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Nov. 17 (Bloomberg) — Salmon, once a pricey delicacy, is now an affordable staple at supermarkets and sushi restaurants everywhere. For that, we can thank fish farms. They produce 70 percent of the salmon eaten by consumers, who savor its subtle texture and rich flavor. Medical researchers say the fatty acids in salmon might help prevent cancer and heart disease.

So it was troubling that researchers over the past few weeks may have found an infectious disease known as salmon anemia in wild fish in British Columbia. Lawmakers and fisheries managers in the U.S. and Canada see the illness as a threat to a $3 billion industry. Although Canadian officials said further tests seemed to be negative, the episode is a reminder of the need to make serious improvements in aquaculture practices.

The virus that causes the disease originated in the mid-1980s in Atlantic salmon fish farms in Norway and spread to Scotland, Canada, and the United States. Farms in Chile also were infected, probably via imported eggs.

A benign variant of the disorder existed in the wild, but it mutated in farms’ netted pens, where hundreds of thousands of fish can be held in water fouled by waste and unconsumed feed. Fish, much like domesticated animals on commercial farms, often are fed a diet laced with drugs to ward off bacteria, fungi, and parasites that can result from overcrowding.

There is no cure for salmon anemia. Once it strikes, a farm’s entire stock usually must be destroyed. Often the farm has to be shut. Humans aren’t affected.

Wiped Out

Just how much harm the disease caused to wild Atlantic salmon is hard to judge. Most of them had already been wiped out, long before the advent of aquaculture, by pollution, overfishing, and dams that cut off their river spawning grounds. Pacific salmon, though more abundant, face the same threats.

Senators from Washington, Oregon, and Alaska have taken the right step with a legislative amendment calling for a study of the possible impact the infection might have on the Northwest Pacific’s fishing industry. U.S. agencies, including the Department of Agriculture, along with Canadian and American Indian tribes, are developing plans to conduct more tests, trace the origin of the disease, and begin developing ways to combat it.

Fighting salmon anemia shouldn’t require banning fish farms. The industry is indispensable, because the demand for seafood is driving wild stocks to the point of collapse. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that Atlantic populations of cod, haddock, and flounder have declined by as much as 95 percent.

But reforms are needed. For one thing, governments should consider stricter guidelines on how many fish can be packed into netted pens. This would cut pollution and reduce the stress on fish that makes them susceptible to disease.

Farms also should be placed farther apart. One lesson from the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease among livestock in the U.K. a decade ago was that when farms are dispersed, contagion is reduced.

And as in most fights against infectious disease, cleanliness helps. Norway, where salmon anemia first appeared, reduced its incidence by as much as 90 percent by aggressively decontaminating the equipment that’s used to contain and transport fish, and by treating effluent from fish-processing plants.

Norway also established harvest insurance programs, which gave fish farms the incentive to quickly destroy infected fish. If private insurers in Canada won’t offer adequate coverage, government guarantees might be needed as a backstop.

Finally, some fish farms, particularly in British Columbia, should be relocated away from the migratory corridors of wild fish, so that any anemia outbreak that might occur there would be less likely to spread.

Better still would be an increased industry effort to explore moving fish farms inland, where it can be easier to isolate and control pathogens. This wouldn’t be cheap, but it might prevent much of the potential environmental harm to coastal areas from overly intensive aquaculture.

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The Arizona 2020 election "audit" under way

Screenshot from azaudit.org

As ongoing threats by Trump loyalists to subvert elections have dominated the political news, other Republicans in two key states—Florida and Arizona—are taking what could be important steps to provide voters with unprecedented evidence of who won their most close and controversial elections.

In both battleground states, in differing contexts, Republicans are lifting the curtain on the data sets and procedures that accompany key stages of vetting voters, certifying their ballots, and counting votes. Whether 2020’s election-denying partisans will pay attention to the factual baselines is another matter. But the election records and explanations of their use offer a forward-looking road map for confronting the falsehoods that undermine election results, administrators, and technologies.

In Republican-run Florida, the state is finalizing rules to recount votes by incorporating digital images of every paper ballot. The images, together with the paper ballots, create a searchable library to quickly tally votes and identify sloppily marked ballots. Questionable ballots could then be retrieved and examined in public by counting boards to resolve the voter’s intent.

“The technology is so promising that it would provide the hard evidence to individuals who want to find the truth,” said Ion Sancho, former supervisor of elections in Leon County, where Tallahassee is located, who was among those on a January 4 conference call workshop led by the Division of Elections seeking comments on the draft rule and procedures manual revisions.

Under the new recount process, a voter’s paper ballot would be immediately rescanned by an independent second counting system—separate from what each county uses to tally votes. The first digital file produced in that tabulation process, an image of every side of every ballot card, would then be analyzed by software that identifies sloppy ink marks as it counts votes. Several Florida counties pioneered this image-based analysis, a version of which is used by the state of Maryland to double-check its results before certifying its election winners.

“The fact that it has overcome opposition from the supervisors of elections is telling because the number one problem with the [elected county] supervisors is [acquiring and learning to use] new technology; it’s more work to do,” Sancho said. “The new technology doesn’t cost much in this case. Everyone has scanners in their offices already because every voter registration form by law must be scanned and sent to the Division of Elections.”

The appeal of using ballot images, apart from the administrative efficiencies of a searchable library of ballots and votes, is that the images allow non-technical people to “see” voters’ intent, which builds trust in the process and results, said Larry Moore, the founder and former CEO of the Clear Ballot Group, whose federally certified technology would be used in Florida recounts.

But Florida’s likely incorporation of ballot images into its recount procedures, while a step forward for transparency, is unfolding in a fraught context. In 2021, its GOP-majority state legislature passed election laws that are seen as winnowing voters and rolling back voting options. In other words, it may be offering more transparency at the finish line but is also limiting participation upstream.

The new recount rule is expected to be in place by this spring, months before Florida’s 2022 primaries and midterm elections. Among the issues to be worked out are when campaign and political party officials and the public would observe the new process, because the election administrators do not want partisans to intentionally disrupt the rescanning process. These concerns were raised by participants and observers on the teleconference.

The Arizona Template


In Arizona, Maricopa County issued a report on January 5, “Correcting the Record: Maricopa County’s In-Depth Analysis of the Senate Inquiry.” The report is its most substantive refutation of virtually all of the stolen election accusations put forth by Trump loyalists who spent months investigating the state's presidential election.

Beyond the references to the dozens of stolen election accusations put forth by pro-Trump contractors hired by the Arizona Senate’s Republicans, the report offered an unprecedented road map to understanding how elections are run by explaining the procedures and data sets involved at key stages.

The report explained how Maricopa County, the nation’s second biggest election jurisdiction (after Los Angeles County) with 2.6 million registered voters, verified that its voters and ballots were legal. It also explained key cybersecurity features, such as the correct—and incorrect—way to read computer logs that prove that its central vote-counting system was never compromised online, as Trump supporters had claimed in Arizona (and Michigan).

“I’ve never seen a single report putting all of this in one place,” said John Brakey, an Arizona-based election transparency activist, who has sued Maricopa County in the past and routinely files public records requests of election data. “Usually, it takes years to understand all this.”

Taken together, Florida’s expansion of recounts to include using digital ballot images, and Maricopa County’s compilation of the data and procedures to vet voters, ballots, and vote counts, reveal that there is more evidence than ever available to confirm and legitimize election participants and results.

For example, Maricopa County’s investigation found that of the 2,089,563 ballots cast in its 2020 general election, one batch of 50 ballots was counted twice, and that there were “37 instances where a voter may have unlawfully cast multiple ballots”—most likely a spouse’s ballot after the voter had died. Neither lapse affected any election result.

“We found fewer than 100 potentially questionable ballots cast out of 2.1 million,” the report said. “This is the very definition of exceptionally rare.”

When Maricopa County explained how it had accounted for all but 37 out of 2.1 million voters, it noted that the same data sets used to account for virtually every voter were also used by the political parties to get out the vote. Thus, the report’s discussion of these data sets—voter rolls and the list of people who voted—offered a template to debunk voter fraud allegations. This accusation has been a pillar of Trump’s false claims and is a longtime cliché among the far right.

It is significant that this methodology, indeed the full report, was produced under Maricopa County Recorder Stephen Richer, a conservative Republican who has repeatedly said that he had voted for Trump, and was fully endorsed by Maricopa County’s Board of Supervisors, which has a GOP majority and held a special hearing on January 5 to review the findings.

In other words, the report is not just a rebuttal for the Arizona Senate Republican conspiracy-laced post-2020 review. It is a road map for anyone who wants to know how modern elections are run and how to debunk disinformation, including conspiracy theories involving alleged hacking in cyberspace.

“There is not a single accurate claim contained in [Arizona Senate cybersecurity subcontractor] CyFIR’s analysis of Maricopa County’s tabulation equipment and EMS [election management system],” the reportsaid, referring to accusations that counts were altered. “This includes the allegation that county staff intentionally deleted election files and logs, which is not true.”

When you add to Maricopa County’s template the introduction of a second independent scan of every paper ballot in future Florida recounts, what emerges are concrete steps for verifying results coming from Republicans who understand how elections work and can be held accountable.

Of course, these evidence trails only matter if voters or political parties want to know the truth, as opposed to following an ex-president whose political revival is based on lying about elections. However, more moderate Republicans seem to be recognizing that Trump’s stolen election rhetoric is likely to erode their base’s turnout in 2022, as Trump keeps saying that their votes don’t matter.

“You’ve got Republican buy-in,” said Florida’s Sancho, speaking of his GOP-ruled state’s embrace of more transparent and detailed recounts. “And Republicans, more than anyone else, should be concerned about whether their votes were counted as cast and as the voter intended.”

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.

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Michael Carvajal

Photo by Tom Williams via Reuters

The search is on for a new director of the federal Bureau of Prisons after Michael Carvajal announced on January 5 that he’s retiring from his appointed post and will leave when the Department of Justice finds his replacement.

The Biden Administration needs to replace Carvajal with a person who knows prisons inside and out: someone who’s been incarcerated before.

When President Joe Biden announced his first round of cabinet picks just weeks after being elected in 2020, then Vice President-elect Kamala Harris said: “When Joe asked me to be his running mate, he told me about his commitment to making sure we selected a cabinet that looks like America – that reflects the very best of our nation.

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