Sunday, December 4, 2011


A fascinating reminder of the impacts of ecosystem dynamics on humans, despite all our efforts to buffer ourselves from the effects of environmental stochasticity:
Coming on the heels of an acorn glut, the dearth this year will probably have a cascade of effects on the forest ecosystem, culling the populations of squirrels, field mice and ground-nesting birds. And because the now-overgrown field mouse population will crash, legions of ticks — some infected with Lyme disease — will be aggressively pursuing new hosts, like humans.

“We expect 2012 to be the worst year for Lyme disease risk ever,” said Richard S. Ostfeld, a disease ecologist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, N.Y. “We are already planning educational materials.”

It will probably turn into a big year for animals’ being killed on highways as well. Deer, in search of alternative sources of food, will leave the cover of the oak trees and wander out closer to roads.

“I would expect that traffic collisions are going to be higher in a year like this year,” Dr. Ostfeld said.

Nepotism? Check. Corporate cronyism? Check? Kleptocracy? Indeed. Ah yes, it's just good ol' fashioned American democracy:
The spreading wealth from gas fields has also benefited Representative Dan Boren, a Democrat who has deep family ties to the industry — and has acted as one of its best friends on Capitol Hill.

Mr. Boren’s stepfather is an independent oil and natural gas producer in East Texas, just over the border. His father, David Boren, a former senator and Oklahoma governor, received $350,000 last year in total compensation for serving on the board of Continental Resources, whose stock has surged while it helps lead the exploration of gas reserves nationwide.

The congressman’s income has jumped in the last six years, thanks to two family businesses he partly owns that have signed more than 300 mineral leases, worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Many of those deals are with Chesapeake Energy, a top donor to his campaigns.

Mr. Boren is a champion in Washington of an industry that is experiencing a historic boom but also increasing scrutiny. He argues that the drilling can help solve the nation’s energy problems and dismisses concerns about the potential environmental and health perils posed by the process with which shale gas is extracted, known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

Serving as co-chairman of the House Natural Gas Caucus, Mr. Boren has worked to block any move by federal regulators to restrain the drilling and efforts by the Obama administration to curtail tax benefits for the gas and oil industries. He has also pushed for federal incentives to increase demand for natural gas. And he sees no problem with entangling his professional advocacy and his self-interest. 

School nutrition programs are being privatized and sold off to the highest bidder. The unsurprising outcome? Food management companies partner with industrial food conglomerates, and with some generous subsidies from the federal government, feed our students shit and treat their employees as expendable — and laugh all the way to the bank:
The Agriculture Department pays about $1 billion a year for commodities like fresh apples and sweet potatoes, chickens and turkeys. Schools get the food free; some cook it on site, but more and more pay processors to turn these healthy ingredients into fried chicken nuggets, fruit pastries, pizza and the like. Some $445 million worth of commodities are sent for processing each year, a nearly 50 percent increase since 2006.

The Agriculture Department doesn’t track spending to process the food, but school authorities do. The Michigan Department of Education, for example, gets free raw chicken worth $11.40 a case and sends it for processing into nuggets at $33.45 a case. The schools in San Bernardino, Calif., spend $14.75 to make French fries out of $5.95 worth of potatoes.


Roland Zullo, a researcher at the University of Michigan, found in 2008 that Michigan schools that hired private food-service management firms spent less on labor and food but more on fees and supplies, yielding “no substantive economic savings.” Alarmingly, he even found that privatization was associated with lower test scores, hypothesizing that the high-fat and high-sugar foods served by the companies might be the cause. In a later study, in 2010, Dr. Zullo found that Chartwells was able to trim costs by cutting benefits for workers in Ann Arbor schools, but that the schools didn’t end up realizing any savings.

Why is this allowed to happen? Part of it is that school authorities don’t want the trouble of overseeing real kitchens. Part of it is that the management companies are saving money by not having to pay skilled kitchen workers.

In addition, the management companies have a cozy relationship with food processers, which routinely pay the companies rebates (typically around 14 percent) in return for contracts. The rebates have generally been kept secret from schools, which are charged the full price.

More from the continuing discussions on the disturbing trend towards paramilitarization of our domestic police forces. Militarize the cops and they start acting like the military, treating the communities they serve as the enemy, and looking for ways to use their fancy new war toys:
What seems clear is that the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, and the federal Homeland Security dollars that flowed to police forces in response to them, have further encouraged police forces to embrace paramilitary tactics like those that first emerged in the decades-long “war on drugs.”

Both wars — first on drugs, then terror — have lent police forces across the country justification to acquire the latest technology, equipment and tactical training for newly created specialized units.

“There is behind this, also, I think, a kind of status competition or imitation, that there is positive status in having a sort of ‘big department muscle,’ in smaller departments,” said Franklin E. Zimring, a professor of law at the University of California, Berkeley. “And then the problem is, if you have those kinds of specialized units, that you hunt for appropriate settings to use them and, in some of the smaller police departments, notions of the appropriate settings to use them are questionable.”


Police officers are not at war, said Chuck Wexler, the executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, and cannot imagine themselves as occupying armies. Rather, they must approach any continuing Occupy protests, now or in the spring, with a respect for the First Amendment and a realization that protesters are not enemies but people the police need to engage with up the road.

“You can have all the sophisticated equipment in the world, but it does not replace common sense and discretion and finding ways to defuse situations,” Mr. Wexler said. “You can’t be talking about community policing one day and the next day have an action that is so uncharacteristic to the values of your department.”
And related: the evolution of riot gear, in illustrated form.

Keep in mind that not all cops buy into the failed war on drugs and war on immigrants that they've become soldiers in; unsurprisingly, there are those with first-hand experience of complete failure are speaking out and voicing their personal opinions. Sadly, they're often being targeted for expressing personal opinions:
Stationed in Deming, N.M., Mr. Gonzalez was in his green-and-white Border Patrol vehicle just a few feet from the international boundary when he pulled up next to a fellow agent to chat about the frustrations of the job. If marijuana were legalized, Mr. Gonzalez acknowledges saying, the drug-related violence across the border in Mexico would cease. He then brought up an organization called Law Enforcement Against Prohibition that favors ending the war on drugs.

Those remarks, along with others expressing sympathy for illegal immigrants from Mexico, were passed along to the Border Patrol headquarters in Washington. After an investigation, a termination letter arrived that said Mr. Gonzalez held “personal views that were contrary to core characteristics of Border Patrol Agents, which are patriotism, dedication and esprit de corps.”

After his dismissal, Mr. Gonzalez joined a group even more exclusive than the Border Patrol: law enforcement officials who have lost their jobs for questioning the war on drugs and are fighting back in the courts.
And what makes it all even more of a a joke is that law enforcement officials like Sheriff Joe, who have no interest in the rule of law, but do love to harass all dark-skinned folks, still are employed.

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