Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

Progress on right to know about sewerage!!

Right to know hearings for contamination of local water resources.

Dr. Summers, from the Maryland Department of Environment, explained how Maryland’s strong monitoring and notification requirements had helped quantify problems and were greatly appreciated by many utilities as it allowed them to explain and justify why more investment is required. Stuart Whitford, from the Kitsap County Health Department explained his support of H.R. 2452 by telling a scary story about a sewage spill that went on for two years before anyone realized what was going on (and after 4.8 million gallons of sewage was spilled!).
Microbiologist Erin Lipp did a great job of explaining how potent just a little bit of raw sewage can be and that the illnesses from sewage are vastly underreported.
Finally, even Kevin Schafer, the representative for the wastewater treatment community supported the monitoring and notification, but just wanted to make sure that details were spelled out and that the requirements were not too costly.

Sewerage is a water resource is a previous posting buy rdan.

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Farm Bill and WTO GATS Part 1

The National Ag Law Center reports:

Trade policy has always played a major role in the evolution of the U.S. agricultural sector. With the 1994 Agreement on Agriculture resulting form the WTO Uruguay Round, trade policy started to play an even more important role in domestic farm policy. As we move deeper into 2006, the intersection of these two policies becomes more prominent with the negotiations of the Doha Round that may result in a new WTO agreement on agriculture, and Congress considering what to do as the 2002 Farm Bill expires in 2007. If the Doha Round fails, Congress will need to consider the implications of the Brazil Cotton Case and whether current policy may open the U.S. to more WTO challenges. No one can predict the result of this geopolitical chess match, but one can assume that the agricultural policy landscape is poised to change in the next few years.

July post by rdan

July post 2 by rdan

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The game of statistics

The tune for the other game of statistics

The Boston Globe printed this poem.

By Mary Oliver October 13, 2007

In the language of baseball
I am 3 and 2,
and not so nimble
as I was once

and the game, at the moment,
is indecisive.
There are many poets
who love baseball
which is, after all,
a metaphor
for many things
that happen when there isn’t a game.

The ball gleams forth, and high,
and maybe it’s a hit
or maybe the runner is out.
Nothing is certain except the way

the old players hang on
to their smarts, their prowess
as long as they can
while the luminous young

keep showing up,
so swift, so quick,
with such light in their eyes
and such beautiful swings.

As I watch the playoffs, the metaphors abound, and call for sharing. Different ages, different teams, same glorious sport.

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Slavery in my backyard 2

Another point of view regarding US slavery is expressed in WAPO.

… Congress passed a law, triggering a little-noticed worldwide war on human trafficking that began at the end of the Clinton administration and is now a top Bush administration priority. As part of the fight, President Bush has blanketed the nation with 42 Justice Department task forces and spent more than $150 million — all to find and help the estimated hundreds of thousands of victims of forced prostitution or labor in the United States.
But the government couldn’t find them. Not in this country.

The administration has identified 1,362 victims of human trafficking brought into the United States since 2000, nowhere near the 50,000 a year the government had estimated. In addition, 148 federal cases have been brought nationwide, some by the Justice task forces, which are composed of prosecutors, agents from the FBI and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and local law enforcement officials in areas thought to be hubs of trafficking.

“The discrepancy between the alleged number of victims per year and the number of cases they’ve been able to make is so huge that it’s got to raise major questions,” Weitzer said. “It suggests that this problem is being blown way out of proportion.” The Department of Health and Human Services “certifies” trafficking victims in the United States after verifying that they were subjected to forced sex or labor. Only non-U.S. citizens brought into this country by traffickers are eligible to be certified, entitling them to receive U.S. government benefits.

Although there have been several estimates over the years, the number that helped fuel the congressional response — 50,000 victims a year — was an unscientific estimate by a CIA analyst who relied mainly on clippings from foreign newspapers…


Yet the government spent $28.5 million in 2006 to fight human trafficking in the United States, a 13 percent increase over the previous year. The effort has attracted strong bipartisan support.
Steven Wagner, who helped HHS distribute millions of dollars in grants to community groups to find and assist victims, said “Those funds were wasted.”
“Many of the organizations that received grants didn’t really have to do anything,” said Wagner, former head of HHS’s anti-trafficking program. “They were available to help victims. There weren’t any victims.”
. . .
Few question that trafficking is a serious problem in many countries, and the U.S. government has spent more than half a billion dollars fighting it around the world since 2000.
. . .
In the past four years, more than half of all states have passed anti-trafficking laws, although local prosecutions have been rare.

But information was scarce, so a CIA analyst was told to assess the problem in the United States and abroad. She combed through intelligence reports and law enforcement data. Her main source, however, was news clippings about trafficking cases overseas — from which she tried to extrapolate the number of U.S. victims.

Bipartisan passion melted any uncertainty, and in October 2000, Congress enacted the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, significantly broadening the federal definition of trafficking. Prosecutors would no longer have to rely on statutes that required them to prove a victim had been subjected to physical violence or restraints, such as chains. Now, a federal case could be made if a trafficker had psychologically abused a victim.
. . .
Just as the law took effect, along came a new president to enforce it.
Bell, with Prison Fellowship Ministries, noted that when Bush addressed the U.N. General Assembly in 2003, he focused on the war in Iraq, the war on terrorism and the war on trafficking.
Soon after Bush took office, a network of anti-trafficking nonprofit agencies arose, spurred in part by an infusion of federal dollars.
. . .
The CIA’s new estimate, which first appeared in a 2004 State Department report, has been widely quoted, including by a senior Justice Department official at a media briefing this year. It’s also posted on the HHS Web site.

But at a meeting of the task force this year, then-coordinator Sharon Marcus-Kurn said that detectives had spent “umpteen hours of overtime” repeatedly interviewing women found in Korean- and Hispanic-owned brothels. “It’s very difficult to find any underlying trafficking that is there,” Marcus-Kurn told the group….

The article is heavily edited to shorten to blog format and eliminated some of the history of the efforts to assess the situation, except to point out it is ‘bi-partisan’.

Of course I have a response, but am awaiting answers from experts I can contact. Stay tuned.

Update: Fixed link Slavery in my backyard Part 1

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Potential fizzle of WTO GATS?

WTO GATS rounds of talks are really stalled for many reasons on issues of agriculture and food, water, attempts to get developing countries to ‘liberalize’ areas of their concern that we refuse to do in areas of our concern.

The potential failure of the sixth Ministerial will actually throw the WTO into a deep crisis. After failing to launch the so-called Millennium Round in 1999 in Seattle, this current round of negotiations was launched in Doha, Qatar in 2001. A second ministerial collapsed amidst massive civil society protests in September 2003. Negotiations were supposed to have been wrapped up by January 2005, yet are still stalled on the basic framework.

If the framework (modalities, in WTO-speak) is not completed by March, it will be extremely difficult for negotiators to wrap up the technical negotiations in time to send the final agreements to the US Congress before the expiration of Fast Track negotiating authority in July 2007.

The sixth Ministerial of the WTO follows on the heels of another failed Ministerial, the Summit of the Americas in Mar del Plata, Argentina. The Bush administration attempted to use the meeting to jump-start the stalled FTAA talks, but the meeting ended without even a declaration…

Is this a finale? Will the form of GATS continue in regional trade treaties? Will nation-states be players again as internal markets develop and give them more clout?

Will a world wide slow down affect responses?

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Location, location, location

I was dreaming about my lock on derricks and ports in Canada. For the record, no one sold me Canada’s only main port on the Arctic Ocean. Mr. Broue bought it for $7 American. I bought the railroad that is the only link to the rest of the country(the Hudson Bay Railway)in my dream.

However, the US Coast Guard is setting up shop on the NW passage.

For most of human history, the Arctic Ocean has been an ice-locked frontier. But now, in one of the most concrete signs of the effect of a warming climate on government operations, the Coast Guard is planning its first operating base there as a way of dealing with the cruise ships and the tankers that are already beginning to ply Arctic waters.

The pullback in summer ice has caused the Coast Guard, led by Adm. Thad W. Allen, to plan its first Arctic operating base, probably near Barrow.
VideoMore Video » With increasingly long seasons of open water in the region, the Coast Guard has also begun discussions with the Russians about controlling anticipated ship traffic through the Bering Strait, which until now has been crossed mainly by ice-breaking research vessels and native seal and walrus hunters.

The Coast Guard says its base, which would probably be near the United States’ northernmost town, Barrow, Alaska, on the North Slope coast, would be seasonal and would initially have just a helicopter equipped for cold-weather operations and several small boats.

But given continued warming, that small base, which could be in place by next spring, would be expanded later to help speed responses to oil spills from tankers that the Coast Guard believes could eventually carry shipments from Scandinavia to Asia through the Bering Strait. Such a long-hoped-for polar route would cut 5,000 miles or more from a journey that would otherwise entail passage through the Panama Canal or the Suez.

The Coast Guard is also concerned about being able to respond to emergencies involving cruise ships, which are already starting to operate in summers in parts of the Arctic Ocean.

And in yet a further kind of new activity abetted by warming seas, Royal Dutch Shell is preparing for exploratory oil drilling off Alaska’s Arctic coast beginning next year.

“I’m not sure I’m qualified to talk about the scientific issues related to global warming,” the Coast Guard commandant, Adm. Thad W. Allen, said in an interview. “All we know is we have an operating environment we’re responsible for, and it’s changing.”

Canada plans on staking a claim and creating a fleet to patrol.

NOAA has extra credit reading and source material for the curious.

Since the slope of the land indicates that oil reserves might be available for harvesting, my dream gets better as oil companies and soverign nations vie for position.

I have booked a cruise next summer through the NW passage with Mrs.rdan, so no cold meatloaf for this fellow tonight!

Update:WebResults 1 – 10 of about 23,600 for holiday cruises through the NW passage with SafeSearch Off
Also Try – through the darkness, alaska adventure,

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FDIC op ed in NYT

Sheila C. Blair of FDIC offers an opinion on the mortgage crisis in the NYT.

THERE have been many proposals to deal with the problems in the mortgage market. But the best place to begin is by looking at the poor lending standards and weak consumer protections at the root of the problem — in particular, the troubling loans called 2/28 and 3/27 subprime hybrids. They have starter interest rates of 7 percent or more for the first two or three years, and “resets” that raise rates to as much as 12 percent, causing monthly payments to increase by at least 30 percent.
When housing prices were rising, borrowers could sell or refinance their homes to pay off the loans before reset and avoid crippling monthly payments. But this year, as prices have dropped, more than $150 billion in these loans have undergone reset, and an additional $300 billion will do so before the end of 2008.
Merrill Lynch estimates that if home prices decline by just 5 percent, a quarter of subprime loans may enter default, resulting in losses of almost $150 billion.
A government bailout is not the answer. Bailouts erode market discipline, raising the likelihood of repeat episodes. And efforts to expand refinancing options will help only those borrowers who have enough equity to refinance.
What happens to those who are unable to refinance and cannot afford the rate resets? Most of their loans are managed by firms called servicers. Typically, servicers sit back and wait for people to default, then foreclose and sell the properties. But in today’s troubled housing market widespread foreclosures will only maximize losses for servicers.
Renegotiating terms loan by loan is too costly and time consuming. Servicers have modified only one percent of these mortgages that reset in early 2007.
So subprime servicers should take a more standardized approach: restructure all 2/28 and 3/27 subprime hybrid loans for owner-occupied homes in cases where the borrower has been making timely payments but can’t afford the reset payments. Convert these to fixed-rate loans at the starter rate.
This would be no bailout. These borrowers would still be required to make their monthly payments — at rates higher than what prime is today. Billions in savings would be generated by avoiding the administrative, legal, marketing and other costs of foreclosure, which can run to half or more of the loan amount. And avoiding foreclosure would protect neighboring properties and hasten the recovery of markets burdened by an excess supply of houses.
The mortgage crisis is growing, and the mortgage industry has the ability to help solve much of it on its own. Subprime borrowers need a better deal — one that they can afford.
Sheila C. Bair is the chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.

This advice sounds sensible, and would peg loans at 7-8% fixed.

She does not say how many mortgages fit the description as a % of the loans outstanding, so how that might solve the problem I have no idea. And with multiple owners of a mortgage that are bundled separately, how one accomplishes the process needs explanation from someone in the services. I wonder whether the market is so inflexible that it cannot deal with specifics, or the players are.

There is another article on Citicorp and other banks attempts at solving the problem from a high roller point of view.

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Children’s health care in the better towns

Children’s health care report card demands taking personal parental responsibility, new pay incentives, and real quality checks.

Less than half of the outpatient medical care delivered to American children is in line with recommendations for the best treatment, concludes a study released Wednesday.
The results, which researchers called “shocking,” show that 47% of the care delivered to children in doctors’ offices and clinics meets professional recommendations or is up to date scientifically.
The study — conducted among 1,536 children in 12 cities — comes four years after similar research showing American adults receive recommended care 55% of the time.
“No one anywhere is immune to the risk of poor-quality care,” says Elizabeth A. McGlynn, PhD, a researcher at RAND Corp. who worked on the study.
Two-thirds of children being treated for acute illnesses received appropriate care, the researchers found after reviewing medical records.
But proper care for chronic conditions like asthma and diabetes was delivered just half the time, while 41% of the children received recommended preventive care, the study showed.
Researchers guessed that the results may actually underestimate the problem because the study participants were primarily white and from wealthier families.
….

The researchers in part blame doctors’ overly tight schedules, which often allow for 10-minute doctor visits that can crowd out needed care. They also say pediatrician residency training tends to focus on treating serious illnesses in the hospital, and not enough on prevention.
Joseph Hagan, MD, a co-author of soon-to-be released practice guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics, says he disagrees with some of the study’s methods. But he also calls the conclusion that children receive recommended care less than half the time “abysmal.”
“I see this report as a little bit of a face slap, but we know there’s been a problem and this helps us get a sense of how to go and fix it,” says Hagan, a pediatrician in private practice in Burlington, Vt.
Hagan acknowledges that many pediatricians do not keep up to date on the latest recommendations and findings. But he also blames insurance company policies that pay doctors primarily for treating diseases and not for patient education or disease screenings.
Researchers suggest that parents not rely on doctors to remember every point of recommended screenings. Mangione-Smith urges parents to take a checklist culled from the American Academy of Pediatrics web site or other sources to the doctor’s office. (italics and bolding mine)

Big bucks go where? I do not know, but not for kids’ needs in general it appears.

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Sea ice and beach front property

The NYT reminds us of continuing concern of ice melt.

The Arctic ice cap shrank so much this summer that waves briefly lapped along two long-imagined Arctic shipping routes, the Northwest Passage over Canada and the Northern Sea Route over Russia.

Interactive Graphic
Sea Ice in Retreat
The Big Melt: A Series From The New York TImes

McKenzie Funk
Arctic Study Researchers haul a buoy across the Arctic sea ice in August, led by two Coast Guard crew whose job was to ward off polar bears or rescue anyone who slipped into the sea.
Over all, the floating ice dwindled to an extent unparalleled in a century or more, by several estimates.
Now the six-month dark season has returned to the North Pole. In the deepening chill, new ice is already spreading over vast stretches of the Arctic Ocean. Astonished by the summer’s changes, scientists are studying the forces that exposed one million square miles of open water — six Californias — beyond the average since satellites started measurements in 1979.
At a recent gathering of sea-ice experts at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks, Hajo Eicken, a geophysicist, summarized it this way: “Our stock in trade seems to be going away.”
Scientists are also unnerved by the summer’s implications for the future, and their ability to predict it.

Complicating the picture, the striking Arctic change was as much a result of ice moving as melting, many say. A new study, led by Son Nghiem at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and appearing this week in Geophysical Research Letters, used satellites and buoys to show that winds since 2000 had pushed huge amounts of thick old ice out of the Arctic basin past Greenland. The thin floes that formed on the resulting open water melted quicker or could be shuffled together by winds and similarly expelled, the authors said.
The pace of change has far exceeded what had been estimated by almost all the simulations used to envision how the Arctic will respond to rising concentrations of greenhouse gases linked to global warming. But that disconnect can cut two ways. Are the models overly conservative? Or are they missing natural influences that can cause wide swings in ice and temperature, thereby dwarfing the slow background warming?
The world is paying more attention than ever.
Russia, Canada and Denmark, prompted in part by years of warming and the ice retreat this year, ratcheted up rhetoric and actions aimed at securing sea routes and seabed resources.

Reports on Great Lakes thinning or lack of winter ice due to increasing water temperatures being responsible for greater evaporation comes to mind as well. Real impacts if continuing, although yearly fluctuations occur for any one lack. Superior has regained a few centimeters, but other are lowering levels.

Update:

“The pace of change has far exceeded what had been estimated by almost all the simulations used to envision how the Arctic will respond to rising concentrations of greenhouse gases linked to global warming. But that disconnect can cut two ways. Are the models overly conservative? Or are they missing natural influences that can cause wide swings in ice and temperature, thereby dwarfing the slow background warming?”

I think people missed reading this part in that we had no coffee this morning.

Update 2:

Put a hold on investing in the Larson B area!!

The western Antarctic Peninsula has showed the biggest increase in temperatures observed anywhere on Earth over the past half-century.
Stronger westerly winds are forcing warm air eastward and over the natural barrier created by the Antarctic Peninsula’s 1.25 mile-high mountain chain.
During the past 40 years the average summer temperatures in this region of the north-east peninsula has been 2.2 degrees Celsius, but on days when warm winds top the mountains of the peninsula, temperatures rise by 5 to 10 degrees Celsius, the researchers said.

Changes in wind patterns and weather patterns in a complex system, with no mention o CO2. (On the other hand, methane volume has been shown to correlate with…)

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