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Member since: Tue Feb 10, 2004, 12:08 PM
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Environmental Scientist

Journal Archives

5 Awful Things Congress Snuck Into the Omnibus Budget Deal

On Tuesday, Congressional leaders struck a deal to avert another government shutdown and put off our next completely avoidable, 100% self-imposed budget crisis until next September. And while most members of the least productive Congress in the history of these United States are already busy patting themselves on the back for summoning enough courage and can-do American spirit to actually govern for a day, the rest of us shouldn’t start celebrating just yet.

If you’re a Congressperson looking sneak through something shady, the omnibus budget bill is the perfect opportunity since 1.) It’s 1600 pages long and very easy to hide things in, and 2.) Congress kind of has to pass it or the government shuts down. Again.

So naturally, there are a whole lot of shady things in there. Since this 1600 page bill was released on Tuesday night and we’re not magic, we can’t list every single one of those things just yet. But we can highlight the 5 most awful ones we’ve come across so far — everything from crazily wasteful spending to overturning a popular Marijuana Legalization ballot initiative.








There Are At Least 5.25 Trillion Pieces of Plastic in the Ocean

We know the oceans are home to tons of plastic garbage, from discarded nylon fishing nets that ensnare sea turtles to packing straps that strangle the life out of marine mammals. But because all that plastic is coming from everywhere, it's difficult to tell how much of it, exactly, is floating around—an important question, given its pernicious effects on the ecosystem and possible toxic repercussions to humanity's dinner plate.

Thanks to an international research effort spanning six years, we now have a much better idea of the sheer bulk of plastic water pollution. The minimum count is 5.25 trillion plastic particles littering the seas, say scientists in a new study in PLOS ONE. All those teeny bits—the result of the gradual breakdown of larger plastics, as well as escaped nurdles and microbeads used in cosmetics—add up to 269,000 tons, or about the weight of 2,150 adult blue whales.

The researchers arrived at these figures after analyzing two-dozen expeditions in five "subtropical gyres," large, swirling zones in the South Pacific, Indian Ocean, and elsewhere. The numbers were smaller than they expected to see at the water's surface, which they put down to removal processes that could include "UV degradation, biodegradation, ingestion by organisms, decreased buoyancy due to fouling organisms, entrainment in settling detritus, and beaching." In regards to "ingestion," they theorize that fish and other animals are gulping up the plastic because they believe it's food, and then pooping it out in "fecal pellets" that sink into lower waters where it's harder to detect.

Interestingly, the size of the debris was not uniform over the world. That could be due to the gyres acting like mulching disposals, the scientists explain:

Large plastics appear to be abundant near coastlines, degrading into microplastics in the 5 subtropical gyres, the smallest microplastics were present in more remote regions, such as the subpolar gyres, which the authors did not expect. The distribution of the smallest microplastics in remote regions of the ocean may suggest that gyres act as 'shredders' of large plastic items into microplastics, after which they eject them across the ocean.

"Our findings show that the garbage patches in the middle of the five subtropical gyres are not the final resting places for the world's floating plastic trash. The endgame for micro-plastic is interactions with entire ocean ecosystems," says Marcus Eriksen, PhD, Director of Research for the 5 Gyres Institute.

Read more: http://www.citylab.com/weather/2014/12/there-are-at-least-525-trillion-pieces-of-plastic-in-the-ocean/383600/

Wednesday Toon Roundup 3- The Rest




Wednesday Toon Roundup 2- Not in my name

Wednesday Toon Roundup 1- Evil

Brownback proposes stealing from pensions and Highway repair to cover for his insane tax cuts

With Kansas facing a projected $279 million budget shortfall after enacting aggressive tax cuts, Republican Gov. Sam Brownback proposed Tuesday to trim spending and divert funds for highway projects and public pensions to general government programs.

The plan, which applies only to the current budget year, avoids reducing aid to the state's public schools, its Medicaid health care program for the needy, prison operations or state universities. Budget Director Shawn Sullivan outlined the details in interviews and said the administration believes agencies that do face cuts can find efficiencies to avoid hurting any programs.

"These first steps are a down payment in resolving the immediate budget issue," Brownback said in a statement, adding that his administration is addressing the shortfall with "good fiscal governance" while protecting education and public safety.

The plan drew immediate, bipartisan criticism from state Senate leaders because it would divert $41 million from the pension system for teachers and government workers. Obligations to retirees over the next two decades are only 60 percent funded, and that figure was expected to climb over time thanks to a 2012 law that increased both the state's and employees' contributions to stabilize the system's long-term health.



That awful Congressional plan to allow pension cuts heads for enactment

The Congressional proposal to deal with a supposed crisis in worker pensions by allowing trustees to slash the benefits of already-retired workers to shreds is heading toward enactment.

We reported on this plan last week, observing that its details were secret. They still are. Reps. John Kline, R-Minn, and George Miller, D-Martinez--the chairman and ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, told reporters on a conference call late Tuesday that the measure is being passed over to the House Rules Committee, which will move it as an amendment to an omnibus spending bill, as early as Wednesday. Senate action will follow, presumably no later than Thursday, when Congress departs for vacation.

The proposal is aimed at multiemployer pension plans, which are generally negotiated by a union to cover employees of all companies in a given industry. About 1,400 such plans cover about 10 million workers, according to the Pension Rights Center. About 150-200 of the plans, covering 1.5 million workers are seriously underfunded and could run out of money sometime during the next 20 years.

The Congressional proposal allows trustees of those plans to slash benefits sharply for retirees to give the plans a longer lease on life. It requires a vote of approval by active workers and retirees before that could be done--but some pension advocates say that would only pit workers against retirees, with the latter coming out poorer.


People need to raise holy hell about this, NOW

Charles P Pierce Dissects the Torture Report-What it Says, What it Means and What Comes Next

The Joint Chiefs of Staff have a responsibility for the defense of the nation in the Cold War similar to that which they have in conventional hostilities. They should know the military and paramilitary forces and resources available to the Department of Defense, verify their readiness, report on their accuracy, and make appropriate recommedations for their expansion and improvement. I look to the Chiefs to contribute dynamic and imaginative leadership in contributing to the success of the military and paramilitary aspects of Cold War programs.
-- John F. Kennedy, National Security Action Memo No. 55, June 8, 1961.

He wanted, as he said, to splinter the CIA into a million pieces and scatter it to the four winds, did John F. Kennedy. Many people believe that this desire stemmed from Kennedy's having been lied to by the intelligence community regarding the Bay of Pigs invasion, which had occurred in April of 1961, and that that fantasy-turned-fiasco undoubtedly played a role in Kennedy's thinking, but that was not the first time that the CIA had lied to the new president. Right at the end of his second term, President Dwight Eisenhower had ordered the CIA to do away with Patrice Lumumba, the elected prime minister of the Congo, and a dreadful inconvenience for western interests in that benighted former Belgian colony. By the time Kennedy took office, Lumumba already had been tortured, killed, and dissolved in a vat of acid, his bones ground to dust, a result of a CIA-backed operation in conjunction with the Belgians, but Kennedy didn't know it. In fact, he was still planning on working with Lumumba. In Steven Kinzer's invaluable book about Allen and John Foster Dulles, we find that, yes, the CIA had gotten its way by giving the old okey-doke to the people who were alleged to be in charge of the American government.

"Less than two years later, Allen casually admitted that he might have exaggerated the danger Lumumba posed to the West. A television interviewer, Eric Severeid, asked him if he had come to believe that any of his covert operations were unnecessary. He named just one. 'I think that we overrated the danger in, let's say, the Congo,' Allen said. 'It looked as though they were going to make a serious attempt at takeover in the Belgian Congo. Well, it didn't work out that way at all. Now maybe they intended to do it, but they didn't find the situation ripe and they beat a pretty hasty retreat.'"

Kennedy had the right idea. Did it get him killed? I am still largely agnostic on it but, if it did, I wouldn't be at all surprised, just as I was not surprised by what Senator Dianne Feinstein read aloud on the Senate floor today, even though, behind every syllable of every word, a death knell sounded for the American idea. The concept of American exceptionalism based on anything as delicate as the rule of law -- in fact, any concept of American exceptionalism based on anything but brutish force -- has been rendered a sad and superannuated farce. Founding Fathers? Constitutional government? The bell has finally tolled for thee, motherfkers.

What was released was so breathtakingly awful, so transcendently wicked, that it's hard to keep in mind that what was read in the Senate today was merely the introduction to a heavily redacted, 528-page summary of a 6000-page congressional report into American savagery overseas. What we are being presented with is the Readers Digest Condensed Version of what was done to people in our name and on our dime. "I Am Joe's Frozen Corpse." What is in the other 5000-odd pages must be beyond belief.

part 1

part 2

part 3

Mike Luckovich Toon- America the Torturer

Abercrombie CEO abruptly retires as sales fall

Source: SF Gate/AP

Abercrombie & Fitch's longtime and controversial CEO Michael Jeffries has abruptly retired, as the once-hip teen clothing chain's sales decline.

Investors pushed Abercrombie's shares up more than 6 percent on the news.

Jeffries is also retiring from the retailer's board of directors. He has served as CEO since February 1992, according to CapitalIQ.

"I believe now is the right time for new leadership to take the company forward in the next phase of its development," Jeffries said in a statement.

Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/business/article/Abercrombie-Fitch-CEO-retiring-5944794.php

Good Riddance
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