Friday, August 29, 2008

'Toontime: The Kitchen Sink Too

[credit: Lee Judge, Kansas City Star]

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Engineer Lied About Leaking Nuke

A federal jury sitting in Toledo on Tuesday convicted a nuclear reactor engineer at the Oak Harbor, Ohio facility of lying to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission about the safety condition of the Davis-Besse reactor. A hole the size of an American football was found in the top of the reactor vessel head in March 2002. The hole in the vessel containing the fission reaction was discovered during a planned shut down for refueling. The engineer was found guilty of lying about the reactor's condition to the regulatory agency in the fall of 2001. His false statements were made in response to the agency's bulletin requesting information about a nozzle cracking problem occurring at other plants of similar design. Another engineer was also found guilty of lying to regulators earlier in the case. Analysis of the Davis-Besse defect showed the hole resulted from a leak of corrosive reactor coolant containing boric acid through a crack that had opened where control rod guide nozzles were welded to the lid of the reactor vessel [photos courtesy NIRS]. Severe corrosion ate through the entire reactor pressure vessel outer wall of nearly 7 inches with only the stainless steel inner liner remaining. The inner liner was bulging out into the cavity and cracking from extreme operational pressure of the reactor. Citizen activists and the Union of Concerned Scientists supported the latest engineer to be convicted saying the real culprit was plant operator, FirstEnergy Corp., which restarted the reactor in May 200o without first fully eliminating the leakage of corrosive coolant. The company was fined $5.45 million for the incident, the largest single fine imposed by the NRC. According to a nuclear industry watchdog group the reactor came within weeks of a catastrophic release of radiation due to a rupture of its pressure vessel.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

10 Questions for Barack

If you are watching the Democratic National Convention, you must be getting the feeling that you are watching a new kind of TV soap opera: you could watch for days on end without getting any closer to a denouement. Instead, I viewed an old film starring a middle-aged Henry Fonda (photo) and written by Gore Vidal, "Best Man". The story is about the conflict between two leading contenders for a party's presidential nomination taking place at the party's national convention. The infighting in the hotel basement gets dirty by 1960's standards--allegations of mental illness and homosexuality--conditions that might not prove fatal to a presidential candidate nowadays. I mention the film because it illustrates how far we have come from true participatory politics in 40 years. Then, delegates actually could vote their minds (or their bosses' minds) and upset the best laid plans. In the movie the third place candidate becomes the convention's choice after the leading but principled candidate of conscience drops out to prevent his ruthless rival from becoming president. Incidentally the demagogue is played by Cliff Robertson, who also played JFK in the biopic, "PT-109".

Today every event is scripted in advance right down to the roll call, and the planned nomination of Barack Obama by acclamation after Hillary Clinton formally and finally concedes on the convention floor. Barack will fill Mile High as only the Broncos have done before. My hope is that he will use the opportunity to tell 75,000 fellow citizens how he intends to govern if they elect him. There will be no question period after. These supporters are only providing a backdrop for the television cameras. But the marathon campaign still has about 70 days to run. Time enough for thoughtful citizens to ask questions, if they meet the candidate on the road. Here are ten I would like to ask, and feel free to use any of them or even your own:
1. Will you close the Guantanamo gulag upon taking office?
2. We seem to be sleep walking toward a military confrontation in the Caucuses. How will you restore friendly relations with Russia?
3. Economists say only a single third-party insurer can effectively and completely control health costs. Why do you not a support universal single payer health care plan?
4. The Taliban is enjoying renewed success in Afghanistan. What's wrong with our strategy there?
5. Do you advocate capturing or killing Osama Bin Laden even if it means conducting covert operations in Pakistan without approval?
6. The Pentagon budget grows ever larger. Can you identify any weapons systems or programs that should be cut so that these savings can be used for civilian purposes?
7. Should the Social Security payroll tax be extended to all citizens, regardless of income level?
8. Do you think expanding wild land preserves has any role in reducing the effect of climate change?
9. Oil companies are making record profits, yet we give them immense tax subsidies such as the depletion allowance. Should these tax subsidies be eliminated?
10. What is your favorite soul food dish?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

For Want of a Bee

"If honeybees disappear, then man has four years to live."--Einstein

Update: Bayer, the chemical giant, is under investigation in Germany because one of its best selling pesticides, clothianidin, has been implicated in the mass deaths of honeybees. A complaint was filed on August 13 by German apiarists and consumer advocates. The coalition wants use of the pesticide prohibited while Bayer maintains that if used properly the pesticide does not harm bees. Clothianidin and related pesticides generate about $1 billion in revenue for Bayer CropScience. The German coalition suspects Bayer of falsifying studies to minimize the effects of pesticide's residue on bees pollinating treated plants. In the U.S. the NRDC is seeking research information on clothianidin. The pesticide was approved for use here in 2003 on condition that Bayer submit more information on the effects of clothianidin. Sold under the brand name "Poncho 600", it is used to coat corn, sugar beet and sorghum seeds to protect them from pests. Despite its innocuous brand name, clothianidin is a nerve toxin that has the potential to be toxic for bees, and it remains in all parts of the plant that grows from coated seeds. French regulators banned a related precursor in 1999. French researchers found that bees were much more sensitive to the toxin than Bayer admitted in its studies. German officials suspended sales of clothianidin and related pesticides three months ago after it was blamed for destroying 11,000 bee colonies.

The UK's honeybees have suffered disastrous losses this year reports the Guardian paper. Their numbers are down by a third found a survey conducted by the British Bee Keeping Association. A wet winter kept the pollinators in their hives, making them more subject to disease and starvation. The minister of farming told Parliament last November that if nothing were done to help the honeybees, then the UK population would be wiped out in 10 years. Britain's' problem reflects a worldwide trend in the drastic decline of honeybee populations. In the US, honey yields have been decimated by honeybee loses of 36%. Apiarists here have given the phenomenon a name, "sudden colony collapse disorder" but the name explains nothing. Why honeybees are dying in catastrophic numbers is not known for certain. A complex of factors seem to be contributing to their destruction: the blood-sucking varroa mite, lethal viruses, malnutrition, pesticides, pollution and a lack of genetic diversity. Some less credible observers have even blamed cellular telephone signals interfering with healthy hive activity. CCD has spread to Canada, France, Germany and Italy. As the genius recognized, honeybees make a critical contribution to man's survival by pollinating his food crops. They increase fruit and vegetable yields by about a third, and there is no efficient or inexpensive substitute for their service.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Viral Reporting

US Person makes no pretensions about his biases. If you read this blog you know where he stands. But national news organizations hold themselves out to be unbiased and objective. Some journalists doubt that can actually be achieved on a operational level. Objectivity is an aspiration since the news is written by humans who have all sorts of biases, conscious and otherwise. The wire service AP has been in existence for 160 years, and it has enormous influence over what you read or hear because its wire service is used by thousands of newspapers, radio and television broadcasters all over the world. So if a bias is detected in an AP story, that is like finding e coli in your hamburger., the progressive political action group, thinks it has found a source of biased reporting about Senator Obama at the Washington bureau of AP. Ron Fournier has recently been appointed their bureau chief. In a series of articles about the Democratic campaigns, Fournier has used syntax that is less than objective. For example[1], he characterized Obama's choice of Joe Biden, "the ultimate insider", for his running mate as "shoring up his weakness--inexperience in office and on foreign policy". He accused Hillary of "doing a passable impression of the ever-parsing former president", and questioned whether she had become "slick Hillary". In another article he accused Obama of "bordering arrogance" saying he had crossed "a line smart politicians don't cross—somewhere between 'I'm qualified to be president' and 'I'm born to be president.'" His complaints about candidate Howard Dean were even stronger: "his lack of foreign policy experience, testy temperament, policy flip-flops, campaign miscues and edgy anti-war, anti-establishment message". Fournier has not subjected Republicans to similar negative commentary. He only trashed Mitt Romney for beating McBush in the Michigan primary, calling his victory a "defeat for authenticity in politics". Perhaps because of Fournier's bias, AP has consistently turned a blind eye to McBush's flips on issues. Mild stuff compared to the blatantly partisan yellow journalism that comes out of 'Fox Spews'. However, AP's position in the journalism food chain is much higher up than Murdoch's mouth, and a different quality level is expected.

It is not Fournier's attempts at punchy prose that disturbs me, but his undisclosed overtures to right wing partisans. Karl Rove, former bunker propaganda minister, exchanged e mails with Fournier about the football/warrior hero, Pat Tillman who was shot down by his own comrades in Afganistan. Minister Rove asked, "How does our country continue to produce men and women like this?" Fournier responded: "The Lord creates men and women like this all over the world. But only the great and free countries allow them to flourish. Keep up the fight."[1] This expression of partisanship (sucking up?) during an election year is considered outside the bounds of maintaining journalistic neutrality. Even though Fournier initiated the email exchange, he attempted to blow it off as just a reporter doing his job. A closer look by watchdog Media Matter's Eric Boehlert revealed that Fournier did not write any artcles on the Tillman saga. He apparently used the story as cover for contacting Rove directly. Before Fournier returned to work for AP in 2007 after a failed attempt to launch a political blog, he was contacted by McBush's people about a campaign job. Fournier spoke about the job possibility with members of McCain’s inner circle, including political aides Mark Salter, John Weaver and Rick Davis [2]. His McBush love goes back to 2004 when he idolized the senator in print for his military service and declared without any support that McBush was the presidential choice of independents and Democrats. In a political system driven by mass media, slanted characterizations and unfair inaccuracies can be deadly. A case in point is the long lived and erroneous factoid that Al Gore "invented" the internet. Former Republican majority leader Dick Armey issued a press release making the false claim[3], and the press corps promptly copied it ad nauseum. Dispite considerable debunking, the lie proved debilitating to Gore's election chances. Fournier calls his biased reporting, "analysis", but is in reality a disservice. AP should be responsible for feeding the facts of a story to other news outlets as fast as humanly possible. US Person and others can do the analysis, and give AP credit for the facts.
[2], July 30, 2008
[3]Gore interviewed by Wolf Blitzer on CNN's "Late Edition": "During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet. I took the initiative in moving forward a whole range of initiatives that have proven important to our country's economic growth and environmental protection, improvements in our education system."

Sunday, August 24, 2008

'Big' Nancy Pelosi Gets the Drilling Bug

Update: 'Big' Nancy says she puts her money where her politics are because she has invested in independent oil man T. Boon Pickens' Clean Energy Fuels Corp. Based on required disclosure filings, the investment is less than $100,000 which for Nancy is chump change. It i equivalent to giving 4 minutes at the podium of the Democratic Convention to an unknown Stump Town venture capitalist who allegedly "specializes" in clean energy development. Because the free market cannot achieve social goals that we are in this dire strait. Somebody should tell the Speaker that natural gas (mostly methane, CH4) is a fossil fuel that when burned creates CO2. Wackydoodle sez: Nancy can light my fire, anytime!

Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced last week while on recess that she would allow some offshore drilling if action were also taken on alternative energy development. The compromise, also endorsed by Senator Obama, seems reasonable enough so it was immediately rejected by oil's man in the House, Minority Leader Boehner. The Speaker should know better, but politics is a game played while divorced from reality. The Energy Department's own studies show domestic offshore oil would have little or no impact on a price that is set in someplace like Djbouti. Ending speculation in oil commodities would have more effect on the price of oil than polluting our coasts. The spike in dollar value is primarily responsible for the recent oil price decline since it is a commodity priced internationally in dollars [chart]. What is driving the concession on oil drilling is political horse trading. One of the areas slated for exploration is off the the Virginia coast, and the bankrupt idea of more drilling is popular in the state. Democratic politicians are trying hard to turn Virginia blue. So away with a bipartisan moratorium that has been in place for twenty years to protect our coastlines from what Santa Barbara experienced in the sixties. Wackydoodle sez: Ole Virginy will not only be blue, but black and blue!

Friday, August 22, 2008

'Toontime: Lesser Demons

[credit: Pat Oliphant]
Wackydoodle got it wrong, but then it is hard to see how the choice of Senator Joe Biden as the Democratic Vice Presidential candidate helps Obama win crucial swing states like Indiana or Virginia. Delaware is hardly in play, and the choice is a confession that Obama needs someone at his side with more foreign policy and national security experience than he has. Biden has been in the Senate for 36 years and chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. On the negative side, Biden has a tendency to plant his own verbal minefields. He voted for the war in Iraq, claiming the United States had no choice but to eliminate Saddam Hussein. Then he expressed regret for his war vote while campaigning in the primaries. Biden has a major corporate supporter in MBNA, a Delaware based credit card company recently purchased by Bank of America (the company hired his son after law school). He voted with Republicans to pass a bankruptcy reform bill that favored credit card lenders by making it more difficult for debtors to qualify for relief. Biden has accepted over $5 million in donations from lobbyists while Obama has made a campaign issue of not accepting donations from registered federal lobbyists. Its not a perfect world, but Obama's pick sends a clear message: we got the beef!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Le Shorter: The Black Kettle

Remember I said McBush was a forgetful septuagenarian? Ipso facto: When asked how many homes he owns, McBush replied, "I think—I'll have my staff get to you." A count by totals eight. This rich couple owns eight homes scattered around the country worth around $14 million. Right now many average Americans are having difficulty holding on to one due to a record number of foreclosures for loan defaults. Wondering what happened to Cindy's right wrist? Wackydoodle sez: "She spraiged it writing checks for all them tax bills due. But ifin the Ferragamo fits John, wear it."

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Obama Fade

Update: The Reuters/Zogby poll shows McBush taking a five-point lead (46-41) over his Democratic rival. That lead, perhaps most surprisingly, was due in large part to voters polled who gave the Arizona Republican the edge in handling the economy (Whaa?). Wackydoodle sings: (to the tune of "Gary, Indiana") He's an Indianan, he's an Indianan, he's an Indianan, bye and bye....

Obama's eight-point lead in June has all but evaporated, according to a new survey by the Pew Research Center, which said that 46 percent of voters now favored the Illinois senator over 43 percent for McCain. The swing states--CO, FL, IN, MI, MO, NC, NH, NM, NV, OH, VA--are even closer. A less than 2% change in these states will give McCain the 278 electorial votes needed for Bush's third term.
['toon credit: Sage Stossel]

Dead Zones Multiply Worldwide

The journal Science published a report from Professor Robert Diaz of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science showing that the number of "dead zones" in coastal waters worldwide has increased by a third between 1995 and 2007. When scientists first described these areas of low oxygen or hypoxic waters in 1910 there were only four. Now there are 405 covering an area of 95,000 square miles. Perhaps the most well known is the one in the Gulf of Mexico at the mouth of the Mississippi. It is the size of New Jersey. The largest is the Baltic Sea which entirely hypoxic year round. The main channel of Chesapeake Bay hypoxic in summertime. Only bacteria feeding on decomposing algae blooms in turn created by excess nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorous can live in the zones. The nutrients causing the condition are primarily run-off from agricultural lands impregnated with chemical fertilizers. Dead zones kill and stress fish and other food species. Stripped bass in the Chesapeake suffer from bacterial infections due to the seasonal hypoxia which forces them to live in warmer surface waters away from the dead zone in the cooler bottom waters they prefer. Scientists estimate that the Bay looses about 5% of its food energy every year to hypoxic conditions.

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Foreigner, Obama

Hillary Clinton has been revealed as a ruthless politician that will go to great depths of negativity in order to win. The Mark Penn memos show that her camp was willing to smear Senator Obama as "not fundamentally American"--essentially a foreigner--because of his exotic upbringing and mixed racial heritage. To her credit, the strategy was not used full bore. Republicans will exploit any perceived weakness they can find. Obama is in trouble with Southerners as the presidential campaign wears on for running what one Democratic strategist calls an "elitist" campaign. The Times of London published an explicative laden interview with Dave 'Mudcat' Saunders, one of the few self-identified "hillbillies" in the Democratic Party. He says Democrats talk a lot about tolerance, but “They don't give a f*** if we're with them or not...They think we're a bunch of hillbilly heathens who go out and burn crosses and do crazy bullshit". Hillary did well with the descendants of Scotch-Irish immigrants who were first pushed out of Scotland and then Northern Ireland before settling in the isolated, mountainous frontier of Appalachia. She easily won the Democratic primaries in Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia. Saunders, who is a friend and consultant of John Edwards, thinks the strategy to win partially urbanized Virginia is also in trouble. Relying only on new voters, urban liberals, and blacks is a mistake. In his blunt words, "When he [Obama] stands up and says that I'm gonna get 30 per cent more black voters — I'm gonna get 30 per cent more of my people to turn out for me — what is Joe Six-Pack thinking?” In his view the solution for Obama is to talk about social justice in detail, face to face with rural white voters. In 1968 Robert Kennedy did exactly that in Indiana and West Virginia. Some party leaders agree that Obama has to get specific, fast. There are social and cultural parallels to be drawn between South Side Chicago and Appalachia, but not on the Internet. According to 'Mudcat' his people are watching reruns of "The Andy Griffith Show", not their computer screens, if they have one. Obama has to breach a cultural barrier likened to Hadrian's Wall--and exploited by the Republicans at every opportunity--which separates these working-class, rural voters from what should be their political home.
[photo credit: ruins of Emperor Hadrian's wall built by the Romans to keep the northern barbarians at bay, BBC]

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Le Shorter: Living Together

Isabella, the Golden Retriever, provides an example for us to follow. She adopted the white tiger cubs after their biological mother abandoned them. The tigress lives in captivity in Kansas and gave birth on Sunday. Thank you, Isabella. Anybody got Tiger milk?
[photo credit: AP]

October Surprise in August

Vladimir Putin may have handed the Republicans the red-blooded issue they needed to claw their way back into the presidential election despite their mismanaging of the economy, leaving an entire American city to fend for itself in the face of natural disaster, creating a foreign policy quagmire bigger than Vietnam, and all but tearing up the Bill of Rights while destroying our image abroad as a law abiding democracy. Progressives must be shaking their heads right now, after seeing their champion of change candidate of May become the hollow, ethnic celebrity of August. The invasion and occupation of parts of Georgia by Russia has reminded all the "my country, right or wrong" folks how much they miss the Cold War when they had godless communism to kick around. Hearing the distant roar of guns and the responding howl of the right-wing, the lame crusader has risen from his bunker to pound the bully pulpit once more about defending freedom and protecting the underdog. Humbug. Georgia was part of Russia for almost two centuries before becoming independent after the Soviet Union collapsed (1991). Russia has faced provocative moves by the Western military alliance on its western and southern boarders: planning installation of missiles in Poland, backing Kosovo's bid for independence from ally Serbia, and offering Georgia membership in NATO. Georgia attacked first in the early morning hours of August 8th, shelling the city of Tskhinvali (Tskhinval) in the formerly autonomous South Ossetia [map]. Georgian forces occupied the town of 30,000 after several hours of intense urban warfare. Civilians were killed as well as Russian military personnel stationed there as peacekeepers after the civil war of 1991-92. Russia claims, not illogically, that it counterattacked to protect South Ossetians who want to remain independent and allied with Russia[1]. The fighting was not one sided. Both sides used armor, and Russia may have lost as many as twenty-five infantry fighting vehicles. A Russian army commander was wounded when Georgian units ambushed the spearhead of the 58th Army's counterattack. Nevertheless, the Republican propaganda machine is in full cry about containing the mad bear. Their hypocrisy is unbounded and expanding, like the universe. All of their noise is intended to puff up the image of a forgetful, septuagenarian, former POW as the only candidate tough enough to take on the bad guys--again. Our only hope is the American people are finally so sick and tired after eight years of this nonsense that they can see their way clear of the color of Senator Obama's skin.
[1] President George Bush I recognized as legitimate the boarders of Russia before the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop accord of 1933 at the time of the Soviet Union's dissolution, thus making all questions of independence and soverignty of the Trans-Caucasus region matters of internal Russian affairs.

Friday, August 15, 2008

'Toontime: Listening to Georges

[cartoon credit: Tony Auth]
Wackydoodle sez: Bear huntin' with a borrowed switch! Just like his old man.*
* "There is another way for the bloodshed to stop: And that is, for the Iraqi military and the Iraqi people to take matters into their own hands and force Saddam Hussein, the dictator, to step aside and then comply with the United Nations' resolutions and rejoin the family of peace-loving nations." George H.W. Bush, Voice of America broadcast, 2/15/91

Thursday, August 14, 2008

For the Record with Joshua Green

Above all, this irony emerges: Clinton ran on the basis of managerial competence—on her capacity, as she liked to put it, to “do the job from Day One.” In fact, she never behaved like a chief executive, and her own staff proved to be her Achilles’ heel. What is clear from the internal documents is that Clinton’s loss derived not from any specific decision she made but rather from the preponderance of the many she did not make. Her hesitancy and habit of avoiding hard choices exacted a price that eventually sank her chances at the presidency.--Atlantic Monthly Online, September 2008
[photo: Hill knocks one back with the boys in Indiana, AP]

(Read the toxic dysfunction--"this circular firing squad"-- in her staffers' internal communications:

Zimbabwe Fights Back

The man has more moves than Michael Jackson: dictator Robert Mugabe announced plans yesterday to form a sham 'government of national unity' and ignore negotiations to resolve the national election crisis with the Movement for Democratic Change lead by Morgan Tsvangirai. Inflation in Zimbabwe has gone off the charts, and millions of Zimbabwe's people face starvation. Mugabe will be meeting with leaders of other South African nations in Johannesburg this weekend. Democratic activists are planning massive demonstrations against Mugabe's increasingly desperate attempts to stay in power. Trade unionists in the region have vowed to squeeze Mugabe by refusing to handle all goods going in or out of Zimbabwe if their political leaders refuse or are unable to remove Mugabe from power. Help our African brothers convince power than Mugabe must go by signing a petition showing your opposition to the destruction of democracy in Zimbabwe. Send Mugabe and Zanu PF off!

Navy Compromises on Sonar Use

While a separate lawsuit on the use of mid-frequency sonar is pending before the Supreme Court, the Navy and environmental organizations settled a federal district court suit involving low-frequency active (LFA) sonar. The US Navy agreed to limit use of its towed arrays to military training areas in the North Pacific putting about 75% of the world's ocean out of bounds. The agreement was approved by the court today and was welcomed by NRDC and other organizations protecting marine mammals from disruptive and potentially lethal blasts of underwater sound. District court judge LaPorte found previously that the Marine Fisheries Service gave the Navy a permit to use LFA in violation of the Marine Mammals Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act. LFA is used by the Navy to detect lurking submarines that are becoming increasing quiet with technological progress. Low-frequency sound waves can exceed 140 decibels even 300 miles away, a hundred times more intense than any sounds emitted by whales. LFA under the right conditions may be heard across oceans by mammals who also use sound to communicate, navigate and hunt. Independent research shows that decibel levels of 120 are sufficient to affect whale behavior. Seasonal restrictions and mitigating measures will also be observed by the Navy when it uses the sonar. The agreement, in the opinion of activists, proves that a choice between national security and the survival of marine mammals is a false dichotomy.
[photo: SURTASS LFA array, U. of R.I.]

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Russian Backyard

What can be learned from Russia's robust response to Georgia's move into South Ossetia is that Russian military power has not collapsed, and that our relationship with the oil rich European power will only get more complicated in the future. The United States can do very little except fume when Russia, now under the command of a resentful Prime Minister Vladimir Putin funded by oil money, decides to exercise its territorial prerogatives. McBush's comical attempt at cold war sabre rattling, intended for domestic political consumption, must be filling the Kremlin halls with derisive laughter. Any attempt to intervene militarily on Georgia's behalf now that a cease fire has been established in principle would be simply lunatic on our part. (Since declaration, Russian tanks have occupied Gori, severed the east-west highway to Tiblisi, and there are reports of revenge by Ossentian separatists allied with Russia). Georgian President Saakashvili called the Western response to Russia's counter-attack inadequate. "I feel that they are partly to blame," he said. "Not only those who commit atrocities are responsible...but so are those who fail to react." Someone should tell him that he overplayed his hand and is suffering the consequences.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

A Victory for Earth

You should know by now that preserving forests is more than an exercise in tree-hugging, although walking into the forests that remain is always a rejuvenating experience. Forests are a vital CO2 sink, part of the Earth's natural balance that man is disrupting mightily. You learned in 9th grade (remember?) that plants transpire, that is, take in CO2 for photosynthesis and give off oxygen as a waste product. Perhaps because of the forest devastation that is going on in Alberta, Ontario province has agreed to work with Canadian First Nations to protect 225,000 square kilometers of intact boreal forest lands -- an area twice the size of England. It is the largest conservation deal in Canada's history. This sweeping expanse is an irreplaceable nesting ground for North America's birds. NRDC credits activists in part for this historic victory who have flooded provincial officials with messages in recent years urging them to safeguard Canada's pristine boreal forest from destructive hydropower development, logging and mining. Thank you, officials of Ontario for listening.
[photo credit: Greenpeace]

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Convicted of Driving OBL

US Person thought he would be able to ignore the star chamber being held in Guantanamo, but the American Military Commission is such a blot on America's record of constitutional government and respect for individual rights that Salim Ahmed Hamdan's predictable conviction cannot be passed without comment. What is was surprising is that the verdict against Hamdan for aiding terrorism rendered by US military officers was split. Military men subject to the weighty influence of command and the extreme need for a vindicating result were not able to agree on the more serious charges facing Hamdan of conspiring to kill US soldiers . The sentence handed down, five and half years, when the prosecution asked for thirty years, reflects the serious problems with the case despite secret evidence, coercion, and self incriminating statements made by a defendant without benefit of the usual warnings. It really does not make common sense that simply driving a terrorist, even if that terrorist is the big cheese, should constitute a war crime. The Congressional Research Service in a report issued last year found no historical precedent for making the material support of terrorism a war crime. Apparently the officers sitting in judgment had similar problems with the concept. Hamdan has already been detained for five years and will get credit for that time toward his sentence. But in the bizarre world of the "Global War Against Terror" he may not go free in six months because he has been designated an "enemy combatant". Only if a Pentagon status review board determines he is no longer a danger can he go free. In the meantime his conviction will no doubt be appealed to the US Court of Appeals as allowed by the Supreme Court in Hamden v. Rumsfeld (2006). This Catch 22 situation exemplifies perfectly how ill conceived and poorly executed the tribunal system is. As Senator John Kerry has noted, the US justice system is perfectly capable of trying these individuals and doing so in a manner that protects our system of government and respects the rule of law. Allowing a military commission to try suspected terrorists focuses international attention on the ambiguous legal position of the detainees[1] and elevates their brand of violent jihad to an undeserved status of a legitimate military force too dangerous to be brought to justice using traditional standards of due process. The US military can accomplish many missions, but is the last institution that should be asked to mete out justice to an international criminal conspiracy.
[1] In Hamdan the Supreme Court ruled, contrary to the position of the governement, that Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions applies to members of Al-Qaeda. It stated that detainees were entitled to a minimum of legal protections, and should be afforded "all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples". A defendant being free of torture, coercion, and self incrimination is recognized as fundamental in any criminal law process.

Friday, August 08, 2008

"Toontime: Fanboy

[credit: Kevin Siers, Charlotte Observer]

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Boehner Makes a Boner

Some dead enders in Congress are forgoing their summer recess to stage political theatre in the District of Cleptocracy. They have vowed to 'fight on' until the Democratic convention in Denver begins on August 25th to give the oil companies what they want: control of more sea bed on the Outer Continental Shelf. Oil companies want more leases whether they drill them or not, because owning leases gives them a competitive advantage. The more leases a company controls, the greater the chances another concern will pay for exploration rights. Think of the OCS as a vast chess board with each square an OCS lease. A company can make money by selling their leasehold interests without spending a dime in exploration or development costs--both expensive propositions.

Not every oil sponsored politician is doing his fair share of talking to the walls. “Republicans will not rest until we have an honest, up-or-down vote on the American Energy Act,” John Boehner (R-OH) wrote in a memo to his colleagues. “To that end, we request that you contact the Whip’s Office and indicate any time you may have available to come to Capitol in the coming weeks." Mr. Boehner, House Minority Leader, was around for a fake House session last Friday, but hasn't been seen on Capitol Hill since. Newt Gingrich had to fill in for him. What is the patriotic Mr. Boehner up to you ask? Eighteen holes of golf, of course. That's him showing off his form at Wetherington Golf & Country Club in West Chester, Ohio where he shot an 85. He also showed up at Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio for a tournament. The Muirfield course was designed by the 'Golden Bear' Jack Nicklaus, don't you know. I wonder if his golf cart is gasoline powered?

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

The Smoking Gun?

Ok, this goes beyond mere exaggeration, beyond intentional ignorance, beyond selective intelligence. If journalist and author Ron Suskind has got the right stuff, his book out this week will show that the White House (read: Darth Cheney because the conspirators were very careful to maintain deniability for the Charlatan) deliberately falsified evidence of a connection between Saddam Hussein and 9/11 kamikazes. Not that this will make a difference to the narcissistic politicos on Capitol Hill because it's too close to the presidential election. But at least the historical record will be set straight. The forged letter in question is somewhat cumulative in my opinion. This commentator thinks that the much more central Niger forgery {2/11/08, 2/14/08} was a product of a collaboration between Italian fascist elements in the Italian secret service and neconservative conspirators in the US government.
[photo: a king vulture mugs for the camera (AP)]

This Maverick Will Not Go Quietly

I have to admit it. Not much newsworthy happens in Omaha, Nebraska. Today, the usually quiet city of about four hundred thousand is mostly known as the home of billionaire extraordinaire Warren Buffet. But before Warren there was and still is, state Senator Ernie Chambers. Simply being the only black state senator in a single chamber legislature is reason enough for fame. He rose to prominence as a civil rights leader after the north side race riots of 1966. Mr. Chambers, a barber by trade, has represented Omaha's predominately black near north side for thirty-eight years making him the longest serving sentor in the state's history. He is finally being forced out of the legislature because of term term limits. Senator Chambers is also known for his peculiarly non-mainstream sense of humor. He is a master at pricking the tender sensibilities of stodgy Midwestern burghers who like their politics on the right and their football strait ahead. He got local educators wagging their heads in 2006 when he proposed segregating Omaha public schools as a means of insuring schools in minority neighborhoods got a fair share of resources, since the schools were already segregated in fact and the minority schools were being disadvantaged.

May I direct your attention to the case at bar. Senator Chambers is a graduate of Creighton University School of Law but does not practice the profession. Nevertheless, he has no qualms about suing the largest authority in the universe, God. That is not a saint's halo around the Senator's head but an electric fan. He should perhaps wish it were. Chambers is an atheist in a very pious place. He routinely absents himself from the prayer that begins each session of the state's unicameral. The 1966 Academy Award winning documentary, A Time for Burning, shows the young barber telling Rev. Luther Youngdahl that his "Jesus is contaminated". In September last year, Senator Chambers filed a case in Douglas County for an injunction against God for various perceived malfeasances practiced on the human race. The district court judge assigned is prone to dismiss the suit for lack of service of process on the respondent. Never one at a loss for a legal argument, Mr. Chambers has asked the judge to take judicial notice of the defendant's divine powers of omniscience and omnipresence even in Douglas County, Nebraska. Of course by filing the case, Mr. Chambers is making a point with wit and humor, as is his usual style. Exhibiting the typical reticence of prairie folk, the judge has taken the issue of God's right to due process under advisement. Whatever the ruling politics in Nebraska will never be the same without Senator Ernie Chambers, the "angriest black man in Nebraska".
[photo credit: AP]

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

The Obama Shimmy

Update: Standing in the dark chamber and lauding their own perceived cleverness is how House Republicans ended this House session before the five week summer recess--a comic absurdity only appropriate to Washington, DC. These conservative legislators who do stupid human tricks for their big oil sponsors[1] could give a rolling donut about gas prices. Their only goal is to keep the oil profit bonanza going. They blocked legislation to require oil companies to diligently explore and develop the offshore leases already in their hands. Exploration is expensive and takes time, so a majority of the existing offshore leases have not been developed. If the conservatives were really interested in finding more supplies of oil, they would support legislation that gives companies an incentive to explore. The minority has blocked eight different energy bills intended to create alternative energy sources and improve energy efficiency. The only drilling that might be productive is in the heads of these demigogues to release some of their natural gas.
[1] House Minority Whip Roy Blount (R-Mo) has received nearly $100,000 in oil company contributions with $20,000 from Chevron alone.

Oil is about $125.oo a barrel, down over $20 a barrel from it's recent all time high. But Americans do not see a significant decline in gas prices at the pump. The sad truth that John McBush does not want you to know is that the international oil companies literally have us over their barrel. As long as we are totally dependent on their product to run our economy, they can play all the price games they want and nobody can stop them. Blaming Barack Obama for gas price blackmail is a cheap political trick. The American people should just say "no" to the oil oligopoly, and declare their energy independence by demanding that the next administration engage in an all out effort to develop alternative energy sources that are clean and can fuel our transportation needs. Barack Obama offers such a plan, but the opposition from the Republicans is so intense that he shifted his previous unqualified support for the offshore drilling moratorium while campaigning in Florida. AP says Obama told a Palm Beach newspaper, "If, in order to get that [a comprehensive energy policy] passed, we have to compromise in terms of a careful, well thought-out drilling strategy that was carefully circumscribed to avoid significant environmental damage — I don't want to be so rigid that we can't get something done." The only thing more drilling on the Outer Continental shelf is guaranteed to do is increase oil company profits[1] and oil spills. Industry experts admit that any oil or gas from the OCS is 10 years or more[2] away from entering the nation's fuel supply. By that time our increasing demand will have out stripped the dwindling supply of oil including the OCS. We use 25% of the world's oil, but we only have 2.6% of reserves. Do the math. We cannot drill our way out. Wackydoodle sez: "What we need heah, is a working majority."

[1]since BushCo entered office in 2001, gas prices have doubled and oil companies have made more than half a trillion dollars in profit. Exxon-Mobil announced its second quarter profits will be up 14% to $11.68 billion, the largest profit ever made by an American flag corporation.
[2] An OCS access case was prepared by MMS to examine the potential impacts of the lifting of Federal restrictions on access to the OCS in the Pacific, the Atlantic, and the eastern Gulf of Mexico. The projections in the OCS access case indicate that access to the Pacific, Atlantic, and eastern Gulf regions would not have a significant impact on domestic crude oil and natural gas production or prices before 2030. Leasing would begin no sooner than 2012, and production would not be expected to start before 2017. Because oil prices are determined on the international market, however, any impact on average wellhead prices is expected to be insignificant.
photo: Mississippi river barge sinks in collision with ship, and spills half a million gallons of fuel oil closing the river to traffic (AP)

The Kahzak "Miracle"

One of the worst wounds inflicted on Earth by man was the draining of the Aral Sea. The Soviet Union literally drained the sea by damming two major rivers that feed it for irrigation of cotton and rice crops in the 1960s. The volume of the sea decreased by three-quarters, devastating the regional ecology and local economies dependant on fishing. Kazakhstan, which borders the sea with Uzbekistan, announced that it's effort to restore the sea's northern portion is starting to show results. The program was launched in 2001 by Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev and is supported by the World Bank. The $260 million rescue program has increased the North Aral Sea's surface by about 30 percent since the last assessment was conducted in 2003, according to a statement last Wednesday by the Kazakh Foreign Ministry and reported by ENS. Its depth has increased too, from an average 30 meters to 42 meters. To increase the amount of water flowing into the inland sea, Kazakhstan built a dam separating the northern portion of the sea from the larger, saltier and polluted southern portion. Because of improved conditions, fish are naturally returning and being reintroduced. Recently there was only one species of fish remaining in the depleted sea. Now there are fifteen. With more fish, fishermen are also returning, and there are plans to revive the sturgeon fishery. Even the local climate is improving, with fewer sandstorms and moderating temperatures. Officials can now begin diverting water to the Sea's still blighted southern reaches. The Aral Sea recovery project is entering its second phase focused on the revitalization of the dry former seabed with the cultivation of the native shrub saxaul. Saxaul is a shrub indigenous to the arid salt deserts of Central Asia. Reaching heights of three to 10 meters, its thick bark acts as a water storage organ and provides protection from wind erosion. The Kazakh program proves that if given a chance, nature will revive despite man's ruthless exploitation.
[photo credit: World Bank]

Monday, August 04, 2008

Plug It In, America

More background on GM's technological leap with the Chevrolet Volt at Atlantic Monthly

Friday, August 01, 2008

'Toontime: Big Al Keeps Moving On

[credit: Rex Babin, Sacramento Bee]