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Howling Mad Dan Newhouse Brings Back An Old Scapegoat

Last week, Dan Newhouse, a Republican from Washington, introduced H.R. 1985, a bill that would prohibit gray wolves in Washington, Oregon, and Utah from receiving the protections as individuals of an endangered species that federal law partially entitles them to. The purpose of H.R. 1985 is to allow gray wolves to be hunted or poisoned and killed. The justification for this is that wolves attack livestock, and that’s bad for ranchers.

Attacks on livestock from wolves are actually rare, when compared to attacks from coyotes, cougars and feral dogs. The most recently available USDA report on predation on cattle, for example, finds that only 3.7 percent of losses of cattle from predators were due to wolf attacks. Vultures killed thousands more cattle than wolves did. Hunters could kill all the wolves in North America, and predation on livestock would continue with little noticeable change.

That same report found that attacks by all predator species caused less than half the number of cattle deaths as the neglect of ranchers who allowed their animals to remain unprotected during extremely harsh weather. In Representative Newhouse’s state of Washington, cattle death from all predators was just 4.6% of the number of cattle death from other causes – and deaths from wolves were at less than 1%.

Is this really a problem that demands federal legislation? Even if you think so, the fact is that Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves have already been removed in parts of Washington, Oregon and Utah, by a bit of legislation that was slipped into a larger budget bill four years ago.

Besides, methods of reducing loss of livestock to predation by wolves other than killing the wolves are available, and proven to work. Certain breeds of herd dogs have been proven to be strong deterents to wolf attacks, for instance. Also, the practice of something called fladry, which involves hanging strange objects that wolves don’t understand, have been proven to keep many of the predators away from livestock.

These alternative methods are clever, but they don’t have the swagger effect for a politician like Dan Newhouse, who prefers to talk tough about getting rid of varmints to finding intelligent solutions to the occasional problems wolves cause.

Trivia for Dummies

IMG_0003.JPG

Spotted at a goodwill store.  I can’t decide whether this game completely misses the point or is the best example of accuracy in advertising the universe has ever seen.

Engineering Bees

This month’s National Geographic magazine includes an article about “How To Build A Better Bee”. It summarizes efforts by agribusiness researchers to protect dwindling honeybee populations in North America through genetic engineering. The article also makes a passing reference to efforts by a macrobiotic laboratory at Harvard University to build robotic replacements for bees, performing massive electronic pollination for corporate farms.

Why bother to build a better bee?

The Harvard RoboBee project enthusiastically suggests that robotic bees could do things other than pollination – like spy on people for the government.

Putting such non-agricultural applications aside, the justification for the development of a new kind of honeybee has to do with the vulnerability of honeybees to parasites and pesticides. Honeybee colonies are increasingly falling apart, victims of the multi-faceted phenomenon called Colony Collapse Disorder.

Our national food supply is at stake, says National Geographic. “One third of the foods in the U.S. diet rely on bees and other pollinators,” the article warns.

Read that sentence again carefully, and you’ll see that there are opportunities other than fixing what’s wrong with honeybees in North America. There are many other kinds of bees besides honeybees, and other kinds of pollinators besides bees.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, there are over four thousand species of bees that are native to North America,mand even more non-bee native pollinators. Many of these species actually do a better job at pollination than honeybees do. Some crops, such as tomatoes, can’t be effectively pollinated by honeybees.

What native pollinators require that honeybees do not is rich natural habitat. Corporate agriculture loves honeybees because they can be contained and controlled. They live in hives that can be packed up and shipped from field to field. If they’re shipped around from field to field, honeybees don’t require biological diversity in any particular place.

The corporate agricultural model of massive monocultures isn’t holding up, though. The artificial environments created by agribusiness are proving toxic even to honeybees. Corn and soybean fields, largely devoid of weeds, sprayed with poisons, with tiny margins, dominate in American agriculture.

The alternative solution is to retool American agriculture to provide bees with the safe and diverse habitat they need to thrive. So who’s going to come up with a way to get that done? Not Monsanto. Not Archer Daniels Midland.

You need to do it. You, and me, and our neighbors. We actually control the American agricultural system, collectively. By choosing to eat heavily processed foods from big brands, packed with the products of just a few kinds of plants, we make corporate monoculture farming profitable.

The more we choose local foods, and minimally-processed foods, the more diversity in agriculture will redevelop. The more we eat organic vegetables, and ones not from the massive corporate organic operations in drought-stricken California, the more quickly native pollinators will rebound. We can help to remake farming in America by eating in a way that happens to be more healthy for own bodies – having a variety of fruits and vegetables, not just the standard “baby” carrots and celery sticks. Maybe we could even begin to grow more of our own food – and allow some of it to go to flower, and to seed.

With less Captain Crunch and more dandelion greens, we won’t need robotic bees.

Pop Culture: Where We’re Headed

Paul Blart: Muppet Cop (Paul Blart 4 promotional image) -- fake

2018. Am I wrong?

Obama Withheld Report Revealing Little Knowledge Of Positive Impact Of NSA Spying On Americans

For the last decade, both George W. Bush and Barack Obama have been assuring us that the massive program by the National Security Agency that conducts daily electronic surveillance against the private communications of the American people is justified, because it protects us all from terrorists.

A federal report that was just released revealed that actually, the federal government has known for quite some time that there is little sound basis for any judgment of whether the NSA spying against Americans is of any help in preventing terrorism at all. The report states that intelligence officials “had difficulty evaluating the precise contribution of the PSP [President’s Surveillance Program] to counterterrorism efforts”. All those statements about how much the NSA surveillance was protecting us were just bluster.

This report has been available for six years. Over those six years, we’ve been told over and over again, the NSA’s intrusion into our emails, phone calls, and Internet activity were necessary. President Obama could have, over that time, admitted that there was no justification for the NSA abuses. Instead, he has withheld the truth, and accused Edward Snowden of being a traitor for blowing the whistle.

A Map of Federal Spending vs. Federal Revenue for the 50 U.S. States in Fiscal Year 2014

This morning, someone passed me a Huffington Post article declaring that GOP States Are The Most Dependent On Government. Is this true? With Huffington Post’s record (1 | 2 | 3), that’s anyone’s guess. To check the accuracy of HuffPo’s claim, let’s turn to Wikipedia…

…”Wait a minute,” you may be saying to yourself, “if you’re going to disparage Huffington Post, how can you be using Wikipedia in turn? Wikipedia is not a good source.” For years, it’s been fashionable to disrespect Wikipedia as a disreputable source of information, but I think that blanket disrespect of Wikipedia is unfair.  One of the nice features of Wikipedia is that it cites sources openly; it’s a simple matter to check those sources through a footnoting system.  If the sources are trustworthy, Wikipedia is trustworthy — and in this case, the sources are solid: the IRS database of federal revenue collection by state and a Department of Treasury database of spending by state.

The Huffington Post, in comparison, doesn’t refer to any original sources of data. It doesn’t tell you how it decided that some states are “Republican” while others are “Democratic.” All HuffPo does is link to a web page assembled by WalletHub, an outfit that makes money by posting ratings of loan and credit card companies and selling the right for those companies to obtain “premium placement” (and WalletHub doesn’t tell you which states are “Republican” or “Democratic,” either. The Huffington Post article is also out of date; although it doesn’t tell you this, it’s referring to spending and revenue data from Fiscal Year 2013, even though the article was last updated in the Spring of 2015, half a year after the end of Fiscal Year 2014.

Let’s improve on the Huffington Post approach by using the most recent year of data available from the IRS and Department of Treasury. Here’s a map of the ratio of federal spending on a state to federal revenue by a state; hover your cursor over any state to find the right value.

(Federal spending sent to a state) / (Federal revenue received by a state), Fiscal Year 2014

And let’s be specific about the “Republicanness” of a state: here, it’s measured as the number of GOP members in the U.S. Senate (anywhere from 0-2). Here’s a chart of the 50 states, plotting the ratio of federal spending/federal revenue against the number of GOP Senators:

Chart: Federal Spending/Federal Revenue by GOP Senators, for 50 U.S. States in FY 2014

The correlation of the two is positive, but very weak at just +0.090. I wouldn’t crow to the hills about this relationship.

An Index Of Racism And Flags

Amount of people from southern Georgia who were willing to show up at Valdosta State University to protest racism: 3

Amount of people from southern Georgia who were willing to show up at Valdosta State University to protest against the protesters who walked on the American flag at the first protest: Thousands

University students prevented from going to their classes by the anti-racism protest: 0

University students prevented from going to their classes by the pro-flag protest: 11,0000

Number of crimes committed against the three anti-racism protesters: 1

Numbers of crimes committed against the thousands of anti-flag protesters: 0

Ratio of racism in the US flag vs. the Confederate flag, according to the Texas Sons of Confederate Veterans: 4 to 1

Why Isn’t Your Member of Congress Supporting An End To Government Subsidies For Unsustainable Energy?

Solar power and wind power are sustainable sources of energy. The sun won’t go away for billions of years, and neither will the wind. These sources of energy are also clean. Their production doesn’t create air and water pollution, and doesn’t contribute to climate change.

Fossil fuels are unsustainable sources of energy. They are limited in supply, and once they’re burned up, they’re gone forever. Fossil fuels are also dirty. Their extraction and consumption create massive amounts of air and water pollution, and contribute strongly to climate change.

In spite of the obvious long-term inferiority of fossil fuels, corporations that profit from the extraction and consumption of fossil fuels receive massive financial subsidies from the government. It’s a system that rewards unsustainable energy development and pollution that harms Americans’ health and damages the client we rely upon for life and prosperity.

This week, U.S. Representative Keith Ellison introduced, H.R. 1930, legislation that would begin to dismantle this corrupt and outdated system of subsidies.

Not one member of Congress has co-sponsored the bill.

I urge you to make a phone call to the office of your U.S. Representative and ask why he or she is not supporting H.R. 1930.

In Tennessee, Voting For the Bible and Voting Against the Bible

The supporters of HB 0615, a bill before the Tennessee House of Representatives to “designate the Holy Bible as the official state book,” prevailed with 55 “Aye” votes.  They are:

Rep. Alexander
Rep. Brooks K.
Rep. Butt
Rep. Byrd
Rep. Calfee
Rep. Casada
Rep. Coley
Rep. DeBerry
Rep. Doss
Rep. Dunlap
Rep. Dunn
Rep. Durham
Rep. Eldridge
Rep. Farmer
Rep. Goins
Rep. Harrison
Rep. Hawk
Rep. Hill M.
Rep. Hill T.
Rep. Holsclaw
Rep. Holt
Rep. Howell
Rep. Hulsey
Rep. Keisling
Rep. Kumar
Rep. Lamberth
Rep. Littleton
Rep. Lollar
Rep. Lynn
Rep. Matheny
Rep. Matlock
Rep. McDaniel
Rep. Moody
Rep. Pitts
Rep. Pody
Rep. Powers
Rep. Reedy
Rep. Rogers
Rep. Sargent
Rep. Sexton J.
Rep. Shaw
Rep. Shepard
Rep. Sparks
Rep. Spivey
Rep. Terry
Rep. Todd
Rep. Towns
Rep. Van Huss
Rep. Weaver
Rep. White D.
Rep. White M.
Rep. Wilburn
Rep. Windle
Rep. Wirgau
Rep. Womick

In contrast, the supporters of HB 1257 in the Tennessee House of Representatives have hit a brick wall.  HB  1257 doesn’t “designate the Holy Bible as the official state book.”  Instead, it aims to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour, which is still not enough to support single parent with a child but which is a living wage for a single individual (source: Prof. Amy Glasmeier of MIT).

HB 1257 has not passed the Tennessee House of Representatives.  It’s been killed in committee.  Its cosponsors are listed as:

Rep. Akbari
Rep. Beck
Rep. Camper
Rep. Clemons
* Rep. Dunlap
Rep. Favors
Rep. Gilmore
Rep. Hardaway
Rep. Jernigan
Rep. Jones
Rep. Love
Rep. Miller
Rep. Mitchell
Rep. Parkinson
* Rep. Pitts
Rep. Powell
* Rep. Shepard
Rep. Stewart
*Rep. Towns
Rep. Turner

I’ve added an asterisk to indicate the legislators who voted to make the Christian Bible the official state book of Tennessee and also supported the bill to raise Tennessee’s minimum wage. There are only four.

“Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me” — Matthew 25
“Go, sell your possessions and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.” — Matthew 19
“You shall not oppress a hired servant who is poor and needy, whether one of your brethren or one of the aliens who is in your land within your gates.” — Deuteronomy 24

St. Paul’s Charge To The Weary

St. Paul’s Cathedral in London beckons weary visitors with an invitation of relief from heavy burdens: “Jesus said: ‘Come to me all you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and you will find rest for your souls.'”

st. pauls cathedral

Relief for the weary comes at a charge, however. Those seeking to lay their heavy burden down at St. Paul’s are required to pay an entry fee of 18 pounds first.

saint paul entry fee

If you’re on the road to Damascus, keep a hand on your wallet.

The Republicans’ First 100 Days Controlling Congress Slammed

The Republicans have controlled both houses of Congress for 100 days now. About this milestone, Congressman Dale Kildee of Michigan had this to say: “Instead of passing legislation that would help American families buy a home or put away money to save for their kids’ college or save even for a secure retirement, we have seen again and again tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans. That is the priority that supersedes the needs of the American family. Instead of focusing on growing paychecks and improving our infrastructure, a vital need, one that should be a bipartisan effort, we just continue to vote for more tax giveaways to the wealthiest special interests.”

Friends of the Earth commented, “This Congress is rewarding big oil, coal, gas, with votes, amendments, bills that attempt to undermine the fundamental bedrock laws that the environmental community has been fighting for the last 45 years.”

Congressman Steny Hoyer noted that, “From nearly shutting down the Department of Homeland Security over unrelated, anti-immigrant policies to struggling to pass their own partisan, unworkable budget, they have failed to govern responsibly and make progress on behalf of the American people. In fact, over the past hundred days, the Republican-controlled House has passed just six major pieces of legislation, and only three of these have been signed into law – all of which were bills to continue basic functions of government, such as funding the Department of Homeland Security. At the same time, they have been forced to pull their ESEA reauthorization bill, legislation attacking women’s rights, and a partisan border policy bill from the Floor as a result of intra-party division.”

Katie Valentine notes that the new Republican majority in Congress has been both determined to promote dirty fossil fuels, and inept in their efforts to do so. “In its first 100 days, the 114th Congress has cast more roll call votes on energy and environmental issues than on any other issue, according to a new report. Many of these votes sought to undermine environmental protections or fast track projects like the Keystone XL pipeline, but none of them have become law,” she writes.

What disasters will the next 100 days of Republican control of Congress bring?