Monday, August 31, 2015

What Bernie Sanders Has Already Won

Dave Johnson

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Study confirms: Pesticides killing bees

Bees have been dying at an alarming rate. (photo: Raymond Roig/AFP/Getty Images)
Bees have been dying at an alarming rate. (photo: Raymond Roig/AFP/Getty Images)

By Coco McPherson, Rolling Stone

30 August 15

Expert Scott Black explains why bees are the canaries in the ecological coal mine
t's no secret that bees are in trouble. What's causing bee populations to plummet – neonicotinoid pesticides, mites, stress – remains hotly contested, despite a growing body of scientific evidence that neonics are part of the problem. But last week, the results of a landmark British study tracking neonic use for over a decade showed a direct correlation between a class of these pesticides and bee colony losses.

"This is important," says ecologist Scott Black, "because it's the large-scale field study showing the same thing that everybody's suspected." 

Rolling Stone recently asked Black, executive director of the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, to explain the significance of the study, why bees are so unique and why scientists consider invertebrates to be the canaries in the ecological coal mine.

Bees and their role in food production are constantly in the news. But many people can't really visualize what exactly bees do. To start, can you explain pollination? 

Pollination is the transfer of pollen from the male part of the plant to the female part of the plant. There's both animal pollination and wind pollination. The largest animal pollinator we know of is the lemur in Madagascar. Hummingbirds and bats pollinate, but the vast majority of pollinators out there are insects. The main pollinators of our crops are bees, and not just honeybees. People often say, "One-third of all our food comes from honeybees." That's not accurate. It comes from bees. 

Wild bees and honeybees.

Honeybees are vitally important, but wild bees, especially for certain crops — apples, lots of our berries – are really, really important. We need that pollen to get from one flower to the next flower, and from the male part to the female part. And bees are really good at this because unlike all other animals that are visiting just to eat the pollen and/or nectar, bees actually collect it because they're feeding it to their young.

They're one of the only animals out there that actually collect the pollen rather than just feeding on pollen, so they visit many more flowers. They've evolved to collect pollen. Once they find a flower that's producing a lot of pollen and/or nectar, they cue in on that type of flower. Bees are very efficient and very good at pollination. Humans just can't do this on any scale. For one thing, it's very expensive. You don't have to pay bees. You have hundreds of millions of workers out there who are doing this for free.  If we want the most nutritious foods, bee pollination of our crops is really the only way forward. 

When a hive is brought to a field or a farm and the bees are released, what's happening?

The goal of the hive is to produce more bees, more young. These bees aren't saying, "Oh, we're here to help the humans." Young bees need pollen and nectar to grow up.

Bees are brought in a hive, they fly out and they start to look for sources of both pollen and nectar – they want both. When they find those sources, they can communicate with the other bees in the hive where those best sources are. It's fascinating. They go out and collect pollen and nectar until they can't collect any more, and they bring it back to the hive. They store it and also feed it to the young, then go back. They do this all day. They're really efficient at figuring out where the food is, and then collecting it and bringing it back.

So the transfer from the male part of the plant to the female part happens by, what, beautiful coincidence as bees are feeding?

Coincidence is maybe the wrong word. Flowers and bees have evolved together.

These flowers are advertising themselves. They're getting these animals to stop to either sip nectar or to actually collect pollen. Either way, they're getting pollen on them. Then the bees fly off, and the next flower is also advertising. The bee stops there, and some pollen always comes off. It's an incredible co-evolution of these flowers and these animals that really draws these animals in to help the flower. Flowers are advertising and providing the reward that keeps the bees coming back. It's not by accident; what's really cool about it is that it's by design. 

Bees have been harnessed – like mules to a cart – to do this work for us. 

The thing I find interesting is that honeybees were not originally managed to do pollination, but for a sugar source. Europe didn't have sugarcane, of course, so honey was used to make mead, to sweeten other food sources. Crop sizes were small, there was habitat everywhere and if you didn't have native bees, you had wild honeybees around. That's the reason they brought honeybees to the New World. In the early 1600s, they brought them on ships, and then moved them across the country in wagon trains. Again, nobody thought about pollination; pollination just happened. It was the 1930s and Forties, with the advent of giant monocultures and the use of synthetic insecticides, that people started to see that they weren't getting the pollination they used to. That's when we started moving honeybees for pollination, that's when the industry came into its own. We can box these animals up and take them on a truck to where they're needed.

You don't think this is sustainable. 

We're using one animal to try to pollinate a disproportionate amount of our food. And although I think they're going to be important for a long, long time, I also think we underutilize the native bees that are often out there. To really have sustainable agriculture and a sustainable system of feeding people, we should not rely on just one animal to pollinate most of our crops. 

The British field study shows a link between neonicotinoid pesticide use and honeybee colony loss.  There's a lot of research out there – why is this being heralded as a "first"? 

They're not saying it's the first time [they've proven a connection]; they're saying it's the first time in a field situation. We've had many studies that show that if exposed, these chemicals are highly toxic and will kill bees. We have lots of studies that show even at small amounts, these chemicals will change the behavior of bees, they'll have fewer babies, and they won't be able to forage as well. And we have tons of evidence that these things are found everywhere – in urban and agricultural situations. You put that together and you can say, "OK, these are highly toxic." We know bees are contacting them, you can connect the dots, but this is the large-scale field study showing the same thing that everybody's suspected. 

Why is that important? 

It's important because chemical companies have said that that we don't have studies that show this in the field. We can have all this data, and yes you can say this is impacting bees, but we haven't shown this in a long-term field study. So this is an important one. 

The U.S. Geological Survey just published a report about neonicotinoids being in streams all over the country.

The USGS study simply says that these chemicals are found in half the streams we've sampled. The USGS is a scientific body and they're very careful, but I think it does add to a huge body of evidence – for instance, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, with their meta-analysis of 800 studies showing that these chemicals are really a problem for pollinators and other beneficial insects, and they're a huge problem for aquatic insects. Neonics are easily transported from soil into water, and they're very toxic to aquatic organisms that make up the base of the food chain for fish and for the birds who eat the insects. What's really interesting is that there are almost no studies coming out that are saying these chemicals are safe. 

What's about the chemical companies? 

As each new study says this is continuing to be a problem, it does get harder for the chemical companies to say that this isn't a problem. They'll always point to the uncertainties inherent in science; they did this with lead in paint, tobacco, and climate change. They sow seeds of doubt even though they do not have the evidence to support their conclusions. 

Are invertebrates the canaries in the coal mine in terms of ecosystem health? 

Yes, they certainly are. They're really important for understanding the health of our ecosystems because they can be readily monitored and they're the base of the food chain. If you like to eat salmon, you can thank small flies in the stream where these salmon were born. If you like to eat nutritious fruits and vegetables, you can thank bees. If you like to watch songbirds you can thank the insects that they eat – if birds are in your yard, it's because there are insects they feed their young. These things are super important and really are the harbinger of whether you're doing well or poorly. If you're seeing fewer insects – bees or aquatic insects – you know it's affecting the birds and the fish and onward up to the people.

+15 # Colleen Clark 2015-08-30 09:12
NB Rachel Carson "The Silent Spring". Still relevant.

+1 # tm7devils39 2015-08-30 12:18
Given that: the combined intelligence of modern man (Homo Sapiens Sapiens - an obvious oxymoron) is not high enough to insure it's own survival,
Then: Do you think that our government will ever step up and rein-in the chemical companies(Monsa nto comes to mind) that are "not so" slowly killing our planet?

+2 # Vardoz 2015-08-30 12:24
This was clear years ago and chemical companies do not care. Unless growers put pressure and lobby these chemicals will continue to be used because reps are for sale to the highest bidder regardless of the consequences.

+2 # nice2bgreat 2015-08-30 13:24

For environmentalis ts to win battles, before the decimation of eco-systems, habitats, and species -- all the way to saving lives individually -- there needs to be push-back on recent precedents set, regarding:

legislated retro-active immunity or immunity that infringes upon 1st Amendment rights "prohibiting the petitioning for a governmental redress of grievances";

laws criminalizing truth-seeking, such as banning video footage of law-enforcement , banning video of inhumane farming activities; making it illegal for journalists, etc., to falsify work applications -- even if otherwise qualified for that position, and fulfilling work duties.

Not that it's not happening by some, but, in order for liberal ideology to be effective and popular, groups with differing priorities -- yet, who are similarly represent aspects within the agenda on the left -- are most effective when united.

All environmentalis ts should champion a living wage for anyone working full time.

Blue collar workers should support clean air, water, and renewable energies -- not as thanks (but in a way as thanks) -- for overwhelming support of workers rights, unionization, living wages, pay equity for women -- women should support workers rights, living wages, unionization, etc., (not as thanks, but in a way as thanks) -- and women and workers should support environmental causes, de-militarizati on of police, ending prison privatization, ending racial discrimination, global peace efforts, etc.

0 # Dongi 2015-08-30 14:11
Yes, people of liberal persuasion, should hang together and support progressive causes. Now more than ever we must concentrate so we can deliver maximum force. Life is so complicated and there are so many capitalists around that we can do no less. Otherwise, life will just suck.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Haunted by Student Debt to the Grave


Steven L.
Campaign for America's Future
It will not be news to 41 million Americans that this nation is in the middle of a student debt crisis. That’s the number of people burdened by student loan payments. But many people, including many student debt holders, may be surprised to learn that people can be pursued for student debt even into their elder years.

In fact, the government is withholding Social Security payments for some retirees because their student loans have not been fully repaid. This is a growing problem that Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) have asked the government to study in greater depth.

“Garnishing Social Security benefits defeats the entire point of the program — that’s why we don’t allow banks or credit card companies to do it,” said Sen. McCaskill. “Social Security is the sole means of retirement income for tens of millions of Americans, and allowing those benefits to be garnished to collect student loan debt cuts a dangerous hole in our safety net.”

That is one problem with this practice. But, as we will see, there are others.

Many people will be surprised to learn that any seniors are still paying off their student debt. They are: 706,000 households headed by someone 65 or older are still paying off their student debts, according to a report by the GAO. Collectively these households owed $18.2 billion in 2013. That’s six-and-a-half times as much as they owed in 2005, when these senior households’ total debt obligation was “only” $2.8 billion.

Of those households, 191,000 – more than one in four – are in default. The government can take up to 15 percent of a Social Security check to pay back a student loan, as long as the monthly check amount does not drop below $750 a month.

Social Security payments could not be seized for any reason until – for the first time ever — Congress created an exception for student debt in 1996. Before then, Social Security was protected from garnishments of any kind. That was deliberate. The original Social Security Act of 1935 stated that benefits were not “subject to execution, levy, attachment, garnishment, or other legal process, or to the operation of any bankruptcy or insolvency law.”

The government doesn’t have to go to court, either. It requires a court order to garnish a working person’s wages, but Social Security benefits are entirely under federal control. Many people have learned they still owed student debt only after a portion of their Social Security check had been taken.

These seniors’ benefits are not being garnished to pay loans they took out for their kids, either. The GAO found that four out of five seniors in this category owed the money for their own education, not their children’s. In many cases these loans were incurred and the defaults arose (with subsequent interest and penalty fees) years before the government assumed the power to reach into seniors’ retirement income to collect them.

While the total number of seniors losing benefits today is relatively small (it was 155,000 in 2013), this problem threatens to grow larger as our overall student debt problem continues to grow. What’s more, the moral dimensions of this problem are quite large.

The fact that this problem even exists suggests that we’ve lost our national perspective on education. Student debt is a historical anomaly in this nation’s history. We were primarily an agrarian nation until the developments of the 20th century gave rise to a new economy in which far more people needed a higher education.

But with that shift came a rise in publicly funded higher education at the state level. The rise of the conservative movement in the latter part of the last century led to state budget cuts and massive tuition increases. The result was skyrocketing student debt for public as well as private college students.

Now there is a growing movement for tuition-free or very low-cost public higher education – a return to the principle, established in the not-too-distant past, that all qualified students should have access to debt-free higher education. If that movement is successful – and we believe it will be – then today’s runaway student debt problem will eventually fade away.

But that will leave two generations of Americans condemned to pay an extremely high price for having been unlucky enough to attend college during the conservative period during which all but the wealthiest students were required to take on debt in order to get an education.

We believe that all Americans should be freed from the burdens of this aberrational period of student debts – and that a “student debt jubilee” would be good for the U.S. economy and for the work and family lives of graduates. But perhaps that jubilee can proceed in stages.

There is already a widespread call – partially successful so far – to forgive the debts of students who were ripped off by for-profit universities, like Corinthian – colleges that encouraged them to take student loans, delivered a terrible education, and are now going belly-up.

And surely America can and should establish the principle that, having been forced to take on debt during this aberrational period, those Americans who reach the age of 65 and are depending on Social Security for most of their income should not have to continue to pay off what remains of student loans from their Social Security checks.

There will be those who say that a debt is a debt and must be repaid. But it is a long-standing legal principle that failure to collect a debt over an extended period of time renders it uncollectible. What’s more, we are actually treating people more harshly for seeking to finance an education than for financing a house or car. Where is the sense in that?

The solution seems obvious: First, we must stop the practice of garnishing Social Security payments to pay student debt. Then we must take a long, hard look at all the student debt that has been accumulated in this country. For millions of Americans, a college education is the ticket to a better life.

Nobody should be deprived of an education because they don’t come from a wealthy family. And nobody should be subjected to onerous debt because they dared to dream and desired to learn.

Em Sherman ·

I paid mine by starving, literally, and working 3 jobs so my health is trashed. God help us all.
Paul Richey ·
Works at Retired

As a retired American I have to wonder if I will be garnished because my daughter still has an unpaid balance. I don't need that during my retirement.
Linda Contract ·

Have to add one more thing. This student debt is called "extortion". We have to follow the money!
Like · Reply · 2 · 2 hrs
JoAnne Tyler
trust laws to pr
inent monopolizatthis posting site if f'd up! It keeps restaging my words. so I drive a school bus with 40K in student debt behind me. ion. So I spent five years as a min wage sportswriter, with little hope of improving my lot, unless I wanted to travel around the country working. At over 50 I chose to stay home instead of uprooting my life to battle younger reporters for jobs. I learned later that counselors are more concerned with filling seats in the classroom, with less importance placed on steering students toward productive careers. Same thing happened when I went to grad school. I was told I'd be going into a great field and would make a great substance abuse counselor. Then I learned from people in the field that the market was flooded with counselors, they were a "dime a dozen" and with my Master's degree I could expect a starting salary of $18-23K per year! And
Like · Reply · 1 · 2 hrs
Linda Contract ·

The interest rates have increased to 9%. So, whether the payments go towards interest or principle
the creditors are collecting monies above and beyone anyone's imagination. We need to find out
more about this debt and who the creditors are and have the Justice Dept go after them. We are paying
for more than student debt even if they are government backed student loans. There has to be a class action lawsuit against Navient, Sallie Mae and all of the other creditors who are gouging and re-gouging Americans and unbelievably will not give us the information regarding individual debt. "Som
...See More
Like · Reply · 3 · 2 hrs
Ken Addington ·

" if you're on the bottom of the food chain, they need you more than you need them. "
Ken Addington
Like · Reply · 1 hr
Dona Bullock
Make our officials pay their own way (no more of our tax dollars) and see how they like that.
Like · Reply · 3 · 2 hrs
Dona Bullock
Once again our elected officials who we monetarily support for maybe 60 days of supposed work (I make this comment with tongue in cheek) still finding ways to shaft the people they are suppose to represent
Like · Reply · 2 · 2 hrs