Thursday, July 27, 2017

COTW: The Exceptional Nation

Call it "bombast", call it "buffoonery" but you do not have to tell the truth if you are a Washington politician, and retired Navy officer like John McCain.  This chart shows US what our warfare state costs in terms of reduced life expectancy.  The sad truth is that by 2030 the length of our lives will be on par with the Czech Republic for men and Mexico for women.  We have the absurd distinction of being the only country in the  OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) that does not provide its citizens' universal health care coverage.  It also has the highest infant mortality rate of its economic peers, the highest homicide rate, and highest body fat index according to the World Health Organization.  A sad, sad state of the nation.  But do not worry, John McCain's brain  tumor operation will be covered by his Senate health insurance, if not by the Department of Veterans Affairs!

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Ticks On the March

credit: Climate Central
Lyme disease can be devastating and lead to serious complications if not treated early. Climate change is not only foretasted to bring more rain to the Northeast, but the increased hot and muggy climate will only breed more deer ticks (Ioxides scapularis) which carry the disease. Populations of deer ticks are projected to increase two fold in the US. [map] A recent study shows that deer ticks died faster when relative humidity was moderate (75%), but when relative humidity is high (>85%) deer ticks survive longer. This is not good news for humans in the Northeast who are spending more time outdoors or live near wooded areas. People in the Southeast may be luckier. Precipitation has declined in that region. encouraging young ticks to stay in the leaf litter where it is moist.

Friday, July 21, 2017

'Toontime: Good Riddance to Rubbish

The Repugnant effort to do away with a poor substitute for socialized medicine, the Affordable Care Act, fell apart this week when it became clear to the Washington hacks that the 'reform' was a bitter pill the public would not swallow.  Moderate senators from three red states stood in the way of a simple majority needed to pass the bill.  Senate Majority Leader McConnell promises to bring a repeal without a substitute measure to a vote, but that effort will fail too.  Depriving over twenty million 'Mericans of the only health care they got is not a popular political act no matter how you spin it.  The 'pardoner in chief' will spend billions for aircraft carriers, but not a dime for the peoples' health. Nemo judex in causa sua*.

credit: Nate Beeler
BC Idonwanna sez: Begin to stink like dead buffalo!
*  A buried legal memo by Kenneth Star, the Clinton special persecutor, rejects the widely held opinion that a sitting President is immune from criminal prosecution.  The New York Times obtained the memo from the National Archives through a Freedom of Information Request.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

COTW: State & Local Taxes Bite the Poor

This chart from the Washington Post shows that the poorer you are, the more state and local taxes take a larger share of your income:

People at the top end of income brackets pay more of their taxes to the federal government than to state and local jurisdictions.  Politicians like Trump who argue for more tax cuts for the wealthy conveniently point to the federal tax burden while ignoring the overall impact of all taxes.  When federal, state and local taxes are considered, the structure is far from progressive.   So when someone argues about the 47% who do not pay taxes, show them this chart, which demonstrates that the relative tax burden is not much different for the fortieth percentile up to the stratospheric 1%

Seattle Votes to Tax the Rich

Seattle has a history of progressive action.  Cementing its reputation in the present, socialists on Seattle's city council succeeded by unanimous vote in passing a tax on the wealthy to pay for social services last week.  The law provides for a 2.25% on individuals who have incomes over $250,000 and married couples whose income exceeds $500,000.  The new tax is expected to raise $175 million for social programs such as affordable housing, transit and education.  The passage came despite warnings of economic repercussions from resident billionaires.  Social activists at work since the Occupy movement to introduce fairness into the tax structure were particularly pleased with the city council's action.  A group known as Social Action took credit for making a vote against the proposal politically untenable.  It raised a record half million dollars in contributions campaigning on an explicit "tax the rich" demand.  The organization also campaigned to rescind a regressive sales tax, but lost that battle.  A right wing organization, Freedom Foundation, has filed a lawsuit claiming the new tax is illegal because it violates a state law forbidding cities from taxing net income.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Oregon Legislature Restores Funding for Killers

The federal Wildlife Services agency is part of the Department of Agriculture, but it gets a great deal of funding from states.  Readers of this space know {02.11.16} that the obscure agency is responsible for killing a wild variety of wildlife species deemed to be pests by agribusiness.  It is notorious for the use of indiscriminate methods of lethal control such as cyanide bombs, one of which killed a pet dog and seriously injured a child in Idaho. Governor Brown urged cutting funds for the killing agency. Ignoring the Democratic governor's budget priorities, two Democratic, part-time legislators, co-chairs of a subcommittee with jurisdiction over natural resource issues, restored funding by $1 million. So, in Oregon the agency will be able to continue killing wildlife and perhaps your dog too at taxpayers expense   

The Monarch Highway?

Monarch butterflies are in steep decline across North America.  The causes of the butterfly's decline are a litany of the usual suspects.  Habitat loss is considered the primary cause because the beautiful orange and black traveler is tied by biology to the milkweed. It only lays its eggs on the plant; unfortunately man considers milkweed a pest species and has done his worst to eradicate it using an assortment of toxic chemicals like glyphosate.  The once vast expanse of diverse prairie in the nation's heartland has been permanently replaced by monocultures of corn and soybean.  Locations for successful breeding are becoming fewer and far between. In 1996 an estimated one billion insects made the long migration from Mexico north to Canada.  In the winter of 2013-14 only 33 million made the trip.  Experts are concerned that a continued drop in numbers could put the species at risk of extinction by a single severe storm.

One idea that has been suggested to help the struggling butterfly is intriguing, but far from a certain solution.  I-35 bisects the country, north to south, in the middle of the Monarch's central flight path.  One of the biggest parcels of public land is highway borders, but this vacant land has been inhospitable to most insect species since it is regularly cut to the non-native roots and doused with herbicides.  A plan to convert the land along the 1400 mile length of I-35 to pollinator-friendly habitat would cost between $2.8 to $5 million according to a paper put out by Chip Taylor of Monarch Watch, a conservation organization.  There is no current research that supports the success of such a large undertaking.  Critics point out that encouraging insects to inhabit the verges of a busy interstate highway will inevitably cause more mortality due to vehicle collisions.  In the first specific study of Monarch habitat along highways, University of Minnesota researchers found 60% of studied roadside swatches contained milkweed that feeds Monarch caterpillars, but the number of larvae and caterpillars found there were lower than in prime habitat areas such as parks and backyards that contain many sources of nectar and pollen.  One speculative reason for the lower fertility in roadside oases is higher levels of pollution and even noise.

Nevertheless, the concept has gotten the blessing of the Federal Highway Administration and six Midwestern states.  The project even has its own official logo. [left]  A Monarch Highway is an uplifting idea as well as a challenging one.   If it succeeds in attracting Monarchs and other beneficial insects, it will be naturally beautiful and beneficial, but it is not an entire solution.  The indiscriminate use of herbicides and insistence on monocultures as means of maximizing profit has to give way to more sustainable forms of agriculture.