Sunday, September 23, 2018

Last Call For Carolina Fish Fried

As floodwaters from Hurricane Florence begin to slowly recede in eastern NC, the combination of unprecedented flooding, toxic coal ash reservoirs being breached, and hog lagoons being swamped indicates a long-term environmental nightmare in the state, the first signs of which are massive fish kills across huge stretches of flooded highways.

Thousands of dead fish strewn along Interstate 40 have created an unnerving sight and smell for motorists as Hurricane Florence flood waters recede in eastern North Carolina

Images of the piles of fish began appearing on social media over the weekend, including video of members of the Penderlea Fire Department washing the fish off the road with a fire hose.

“We can add ‘washing fish off of the interstate’ to the long list of interesting things firefighters get to experience!” said the post.

Department officials said the fish were found on a stretch of Interstate 40 in Pender County, near Wallace.

“Hurricane Florence caused massive flooding in our area and allowed the fish to travel far from their natural habitat, stranding them on the interstate when waters receded,” said the post.

Wilmington resident Dan George also posted a video that showed the roadway peppered with fish, including one that died caught in a roadside fence when the flood waters rose and fell. His video, posted Friday, has been viewed more 540,000 times on Facebook.

North Carolina Department of Transportation maintenance supervisor Jeff Garrett posted multiple photos showing a wide variety of fish that died, including one that was in the midst of eating smaller fish, which is seen hanging from its mouth.

Garrett’s post has been shared 32,000 times since Saturday.

Residents of the area are already starting to complain of the smell as fish begin to rot en masse on the side of the interstate.

Facebook commenter Aleksandr Gruzinskaya described the odor as a “horrible decaying flesh smell” and noted the situation is adding “insult to injury” as the region recovers from record-setting rainfall and flooding.

Sections of Interstate 40 were closed for days due to aftermath of Hurricane Florence. Vast sections of the interstate had water deep enough to allow boaters to travel the interstate, according to NCDOT drone footage.

The Myrtle Beach Sun News reported Saturday that marine fatalities of the storm also included a 20-foot-long whale that washed up on Caswell Beach. It was later buried by the town behind a dune, the newspaper reported.

The clean-up is beginning, but the environmental damage will take years, if not decades to fix, and that's not counting the very real possibility that a region that has drowned twice now under two 1000-year floods in two years doesn't get a third in the coming months or years ahead.  Or a fourth.  Or a fifth...

Trump Trades Blows, Con't

The impact of President Donald Trump's escalating tit-for-tat over tariffs is already being felt, say auto industry experts. New car prices are beginning to rise, and auto exports are dropping. But a new report warns that sales could plunge by as much as 2 million vehicles a year, resulting in the loss of up to 715,000 American jobs and a hit of as much as $62 billion to the U.S. GDP.

The Center for Automotive Research cites the biggest concern as the threatened use of trade rules known as Section 232 that would declare foreign-made cars and car parts a threat to national security. That could trigger a “downward cycle” in an auto industry already showing signs of decline after rebounding from the Great Recession, said Kristin Dziczek, a vice president and senior economist at the Center for Automotive Research, or CAR, in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

CAR’s new study is echoed by a variety of other studies looking at the potential impact of the Trump administration’s escalating trade war.

Already enacted tariffs on imported aluminum and steel have added about $240 to the cost of producing a new car, truck, or crossover in the U.S
., noted Peter Nagle, a senior economist with research firm IHS Markit. And the first round of tariffs with China is adding still more to the price that manufacturers have to pay for a variety of parts used on American assembly lines.

The impact will grow as a result of the second round of China tariffs, Nagle added, cautioning that a “dizzying” series of trade moves will “exacerbate” the problems the auto industry faces as it struggles to head off the first downturn in sales since emerging from the depths of the last recession. Activating tariffs using Section 232 rules would likely prove devastating, he warned.

Nagel estimated consumers would be “looking at price increases of $1,300 for a typical mass market product, up to $5,800 for a luxury vehicle.” Those increases would not be limited to just imported vehicles. Toyota, for example, has forecast the price of a U.S.-made Camry would rise about $1,600.

In line with the new CAR study, IHS forecasts U.S. new vehicle sales would plunge by around 2 million vehicles annually, to 16.5 million a year from 2019 to 2025.

Add the possible tear-up of the North American Free Trade Agreement and the impact could be devastating. Under NAFTA, automakers have established a continent-wide network of parts and vehicle assembly operations. That’s backed up by a global production system that has been finely tuned, with little room for disruption. But industry experts warn that the Trump administration’s trade moves threaten to fracture that grid.

The impact could mean more than just higher costs. A number of medium-sized and smaller parts suppliers could be forced out of business, unable to afford the cost of relocating their operations back to the U.S. That could result in disruptions at assembly plants, said Nagle, possibly meaning shortages of some products, and a big hit to automakers’ profits.

So yes, in the short-term, it would be good for parts plants and suppliers already in the US.  But for anyone who gets parts from China, it would be devastating.  And 700,000 lost jobs coupled with the far-reaching effects of a NAFTA collapse would almost assure another brutal recession next year.

I'm not sure what Trump is thinking, but enough MAGA-hat good 'ol boys out of work at the parts plants in the Midwest and he's going to be congratulating a Democratic president in 2020.

The Blue Wave Rises, Con't

With just over six weeks until November midterms, the good news is that Democrats continue to hold a double-digit generic ballot lead in the latest NBC/WSJ poll.  The bad news is that gerrymandering and the Senate structural map mean it still may not be enough to take back control of the House and Senate.

The pollsters' so-called "generic ballot" pitting the two parties for the House illustrates the GOP predicament most broadly. In 1994, before seizing control of both the House and Senate from Democrats, Republicans led on that question by four percentage points; in 2006, before Democrats seized them back, they led by 10 points.

Their 12-point national lead today includes a margin of 30 points in House districts Democrats already hold
. That means some of those anti-Trump votes will merely translate into larger victories for Democratic incumbents without producing any of the 23 additional seats the party needs to make Nancy Pelosi speaker again.

But the best evidence of vulnerability for Trump and his party lies in the seats Republicans already hold. The survey shows Republicans leading by only a single percentage point in those districts.

Overall, a 42 percent plurality of voters say they want to place a check on President Trump, compared to 31 percent who aim to help him achieve his objectives. Even in Republican-held districts, 38 percent want a check on their party's president.

Moreover, Democrats have generated wide advantages among key swing groups within the electorate. The poll shows them leading by 31 percentage points among independents, 33 points among moderates and 12 points among white women.

Among white college graduates, a group Republicans carried by nine points in 2014 mid-term elections, Republicans now trail by 15 points. Among white women without college degrees, a group Republicans carried by 10 points in 2014, Republicans now trail by five points.

"The Republican coalition is, at the moment, unhinged," said McInturff, the Republican pollster. The party's erosion among women voters heightens the potential risk for Republicans in the ongoing furor over sexual assault allegations against Trump's Supreme Court pick Brett Kavanaugh.

If these numbers hold true, Democrats are going to make gains, and possibly big gains.  But that one point GOP lead in red districts makes me think that voter suppression could sharply limit those gains.  Yes, it means that the average Republican House seat is in real trouble.  But it also means that it would only take a point or two shaved off in turnout through voter suppression for a lot of these endangered Republicans in toss-up races to hold on.

What we need in November is presidential election-level turnout.

If turnout is a dismal 32% like it was in 2014, the GOP is not only going to keep the House, they will have 57 or 58 Senate seats by the time the dust settles.

We have to vote in numbers that Republicans cannot suppress. We need record midterm turnout, and that's just not going to happen.  I will be shocked if all this "enthusiasm" translates into total turnout being over 35%.  We know we'll be lucky if turnout among Millennials is even 20%.  In 2014 it was 17%.

I'm just not seeing the turnout numbers in polls that we have to have, guys.  That has to change or we're done as a country.

Sunday Long Read: A Fat Lot Of Good That Will Do

This week's Sunday Long Read comes from HuffPost Highline's Michael Hobbes as he breaks one of the final taboo medical barriers in America: the diagnosis and treatment of obesity.  Everything we know about obesity and everything we prescribe for it are at such staggering odds that the cures are literally making millions of us less healthy every year, and it's time for a sea change.

About 40 years ago, Americans started getting much larger. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 80 percent of adults and about one-third of children now meet the clinical definition of overweight or obese. More Americans live with “extreme obesity“ than with breast cancer, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and HIV put together.

And the medical community’s primary response to this shift has been to blame fat people for being fat. Obesity, we are told, is a personal failing that strains our health care system, shrinks our GDP and saps our military strength. It is also an excuse to bully fat people in one sentence and then inform them in the next that you are doing it for their own good. That’s why the fear of becoming fat, or staying that way, drives Americans to spend more on dieting every year than we spend on video games or movies. Forty-five percent of adults say they’re preoccupied with their weight some or all of the time—an 11-point rise since 1990. Nearly half of 3- to 6- year old girls say they worry about being fat. 
The emotional costs are incalculable. I have never written a story where so many of my sources cried during interviews, where they double- and triple-checked that I would not reveal their names, where they shook with anger describing their interactions with doctors and strangers and their own families. One remembered kids singing “Baby Beluga” as she boarded the school bus, another said she has tried diets so extreme she has passed out and yet another described the elaborate measures he takes to keep his spouse from seeing him naked in the light. A medical technician I’ll call Sam (he asked me to change his name so his wife wouldn’t find out he spoke to me) said that one glimpse of himself in a mirror can destroy his mood for days. “I have this sense I’m fat and I shouldn’t be,” he says. “It feels like the worst kind of weakness.”

My interest in this issue is slightly more than journalistic. Growing up, my mother’s weight was the uncredited co-star of every family drama, the obvious, unspoken reason why she never got out of the car when she picked me up from school, why she disappeared from the family photo album for years at a time, why she spent hours making meatloaf then sat beside us eating a bowl of carrots. Last year, for the first time, we talked about her weight in detail. When I asked if she was ever bullied, she recalled some guy calling her a “fat slob” as she biked past him years ago. “But that was rare,” she says. “The bigger way my weight affected my life was that I waited to do things because I thought fat people couldn’t do them.” She got her master’s degree at 38, her Ph.D. at 55. “I avoided so many activities where I thought my weight would discredit me.”
But my mother’s story, like Sam’s, like everyone’s, didn’t have to turn out like this. For 60 years, doctors and researchers have known two things that could have improved, or even saved, millions of lives. The first is that diets do not work. Not just paleo or Atkins or Weight Watchers or Goop, but all diets. Since 1959, research has shown that 95 to 98 percent of attempts to lose weight fail and that two-thirds of dieters gain back more than they lost. The reasons are biological and irreversible. As early as 1969, research showed that losing just 3 percent of your body weight resulted in a 17 percent slowdown in your metabolism—a body-wide starvation response that blasts you with hunger hormones and drops your internal temperature until you rise back to your highest weight. Keeping weight off means fighting your body’s energy-regulation system and battling hunger all day, every day, for the rest of your life.

The second big lesson the medical establishment has learned and rejected over and over again is that weight and health are not perfect synonyms. Yes, nearly every population-level study finds that fat people have worse cardiovascular health than thin people. But individuals are not averages: Studies have found that anywhere from one-third to three-quarters of people classified as obese are metabolically healthy. They show no signs of elevated blood pressure, insulin resistance or high cholesterol. Meanwhile, about a quarter of non-overweight people are what epidemiologists call “the lean unhealthy.” A 2016 study that followed participants for an average of 19 years found that unfit skinny people were twice as likely to get diabetes as fit fat people. Habits, no matter your size, are what really matter. Dozens of indicators, from vegetable consumption to regular exercise to grip strength, provide a better snapshot of someone’s health than looking at her from across a room.

The terrible irony is that for 60 years, we’ve approached the obesity epidemic like a fad dieter: If we just try the exact same thing one more time, we'll get a different result. And so it’s time for a paradigm shift. We’re not going to become a skinnier country. But we still have a chance to become a healthier one.

Having struggled with my weight all my life, I constantly get reminded of my size and people's disgust with it.  It's affected me professionally, personally, and in every relationship I have.  Diets never worked for me.  Having a job where I walk a couple miles a day around a manufacturing campus has helped make me fit, but it hasn't helped me lose weight in four-plus years.

My blood pressure and blood sugar levels are fine as of my last checkup.  My heart rate is not horrible.  I don't smoke, don't do drugs, barely drink socially, and that's when on the rare occasion I'm in a social situation.

It's not fun.  It's been a problem all my life.  The rest of my family is in pretty good shape. I weigh more than any two of them put together, and inevitably I get how they are "concerned".

So am I, but there has to be a better approach.
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