please stop flushing wipes

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We’ve all read negative headlines about police responses to autistic children and teens. But today, in honor of World Autism Awareness Day, we’re refocusing our energy on a positive development in Michigan where state police will be participating in autism awareness training all month long. Called Action for Autism, the virtual training will help officers learn how to respond to calls involving persons with special needs. They will also be given “calming bags” for every patrol vehicle to provide support in stressful situations for someone with autism spectrum disorder.

CLOGGED

Please stop flushing wipes
Fri Mar 26

This week in misleading marketing, we’re turning to the various wipes people seem to love flushing. And who could blame us? Most wet wipes, from baby to sanitizing, come packaged with the words “flushable” right on them. This is not only far from true, but is tearing up sewer systems across America.

Unlike toilet paper, wipes don’t break down in water the same way, making them more likely to get stuck somewhere in our pipes and accumulate to the point where water and waste can no longer pass through.
  • In individual households, this can silently create a backup that can cause sewage to flow back into the home and cost anywhere from $250 to $10,000 to fix.
  • Meanwhile U.S. cities are seeing 50% more sewer backups, attributed to an increase in sanitizing wipe usage during the pandemic. Des Moines, Iowa, for example, has already spent over $100,000 to clear pipes 30 times in the past year.
  • That said, legislation is starting to make its rounds to tackle the issue. Last year, Washington became the first state requiring “Do Not Flush” logos on wipe packaging.
The buildup of all these wipes in our sewer systems are referred to as “fatbergs,” and are a growing concern all around the world, even pre-pandemic. The UK spends an estimated £100M clearing roughly 300,000 fatbergs every year. And in Japan, a “monster” fatberg was discovered in 2018, measuring 209 ft-long. This prompted Japan’s Bureau of Sewage to undertake major infrastructure improvement to their aging sewage pipes.
 

Some additional resources... 
→ For full coverage on the growing issue in the U.S., turn to Bloomberg and Business Insider.

 To learn about Washington’s legislation, which is influencing other states, head to NACWA.
 For more on London’s war with fatbergs, turn to BBC and Huffington Post.
 To learn about the monster fatberg, turn to the Japan Times

TAX SEASON

Surprise! Crafty tax evasions help the rich be richer
Wed Mar 31

The wealthiest 1% of Americans fail to report 21% of their income, which is estimated to cost $600 billion in uncollected revenue this year alone. If left unaddressed, this could increase to $1.7 trillion over the next decade (which is roughly half the projected federal deficit over that same stretch…)


How are the rich evading taxes (and potential criminal charges)? The new analysis of IRS data points to a multitude of likely factors.
  • First, sophisticated schemes by the wealthy. This includes using offshore tax havens or pass-through businesses — which is a tactic where income passes directly to the business owner’s individual tax returns rather than corporate.
  • Second, the IRS’s outdated detection technology. On top of only being able to catch a mere 7% of offshore accounts, nearly a third of the unreported revenue is through sophisticated schemes that random IRS audits fail to detect.
  • Third, a shift in who is even audited. Because of budget cuts and the high cost of auditing the complex tax returns of the wealthy, audit coverage is now heaviest in low-income, majority Black counties.
  • And finally, less focus on corporations. On top of corporations being granted giant tax cuts under the last presidency, only three of the largest 755 corporations were even audited in 2020.
Ultimately, the problem is a reflection of a macro issue: America’s complex tax code. Federal tax rules span almost 75,000 pages. Fully understanding the tax penalties or credits associated just with the Affordable Care Act requires over 100 pages of reading across three different reports. The wealthy have the benefit of hiring expert tax practitioners familiar with the extensive content involved across every federal regulation and tracking the many annual changes.

So what can be done? For now, push your legislators to take action. Two progressive lawmakers have introduced bills to boost the IRS budget for audits, with mandated audit levels for high-income individuals. Meanwhile on the corporate level, Biden recently announced a major infrastructure plan that includes increasing corporate taxes to not only make up for unaccounted losses over the past 15 years, but also help reduce the deficit moving forward.
 

Some additional resources... 
→ For more on the recent IRS analysis, turn to the Wall Street Journal or Salon.

 To dig deeper into the extensive mess that is the U.S. tax code, turn to Time.
→ For more on Biden’s latest announcement, turn to the Associated Press

FACTORY FARMING

Rural residents raising the stink against factory farms
Mon Mar 22

Old MacDonald had a farm, and on that farm were thousands of crammed pigs! Doesn’t have the same ring to it… and yet old American farms are being run off by the 450,000 CAFOs doing just that. These CAFOs, or Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, are intensive livestock operations that house over a thousand animals in a confined space to efficiently mass produce animal meat.

Now Missouri is caught in a debate over these factory farms, after a 1997 county ordinance regulating CAFO operations was overtaken by Senate Bill 391. This federal law not only has less stringent regulations for such farming, but essentially disallows local governments to enforce stricter rules. This (almost immediately) led to the approval of a new CAFO in a northwest county for the first time in over two decades. But nearby residents, including local farmers, oppose the new construction for a myriad of reasons:
  • Waste management. One large CAFO alone can produce more than a million tons of manure per year (more than the yearly waste of a large city). Failure to properly monitor and manage this waste could lead to dangerous contamination — which already happened in one Missouri river polluted by a hog CAFO, killing its fish.
  • Health concerns. The (very malodorous) air emissions from CAFOs not only affect the local community’s air, but can cause issues such as headaches, respiratory problems, eye irritation, nausea, and more.
  • Tax increases. CAFOs take a toll on community resources, such as road maintenance with frequent use by heavy truckloads of animals, their feed, or manure tanks. The financial burden for repairs falls on the taxpayers — and with little benefit to the community as CAFO revenue goes to a large corporation elsewhere, possibly even out of the country.
The EPA has historically struggled to influence change, with multiple lawsuits blocking them from even collecting more data on CAFOs. Meanwhile last year, a senate bill was introduced aimed at eliminating all CAFOs by 2040, though its current status is unclear.
 

Some additional resources...

 If you’re interested in getting involved, follow the “End Factory Farming” movement on Change.org.

For more on the CAFO debate in Missouri, turn to the Midwest Center or the Missourian
For more information on CAFOs through the lens of Iowans, turn to this other Midwest Center piece.
To learn about what last year’s Senate bill introduced, turn to AGDaily.
P.S. The pandemic has led to a boatload of additional issues related to factory farms, which you can explore in the Gazette.  

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ASCII ART OF THE WEEK

        _
        / \
    __/    \_
   /_  -  \  \                      ,:',:`,:'
  / / /     \ \                  __||_||_||_||___
 |    |     / |             ____[""""""""""""""""]___
 /   /     \   \            \ " '''''''''''''''''''' \
 ~~^~^~HZ~~^~^~^~~^~^~^~~jgs~^~^~^^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~~^~^~


Oh no, an iceberg!
Actually Captain, that’s a fatberg.
Well that’s gonna wipe us out.

Art Credit: Howard Zivotofsky

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