Archive for category Debate
What Happens When Fracking Hits the Suburbs
Residents of Gardendale, a suburb near the hub of the west Texas oil industry, face having up to 300 wells in their backyards.
January 2, 2013
Photo Credit: Pincasso/ Shutterstock.com
The corner of Goldenrod and Western streets, with its grid of modest homes, could be almost any suburb that went up in a hurry – except of course for the giant screeching oil rig tearing up the earth and making the pavement shudder underfoot.
Fracking, the technology that opened up America’s vast deposits of unconventional oil and gas, has moved beyond remote locations and landed at the front door, with oil operations now planned or under way in suburbs, mid-sized towns and large metropolitan areas.
Some cities have moved to limit fracking or ban it outright – even in the heart of oil and gas country. Tulsa, Oklahoma, which once billed itself as the oil capital of the world, banned fracking inside city limits. The authorities in Dallas last week blocked what would have been the first natural gas well in town. The town of Longmont, just outside Denver, meanwhile, is fighting off attempts by industry groups to overturn a fracking ban.
But Gardendale, a suburb of 1,500 people near the hub of the west Texas oil industry, exists in a legal and political environment in which there are seemingly few restrictions on fracking, even inside city limits. For residents here, fracking is part of daily life.
“You can hear it, you can smell it, and you are always breathing it. It’s just like being behind a car exhaust,” said Debbie Leverett, during a tour of the area last October organised by the Society of Environmental Journalists. “All of your senses change.”
Over the last few years oil companies have drilled 51 wells in Gardendale, an area that covers about 11 square miles – and that’s just the start.
Berry Petroleum, the main oil developer, plans to drill as many as 300 wells in Gardendale. “Berry’s current plan is to drill approximately 140 wells on 40-acre spacing in and around the Gardendale area,” Jeff Coyle, a company spokesman, wrote in an email. “Additionally, we are preparing to conduct a pilot study on 20-acre spacing and, if those test results are encouraging and economic conditions warrant, we may drill up to 160 additional wells.”
Some of those wells will be drilled within 150ft of residents’ front doors – far closer than in other towns in Texas.
In the nearby city of Midland, the oil industry hub and childhood home of George W Bush, the city council capped the number of wells inside city limits at 30. The town requires oil companies to stay 500ft away from buildings and homes. In some circumstances oil companies may be required to landscape around a well.
“People are still not really happy when an oil well turns up in the backyard,” said Wes Perry, Midland’s mayor and an oil man himself. But he added: “We are an oil town. We can’t be hypocrites.”
However, Gardendale lacks the legal authority to keep fracking at a distance. The suburb, just outside Midland and Odessa, is unincorporated, so it does not have the legal authority to impose zoning restrictions. Residents voted down an attempt to incorporate last year, fearing it would lead to higher taxes.
Berry argues the close proximity serves to encourage industry and residents to co-exist. “What we have here is a situation where we have to find the best way to work together, where mineral rights owners and surface rights owners can co-exist,” Coyle said.
But co-existence does not work for Shane Leverett, Debbie’s husband. Leverett has worked in the oil industry, but he said the drilling plan for Gardendale was excessive. “This is a fantastic opportunity for oil and gas development, but it is coming at the expense of all of us,” he said.
The couple are suing the oil company to try to block drilling on their 130 acres on the edge of town. The land is staked with bright plastic strips marking potential oil wells.
Current plans call for seven wells on the property. “They’re talking about a well every 600 feet and a pad every 300 feet,” Shane Leverett said. “Do the math. There’s not much room left over for us.”
The suit seeks to challenge a pillar of Texas law: that property owners have no control over the extraction of the oil that lies beneath their land, unless they also own mineral rights. The Leveretts only own the surface rights to their land. The mineral rights were sold off decades ago – a fact the Leveretts were aware of when they bought their property, but they did not think there was a real prospect of drilling at the time.
Fracking changed that, however, making it profitable to drill on the Leveretts’ land.
“This case is of historic importance,” said Steve Hershberger, the Leveretts’ lawyer. “Now that the oil companies have found oil and gas through fracking and horizontal drilling they are going into residential areas and urban areas. This case is going to define the relationship between mineral owners and surface owners in a big way.”
The oil company argues the Leveretts got what they paid for. “Essentially, each Gardendale surface owner bought his or her surface property (at a discounted price without the minerals) betting, wrongfully as it turned out, on the proposition that oil and gas development would not occur in the area,” Coyle said.
Other residents complain the oil company dictates what property owners can do above ground, even without definitive drilling plans.
Hector Rodriguez said he was barred from expanding his trailer home or putting in a bigger dog house on his six acres because the oil company insisted on protecting access.
“They told me they might not ever drill there, but they put the stake there just in case,” he said. “They told me I could not do anything there. I have no rights.”
Coyle said the company believes the Rodriguez property sits atop a potential oil well – although it is not currently scheduled for drilling.
Rodriguez, back at home, is unimpressed. “We’re just talking about a dog house,” he said. “I should be able to decide about that.”
- What Happens When Fracking Hits the Suburbs (alternet.org)
- When fracking came to suburban Texas (guardian.co.uk)
- When Fracking Came to Suburban Texas (readersupportednews.org)
- When fracking came to suburban Texas (politicalcrazyness.tumblr.com)
- Fracking Industry Coming to a Neighborhood Near You? (commondreams.org)
- When Fracking Came to Suburban Texas (climatedesk.org)
- Real life ‘Promised Land’: Fracking comes to suburban Texas (rawstory.com)
- When fracking came to suburban Texas (oddonion.com)
- Matt Damon’s Fracking Film Manages To Make No One Happy (fastcoexist.com)
- Is fracking a “happy solution” to our energy needs? (resilience.org)
As America Mourned a Shooting Tragedy, Cynical Christian Right Leaders Tried to Cash in by Blaming Atheism | Alternet
As America Mourned a Shooting Tragedy, Cynical Christian Right Leaders Tried to Cash in by Blaming Atheism
What kind of Christianity is that?
December 27, 2012
All that was needed to make the national tragedy of the killing of 20 children and 6 adults into an anti-God kick in Jesus’ teeth fest was for the usual suspects who hate Jesus to step up to defame His Name again. Of course I’m talking about the “Christian” leaders who can be counted on to drag the name of Christ through the mud at every profitable fundraising importunity. Christian leaders say that the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut was the result of our national falling away from fundamentalist Protestant gullibility.
The idiots — religious village idiots that is — are at it again. I thought Dobson was dead but I guess not. He’s just retired. He’s still alive enough to act like the zombie-for-Jesus’-younger-dumber-brother he is.(I went on his show 3 times back in the day when I too was part of the religious idiots club.) Bryan Fischer, the American Family Association hate host talk-show host, and Franklin-sell-my-soul-to-the-Mormos-because -I-hate-Obama-so-much-Graham (of course), the president and CEO of the tax-exempt Billy Graham Evangelistic Association was not to be outdone.
Dobson commented while speaking to listeners of his Dr. James Dobson’s Family Talk program: “I mean millions of people have decided that God doesn’t exist… And a lot of these things are happening around us, and somebody is going to get mad at me for saying what I am about to say right now, but I am going to give you my honest opinion: I think we have turned our back on the scripture and on God almighty and I think he has allowed [this Newtown massacre] judgment to fall upon us. I think that’s what’s going on.”
Bryan Fischer of the American family Association said the victims at Sandy Hook had lost God’s protection because prayer has been prohibited from schools. “The question is going to come up, where was God?,” Fischer said. “I thought God cared about the little children. God protects the little children. Where was God when all this went down. Here’s the bottom line, God is not going to go where he is not wanted… Now we have spent since 1962 — we’re 50 years into this now–we have spent 50 years telling God to get lost, telling God we do not want you in our schools, we don’t want to pray to you in our schools, we do not want to pray to your before football games, we don’t want to pray to you at graduations, we don’t want anybody talking about you in a graduation speech… In 1962 we kicked prayer out of the schools. In 1963 we kicked God’s word out of ours schools. In 1980 we kicked the Ten Commandments out of our schools. We’ve kicked God out of our public school system. And I think God would say to us, ‘Hey, I’ll be glad to protect your children, but you’ve got to invite me back into your world first. I’m not going to go where I’m not wanted. I am a gentlemen.”
Franklin Graham wrote a “response” to the Newtown Massacre and did not mention the word gun.
Graham said more or less blamed the mdia and president Obama in a round about way: “’The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.’ He continued: “In fact, the Bible gives clear testimony to just how evil the human race became. ‘The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord ‘was grieved in His heart’ (Gen. 6:5-6).”Where do we go from here? We might start by looking at what we watch and listen to.” Graham — who has called President Obama a Muslim and not Christian at times — then took a cheap shot saying: “For example, South Korean rapper sensation Psy, who has gained worldwide acclaim by singing that Americans should be killed ‘slowly and painfully,’ including, ‘daughters, mothers, daughters-in-law and fathers’ was featured last weekend at ‘Christmas in Washington,’ a charity concert attended by President Obama. Parents and children are feeding on entertainment that portrays violence whether through lewd television programs, violent movies, offensive music, vulgar video games and anything- goes Internet gaming sites.”
Then Old Paths Baptist Church Pastor Sam Morris (of Tennessee) said: “Why do you still send your kids to the governmental schools?” the pastor asked the congregation. “What’s behind this shooting that we saw on Dec. 14 in Newtown, Connecticut and the other one’s like it? What’s going on. Well, number one, deception… I got news for you, when you kicked God out of schools, you’re going to be judged for that. He added: “They think homeschoolers are a bunch of crazies, man. But I’m going to tell you something, I’ve never seen a police officer or a medal detector at a home school. Never. Amen. Now, there’s plenty of guns at my home school. Amen. I guarantee you we’re not going to have a mass shooting at any of the schools that are represented in this building today. I guarantee you, if there is a shooting, it won’t last very long. Amen. I guarantee you there’s at least six or seven guns in this place right now. Amen.“So, here you are, you’re an animal and you’re a god! So, what are we going to teach you about in school? Well, we can teach you about sex, we can teach you how to rebel to you parents, we can teach you how to be a homo!”
Who hates Jesus? It isn’t the so-called new atheists like Richard Dawkins. It’s the Christian leaders bent on taking Christianity down with them into their private hell of stupidity. With friends like these Jesus needs no enemies. The re-crucifixion of Jesus by his “followers” continues.
- As America Mourned a Shooting Tragedy, Cynical Christian Right Leaders Tried to Cash in by Blaming Atheism (charlog.me)
- As America Mourned a Shooting Tragedy, Cynical Christian Right Leaders Tried to Cash in by Blaming Atheism (alternet.org)
- Christian right blames atheists for Sandy Hook shootings (salon.com)
- Men of God Blame Lanza’s Invisible Atheism, Crow About Being Action Movie Heroes (rawstory.com)
- Six Questions for Christians Following the Newtown Massacre (patheos.com)
- James Dobson and Co Blame Shooting on Gays and Lack of God (advocate.com)
- Conservative icon James Dobson links Newtown shooting to same sex marriage (rawstory.com)
- Speaking from the Heart about Newtown (allenkleinedeters.wordpress.com)
- 6 Terrible Things Gays Blamed For Causing In 2012 (huffingtonpost.com)
- In the Wake of Sandy Hook Tragedy, Political Posturing by Religious Right Unhelpful (charlieray45.wordpress.com)
Cutting Defense Won’t Fix the Budget
Steven P. Bucci is the senior research fellow for defense and homeland security at the Heritage Foundation.
AUGUST 29, 2012
The question is not nearly so binary. I agree completely that we must cut the deficit and the national debt; frankly, I do not know anyone who thinks otherwise. That said, the idea that you can “get” the funds needed to remedy the problem from the defense budget does not make any sense. America has tried to reap a “peace dividend” several times in the past. The desire to stop spending on security and start spending on domestic programs is natural, understandable and unfortunately ill advised. It is more so when we haven’t yet achieved peace. The threat landscape is actually worse today than it was on Sept. 11, 2001.
If our leaders move money from the Defense Department to expand, or at least maintain, domestic entitlements, we end up hollowing out the military, making us ill prepared for the next national security challenge. But we don’t end up fixing the economy. Many Americans might accept the added risk of a diminished military, if it would solve the economic woes. But to accept such risks without fixing the economy is just foolish policy.
The desire to stop spending on security and start spending on domestic programs is natural, understandable and unfortunately ill advised.
There are strong arguments that cutting defense right now will actually hurt the economy by damaging one of the sectors that is actually producing economic benefits. Defense spending should never be considered a “jobs program,” but employment is one of its side effects. Deep cuts would cause profound damage to the defense industrial base, and remember: that means not only defense behemoths, but also hundreds of small and midsize subcontractors.
The bottom line is that today there is a need to fix the deficit problem, but the reflexive response of “take it from defense” is the wrong answer. There are other ways to generate additional savings. We just don’t want to accept them.
- Cuts in military spending would hit home in Erie County (goerie.com)
- Heritage Foundation “Cut Government Spending” Goal Gains Ground (heritage.org)
- Defense Hawks vs. Budget Hawks at the RNC (reason.com)
- Business Fears the Fiscal Cliff – NYTimes.com (mbcalyn.com)
- Paul Ryan’s Fairy-Tale Budget Plan – NYTimes.com (mbcalyn.com)
- A Smarter Way to Trim the Pentagon Budget (nation.time.com)
- Cuts in defense spending would hit home in Erie County (goerie.com)
- Romney, Republicans Demonstrate Hypocrisy In Opposition To Sequestration Cuts (outsidethebeltway.com)
- The Romney-Ryan Plan for America – NYTimes.com (mbcalyn.com)
- Senator Rand Paul to RNC Crowd: Audit the Pentagon (redalertpolitics.com)
We Need Growth, and Growth Requires Reform
Erskine Bowles was the co-chairman of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform.
AUGUST 29, 2012
Getting our economy growing is our most pressing economic problem. But there can be no sustainable economic growth as long as we face America’s enormous debt overhang. If we don’t put our nation’s fiscal house in order, we face the most predictable economic crisis in history.
Solving this economic crisis the right way means avoiding the large, immediate, indiscriminate cuts and tax increases that are on the horizon, from the “sequestration” deal.
We should be careful not to cut too deep too soon. But failing to deal with the debt is the real risk we just plain can’t afford.
One of the key principles set out by the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, which I co-chaired with former Senator Alan Simpson, was that a debt-reduction plan must be phased in gradually so as not to disrupt a very fragile economic recovery.
Our commission’s plan would reduce the deficit by more than $4 trillion over the next decade, but would do so in a way that encourages, rather than hinders, economic growth and stability.
The real short-term risk to the economy isn’t a carefully thought-out deficit reduction plan, but the mindless spending cuts and tax increases — known as the “fiscal cliff” — that are scheduled to go into effect at the beginning of next year.
Allowing those deep and abrupt measures to occur would put us into a double-dip recession. At the same time, continuing on our current path by punting these measures would send a dangerous message to the markets that America is not willing or able to deal with our debt.
The only responsible course of action is to replace the fiscal cliff with a gradual and thoughtful plan to save at least $4 trillion over the next decade and put the deficit on a clear downward path relative to the economy.
Such a plan can lay the foundation for sustained economic growth through a combination of debt reduction, comprehensive tax reform, and maintenance of important investments in education, infrastructure, and high-value research and development.
We should be careful not to cut too deep too soon. But failing to deal with the debt is the real risk we just plain can’t afford.
- Jack Mintz: U.S. Worse Than Europe! (socioecohistory.wordpress.com)
- What Paul Ryan has Learned in Congress (conservativeread.com)
- Paul Ryan’s Speech: Too Much Debt, Not Enough Growth (kudlowsmoneypolitics.blogspot.com)
- SocGen: Italy Looks ‘Perilously Close’ To Getting Shut Out Of The Bond Markets (businessinsider.com)
- US Budget Experts: Debt Reduction Requires Action, Not Talk (forexlive.com)
- Are Romney and Ryan throwing away the tax issue? (aei-ideas.org)
- Borrowing figures prompt co-ordinated growth push across Whitehall (guardian.co.uk)
- Exclusive: Osborne’s supporters turn on him (newstatesman.com)
- EconoMeter takes pulse of VP choice Ryan’s budget (utsandiego.com)
- Dems ask debate organizers to disallow questions about Obama’s deficit commission (michellemalkin.com)
Domestic Cuts Can’t Close the Gap
AUGUST 29, 2012
There is widespread agreement our nation is on an unsustainable fiscal path. The Bipartisan Policy Center has found that if we maintain the status quo of current spending and historically low tax rates, by 2027 our nation’s debt will breach 100 percent of gross domestic product. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office predicts that if we do nothing before the end of 2012 and drive off the “fiscal cliff” — allowing the sequester’s across-the-board cuts to take effect and tax cuts to expire — our nation will fall back into recession.
Between these extremes, there lies a solution. Several bipartisan groups of experts (like the Simpson-Bowles commission and the Domenici-Rivlin task force) have recommended that we reduce the deficit by $4 trillion over the next decade through a “balanced approach” that addresses both sides of the deficit equation: increasing revenue through tax reform and cutting what we spend on discretionary and mandatory programs, including entitlements.
The deficit proposals to date have focused on discretionary cuts alone, which are not the underlying drivers of the debt. Tax and entitlement reform must be on the table.
Yet all deficit reduction efforts to date have focused on discretionary cuts alone, which are not the underlying drivers of the debt. The bipartisan Budget Control Act, signed by President Obama last summer, created spending caps that would cut these programs — defense, education, medical and scientific research, public health, public safety and security, roads and bridges, weather monitoring, etc. — by $1 trillion over 10 years. If sequestration takes effect as scheduled next January, these programs will face additional cuts of more than $800 billion.
Whether they realize it or not, every American will feel these cuts. They may be left waiting longer for help after a natural disaster like Hurricane Isaac. They may be more susceptible to deadly infectious diseases, like the West Nile outbreak in Texas. They may experience longer wait times for health care professionals in their community. They may wait longer for cures to debilitating diseases like cancer and Alzheimer’s. And this is just the impact on public health. With fewer air traffic controllers, flights may be curtailed. Classroom size may increase as teachers are laid off. National parks will have fewer visitor hours. Roads and bridges might not be repaired as quickly. Gang violence and other illicit activity may increase with fewer police officers on the streets.
Discretionary cuts alone cannot balance the budget. Members of Congress know what they need to do. They just haven’t yet mustered the political will to make the tough decisions. Congress and the president must work together to achieve a balanced approach to deficit reduction where everything, including tax and entitlement reform, is on the table. Only through balance can we avoid sequestration, sustain economic recovery and put our nation on a sustainable fiscal path.
- Paul Ryan’s Speech, Factually and Intellectually Dishonest – NYTimes.com (mbcalyn.com)
- The Romney-Ryan Plan for America – NYTimes.com (mbcalyn.com)
- Partisan Finger-Pointing Misses Real Deficit Story: BGOV Insight – Bloomberg (bloomberg.com)
- Blink! US Debt Just Grew by $11 Trillion – Bloomberg (bloomberg.com)
- Fact Checking Paul Ryan’s Convention Speech – NYTimes.com (lynchatlarge.wordpress.com)
- Doctor Shortage May Swell to 130000 With U.S. Cap – Bloomberg (bloomberg.com)
- The Real National Debt Is $222 Trillion (theburningplatform.com)
- Business Fears the Fiscal Cliff – NYTimes.com (mbcalyn.com)
- A Full Fact-Check of Niall Ferguson’s Very Bad Argument Against Obama (theatlantic.com)
- How Congress Helped Cause the Doctor Shortage (reason.com)
Voters Are More Worried About Their Own Budgets
UPDATED AUGUST 30, 2012, 11:06 AM
After spending a year trying (and failing) to convince voters that President Obama is to blame for our economic problems, Mitt Romney is trying a new approach: he wants the federal budget deficit to be the deciding issue this fall. The Republicans have a steep hill to climb. Yes, voters are concerned about the federal deficit. But they are far more focused on the deficit in their own household budgets than the one at the Treasury.
The last few years have been tough on Americans. The unemployment rate hovers around 8 percent, and economic growth hasn’t picked up to the satisfaction of most voters. The most recent Quinnipiac/New York Times/CBS survey, focusing on Florida, Ohio and Wisconsin from Aug. 15 to 21, shows the economy is the most important issue in the election. The budget deficit was fifth.
If Mitt Romney really wants to show some leadership, he should propose a plan to create jobs now and fix the deficit later.
Issues are important, but most presidential campaigns are more about leadership and trust, and Romney is running up a big trust deficit of his own. In the swing state polls, a majority of voters say Obama cares about the needs and problems of people like them, and about half the voters say Romney does not care. It will be hard for Romney to win the White House if voters don’t think he is on their side.
Every bipartisan group to devise a plan to fix the deficit, including the Simpson-Bowles commission, has advocated a similar formula: cut spending and raise taxes, but only in ways that allow for increased economic growth. Romney only wants to cut spending, which will hinder growth and lower job creation in the near term. Meanwhile more than 60 percent of voters in each of the swing states say we should raise taxes before cutting Medicare significantly — just the sort of cuts that would be key to the Romney-Ryan plan.
If Mitt Romney really wants to close the trust gap and show some leadership, he should propose a plan to create jobs now and fix the deficit later. He could start with closing tax loopholes for his wealthy friends. That might convince some voters that he is really on their side.
- Medicare Rises as Prime Election Issue – NYTimes.com (mbcalyn.com)
- The Romney-Ryan Plan for America – NYTimes.com (mbcalyn.com)
- It’s Becoming Clear That Mitt Romney Has Radically Changed His Plan For Taxes And The Deficit (businessinsider.com)
- Gallup: Voters don’t share Obama’s class-warfare priorities (hotair.com)
- Mitt Romney’s pick of Paul Ryan not altering race, poll shows (newsday.com)
- Mitt Romney fails to get significant boost from Paul Ryan selection (guardian.co.uk)
- Polls Say Medicare Is Key Issue in 3 Swing States (nytimes.com)
- Karl Rove Assures Us that Romney Will Grow on Us (newshounds.us)
- Mitt Romney makes his case: ‘Need jobs, lots of jobs’ (pennlive.com)
- Austerity does not bring Prosperity!!! much less Austerity for the 99% so that 1% prosper The RomneyRyan ticket Tax Cuts for Me, Austerity For You! (mahilena.typepad.com)
8/25/12 12:18 PM EDT
In an interview with the AP, President Obama argues that voters don’t view Mitt Romney as a person with solutions to offer on the economy, and points to the debates in October as his best chance of putting Romney on the spot:
Obama appeared intent on countering Romney ahead of the convention. In doing so, the president depicted his opponent as having accumulated ideas far outside the mainstream with no room to turn back. …
Obama expressed confidence that even voters whose lives have not improved during his term will stick with him as they assess the two candidates.
“If they saw Gov. Romney offering serious proposals that offered some sort of concrete ways in which middle-class families would be helped, then I could understand them thinking about that choice,” Obama said. “But that’s not what’s happening.”
The moment that could finally shake up a close race could come in the three debates Obama and Romney hold in October. The president said Romney could run into trouble because of arguments that are not backed up by facts, citing a widely debunked television ad campaign in which Romney accuses Obama of gutting the work requirement in the federal welfare law.
“It will be a little tougher to defend face-to-face,” Obama said.
It’s notable that Obama acknowledges so freely that the election will turn on whether voters who are dissatisfied with the country’s economic performance under his leadership view Romney as a viable alternative. Also interesting is the degree to which Obama’s impressions of the race — or at least, the ones he’s sharing — line up with the impressions of anxious Republicans, who worry that Romney has not defined himself as a credible alternative to the incumbent and that he may struggle to avoid looking prickly and defensive in debates.
- Rachel Maddow Says Politico Is ‘Effectively’ The Romney Campaign’s ‘Campaign Newsletter’ (mediaite.com)
- Obama: Romney will impose ‘extreme positions’ on US if he wins election (guardian.co.uk)
- Univision asks Obama, Mitt to debate (politico.com)
- Obama: Romney has taken ‘extreme positions’ (thegrio.com)
- Obama Should Be Careful With His Disdain for Romney (theatlanticwire.com)
- Former Bush Aide On Ryan Pick: Romney Will ‘Probably Lose, Maybe Big’ (mediaite.com)
- No Paul revolution at convention (politico.com)
- POLITICO e-book: Obama campaign fraught with tension (politico.com)
- President Obama campaign denounces Mitt Romney’s birther joke (boston.com)
- CNN Poll: Obama 49%-Romney 47% among likely voters (politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com)
Do Antibiotics Make Us Fat?
by Kai Kupferschmidt on 22 August 2012
Fattening for the feast. Farmers use antibiotics to make turkeys grow bigger. Now, scientists are suggesting something similar could be happening to babies treated with antibiotics.
Farmers have long used antibiotics to make cows, pigs, and turkeys gain weight faster. Now, scientists claim that receiving antibiotics early in life may also make children grow fat. The researchers believe the drugs change the composition of the bacterial population in the gut in a crucial developmental stage that may have a long-lasting impact.
Other scientists are casting doubt on the conclusions, however. The new data are “not convincing,” says Michael Blaut, a microbiologist at the German Institute of Human Nutrition in Potsdam, Germany. And David Relman, a microbiologist at the Stanford University School of Medicine in Palo Alto, California, calls the work “provocative” but says some of the data are “a bit vague and unclear.”
Billions of microbial cells live in the guts of humans and other animals. Research on these vast bacterial populations, called microbiomes, is just getting started, but scientists already know that some microbial boarders play a crucial role in breaking down nutrients in our diet. Some have also suspected that low-dose antibiotics, given to farm animals to make them grow bigger, could work by altering the gut microbiome.
To test this hypothesis, a team led by microbiologist Martin Blaser of the New York University School of Medicine in New York City added antibiotics to the drinking water of mice that had just been weaned. The medicine—either penicillin, vancomycin, a combination of the two, or chlortetracycline—was given at doses comparable to those approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as growth promoters in farm animals. After 7 weeks, the group of mice on antibiotics had significantly more fat than a control group drinking plain water, the team reports online today in Nature. “This confirms what farmers have shown for 60 years, that low-dose antibiotics cause their animals to grow bigger,” Blaser says.
If the findings of the study are replicated in other animal models, such as pigs, they could have considerable implications for public health, says Oluf Pedersen, professor of genomic medicine at the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Basic Metabolic Research at the University of Copenhagen.
Antibiotics did not reduce the overall number of microbes in the animals’ guts, but it shifted their composition. DNA comparisons showed that mice treated with antibiotics had a higher proportion of bacteria belonging to the group Firmicutes than control animals. Firmicutes might be able to extract more calories from food and deliver them to the host, Blaser argues. The results are relevant to humans as well, he says. Another paper Blaser co-authored, published online in the International Journal of Obesity yesterday, reports a link between antibiotic use in infants and obesity in childhood.
The researchers looked at data collected from more than 11,000 children born in Avon, U.K., in 1991 and 1992. Those who had been treated with antibiotics in the first 6 months of their lives had a higher chance of being overweight at 10, 20, and 38 months of age. “It is an association, and that does not mean causation,” says Leonardo Trasande, the paper’s first author. “But coupled with the Nature paper, it begins to tell a convincing story.”
Blaser argues that his work shows that antibiotic use in babies has an unappreciated cost. And while they’re sometimes necessary, antibotics are often used willy-nilly, he says.
But others say caution is in order. In the human study, the differences in weight were small, and there was no correlation between antibiotic use in the first 6 months and weight at 7 years, the last time information was collected on the children. And there are many reasons why the mice experiments should not be extrapolated to humans and children, Relman says. The study was done with just one inbred line of mice. Seven weeks is a long time in mice, which mature quickly and live to be only 2 or 3 years old, he says. “We never give antibiotics to children continuously from the time they wean to the time they reach sexual maturity.”
Also, the differences in fat mass between antibiotic-fed mice and controls are small, Blaut says. And Relman points out that while they became fatter, the mice’s overall weight did not increase, as happens in farm animals. “Although one doesn’t expect antibiotics to work the same in all species and under all circumstances, it does seem curious that there was this one effect and not the weight gain,” Relman writes in an e-mail.
Finally, Relman cautions that the composition of the mouse microbiome was measured only at the end of the experiment. “This means that we don’t know whether the microbiome changes were the cause of, the result of, or unrelated to the mouse fat content change,” he says. Blaser calls that a valid criticism, but adds that he has begun to address this. “We have shown in further experiments that have not been published yet that transferring the microbiome also transfers the obesity from one mouse to the next.”
- Do Antibiotics Make Us Fat? (news.sciencemag.org)
- Antibiotics linked to fat buildup (sciencenews.org)
- Livestock fattening antibiotics ‘could have contributed to human obesity’ (sott.net)
- New Study Accuses Antibiotics of Boosting Civilization’s Fatness Problem (motherboard.vice.com)
- Antibiotic use in infants before 6 months associated with being overweight in childhood (engineeringevil.com)
- Do Antibiotics Contribute To Obesity? (science.slashdot.org)
- Childhood Obesity Linked With Antibiotic Use In Infants Under 6 Months Old (medicalnewstoday.com)
- Antibiotic Use in Infants Tied to Overweight Later: Study (news.health.com)
- Giving babies antibiotics could lead to obesity – study (vanguardngr.com)
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Education and Training Has Not Kept Pace
UPDATED JULY 10, 2012, 11:12 AM
Even at the peak of economic prosperity, there were indications of a gap between the skills demanded by employers and the skills possessed by U.S. workers. The 2007 National Academy of Sciences report, “Rising Above the Gathering Storm,” warned that unless the U.S. addressed the shortfall of workers with the math and science background increasingly required for high-tech jobs, it would lose its competitive advantage in science- and technology-based activities.
Employers, like all good shoppers, know that in a down economy they can look for bargains. But this isn’t evidence of a widening skills gap.
The skills gap originated with the tectonic change in the economy that began in the 1970s: increased offshore competition for traditional manufacturing jobs and technological innovations that changed the content of remaining jobs. The comparative advantage of the United States in global markets shifted to knowledge-based, science and technology intensive activities, but our education and training infrastructure did not keep pace with the needs of these industries. And we are not just talking about a need for more Ph.D. scientists and engineers. Some jobs in high demand, like computer support specialists and civil engineering technicians, may require no more than an associate’s degree or other technical certifications.
Employers do appear to be using the slack labor market to upgrade the skills of their work forces. A recent National Bureau of Economic Research working paper finds that employers are not recruiting as intensively as before the recession and are slower to fill openings. Any good shopper would do the same in a down economy: look for bargains — high quality at a low price. This is not evidence that the skills gap has widened.
The slack economy offers an opportunity to upgrade the skills of unemployed workers as well. An education and training program is less costly when the time spent in the classroom is not a foregone hourly wage. Increased public funding for student loans, training vouchers and community college programs might make this skills upgrade financially feasible for the individual worker and would strengthen the foundation for long-term economic growth.
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- Government and Industry Must Invest – Room for Debate – NYTimes.com (mbcalyn.com)
- Op-Ed Columnist: Filling the Skills Gap (nytimes.com)
- Gaps In Your Resume – Here’s 7 Ways to Explain Them (robertsonreader.com)
- Report: Iowa needs ‘middle-skills’ workers (thegazette.com)
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- Open Education for a Global Economy (opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com)
- Community colleges help fill education gap (thegazette.com)
- Why Bad Jobs-or No Jobs-Happen to Good Workers – IEEE Spectrum (mbcalyn.com)
- The MedZilla.com Employment Report for July 2012: Bridging the Gap between Job Creators and the Perfect Candidate (prweb.com)
- How the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center is addressing the manufacturing skills gap (virginiabusiness.com)