Monday, December 31, 2007

Nuclear is Not an Option

Now that the Regime has finally stopped denying the reality of global warming, the debate in Washington is shifting to doing something about the problem. Congress made a modest start by passing the first increase in vehicle fuel economy standards in 30 years in response to great public pressure to do something. However, the Regime is still willing to fight tooth and nail to prevent more aggressive actions such as endorsing the Kyoto Accord's mandatory carbon caps or allowing California to blaze the trail toward even tougher greenhouse gas emission standards for automobiles.

That is the Regime's position unless there is a buck to be made on alleged solutions to the climate crisis. The nuclear power lobby and it's political handmaidens are resurrecting the myth that nuclear energy is both clean and inexpensive. Neither is true. Nuclear power was sold to the American public in the sixties as a method of producing electricity that was "too cheap to meter". Experience with nuclear power generation over four decades has demonstrated that when all relevant costs--including decommissioning--are considered, it is the most expensive way to produce electricity. Nuclear power generation is only marginally less expensive than burning coal (see chart) if you consider only operating and fuel costs. The fact that no new nuclear power facilities have been built recently is testament enough to the huge capital cost of building complex pressurized water reactors. Public safety has always been a secondary consideration to the nuclear power business. The last nuclear power plant to be built, Watts Bar-1, went on line in 1996 and took twenty four years to complete. Portland General Electric demolished it's defunct Trojan Nuclear Plant's cooling tower in 2006. The plant had been idle since 1993 when it's steam turbines developed problems too expensive to fix. Many environmentalists in the Northwest hailed the spectacle as the symbolic end of a misguided era of environmental abuse and energy extravagance.

But the energy industry does not think that. They see the public's demand to reduce our greenhouse emissions as an opportunity to resell nuclear power. There is still no viable solution to the huge problem of safe disposal of high level radioactive fuel wastes. The Yucca Mountain facility was built by the federal government to be the national repository for nuclear fuel wastes, but it is mired in NIMBY law suits and scientific doubts that the underground depository can safely store dangerously radioactive materials for half a millennium without leaking. For now the national collection of spent fuel rods slowly grows submerged in on-site holding tanks awaiting a permanent storage solution. Until the nuclear fuel cycle can be contained in an environmentally benign manner, nuclear power generation cannot be considered clean or very safe.

Why the power industry continues to push nuclear power despite these negative externalities is probably explained by a relatively simple calculation. Regulated utilities collect revenues based on the size of their rate base or the total cost of infrastructure used to produce energy for it's customers. Building a nuclear plant that costs billions instead of a wind turbine farm, a geothermal facility or even a coal burning plant with CO2 capture technology that costs only millions increases a utility's rate base proportionately and makes it easier to justify increasing electrical rates for customers before public utility commissions. Real green energy generation such as solar, wind, biomass, and geothermal account for less than 3% of the US power capacity. Nuclear power plants are owned by increasingly fewer companies. It does not take a rocket scientist to know that a diversified power portfolio would be good for America, but that goal is not necessarily good for the corporate bottom line.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

A Boyhood Dream Realized

Ecuador's President, Rafael Correa, recently appointed a former World Wildlife Fund director, Eliecer Cruz, governor of the endangered islands. Cruz grew up in the Galapagos with the dream of doing something to protect the unique islands and their endangered wildlife. After receiving degrees in biology and conservation on the mainland, Cruz returned to the islands to work for WWF and to serve as director of the National Park for eight years. Cruz faces a tremendous challenge in protecting the archipelago from the impacts of a burgeoning tourist industry and the illegal immigration the industry attracts. A start would be fixing the municipal sewer problem in Santa Cruz.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Le Shorter: Silent Night, Night of Rage

"Ain't that America? Its something to see. Little pink houses for you and me."

'Toontime: Bad Santa

[cartoon credit: Jeff Danziger, NYT]

Tuesday, December 25, 2007


Monday, December 24, 2007

Running Out the Clock

On Wednesday the Regime announced that it was denying California's request for a waiver under the Clean Air Act so it could begin enforcing a tougher tail pipe emissions standard. Seventeen states have announced they are willing to follow California's lead and enforce more stringent air quality standards. The announcement was not a surprise since the Regime has faithfully dedicated itself to delaying or obstructing any further regulation of the products of the oil and automobile industries. California, as the state with the most automobiles on the road and the worse smog problem, began mandating standards for new autos over 40 years ago. When the federal Clean Air Act was adopted in 1970 California was specifically granted an exemption to enforce higher standards to force development of better technology, and in recognition of the severe air quality problems in the Los Angeles Basin. In 1977 the exemption was extended to other states who wanted to adopt rules that were as strict as California's. The exemptions were generally viewed as beneficial since they gave auto makers an opportunity for experimentation while sparing them a potentially conflicting maze of fifty state regulatory schemes. Over the years California has requested and received fifty waivers under Clean Air Act Section 209.

In 2004 California requested a waiver to enforce air standards requiring an improvement of 30% by 2016 in greenhouse gas emissions. These standards would require fuel economies far in excess of those recently signed into law. The EPA dodged the request for three years by claiming it did not have authority to regulate carbon dioxide emissions because it was not specifically named as a pollutant under the 1970 law. The Supreme Court court flattened that argument in April, ruling that the Clean Air Act extends to greenhouse gases causing global warming. The auto makers immediately moved into lobbying mode, seeking regulations or legislation preventing the EPA from granting a waiver to California, its biggest state market. The result of their effort was the denial of a 209 waiver, the first in the history of the Clean Air Act.

The Regime's rationale for the denial is simply put, ludicrous. It claims that because global warming is, well a global problem, Section 2o9 does not apply because it says EPA should not grant a waiver unless it is needed "to meet compelling and extraordinary conditions." Let me repeat that in case your hearing stopped at the end of that sentence. The Regime says that since the heating of the planet caused by auto emissions, and other sources of heat trapping gases, is not unique to California, a waiver is inappropriate. Classic doublethink. EPA Administrator Steve Johnson said on Wednesday, "Previous waiver petitions covered pollutants predominately impacted local and regional air quality. These gases contribute climate change affecting every state in the union." One can only shake their head in amazement.

Governor Schwarzenegger announced that his state would sue EPA to gain the right to impose stricter standards for greenhouse gas emissions. Other states, such as Oregon, will join in the suit. Chances are good that California will receive a waiver. Not only does the language of the statute support it's petition, but also the legislative history of the Act shows that it was intended to address air quality problems in the nation regardless of local conditions. Congress extended the waiver provision to all states wanting to adopt stricter air quality standards but do not have as many vehicles on their roads or the topographic factors contributing to smog. But law suits take time to decide, so the Regime has at least bought it's corporate patrons another two years. If California and seventeen other states were able to adopt the proposed standards now, it would mean a tougher than federal standard covering half the cars on the market. That is the reason automakers are opposed to granting a waiver. As it stands now the Decider will be cutting brush in a hotter Texas by the time the new, necessary standards are ever imposed on an uncooperative industry.

Friday, December 21, 2007


Back already?

'Toontime: Uncle Sam Goes Hunting

[cartoon credit: Tom Toles, Washington Post]

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Street of Broken Dreams: Subprime Minefield

Update: Another government rescue operation of the private banking system has begun with the Fed offering $20 billion in low interest loans to banks who otherwise cannot get enough credit. Ninety three banks bid over $60 billion for the loans. Future loan auctions are planned in order to ease the liquidity crisis caused by billions in bad mortgage loans. One man's free market is another man's socialism.

If Paul Krugman says it, I tend to believe it. Or rather I would believe an economist and columnist at the New York Times before the current occupant of the bunker. He says the economy is safe and sound. Krugman says that the reason the market has not responded to the infusion of cheap money by the Fed--two rate cuts since August--is that investors are playing Texas Hold'em. Normally the market lives or dies on margin and a reduction in the discount rate is Viagra(R) to speculators. The Fed, as I pointed out before, did the same trick when Russia defaulted back in 1998. The influx of cash helped steady the market during the temporary liquidity crisis caused by Long Term Capital Management going belly up. Its different this time. A lot of nonbank financial institutions have made a lot of loans that are going to go bad and everyone is waiting for the mines to go off. Adjustable mortgages are ratcheting up, and housing prices are subsiding after the thrill of the real estate bubble in mid decade is gone. This is why liquidity has dried up.

The Mortgage Bankers Association reported in March that 13% of subprime borrowers were behind on their payments. Some 30 of America's subprime lenders have closed their doors. Fourteen million mortgagors will end up with negative equity if home prices fall twenty percent according to one estimate. And that figures out to a lot of losses for financial institutions. Even a Swiss bank, USB, has been hit by the crisis, and 'Fedspan' is calling for borrower bail outs. Bank losses in the range of 100 to 200 billion would seriously curtail lending behavior. Goldman Sachs economist Jan Hatzius says his "back-of-the-envelope calculation" now suggests "losses of around 400 billion dollars" for global banks and investors. That is much bigger than the S&L collapse. The sub prime disaster is affecting market sectors normally not associated with real estate lending. Which may explain why my tax advantaged municipal bond is going backwards. When long term interest rates fall as they are now, long term bond prices are supposed to go up, not down. Buddy, can you spare a loan?

For the Record

"Top officials in the Administration dealt with FISA the way they dealt with other laws they didn't like: they blew through them in secret based on flimsy legal opinions that they guarded closely so no one could question the legal basis of the operations." --Jack Goldsmith, Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel, 2003-04

"I think it's more than an inference at this point, which is one of the reasons there's a call for a special prosecutor. There are at least six identifiable crimes here, from obstruction of justice to obstruction of Congress, perjury, conspiracy, false statements, and what is often forgotten: the crime of torturing suspects. If that crime was committed it was a crime that would conceivably be ordered by the president himself, only the president can order those types of special treatments or interrogation techniques."--Johnathan Turley, GWU Law Professor on CNN discussing White House involvement in destroying CIA videos of torture.

Le Shorter: Harvest of Shame

That was the title of journalist Edward R. Murrow's 1960 expose of the wage slavery imposed on migrant workers. Ending the system of cynical exploitation of migrant workers is the struggle in which Caesar Chavez gave his life. Because of the blood, sweat and tears of mostly Mexican migrants, Americans enjoy an abundant and inexpensive harvest. Read this story about the misery of migrant workers in Florida harvesting tomatoes before you complain about too many Mexicans in the country.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Le Shorter: Democracy in Action

Chris Dodd says thanks to those of us who helped him stop another erosion of our civil rights.[Video]

Monday, December 17, 2007

Crunch Time on FISA

More: By 76 to 10, with Democrats divided, the Senate voted to invoke cloture and advance the Intelligence Committee bill for consideration. A measure to block it, which was led by Senator Christopher J. Dodd, (D-CT) fell short, as those who wanted the bill to reach the floor got 16 votes more than the 60 needed to achieve that goal. Some Democrats voted to advance the bill despite the retroactive immunity provision in order to offer amendments. The House version does not include immunity for telecoms that cooperated in spying on their customers. However early this evening, Senator Reid announced, "We have tried to work through this process, and it appears quite clear that on this bill we are not going to be able to do that." Reid had spent the afternoon huddling with Senate leaders and fellow Democrats to trying to work out a deal over an update to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Congratulations, Senator Dodd for stopping the bill for now.

Update(Live): The discussion on the amendment to strike corporate immunity is underway. Senator Ted Kennedy is speaking on the floor. If a filibuster is held, it will be the first actual filibuster in fifteen years. The Senators are excoriating the Charlatan's threats to hold American security hostage to voting for corporate immunity. He has promised to veto any FISA reform bill that does not contain protection for companies that turn over private information to the government. The current law, the so-called Protect America Act, allowing domestic spying, is set to expire in February. Corporate supporters claim that civil rights lawsuits are imposing "ruinous" expenses on the wealthy international businesses as well as damaging their reputations in other countries in which they do business. The Republicans continue to wave the bloody shirt of 9/11, essentially equating any objections to the proposed reform as helping the enemy. The FISA court was erected in response to the intelligence excesses of the Nixon era. It has approved 99% of requests for authorization to intercept communications. Oregon's Senator Ron Wyden is complaining the Regime refused to let all senators read the legal justifications for it's warrantless wiretap program. Wyden, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has seen the documents and is not convinced that the programs pass legal muster. QWest was also not convinced that the programs were legal and refused to participate. Five years of retroactive immunity is not justified under the secret record according to Senator Wyden. Wyden calls the legal justification provided by the Regime "flimsy" and says that senators would be "flabbergasted" if they were allowed to read them. Senator Dodd, a member of the Senate for 26 years and a member of the Foreign Relations Committee is aghast that he cannot read these documents before voting on the amendment to strip immunity from the proposed bill. Senator Wyden is also proposing an amendment to protect American citizens from warrantless snooping while abroad. Senator Dodd is now discussing the differences between the Judiciary Committee and the Intelligence Committee versions of the bill. In his opinion only the Judiciary Committee bill protects American citizens from unjustified spying. Dodd resents the continued use of a "false dichotomy" by the Regime to justify a continued erosion of our constitutional rights. He mentions the Military Commissions Act which denied the ancient common law right of habeus corpus to detainees. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) is again raising the impervious wall of "state secrets". Orrin Hatch never met a secret he was not willing to keep regardless of the cost to democracy and open government. The Intelligence Committee bill contains the objectionable retroactive immunity provision. No senator has actually explained on the floor how technology changes have outmoded the regulatory structure protecting due process of law. Both proposed reforms require a warrant from the FISA court for a intercepting the communications of a US person in the United States. However, the Intelligence Committee bill allows authorization to be requested retroactively. [on line link terminated]

Senator Chris Dodd's people inform me that Majority Leader Reid is asking for a "motion to proceed" which is in effect a signal that he will ignore Senator Dodd's informal request for a hold on the FISA reform bill that includes retroactive immunity for telecoms. This means Senator Dodd will introduce an amendment stripping the bill of the immunity provisions. If that move fails the Senator will be forced to actually filibuster the bill on the floor of the Senate. Senators Obama, Biden and Clinton have all issued press statements saying they will support a filibuster.

This fight is more than about allowing some liberal activists to sue corporations and collect attorney fees. The Regime is stonewalling all efforts by Congress to get information about it's alarming disregard of our constitutional rights in the name of an eternal "war on terror". Granting immunity to the telecommunications companies will cut off the only effective way now available of obtaining information on the extent of domestic spying. From what we do know, it is pervasive and not very discriminating. Giving the companies protection from civil rights suits will only encourage them to cooperate in the future with government requests for private customer information regardless of how intrusive the request. Immunity is the proverbial first step down the slippery slope of a police state. Help Senator Dodd fight the good fight by calling your Senators and asking them to vote against corporate immunity for violating our constitutional rights and to help filibuster the bill if necessary.

Walruses Caught in Arctic Meltdown

Thousands of endangered walruses (Odobenus rosmarus) above the Arctic Circle are believed to have died in massive stampedes as they hauled out on the Russian shore of the Chukchi Sea earlier this year. The sea ice has disappeared because of warmer summer weather. The heavy mammals cannot swim indefinitely and did not have ice floes on which to rest. Herds as big as 40,000 gathered at Point Schmidt, a haul out not used by them in a century. When walruses come together in large herds, they are prone to stampedes when disturbed. Scientists have reports of hundreds of walruses dead from internal injuries and crushing. Mostly the weakest animals and the young were killed. Biologist Anatoly Kochnev of Russia's Institute of Fisheries and Oceanography estimates that 3000 to 4000 animals died which is two or three times the usual number. Kochnev said the animals only started to appear on shore in the 1990s after the sea ice began to recede. He said the reason for the change in conditions is global warming. [AP report]

Saturday, December 15, 2007

For the Record

In a letter to the Denver Post, Wyoming Democratic State Chair, John Millin, says why nominating Hillary will be a disaster for the Party:
Our opposition to Hillary Clinton is not based on her being a woman, it is based on the fact that her nomination will kill the chances of many democratic candidates around the state. While I don’t agree with this view of Mrs. Clinton, I have to accept that this is the truth. It has become the dirty little secret in the Democratic Party. My fears for the Wyoming Democratic Party are shared by some party leaders throughout the Rocky Mountain West. This region is vitally important to the growth of the national party. While we continue to lose ground in the south, democrats have made huge gains in the west. Not long ago, republicans held the governors’ offices in all eight Rocky Mountain states. Democrats now hold five out of eight. Westerners have an independent, libertarian spirit and democrats here can make republicans pay a heavy price for years of pandering to the social conservatives. None of this will happen if Hillary wins the nomination.

Friday, December 14, 2007

For the Record

Instead of shaking our heads at the difficulty of this task, and saying "Woe is us, this is impossible, how can we do this?", we ought to feel a sense of joy that we have work that is worth doing that is so important to the future of all humankind. We ought to feel a sense of exhilaration that we are the people alive at a moment in history when we can make all the difference. --Al Gore, World Climate Conference.

Note: In the face of criticism for high energy consumption at his Tennessee mansion, Mr. Gore has installed green technology--solar panels, low consumption light bulbs, improved insulation, etc. The local utility reports that his electricity consumption has dropped by 11%. What can you do?

Toontime: Bush for Brains

[cartoon credit: Rex Babin, Sacramento Bee]

Salmon Win One in Controversy

Just how dysfunctional and anti-environment our federal government has become during the seeming endless tenure of BushCo was made perfectly clear this week in Portland, Oregon. Federal District Judge James Redden threw out the third endangered salmon recovery plan submitted by government attorneys, saying that the latest plan was weaker than the previous two. Judge Redden even mentioned the nightmare scenario for private enterprise: a Columbia River dam system run by the federal court to force compliance with the Endangered Species Act. You can imagine the waves of fear crawling up the spines of developers, utility executives, and agribusinessmen upon hearing such unimaginable mitigation actions such as flow increases, reservoir draining and, shudder to think, dam removal. Relatively cheap hydroelectricity is the life blood of the Northwest.

Judge Redden should be praised for using his life tenure status for something other than long lunches and rounds of golf. He is unflinchingly applying the law as it was intended. No doubt there is considerable pressure to submit to the Regime's extreme bias in favor of business interests. Judge Redden realizes there are natural assets worth saving, even if the bottom line is reduced.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

District of Bizarro: Another Pathetic Performance

Update: After slashing billions of dollars in new taxes on oil companies, the Senate passed the bill mandating increased fuel economy for American vehicles. The Regime had threatened to veto the bill if it contained new taxes on oil companies. Now the bill will be reconciled with a House version requiring the same level of improvement already passed.
One vote. That's all that was needed to override the Charlatan and his oil company buddies. One vote to begin reducing our nation's dependence on foreign oil by forcing the auto companies to make fuel efficient vehicles. One vote was needed to begin saving our planet by reducing our greenhouse emissions. One vote was necessary to invoke cloture under the Senate's obstructionist rules. That one vote belonged not to a Republican senator desperate to protect an extremely unpopular and beleaguered president. That vote belonged to a Democrat, Mary Landrieu, from Louisiana. Its not hard to understand why. Louisiana is owned by oil and gas companies. Pure and simple. As Dick Durban (D-Il) said, "the future failed by one vote...they [oil executives] continue to have a death grip on the Senate".

We expect more from our leaders than being media clowns and policy pawns controlled by profit bloated corporations. Call Mary Landrieu (504) 589-2427; (225) 389-0395; (318) 676-3085 and tell her you expect her to vote for the good of America and the Earth. That includes you.

Dear Holy Father:

I read your comments concerning the global warming crisis that confronts Earth. You said governments should not be swayed by "dogma" or act without prudent consideration of all the facts and research. While generally your advice is well taken, it should not used as an excuse by politicians whose political agenda is incompatible with timely and significant reductions in greenhouse emissions because they are financially supported by an industry with a vested interest in the status quo.

The facts of potentially catastrophic climate change are there to see, if one only looks with open eyes. The wild kingdom is already suffering the effects of these changes. Flying foxes (Pteropus) are a bat beneficial species to man. They eat enormous amounts of crop eating insects and serve as pollinators for the rain forest. Researchers in Australia writing in a peer reviewed journal, say that thousands of flying foxes are literally dropping dead from the extreme heat. They estimate that more than 30,000 flying foxes have died in twenty heat waves since 1994. The scientists observed their death throes in New South Wales on January 12, 2006 when temperatures reached 107.5 F. First the large bats sought shelter in the shade, then began fanning themselves with their wings. Soon they began panting and drooling saliva before they fell out of the trees dead. The reporting scientists believe the prolonged and brutal heat waves are due to climate change.

Please help us care for our home in a way that is pleasing to our Creator.

For the Record

"This [waterboarding] isn't something done willy nilly. This isn't something where an agency officer just wakes up in the morning and decides he's going to carry out an enhanced technique on a prisoner. This was a policy made at the White House, with concurrence from the National Security Council and Justice Department." ---John Kiriakou, CIA Agent

"We don't torture."---George W. Bush, Decider in Chief

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

SiCKo Forever

Finally got around to watching Michael Moore's film on PPV. Its a good piece of polemic because it drives home the salient facts. We Americans pay more for health care than anybody else in the world, yet we rank behind some developing nations in overall health of our citizens. Besides being upstaged by the socialized systems of Canada, Britain, France and Cuba, a nation we have subjected to a crippling economic boycott for half a century, the most salient fact I saw in the movie was the list of Senators receiving political contributions from the health care industry. First on the list for the largest amount was Pennsylvania Republican Rick Santorum. No surprise. In second place was Hillary Rodham Clinton. If you want at least as good a deal as the French get from their government, don't vote for Hillary. The healthcare executives expect something for their money. You won't see universal health care in this country under a Clinton administration, first or second term.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Tough Oil: Digging Up Nature's Last Defense

UPDATE:The Independent reports that British Petroleum (BP), which advertises itself as a green energy company, has reversed a long standing policy to invest in extracting oil from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada. The company previously had not invested in the play because of the high cost of extraction, but in light of near $100/barrel oil its new CEO has reversed course and signed a joint venture with Husky Energy. The joint venture will invest $5.5 billion in the Sunrise field to construct a facility capable of producing 200,000 barrels of crude per day. The oil sands boom now includes all the major multinational energy companies. As my original post below says, extracting oil from bitumen is a process that is hugely energy intensive and wrecks the boreal forest turning it into a moonscape of pits and ravaged earth. The boreal forest is one of Earth's last major carbon sinks. BP says it will use in situ steam extraction which it claims is less damaging to the forest, but the process requires the heating by natural gas of huge amounts of fresh water (350 cubic meters/year from the Athabasca River). The water becomes so contaminated it cannot be returned to the environment but must be stored in vast holding ponds as large as 20 square miles. Environmentalists say the tar oil boom is the biggest environmental crime in history because the extraction process produces so much CO2 that Canada will miss it's mandatory emission targets under the Kyoto Treaty in 2012. Is BP really "beyond petroleum"? Not so much.

[first posted 9-29-07]
You know that trees respire from your high school biology class. That is, they soak up CO2 like a giant sponge for photosynthesis and give off oxygen. The Earth's forests are the last defense against global warming and catastrophic climate change. One of the last great expanses of untouched forest are the boreal forests that circle the Arctic. But a region in northern Alberta the size of Florida is being stripped bare of trees and the land dug up in a hellish industrial operation to create epic strip mines. Al Gore calls the whole enterprise, "truly nuts". The object of the frenetic activity is bitumen,or in American English, asphalt. A heavy viscous sludge that is a mixture of low grade crude oil, clay and sand. The natives had no use for the gunk except to patch their canoes with it. Oil is now above $70 a barrel so even this low grade stuff is worth the awesome amount of expense and energy to mine and process it into flowing oil. For each barrel of oil, workers must mine two tons of tar sand, wash it, heat it using clean natural gas, remove heavy metals, sulphur, and other impurities to produce one barrel of usable oil. The amount of energy consumed in the process is staggering. Every 24 hours the industry burns enough natural gas to heat four million American homes in order to produce one million barrels of oil. The chief economist of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce says,"You know you are at the bottom of the ninth inning when you have to schlep two tons of sand to get a barrel of oil. [italics mine]". The proven reserves are estimated to be 175 billion barrels or the biggest deposit of hydro-carbons outside of Saudi Arabia. The tar sands now supply the US with 16% of its oil imports, and that could rise to a quarter of imports if project rates of extraction are implemented. The demand for secure oil is definitely there.

Not only does the production consume much more energy than it produces, but it is creating an industrial waste land out of what was once a pristine wilderness. Gigantic holding ponds contain water contaminated with heavy metals, toxic aromatic hydrocarbons, salts and napthenic acids. One company alone dumps 250,000 tons of toxic gunk every day into the lake behind the Syncrude Tailings Dam which is now the largest dam in the world by volume. The water for the chemical processing comes from the Athabasca River, once a serene wild river filled with fish and abundant wildlife living on its banks. The Athabasca is now polluted by the leaking holding ponds. The summer flow past the boom town of McMurray, affectionately known as McMoney to it's get-rich-quick residents, has been reduced by a third. Enough fresh water is drawn out each year to service a city of two million people. On average three barrels of fresh water are needed to make one barrel of oil from the tar sands. The impact of the boom on wildlife has yet to be extensively quantified, but a good guess is that when you chew up the forest and dig huge pits with electric shovels the size of a two story building, it cannot be beneficial. One energy watchdog group, says that woodland caribou populations around current in situ thermal operations have crashed by 50% and that fur bearing animals and songbirds can be expected to decline by 80%.

If this pillage in neighboring Canada is not enough to make you go out and buy a hybrid vehicle maybe this thought will: tar sands are also located in the western United States. Utah sits atop extensive tar sands deposits. Untill now it has been un-economical to exploit these resources. The US Department of Energy says that Utah's reserves are lesser in quality than Alberta's. Also, the lack of unappropriated water in arid Utah is a problem. Vast amounts of water would be necessary to make steam for in situ thermal extraction. But as we approach the bottom of the barrel and prices for oil continue to rise on the world market, that equation is changing. Two of the prime tar sand sites are in the middle of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. So think about that the next time you fire up your 12 mpg Hummer to enjoy a road trip across the beautiful and enchanting American West. It may not be there tomorrow.

Adapted from an article by Andrew Nikiforuk, Canada's Highway to Hell.

Checking Out in Omaha

A Russian SKS (Samozaryadnyj Karabin Simonova) military assault rifle of the type used by the Omaha shooter. Press reports say the former state ward and mental patient also had two thirty round magazines in his possession. This is what an on-line gun directory enthusiastically says about the weapon: "Being a sound, but outdated military design, SKS is a great all-around civilian arm, capable of numerous functions: small and even a medium game hunting, plinking, home defense. Wide variety of aftermarket accessories (stocks, sight mounts, sights,large-capacity magazines, bipods etc etc) only helped to keep this neat gun on the market...for civilian use it's still hard to beat, especially when it comes to the cost/effectiveness issues." The description fails to mention the semi-automatic weapon's usefulness for inflicting multiple human casualties in a short span of time.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Torture, Inc. Obstructs Justice

UPDATE: Perhaps sensing a cover up of the cover up, Senator Joe Biden called for an independent prosecutor to investigate the destruction of potential evidence by the CIA. He noted that he voted against Judge Mukasey for Attorney General because Mukasey could not unequivocally say waterboarding is torture. Leaving an investigation in the hands of the Justice Department and CIA does not provide the needed transparency according to Biden. If the interrogation tapes contained exculpatory evidence then attorneys for some lower level detainees could argue that the destruction of evidence makes their clients prosecution legally impossible. The New York Times reports that five detainees at Guantanamo were initially charged based on information provided by Zubaydah. CBS reports that according to high level anonymous source, the tapes were destroyed to protect participating agents from criminal prosecution. Yes, Joe someone does need to watch the watchers, but perhaps now it is too late.

Facing an expose by the New York Times, the CIA admitted Thursday that the Deputy Director of Operations ordered the destruction in November, 2005 of video tapes showing waterboarding torture sessions including the interrogations of Al Qaeda's Abu Zubaydah. At the time the tapes were destroyed the Agency was under court orders to release such information and a congressional inquiry into the homeland terror attacks. In 2005, attorneys for Zacarias Moussaoui were seeking videotapes of interrogations they believed would show their client was not part of the terror attacks. A US District Judge ordered the government to disclose whether it had tapes of interrogations and named specific ones. Eleven days later the government denied it had video or audio tapes of those specific interrogations. The 9/11 Commission had also asked the agency for interrogation material, but the video tapes were not provided. The ACLU says that the tapes were destroyed at the time a federal court had ordered the CIA to comply with Freedom of Information Act requests covering interrogations.

Through a spokesman the agency said the tapes "did not involve anyone judged relevant by the court in the Moussaoui proceedings.", and also denied that the CIA withheld evidence from the Sept. 11 commission contending that its members did not ask specifically for tapes, "The tapes were destroyed only when it was determined that they were no longer of intelligence value and not relevant to any internal, legislative or judicial inquiries." The CIA said that it had informed leaders of the Congressional Intelligence Committees that it had the tapes in 2003, and intended to destroy them to prevent a "security risk". In separate interviews Friday, co-chairs of the 9/11 Committee contradicted the agency by saying they made it clear that they wanted all material connected to the interrogation of Al-Qaeda agents. The former leader of the House Intelligence Committee told the agency in 2003 that destroying the tapes was a "bad idea" and "urged them in writing not to do it" when informed of their existence. The CIA did not tell Congress members responsible for intelligence oversight that the tapes had actually been destroyed. Democrats in Congress and civil rights groups are demanding an investigation of the incident. [from AP news reports]

Le Shorter: Glass Houses

DNA pioneer James Watson has been found to have 16 times more genes of African origin than an average white European, after he published his genome online. Watson caused outrage in the US earlier this year by saying black people are less intelligent than white.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Toontime: Two'fers

[cartoon credit: Jim Morin, Miami Herald]

Thursday, December 06, 2007

For the Record

"There aren't the votes there, period," Rep. John Conyers said in Dearborn, MI at the American Civil Liberties Union's annual dinner. "You need 218 in the House to impeach and 67 in the Senate to convict, and 218 and 67 just aren't there, but beyond that — do you know what a boost that would give Bush if we tried and failed to convict him? He would have an outpouring of sympathy for him, we'd be discredited, and it might help elect one of his clones. Nothing is more important than stopping that from happening".

Can't argue with that logic. But the political realities of DC do not absolve BushCo of criminality.

Le Shorter: Big Hope for a Species

The first and only South China Tiger cub born outside of Asia is doing well in South Africa at a purpose built tiger sanctuary. The subspecies is extremely rare. Only 60 individuals exist in captivity. Tiger advocates hope to breed more South China Tigers and reintroduce them to their native country when conditions allow them to survive in the wild. The little fuzzy ball of cuteness is unnamed. My suggestion: Humongous or Hugh for a nickname after Li Quan, the founder of the reserve, said there has been "humongous" interest in his birth. The little male has huge hopes riding on his survival. Best of luck, little guy!

Evolution: Its in Your Genes

Viruses are unique in the world. So unique that some biologists do not consider them alive. The tiny "things" are smaller than bacteria and so simple that they are made of only a protein shell and nucleic acids. One characteristic they share with more complex forms is that they reproduce themselves. Retroviruses perform this essential function by invading a healthy germ cell and using a special enzyme to cause the invaded cell to produce viral DNA from it's own RNA. The DNA from the viral source becomes part of the germ cell's DNA. This process is the reverse of normal cellular activity in which nuclear DNA is translated into mitochondrial RNA for the production of proteins. The production of more viruses by the host induces disease, such as influenza [image], smallpox or AIDS. Howard Temin and David Baltimore, working separately, found the viral enzyme that allows the reverse transcription. They were awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1975 for finding the enzyme reverse transcriptase.

We only need about 2% of our genetic code to produce our basic molecular building blocks, proteins. The rest of of our code is filled with duplication, apparently useless nucleotide pairs, and other "junk" DNA. Molecular biologists are now discovering that the genome contains another extremely interesting artifact: the genetic remains of retroviruses that the human species has successfully combated down the millennium. Biologists are hunting for the "fossilized" remains of long extinct viruses that managed to insert themselves into our germ cells and be inherited from our remote ancestors going back millions of years. These fragments are named endogenous retroviruses because once they enter a species genetic code, they remain there for as long as the species exists. According to Michael Specter writing in the New Yorker magazine, when the human genome was mapped in 2003 as much as 8% of the human genome was discovered to consists of once retroviral DNA that has entered the human code. One endogenous retrovirus, extinct for hundreds of thousands of years, was brought back into existence last year by Thierry Heidmann working at the Gustav Roussy Institute outside Paris. The Frankensteinian experiment was conducted to prove that a resurrected retrovirus could be constructed from it's fragmentary remains and remain infectious. The 'frankenvirus' proved to be exactly that, causing human, hamster and cat DNA to produce copies of retroviral DNA. A new discipline has been created too, paleovirology, which studies the genetic history of ancient viruses and their impact on human development.

Molecular biologists, including Heidmann, have suggested that without endogenous retroviruses mammals might not have developed a placenta that protects an embryo from attack and gives it time to mature. In the early seventies, scientist scanned baboon placentas with an electron microscope and found retroviruses on the layer of the tissue known as the syncytium which is the barrier between mother and fetus. The same phenomenon was discovered in mice, cats, pigs and humans. The import of the discovery was not appreciated at the time. But now cell fusion is known as a fundamental process of mammalian placentas and endogenous retroviruses. Syncytin causes placenta cells to fuse together and employs the exact same chemical mechanism that allows retroviruses to bond with the cells they attack.

When Darwin said that man shared a common ancestor with apes, he could not know that the most convincing evidence of our shared lineage would be found in our genes in the form of endogenous retroviruses. They provide a thread of molecular remnants that goes back millions of years--enough time to measure evolutionary change. We share 98% of our genes with modern bonobos. We also share, in thousands of places on our genome, the fragments of extinct retroviruses. The human genome consists of three billion pairs of nucleotides. It makes logical sense that the only way we could share, at seemingly thousands of random locations, the exact same retroviral DNA with another species is by inheriting it from a common ancestor. One of the frustrations of the HIV epidemic is that although the source of this particular retrovirus is known to be from chimpanzees, they do not get sick from the virus. The vital difference appears to be in their genes. They have a hundred thirty copies of pan troglodytes endogenous retrovirus (PtERV). We have none. We survived the PtERV infection of four million years ago, but modifications to our code has left us vulnerable to HIV. Lucky chimps.

[electron micrograph image credit: Linda M. Stannard]

The Man with Fireproof Underwear

He has to be wearing fireproof boxer shorts (tighty whities are not his style)! His pants are on fire because he is a liar, liar. Yet again the Charlatan proved the truth is meaningless to him. Even cynical DC is befuddled and amazed by the stunning turnabout in our official estimate of Iran's program to develop nuclear weapons. The bottom line on the subject is the National Intelligence Estimate that was released this week. It concluded that Iran stopped its nuclear weapons program in 2003. That conclusion is line with the IAEA's long held view that Iran is not currently attempting to develop a bomb. The International Atomic Energy Agency has gotten nothing but criticism from the Regime for that assessment. The Charlatan knew what the intelligence estimate said in August according to National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley, yet he continues to blast Iran as a dangerous nation. In October he was talking about the start of WWIII because of the alleged Iranian weapons program. We know what to expect from the bunker now until it is time for the delusional to come out, but what is more worrisome is that one leading Democratic candidate to replace him voted to support his unjustified belligerence toward Iran.
Update: The Charlatan is down to his undies, but he keeps doing the jig faster than Irish clog dancers. At a press conference on Tuesday he told reporters:

I was made aware of the NIE last week. In August, I think it was John — Mike McConnell came in and said, We have some new information. He didn’t tell me what the information was. He did tell me it was going to take a while to analyze.

Actually, he was told in August that Iran might have suspended its weapons program according to the White House Press Secretary on Wednesday. Adm. Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, gave Bush a 'heads up' that new information might cause intelligence officials to change their assessment of the Iranian program, but said analysts needed to review the new data (intercepted Iranian military communications) before making a final judgment. Now the White House is falling all over itself to rectify the obvious inconsistencies in the story. Joe Biden's take on the Charlatan's latest misstep is correct, he is the most incompetent president in modern American history.
More:More evidence that the Charlatan is lying through his teeth about when he knew the truth about Iran's nuclear weapons program is the report in Israel's authoritative national newspaper, Haaretz, that the Israeli defense minister knew about the contents of the NIE a month before it was released. The Charlatan even discussed the report with the Israeli prime minister at the Annapolis peace conference according to leak meister Seymour Hersh. Gotchya!

Sunday, December 02, 2007

While You Were Watching Football...

The Democratic candidates were in Des Moines at the Brown-Black Forum discussing the political issues that most affect minority Americans. The forum organizers also invited the Republican candidates to attend, but none of them accepted. That fact alone speaks volumes. Immigration policy was on every one's mind. Both Obama and Clinton accused the Republicans of demagoguery on the issue. Clinton, in a rare moment of candor, said that Republicans were misleading the country if they actually thought it was possible to deport 12 million workers. Governor Richardson complained that while Washington talked a good game about "immigration reform", he was actually dealing with the problem. He issued state drivers licenses to migrants. The traffic fatalities among Latinos went down while the number of insured drivers went up. Joe Biden, who came on stage well into the discussion after a slippery drive from Chicago ("I don't have a plane"), countered that Americans would do the work aliens take if they were paid enough. And the increasingly humorous Dennis Kucinich asked himself a question about health care since no one else did. His serious pitch for "not for profit" health care drew a guffaw from Lady Hillary.

Here is a quote pious Republicans might want to consider as they ponder the security problem of undocumented aliens crossing our porous borders or deciding whether to issue them drivers licenses: When an alien resides with you in your land, do not molest him. You shall treat the alien who resides with you no differently than the natives born among you; have the same love for him as for yourself; for you too were once aliens... Mitt Romney or Mike Huckabee would recognize the source of the quote. I am not sure Rudolpho would. It is of course, Leviticus 19, 33-34.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Toontime: Bad Law

cartoon credit: Tony Auth

Regime CAFE Rules Suck

Update: Late Friday Democratic congressional staffs on Capitol Hill reached an agreement on new, tougher CAFE standards for US automakers. 'Big Nancy' Pelosi and Michigan Congressman John Dingle, who is Detroit's man, announced the agreement which will require automobiles and SUVs to achieve 35 mpg on average by 2020. House Democrats had previously been at an impasse on the issue as the powerful Chairman of the Commerce and Energy committee held out for more protections for automakers. The Senate has already passed a similar fuel efficiency standard. If the legislation survives a filibuster in the Senate and a veto from the bunker, it will be the first increase in fuel efficiency standards in 32 years. House Democrats will also probably abandon attempts to repeal $16 billion in private energy sector tax subsidies. The price of progress is high.

The famously liberal Ninth Circuit told the Regime its new CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standards for light trucks, including those SUV land yachts, were inadequate in part because they fail to address the problem of global warming. The Appeals Court also said that the Transportation Agency failed to explain why SUV and light trucks used for commuting should have less stringent standards than automobiles. Good point. Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA), who sponsored a House bill requiring CAFE standards be improved to an average 35 mpg by 2020, said in a press release that he "applaud[s] the court for killing this regulatory turkey so close to Thanksgiving." Speaker 'Big Nancy' Pelosi killed the House bill, but has pledged to return to the issue. The Senate has already passed a bill requiring 35 mpg. The standards at bar for the 2008-2011 time period would only have increased current standards by 1.8 mpg to 24.1 mpg by 2011. The decision is a big victory for environmental groups and the eleven states that joined in opposing the arbitrary and capricious regulations.

US auto emmissions account for 8% of our total greenhouse gas production. The need for agressive action on this issue was made more apparent by the UN climate change report that was publicly released at a conference in Spain on Saturday. Leading climate scientist warned again that if significant reductions in greenhouse emissions are not begun immediately, then Earth will experience catastrophic effects that will be "abrupt and irreversable". Yet only two leading Democratic presidential candidates choose to attend a campaign forum in Los Angeles organized by environmental groups to discuss the crisis. John Edwards, Hillary Clinton, and Dennis Kucinich participated in the forum. According to bloggers in attendence, it was John Edwards who dominated the floor with his A game. He has led the environmental debate, by being the first to call for 80% reduction in carbon emmissions by 2050. Yes, John, the process is broken as demonstrated by the inaction and backsliding on combating the greatest threat now facing humankind. But the American market will need fundamental restructuring if its to end it's hydrocarbon addiction and that will take some "dark horse" central planning since laissez- faire capitalists have proved unable or unwilling to take on the task. Think FDR not VIL.

Senator Joe Biden at Large

Waving his pen like a magic wand before an audience of 100 in Portsmouth, Maine on Thursday, the Delaware senator engaged in some campaign incantations. He flatly announced that if the Charlatan attacks Iran he will move for his impeachment as Senate Foreign Relations Chairman. That statement was warmly applauded by the audience. He also said that the president has no authority to unilaterally attack Iran, and that he is in the process of developing a legal memorandum to be sent to the president telling him of his position. Uoo-rah! [picture credit:]