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Susie Cagle's Posts


Michigan gov.: Detroit is no longer capable of taking care of itself

From America's capital of industry to its capital of decay, Detroit's post-industrial run hit another pile of bricks today when Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder announced he'll be naming an emergency manager to oversee the troubled city, putting the city government under state control. Snyder's pick will have the power to sell city assets and cancel contracts to try to address Detroit's more than $14 billion in long-term debt and avoid bankruptcy.

Image (1) detroit-flickr-trey-campbell.jpg for post 45478

From Bloomberg:

The move, which the City Council can appeal, punctuates decades of decline in the home town of General Motors Co. (GM) Snyder’s decision may inflame opponents, as the administration of a white Republican seizes control of a community that is predominantly Democratic and more than 80 percent black.

“It’s a sad day, a day I wish never happened, but it’s a day of promise,” said Snyder, who is in his first term. ...

Opponents say state takeovers disenfranchise voters by stripping elected officials of their power over municipalities or school districts, and may protect bondholders at the expense of employees, services and taxpayers.

Just two weeks ago, Detroit's Democratic mayor, Dave Bing, said in his State of the City address: “The picture is not all doom and gloom. Every day there is more hope and possibilities. Like many Detroiters, I, too, am a fighter. We can’t, and won’t, give up on our city.”

Today he struck an upbeat note in a statement responding to the governor's announcement:

“If, in fact, the appointment of an emergency financial manager both stabilizes the city fiscally and supports our restructuring initiatives which improve the quality of life for our citizens, then I think there is a way for us to work together. We have always said that we need help from Lansing to implement our initiatives such as public safety, transportation, lighting and others.”

Detroit's population has tanked in recent years. Just between 2009 and 2011, the city lost more than 200,000 people. Once a city of 1.8 million, it is now home to about 700,000. But those are 700,000 people who aren't likely to agree with white Republican state politics, and Snyder hasn't said yet who his emergency head will be, just that he has someone "in mind."

Read more: Cities


How the USDA plans to plant around climate change

A few weeks ago, the Department of Agriculture released a pretty devastating report on just how bad climate change is going to suck for things we plant in the ground in America. Short version: T minus 25ish years until we hit Armageddon-like scenarios for agriculture and forests.

That might sound hopeless, but Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is not discouraged. The Natural Resources Defense Council's Switchboard blog reports on a followup speech Vilsack gave this week, saying the USDA will help farmers adapt to climate change and become part of the climate solution.

"We're going to be very aggressive in this effort because we understand and appreciate, after the floods of 2011 and the drought of 2012, that folks need this assistance now," said Vilsack. "And by doing this, by taking these actions, we can help to mitigate and help to manage risks."

From the Switchboard blog:


Al Gore’s ‘Reality Drop’ gamifies climate news commenting

Today Al Gore's Climate Reality Project dropped Reality Drop, aimed at dispelling climate myths by getting you invested in a weird new social network.

The Reality Drop website highlights articles on climate change, both bad and good, and gives you pre-written, smart, science-y language that you can cut and paste into their comment threads. Depending on how active you are, you can move up the police-style ranks from "rookie" to "lieutenant."

Mashable says Reality Drop "gamifies the climate change conversation":

"No matter how much is occurring in the world with extreme weather, the industry keeps feeding denial. Though not all denial occurs online, we want to give people the tools to respond quickly and sharply to that denial," Maggie Fox, CEO of Climate Reality, told Mashable.

"It's time for us to go on the offense in a space that we can not only dominate, but change opinions."

Basically, Reality Drop wants you to troll for change.


Japan is going nuclear again, Fukushima be damned

After the March 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear meltdown, Japanese leaders vowed to phase out nuclear power over the next two decades, but new Prime Minister Shinzo Abe isn't having any of that.

The reactors at Fukushima
The reactors at Fukushima.

Speaking to Parliament on Thursday, Abe said nuclear plants around the country would restart after meeting stricter safety standards and instituting upgrades, an expensive process that could take months if not years to complete. Japan used to get a third of its energy from 50 nuclear plants. From The New York Times:

On Thursday, Mr. Abe said that Japan had learned the need for tougher safety standards from the Fukushima accident, which forced more than 100,000 people to evacuate. He said the new safety standards will be enforced “without compromise.”

Mr. Abe also said Japan would continue seeking energy alternatives to reduce its dependence on nuclear power, even without going so far as to eliminate it.


Drought is taking a toll on the Texas beef industry

Where's the beef? Well, it's not in West Texas these days. It's always been kind of dry and desolate, but the last two years of epic drought have taken a serious toll on the region, driving in tumbleweeds and driving out agriculture and related business.


Earlier this month, a West Texas Cargill cattle processing plant suspended operations, leaving about 2,300 residents of Plainview out of work, more than 10 percent of the town's population. The company says it's not a permanent closure, but let's be real, Cargill: This is looking a lot like devastating dust-bowl economics, round two. From The New York Times:

Dozens of former plant workers have already moved, finding new jobs with the plant’s owner, Cargill, or other companies outside Plainview or outside the state, many pulling their children out of the town’s 12 public schools. When workers receive their last paychecks in three weeks, the question is whether they will stick around. And then, the more existential question, can the town survive without those who leave?


Entire food system may be contaminated with BPA and other plastic nasties

Not ooze-free.
sea turtle
You still probably shouldn't cook your turkey in plastic.

Eat organic all you want. Avoid plastic like the plague. It may not matter after all -- you could still be ingesting a lot of nasty bisphenol A and phthalates, chemicals that leach from plastics and potentially disrupt human endocrine systems.

A study by Sheela Sathyanarayana published in the Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology compared one group that avoided BPA and pthalates in accordance with written directions and another group that ate a catered, local, organic diet prepared without use of plastic for cooking or storage.

From Fast Co.Exist:

The researchers assumed that urinary BPA and pthalate levels would drop in the catered group compared to the group using written instructions -- people are generally bad at following advice from their doctors after all. "Instead we saw big spikes and increases in the catered diet group and no changes at all in the written education group," she says.


Northern California sees driest winter on record

Drought eradicates the green

Nearly 100 years ago, Dust Bowl refugees from the middle of the country sought new lives and livelihoods in the Golden State. Now California is fixing to become its own damn dust bowl. The last two months in the northern Sierra Nevada, normally the wettest time of the year, have shattered an all-time weather record as the driest January and February in recorded history.

From The Sacramento Bee:

The northern Sierra is crucial to statewide water supplies because it is where snowmelt accumulates to fill Shasta and Oroville reservoirs. These are the largest reservoirs in California and the primary storage points for state and federal water supply systems.

If February concludes without additional storms -- and none are expected -- the northern Sierra will have seen 2.2 inches of precipitation in January and February, the least since record-keeping began in the region in 1921.

That is well below the historical average of 17.1 inches.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Food


Cities compete to win Bloomberg funds for innovative projects

Last summer, New York mayor and soda-hating bazillionaire Michael Bloomberg's charity launched "The Mayors Challenge" to award $9 million to five cities "that come up with bold ideas for solving major problems and improving city life." The field has now been whittled down to 20 top concepts.

"From sustainability and public health, to education and economic development, cities are pioneering new policies and programs that are moving the country forward," said Bloomberg in announcing the contest. "Historically, cities have seen each other as competitors in a zero-sum game, with neighbors pitted against each other in a battle to attract residents and businesses. But more and more, a new generation of mayors is recognizing the value of working together and the necessity of borrowing ideas from one another."

Bloomberg seems to miss his own point, though, in setting up a battle for funds between cities, some of which have far more resources and innovation street cred than others (I'm looking at you, San Francisco). That's part of why I want to give a special shout-out to Milwaukee's entry for the city's HOME GR/OWN project.

Read more: Cities, Food


Shell to ‘pause’ Arctic drilling in 2013

After an epic string of screw-ups, Shell is pulling way back on its plan to conquer the far north frontier and drill the ever-loving hell out of it. Pause, baby, pause!

Shell's Kulluk drilling rig, which the company ran aground in Alaska in December.

Shell has spent more than $4.5 billion in its quest for oil in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas off the north coast of Alaska and so far has nothing to show for it but a series of embarrassing mishaps.

"Our decision to pause in 2013 will give us time to ensure the readiness of all our equipment and people following the drilling season in 2012," Marvin Odum, director of Shell's "Upstream Americas" operations, said in a statement.


Why shouldn’t you eat horse?

From Tesco to Burger King to IKEA, the horse-meat saga has gripped the western world for the past month. Horse hasn't even made it into stateside meaty meals, but you wouldn't know it from our outsize horror at the idea of chowing down on lovable ponies.


As someone who hasn't eaten animals in a really long time, I've been kind of confused about all this. Why the moral panic about this four-legged mammal and not all the other ones that end up in sandwiches? This isn't a modest proposal -- I'm genuinely trying to understand.

"The unfolding drama around Europe's horse-meat scandal is a case study in food politics and the politics of cultural identity," Marion Nestle wrote at Food Politics. "They (other people) eat horse meat. We don't. Most Americans say they won't eat horse meat, are appalled by the very idea, and oppose raising horses for food, selling their meat, and slaughtering horses for any reason."

Raising horses for meat was re-legalized in the U.S. in late 2011, against the wishes of the Humane Society, which argued that horses shouldn't be eaten because they're considered "companions." But since then, no horse slaughterhouses have actually managed to open their doors in the U.S.; one would-be horse-meat purveyor recently sued the government for moving too slowly on inspections.

As Cord Jefferson points out at Gawker in a post entitled "You should eat horse," horse meat is cheaper than beef, comparable in terms of calories and protein, and has way more omega-3 fatty acids. But he notes that there's some legit cause for concern: