National / International News
A flu strain deadly to chickens and turkeys is striking farms in the West and Midwest. This week, it hit an Iowa facility with millions of egg-laying hens. No one knows how it's entering houses.
Iowa is the top egg-producing state in the U.S. Unfortunately, the state found a flock of millions of hens infected with avian flu on Monday. The spread of this bird flu has accelerated concerns over how much the current outbreak will affect the U.S. egg and poultry industry. It’s said to be the worst case so far in a national outbreak.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the H5N2 bird flu virus was found at a farm in northwest Iowa's Osceola County. About 3.8 million hens will be euthanized there.
Although that is a very large number of birds, Ed Fryar, CEO of Ozark Mountain Poultry in Rogers, Arkansas, says it is actually a small number relative to the overall size of the flock that's in the U.S.
"The U.S will produce about nine billion brawlers this year," says Fryar. "It can be really tough on an individual farmer or an individual company, if you lose 10 or 20 or 50 million birds, but you’re still talking way less than one percent of the population."
Iowa was already among a list of states to have detected bird flu infections – killing over five million turkeys and chickens just this year.
A California appeals court ruling has complicated water conservation efforts in the state. This week the 4th District Court of Appeal ruled the city of San Juan Capistrano’s tiered water rates violated Prop 218, an amendment to the state constitution. Tiered water rates discourage water waste by charging customers more as their water consumption goes up. They’re a key tool in California’s campaign to save water. At least two-thirds of water providers in the state use some form of tiered pricing.
When California voters passed Prop 218 in the mid-'90s, they had no clue it might gum up efforts to conserve water in a severe drought. The idea then was to plug what anti-tax groups saw as loopholes in Prop 13, the granddaddy of all California propositions. That one limits property taxes. Prop 218 limits certain property-related fees, from trash collection to water service.
Ellen Hanak, director of the Water Policy Center at the Public Policy Institute of California, says under Prop 218, those fees cannot exceed the cost of the service.
“Anybody who hears that will think, yeah, that sounds right," she says. "Why should they be allowed to charge us more than the cost of the service they’re delivering?” She said the law provided more transparency to government fees and costs.
The court ruled San Juan Capistrano hadn’t shown that its higher rates for big water users were directly tied to the costs of delivering the water. Tim Quinn, executive director for the Association of California Water Agencies, says higher water rates are commonly used to force conservation, “not so much to cover cost of service.”
“If that tool is off the table," Quinn says. "I don’t know what they’re going to do. It’s a very powerful tool, and it’s not clear to me that you’ll have an easy substitute."
But Tom Ash, a water rates expert and senior environmental resource planner at Inland Empire Utilities Agency, emphasized that the California court didn’t invalidate conservation pricing. It simply clarified the rules. “I’m not afraid of any of those guidelines,” Ash says. “I think they help us set up transparent, equitable and very practical rates.”
Many California water agencies have had to hire water rate consultants to help them design tiered rates that stay within Prop 218 guidelines. “It’s a complex task and so it takes a complex, sophisticated rate design to do all of that – to be fair, yet recover the cost of service,” Ash says.
Brian Gray, a professor at UC Hastings College of Law, said Prop 218’s conflict with drought efforts may lead some groups in the state to try to pass yet another proposition that would “harmonize Prop 218 with the compelling water conservation needs that we have in the current drought.” It might authorize higher tiered water rates as penalties, rather than fees.
The first federal report card on our energy infrastructure is out today. It calls for more than $8 billion in power grid safety and upgrading.
The power grid is vulnerable in a couple of ways, the report says. One is increasingly unpredictable weather, and thus, blackouts. Every year, the average New Englander loses power for three and a half hours. The average person in Japan: four minutes.
Threat two is physical attacks on key pieces of the grid, like high-voltage transformers. Engineering professor Massoud Amin at the University of Minnesota calls these transformers "critical nodes" that change voltage at key junctions. They're indispensable — and they're barely made in America.
"Post 9-11, we did not have manufacturing capability to manufacture them," Amin says. "If they are taken out, the recovery time to actually build, deliver, retrofit and install it was somewhere between six months to two years."
Today's report proposes a strategic transformer reserve to stockpile extra for emergencies, like we have for crude oil.
Two years ago, one transformer site in California was attacked by snipers. "This was a well-trained group that had sophisticated weaponry, shooting at a very critical part of the power grid," says Peter Fox-Penner, principal of the Brattle Group consultancy and senior policy scholar at Georgetown University.
The lights stayed on, thanks to redundancies. "The real fear is that terrorists would target several transformers at once," Fox-Penner says, "really damage them so they couldn't be repaired."
One internal government analysis reportedly found that taking out nine key transformer sites could black out the entire country. Fox-Penner says eventually the grid may decentralize and become less vulnerable to hardware threats. But that would take a generation.
I think Amazon may have finally jumped the shark.
They've got a newish product called Home Services, which is kind of a catch-all for various and sundry things — television wall mounting, virus and spyware removal, plumbing and also, apparently, lawn care.
And not just any lawn care; they're offering a goat grazing service.
Straight from the goat's mouth: "You'll receive a recommendation for how many goats will be loaned to you, how long those goats will keep you company, and how often a pro will come check on them."
Also, you get to keep any goat poop.
Congress is turning its attention to trade this week. Specifically, whether to “fast track” trade agreements, like the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Under fast track, Congress can’t change trade deals. It just gets an up or down vote. But to leave politics aside for a moment, and focus on the economy, take yourself back to 1993. Michael Jordan scores his 20,000th career point. Whitney Houston tops the charts. And, at the end of the year, President Clinton signs NAFTA into law. The U.S. is king of the global economy.
“The world has changed so much from 1993,” says Susan Ariel Aaronson, research professor of international affairs at George Washington University. Aaronson says now, we live in more of a multi-polar world. “Brazil is the eighth-largest economy in the world," she says. "Russia’s economy, I believe, is shrinking. But it’s still very important.”
And then there’s China. It was just starting to stretch its economic legs in the early '90s. “They have increased, dramatically, their exports all around the world. So all eyes have been on China," says Kathryn Dominguez, a professor of economics and public policy at the University of Michigan.
Back on the homefront, "the U.S. share of the world economy has declined,” says Gary Hufbauer, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics and trade negotiator in the Carter administration.
Hufbauer says the U.S. share has fallen from 27 percent in the early '90s, to about 20 percent today. But Hufbauer says we still have a lot of bargaining power, because the U.S. is a huge consumer market. And other countries really want to sell their stuff here.
An effort is underway to figure out how the BP oil spill harmed the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem. The damage may not be as dire as feared, but researchers say it's too soon to know the long-term impacts.
When you’re a small business owner, the last thing you want is for people to copy your products. That’s exactly what happened to Dave Munson, CEO of Saddleback Leather, but instead of tracking down the knockoffs and suing the creators he made a YouTube video.
His step-by-step tongue-in-cheek video teaches people exactly how to make his bags. It lists every part of the process from choosing the leather to cutting the patterns to sewing the bag together.
“I thought, 'Hey why don’t we show people our quality,' and then we just dogged on the people who were knocking us off," Munson says. "It put doubt into people’s minds about whether or not they wanted to buy a knockoff…and it worked."
In Washington state, a friendly family rivalry is taking place at the Joint Base Lewis McChord as the National Guard and active Army lobby to protect their interests against deep budget cuts.
The Committee to Protect Journalists says Eritrea, North Korea, and Saudi Arabia are tops at silencing journalists.
More migrants are leaving from chaotic Libya in a bid to reach Europe. The overcrowded boats are at risk of sinking, and some do. A Syrian man tells of the treacherous journey with his young son.
A company has priced its test for mutations linked to breast and ovarian cancer at $249 — far less than the thousands of dollars another firm charges. But is there a downside for the worried well?