loop. By the time we arrived at the trailhead my wife was not up for hiking the Grove of the Patriarchs. I guess we'll have to do that one next time.

   We took our time driving back through the Ohanapecosh, Paradise, and Longmire areas, pulling over frequently to take photos.

   Back at the cabin, we showered and got online to consider our options for dinner. After reading reviews for our options within a reasonable distance, we opted for the Copper Creek Inn & Restaurant. When we arrived the place was packed and we were told there would be a short wait. Totally understandable -- it appeared we hit the dinner rush. We browsed the gift shop which featured all kinds of blackberry foodstuffs and our table was ready in surprisingly short order. The place is pretty small, but still they seemed understaffed for the amount of business they had. At one point the crowd seemed to thin and we thought the rush must be over, but only minutes later the place was packed again. It was also very hot inside. If I had it to do over I would ask to sit outside. Still, dinner was good, as was the overall experience.

   We returned to the cabin and I made a suggestion for the following day: how about my wife and son drop me off at Longmire and I make the hike up to Paradise while they explore the tourist attractions. I would meet them at Paradise and we could have lunch before heading home. My wife's feet were sore from her new shoes and my son was thrilled with the idea.

   Tuesday my wife was up before me and was half packed before I was even awake. We loaded up the car, checked out of our cabin, and made our way to Longmire. At the trailhead I put on my pack loaded with the ten essentials and started up the trail. I estimated two and a half to three hours, give or take, to meet my wife and son at Paradise.

   My first setback was only a tenth of a mile up the trail when I second-guessed myself and thought I had possibly chosen the wrong trail. I went back to the ranger station at Longmire and verified that I had the correct trail, I merely needed to walk a little further to the junction for Narada Falls and Paradise. That cost me some time.

   The path up to Cougar Rock runs between the road and the Nisqually River. Since it's only about a mile and a half from Longmire to Cougar Rock, there were many hikers from one or the other along the way. At Cougar Rock the trail takes an immediate right across the Nisqually River, but I missed the turn and inadvertently explored the Cougar Rock area some before returning to the trail and realizing my mistake. This was my second setback.

   From here the trail leaves the road and takes a more direct route to Narada Falls following the Paradise River. I began to gain some elevation. Again, since the section of the trail from Cougar Rock to Narada Falls is only a few miles and includes Carter Falls along the way, I came across many hikers along the way. One thing that I noticed is that very few hikers I came across were what I would consider to be adequately equipped for wilderness hiking. Granted, a hiker here is rarely, if ever, more than a mile or so from a trailhead, road, campground, etc. and there seems to be no end of other people to rely on if something were to go wrong. Still, in my mind, it's an unusually wet and cold summer, it's the wilderness, and stuff can go wrong. I was amazed at the number of people I saw walking around in cotton shorts, cotton t-shirts, cotton socks, a pair of shoes, and nothing else.

   Let me take a minute to review the ten essentials for any hike, no matter how short you intend it to be:

  • Map
  • Compass 
  • Sun protection
  • Extra food & water
  • Extra layers
  • Headlamp/flashlight
  • First aid kit
  • Whistle and/or signaling device
  • Fire starter
  • Knife

   These lists can very from source to source (the original list coming from The Mountaineers in the '30's), but the idea is to be prepared in the event one gets lost or injured. Chances are good that no one hiking between Longmire and Cougar Rock is going to wind up having to spend a night in the wilderness. Even if one were to break a leg and be unable to walk, chances are pretty good someone would be along soon to get help and the road is right there. Still, wouldn't it be nice to have a whistle to blow to try and get someone's attention or something to put on when it starts to rain? Speaking of rain, cotton kills. If you're out hiking and it rains or you fall in the water, cotton will hold onto that water and drop your body temperature. There are many natural and synthetic fibers that are much better suited for outdoor activities.

   Just sayin'.

   Back to my hike…

   By the time I arrived at Narada Falls I had about 40 minutes before my three-hour estimate to arrive at Paradise was up. The trail from Narada Falls is only 1.2 miles, but I knew it would be steep and I knew there would be snow and I would probably be late. What I didn't know was that the entire trail from Narada Falls to Paradise was buried under several feet of snow. Fortunately I had my map and compass and was able to stay headed the right direction even if I was unsure about where the trail was supposed to be. After about a half a mile the trail comes to the road where it crosses the Paradise River and then continues north to Paradise for 0.7 miles. I came out on the road only 100 feet or so from where the trail actually was. From there it was just a matter of following the compass and any foot prints and pole holes I could spot. It was a steep incline and the snow did not make things easier.

   I finally spotted the roof of the Paradise in about three and a half hours after my family had dropped me off -- a half hour longer than I estimated. Considering the setbacks, I felt pretty good about it. A red fox sitting along the trail just off the road watched as I left the trail and crossed the parking lot to meet my family.

   After finding my wife and son in the lobby of the Paradise Inn, I dropped off my pack in the car, we had lunch while we shared our experiences of the previous few hours, I changed my clothes, and we headed for home. On the way out we saw several hoary marmots near the side of the road.

   I made note of three major differences between Mt. Rainier and the Olympic Mountains on this trip. The first one I talked about: there are a lot more people at Mt. Rainier. Also, the trails where we were seem to be a lot less isolated. In the Olympics you can literally walk for days without coming up on anything more than a rustic ranger outpost or a small, primitive camping area with a pit toilet, maybe bear wire. On Mt. Rainier (at least in the areas we saw), unless you head toward the summit it seems rare to go a mile or two without coming across some car-accessible attraction. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but I tend to prefer a more secluded experience. Last, the terrain at Mt. Rainier seems to be more extreme. The Olympic National Park has more than it's share of steep hikes and scenic vistas, but it also has many trails that are more mild with relatively little elevation change. My family has enjoyed backpacking and hiking these less extreme areas. We were hard pressed to find trails that weren't strenuous for my wife and son on Mt. Rainier.

   For myself, I still want to hike the 93-mile Wonderland Trail that circles the mountain. Maybe next year...

Thursday, July 21, 2011

People Are Literally Dying To Not Pay High Power Bills

Massive heat wave spreads across United States
By Barbara Goldberg
NEW YORK, July 21 | Thu Jul 21, 2011 2:25pm EDT

(Reuters) - Crowds flocked to waterfronts and swimming pools on the U.S. East Coast and in the Midwest on Thursday to try to cope with a massive heat wave that has killed at least 22 people this week.

The National Weather Service issued excessive heat warnings for wide areas of the central and eastern United States, saying the combined heat and humidity could push the "real feel" temperature to 115 Fahrenheit (46 Celsius) through Saturday.

By Thursday afternoon in New York City, the thermometer hit 91F (33C) but it felt more like 112F (44C), according to

With the promise of refreshing ocean breezes, Boston's whale-watching ships and high-speed tourist boats sold out their trips by mid-morning.

Cooling centers in Richmond, Virginia, and New York City welcomed overheated residents and a truck labeled "Water Fountain on the Go" cruised Manhattan streets, offering to refill water bottles to keep residents hydrated.

Electricity utility Con Edison (ED.N) said scattered outages were likely in New York in coming days with demand expected to hit all-time highs.

Unhealthy smog levels triggered by the heat were reported in Chicago, where residents were asked by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency to reduce polluting activities such as idling vehicles and mowing lawns.

By the weekend, the heat wave is expected to cover half of the United States and affect nearly half of its 310 million people, forecaster Mary Yoon said.

"What makes this heat wave so impressive is the pure size and longevity," said Yoon.


Longstanding records in Philadelphia and other cities may melt away by Friday, when temperatures are expected to spike. The low pressure system that barreled east was expected to bring powerful thunderstorms with hail to northeastern states.

"Do not take this threat lightly," the National Weather Service warned on its website, noting the extreme temperatures are particularly dangerous for the elderly and the very young.

"The length of this heat wave will pose a very real and dangerous health risk to these at-risk groups and those that do not have access to air conditioning."

In the central United States, where the high temperatures have killed nearly two dozen people, more deaths were tied to the heat.

An elderly woman whose body was found in her bedroom in St. Louis, where a working air conditioner had not been turned on despite 99F (37C) temperatures, was determined on Wednesday to have died of heat stroke.

Similar causes of death were reported on Thursday in Kansas City, Missouri, where a woman in her early 80s died, and in Hutchinson, Kansas, where three elderly people were found dead in separate homes on Wednesday.

Of the people who died in Hutchinson, one had a ceiling fan and another, a 76-year-old man, had an air conditioner.

"He had an air-conditioning unit in the window but didn't use it because he didn't want to pay the electric bill," said Hutchinson Police Sergeant Thad Pickard. (Additional reporting by Bruce Olson, Lauren Keiper, Kevin Murphy, Karin Matz and Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Jerry Norton and John O'Callaghan)


Books On Genetically Modified Foods

   One of my most popular posts is Arguments Against Genetically Modified Foods, which details the United Nations' three major concerns regarding GM foods.

   I am happy to see that there is such interest in the subject -- climate change has the potential of being the biggest issue mankind has ever dealt with and how we feed ourselves is intrinsically linked.

   Since the interest is there, I am posting some books on the subject for those who might wish to dig a little deeper:

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Four Things Republicans Used To Believe

Four things Republicans used to believe
Commentary: The party used to be conservative, but not extreme
By Rex Nutting

WASHINGTON (MarketWatch) — The Republican Party used to be a center-right party, conservative but mainstream. Now it's the home of extreme views.

Just how extreme have Republican leaders become? Here are four things mainstream Washington Republicans used to believe in, but no longer do.

Taxation: The Republican Party has long favored low tax rates as a way to encourage economic efficiency, but its leaders have always recognized that some taxation is necessary and good. Under the old Republican philosophy, the purpose of taxation is to raise the revenues needed by the government. They believed, in theory, that the government shouldn’t spend money it didn’t have, so sufficient revenues were needed.

Ronald Reagan cut taxes dramatically in his first year in office, but when the deficits rose, he smartly agreed to raise taxes 12 times, including a broad tax-reform bill that eliminated many loopholes and removed many provisions of the tax code that distorted economic incentives.

Today’s Republican Party has abandoned the principle that some taxation is necessary. The party has fully bought into the “starve-the-beast” rhetoric espoused by Grover Norquist and other anti-tax zealots. It has adopted a rigid libertarian philosophy that equates taxation to tyranny, which argues that the government has no right to your money. Taken to its logical conclusion, this would mean all taxes are immoral.

For today’s Republicans, the proper level of taxation is no longer a question of paying for needed services in the most efficient manner, but is strictly a moral and political matter. The proper level is zero, and only political obstacles stand in the way of achieving that goal.

The current Republican Party pretends to care about deficits, but it clearly doesn’t. It refuses to even consider raising taxes to reduce the deficit, even by closing inefficient loopholes that distort the economy. The Republican-controlled House passed the Ryan budget plan, which cuts taxes and spending by trillions of dollars but does almost nothing to reduce the deficit over the next 10 years

A strong presidency: Republicans have long favored a strong presidency, especially in foreign affairs. Under the administration of George W. Bush, high officials even promoted an extreme theory of a “unitary executive” that claimed that the president was largely above the law, and could do pretty much what he wanted, including ignoring national and international laws banning torture and unlawful imprisonment.

That’s a far cry from today, when Republicans in the House rushed to approve a resolution to condemn President Barack Obama’s involvement in Libya’s civil war, saying he didn’t consult with Congress enough. That was the same complaint some Republicans had about Democratic President Bill Clinton’s decision to fight in Kosovo.

The Libyan crisis put the Republicans in a terrible jam. Generally, they like a good fight, especially against a cartoonish bully like Moammar Gadhafi. When the rebellion first broke out, many Republicans demanded that the U.S. get involved in the civil war. But then Obama ordered a no-fly zone over Libya, just as Republicans had demanded. Nothing infuriates Republicans more than when Obama agrees with them.

It seems as if the Republicans do have a consistent principle when it comes to the president’s war-making powers: Republican presidents are the unquestioned commander-in-chief of the armed services and may start wars wherever they please, but Democratic presidents aren’t even qualified to order lunch, much less boss the troops around.

Protecting our planet: Republicans used to be conservatives in the truest sense of the word. They favored sensible laws to conserve the water, air and land. The Environmental Protection Agency was created by Republican President Richard Nixon.

For years, Republicans favored market-based solutions to environmental problems, rather than relying on government regulations and bureaucrats. For instance, many Republicans, including John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Mark Kirk, Tim Pawlenty and Mitt Romney, favored a plan to give businesses an incentive to reduce greenhouse gases by giving them the right to sell their rights to emit carbon dioxide — what’s known as the cap-and-trade plan to combat climate change.

Cap and trade is a Republican idea through and through; it was modeled on the successful cap-and-trade acid-rain program initiated by the White House under Republican President George H.W. Bush in 1990. Read the Political History of Cap and Trade.

Today’s Republicans reject almost all government actions to protect the environment, saying they kill jobs. They want to drill for oil and gas everywhere, they want the EPA to stop regulating pollution, and they categorically reject all scientific evidence for climate change. They are so dead-set against conservation that they voted to kill a regulation (approved under Republican President George W. Bush) requiring that Americans use light bulbs that actually emit more light than heat.

Universal health coverage: It’s no secret that today’s Republican Party loathes the idea of universal health-care coverage. It believes requiring Americans to buy coverage is unconstitutional and immoral. One of its most cherished goals is to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

But did you know that the Affordable Care Act — derisively known as ObamaCare — is essentially a Republican plan, modeled after a 1993 Republican health-care bill and the Massachusetts state law signed by Mitt Romney?

The ambition of the 1993 bill introduced by Rhode Island Republican John Chafee was to provide universal coverage, with all Americans required to buy insurance. The bill would have subsidized coverage for those with low incomes. It would have prohibited denial of coverage based on pre-existing conditions. And it would have fined employers who did not offer a qualified health-care plan. Sound familiar?

It was sponsored by 19 Republican senators, including Bob Dole, Pete Domenici, Chuck Grassley, Orrin Hatch, Bob Bennett, Dick Lugar, Alan Simpson and Ted Stephens.

You may not recognize all those names, but you should know this group was the Republican establishment in 1993. And that Republican establishment was far to the left of today’s Republican Party.


Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Economists find flaws in federal estimate of climate damage

Economists find flaws in federal estimate of climate damage
July 13, 2011

A new report concludes that each ton of carbon dioxide emitted in the atmosphere inflicts as much as $900 in environmental harm - almost 45 times the amount the federal government uses when setting regulations. The gap, advocates say, disguises the true value of emissions reductions.

By Douglas Fischer

Uncle Sam's estimate of the damage caused by each ton of carbon dioxide is fundamentally flawed and "grossly understates" the potential impacts of climate change, according to an analysis released Tuesday by a group of economists.

The study found the true cost of those emissions to be far beyond the $21 per ton derived by the federal government.

The figure, commonly known as the "social cost of carbon," is used by federal agencies when weighing the costs and benefits of emissions-cutting regulations, such as air conditioner efficiency standards and greenhouse gas emissions limits for light trucks.

A truer value, according to the Economics for Equity and the Environment Network, an organization of economists who advocate for environmental protection, could be as high as $900 per ton - equivalent to adding $9 to each gallon of gas. Viewed another way, with the United States emitting the equivalent of close to 6 million tons of carbon dioxide annually, the higher figure suggests that avoiding those emissions could save the nation $5.3 trillion annually, one-third of the nation's economic output.

'Dramatic simplifications'
A second, separate report released Tuesday buttressed the argument, finding that the government routinely underestimates the benefits of avoiding climate change when conducting cost-benefit analysis on regulations aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

This second report, published jointly by the World Resources Institute, an environmental think tank, and the Environmental Law Institute, found that government models on climate impacts often contain "dramatic simplifications and assumptions" - such as when calculating the social cost of carbon - that underplay the benefits society gains by curbing emissions.

Together, the two reports suggest policy makers are looking at a distorted picture as they assess the economic impacts of climate regulations.

The issue has gained urgency as efforts to create a cap-and-trade system or impose a carbon tax have stalled in Congress and federal rules - via the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency - become the primary vehicle for reducing emissions.

"Based on what we know today, the government's current range of social costs is very likely a serious underestimation of what we think those costs will be," said Kristen Sheeran, executive director of the E3 Network.

"It does not reflect the urgency of the climate crisis," she added. "It could lead to a degree of inaction on climate change that frankly is not supported by either the economics or the science at this point."

Costly impacts missed
A lower social cost of carbon - particularly when combined with an underestimate of the benefits of reducing emissions - makes justifying expensive emissions-cutting regulations much harder, advocates say.

But how to value the cost of climate change has proven to be a contentious issue.

Computer models attempting to assess the economic impacts of climate change are, in many cases, streamlined affairs that can only look at impacts broadly - at a scale of hundreds of miles, instead of, say, at a particular watershed, township, or even state.

Economists at the E3 Network, an umbrella group of about 200 economists, contend many potentially costly impacts are missed: Sweltering inland temperatures are averaged with cooler coastal weather. Or an intense, deadly rainstorm never shows up in a monthly average rainfall tally.

That leads to considerable uncertainty about the severity of the damages. For example, a global model used in part by the federal government to derive the $21-per-ton price finds that a 4.5ºF (2.5ºC) temperature rise will cost 1.8 percent of the world GDP. But University of California, Berkeley, economist Michael Hanemann, conducting a detailed review of that estimate as it applies just to the United States, found it should be four times as large.

Inflated assumptions
The point, say E3 economists, is that when the latest science on cost of climate extremes, the pace of global change, and how to account for those damages in the future are incorporated into the federal government's mathematics, the picture changes dramatically.

"Now that we know how much we could end up paying to endure the impacts of climate change, investing in reducing our emissions is clearly the prudent option," Frank Ackerman, an economist with the Stockholm Environment Institute and one of the report's two authors, said in a statement. "It's the difference between servicing your car, or waiting for it to break down on the highway."

Officials at the EPA were unavailable for comment Tuesday evening. Michael Greenstone, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Professor who led the federal effort to price the cost of climate impacts (pdf), was similarly unavailable.

In an interview earlier this year, however, Greenstone said the federal panel charged with pricing impacts did consider several studies that pegged the social cost of carbon closer to $3,000 per ton of carbon dioxide. But those higher values were based on unlikely assumptions, Greenstone said. When the panel held those assumptions and variables constant, the picture changed dramatically, and the federal estimate fell within the mid-range of the published literature, he said.

The federal panel published its $21-per-ton figure in February 2010 with a promise to reassess its work within two years. Sheeran noted 18 months have passed, with no evidence the estimate is being revised.

"It does not appear to be a priority within the administration," she said.


Monday, July 11, 2011

FDA Approves Genetically Modified Grass

FDA Approves Genetically Modified Grass: A Blow to the Organic Movement
Esther Farin, July 10, 2011

Just as sneakily as it approved genetically modified corn, soy, and various other plants, the FDA cleared the way for genetically modified Kentucky bluegrass made by Scotts Miracle-Gro on Friday, July 1st. Like other genetically modified plants, genes of foreign materials (in this case corn, rice, and other plants) were inserted into the seeds to create Kentucky bluegrass. The intent of this lab-created grass is to withstand copious amounts of Round-Up weedkiller, brought to us by Monsanto, that this nation's soil could stand to do without. This modified grass would be used and sold as lawn grass.

GM Kentucky bluegrass could have a devastating impact to the organic movement if it grows wild, because it will contaminate fields. And because genetically modified seeds are patented for growing, organic farmers may also face unwarranted lawsuits as a result. Coupled with the fact that this grass is actually considered a "noxious weed" due to its glysophate resistance, its approval should leave most scratching their heads.

Although genetically modified crops have been used as food for well over a decade, sold in fast food, frozen meals, and processed foods to hundreds of millions of unknowing Americans, it is only within the past few years that their controversy has come to light. People are concerned both with the health implications of genetically modified plants as well as their impact on the environment, That a lawn grass can withstand unlimited amounts of pesticide does not necessarily translate for healthy living and the impact of usage of this grass in people's homes could lead to damage to the soil that will leave them unable to plant much else.

Approval of GM Kentucky bluegrass also paves the way for other plants to pass through the FDA's approval system without any scientific testing, further disrupting the U.S.'s damaged environment and food supply while going unregulated.


Saturday, July 9, 2011

It's Time To Shut Up And Do Something

   Our garden is about two months behind last year, which was a horrible growing season. Yesterday I was able to hang the laundry outside for the first time this year -- that's about two months behind the norm. It's not just the Puget Sound. While in Nebraska, every time I commented on how beautiful it was (it really is) I was told how wet and cold it had been and generations of folks would say, "It's never this green this time of year".

   There are tornadoes in Arizona, the Missouri River is experiencing record flooding, and the entire state of Texas has been declared a disaster area due to drought and wildfires. Oceans are rising. It seems pretty obvious that Ma Nature is not cooperating with human "business as usual".

   People in Canada and Australia are concerned about what we need to do about it. It was only a few years ago that the majority of Americans believed that climate change was an important issue that needed to be addressed. Then two things happened: the economy took a dive and a democrat was elected President. This is important because climatologists still insist that we need to address the causes of climate change immediately, if it's not already too late. But a handful of people have decided to use the issue to further polarize political parties and now the number of climate change deniers is going up.

   This is insane and I don't understand the reasoning.

   Okay, so a few strange weather occurrences does not necessarily mean anything. I get that and if that's what we were talking about, that'd be one thing. But we aren't. We're talking about a growing body of evidence and a majority of scientists who agree that climate change is happening and we are responsible.

   "We can't afford to do anything about it right now". The economy is in the toilet, sure, but who is going to be glad we focused on that when millions of people start getting displaced, we can't grow food, and drinking water is scarce? It's as if people don't understand we are talking about losing our basic necessities: food and shelter. We are talking about a world that can not longer sustain not just us, but the plants and animals that we rely on. I really want my 401k to take care of me when I retire, but if it's a choice between that or food, I'll find a way to make ends meet.

   I read somewhere someone called climate change a hoax and suggested that it was some kind of liberal plot to make people spend money. First of all, if you want plots, turn to the advertising companies. Marketers have gotten us all to spend so much money on crap -- much of which is bad for us -- I can't understand where anyone has the energy to spend on a conspiracy theory around climate change. Second, these are the same people bitching about the economy. Guess what? Investing in new energy sources CREATES JOBS. We should be creating new jobs in solar, wind, and hydro manufacturing and installation and putting people back to work! Why is anybody against these new jobs?

   If we really buckle down and try to deal with this problem the worst case scenario is this: the economy gets a shot in the arm with new jobs, we create cleaner energy, the air and water are cleaner, we all become a little more responsible, our children have better lives, and it was all for nothing -- either it really is too late and we can't change it, or it was all just a myth.

   Here's the other worst case scenario: droughts, floods, wildfires, hurricanes, tornadoes, and rising sea levels displace the majority of the world's population over the next decades, our agriculture and natural resources are wiped out, and you, me, and our children become part of the sharpest population decline in human history.

   Do we have our priorities straight?

   Further reading:

It Really Is All About The Money

   I often find myself making the argument that we can't sacrifice our children and their futures for our own immediate gains. Of course, we do. We have always handed problems down to the next generation when we didn't want to deal with it (i.e. slavery). I forget that people believe that the next generation will be better able to deal with our problems and that we just aren't strong enough.

   Then again, maybe we really are so concerned with money and comfort that we have stopped caring about our children altogether? There's a mining company in West Virginia that wants to run an 1,800-acre coal mine under a high school and a proposed site for a new middle school. While the school board is fighting against it, citing the safety of the children and staff and concerns about methane gas leaks, International Coal Group and Wolf Run Mining are still trying to go forward with the plan.

   What the hell is wrong with us? At what point do we take a look around and decide to take responsibility and deal with our problems? We shouldn't be mining under schools! We should be building infrastructure that does not rely on coal and building up our education systems.

   At what point do we the people stand up and say, "Enough!"?

(Click Here to sign a petition against this mining operation)

The Next, Worse Financial Crisis

   From Market Watch:

The next, worse financial crisis
Commentary: Ten reasons we are doomed to repeat 2008
By Brett Arends, MarketWatch
BOSTON (MarketWatch) — The last financial crisis isn’t over, but we might as well start getting ready for the next one.

Sorry to be gloomy, but there it is.

Why? Here are 10 reasons.

1. We are learning the wrong lessons from the last one. Was the housing bubble really caused by Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, the Community Reinvestment Act, Barney Frank, Bill Clinton, “liberals” and so on? That’s what a growing army of people now claim. There’s just one problem. If so, then how come there was a gigantic housing bubble in Spain as well? Did Barney Frank cause that, too (and while in the minority in Congress, no less!)? If so, how? And what about the giant housing bubbles in Ireland, the U.K. and Australia? All Barney Frank? And the ones across Eastern Europe, and elsewhere? I’d laugh, but tens of millions are being suckered into this piece of spin, which is being pushed in order to provide cover so the real culprits can get away. And it’s working.

2. No one has been punished. Executives like Dick Fuld at Lehman Brothers and Angelo Mozilo at Countrywide , along with many others, cashed out hundreds of millions of dollars before the ship crashed into the rocks. Predatory lenders and crooked mortgage lenders walked away with millions in ill-gotten gains. But they aren’t in jail. They aren’t even under criminal prosecution. They got away scot-free. As a general rule, the worse you behaved from 2000 to 2008, the better you’ve been treated. And so the next crowd will do it again. Guaranteed.

3. The incentives remain crooked. People outside finance — from respected political pundits like George Will to normal people on Main Street — still don’t fully get this. Wall Street rules aren’t like Main Street rules. The guy running a Wall Street bank isn’t in the same “risk/reward” situation as a guy running, say, a dry-cleaning shop. Take all our mental images of traditional American free-market enterprise and put them to one side. This is totally different. For the people on Wall Street, it’s a case of heads they win, tails they get to flip again. Thanks to restricted stock, options, the bonus game, securitization, 2-and-20 fee structures, insider stock sales, “too big to fail” and limited liability, they are paid to behave recklessly, and they lose little — or nothing — if things go wrong.

4. The referees are corrupt. We’re supposed to have a system of free enterprise under the law. The only problem: The players get to bribe the refs. Imagine if that happened in the NFL. The banks and other industries lavish huge amounts of money on Congress, presidents and the entire Washington establishment of aides, advisers and hangers-on. They do it through campaign contributions. They do it with $500,000 speaker fees and boardroom sinecures upon retirement. And they do it by spending a fortune on lobbyists — so you know that if you play nice when you’re in government, you too can get a $500,000-a-year lobbying job when you retire. How big are the bribes? The finance industry spent $474 million on lobbying last year alone, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

5. Stocks are skyrocketing again. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index SPX -0.70%  has now doubled from the March 2009 lows. Isn’t that good news? Well, yes, up to a point. Admittedly, a lot of it is just from debasement of the dollar (when the greenback goes down, Wall Street goes up, and vice versa). And we forget there were huge rallies on Wall Street during the bear markets of the 1930s and the 1970s, as there were in Japan in the 1990s. But the market boom, targeted especially toward the riskiest and junkiest stocks, raises risks. It leaves investors less room for positive surprises and much more room for disappointment. And stocks are not cheap. The dividend yield on the S&P is just 2%. According to one long-term measure — “Tobin’s q,” which compares share prices with the replacement cost of company assets — shares are now about 70% above average valuations. Furthermore, we have an aging population of Baby Boomers who still own a lot of stocks, and who are going to be selling as they near retirement.

6. The derivatives time bomb is bigger than ever — and ticking away. Just before Lehman collapsed, at what we now call the height of the last bubble, Wall Street firms were carrying risky financial derivatives on their books with a value of an astonishing $183 trillion. That was 13 times the size of the U.S. economy. If it sounds insane, it was. Since then we’ve had four years of panic, alleged reform and a return to financial sobriety. So what’s the figure now? Try $248 trillion. No kidding. Ah, good times.

7. The ancient regime is in the saddle. I have to laugh whenever I hear Republicans ranting that Barack Obama is a “liberal” or a “socialist” or a communist. Are you kidding me? Obama is Bush 44. He’s a bit more like the old man than the younger one. But look at who’s still running the economy: Bernanke. Geithner. Summers. Goldman Sachs. J.P. Morgan Chase. We’ve had the same establishment in charge since at least 1987, when Paul Volcker stood down as Fed chairman. Change? What “change”? (And even the little we had was too much for Wall Street, which bought itself a new, more compliant Congress in 2010.)

8. Ben Bernanke doesn’t understand his job. The Fed chairman made an absolutely astonishing admission at his first press conference. He cited the boom in the Russell 2000 Index RUT -0.65%   of risky small-cap stocks as one sign “quantitative easing” had worked. The Fed has a dual mandate by law: low inflation and low unemployment. Now, apparently, it has a third: boosting Wall Street share prices. This is crazy. If it ends well, I will be surprised.

9. We are levering up like crazy. Looking for a “credit bubble”? We’re in it. Everyone knows about the skyrocketing federal debt, and the risk that Congress won’t raise the debt ceiling next month. But that’s just part of the story. U.S. corporations borrowed $513 billion in the first quarter. They’re borrowing at twice the rate that they were last fall, when corporate debt was already soaring. Savers, desperate for income, will buy almost any bonds at all. No wonder the yields on high-yield bonds have collapsed. So much for all that talk about “cash on the balance sheets.” U.S. nonfinancial corporations overall are now deeply in debt, to the tune of $7.3 trillion. That’s a record level, and up 24% in the past five years. And when you throw in household debts, government debt and the debts of the financial sector, the debt level reaches at least as high as $50 trillion. More leverage means more risk. It’s Econ 101.

10. The real economy remains in the tank. The second round of quantitative easing hasn’t done anything noticeable except lower the exchange rate. Unemployment is far, far higher than the official numbers will tell you (for example, even the Labor Department’s fine print admits that one middle-aged man in four lacks a full-time job — astonishing). Our current-account deficit is running at $120 billion a year (and hasn’t been in surplus since 1990). House prices are falling, not recovering. Real wages are stagnant. Yes, productivity is rising. But that, ironically, also helps keep down jobs.

You know what George Santayana said about people who forget the past. But we’re even dumber than that. We are doomed to repeat the past not because we have forgotten it but because we never learned the lessons to begin with.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Labels on Genetically Modified Foods: Let the Voters Decide!

Labels on Genetically Modified Foods: Let the Voters Decide!
By Alexis Baden-Mayer & Ronnie Cummins
Organic Consumers Association, July 6, 2011

Reason #1 - The Voters Agree: If Genetically Modified Organisms Are Used to Produce Food, the Food Should Be Labeled "GMO"!

Poll after poll has shown that most consumers want to know whether their food includes engineered ingredients.
The results of an MSNBC poll that posed the question, "Do you believe genetically modified foods should be labeled?" indicate that nearly all Americans believe that foods made with genetically modified organisms (GMOs) should indeed be labeled.

Of the more than 45,000 people who participated in the poll, over 96% answered "Yes. It's an ethical issue -- consumers should be informed so they can make a choice."

It's not news that most Americans support labeling of GMO foods. Since genetically modified foods were first introduced in mid-1990s, scores of public opinion polls have shown that the vast majority of consumers want mandatory labeling of all genetically modified foods. These include recent polls by CBS News/New York Times, NPR/Thomson Reuters and the Consumers Union.

Reason #2 - We Need to Bypass the Federal Government, Given that Monsanto Has Bribed Politicians & Infiltrated Regulatory Agencies

Monsanto spent more than $1 million on the 2010 election cycle, splitting its contributions evenly between state and federal candidates. It spends much more on lobbying -- more than $8 million in each of the last three years. Monsanto's money has bought it influence and allowed it to move its lawyers and scientists through the revolving door into roles within the regulatory agencies. The USDA, FDA and State Department is full of appointees with connections to Monsanto. Monsanto's efforts have successfully stifled attempts in Congress and state legislatures to pass GMO labeling legislation.

Reason #3 - We Need High-Profile Statewide Campaigns to Wake Up Consumers Who Don't Even Know What GMOs Are

A 2006 survey conducted by the Pew Initiative for Food and Biotechnology found that only 26 per cent of respondents thought that they had ever eaten GM food, even though most Americans have likely consumed GMOs in the last few hours. Just about all sweetened processed foods and drinks, from soda to ketchup to yogurt, contain genetically modified high fructose corn syrup or sugar made from genetically modified sugar beets. As many packaged and prepared foods sold at grocery stores and restaurants contain genetically modified vegetable oils (often in the form of dangerous trans fats) made from Monsanto's corn, soy, cotton or canola.

Reason #4 - Winning GMO Labels in Even One Big State Could Change Packaging Nationally

Even if just one big state made GMO labels mandatory, the practice would quickly spread across the country, both because it will be more convenient for big companies marketing nationally to use the same packaging, and because they'll get pressure from consumers to respect their right to know, in every state.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Home From Nebraska

   The family just got home last night from a six-day trip. We left early Friday morning to drive to Sea-Tac airport and fly to Denver, Colorado. From there we met my mother who took our son for the weekend while the wife and I rented a car and drove four hours east to North Platte, Nebraska.

   The reason for going to North Platte was a birthday party for which I was hired to play piano. The party was Saturday night and we were invited to stay through the 4th of July. By the time we got in Friday it was getting pretty late. We drove out to the farm where the party was being held, had a fantastic buffet-style meal (a frequent occurrence on this trip) and discussed logistics for the party.

   Saturday was the party and it was a grand event. 300 pounds of prime rib was being smoked as all the family, friends, church, and the entire town of Maxwell had been invited. We set up the stage and did a soundcheck and then people started rolling in. I don't know how many people actually showed up, but I would guess 400-500 would be in the ballpark. It took an hour and a half to get everyone through the food line. The party was a lot of fun and I did not end up playing very long at all as there were other entertainers booked to play as well.

   Sunday we had the day off, so the wife and I explored the area. I posted about that in "On The Road: North Platte, Nebraska".

   Monday we got up late and headed back out to the farm for the 4th. Despite there being a ton of leftovers, just about everybody brought food, so there was enough food to feed an army. There was still plenty of beer, as well. Everyone chatted while the kids played games, sprayed each other with water cannons, and lit off small fireworks. We ate more food than we should have (and there was still a lot left), had drinks, and socialized until the big fireworks show after dark. As the crowd began to thin out our host convinced me to play a song, which lead to another, and another, until we had a full-on piano bar going on in the barn until about 3am. It was a lot of fun.

   Tuesday we checked out of our hotel and made the four-hour drive back to Denver. We had given ourselves a couple extra hours to meet my mother for lunch and get our son. My mother didn't make it to lunch as there was construction in Vail and then an accident near the airport. In fact, our son just made it to the airport in time to get through security and to the gate. Fortunately our flight was on Frontier. It was the first time I had flown on Frontier and by all appearances they are about as organized as a sock full of gerbils. Our gate had to be changed because of one flight being late and our own flight was delayed about 50 minutes as the first officer was a half-hour late.

   By the time we finally got our baggage and picked up our car it was about an hour and a half later then we had expected. From there we drove to Portland. A close friend from Alabama was in town for a few days and we took the opportunity to visit. It was well after midnight PST by the time we arrived at my friend's place and we had been traveling for about sixteen hours.

   Wednesday morning we had another feast for breakfast, visited for a while, went out to say hi to the cows, and then took advantage of the nice day by taking an historic and scenic drive around the area. I have spent many years in this area outside of Portland, but never really taken the time to view it from this perspective. It was really nice.

   Eventually we had to say goodbye and make the three-hour drive north to home. We got home about 7pm to find the garden had grown quite a bit while we were away and the chickens were very happy to see us.

   It was a fun trip, but I am glad to be home.

Roots of Change

Monday, July 4, 2011

July 4th

   235 years ago a group of American rebels adopted a document that started like this:

When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security...

   Happy Independence Day!

On The Road: North Platte, Nebraska

   I am currently in western Nebraska for a gig. I'll do a trip report after I get home, but I wanted to post about what my wife and I did today.

   We got in late after the gig last night, so we got a late start. I had the day off, so we decided to get lunch and explore North Platte, Nebraska. We started at Cody's Trading Post, an obvious tourist trap souvenir shop right off the interstate banking on the legend of Bill Cody's "Buffalo Bill's Wild West" show. There was a lot to look at, though, and it was fun. I picked up a book called, The Wisdom of the Native Americans,  a couple things for the boy (who is stay with grandma in Colorado while we're here), and the wife picked up a souvenir sticker.

   From there we drove out to the northwest edge of town to visit the Golden Spike Tower overlooking Union Pacific's Bailey Train Yard. At two miles wide and eight miles long, Bailey is the largest train yard in the world. The Golden Spike Tower has an open-air observation deck on the seventh floor and a glassed-in, 360-degree viewing area on the eighth floor overlooking the whole operation. The whole thing is very impressive.

   While we were looking around the eighth-floor viewing area, I came across a brochure for area attractions. My wife spotted Dancing Leaf Cultural Learning Center in Wellfleet. After looking up the location of Wellfleet -- about 25 miles south of North Platte -- we called to see what their hours were. The woman on the phone was happy to give us any information we needed and effectively told us to show up and we would get the tour whenever we arrived. We were even offered to join an earlier group for some traditional native buffalo stew, but we were still full from our late lunch.

   We arrived at Dancing Leaf and were greeted by Les and Jan Hosick. After a quick round of introductions and the obligatory explanation of why were hanging out in North Platte, Les took us to a small building across the driveway from their home. I'll admit, as we walked into the the single-room box with a single row of metal folding chairs and shelves covered with bones and artifacts I wondered if this might turn out to be disappointing. After only a few minutes of listening to Les talk about prehistoric Nebraska I was completely sucked in. He told us about prehistoric geography and why so many artifacts can be found in Nebraska using charts, maps, fossils, bones, and plaster casts. He went on to discuss Native American culture and history with an impressive array of artifacts. After almost an hour of fascinating show& tell and Q&A, we took a short walk out of the classroom to the earth lodge Les has built as a recreation of an actual Native American lodge.

  Outside the lodge are primitive racks for drying and tanning, an arbor of limbs and twigs to form a shaded work area, campfire, and a whole new assortment of artifacts to recreate the entire native family home. Inside the lodge was amazing! While Les admitted to using modern hand-tools -- he spoke quite a bit about the fragility of tools made from stone, sticks, and bones and the need for native peoples to be skilled in tool making -- the lodge is an authentic replica. The temperature inside was probably 15 degrees (fahrenheit) cooler than outside. We sat inside around the fire ring and Les told us about family life in and around the lodge and about construction of the lodge itself.
   By the time we made our way back to the gift shop Les had spent close to two hours with my wife and I and every minute was riveting. I picked up an arrowhead necklace for a souvenir and also picked up a book, How Can One Sell The Air?, a study of a speech by Chief Seattle.

   "Wild Bill" Cody, the world's largest train yard, and the coolest history field-trip ever. We didn't even make it to Buffalo Bill's Ranch. North Platte, Nebraska is a pretty cool place!