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Here's How the Massive New Bird Flu Outbreak Could Affect You

| Fri May 1, 2015 6:00 AM EDT

The US poultry and egg industries are enduring their largest-ever outbreak of a deadly (known as pathogenic) version of avian flu. Earlier this month, the disease careened through Minnesota's industrial-scale turkey farms, affecting at least 3.6 million birds, and is now punishing Iowa's massive egg-producing facilities, claiming 9.8 million—and counting—hens. Here's what you need to know about the outbreak.

Where did this avian flu come from? So far, no one is sure exactly sure how the flu—which has shown no ability to infect humans—is spreading. The strain now circulating is in the US is "highly similar" to a novel variety that first appeared in South Korea in January 2014, before spreading to China and Germany, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom, according to a paper by a team led by US Geological Survey wildlife virologist Hon Ip.

How did it spread? The most likely carrier is wild birds, but it's unclear how they deliver the virus into large production facilities, where birds are kept indoors under rigorous biosecurity protocols. On Thursday, the mystery deepened when birds in an Iowa hatchery containing 19,000 chickens tested positive for the virus. "This is thought to be first time the avian influenza virus has affected a broiler breeding farm in this outbreak," Reuters reported. "Such breeding farms are traditionally known for having extremely tight biosecurity systems." John Clifford, the US Department of Agriculture's chief veterinary officer, recently speculated that the virus could be invading poultry confinements through wind carrying infected particles left by wild birds, taken onto the factory-farm floor by vents.

Can humans catch it? So far, no. But public health officials have been warning for decades that massive livestock confinements make an ideal breeding ground for new virus strains. In its authoritative 2009 report on industrial-scale meat production, the Pew Commission warned that the "continual cycling of viruses and other animal pathogens in large herds or flocks increases opportunities for the generation of novel flu viruses through mutation or recombinant events that could result in more efficient human-to-human transmissions." It added: "agricultural workers serve as a bridging population between their communities and the animals in large confinement facilities."

Is this bird flu affecting the poultry industry's revenue? Yup. The specter of flu is already pinching Big Chicken's bottom line. China and South Korea—which imported a combined $428.5 million in US poultry last year—have imposed bans on US chicken, drawing the ire of USDA chief Tom Vilsack, Reuters reports.

What's the worst-case scenario? If the virus spread to the Southeast, Big Poultry will be in big trouble.  Here's a map showing where chicken production is concentrated (from Food and Water Watch). Already, the strain has turned up in wild birds as far south as Kentucky.

Map: Food and Water Watch

 

What are we doing to stop the flu from spreading further? All the flu-stricken birds not killed outright by the virus are euthanized—but beyond that, the strategy seems to be: ramp up biosecurity efforts at poultry facilities and cross your fingers. Flu viruses don't thrive in the heat, so "when warm weather comes in consistently across the country I think we will stop seeing new cases," USDA chief veterinarian Clifford recently said on a press call. But USDA officials recently told Reuters it's "highly probable" that the virus will regain force when temperatures cool in the fall—and potentially be carried by wild birds to the southeast.  

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White People Could Learn a Thing or Two About Talking About Race From the Orioles' Manager

| Thu Apr. 30, 2015 6:14 PM EDT

On Wednesday, after the Baltimore Orioles trounced the Chicago White Sox in front of over 48,000 empty seats at Camden Yards, Orioles’ manager Buck Showalter offered a blunt assessment of the ongoing protests happening just beyond the stadium gates.

When a Baltimore resident asked what advice Showalter would give to young black residents in the community, the manager explains [emphasis added]:

You hear people try to weigh in on things that they really don't know anything about. ... I've never been black, OK? So I don't know, I can't put myself there. I've never faced the challenges that they face, so I understand the emotion, but I can't. ... It's a pet peeve of mine when somebody says, 'Well, I know what they're feeling. Why don't they do this? Why doesn't somebody do that?' You have never been black, OK, so just slow down a little bit.

I try not to get involved in something that I don't know about, but I do know that it's something that's very passionate, something that I am, with my upbringing, that it bothers me, and it bothers everybody else. We've made quite a statement as a city, some good and some bad. Now, let's get on with taking the statements we've made and create a positive. We talk to players, and I want to be a rallying force for our city. It doesn't mean necessarily playing good baseball. It just means [doing] everything we can do. There are some things I don't want to be normal [in Baltimore again]. You know what I mean? I don't. I want us to learn from some stuff that's gone on on both sides of it. I could talk about it for hours, but that's how I feel about it.

Fans watched from outside the stadium gates after demonstrations in response to the death of Freddie Gray forced the team to play the first game behind closed doors in Major League Baseball history. At Wednesday's press conference, outfielder Adam Jones, who related to the struggles of Baltimore's youth as a kid growing up in San Diego, called on the city to heal after the unrest.

Jones goes on to say:

The last 72 hours have been tumultuous to say the least. We've seen good, we've seen bad, we've seen ugly...It's a city that's hurting, a city that needs its heads of the city to stand up, step up and help the ones that are hurting. It's not an easy time right now for anybody. It doesn't matter what race you are. It's a tough time for the city of Baltimore. My prayers have been out for all the families, all the kids out there.

They're hurting. The big message is: Stay strong, Baltimore. Stay safe. Continue to be the great city that I've come to know and love over the eight years I've been here. Continue to be who you are. I know there's been a lot of damage in the city. There's also been a lot of good protesting, there's been a lot of people standing up for the rights that they have in the Constitution, in the Bill of Rights, and I'm just trying to make sure everybody's on the same page.

[...]

It's not easy. This whole process is not easy. We need this game to be played, but we need this city to be healed first. That's important to me, that the city is healed. Because this is an ongoing issue. I just hope that the community of Baltimore stays strong, the children of Baltimore stay strong and gets some guidance and heed the message of the city leaders.

Like team exec John Angelos, Showalter, Jones and the rest of the Orioles organization get it.

Sen. Bernie Sanders Is Running for President. Here's a Sampling of His Greatest Hits

| Thu Apr. 30, 2015 5:50 PM EDT
Sanders hopes to put some progressive ideas on the agenda for 2016.

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) officially announced today that's he's running for president. The self-described socialist faces long odds in the Democratic primary, but chances are good that he'll at least force a discussion on issues dear to liberals. Here are some highlights of the best of Mother Jones coverage of Sanders:

The Progressive Coalition obviously never went national in the way Sanders had envisioned. But in 1991, a year after he was elected to Congress, he founded something more enduring: the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Since then, Sanders' view of third parties has evolved: "No matter what I do," he told Mother Jones last month, "I will not play the role of a spoiler who ends up helping to elect a right-wing Republican."

This Kid Just Gave the Entire DC Press Corps a Lesson In Telling Truth to Power

| Thu Apr. 30, 2015 4:14 PM EDT

President Obama may be known for his exceptional oratory skills, but from time to time, he like every other politician falls victim to doling out the standard long-winded, sleep-inducing response no one could possibly be interested in hearing. One kid has apparently had enough.

While participating in a "virtual field trip" with a group of middle-school students on Thursday, the president was asked about how one should aspire to be a good writer. As Obama proceeded to launch into yet another rambling answer, student interviewer Osman Yaha took the reins and stepped in. Watch below for the expertly executed cut-in:

(h/t Washington Free Beacon)

 

We're in the Process of Decimating 1 in 6 Species on Earth

| Thu Apr. 30, 2015 3:10 PM EDT
A wood frog lays eggs on a pond surface. Many frogs like this are breeding earlier in the spring because of climate change.

Plants and animals around the world are already suffering from the negative impacts of manmade global warming—including shrinking habitats and the spread of disease. A great number are also facing the ultimate demise—outright extinction—among them the iconic polar bear, some fish species, coral, trees... the list goes on.

While most of the research on this topic so far has been piecemeal, one species at a time, a new study out today in Science offers the most comprehensive view to date of the future of extinction. The outlook is pretty grim.

The research, conducted by evolutionary biologist Mark Urban of the University of Connecticut, analyzes 131 other scientific papers for clues about how climate change is affecting the overall rate of species extinction. The result is alarming: One out of every six species could face extinction if global warming continues on its current path. The picture is less dire if we manage to curb climate change, dropping to only 5.2 percent of species if warming is kept within the internationally-agreed upon target of 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

The analysis makes clear that the climate change threat isn't necessarily a separate issue from things like habitat loss and disease; indeed, it's often climate change that is the driving force behind those impacts. The risk appears to be spread evenly across all types of plants and animals (i.e., trees, amphibians, mammals, etc.), but is more severe in geographic ares where there are more unique species and exposure to climate impacts.

South America takes the lead, with up to 23 percent of its species threatened. One classic case study there is the golden toad, a native of mountaintop rain forests that was last seen in 1989. The toad was driven to extinction in part due to an epidemic of chytrid fungus (which is wiping out amphibians worldwide), and because climate change-related drought is destroying the forests they called home. Australia and New Zealand also ranked highly at risk, with up to 14 percent:

Urban, Science 2015

Urban's paper offers perhaps the most comprehensive scientific companion to a terrifying narrative made popular last year in the Pulitzer Prize-winning book "The Sixth Extinction," by Elizabeth Kolbert. The New Yorker journalist argued that when you look at the combined toll that pollution, habitat destruction, and climate change is taking on the planet's biodiversity, humans are driving extinction on a scale only preceded in the geologic record by cataclysmic natural disasters (like the meteor that likely brought about the demise of the dinosaurs). Never before has one species been responsible for the demise of so many others. (Check out our interview with Kolbert here).

Still, Urban's study makes clear that many species that avoid extinction still face grave threats from climate change:

"Extinction risks are likely much smaller than the total number of species influenced by climate change," Urban writes. "Even species not threatened directly by extinction could experience substantial changes in abundances, distributions, and species interactions, which in turn could affect ecosystems and their services to humans."

Why You Should Be Skeptical About the New Police Narrative on Freddie Gray's Death

| Thu Apr. 30, 2015 12:49 PM EDT

On a relatively quiet night in Baltimore, the Washington Post dropped a bombshell. According to a sealed court document, a witness alleged that Freddie Gray—whose April death has triggered days of protests in the city—may have been deliberately attempting to injure himself while in police custody:

A prisoner sharing a police transport van with Freddie Gray told investigators that he could hear Gray "banging against the walls" of the vehicle and believed that he "was intentionally trying to injure himself," according to a police document obtained by The Washington Post.

The prisoner, who is currently in jail, was separated from Gray by a metal partition and could not see him. His statement is contained in an application for a search warrant, which is sealed by the court. The Post was given the document under the condition that the prisoner not be named because the person who provided it feared for the inmate's safety.

It's easy to see how a sealed document like that, drafted by a police investigator, might have leaked to the press in spite of the court order, and in spite of the police department's general aura of secrecy. If Gray's injuries were self-inflicted, the police department is off the hook.

But as WBAL's Jayne Miller noted, the new exculpatory allegation appears to be at odds with the police department's earlier narrative, as well as the timeline of events:

And there's another reason to be skeptical. Information that comes out of jails is notoriously unreliable, for the simple reason that anyone in jail has a real incentive to get out; cooperating with the people who determine when they get out is an obvious way to score points. This report from the Pew Charitable Trust walks through the conflicts in detail. According to the Innocence Project, 15 percent of wrongful convictions that are eventually overturned by DNA testing originally rested on information from a jailhouse informant. Two years ago in California, for instance, a federal court overturned the conviction of an alleged serial killer known as the "Skid Row Stabber" because the conviction rested on information from an inmate dismissed as a "habitual liar."

Or maybe the witness in Baltimore is right—that happens too!—and what we thought we knew about the Freddie Gray case was wrong. But the department isn't doing much to quiet the skeptics. It announced Wednesday that it will not make public the full results of its investigation into Gray's death, "because if there is a decision to charge in any event by the state's attorney's office, the integrity of that investigation has to be protected."

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Freddie Gray and the Real Lesson of Urban Policing

| Thu Apr. 30, 2015 11:58 AM EDT

The Washington Post features a simple headline today that encompasses decades of personal tragedy and public policy disaster:

Freddie Gray’s life a study in the sad effects of lead paint on poor blacks

When Freddie Gray was 22 months old, he had a tested blood lead level of 37 micrograms per deciliter. This is an absolutely astronomical amount. Freddie never even had the slightest chance of growing up normally. Lead poisoning doomed him from the start to a life of heightened aggression, poor learning abilities, and weak impulse control. His life was a tragedy set in motion the day he was born.

But even from the midst of my chemo haze, I want to make a short, sharp point about this that goes far beyond just Gray's personal tragedy. It's this: thanks both to lead paint and leaded gasoline, there were lots of teenagers like Freddie Gray in the 90s. This created a huge and genuinely scary wave of violent crime, and in response we turned many of our urban police forces into occupying armies. This may have been wrong even then, but it was hardly inexplicable. Decades of lead poisoning really had created huge numbers of scarily violent teenagers, and a massive, militaristic response may have seemed like the only way to even begin to hold the line.

But here's the thing: that era is over. Individual tragedies like Freddie Gray are still too common, but overall lead poisoning has plummeted. As a result, our cities are safer because our kids are fundamentally less dangerous. To a large extent, they are now normal teenagers, not lead-poisoned predators.

This is important, because even if you're a hard-ass law-and-order type, you should understand that we no longer need urban police departments to act like occupying armies. The 90s are gone, and today's teenagers are just ordinary teenagers. They still act stupid and some of them are still violent, but they can be dealt with using ordinary urban policing tactics. We don't need to constantly harass and bully them; we don't need to haul them in for every petty infraction; we don't need to beat them senseless; and we don't need to incarcerate them by the millions.

We just don't. We live in a different, safer era, and it's time for all of us—voters, politicians, cops, parents—to get this through our collective heads. Generation Lead is over, thank God. Let's stop pretending it's always and forever 1993. Reform is way overdue.

Here's What Economists Cheering For The Pacific Trade Deal Are Missing

| Thu Apr. 30, 2015 9:00 AM EDT

While Kevin Drum is focused on getting better, we've invited some of the remarkable writers and thinkers who have traded links and ideas with him from Blogosphere 1.0 to this day to contribute posts and keep the conversation going. Today we're honored to present a post from Matt Yglesias, currently the executive editor of Vox.

There is almost nothing in the whole wide world that economists like better than recounting David Ricardo's basic case for free trade. And this is sort of understandable. It's a really cool idea!

If you don't believe me, check out Paul Krugman's 1995 essay on the subject. But for the dime store version, what Ricardo showed—and what economists have been enthusing about ever since—is that Country A benefits (in the sense of what's nowadays known as Kaldor-Hicks Efficiency) from opening up its domestic producers to competition from imports from Country B, even if Country B is better at producing everything.

It's a cool result.

But oftentimes enthusiasm for this result seems to lead Ph.D. economists into all kinds of wild irrelevancies like former Council of Economic Advisors Chair Greg Mankiw's enthusiastic endorsement of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Mankiw focuses on Adam Smith rather than Ricardo, but in both cases the point is the same—18th-century economists showed that the efficiency of an economy can be improved by opening itself up to imports from abroad.

This is very true, but it also tells us very little about the merits of a 21st-century trade agreement.

One huge flaw is that while classical economics has a fair amount to tell us about the wealth of nations, it doesn't say much at all about the wealth of the individual people inside the nations. A trade deal that enriches Americans who own lots of shares of stock and Central Americans who own lots of plantation land could easily pass the (low) economic bar of efficiency while still making most people worse off.

But an even bigger problem is that many of the biggest barriers to international trade don't come conveniently labeled as barriers to international trade.

Take the Jones Act here in the United States, which says that if you want to ship goods on a boat from one American port to another American port, you need to do so on boats constructed in the United States and owned by US citizens, staffed by US citizens and legal permanent residents, and crewed by US citizens and US permanent residents. Common sense says that this is protectionism for American ship owners, shipyards, and ship crews.

But the actual text of the Jones Act says otherwise. What the 1920 law says is that a merchant marine "sufficient to carry the waterborne domestic commerce…of the United States" is "necessary for the national defense." In other words, we dare not let foreign-owned ships outcompete domestic ones as a matter of national security.

Conversely, if you look at Japan's legendarily protected domestic automobile market you will find essentially nothing in the way of formal barriers to foreign trade. Tariffs on imported automobiles, for example, are currently at zero. The way it works, according to the American Auto Council, is that "Japan has used automotive technical regulations as a means to protect local markets by creating excessively difficult and costly regulatory and certification requirements, with little or no safety or emissions benefits."

That these regulations are mere protectionism is overwhelming conventional wisdom in the United States. But of course, proponents of the Japanese status quo no more see it that way than do proponents of the Jones Act here at home. These are necessary regulations! This is the dilemma of the modern trade agreement.

Smith and Ricardo never imagined a world in which governments routinely regulated large classes of products to promote consumer safety, workers' rights, environmental goals, or national security goals. But lurking behind every regulation is potentially a barrier to trade. What the US Food and Drug Administration sees as public health regulation of dangerous cheese bacteria looks like protectionism to French cheesemakers, and what European Union officials see as public health regulation of hormone-treated beef looks like protectionism to American ranchers.

The 10 American Cities With the Dirtiest Air

| Thu Apr. 30, 2015 6:00 AM EDT

Nearly 44 percent of Americans live in areas with dangerous levels of ozone or particle pollution, according to the American Lung Association's annual "State of the Air" report, published yesterday.

The good news is that's actually an improvement over last year's report, which showed that 47 percent of the population lived in these highly polluted places. Overall, the air has been getting cleaner since Congress enacted stricter regulations in the 1970s, and the American Lung Association report, which looked at data from 2011 through 2013, showed a continuing drop in the air emissions that create the six most widespread pollutants.

This year, short-term particle pollution was especially bad in the West, in part due to the drought and heat.

But don't pat yourself on the back just yet. Many cities experienced a record number of days with high levels of particle pollution, a mixture of solid and liquid droplets in the air that have been linked to serious health problems. Short-term particle pollution was especially bad in the West, in part due to the drought and heat, which may have increased the dust, grass fires and wildfires. Six cities—San Francisco; Phoenix; Visalia, California; Reno, Nevada.; Yakima, Washington; and Fairbanks, Alaska—recorded their highest weighted average number of unhealthy particle pollution days since the American Lung Association started covering this metric in 2004.

Los Angeles held its rank as the metropolitan area with the worst ozone pollution, even as it saw its best three-year period since the first report 16 years ago: the city experienced a one-third reduction in its average number of unhealthy ozone days since the late 1990s.

Meanwhile, states on the east coast showed the most headway in cleaning up their air, with major drops in year-round particle pollution. The American Lung Association attributed the improvement to a push for cleaner diesel fleets and cleaner fuels in power plants.

"The progress is exactly what we want to see, but to see some areas having some of their worst episodes was unusual," said Janice Nolen, an air pollution expert with the association, referring to the record-breaking days of short-term particle pollution.

Data is missing for some of the dirtiest cities in the Midwest, including Chicago and St. Louis, due in part to problems at data labs in Illinois and Tennessee. Similar problems in Georgia also prevented researchers from assessing changes in Atlanta, another city notorious for air pollution.

Outdoor air pollution has been linked to about 3.7 million premature deaths worldwide, by causing or exacerbating lung cancer, chronic obstructive lung disease, acute lower respiratory infections, ischaemic heart disease, and strokes. And unfortunately, it seems people of color and with low incomes are often exposed to the dirtiest air.

Using data from the Environmental Protection Agency, the American Lung Association ranked cities around the country in terms of their year-round particle pollution, or the annual average level of fine particles in the air. These fine particles can come from many sources, including power plants, wildfires, and vehicle emissions, and breathing them in over such long periods of time have been linked to lung damage, increased hospitalizations for asthma attacks, increased risk for lower birth weight and infant mortality, and increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease.

Here are the 10 cities with the lowest levels of year-round particle pollution:

1. Prescott, Arizona

2. Farmington, New Mexico

3. Casper, Wyoming

3. Cheyenne, Wyoming

5. Flagstaff, Arizona

6. Duluth, Minnesota-Wisconsin

6. Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville, Florida

6. Salinas, California

10. Anchorage, Alaska

10. Bismarck, North Dakota

10. Rapid City-Spearfish, South Dakota

And the cities with the most year-round particle pollution:

1. Fresno-Madera, California

2. Bakersfield, California

3. Visalia-Porterville-Hanford, California*

4. Modesto-Merced, California

5. Los Angeles-Long Beach, California

6. El Centro, California

7. San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland, California

8. Cincinnati; Wilmington, Kentucky; Maysville, Indiana

9. Pittsburgh; New Castle, Ohio; Weirton, West Virginia

10. Cleveland-Akron-Canton, Ohio

To see city rankings for short-term particle pollution and ozone pollution, check out the report

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the state in which Visalia, Porterville, and Hanford are located.

The Internet Is A Place Where People Cry About Bullshit

| Wed Apr. 29, 2015 7:34 PM EDT

On Tuesday night, the Houston Rockets played their intrastate rivals the Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the NBA playoffs. Late in the game, the official Houston Rockets Twitter account sent out the following:

Screenshot via Deadspin

The internet being the stupid place that it is, a thousand crybabies immediately began to cry. Oh pray for the emoji horse! How dare the stupid Twitter account joke about horse slaughter! Wah wah wah!

The internet is a place where people cry about bullshit. If outrage is a currency—and it is—then the online market is drowning in counterfeits. People like to feign outrage because it allows them to demonstrate their humanity and show the world that they feel things strongly and people like to sleep with people who feel things strongly. Outrage allows people to define themselves in opposition to something, which is much easier than defining yourself on your own.

The Rockets went on to win the game (and thus the series) but not before the tweet was deleted. Today we learned that simply taking the tweet down and apologizing wasn't enough. The Rockets fired the dude who tweeted it, their social media manager Chad Shanks!

This is such bullshit. Emoji violence lost this dude his job. EMOJI VIOLENCE. Like, who was really outraged by this? Were you? Of course you weren't. You are smart and normal and very attractive and people like you. But let's pretend you were outraged by it. Here is my question: What outraged you about it? Did you not know that horses get shot when they are lame? Of course you knew it. Everyone knows that! Here's what I know about horses:

  • They are beautiful.
  • We don't eat them.
  • For thousands of years they were second only to our legs when it came to helping humans get around.
  • Now they're sort of ridden recreationally.
  • Also we race them.
  • They have shoes.
  • They get shot when they are lame.

Is merely mentioning the reality that horses are shot when they are lame outrageous? If you are outraged by the fact that horses are shot when they are lame, be outraged about the fact that horses are shot when they are lame, not someone remarking on the fact that horses are shot when they are lame.

In conclusion:

The Houston Rockets are cowards.

The Los Angeles Lakers are the best team in sports.